The Census and the Charedi community

Joel Friedman 

The 2021 Census reveals that the Charedi community is reversing the trend of the UK Jewish population after decades of falling numbers across the country. The JC reported that this is the second successive Census with a recorded rise in the Jewish population – which is almost certainly due to the increasing size of the Charedi community. It comes as no surprise, and it is a given fact and a defining characteristic of charedi community’s the world over that it doubles every 20 years or so – keinehora.

The growth rate is staggering as are indeed the implications of this growth. Charedi communal organisations, such as the Interlink Foundation and JCCG in Gateshead, have been highlighting the need to take a serious look at this for many years. But also those outside the charedi community, chiefly the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) have been saying this for some time. In its 2015 report ‘Strictly Orthodox Rising’ they say: “As community leaders plan for the future, it is essential to monitor the pace and nature of Jewish population growth and decline, and prepare for the community as it will be, rather than as it currently is”. I recall, when this report was first published, we at Interlink took issue with the title – we thought it comes across as scaremongering… However, we could not agree more with the report’s main message.

Truth be told, we also did not concur with the various reports enumerating the charedi population.  We knew for certain there was a significant undercount. Most use, as a starting point the Censuses. However, many don’t fill in the voluntary ‘religion’ question.  Interlink has been gathering data from a wide range communal sources for several years and more importantly – a healthy dose of first hand community insight  – and it just didn’t match up. The overreliance on Census data led to an undercount.

Why is it so important that figures are accurate, I hear you ask? Let me say it as simply as I can – each and every person and the community as a whole, lose out when the counting is off. Local services such as the number of GPs, hospital resources, policing, planning policy and all other such services are largely based on long term population trends and they are based to a large degree on the Census. It makes a huge difference if there are 22,000 charedim in Stamford Hill or 37,000. A huge difference when it comes to, for example, highlighting the challenges of lack of housing and access to public services. It also allows for internal communal organisation to plan. Those born in the last few years will need schools and services and those in a position to provide for them should have them on their ‘radar’ already.

In preparation of the 2021 census, my colleagues and I at the Interlink Foundation and others in Manchester and Gateshead provided support, advice, and guidance to the Census team. Rabbinic backing was strong. We did all we could, to promote and raise awareness of the census amongst the charedi communities across the country. But we know it only goes so far. For example, the Census sent paper forms to some, but not all, addresses in Charedi areas, presumably because of the lack of internet access. However, these forms allowed for five persons, if your household happened to have more than that, you could order additional sheets by post or via their website. With the average Charedi household size somewhere in the region of 6 persons, these part-forms were probably counterproductive.

The JPR is now crunching the data and studying the results and more importantly – what it means for the Jewish community. We will work closely with them and other partners in the community to ensure the data and statistics are as accurate as can be.

To everyone who took the time and effort to return the Census, I thank them on behalf of, well, themselves!

 

Joel Friedman is the Director of Public Affairs at the Pinter Trust, a project of the Interlink Foundation and is one of the leaders of the Canvey Island Jewish Community.

 This Article appeared in Hamodia Prime 21/12/2022 with slight changes.