How Do You Choose a New Community?

My husband and I are very seriously considering moving to the Philadelphia area. I’m a little concerned about choosing a community in an area where I don’t know anyone. How does one go about doing that? When moving do people “interview” Rabbis about their shuls/community? If so, what should I ask?

I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to “denomination,” I’m mostly concerned
about finding a community that would be welcoming of both me (still learning/growing in my observance) and my husband (who is not presently observant).

20 comments on “How Do You Choose a New Community?

  1. I (by chance?) came accross your posting: I never saw this blog before! I happen to be a resident of the (Modern)Orthodox Cherry Hill, NJ community. All levels of observasnce are welcomed and if you wish to grow there is lots to learn…many shiuriim, chavrusot etc. But most important…lots of good people. The East side has Chabad and several Minyaniim

    Cherry Hill itself has about 40,000 Jews…but a small orthodox population with a tremendous amount of activity. On the “West-side” we have two shuls (Cong. Sons of Isreal/with Mikvah & Young Israel) and a recently established Lakewood Kollel now in full swing and attracting many who want to learn. Now at last a “Kosher-vegetarian Pizza” restaurant as well as a Kosher Chinese rest, as well as a well supplied KOSHER-Experience in the Shop Rite.

    Let me know if I can help…

  2. Oh, Fern, I wish you would move to Dallas! Then there would be TWO of us couples where the wife is observant and the husband isn’t! We have a lovely community here, by the way. :-)

  3. Yesterday, after I had posted about the Center City Philadelphia community, I received the following announcement from a BT friend who recently moved from my community to the Cherry Hill, NJ community. (Cherry Hill is a Philadelphia suburb on the east side of the Delaware river.)

    Experience Cherry Hill Shabbaton
    An Affordable & Friendly Orthodox Community
    February 22-23, 2008

    * Orthodox Shuls: Congregation Sons of Israel, Young Israel of Cherry Hill, Chabad, Sephardic Minyan, Torah Links

    * Single family homes range from $200,000 to $425,000

    * Politz Day school, Chofetz Chaim High School of Cherry Hill (Mesivta Bais Dovid)

    * Eruv / Mikvah / Kosher Restaurants / Shoprite Kosher Experience / Torah Learning / Community Kollel / JCC / Young Families

    * Warm & Open Community

    * 15 Minutes from Philadelphia, 1 hr from Lakewood, less than 2 hours
    from Baltimore and NYC

    Guests will be provided home hospitality on the west side of Cherry Hill. There will be an Oneg Friday night, a Shabbat lunch

    at Congregation Sons of Israel, social activities throughout the weekend, and a tour of the Politz Day School.

    For more information or to RSVP, contact Sabrina Spector at (856) 667-3166 or Suzie Mindel at (856) 419-5688

  4. I live in the Bala Cynwyd area and I love it! There are a lot of BTs at all stages and there is a real sense of clal yisrael. We are affiliated with all of the shuls, which is not an unusual thing here. If you have school age children, I love our school. You can contact me at staceyamir at to discuss the area further.

  5. I’m going to be in the same situation soon. My job is relocating to the Baltimore area in a few years. I’m one of the few in the company who is happy about it. (I actually have an eye out for any openings in the area before then). My wife already wants to start visiting the various schools there to see what would be good for the kids. We know a few deaf families in Baltimore already, and have been receiving comments about various shuls, but at some point will have to start going up there and seeing each one in person.

  6. Yehudi–I would make aliyah in a nano second if my husband was willing.

    Reuven–Thanks for the offer of help. I will definitely take you up on it.

  7. I’m from the Philly area… The Mainline (Lower Merion) area is the place to be. A thriving community with 4 frum Shuls to chose from. Chabad, Young Israel, Aish & a Modern Orthodox branch.

    Drop me a line at rjf(AT) Be glad to help you out and answer questions about Philly.

  8. Charlie–Thanks for that bit of info. I had wondered whether Ashkenazim were “allowed” to be members of a Sephardic shul…but now that I think about it, I know people who are Sephardic but are members of an Ashkenazi shul, so I guess that goes both ways.

    Anon1–Thanks for the tip.

  9. As a resident of the greater Philadelphia area, the Bala Cynwyd/Lower Merion area may your best bet — not just due to the fact that it is the largest Orthodox community in the area (over 400 families), but because there is a wide range of people and institutions in the neighborhood — modern orthdox (of varying types), yeshivish, a lakewood kollel, Aish, Lubavitch and more. A little something for everyone. Both of the shuls (Lower Merion Synangogue and Young Israel of the Main Line) have websites, as does the Kollel. There are many baalei teshuvah in the area — among those at various stages of observance. Just my two cents.

  10. Bob, Yaakov & Kalman–Thanks, I think I will definitely do that. Talking to a number of Rabbis and visiting their communities seemed like the logical thing to do, but then I started second guessing myself and worried that asking people directly about their community’s suitability to my husband and me would be considered rude. I also like the idea of considering my suitability to the community. I certainly wouldn’t want to just be a “taker” and not give something back. This is all very exciting, but also a little bit overwhelming!

    Albany Jew–I have come across their website while researching Jewish communities. They seem to have a vibrant and growing community. I will give them a closer look now that I know the Rabbi has been vetted and is very nice. :-)

    Chana Leah–Thanks for the link. I haven’t heard of that website before, I’ll be sure to check it out.

  11. I recently spent a Shabat in Center City Philadelphia, which is not thought of as a frum area, but in fact has several Orthodox synagogues, one of which was a 267 year old (that is not a typo) Sefardic congregation that hosted me. The small congregation was incredibly friendly and I am sure they would love to host you if you want to consider an urban area and their beautiful Sefardic tefillah: The rabbi, a real baal chesed, told me that they have just constructed an eruv according to the more stringent Sefardic standards. Many of their members are Ashkenazic although within the beit knesset they are strict about following the Sefardic nusach. Good luck with your future relocation!

  12. has a page for Philadelphia. Try browsing and see if there is anything helpful there for newcomers.

  13. There is also an outreach center in Ben Salem. Passed through there once and saw the Shul and Mikvah. The Rabbi seemed very nice.

    But most important, visit and ask questions!

  14. There are several different communities and assoicated institutions within the Philadelphia Area which may accomodate your needs better (either the Wynnewood area, Bala Cynwyd or the North East Phildadelphia.) The advice given above is certainly relevant. Some of these areas have multiple shuls and many Rabbis.

    In short you are correct to assume, there is substantial variation in the level of accomodation you will recieve. In fact, the best possible thing you can do is call up SEVERAL Rabbis or Rebbetzin’s in the area and ask them explicitly what would be in your best interest. Keep in mind that lay members often have a strong desire to expand their communities, but in my honest opinion Philadelphia has some of the finest Rabbis and Rebbetzins I have ever known… and ultimately you want to do what is in your own best interest.

    And perhaps, it wouldn’t be to presumptious to ask yourself… what can you add to the community as well. Every individual has different talents and in place where you can contribute you are likely to feel you and your husband belong.

  15. In nearly all the places we’ve lived, there has been a shul contact people to arrange home hospitality for those who visit the community to investigate moving there or for other reasons.

    Often, the family breadwinner moves to a new community to start a new job before the rest of the family can move (this can be because of the school year, housing availability, need to sell old home, etc.). The same shul hospitality person can often arrange Shabbos meals for the breadwinner until the other family members arrive.

    Some families, especially those with small kids, will want to live within a community eruv, so as to be able to carry necessities or push strollers outside on Shabbos. Shuls often have knowledgeable real estate brokers as members, who can show you the range of house types/prices and rental apartments available within the eruv zone. Often, even if the goal is to buy a house, the breadwinner or family will need to live in an apartment for awhile.

  16. I strongly second Bob’s advice… From the reaction a shul rabbi/president will have to your request of finding a place to stay for Shabbos you’ll have an idea about how welcoming the community is. In the (one shul) community I live in (which has many Philly immigrants since we’re about 1.25 hours away) there is someone whose job it is to set up these sorts of things and we all fill out forms saying how many people we’d be able to host for Shabbos stays/meals of people visiting the community.

    Unfortunately, with the world today as it is you may be asked to provide some sort of references – don’t be insulted if asked (I don’t know if my community does this but I know of others that do)…

  17. It would be wise to work through a shul or kiruv organization there to spend a Shabbos staying with a local family you have something in common with. The Web is a tool you can use. Some national shul organizations have on-line directories of member shuls.

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