Survey of York Region Jews aims to boost engagement

Central Vaughan is home to many young Jewish families
Central Vaughan is home to many young Jewish families

A large segment of Vaughan’s Jewish population can be likened to “swing voters” when it comes to their potential to become more Jewishly engaged, according to a new survey by UJA Federation of Greater Toronto’s Julia & Henry Koschitzky Centre for Jewish Education.

A report based on the survey, The Jewishly Engaged of York Region, was published last month. The poll itself was conducted last fall by the Koschitzky Centre in conjunction with American research firm Measuring Success, as well as 50 Jewish partner agencies.


Its purpose, explained the centre’s executive director Daniel Held, was to determine how Jewishly involved the Jewish community in Vaughan – which he said “is growing by leaps and bounds” – currently is, how its members might consider becoming more involved, and the barriers that prevent them from doing so.

Based on 4,600 responses, the survey found that “central Vaughan,” the portion of the region running along Bathurst Street from Highway 7 north to Major Mackenzie, is an area that Jewish community institutions should target to have the greatest impact on engagement, because it’s home to a high proportion of the GTA’s young Jewish families.

Held said Statistics Canada’s 2011 National Household Survey showed that the Jewish population of Vaughan more than doubled in the last 20 or so years, from 21,290 in 1991 to 47,135 in 2011, and that as of 2011, 30 per cent of Jewish Torontonians under the age of five live in Vaughan.

The report noted that “southern Vaughan,” which runs from Steeles Avenue to Highway 7, already has a “large, established communal infrastructure,” including five day schools. Southern Vaughan has “reached saturation and is no longer growing,” the report said.

By contrast, between 2001 and 2011, the Jewish population of central Vaughan grew by 614 per cent.

Whereas southern Vaughan has a much higher proportion of Orthodox Jews, central Vaughan respondents reported being less likely to attend High Holiday services or to be synagogue members, though their Jewish activities have increased over the last three years more than their southern Vaughan counterparts.

Held said one striking finding was that in Vaughan overall, even among the most Jewishly engaged, parents of school-age children responded “maybe” far more than “definitely” to questions of whether they would send their kids to Jewish day school, supplementary school, day camp, overnight camp and early childhood education programs.

This finding, which the report dubbed “the opportunity of the maybes,” is significant, Held said, and further analysis of the data should shed light on what Jewish agencies can do to reduce obstacles for families.

The centre and the polling firm’s researchers will be doing deeper analysis over the next few months and expect to release a more detailed report in May.

“We can look, for example, at all the people who answered ‘maybe’ to sending their kids to Jewish camp. Then we can look at where they live, their household income, the languages they speak at home and their barriers to entry, to determine the reasons they may or may not send their kids to camp,” Held said.

The survey showed that, across Jewish institutions, finances were the greatest barrier to entry for respondents in the “maybe” category.

In a presentation he prepared for UJA Federation’s board of directors that he supplied to The CJN, Held said it was surprising to learn that finances proved such a significant barrier to families not only for sending kids to day school, but also to supplementary Jewish schools and residential camps.


“It’s clear that the cost of engaging with the Jewish community, in any form, is a barrier we need to lower… especially for middle income families,” he said.

Held stressed that the data must be “drilled into in more detail” over the coming months, in order to learn how to better attract those families in the “swing voter” category.

“It’s incumbent on us and our agencies to face the new challenge of recruitment of these ‘maybes’ head on,” he said.