January 4, 2011

New Jewish Population Studies Support Increased Kosher Sales

 New York…Peggy S., a 31-year old nurse, is a frequent visitor to a large supermarket in the Chicago area because of “its large kosher selection, including challah, brisket, and gefilte fish.” But Peggy, the mother of 4, is married to a non-Jew who understands her desire to be connected to her past through the kosher foods. According to Yakov Yarmove of SuperValu, Peggy is not alone as a growing number of America’s intermarried families frequent the kosher section of supermarkets. A new study recently put the number of Americans identifying themselves as Jewish at 6.5 million, 1.3 million more than the 5.2 million number in the 2001-2002 National Jewish Population Survey by the United Jewish Communities. Researcher Leonard Saxe, one of the authors of the new study, noted that “while some see Jewishness as a religious identity, others see it as a cultural or ethnic designation and might, for example, not answer “Jewish” to a researcher inquiring about their religion. But still, officials like Yarmove and even some local rabbis say that even those that are totally disconnected from other aspects of practicing Judaism, feel “connected” through kosher foods. While there are no hard numbers to quantify the number of such Jews, many retailers feel that is significant, particularly “once you get further away from New York.” Kosher officials say they are not surprised by Saxe’s finding, judging from what they are experiencing in supermarkets throughout the country.

Another huge discrepancy appears to be the number of Israelis living in the US. In a story by Sue Fishkoff in the JTA, it is reported that some 140,323 people living in the US were born in Israel, up from 109,720 in 2000. Of the Israelis living here, 90,179 have U.S. citizenship and 50,144 do not. But Israeli expatriates and Israeli government sources say the true figure is actually much higher. The Israeli Consulate in New York estimates there are 600,000 Israelis living in the United States. The U.S. data on the Israeli population comes from the 2009 American Community Survey, an annual report produced by the U.S. Census Bureau that was released earlier this year and updated in recent weeks. While there is some debate about the discrepancy, kosher food sources actually subscribe to the higher figure, which they base on sales of Israeli foods in such markets as New York, Los Angeles, Miami, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia.