eJewish Philanthropy

In my final year of rabbinical school, a leader from the Conservative movement shared an alarming assessment, “The future of the American Jewish community is in 12 major cities, and we need to find a way to let the rest go.” As an emerging American Jewish leader, predictions of demographic gloom were not novel for me and generally no longer evoked a strong response. However, in this instance, I was simultaneously livid and inspired. For the previous five months I had been working as a student rabbi in a small post-industrial college town: Waterville, Maine. I fell in love with a small town Jewish community because it fully realized the core Jewish values that brought me to the rabbinate: deep personal commitment, a fighting spirit to raise Jewish children, and an unshakable dedication to hospitality. This congregation was also located in a town where 80 percent of school-aged children qualified for free or reduced lunch.

Small Town Jewish Life Takes Center Stage

Whether he knew it or not, this leader was not just proposing a cost-effective strategy for our movement’s future, he was making a claim about who deserves Jewish life. In effect, if not in intent, he claimed that you must live in an economically prosperous area in order to enjoy the support and services of Jewish community. His dismissal of communities like Waterville inspired my wife, Mel, and me to begin our life here, and forge a path that made small town Jewish life sustainable, vibrant, and relevant…