“Lech Lecha,” God says to Avram and Sarai in the early chapters of Genesis. “Go forth from your home to a place I will show you….”
Since biblical times, Jews have been leaving home, for reasons ranging from divine command to economic opportunity. Relocation is a big change, and you need to be prepared.
If you are already involved in organized Jewish life in your local community, look for parallel or similar institutions and programs in your new location. If not, consider this move an opportunity to explore your Judaism and Jewish communal life in a different way.
Here are a few “basics” of organized Jewish communal life to explore regardless of your level of affiliation:
In small Jewish communities, the synagogue is often the only, or at least the strongest, sign of Jewish life. In large Jewish communities, joining a synagogue can help you find a niche group. Get a bulletin, try out different Shabbat services, and see if there is programming for the different demographic groups represented in your family. Even if you previously affiliated with a particular movement, don’t let that stop you from checking out different options in your new hometown. Be on the lookout for congregations and havurot that are unaffiliated; they can usually be found in local Jewish newspapers, Jewish city websites, or federation lists. The following movements have lists to their affiliate synagogues: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Chabad-Lubavitch.
Jewish Community Centers
JCC‘s are a central address for Jewish culture and arts, health and fitness, age-specific programming, and camps. JCC’s often have a wide range of services, from childcare and preschool for those with young children all the way to hot meals for seniors. Their membership staff will gladly take you on a tour of the facilities and get a free pass so you can check things out personally.
The Foundation for Jewish Culture has links to Jewish museums, theater groups, and film festivals.
Jewish Social Service Agencies
Jewish social service agencies provide support and guidance at all ages and stages of life. For more than 100 years, Jewish family and children’s services agencies have been providing mental health and vocational counseling, case management, eldercare consultation, support groups, and financial support.
Federations are the central fundraising and networking arm of a local Jewish community. They maintain a community calendar on their websites, along with listings of local Jewish institutions and resources. They may even have a community directory you can download or obtain via mail. Their fundraising supports many local agencies, so they are a good resource for getting to know the community. They are also often involved in local and Israel advocacy, women’s issues, and other areas that may be of interest to you.
Unfortunately, anti-Semitism still exists in some areas. The Anti-Defamation League may have information related to this and other civil rights. If you are politically and civic minded, check out AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, and the American Jewish Congress for local affiliates. Environmentally-conscious movers can visit the Coalition on the Environment in Jewish Life’s list of local partners. Jewish Funds for Justice lists opportunities for social action in a Jewish context across North America, as does SocialAction.com.
Some larger communities even have a Jewish information and referral service. The local federation or Jewish family service agency are likely repositories for this service. Staff and volunteers may send out information packets, host an information hotline, and maintain websites to give locals and newcomers alike the most current information on Jewish programs and resources, ranging from kosher butchers to Jewish preschools and everything in between.
Get a copy of the local Jewish newspaper, sign yourself up for electronic updates offered by local organizations, and don’t be afraid to “cold call” professionals in Jewish organizations. If you are uncomfortable about placing a call, start with email correspondence. If a real estate purchase is part of your move, consider contacting Shalom Home, a national service providing relocation support in a Jewish context.
Young adults have some unique considerations when moving. Does the new city have a sizeable young adult constituency? Do area synagogues meet young adults’ interests? The websites listed above should help you answer some of these questions. Gesher City is a program in many cities for adults in their 20s and 30s. Gesher City partners with existing area institutions such as synagogues, JCC’s, and federations to facilitate and promote programming for younger adults. Their website gives users the opportunity to start interest groups, helping young adults meet like-minded peers with similar passions.
birthright israel alums can connect with others who went on an Israel trip and now live in your new hometown. The local Hillel may have a graduate student and/or young professionals group, or perhaps your university has its own local Jewish alumni association. Social networking sites such as Meetup and Facebook can also be used to either seek out people in your area.
Singles may also want their involvement to provide opportunities to meet a special someone. Investigate sites like JDate to get a sense of the number of Jews in your age bracket in the new city, and how this compares to where you are now.
Families will want to consider the Jewish options for youth. Are the synagogues in the new area child friendly? Do they have extensive children’s programming, or are the demographics of the congregation–and therefore its programming–skewed towards people without children?
Families with school-aged children should explore Jewish education options. What is the quality of local supplementary schools and are they easy to access from area public and private schools? Are there Jewish day schools? RAVSAK, the independent day school network can help you locate a school, and each Jewish religious movement has links on its particular website to its affiliated schools. The community may also have a central agency of Jewish education with consultants available to help you make Jewish education decisions for your family.
Beyond the synagogues and schools, what does the local Jewish community have to offer your children? Is there a JCC that offers programming for all family members? Are there Jewish childcare options, youth groups and camps? JCCs and synagogues can help to provide some answers.
If one adheres more strictly to Jewish law, are there plentiful kosher food options? Are there good neighborhoods in walking distance of traditional congregations, and an eruv to permit carrying on Shabbat between home and synagogue? A community directory, Jewish information service, or local traditional synagogue should be able to answer such questions.
If you are part of an intermarried family, check out the Jewish Outreach Institute. JOI provides links to local communities and programming that is welcoming to interfaith families.
Older adults may choose to move to live in a better climate or to be closer to children and grandchildren. Alternatively, adult children may initiate a move to bring frail parents nearby. In any case, services exist to ensure a smoother transition. The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies has a directory of its local affiliates and a directory of elderly support services. This list can help a family with ailing parents find support services or help active adults find volunteer opportunities in their new locale.
Some communities have more supports for seniors than others. If you are forced to move away from ailing parents, use these resources to find out if it’s better to allow your parent(s) to remain with communal supports or relocate with you. United Jewish Communities Washington office spearheads a National Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities (NORCs) Aging in Place Initiative.
Moving to a new place can be challenging, but asking the right questions can make all the difference. If your move takes you to a place where the Jewish community doesn’t meet your needs, be a change agent, and make it your ideal place. Be an asset to your community wherever you choose to live, and take advantage of the wonderful resources that many communities already have to offer.
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.
Pronounced: shuh-BAHT or shah-BAHT, Origin: Hebrew, the Sabbath, from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.