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Come My Way

Faygie Levy Holt

Smaller Jewish communities across the country are looking to grow numbers by enticing people away from big cities. Community recruiters make it happen

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

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“It’s not like going to the moon. Cincinnati, for instance, is within driving distance of Lakewood, Brooklyn, Far Rockaway, and Baltimore. You’ll still make it to your family simchahs”

Binyamin Teitelbaum spent much of the spring handling calls from prospective homeowners asking about the local eiruv, taxes, job opportunities, and more. Teitelbaum, though, isn’t a realtor, but a community recruiter, one of a growing number whose goal is to help families make one of the biggest decisions of their lives. 

Many of those initial contacts take a similar track, says Teitelbaum, a member of the Cincinnati kollel. Either the husband or wife will call and say, “Hi, I saw your ad [in Mishpacha magazine or elsewhere] and want to hear more about Cincinnati. We’ve been considering moving out of town and want to learn more about it.” 

Oftentimes the questions they ask will also echo one another. “I get asked most about the level of chinuch in town, which is, baruch Hashem, an area our community invests heavily in. They also ask about the price of housing, which is affordable, and the type of people who comprise our community, which is fantastic,” he says.

“We were kind of frustrated because new families weren’t coming in. Either they didn’t know about Rochester, or they didn’t know it was a viable option”

According to the US Census Bureau, from 2012 to 2013, 35.9 million people in the United States moved residences. Spurred on by lower housing costs, family-related concerns, and job opportunities, they packed up and headed elsewhere. More than 4 million of those surveyed moved more than 200 miles from their previous home. 

Similar factors are influencing young religious families to pick up and move from traditionally popular and heavily Jewish neighborhoods in the New York metropolitan areas to small, out-of-town Jewish communities. Helping them navigate the ins and outs of relocating — from housing to schools, employment opportunities to grocery shopping — are dedicated full- or part-time recruiters. 

“I think the concept of a community-relocation specialist is becoming more of a professional position,” says Hannah Farkas, director of board engagement and new leadership at the Orthodox Union, who helps run the OU’s Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair. Held biennially since 2008 — the next one is in 2017 — the fair brings thousands of people considering a move together with representatives of Jewish communities in the United States and Israel that are looking to grow. 

“I happen to think it’s a very smart thing, because having lay leadership focus on the multiple components of helping people move can be draining on a community and its resources,” Farkas says. A designated point person can better facilitate in all the areas people are looking for, she added, from arranging for pilot trips to housing and jobs.

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