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A Place to Call Home

Esther Ilana Rabi

Trying to find the right community can be daunting. For before we look for a community’s strengths, we need to know our own.

Wednesday, June 08, 2016

One of the most crucial decisions we make — after “Who will I marry?” — is “Where will we live?” A community can support us, nurture us, and also shape us. What to keep in mind when making this important decision, and how to flourish in the community you choose. Trying to find the right community can be daunting. For before we look for a community’s strengths, we need to know our own. “Self-awareness is crucial when it comes to choosing where to live,” says Rebbetzin Aliza Bulow. 

As director of Ner LeElef’s North American women’s program, she counsels hundreds of women moving into new communities. “Do you want to be a leader? Do you see yourself more as a pillar-of-the-community type? Or would you rather be just one of the crowd? Do you need to live with inspiring people you can look up to? Or will you be that person for others, and connect with your own role models from a distance? “If you’d love to live a life of service, ask yourself: ‘Who do I want to serve?’ Then think about how much you’re willing to give up to do that. 

‘Could I stand loneliness like the family that runs the Chabad House in Bangkok, who know they’ll never be part of a community? Do I need face-to-face time with friends I can really relate to, or can my social needs be met by a “snacking relationship” with some not-yet-religious college kids?’ Some things seem doable when you’re young, 24 or 25, but a few years down the line you realize, ‘Yikes, I need friends!’ ” Rebbetzin Bulow points out that even if someone isn’t the pioneer type or involved in kiruv, they can channel leadership abilities in a community that needs lay leaders. “Woman power is at a high premium today,” she notes. “Forty years ago, shuls and yeshivos had ladies’ auxiliaries that raised money for scholarships, building maintenance, and redecorating the social hall, and mothers had time to chaperone field trips and school activities. Now that women are selling their time outside the community instead of donating to it, our infrastructure is much weaker. 

Shoring that up might be the goal you aspire to, and if so, you’ll want to look for a community that would welcome it.” Nefesh B’Nefesh helps Anglos moving to Israel find their place. But the guidance their seasoned experts offer doesn’t just apply to Israel — it’s good advice for anyone searching for a community. “Nothing beats a pilot trip,” says community advisor Avi Silverman. “Having spent time with family or friends in a neighborhood isn’t enough to tell you if it’s for you. Even if you enjoyed your stay, it might not be the right place for your family.” When you’re vacationing or visiting family, points out Silverman, you aren’t thinking about important long-term matters like: Can you afford to live in their neighborhood? 
Will you be able to find a job there? Are there schools there that offer what you want for your kids? Will you be able to receive the special services someone in your family might need? Spend time in the potential community on your own, trying to answer these important questions.

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