Stay or Go: Chicago’s Jewish Community Has a Choice to Make

October 23, 2023

With rising anti-Semitism in the Windy City, does the urban equation still add up for the 85,000 Jews in Chicago?

Roughly two percent of the world’s Jewish community resides in the greater Chicago area.

According to a recent Brandeis study of the Chicagoland Jewish community, in 2020, there were 319,600 Jewish adults and children spread across 175,800 households in Chicago and its suburbs. Chicago’s Jewish population count was 85,000 at the time of the study.

Chicago Jews are a diverse bunch. Some are observant, following as many of the 613 mitzvot (which comprise “doing good deeds” or “avoiding bad deeds") as possible, including putting on Tefillin, observing shabbat and the holidays/festivals, and saying prayers daily.

Others worship themselves, including Zen and the art of vaginoplasty.

By the numbers, Chicago’s Jewish community was seven percent Orthodox (i.e., observant) in 2020 (the same as 2010). Conservative Jews, who generally believe they are fully observant with a few caveats, although the Orthodox would disagree, made up 16 percent of the population (down from 30 percent in 2010). Reform Jews (the Unitarians of the Jewish world) came in at 29 percent (down from 45 percent). Somewhat shockingly, 44 percent of the Jewish community had “no denomination” in 2020 (up from 14 percent in 2010).

But the politics of Chicago’s Jewish community should surprise no one: 16 percent volunteer themselves as “extremely liberal”; 36 percent clock in as liberal; 18 percent are moderate; six percent are slightly conservative; 10 percent are conservative; and 2 percent are extremely conservative.

In short: Most Chicago Jews don’t agree on much, but they tilt far to the political "left" outside the Orthodox community. In fact, many of Barack Obama’s biggest fanboys (inside baseball note: Who were generally responsible for driving his rise to fame even before his run for the White House) came from Chicago's Jewish community – think the Pritzker family, for one.

So it would come as no surprise that when Chicago played host to the mostly peaceful parades of 2020 and the rise of BLM, that a portion of the Jewish community was excited to deconstruct its white Jewish privilege even in Conservative Jewish Day schools.

But increasingly, the embrace of woke anti-Semitism by the progressive left in the form of DEI is giving agita (Yiddish for heartburn) to more and more members of the Jewish community who previously lapped it up.

After all, when one Jewish school celebrated decolonization and BLM (whose hatred of Jews and Israel was known as far back as 2016) and continued in 2023 to celebrate the voluntary sterilization of children on social media (showing the full face of kids without protecting identities, which we did, below), it would only be a matter of time before more community members would recall Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Like making sure there is a next generation? 

Image source: Instagram

As one community member in the Chicagoland Jewish community notes:

“In recent weeks, more and more Chicago Jews have realized the various social justice movements that they were advocating for in the recent past, which encouraged them to atone for their Jewish privilege while condoning murder and sterilizing their kids in the name of DEI, were actually the deadly enemy within, even if many refused to see it initially.”

The connections between the political left and anti-Semitism are impossible to avoid now, as author Michael Shermer points out on Twitter.   

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Closer to home, Chicago’s BLM Chapter let the Jewish community know where it (still) stood with a single tweet that glorified the method of how over a thousand civilians (including babies) were brutally murdered, tortured, raped, and kidnapped in Israel. 

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Jew hate in Chicago is not just limited to those hiding behind a veil (literally and figuratively).

Even Chicago’s elected officials have gotten in on vile acts of anti-Semitism. In fact, all six of Chicago City Council's Democratic Socialists of America (DSAs), Jeanette Taylor, Byron Sigcho-Lopez, Rossana Rodriquez Sanchez, Andrew Vasqez, Daniel La Spata, and Carlos Ramirez-Roza have stated the quiet part out loud in recent weeks – sometimes very out loud: 


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The Chicago legal community has also voiced its support for killing Jews, with Sarah Chowdhury, President of the South Asian Bar Association of Chicago, not mincing words:

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Even the Art Institute (still short a few docents we hear) has employees with lovely views towards the Jewish community: 

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The pro-Hamas protest marches in Chicago in which refrains such as “death to Israel” have been heard by Chicago Contrarian’s own terrified friends have in fact taken place for years in the city, albeit on a smaller scale than the one below last week:

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What is the impact of all of this vitriol targeting the Chicago Jewish community?

Increasingly, Chicago Contrarian is hearing from Jewish sources who remain in the city that they are “scared” and “sad”, even if Mayor Brandon Johnson “did a mitzvah,” according to one source, recently embracing the Jewish community by forcing the passage, over anti-Semitic voices in City Council, of a city statement condemning Hamas and supporting Israel. (Perhaps he realized where many of his campaign dollars came from.)

Chicago Jews are scared for their own safety as pro-Hamas protestors roam Chicago’s streets (including the busing in of radical Muslims from outside the city, according to sources) and as anti-Semitic hate crime increases.

And they are sad at the loss of a metropolis they played a key role in building up over the last century. Which leaves the Chicago Jewish community with a choice: Stay or go.

As one community member observes:

“We as a people learned the hard lesson when millions of us stayed and perished in Europe last century, that hope and faith alone can be a death sentence. Personally, I can say that after observing the anti-Semitism that has taken over Chicago in recent weeks, the North Shore and Florida are calling us with a giant magnet and saying ‘get out now you idiots’.”

He continues: “If Chicago loses more of the Jewish community, as it looks like it will, especially the secular community [Conservative, Reform and Non-Affiliated] that has invested so much personal and financial capital in the city, the city will lose a giant piece of itself.”

“I don’t think many in Chicago politics — besides the Mayor through his recent actions — truly see how recent anti-Semitism will accelerate the city’s economic and social decline even faster than it was falling before,” he concludes.

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