It might seem obvious to those of us that live in Brooklyn’s southern stretches, but research has confirmed it: New York is populated by more Russian Jews than any other place in the world. But putting a number on that population – here and in the country as a whole – remains an elusive task.

Harvard University recently hosted a conference to examine issues of Russian-speaking Jewry, but the event appears to have led to more academic squabbling than certainty.

Some speakers at the event claimed that the nation was home to as many as 800,000 Russian-speaking Jews, while others put it at less than 500,000.

“By any account, the number of Russian-speaking Jews in the United States now probably exceeds those of Russia and Ukraine combined,” said Sam Kliger director of Russian community affairs at the American Jewish Committee. Kliger believes previous studies underestimated the population. “New York today is populated by more Russian Jews than any other place in the world.”

While other academics put the number significantly lower than Kliger and company, there are a few things on which they agree, according to a Forward report:

Demographers and sociologists are largely in agreement on the number of people from the former Soviet Union — about 700,000 — who immigrated to America in the last great wave, between 1971 and 2009. They also agree that about half of that population lives in New York City, with other large communities in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco and South Florida.

The number is important in establishing the size of the nation’s Jewish population – and what percentage of it hails from the former Soviet Union. The percentage ranges from 6 percent to 12 percent, making it a sizable swath of America’s culturally (and theologically) diverse Jewry – and one that has distinct needs.

Those needs speak to the importance of pegging down an accurate number.

“If you are engaging in planning for a segment of the Jewish community, you would like to know where they live and how many they are,” said Barry Chiswick, chair of the economics department at George Washington University. “And if you are setting up a program to facilitate adjustment to the United States or adjustment to being actively Jewish, you want to know how many people you are talking about, so having those numbers is really important for many purposes.”

A point of contention is how the academics are determining who is Jewish. Those on the lower side of the scale count only those who self-identify as Jewish, while those who estimate higher numbers include non-Jewish Russian-speakers who followed Jewish family members to the states.

Here at Sheepshead Bites, we’ve seen battles unfold in the comments section about who is Jewish, who is Russian, who is a Russian Jew, if Russian Jews even exist – and on and on and on. Conventional thinking is that Russian-Americans tend to be more secular, though they hold more conservative ideas and stronger ties to Israel, than their American-born counterparts. And, with most Russian-speakers in the United States being Jews, non-Jews tend to get lumped in with them.

So, since we have so many Russian-speaking Jewish readers, as well as those who live among them, let’s help out these academics. What does it mean to be a Russian-speaking Jew, and how is it different from non-Russian-speaking Jews and Russian-speaking non-Jews?

And, please, be civil, be sensitive, be thoughtful. Provocations, and responses to them, will be deleted.

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  • SUPERHERO

    goo Russia!

  • nolastname

    I didn’t read the article, but the pic…..M&I is the best. My first introduction to ready to go soups, meats, salads and all the deserts OMG. Sooooo much better than any place I have been. Now I will read, lOL.

    • nolastname

      I read it, no surprise to me.

  • applegreen

    wonder how this research was done. i mean, if any one of us were contacted for this study, someone would have heard it through the grapevine. 

  • ChechnyanfreedomNOW

    NY also has the largest population of cockroaches, rats and other vermin that are surely less destructive to society than those who this article tries to honor.

    Rats are only known to spread disease – they don’t steal billions in fraud nor receive billions more in Medicaid, Foodstamps and free housing while they drive Mercedes Benzes.

    I’ll take the rats and roaches over russians…

    • SUPERHERO

       hater

      • ChechnyanfreedomNOW

        pig

    • Local Broker

      You shouldn’t hold back and tell them how you really feel.

  • Old Sheepshead Hand

    As a descendant of pre World War II and post World War II Jews (but not Soviet or Post Soviet Jews…that may matter), I use the Woody Allen test for Jewish identity.

    If your grandmother was raped by Cossacks, you’re a Jew of Russian descent.

  • Guest

    Not all of the Russians here are Jewish. We have to count all Russians that live in NYC.

  • sasha

    If your mother is jewish than you are a jew.. doesn’t get any simpler than that 

  • Arlene

    Bet you way more Russian Jews have emigrated to Israel than to south Brooklyn. — non-Russian-speaking Russian/Polish/British/American Jew

  • Anonymous

    this article used word Jew 9 times. And word Jewry 2 times.

    • Anonymous

      That is what it’s about!

  • applegreen

    its easier to determine who is a Soviet Jew, as opposed to “Russian – Jews” 
    in former soviet union - Jew was considered to be an ethnicity, much like Uzbeks, Kazakhs etc, because – keep in mind – Soviet Union was an “atheist” state (With slight preference on the Orthodox Christianity), so there was no religion of Jew- just an ethnic group. 
    To some ppl, a “Russian- Jew” means half/half(i.e. Slav/Jew) and not a Jew that speaks Russian.

    As for who is Jewish, in terms of religion, that depends upon which Rabbi you ask. Some will include any descendant of a Jewish person. That could be your grandpa, or your paternal grandma.

    and although there are plenty of Soviet-Russian -Speaking-Jews that moved to Israel, many more moved here, some leaving Israel for the States. 

  • Meallad

    “By any account, the number of Russian-speaking Jews in the United
    States now probably exceeds those of Russia and Ukraine combined,” said
    Sam Kliger director of Russian community affairs at the American Jewish
    Committee.

    So we are here discussing the unsubstantiated statistics that was stemmed from Sam Kliger’s personal beliefs and nothing else.  So he is more correct than other academics.  WHY?  Just because he said so? 

    ISRAEL is home to 900,000 jewish settlers from Russia, and that’s not even accounting for ukrainian jews that immigrated to Israel. 

    As far as your questions:  What does it mean to be a spanish-speaking catholic? and how is it different
    from non-spanish-speaking catholics and spanish-speaking non-catholics? 

    Sheepsheadbaybites, what are you trying to stir?

  • U.S. citizen

    Remember that old movie  The Russians are coming  The Russains are coming   and   they have

    • Anonymous

      funny movie. even had a little love story in it.

  • nat

    i think it’s kinda cool to have all these russian-jews and non-jewish russians together in brooklyn. there was a lot of antisemitism in russia, and here it’s looked down upon. i think many russians that have moved here have become less bound by racial preconceptions.  

  • Hobfolljv

    i don’t know how many Russian Jews there are in the United States; but if my old friend Barry Chiswick is helping count them, he will probably get the number right.

  • Tiasgeo2

    Hello, we are conducting a study for males that are 34-49 and born in Russia and smoke cigarettes. This is a paid focus group, no sales are involved.  It will be held in Manhatten, if interested please email mmcrae@recruitingresourcesllc.com or call 718-222-5600 ext 207

  • emma

    In scandinavia people think jews have a very strange face, especially the nose is very bad-looking,kinda scythe-like they say, . They call it ” Ful nasa”. the word “ful” is pronounced like the english word “fuel”. i kind of feel sorry for them, but maybe its the testosterone.. i´ve heard it increases the tissues inside the nose, especially bone mass.

    In scandinavia people think jews have a very strange face, especially the nose is very bad-looking,kinda scythe-like they say, . They call it ” Ful nasa”. the word “ful” is pronounced like the english word “fuel”. i kind of feel sorry for them, but maybe its the testosterone.. i´ve heard it increases the tissues inside the nose, especially bone mass.

  • emma

    In scandinavia people think jews have a very strange face, especially the nose is very bad-looking,kinda scythe-like they say, . They call it ” Ful nasa”. the word “ful” is pronounced like the english word “fuel”. i kind of feel sorry for them, but maybe its the testosterone.. i´ve heard it increases the tissues inside the nose, especially bone mass.