Institute banner
October 2013

Dear Friends,


The release of our monograph on the socio-demographic characteristics of U.S. Jewry and, several days later of the Pew Forum's A Portrait of Jewish Americans have made for an interesting month. The Jewish community has been transfixed by discussion of demographic issues and both reports have unleashed a virtual tsunami of punditry. 


My colleagues and I have published several commentaries on the reports. Ted Sasson argued in Tablet Magazine that American Jewish attachment to Israel remains resilient. As part of the Forward's coverage of the demographic story, I documented the positive news in the Pew report. And, this past week, Shira Fishman asked in eJewishphilanthropy, Did we get it wrong? Reframing the Pew discussion. One way to summarize our three op-eds is that the bleak narrative of Jewish life being drawn by many commentators is not matched by the data. That there is now broad agreement that the size of the Jewish community is significantly larger than had been accepted (but as we had argued for some time) is fundamentally good news.


I am also very pleased to announce the publication of an important report on economic insecurity developed by a research team headed by Fern Chertok and Daniel Parmer.  At the behest of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island (The Alliance), the research team examined economic insecurity among Jews in a community that was very hard hit by our national economic problems. The report documents the quantitative impact of these problems and also outlines a strategy for the Jewish community to help those in need. A particular focus is on the ways to help individuals before economic problems become catastrophic and how to ensure that they can continue to participate in communal life. 


As always, thank you for your ongoing interest and support of our work.   

Best regards,
Len signature  

Leonard Saxe, PhD

Klutznick Professor of Contemporary Jewish Studies and Social Policy
Director, Steinhardt Social Reseach Institute and Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies

Living on the Edge: Economic Insecurity Among Jewish Households in Greater Rhode Island 



Commissioned by The Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, this report aims to better understand the economic challenges and needs of Jewish households in the Alliance catchment area communities. 


Examined in the report:

  • Macro-level indicators
  • Services currently available 
  • Systematic data about requests for assistance at the synagogue level
  • Indepth interviews with individuals currently experiencing economic hardship 

Read the report.


Key Finding:


The picture that emerges from the current analyses is that economic insecurity is a reality for perhaps half of the Jewish households in the communities served by the Alliance. The economic stability of these households can change month to month and even modest, unexpected expenses or loss of hours at work can catapult a family earning the median income into hardship and the need for external assistance. 


Estimated Economic Insecurity in Rhode Island
Jewish Households (Family of 4)




The economic insecurity described in this report is not a uniquely Jewish problem, however, recommendations should embody Jewish values and traditions and include:

  • The "Torah" of giving and receiving help 
  • Chevre (Fellowship) fund 
  • One-stop portal for services and assistance 
  • Job search services for under and unemployed 
  • Resources for assisting those on the margins 
  • Forecasting committee

An Interview with Fern Chertok, Research Scientist and Principal Investigator 


Fern Chertok
Fern Chertok 
Research Scientist

Can you tell us a little about the impetus for the study?


Rhode Island families, including Jewish households, were especially hard hit by the 2008-2011 recession and, even in the face of a modest improvement in the economy, many face continued economic hardship. Rhode Island still has among the highest rates of unemployment in the nation.


Rhode Island is also home to the oldest surviving synagogue in the United States and its Jewish community has a long history of helping each other, including immigrant mutual aid societies and the Montefiore Lodge Ladies' Benevolent Association in the 1870s. Following in this long tradition of assisting members of the Jewish community in difficulty, the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island is now facing a host of tough decisions about how and where to best deploy its resources to address the economic needs of Jewish households. The Alliance sought the assistance of CMJS to conduct research that would aid their understanding of the economic challenges and needs of Jewish households in the Alliance's catchment area communities.


What is "living on the edge" How did you define economic insecurity?


We used the term "living on the edge" to describe the economic reality of the substantial group of families that stretch to meet their basic living costs and don't earn enough to create their own safety net of personal savings that they can employ in the case of an emergency expense. Even modest unexpected costs can topple the economic stability of these households.



The American Jewish Population Project


In conjunction with American Jewish Population Estimates: 2012, SSRI has developed the American Jewish Population Project, an innovative effort to map the Jewish population in the United States. This project is intended to allow comparative analyses nationally and locally, as well as over time.  


Visit the interactive map and learn about AJPP. 

Volume 7, Issue 3
This Issue
Living on the Edge
Interview with Fern Chertok
American Jewish Population Project
 In the News

JDataa CMJS signature project, collects and provides census-like information about Jewish educational programs in North America. 


Like us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterVisit our blog
Follow Us 

Want to learn more about population studies? Distancing from Israel? Jewish young adults? Now you can follow us on our new blog as well as facebook and twitter. 

Join Our Mailing List
Constructs is the e-newsletter of Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies,   Steinhardt Social Research Institute, and  Fisher-Bernstein Institute