Out of Borough Experience

Back in the fall, a candidate for the New York State Assembly made construction of major new housing in Boro Park the centerpiece of his campaign. A New York City councilman heartily endorsed that same goal. Currently, a developer is planning to build 13 six-story edifices in the neighborhood that will provide nearly 130 new apartments.

To those of us who don’t live in southern Brooklyn, efforts that will add to the population density and vehicular traffic there (an area some of us call Boro Double-Park) seem to border on irrationality. But of course, to residents who wish to see their married children settle in the neighborhoods where they were raised (and to those children who wish to live near their parents), new housing is an urgent priority.

No one lacking the requisite Rebbishe credentials should arrogate to suggest to others how they should make decisions as important as where to live. But, having just spent a warm, memorable and inspiring Shabbos in Cincinnati, Ohio, I’d like to at least share a few impressions of that small but vibrant kehillah; and some others about some others.

Neither my wife nor I had ever been to Cincinnati before, and the fact that the occasion was an Agudath Israel “Shabbos of Chizuk” and featured a special and celebrated guest from overseas, Dayan Aharon Dunner, surely made it an unusual few days for the community. But it doesn’t take great effort to extrapolate an impression of a community’s essence from even an uncommon Shabbos.

Much of Cincinnati’s kehillah is concentrated in one area, and offers a broad variety of housing options that can cater to Jews all along the economic spectrum. The local day school is an impressive center of Torah chinuch. The mechanchim and mechanchos who teach there, as well as the Rabbanim of shuls in the area, are remarkable people. As are the friendly, learned and dedicated members of the community kollel and their wives.

But this is not a column about Cincinnati. Cincinnati was just its inspiration. I could write many thousands of words in praise not only of Cincinnati’s kehillah but of Providence’s, (where we lived for 11 years), or of Detroit’s (where two of our daughters and their husbands are raising beautiful mishpachos), or of Milwaukee’s (where another of our daughters and her husband are doing the same, baruch Hashem). Or any of a number of other communities we’ve visited or know about.

The point is that there is a broad Jewish world — a vibrant and wonderful one — out there. Yes, even beyond the exotic realms of Staten Island, Passaic or Stamford.

Admittedly, there are challenges to “out-of town” living. If a choice of chalav Yisrael pizzerias or fast food joints (or nice restaurants) is a must, not every city out there will be able to oblige. But for those for whom the benefits of a diverse but cohesive and dedicated community outweigh gastronomic concerns (and, of course, other more significant ones), the thought of living “out of town” should not be treated as unthinkable.

I like to imagine a well-funded organization that could amass sociological data about observant Jewish families in the New York area willing to consider moving elsewhere. And that would maintain a comprehensive database of housing and employment opportunities in other communities.

The data, in my fantasy, would then be crunched, and a group of New York-born participant families with similar backgrounds would receive invitations to move together to a new locale.

Just think… Satmarers in Seattle… Klausenburgers in Kansas City… Lakewooders in Las Vegas… Bobovers in Boston… Briskers in Boca… The possibilities are endless.

More seriously, though, one meets former New Yorkers in frum communities nationwide, and they seem entirely happy to live where they do. Yes, there are downsides, not least of which is being at a distance from family members back in the “old country.” But the upsides are powerful: warm, caring communities, slower pace of life, inexpensive housing, the sense of being appreciated. In fact, being appreciated.

Nor are Torah resources — batei medrash, shiurim or chavrusos — lacking. “Minyan factories” might be rare, but not minyanim.

And the confluence of housing crunches and the growing number of cities across America that are already home to yeshivos and kollelim should spur more of us to seriously consider whether, if we choose to live in chutz laAretz, where we live or think we need to live is necessarily the best place for us to be.