Moving Jewish

How to make a home for yourself in a new Jewish community

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In general, synagogues want new members. Some congregations are better at recruiting them than others. Make sure to visit religious services. Meet with the rabbi, if at all possible. Talk with congregants. Let the clergy, staff, and members woo you, but also realize that you need to take into account both the warmth of the community and the resources you are seeking from a synagogue.

A growing trend is the presence of prayer, learning, and social gatherings apart from synagogues and other formal organizations. Ask around the community about informal minyanim or havurot (prayer groups outside of synagogues), study groups, play groups,  and Shabbat dinner circles for Jewish singles and young couples. Many of these activities provide casual, friendly opportunities to newcomers.

Jewish Education

Not all communities provide choices in children's education. Large communities, however, generally offer two main types of programs for school-aged children: day schools--which offer a full-day program of both secular and religious studies--and supplemental schools, often called "Hebrew," "Sunday," or "religious" schools. The pattern of Jewish schooling varies from community to community. In some cities, Jewish children--even from secular families--are more likely to attend day schools due to a perceived lack of quality in the local public schools. Other communities may only have supplemental (Saturday, Sunday, and/or weekday afternoon) programs available. Ask around and find out what the situation is in your new hometown.

Both types of schools come in different "flavors." Day schools might or might not be associated with a specific Jewish movement (Reform, Conservative, or Orthodox). Schools that are not affiliated with a movement are called "community schools." These schools, instead of promoting a specific type of Jewish ideology and lifestyle, are pluralistic. Among both day schools and supplemental programs, some schools are affiliated with synagogues and some are not; those that are may require synagogue membership.

Every Jewish school has its own personality and culture. The best way to understand the culture of a school is to visit it during school hours, meet the school's administrators, and spend some time with parents and students. You will find significant cultural differences among schools , even those affiliated with the same movement. For example, some Orthodox day schools have a high number of non-Orthodox students; others do not. Some community schools observe kashrut (Jewish dietary laws) strictly, while others have a more lenient policy.

Another good way to get a sense of where each school's priorities lay is to look at how time is divided among academic subjects. Day schools spend different proportions of their day on Judaic vs. secular studies. Religious schools vary not only in the number of classroom hours but also which subjects are taught. Check out school curricula to compare.

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