Top Ten Jewish Neighborhoods, June 2008
By Lisa Alcalay Klug
Top 10 Jewish Neighborhoods in North America
* Aventura, Florida * Boulder, Colorado * Lower Merion, Philadelphia * The McGill Ghetto, Montreal * North Dallas, Texas * North/West Berkeley, California * Pico-Robertson, Los Angeles * Soho/TriBeCa, New York City * University City, St. Louis * West Seattle, Washington
With more Jews per square inch than some parts of Israel, there’s no denying that Manhattan’s Upper West Side is about as Jewish a neighborhood as you’ll find anywhere. But in compiling Jewish Living’s list of the top 10 ‘hoods, it’s not merely size or even longevity that counts. Along with quantifiable criteria like the number and variety of synagogues, proximity to kosher restaurants, and options in day schools‚ all of which are included in our descriptions‚ we unearthed the qualifiable, as well.
We have identified neighborhoods across the continent that are growing, rebuilding, reinventing themselves, unifying their disparate parts, and exploring our traditions in unconventional ways. Our hope was to be more than a little surprising and to find dynamic Jews wherever they roam. Within these locales, members of the tribe of any and all stripes are putting down roots and putting up pillars of community.
The key word that defines all 10 neighborhoods is‚ “vibrant.” There is energy surging forth in every one. Together they form a mosaic of diverse pieces‚ mixing old and young; singles and families; suburban and metropolitan settings; affordable to pricey housing; Reform to Conservative to Orthodox to Renewal and more. They are the new melting pots, bubbling with all the forms of self-expression that represent the Jewish people today.
Our listing‚ presented alphabetically, not in any order of preference or precedence‚ is multipurpose. It’s fascinating to see where we are thriving. And should you be thinking of moving somewhere that you’ll feel comfortable and find like-minded brethren, we hope to give you some new places to consider.
1. Aventura, Florida
With no state income tax, Florida has long been a favorite of retirees. But this upscale waterfront community north of Miami—4.5 square miles largely filled with high-rises—is the neighborhood of choice for young Jewish families seeking luxury in a tropical climate. In addition to transplants from the Northeast, Aventura is especially popular with the international set: Latin Americans, of course, but also French, Syrians, Israelis, and Canadian snowbirds. They’ve come to a scenic enclave filled with dazzling intracoastal views, valet service, and parking for yachts.
More realistically, there also are abundant kosher markets and restaurants, Conservative and Orthodox synagogues, and day schools. Reform temples are a short drive away. Unlike in most American Jewish communities, Sephardim and Ashkenazim are equally represented, which is why you’ll find the strikingly beautiful Beit Edmond J. Safra Synagogue, built five years ago by Syrian Jews from New Jersey and Brooklyn, in the shadow of luxury towers. On Saturday nights, the Shoppes at Waterways resemble a little Jerusalem.
If you’re looking for history, the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center has the highest percentage of Holocaust survivors of any synagogue in North America. Of course, this being the “Gold Coast,” housing is expensive: The average price of a waterfront condo is easily half a million dollars. The adjacent communities of North Miami, Surfside, Bal Harbour, Sunny Isles, and Hallandale are also packed with Jewish residents and services. For more affordable housing, young families move close to Boca Raton Synagogue, about an hour north, which is attracting a growing, diverse Orthodox population.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: The Shoppes at Waterways, a boutique-style shopping center, is one mile east of Biscayne Boulevard on N.E. 207th Street. Built around a deep-water marina, it boasts spectacular views of the harbor and luxury yachts, as well as shuls, kosher eateries, and an extensive kosher market. * Downside: All that glitters isn’t gold. A significant number of elderly Jews who moved in decades ago are living on the edges of the safety net. Local Jewish Community Services provide them with social welfare services. * Contacts: Jewish Community Services of South Florida (www.jcsfl.org) Greater Miami Jewish Federation (www.jewishmiami.org) Information, Referral and Access Services: (305) 576-6550 * More: Click here (PDF) for further information on this neighborhood.
2. Boulder, Colorado
The Rocky Mountains are famous for skiing, camping, kayaking, and climbing, so it’s no shock that Boulder has its own Adventure Rabbi, Jamie Korngold. Reform by training, she takes congregants of her synagogue without walls into the woods for shabbatonim. Reform temples are most popular, but the city does not divide itself along congregational lines. It’s common for residents to support more than one community, attending Chabad one Shabbat and a Reform synagogue the next. In this relaxed venue, nearly every faction is represented. The Renewal movement is well established, with dynamic leaders (including “the Rebbe,” Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi) and two congregations.
There’s also a mikvah and approval for an eruv (the “line around the city” that allows observant Jews to carry objects within the public domain on Shabbat). Like many other western communities, Boulder has a high rate of intermarriage. In a 2007 survey of Boulder County, 7,500 Jewish households accounted for 19,500 Jews. Over the last 10 years, however, the region’s Jewish population experienced an estimated 25 percent increase, compared with 9 percent for the general population. The Boulder JCC is a vibrant community center where 15 agencies offer educational and social programs. And in the works is the Boulder Jewish Commons, a 30-acre parcel of land on the city’s eastern edge, which, if approved, will host an ambitious complex with offices, as many as four synagogues, and a JCC campus and sports facility.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: North Boulder, where the JCC is currently located. But when the Commons is complete, the heart of Jewish Boulder will move east. * Downside: The community, though expanding and vibrant, faces the challenges of keeping up with its own growth. It needs to raise millions of dollars to build the Commons. * Contacts: Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado (www.jewishcolorado.org) Boulder JCC (www.boulderjcc.org) * More:
3. Lower Merion, Philadelphia
The western suburbs of Philadelphia along Route 30, known as the Main Line, are renowned for their excellent schools. Made for social climbers, the region was portrayed in the 1940 screwball comedy The Philadelphia Story and the best-seller The Official Preppy Handbook. It is also home to a vast array of well-established Jewish communities clustered around Lower Merion.
With azaleas blooming in spring and snow gathering in winter across broad lawns, Lower Merion has an air of exclusivity and privilege. It also has everything from Orthodox to Reconstructionist shuls, schools, and supplemental programs packed into a seven-mile stretch. Pop into a mainstream grocery store and you can put together a ready-made gourmet kosher meal in minutes.
In 1946, the Main Line gave birth to the oldest Jewish high school in North America. Formerly known as the Akiba Hebrew Academy, this pluralistic school for grades 6–12 is relocating from Bala Cynwyd to nearby Bryn Mawr and, in honor of a recent $5 million donation, is changing its name to the Jack M. Barrack Academy. (Also in the area is Central High School, one of the top high schools, public or private, in the country.) And in 2010, the National Museum of American Jewish History opens on nearby Independence Mall.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: Bala Cynwyd, minutes from the heart of Philadelphia, has shuls, an eruv, a mikvah, kosher restaurants, Judaica stores, outreach centers, and advanced Torah learning for adults. * Downside: Cost. Tuition at the Barrack Academy is approximately $21,000 a year per student (although many scholarships will be offered). Housing prices are typically about twice that of other, sleepier suburbs like nearby Cherry Hill, New Jersey, which also have kosher restaurants, markets, JCCs, and more. * Contacts: The Jewish Community Website of Greater Philadelphia (www.JewishPhilly.org) Jewish Information and Referral Services of Philadelphia: (215) 832-0821 *
4. McGill Ghetto, Montreal
Montreal’s traditional Jewish neighborhoods, Côte Saint-Luc and Hampstead, usually attract the most attention, and for good reasons. But for us, the Ghetto is where it’s at. Cited by Details magazine as one of the hottest neighborhoods in North America for its mainstream appeal, the area adjacent to McGill University, within the Plateau-Mont Royal borough (and also known as the Milton-Parc Extension), is a vibrant Jewish destination.
With an old-school, immigrant feel, it’s like New York’s Lower East Side but with tree-lined streets. The area is very walkable, with reliable public transportation and relatively low rents. It has special appeal for students and young professionals and lacks the expense of New York or the schlep of L.A. Within minutes of downtown Montreal, there are kosher restaurants as well as one Reform, one Conservative, and three Orthodox shuls.
A 15-minute subway ride zips residents to Snowden’s YM/WHA, the Jewish Federation, and the Segal Centre for Performing Arts. Not to be missed is the Friday night davening at the local Hillel’s Ghetto Shul. Held in a former restaurant, it features a Carlebach vibe and a kosher dinner for as many as 200 people.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: The Ghetto Shul, at 3458 Parc Avenue, between Sherbrooke and Milton. * Downside: Distant from day schools, it is not ideal for families. * Contacts: Federation CJA (www.federationcja.org) Montreal’s Jewish Community (www.montreal-jewish.org) The Ghetto Shul (www.ghettoshul.ca) Jewish Information and Referral Service: (514) 733-1818
5. North Dallas, Texas
Shalom, y’all! This community is well known for its warmth, hospitality, and inclusivity. The annual Kosher Chili Cookoff draws upward of 5,000 attendees from the greater Dallas area. Adult education is also a big draw. In addition to a wide array of classes at the Florence Melton Adult Mini School and other institutions, there is also a kollel (Talmudic study school) and an interdenominational beit midrash (house of study and prayer) for men and women with classes in everything from the Bible to “Jews in Motion Pictures.” Rabbis of all flavors teach at the JCC’s annual weeklong Learning Fest.
Relatively affordable housing and no state income tax make this a premier destination for young families fleeing the high costs of either coast, and the city is considered a solid, safe place to raise children. Younger Orthodox residents gravitate toward the many shuls near “Coit ‘n’ Campbell,” named for the intersection of those streets. Also popular is Northern Preston Hollow, where the JCC offers a wide range of services and programming, a state-of-the-art gym, and an indoor pool.
The greater Dallas area’s many Reform congregations have the most members. Several of the largest Reform and Conservative synagogues are in North Dallas, but the population there is aging. The largest Conservative shul operates in Dallas, with a satellite in Far North Dallas, just south of Plano. Throughout the region are also Chabad, Aish HaTorah, and a large Modern Orthodox community. A growing number of Israeli tech firms are also drawing immigrant families to the area.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: Concentrated around the following zip codes: 75248 (Richardson Independent School District; popular for families with young kids), 75252 and 75093 (Plano Independent School District), and 75230 (Dallas Independent School District; older, with younger families moving in). * Downside: This is the Bible Belt, so you’ll see lots of churches and feel the strong evangelical presence. * Contacts: Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas (www.jfgd.org; www.jewishdallas.org) Jewish Family Service: (972) 437-9950 (www.jfsdallas.org) Dallas Virtual Jewish Community (www.dvjc.org; www.dallaskosher.org) * More: Click here (PDF) for further information on this neighborhood.
6. North/West Berkeley
Bay Area housing costs are among the highest in the nation, but that hasn’t stopped Berkeley’s Reform, Conservative, and Modern Orthodox congregations from revamping themselves. In recent years, all three—located roughly north and west of the University of California campus—have modernized and brought in new rabbinic leadership, though the overall population is still more unaffiliated than affiliated. Also to be found in these parts of town are a Renewal shul, a humanist community, an independent beit midrash, Chabad, a mikvah, and Hillel groups of various stripes. The Orthodox maintain an eruv.
A community day school to the north, an Orthodox day school to the south, an “everyone’s welcome” high school across the bay in San Francisco, and a supplemental program for teens called Midrasha that meets at various locations offer nearby educational options. An innovative Jewish meditation center operates minutes away, as does a kosher-style deli, an Israeli grill, a Judaica store, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, and the impressive Judah L. Magnes Museum.
The Berkeley-Richmond JCC hosts one of the world’s largest Jewish music festivals and an annual all-night, all-denominational Shavuot study. Berkeley also is one of the satellite locations for the acclaimed San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. A Holocaust Center, a Jewish theater, and the new Contemporary Jewish Museum are located in San Francisco; a kosher butcher and baker are found in Oakland.
* At-a-Glance Essential
Epicenter: There isn’t one in this far-flung community. The Reform shul, deli, and JCC are north of campus. The Modern Orthodox and Conservative shuls are located west and south. The Chabad, mikvah, Hillel, and Judaica store are located to the east and south.
*Downside: Although Berkeley, like much of the Bay Area, is foodie heaven, with many fabulous restaurants and kosher products widely available, places for a kosher sit-down dinner are scarce. *
Contacts: Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay (www.jfed.org) Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, The Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties (Click on East Bay: www.sfjcf.org/resources/guide) Jewish Community Information and Referral: (415) 777-0411 *
7. Pico-Robertson, Los Angeles
For decades, Jews have congregated near where Pico Boulevard meets Robertson Boulevard in West L.A. Of late, the community has grown exponentially, yet it still gives off the comforting sense that you are among brethren. Clustered within a mile-long strip between Beverly Drive to the west and La Cienega Boulevard to the east are a slew of synagogues, kosher markets, and eateries from fast food to fine dining. There are also Judaica stores, wig and dress shops, countless schools—even, a few blocks farther, the Museum of Tolerance and Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Most shuls are Orthodox, with every variation represented from Persian Chabad to the Carlebachian Happy Minyan, which meets in a Jewish-owned karate dojo. There are both old-school frum-from-birthers and a growing wave of ba’alei tshuva, newly observant returners to the faith who congregate at Aish HaTorah and several Modern Orthodox shuls. Housing is relatively expensive: Glamorous Beverly Hills starts one block north, and Beverlywood, an equally exclusive area, begins several blocks south; in between are “modest million-dollar homes,” small in size but big in price, as well as apartments popular with singles and young families.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: Roughly the intersection of Pico and Robertson boulevards. * Downside: Pico is a somewhat unsightly boulevard that becomes highly congested during peak hours. Smart shoppers avoid the pre-Shabbat rush. * Contacts: The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles (www.jewishla.org) L.A. Jewish Guide (www.lajewishguide.com) *
8. SoHo/TriBeCa, New York City
Since 9/11, an unconventional community has been forming in a part of New York where a Jewish pulse had long been wanting: the Lower West Side. That day, young Chabad rabbi Dovi Scheiner married his wife, Esty. They soon moved from Brooklyn to an apartment close to Ground Zero and, together with a group of locals, started hosting Shabbat dinners for mostly secular young professionals and friends in their home. By 2005, they rolled out a shul without walls, the SoHo Synagogue, described as “postdenominational” and attracting a largely unaffiliated crowd to user-friendly Friday night services, Torah cocktail parties, art openings, and more.
In adjacent TriBeCa, a group of parents have already formed an antiestablishment, part-time “Hebrew school plus.” Located on a narrow cobblestone side street, the pluralistic TriBeCa Hebrew is where elementary-age kids—many from intermarried families—screen films and sing “Old MacDonald” in Yiddish. TriBeCa Hebrew also occasionally teams with the nearby Orthodox Synagogue for the Arts for holiday events. Other local resources include the Conservative Downtown Synagogue, the Jewish Community Project (offering preschool, classes, holidays, and community events), and the Orthodox-led Preschool of the Arts.
In the fall, the Upper East Side’s 92nd Street Y will bring its hip uptown “Makor” arts and culture programs down to TriBeCa. Also in residence a few blocks from Ground Zero are the offices of the Downtown Arts Development, creators of the Oyhoo Jewish Music Festival, the Downtown Seder, Schmooze: The Sidney Krum Jewish Culture Conference, Jewzapalooza, and other innovative Jewish programming.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: The adjacent areas SoHo (south of Houston Street) and TriBeCa (the triangle below Canal Street). * Downside: Lacking kosher restaurants, a mikvah, and critical infrastructure, the community is raw and unformed. It faces the challenges of creating a Jewish community where there has never been one. * Contacts: UJA-Federation Resource Line: (212) 753-2288 (www.ujafedny.org) 92YTriBeCa (www.92y.org) Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (www.jbfcs.org) *
9. University City, St. Louis
Equipped with the full spectrum of cultural amenities, relatively affordable housing, and services for all (from mainstream movements to interfaith families to Jews of color to LGBT), St. Louis is, in a word, haimish. Among the city’s 26 congregations and six Jewish day schools, Reform and Orthodox are the most populous. One of the most visibly and highly concentrated Jewish areas (with 500 families in a few square miles) is University City, largely Orthodox but also home to many unaffiliated Jews and others.
Washington University is also there, an elite school popular with Jews from around the country for its kosher kitchen and strong Hillel and Chabad programs with plenty of activities. Aish HaTorah operates a local synagogue with a learner’s service and classes; Chabad’s Jewish Learning Institute and the nearby kollel feature adult-ed options.
The local, eclectic Bais Abraham Orthodox shul draws Jews of all backgrounds, including the newly religious, Reform, and Wash U. students. It also offers a monthly women’s minyan. The western end of town offers a great variety of Reform and Conservative synagogues. On Sundays, kibitz at kosher-style Pumpernickel’s Deli or score the signature corned beef at Simon Kohn’s. The greater metropolis is home to great festivals of Jewish films, books, Israeli art, and more, as well as one of the country’s early models of the expanded JCC campus. You’ll also find abundant Jewish theater and welfare organizations and those warm, welcoming Midwestern values.
* At-a-Glance Essential
Epicenter: The area around the Washington University campus. * Downside: St. Louis has limited options for kosher dining. * Contact: Jewish Federation of St. Louis (www.jewishinstlouis.org) *
10. West Seattle, Washington
With day schools for everyone from Reform to Orthodox, and a large Sephardic population, Seattle’s Jewish community is diverse spiritually and geographically. It is also tied to the natural landscape—which means there are a host of summer camps around Puget Sound. The largest Jewish neighborhood is on Mercer Island, located in Lake Washington. Popular with Conservative Jews, the island has a shul, JCC, and large kosher food sections in the grocery stores. Orthodox shuls are found in tranquil Seward Park, which offers sweeping views of Lake Washington to the east.
In West Seattle—an increasingly gentrified and expensive former blue-collar neighborhood now popular with families, singles, beach lovers, activists, and artists—the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) community is growing and active in a new Progressive synagogue with a gay rabbi. Kosher markets and restaurants can be found all over town. The Seattle community also supports a film festival, Judaica stores, welfare organizations, elder housing, and Jewish Family Services across the city. Check out the Jewish Community Archives at the University of Washington to trace the history of Jews living here since the mid-1800s.
* At-a-Glance Essentials
Epicenter: Mercer Island. * Downside: Seattle has one of the most “unchurched” populations in the country, even among the Jews, meaning assimilation and unaffiliation are high. Charitable giving tends to go to local nonprofits, including the arts and human services. * Contacts: Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle: (206) 443-5400 (www.jewishinseattle.org) Guide to Jewish Washington (www.jtnews.net) Jew-ish (for young adults) (www.Jew-ish.com) The Voice of Jewish Washington (www.JTnews.net) *
Communities to Watch
* Eugene, Oregon * Las Vegas, Nevada * Shaker Heights/ Beachwood/ Pepper Pike, Ohio * Maui, Hawai’i
For more information on these three neighborhoods, click here for a downloadable PDF.
No matter where you want to live or what you are seeking, these sites help provide the lowdown on things Jewish throughout North America.
www.planitjewish.com Information on communities across North America.
www.jirs.org At first glance, this seems focused on the Washington, D.C., area, but it offers relevant material from the Jewish Information and Referral Service throughout the U.S. and Canada.
www.JCCA.org The mother ship of JCCs, the organization operates both Jewish education and early-childhood departments.
www.totallyjewishtravel.com Great for world travelers, this site features info on where to find a minyan, a mikvah, or a kosher restaurant, at home and abroad.
www.luach.com A bulletin board for traditional communities offering all sorts of services.
www.kehillaton.com Free membership connects users to Jewish communities throughout the United States and Canada. Listings include jobs, real estate, community-wide events, mikvahs, and minyanim.
www.chabad.org An extensive online resource for finding candle-lighting times, rabbinic advice, weekly Torah portions, and more.