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Held once a decade, the census, on 27 March, will for the second time include a box for respondents to indicate their religion. “This question is optional, but this doesn’t mean that it isn’t important,” said the Board of Deputies’ Daniel Vulkan. “The answers will help both national and local government in planning the provision of faith-specific services. They also provide invaluable evidence to communal organisations seeking funding for projects.
“If the census shows that a certain area has a lot of young Jewish couples, this may indicate the need for a new Jewish school. An older population might need greater welfare provision, and additional residential accommodation may be needed in areas where the existing housing is overcrowded.”
The Board is now distributing leaflets to synagogues and other communal institutions to raise awareness of the importance of ticking the “Jewish” box. It hopes that this will lead to a better response than a decade ago, when 266,740 people identified themselves as Jewish, far fewer than the minimum estimate of 295,000 put forward by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research.
In Hackney, it is estimated that the Jewish population might have been as much as double the 10,700 recorded in 2001. “As a result, the local community experienced severe difficulties in applying for funding,” according to the Board.
Despite fears among strictly-Orthodox Jews that counting individuals is against halacha, the campaign to encourage communal participation has this year been backed by the rabbinate of the Union of Orthodox Hebrew Congregations and prominent communal figures.
Board Vice-President Jerry Lewis said: “No matter where you sit on the religious spectrum, if you consider yourself to be Jewish tick the Jewish box, please reach out to family and friends to do the same. Your involvement alongside everyone else in the community will ultimately ensure the appropriate provision of funding for the diverse needs of our community.”
Vulkan added: “It’s hard to predict what changes the census will show in the overall size of the community. What will perhaps be most interesting is the geographical shifts over the past decade. However, we’ll probably have to wait until the end of 2012 before we get any hard data.”Every tick will count for the community by Justin Cohen