I am a young Balabos in a small outlying Jewish community struggling to overcome stability issues related to its small size -- I like to say we have 'barely one of everything' (1 each of Orthodox, Reform, Conservative and Chabad shuls, one Orthodox dayschool, 1 community Hebrew dayschool, 1 butcher, 1 baker, 1 Mikva, a small outreach Kollel, etc...)
Our community (and another similar one relatively nearby) is situated in a unique economic, political and institutional environment that should enable it to attract young Orthodox families facing all the major challenges ('crises') highlighted by your blog, namely the high cost of tuition, the high cost of living in Jewish areas, the poor economy, and the high cost of healthcare and college for large families.
*We are in one of the few jurisdictions where the local government pays a large portion (~$4000/year 'voucher') of the costs of (secular) education for private schools.
We are in one of the few jurisdictions where tuition at non-profit private schools is fully tax-deductible as a charitable contribution.
*Therefore, full Jewish daychool tuition is ~$7000/student/year (pre-deduction) and even lower on an after-tax basis.
*Additionally, tuition subsidies are made at the local Jewish Community Council level (schools actually get the money when families are granted subsidies). Guidelines suggest that families grossing under $100,000/year should pay under $12,000/year in total tuition.
Cost of Living and related issues:
*Reasonable (not low) cost of living and excellent social programs and policies for large families:
4-bedroom housing within walking distance of a synagogue (and ~30 minutes commute from downtown) starting at $350,000
*Reasonable (not-low) total tax burden for a middle class family.
*Very, very cheap decent healthcare (not tied to employer).
1-year child leave benefits (shareable between parents) including having your job held for you and receiving unemployment benefits during your time off.
*Very cheap, high-quality local colleges; decent public schools (if that matters).
Additionally non-Jewish factors:
*Extremely safe, clean and family-friendly city of about a million people, close to beautiful national parks.
*Local economy is pretty good given global situation; decent job market for white collar professionals and skilled trades.
*Family-friendly corporate environment (i.e. shorter/earlier working days than most places, typically high number of vacation days, etc...)
Additional Jewish factors:
*As a matter of reference, our OU-affiliated Orthodox synagogue is led by a seasoned an well-respected Rabbi of impressive scholarship and lineage. The Judaic Head of the Torah u'Mesorah-affiliated daychool is a Chofetz Chaim graduate. The outreach Kollel Rabbis are Lakewood/Gateshead educated.
*Good cooperation across spectrum of Jewish institutions; Orthodox-friendly community politics (aside from tuition subsidies, the mikva and kashrut certification is community-funded but Orthodox-administered).
*A small community allows for enormous lay participation -- lots of opportunities to take on leadership positions, Daven from the Ammud, Lein, teach your own class, etc...
Of course living in a small community has its downsides:
*No kosher restaurants beyond the JCC cafeteria.
*The school is mixed-gender. Our community does not have a high school, although that could easily change if there were sufficient students (the close similar community mentioned above has one). Nearest boys-only Yeshiva (high school) is a 13-hour drive/$200 return flight away.
*Kosher meat, cheese and specialty products are expensive at local institutions (improving); you may need to bulk order from elsewhere.
*You are a multi-day drive/4-hour $500 return flight from any of the large Jewish centers.
The biggest issue is the stability issue related to the sustainability of small community size. The Orthodox dayschool currently has 43 children and survives on elbow grease, miracles and a few large donors. The synagogue has 100 member families (of which only 20 or so are observant). Twenty years ago (when I was growing up) the school had twice as many students and the synagogue at least 50% more families (although I would still have classified the city as having 'barely one of everything').
I think that the declining community size has been related to the general trend often-discussed on Orthonomics: the flight to large communities with many top-notch institutions over the recent boom years. We have always been a transient city with young families moving in, staying a while, and then leaving for larger Jewish centers as the kids grew older and they outgrew available institutions. The difference is that over the last few years families have been leaving earlier and have been less likely to consider a city like ours in the first place.
Now that the boom is over, and the sustainability of affordable top-notch institutions in major Jewish centers is seriously in question, there is a hope that we are in a unique position to attract a significant number of families looking for relief from the various Jewish crises. There has been discussion of a concentrated effort to actively recruit Jews to our city based on these factors.
I'm curious to hear Orthonomics readers' opinions:
*Would consider moving to such a city?
*If not, what's the sticking point?
*Given the current amenities, how long do you you think you would stay?
*What demographic do you think would consider moving here?
Any advice on how to structure a recruitment campaign.
*What are our chances of success?
I would appreciate it if you could post this to your blog.
Please feel free to email me if you have any questions you would like answered before you post.