Big Shifts In Queens’ Jewish Demographic

Queens has seen a major shift in its existing Jewish population in recent years. This change in demographics – whether for better or for worse – has already led some synagogues to shutter their doors, while others have found solace in merging with other neighboring temples.

Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council, said that while it is unfortunate, several Conservative synagogues have closed in the borough in recent years.

“In certain areas, we’re losing the Jewish population,” Zalisky said. “It’s dwindling demographics. The populations of these temples are all elderly.”

This originally appeared in the May 28 – June 3, 2015 edition of the Queens Tribune

Because of the aging population, membership at several Conservative temples has been in decline, according to Zalisky. With membership fleeting, some synagogues have been forced to close, while others have managed to keep things alive by merging with other congregations nearby.

“In Bayside they just didn’t do it fast enough or well enough,” Zalisky said, following last week’s announcement that the Bayside Jewish Center will be sold to the School Construction Authority, which plans to build a new high school. “That’s a beautiful building, but unfortunately there are no people to attend services.”

Similarly, the Reform Jewish population has also witnessed a steady drop in the number of congregants over the years.

Like the Conservative population, the number of congregants at Reform synagogues has also witnessed a drop in membership over the years. In communities such as Flushing, where the booming Asian demographic has become most dominant, Reform temples like the Free Synagogue of Flushing have also seen a decline in members from generations prior.

“Flushing is no longer a Jewish area that it once was,” Brian Drutman, a member of the Free Synagogue of Flushing, said. “It certainly has affected the community to some degree.” Drutman said that in a synagogue that is built for a capacity of approximately 700, the congregation is currently about 100 to 150 members strong.

Despite a steady drop in the Conservative Jewish population, Zalisky said that the Orthodox and Bukharan Jewish populations in the Borough are growing. Unlike the Conservative sect, she said that the main issue for the Orthodox population is zoning, since Orthodox families tend to be much larger, several have had to move because they don’t have enough room.

According to Zalisky, the shift in demographics throughout the Borough is just “a sign of the times.” She said that with many conservative synagogues experiencing a decline in their congregations, the Jewish community must take a different approach to preserve the population in Queens.

“We have to revitalize Queens and show the younger population it’s a good place to live,” she said. “We want to see Queens comfortable for all denominations… we also want it to be pro-families.”

Zalisky said that while a predominantly large population of Jewish residents living in Jackson Heights and Bayside has shifted, the QJCC would like to see the pendulum swinging back.