For many Jews, moving to a new home comes with the added challenge of getting acquainted with a new Jewish community. Though some of the advice given here may not be relevant for everyone–not everyone hangs a mezuzah on their doorposts, for instance–the following suggestions can help alleviate some of the stress of finding your way into and around a new Jewish community.
Check the Internet
Search for the website of the local (or closest) Jewish Federation. The easiest way to do this is to visit the website of The Jewish Federations of North America, the organization linking all North American Jewish Federations. Most Federation sites feature guides to local congregations, schools, community centers, singles events, and local Jewish activities. Often, one can also obtain from the Federation a “welcome package” that includes a guide to community services or a trial subscription to the local Jewish newspaper.
Check the website of the local Jewish newspaper. Most, but not all, local Jewish newspapers have their own website. Reading articles on the site will often give you a general idea of the demographics of the community, its political bent, its issues of concern, and its diversity (or homogeneity). (Links to some Jewish newspaper sites can be found by clicking here.)
Check the web for resources you know you will need to access. Most synagogues, JCCs, and day schools have their own websites. Some cities have a general website about their Jewish community and its resources. (Links to some community sites can be found by clicking here.)
If you are committed to a specific Jewish movement, check the website of the movement for local congregations. (The links can be found by clicking here.)
Does your friend’s brother live in your new hometown? Did your college buddy live there for awhile? What about the children of your father’s tennis partner? Even a mere acquaintance can sometimes give you a useful introduction to local Jewish life. Here are some other people likely to help:
Ask your realtor. If you are buying a home, ask your real estate agent about Jewish neighborhoods or ask to see homes near a particular synagogue or school.
Ask your rabbi. Many times, your current rabbi (or cantor) will be able to tell you a bit about Jewish life and resources in even distant communities, or hook you up with someone who can.
Call and/or e-mail any organization that you think might be helpful or that you are considering joining. Most Jewish organizations have informational mailings they will be more than happy to send out. Once you receive the information, come up with a list of questions and don’t be afraid to call the organization back for additional details.
Request prospective membership materials from synagogues.These will provide an important first glimpse at the character and culture of each congregation.
Call schools and ask for registration forms and program details. In addition to the registration forms, ask also for a parent handbook (if one exists) and a curriculum overview. Be sure to ask about registration policies as well as the dates (calendar) and schedules (class days and hours) of classes.
Sign up for e-mail lists. Community, social, and volunteer organizations often have monthly or weekly e-mail lists that keep you up-to-date with events and activities. Knowing what’s going on is the first step to getting involved and meeting new friends.
The Grand Tour
It’s a good idea to scope out the Jewish community if you are able to visit your new home before moving.
Set up visits with schools and synagogues. Make sure you meet with the staff people in charge, including rabbis, cantors, and school directors.
Check out the local grocery stores. The availability and variety of kosher and Jewish-ethnic food can communicate a lot about a community.
Time the drive between your home and any places to which you are likely to travel frequently.
Find the resources you and/or your family might need immediately upon arrival. If you are expecting a baby shortly after moving, make sure you acquire names of mohelim (ritual circumcisers, people who perform brit milah) and/or details for baby namings and simhat bat celebrations. If you observe the laws of family purity, locate the closest (and nicest) mikvah. If you have a family member who needs to locate a minyan at which to recite kaddish for a loved one, check out the schedules and availability of services.
Pack It Up & Move It Out
Make yourself a Shabbat kit. One of the best things you can do in your new home is to celebrate Shabbat. Even if you end up ordering pizza delivery, the Shabbat evening rituals can be a meaningful way to bring holiness into your new home. Even though you might be unpacking gradually, it is a good idea to pack your Shabbat candlesticks, candles, challah cover, and Kiddush cup accessibly.
Take down your mezuzah. The last thing you should do before leaving your old home is to take down your mezuzot (if you have them). When you take them down, keep each mezuzah case and parchment separate (Ziploc bags work well) and include the screws or nails that you used to hang it. There are also those who hold by the halakhah (Jewish law) that you cannot take down your mezuzot if another Jewish person is moving into your home. If you are concerned about this law, consult your rabbi.
Announce Your Arrival
Make sure to transfer memberships in organizations such as Hadassah, B’nai Brith, and youth groups.
Call your previous contacts. If you spoke with any synagogues, schools, organizations, or individuals while researching, make sure you call them once you’ve arrived. If you have been in touch with a rabbi at the congregation you plan to attend, it is a good idea to call him or her and let them know the day before you attend Shabbat or festival services for the first time so that they can announce your presence.
Hang a mezuzah on your front door. Your Jewish neighbors might notice and introduce themselves. If you’re lucky, you might even get a Shabbat dinner invitation out of it. The halakhah is that you are expected to put a mezuzah up in the first 30 days after your arrival. (For a multimedia guide on how to hang a mezuzah, click here.)
As you meet new people, create a list of questions that will help you navigate Jewish life in your new home. You might want to include the following questions:
- Where do I find the tastiest challah?
- Where can I buy Shabbat and yahrzeit candles?
- Which grocery stores have the best selection of kosher, Jewish, or kosher-for-Passoverfoods?
- Is there a short-cut to the synagogue (school, JCC)?
- At what time do people really show up to services on Shabbat morning?
Pronounced: KID-ush, Origin: Hebrew, literally holiness, the blessing said over wine or grape juice to sanctify Shabbat and holiday.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: muh-ZOO-zuh (oo as in book), Origin: Hebrew, a small box placed on the right doorpost of Jewish homes. It contains a parchment scroll with verses from the Torah inscribed on it, including the Shema prayer (Deuteronomy 6:4-9, 11:13-21).
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.