Some NJ suburbanites not happy with Orthodox influx

The New Jersey suburb of Toms River is up in arms regarding numerous Orthodox families moving in:

These days, though, most homeowners draw the blinds, retreating from brushes with a fast-growing Orthodox Jewish community that’s trying to turn a swath of suburban luxury 10 miles (16 kilometers) from Atlantic beaches into an insular enclave. The rub, a township inquiry found, is “highly annoying, suspicious and creepy” tactics used by some real-estate agents…

“It’s like an invasion,” said Thomas Kelaher, Toms River’s three-term mayor, who’s fielded complaints from the North Dover section since mid-2015. “It’s the old throwback to the 1960s, when blockbusting happened in Philadelphia and Chicago with the African-American community — ‘I want to buy your house. You’ll be sorry if you don’t.’ It scares the hell out of people.”

The upset has its roots in adjacent Lakewood, home to yeshivas including Beth Medrash Govoha, among the world’s biggest centers for Talmudic study. Scholars typically marry young and start large families that maintain strict gender roles and limit interaction with secular society…

The opposition, he said, has nothing to do with dislike of Jews, but with a fear that Toms River will become like Lakewood’s more tattered sections, with cars parked on lawns, overgrown landscaping, trash piled at curbs and residents crowding single-family homes.

As the article notes, this sounds similar to the tactics employed against different racial and ethnic groups in the first half of the 20th century: fear, worries about changing the character of the community and providing new social services, enforcing zoning laws, pushy slash creepy real estate agents, the potential for declining property values. Yet, this story hints that residential segregation is alive and well. Even though Americans regularly talk about the geographic mobility everyone can access, it doesn’t quite work this way as existing residents can be resistant to change and different racial and ethnic groups tend to cluster not just in cities but also in suburbs.

New findings show Holocaust much more vast than notorious concentration camps

New findings show the Holocaust was a widespread phenomenon including more than 42,000 sites in Europe:

The researchers have cataloged some 42,500 Nazi ghettos and camps throughout Europe, spanning German-controlled areas from France to Russia and Germany itself, during Hitler’s reign of brutality from 1933 to 1945.

The figure is so staggering that even fellow Holocaust scholars had to make sure they had heard it correctly when the lead researchers previewed their findings at an academic forum in late January at the German Historical Institute in Washington…

The lead editors on the project, Geoffrey Megargee and Martin Dean, estimate that 15 million to 20 million people died or were imprisoned in the sites that they have identified as part of a multivolume encyclopedia. (The Holocaust museum has published the first two, with five more planned by 2025.)

The existence of many individual camps and ghettos was previously known only on a fragmented, region-by-region basis. But the researchers, using data from some 400 contributors, have been documenting the entire scale for the first time, studying where they were located, how they were run, and what their purpose was.

Two thoughts related to these new findings:

1. My Social Research class recently read a more detailed account of the Milgram Experiment of the early 1960s. (Milgram’s own book Obedience to Authority gives even more details.) College students are well aware of the Holocaust but often don’t know the lengths Milgram went to in order to verify his findings about how “normal” people might respond when given orders by authorities to hurt others. We also watched a 2009 replication from the BBC – watch here – that had similar results to Milgram. This tends to help make the 50+ year old experiment more real for students.

2. In my Culture, Media, and Society class, I use a chapter from Jeffrey Alexander’s The Meanings of Social Life that discusses how the Holocaust came to be a universal human trauma rather than one just limited to a trauma for Jews. Alexander argues that the United States approached the Holocaust as a moral superior since the act was committed by Germans and the U.S. helped liberate Europe and then emerged as the leader of the free world. But, a series of events, including the Milgram experiment, changed people’s minds about exclusivity of the Holocaust as even countries like the United States came to be seen as perpetrators of great violence. In other words, we are all capable of acting like Nazis under certain conditions.

The stories of Chicago synagogues that became black churches

An article in the Chicago Tribune takes a look at black churches in Chicago that once were synagogues. Here is how this happened:

[Historian Irving] Cutler observed that ethnic groups often follow each other through Chicago’s neighborhoods. The patterns are regular: Mexicans trailed Czechs and Slovaks from Pilsen to Little Village and Cicero, for example, Cutler said. Blacks have followed Jews — westward from Maxwell Street to Lawndale and Austin; southward from the Near South Side to Bronzeville and South Shore.

Like other immigrants, Jews came to this country hoping their children would have opportunities denied them in the Old Country. For a while, they couldn’t realize part of the American dream: a nice home on a tree-lined street in a bucolic community. Some suburbs were restricted, others unfriendly to Jews.

“Then came World War II and the GI Bill which enabled veterans to become homeowners,” Cutler said. “There weren’t many single-family homes with nice yards in Lawndale. It was a neighborhood of two-flats and apartment buildings. So they went to the suburbs.”

Synagogues were sold to black congregations, whose members still couldn’t follow their previous owners to many suburbs in a region still often defined by racial and ethnic lines.

Interesting sociological history here. I was recently telling a class about the rapid shifts in Chicago neighborhoods in the mid twentieth century, how a neighborhood might go from being 90% white to 90% black in a ten year stretch. I don’t think they were able to comprehend this very well; we generally aren’t used to seeing such rapid social change and we tend to think that places will keep following the same course unless some large social force intervenes such as the closing of a major job provider. (Perhaps this helps explain NIMBY behavior – if they can, people will fight against any social force altering their neighborhood.) But in Chicago and many other American cities, this kind of rapid racial and demographic change once occurred regularly and altered many neighborhoods and communities.

It would be interesting to hear more about the sale of these synagogues. As Jews moved to the suburbs, did they sell their houses of worship at a fair market value or did they sell them for cheaper? Were there any hard or bitter feelings about having one’s house of worship turned over to another faith?

Two different methodologies to measure the US Jewish population

Measuring small populations within the United States can be difficult. Here is an example: even though two separate studies agree the US Jewish population is roughly 6.5 million, they used different methodologies to arrive at this number:

Many federations around the country commission scientific studies to better understand their local Jewish populations. These reports typically rely on random digit dialing, in which researchers come up with a percentage of Jews in the community based on the results of telephone surveys. In other instances, researchers will estimate the number of Jews based on the number of people with Jewish last names.

These reports provided the backbone for Sheskin and Dashefsky’s own annual estimate. But since not every federation studies its own population, the two conducted original research in some localities. In this, they were often aided by knowledgeable community members or by local estimates they found online. Lastly, they used data collected by the U.S. Census of three solidly Hasidic Jewish towns in New York state: Kiryas Joel, Kaser Village and New Square. (Aside from these exceptions, the U.S. Census does not count Jews.)

Adding these figures together, Sheskin and Dashefsky came up with a national estimate — albeit a patchwork one — that far exceeded previous figures. And in some ways exceeded their own expectations. Their national total of 6,588,000 is an overestimate, they contend, because some Jews — such as college students who live in one place and go to school elsewhere, or retirees who live part-time in one city and part-time in another — were likely counted twice…

Saxe came to his national estimate of 6.4 million through very different means.

Daunted by the steep expense and lengthy time required by random digit dialing, Saxe and his team ferreted out data that already existed to reach his conclusion. This included information from more than 150 government surveys on topics completely unrelated to Judaism, such as health care or education. Each study had a sample size of at least 1,000 people, and each study asked the question: What is your religion?

“From this, we are now absolutely confident — and it has been vetted by all sorts of groups and people — that about 1.8% of the adult American population says that their religion is Judaism,” he said.

Saxe adjusted his sample to account for children and came to a total of 6.4 million Jews in America.

In order to count and know more about relatively smaller populations in the United States, say Muslims in the United States when asking questions about religion, survey researchers often try to oversample these groups so that they can draw conclusions from a larger N. But as this article notes, finding people of smaller groups through random-digit dialing can take a long time.

Both of these researchers worked with existing data in order make generalizations: one worked with local figures and the other used a sample of large-scale surveys. In both cases, this is a clever use of existing data because doing a large-scale survey would have likely been a lot more costly in terms of time and money.

I would guess both sets of researchers are happy that their figures are close to those of the other study as this enhances the validity of their numbers.

Interpreting the FBI’s 2009 hate crime report

Hate crime legislation is a topic that seems to rile people up. The Atlantic provides five sources that try to summarize and make sense of the latest annual data released by the FBI:

Agence France-Presse reports that “out of 6,604 hate crimes committed in the United States in 2009, some 4,000 were racially motivated and nearly 1,600 were driven by hatred for a particular religion … Blacks made up around three-quarters of victims of the racially motivated hate crimes and Jews made up the same percentage of victims of anti-religious hate crimes.” The report also notes that “anti-Muslim crimes were a distant second to crimes against Jews, making up just eight percent of the hate crimes driven by religious intolerance.” Finally, the report notes a drop in hate crimes overall: “Some 8,300 people fell victim to hate crimes in 2009, down from 9,700 the previous year.”

This is a reminder that there is a lot of data out there, particularly generated by government agencies, but we need qualified and skilled people to interpret its meaning.

You can find the data on hate crimes at the FBI website of uniform crime reports. Here is the FBI’s summary of the incidents, 6,604 in all.

Americans may be generally religious but not necessarily knowledgable

Americans are considered to be a generally religious people, particularly compared to other Western nations. However, new findings from the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life suggest that being religious doesn’t necessarily lead to being knowledgeable about faith traditions:

Forty-five percent of Roman Catholics who participated in the study didn’t know that, according to church teaching, the bread and wine used in Holy Communion is not just a symbol, but becomes the body and blood of Christ.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.

Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15.

So there are two interesting findings: people who are Protestants or Catholics can only answer about half of the questions correctly and they are outperformed by atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons.

It is interesting to think why this may be the case. Do Protestants and Catholics emphasize doctrine less? Can people be more of “cultural” Protestants and Catholics as opposed to dedicated followers? Does the minority/smaller group status of the other groups, atheists, agnostics, Jews, and Mormons, mean that people who are in these faiths have to be more serious, intentional, or knowledgeable?