A study released Thursday tells a contrasting tale of two counties: In Nassau, the Jewish population increased by 4 percent in the past decade, while in Suffolk it declined by the same amount.
The Manhattan-based UJA-Federation Jewish Community Study of New York, which examined Long Island, New York City and Westchester, also found that Nassau is home to two out of the six most engaged and active Jewish communities in the region -- the Five Towns and Great Neck.
"Nassau is really holding steady in terms of its Jewish population," said the report's main author, Pearl Beck of the Jewish Policy and Action Research Center in Manhattan. The report found that other communities there also experienced substantial growth in their Jewish populations, including Roslyn, Oceanside, West Hempstead, Valley Stream, Long Beach and the Merrick/Bellmore area.
Beck said she attributed some of the increase to growth among Orthodox Jewish communities that have high birthrates. Nassau's Jewish population was calculated at 230,000; Suffolk's at 86,000.
Beck said she had no clear explanation for the figures from Suffolk, though its Jewish population is more scattered than Nassau's, has a lower level of engagement with Jewish institutions, and is aging. Suffolk also has the highest rate of interfaith marriage of the three suburban counties, she added.
Rabbi Steven Moss of the B'nai Israel Reform Temple in Oakdale said the findings weren't surprising. "This is what I've been seeing happening," he said, as synagogues close or merge, fewer Jews affiliate themselves with synagogues and enrollment in Hebrew schools declines.
But Rabbi Charles Klein, past president of the New York Board of Rabbis and spiritual leader of the Merrick Jewish Centre, said that if the study detected an increase in Nassau's Jewish population, many synagogues are not seeing it. "We're not feeling as though we are a growing community."
The study was based on nearly 6,000 telephone interviews with Jewish people conducted in 2011 after an initial sampling survey of 107,514 households.