Community will continue to publish additional stories providing a deeper look into the 2021-22 Community Study of Jewish Louisville. The study was commissioned by the Jewish Heritage Fund (JHF) and the Jewish Federation of Louisville and study results were presented by Brandeis University in a series of Town Halls in September 2022. The full report is available at jewishlouisvillestudy.org.
“Our Jewish community has been given a gift,” shared Sara Klein Wagner, President & CEO of the Jewish Federation of Louisville and Trager Family JCC. “Having this data as we now do will help us better serve those currently engaged in Jewish communal life and those who we have not yet met. “
One of the most talked-about findings in the comprehensive study is that Louisville’s Jewish community is composed of over 14,000 residents, with another 4,000 individuals living in Jewish households. Previous studies had indicated a community of approximately 8,000-8,500.
“The finding that Louisville’s Jewish community, and those living in Jewish households is 60% larger than we previously knew, is incredibly exciting,” shared Wagner.
Wagner continued, “There are significant opportunities to embrace and learn from this demographic data to shape the future of Jewish life, activities, cultural significance, faith and community in Louisville.”
Diving into demographics
The study’s demographic data revealed information on household locations, age categories of Jewish adults and household composition – including marriage and children.
Today’s Louisville Jewish community is more diverse, particularly in age and race, than previously studied.
From a geographic standpoint, nearly half (46%) of Jewish households reside in the “Central” portion of Louisville,with another 27% in the “Northeast.” The remaining 27% reside outside of these areas, including Southern Indiana.
Katie Miles falls into the 27% outside of the “core area” category. A 30-year-old mom of a 3-year-old-daughter, Miles converted to Judaism 10 years ago during college. Now part of the 37% of Jewish adults who are married to a non-Jew, she lives in in the Hillview neighborhood near the Jefferson-Bullitt County line. Miles cites a lack of opportunities to engage — there are no Jewish activities in her area, and she doesn’t know of any other Jewish families living nearby.
Miles found the JCC on the recommendation of a friend a few years ago when she started a weight loss journey after having her daughter. She made, and continues to do so today, the 25-minute commute up I-65 and back several days a week to work out at the JCC and take classes, attend personal training sessions and use the fitness center. Miles’ daughter is now also enrolled in the Trager Family JCC’s ELC program.
Miles says that she would love for her husband to feel more connected to her faith and believes some basic education would offer the means. Her congregation, Adath Jeshurun, offers Melton classes on a variety of Jewish topics and Judaism, of which she is hoping to start soon.
“I would really like for my husband to learn more about Judaism, to have access to more Jewish learning,” said Miles. She cites affordability and flexibility of the educational programming as needs for her and her husband to become more engaged.
Kathryn Klein agrees there’s an unmet need for community-based classes for both Jews and non-Jews.
As part of the 6% of Jewish adults who identify as LGBTQ, Klein, 34, will marry her fiancée, Laura, at the end of October. The daughter of former Jewish Federation President, David Klein z’l, Kathryn Klein was raised in Louisville’s Jewish community and has always felt welcome and accepted. But she admits she stepped away as a teen and young adult.
“My dad had a big impact on the Jewish community,” said Klein. “In the last year, my fiancé and I have joined the Trager Family JCC and started to get more involved to kind of reconnect with who he was. I want to raise our kids in the Jewish culture, but before that I need to educate myself again. There should be something you can jump on at any time, at any age, to learn about your religion.”
In referencing her own experience as a child, she posed the question, “Is there a way to encourage kids to continue their Jewish studies after it’s no longer required, not necessarily in a classroom setting? We have to make it fun for kids, for families.”
Miles would also like to see more offerings for kid- and family-friendly activities, both religious and social. “I used to go to Shabbat services every week, but it’s really hard when you have a toddler.”
Miles and Klein fit a unique demographic finding in the study and one that is growing, which is the 29% of Jewish adults who are between the ages of 18-34.
“Providing a comfortable space for young adults and young families is absolutely critical for our Jewish community,” said Wagner. “This is definitely an area that we will work together with our synagogues to expand opportunities.”
Likewise, there are many new Jewish individuals and families who have moved to Louisville in recent years. Specifically, almost a quarter of those who identify as Jewish in Louisville are transplants within the past 10 years.
“There is a significant percentage of the population who are new to the Louisville area, and the data also reflects that these folks struggle to break into the community,” said Jaime Jorrisch, Program Officer at Jewish Heritage Fund, JHF. “From an inside-looking-out perspective, most people would genuinely say we are a welcoming community. But based on the data, I think that statement demands some investigation. How can we be more accessible and more welcoming in a way that truly, genuinely meets the needs of someone who is not from here and doesn’t know anyone?”
The Jewish Federation will convene smaller task force groups to further review the data from the Community Study and begin planning.
“We have listened to our colleagues in other communities who took time to dig into understand the data,” explained Wagner. “It is imperative that we get out of our bubble and listen to new and diverse voices. I believe the Brandeis study will truly help create our roadmap for the future. There is no one-size-fits-all, but the possibilities of creating new connections and meeting unmet needs is very exciting.”