Friday, February 17, 2012

The OU Wants You to Move to Houston. They're Wrong.

My first reaction, upon reading about the OU's new "Move To Houston" initiative - CHAT (Come to Houston And Thrive - but isn't that really CTHAT?) was, "What?! Really? The OU wants people to move out of New York...and not to Israel?" Really? We need more Jews in America?
Truthfully, we don't. If you're looking to solve your day school tuition problems, moving to Houston isn't going to help you. If you're willing to leave your family, job and community, and move thousands of miles to somewhere new and start over, do you really want to go to...Houston? Isn't that where the Texans play? And the Astros? Do you really want your kids growing up to be Astros fans?

Any reader of this blog knows that I believe strongly that every Jew belongs in Israel (where every Orthodox Jew believes we'll all end up anyway.) But I understand that not every person is willing and able to make the jump to move to Israel. They just find it daunting, which I get. Somehow, moving to Houston is less intimidating. At least it's the same language, culture (actually, it's not the same culture, but it's not as different as Israel), the same country. And people in America do need to spread out. There are simply too many shuls in Teaneck.
But I still think the OU is wrong. Sure, Houston may be fine. My good friend Rabbi Barry Gelman serves as the rabbi of a big shul there. But you shouldn't move to Houston. No, you should move to Michigan.
Why is Michigan better? Let me count the ways.

Orthodox community: If Houston has 500 frum families, Michigan has many, many more - well into the thousands. No contest. Just get a copy of the WOL (that's Women's Orthodox League - kind of like the Ladies Auxiliary of the Mikveh) directory, and you'll see what I mean. Advantage Michigan.

Schools: Sorry, but while the Houston list looks nice, Michigan offers a wide range of schooling options for families from Modern Orthodox to very, very Chareidi, serving many hundreds of children. And the tuition in Michigan really is more reasonable as well. From Akiva (where we sent our kids) to Darchei Torah to Yeshiva Beth Yehudah to the Bais Yaakov, Detroit offers a wide range of educational options for the Orthodox family. Truth be told, one lacking from my point of view was a more moderate boys-only high school. For years, the community lacked such a school due to ridiculous politics that I never fully understood. I hear that there's now an option in West Bloomfield, which I hope is true. It's a really important piece of the communal puzzle. Still, from the school perspective, Michigan wins!

Shuls: Michigan again. You can choose from three (really more) neighborhoods, with numerous shuls and about a zillion shtiebels. (But that's a different post entirely).

Sports: That's a tough one. Texans seem to like their sports. And while the Pistons used to be great when I was there, no longer. But the Lions seem to be doing well, which is something no one living in Michigan ever expected to see in their lifetime. And, being from Washington D.C., I could never really watch Redskins games anyway. And they've been awful for twenty years. Tie.

Restaurants: That one seems like a toss-up. I don't really know kosher Houston, but Michigan never had enough restaurants. Sure, Jerusalem Pizza is a must. (don't leave without trying my personal favorite, the Kishka Pizza. Really. Amazing.) But we could never support enough restaurants to satisfy the needs of the community. People used to blame the Vaad. But I sat on the Vaad, and while the Vaad was never perfect, it just boiled down to a lack of demand for higher end kosher food. I think that people in Michigan are just simpler; they eat out less, and maybe that's because they have less money to spend on eating out. Which brings me to the best part of Michigan:

The people: Again, I have no idea what people are like in Houston. Let's assume, for the purpose of this uninformed blog post, that they fulfill every stereotype of Texas that we've seen in the movies. They massacre people with chainsaws, talk funny, and you can't really understand them. Ah, I jest.
Not so in Michigan.
People from the Midwest are just laid back. They don't put on airs. There's no phoniness about them. They're kind, caring and unpretentious. If you're looking for a place where you come to shul to see and be seen; to dress up and hobnob at the fancy catered kiddush each Shabbat - then don't go to Michigan. But if you're looking for a city where the people committed to community; where they really do look out for each-other, and where you can not only grow yourself, but really make a difference, then Michigan might be for you.

One thing I would say: the Houston initiative is great. The Orthodox community in Michigan could learn something from CHAT: I love their organization; the website they set up organizes all the important information in one place. If the Michigan Orthodox community is serious about attracting new families, this is the model that it needs to follow.

So, to sum it up, if you're looking to move out of New York, Chicago or L.A., move to Israel! But if that's not for you, in addition to looking at Houston, as the OU wants you to do, look at Michigan. It's a great place to raise a family, and when you decide to move to Israel, the community will offer you warmth, support and friendship, long after you've left.

Oh, I forgot one more thing. If you do decide that Michigan is for you, give me a call. I've got a house for sale. Really.