Survey of SA Jewish community to answer our questions

  • Survey (2)
How do we express our Jewish identity in South Africa? Are most of us religious or not? Just how many of us are there in the country? These are just a few of the questions we will soon be able to answer with certainty thanks to a countrywide survey of the South African Jewish community to be conducted this year by the Kaplan Centre.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Feb 07, 2019

With religious affiliation no longer asked in the South African census, the role of communal surveys has become increasingly important in gleaning information about the Jewish population. The last survey of this kind was conducted 14 years ago, and with the figures becoming increasingly outdated, the Kaplan Centre at the University of Cape Town (KC) and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) in London are joining forces to bring these figures up to date in the form of the Jewish Community Survey of South Africa (JCSSA).

The questionnaire is being compiled by the JPR and KC, who will also both carry out initial data analyses. The survey will be administered online by a major global polling company.

“We need to fill the gaps in our knowledge of the community,” says associate professor Adam Mendelsohn, the Director of the Kaplan Centre. “While we may have some stats from independent research, no holistic collection of data on the broader community has been gathered for some time.

“Investment in Jewish communal life in South Africa benefits from being based on reliable and timely data. The data from the study will assist with community planning, service provision, care needs, Jewish schooling, and other communal programmes that strengthen the vibrancy of Jewish life in the country.”

Because our understanding of the community has been based largely on anecdotes and speculation for the past few years, the timing of this survey is particularly important.

“People in the Jewish community don’t know as much as many of them believe they do,” says Survey Project Co-ordinator Reviva Hasson. “The Jewish community has been evolving in all sorts of ways over time. Think schooling, migration, and expressions of Jewish identity. But without access to the solid empirical data that this survey will deliver, it is reliant on anecdotes when making important planning decisions about the future and the allocation of communal funds.”

Hasson says that the this survey is being conducted for the benefit of the community. “Because the Kaplan Centre is an independent research institute, it is able to offer insight into community dynamics without [having] an agenda of its own. The community will gain essential planning data to help a broad spectrum of Jewish communal bodies better understand the communities they are serving.”

Regarding direct benefits to community members themselves, Mendelsohn says that the information gathered will assist people to plan for the future.

“This survey is essentially a chance for the community to take a selfie and look at where it is,” he says. “By investigating questions like trends in family sizes, the feelings of parents about Jewish schools, issues surrounding anti-Semitism, and impressions of Israel, we can provide community members with useful information that will help guide decisions relevant to the future. This is not a scholarly exercise, but one with practical benefits.”

Mendelsohn expects a reasonable amount of communal participation. Though he acknowledges that the questions posed are time-consuming and demanding to answer, he believes that Jews from across the country recognise the importance of the survey.

Hasson agrees, pointing out that the success of the survey depends on communal involvement.

“We need widespread participation from all segments of the South African Jewish community,” she says. “Whether one is living in the heart of the Joburg Jewish community or in a small country town, whether one attends shul three times a day or has never entered a synagogue, each and every Jew living in South Africa is invited to participate in the survey. The more people participate, the more accurate a picture we can get on what the South African community looks like in 2019. The JCSSA is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for all members of our wonderful community to have their say.”

  • Updates on the launch of the survey are expected to be released soon. The community is assured that the survey will be completely anonymous, and no personally identifying information will be collected. For news and information about how to get involved, visit the survey website and Facebook page at, and


  1. 2 elaine racussen 19 Feb
    please can you print a questionnaire so that
    we can fill it out...…
    The Union of Jewish Women Port Elizabeth has sent this out to all our members, and its for the other groups to try and get their members to fill out the questionnaire.
  2. 1 estelle sher 02 Jul
    have already filled in survey from the chev. Ipresume this is the same.It took me an hour and ahalf!!


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