A Crisis: 63% of Brooklyn Jews Are Non-Observant


jewish-intermarraigeBy Menachem Segal

Brooklyn truly reigns. Outside of Israel, Brooklyn is the indisputable king-the Jewish epicenter and capital of the world. There are more Yeshivos, Mikvaos, Shuls, Shatnez laboratories, Judaica stores, Jewish publications and kosher restaurants in Brooklyn than anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere.  One could easily assume that most Jews in Brooklyn are observant.

Astoundingly, 63% of Brooklyn Jews are not observant (UJA Jewish Community Study of New York, 2002). This may be shocking information at first glance.  However, give thought for a moment about the people around you. How many neighbors on your block are not frum? What about your children’s secular studies teachers? Or the office staff in your doctor’s office? How about the merchants and staff at the grocery, pharmacy, or boutique that you regularly patronize? Or the many waiters and waitresses of local restaurants and eateries? I was certain my local mechanic was a Spanish gentile until I discovered, in the course of conversation, that he was not only Jewish but descended from a distinguished Jewish family.

We are all familiar with Brooklyn College. Are you aware that there are 3,000 Jewish students on this campus alone? Were you informed that areas such as Bay Ridge, Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, DUMBO, Mill Basin, Marine Park, Prospect Park, and Sheepshead Bay are comprised of tens of thousands of unaffiliated young professional Jews?

Here’s the real bombshell: Until very recently aside for Chabad and RAJE, which services Russians, there has been no mainstream Kiruv organization in Brooklyn. While almost every prominent college in North America has Merkarvim on campus, Brooklyn’s colleges have no mainstream Kiruv programs on campus.

A Rav recently officiated at the funeral of an 87 year old woman-described by her neighbors as a typical bubby-from Brooklyn. Tragically, all of the deceased’s sons were intermarried. None of the fine woman’s grandchildren were Jewish.  Her four sons who spent their most formative years in Brooklyn were never exposed to Yiddishkeit. While their immediate neighbors were shlogging kaporos and burning chametz at the curb, these four boys were dating gentile girls.

Regrettably, this story is not unique. This is the sad state of Judaism in Brooklyn. In one corner, Judaism is thriving and growing; in the other there’s apathy, attrition and ignorance.

Brooklyn Jewish Experience/Irgun Lev v’Nefesh, a 501c3 organization, under the devoted leadership of renowned lecturer, author, and Kiruv expert Rav Yitzchok Fingerer, along with a team of dedicated volunteers led by the super-dedicated and indefatigable Ms. Janaya Kerben, is making a real difference in the lives of Brooklyn’s Jews. Their weekly classes, events and mentoring programs are turning peoples’ lives around, ensuring Jewish continuity and a brighter Jewish future. They hosted a Chanukah event in the DUMBO section of Brooklyn that attracted scores of Jews who otherwise may not have celebrated Chanukah. Brooklyn Jewish Experience’s weekly program, hosted in the Brooklyn College Hillel House, is looking forward to its forthcoming exciting Purim event, which will take place on March 16th, for less affiliated college students and young professionals.

As we prepare for Purim and rejoice over our victory against Haman, let’s please all remember that the terrifying decree of annihilation was totally reversed through lech knos kol haYehudim, go and gather together all the Jews-to teach us that every Jew is important.

The goal of Brooklyn Jewish Experience is to educate, inspire and empower our less affiliated brethren in our Brooklyn neighborhood. To learn more how you too can participate and help make a difference, please visit www. thinkandcare.org, or call 646-785-6845.

{Menachem Segal-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. I was hoping for more Kiruv from the entire orthodox community in all my my days gone by. Sadly, I was more exposed to the reform and conservative fringe movements. Perhaps in this day of internet access this will be greatly improved. Thanks.

  2. I’m very glad that Brooklyn Jewish Experience is leading the way in educating and inspiring secular Jews. Having lived most of my life in Brooklyn, I can easily identify with this article.

  3. Proud to read about the important activities of Brooklyn Jewish Experience. It would be nice if they could also visit Public Schools and offer classes to the Jewish high school students as well.

  4. This is shocking news! Why is Kiruv going on all over America and in the boondoks, while our own backyard had nothing? I can sympathize as my neighbor isn’t frum and thus far I’ve had nowhere in Brooklyn to referr him to. You’ve got my donation!

  5. No surprise at all. You always has liberalized American Jews in Brooklyn whose idea of yiddishkeit is FDR and Democrat politics, and eaing corned beef sandwiches and are so non-observant that they out the reformed and conservative temples out of business. These are those who live in places like Gravesend, Mill Basin, Bergen Beach, and patronize places like Jay and Lloyd and Mill Basin delis.

    Then you have the Russians, many of whom are not even halachically Jewish and are instead atheists and Christians, but nonetheless duped naive, welfare state groups like NYANA.

    In the hippie/yippie/yuppie neighborhoods (Park Slope, Bed Stuy, Williamsburg north side) you have chilonim as well who moved in from wherever else they came from.

    Then there are the “Sephardic” and Israeli-types that are questionably religious, lacking in modessty, no kippot, may send their kids to public school, etc.

    Remember- there are only a few Orthodox neighborhoods in Brooklyn (BP, Willi, Flatbush, and narrow swaths in Marine Park, Sea Gate, and Bensonhurst). Bay Ridge, Park Slope, Dyker Heights, Brighton Beach, etc. will never be frum enclaves for obvious reasons.

  6. It disturbs me,that many of the observant Jews in Brooklyn carry outside of the eruv. There haven’t been signs for many years to tell the people where the eruv ends.

  7. It disturbs me,that many of the observant Jews in Brooklyn carry outside of the eruv. There haven’t been signs for many years to tell the people where the eruv ends.

  8. It’s not true that you’re either “observant” or “non-observant.” Say, there’s a family that belongs to a COnservative synagogue, lights candles on Friday night, observes the major holidays and has visited Israel, but doesn’t keep Shabbat, goes to non-kosher restaurants and sends their kids to public schools. I would say these people are “semi-observant.”


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