For those who think that American Jewry doesn’t go much beyond New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Miami, the Boston-based Ruderman Family Foundation has designed an interactive map to disabuse them.
In time for Jewish American Heritage Month in May, the “50 States, 50 Communities” map will show, for example, the Jewish population figures of Virginia, the history of its Jewish and the county with the most Jews (Arlington). Similarly, Marylanders can learn the number of synagogues (90) and about the state’s ties to Israel.
What about the District? Well, it’s there. If you look closely. Or enlarge the map. It’s not a state, after all. So it may be easy to overlook the District’s more than 57,000 Jews and other signs of Jewish life. By contrast, Wyoming (1,150 Jews) is easy to find.
Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation, said the D.C. metro area is one of the significant Jewish communities in the country.
“I think a lot of people in that area have a connection to the government,” Ruderman said. “And I think it’s a vital community in terms of influencing the relationship between Israel and the United States. I also think that it’s a significant community because a lot of people serve in very different capacities, in different aspects of government or in positions that influence public opinion.”
According to the map, Jews account for 8.2 percent of the District’s population. That percentage is second only to New York, where Jews make up 9.1 percent of the state’s population.
Maryland and Virginia have 236,600 and 150,595 Jews respectively, and account for 3.9 percent and 1.8 percent of their states’ respective populations.
The Ruderman Family Foundation seeks to educate Israelis about the American Jewish community. The original version of the project was in Hebrew.
In a release, Ruderman put it this way: “At a time when discourse surrounding Israel-American Jewry relations has heavily focused on criticisms, clashes, and crises, the ‘50 States, 50 Communities’ website offers the defining snapshots of what unites the Jewish communities on both sides of the Atlantic rather than what divides us, in addition to the attributes that make the Jewish community unique in each U.S. state.”
In an interview, Ruderman said the foundation wanted to show Israeli Jews that there is “an active, albeit small” Jewish population in all states. Alabama, for example, has more than 10,000 Jews, 17 synagogues and their own Jewish federation.
“Especially in Israel, often the perception is that Jewish communities are sort of centered into New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and a few other major cities,” Ruderman said. “But even places like Alaska, Hawaii, Wyoming and Alabama have active Jewish communities that play a role in their state.”
Ruderman added that there are a lot of myths about where the Jewish centers of power are. While he said the Jewish population is small in some states, it is significant enough to be a factor politically. Because of that, he believes it is “vitally important” for Israel that the Jewish population is spread out and has ties to each state.
“The Jews are not really just concentrated in certain areas,” Ruderman said. “They are in different places, they have communities, they have history and there’s a reason why they ended up in different states. And they play a role there.”
For those having difficulty finding the District, Ruderman spokesman Jake Sharfman writes:
“Because it is an interactive map and given the size of DC, it can be difficult to find with the cursor, but the Foundation is currently working on solving this.”