Linda Kislowicz, CEO of Jewish Federations of Canada – UIA (JFC-UIA), was in Ottawa, September 17, to address a members meeting of the Jewish Federation of Ottawa at which she presented an initial demographic analysis of the 2011 National Household Survey as it pertains to Ottawa’s Jewish community.
The voluntary National Household Survey replaced the obligatory long-form Canadian Census that was conducted every 10 years, most recently in 2001. Because the 2011 survey used a different methodology – which many social scientists believe is less reliable – the data may not be as accurate as what we used to get from the long-form census.
Still, Kislowicz noted, the data from the survey is reliable enough that it can be interpreted with relative confidence and the results paint a fascinating picture that help us to understand some of the problems we face as a community and challenges we’ll have to meet in years to come.
Some results were surprising. After decades of double-digit percentage growth that far outstripped the overall growth of Canada’s national Jewish community, Ottawa’s Jewish community grew by just 2.8 per cent from 2001 to 2011 (compared to national growth of 4.7 per cent). As of 2011, the Jewish population of Ottawa was estimated to be 14,005 people, up from 13,630 in 2001.
And, while the size of the community grew, one of the most important demographic groups declined as the number of children aged 14 and younger fell to 2,255 in 2011 from 2,725 in 2001. There were almost 500 fewer children in the community in 2011 than a decade earlier.
In part, this helps to explain the trend of declining enrolment at Ottawa’s Jewish day and supplementary schools in recent years. While our schools and the community have already taken many innovative steps to ensure the long-term viability and educational enhancement of our Jewish schools, we will need to continue to be innovative and creative to bring ever greater proportions of our children to Jewish day and supplementary schools.
The real growth in Ottawa’s Jewish community – and it was as significant as the decline in the number of children – was among the middle-aged, those between 45 and 64, and among seniors, aged 65 and over.
The good news in those numbers is that middle-aged adults – the baby-boom generation – are at the peak of their earning years and, for many, their children are grown and independent. Therefore, many in this age group are well-positioned to help the community through increased charitable giving and by having more time to devote to volunteerism.
And that trend continues into the senior age group. With more and more of us remaining vigorous and healthy as we get older, the volunteer corps – upon which the community relies – becomes stronger and even more vital.
But, clearly, ours is an aging community and that trend is likely to continue. This indicates a need to focus greater attention in programming and services on older members of the community as we move forward.
One of the most interesting areas of the survey pertains to intermarriage. Ottawa’s intermarriage rate was at 39.9 per cent in 2011, up from 32 per cent in 2001. More strikingly, the intermarriage rate for couples under age 30 was 53.8 per cent. The survey also indicates that, while 28.6 per cent of young children in intermarried families are being raised Jewishly, 52.5 per cent are being raised with no religious affiliation.
This shows there is much potential for outreach to ensure the unaffiliated feel welcome in the Jewish community – and that there will be potential for enrolment growth in our Jewish schools as the unaffiliated begin to feel there is a place for them in the community.
It should also be noted that, as of 2011, Jews made up only 1.2 per cent of Ottawa’s overall population. Ethnically, this compares to the city’s growing Arab community, which comprised 4.4 per cent of the city’s population.
Finally, while any rate of poverty is unacceptable and needs to be addressed, there is a relatively low rate of poverty in Ottawa’s Jewish community at just 8.9 per cent. This is the lowest rate of poverty for all Canadian Jewish communities and compares favourably to the 13.5 per cent poverty rate overall in Ottawa.
Kislowicz’s presentation was based on the first findings of the 2011 National Household Survey. There will be more to come.