The Associated: Jewish Federation of Baltimore recently participated in a Brandeis University study on the impact of COVID-19 on the Jewish community during the first three months of the pandemic.
Baltimore was one of 10 Jewish communities to participate in “Building Resilient Jewish Communities: A Jewish Response to the Coronavirus Crisis,” which was conducted by the university’s Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies.
Other communities included Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, MetroWest, N.J., Washington, D.C., Palm Beach County and South Palm Beach County, Fla., and St. Louis.
The study collected data from more than 1,300 local respondents and 15,000 across the nation. “The study was designed to provide timely information that Jewish organizations can use to more effectively meet the needs of their community members,” according to the Brandeis University website.
The study surveyed participants about their experiences during the early months of the pandemic and focused principally on their social and emotional health, economic well-being and relationship with Jewish institutions.
Martin S. Himeles, chair of The Associated’s Research and Grants Workgroup, said the study “reflects a snapshot in time, with data collected in May and the first half of June when economic relief from the CARES [Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security] Act and unemployment [benefits] was flowing. Stay-at-home orders were beginning to be lifted.”
Unlike community demographic studies commissioned by The Associated every decade to survey the general Baltimore area Jewish community, Himeles said “Building Resilient Jewish Communities” drew heavily on respondents affiliated with Jewish institutions.
One of the study’s key findings was that the pandemic has taken a considerable toll on the mental health of the community’s young adults between the ages 18 to 34.
“If you think about it, it’s not surprising,” said Himeles. “Young adults are less settled in their lives and there is a lot of uncertainty.”
Fifty-five percent of young adults surveyed said they were experiencing emotional difficulties that impact their daily lives. This was the case despite the fact that young adults tend to enjoy larger social circles than individuals in other age groups, said Himeles.
The study also found that financial challenges were at the root of mental health difficulties for many respondents. These challenges were greater for individuals who were financially insecure prior to the pandemic.
Himeles said older respondents tended to be more concerned about how the economic challenges of the pandemic might impact their retirement needs, while younger respondents worried more about their immediate fiscal needs.
Individuals with strong ties to Jewish communal organizations and groups were more likely to maintain those connections during the pandemic, the study found.
“With the onset of the pandemic, Jewish volunteers and professionals began to reach out to community members to check in, invite them to virtual programs and ask for donations,” said Himeles.
Meanwhile, plans for charitable giving among respondents remained strong during the early months of the pandemic, said Himeles.
“We found that 13 percent of respondents are planning to increase their support [for Jewish organizations] and 61 percent are planning to give at the same level [as in 2019],” he said.
The study also found that support for Jewish causes remained strong among Associated donors, but decreased slightly for those who gave to other Jewish or secular causes. This includes charities related to the pandemic, political activism and social justice issues.
“Four out of five Jewish adults participated in some aspect of Jewish life in the month prior to participating in the study,” said Himeles. “Online Jewish life increased, and [the fact that programs were virtual] reduced some barriers to participation. There was no travel or membership needed to participate in many virtual programs, and many programs were free. But online Jewish programming failed to attract many new participants.”
While affiliated Jews participated in new community programming offered during the pandemic, Himeles said the programs did not result in forging new connections among individual participants outside of the programs.
The study, he said, confirmed that the federation’s “centralized system, which is unique to Baltimore, has enabled The Associated to keep in touch with the needs of the community and to be nimble in meeting those needs. The Associated is very committed to using research and data to support programming.”
To view the Baltimore report, visit https://associated.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/BRJC.Baltimore.Key-Findings-Report.082120.pdf.