How to make a home for yourself in a new Jewish community
Though always challenging, moving to a new community can be particularly difficult from a Jewish perspective. Not all Jews belong to synagogues, but most Jews do need to access Jewish community at some point, whether once a year or every day.
At certain times of the year, moving becomes even more challenging. It is difficult, for instance, to focus on finding High Holiday tickets or registering your children for religious school when you're still getting lost on the way home from the grocery store. At the same time, tapping into Jewish community and its resources can alleviate some of the stress of moving by providing friendship, information, support, and recommendations (including where to find the best bagels in town--or a reliable babysitter).
Location, Location, Location
For traditionally observant Jews, living within a mile of a synagogue is a non-negotiable necessity, because driving on the Sabbath is forbidden according to Orthodox halakhah (Jewish law). But even if you drive to synagogue on Shabbat (or are a rare service attendee), living close to a synagogue or Jewish community center still has many advantages. The families and individuals who live in heavily Jewish neighborhoods enjoy a strong sense of community and access to important resources, such as kosher bakeries, Jewish daycare or eldercare facilities, and social networks. For families, proximity to the synagogue or Jewish day school reduces commute times and increases the convenience of socializing with other Jewish families.
Another issue to consider is demographics. Singles should investigate community groups or synagogues where unmarried Jews hang out, but they might be less concerned about the location of the local Jewish day school. Neighborhoods may also be somewhat segregated by denomination or ethnicity; for example, in some cities, Jews of Persian descent will congregate around one particular synagogue.
Choosing a Synagogue
Some places are "one shul towns." Other communities offer dozens of choices. Choosing a congregation that feels like "home" can make a big difference in the ease of getting comfortable in your new town.
Synagogue membership is not for everyone. There are many Jews who feel that they do not make use of the resources of a synagogue enough to merit the cost (actual or perceived) of synagogue membership. If you fit into this category, you may want to reconsider this choice when moving, particularly if moving to the South or Midwest; in those parts of the U.S., cities with smaller Jewish populations often have higher-than-average affiliation rates due to the lack of Jewish community organizations aside from synagogues.
Some people may choose a synagogue even before choosing a home. This can be a useful means of finding a community that is a good fit religiously, socially, and economically. Either way, ask yourself how far you are willing to travel to and from synagogue activities, including (if appropriate) religious school. A half-hour drive might seem like a short distance one-way, but that might be too long for three-day-a-week classes.
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