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.


  1. no love for silver spring (or the extended montgomery county community) anymore I see. ;)

  2. Hmmm maybe you're looking to solve those problems without living in a dysfunctional socialist culture-less wasteland. Have you watched Israeli tv? It's quite painful. Your standard of living gets cut in half so that you can join a society that values loud noises over substantive discussion - whether in politics, daily life, media, anything. Have you ever considered the possibility that maybe, just maybe, living in Israel isn't for everyone?

    1. Hi Dan,
      I think you listen to too much Israeli media, which I totally agree is ridiculous. Which is why I stopped listening to much of the news here ages ago. I much prefer podcasts (sports). Also, let's not forget that the "dialogue" in the US isn't much better. Fox News? MSNBC? That's dialogue? Like the Tea Party really wants to hear what Barack Obama has to say? Reminds me of a saying about glass houses.
      And while I agree that my monetary standard of living was indeed cut in half, is that really what life is all about? Orthodox Jews in the States make the very same sacrifices, cutting their standard of living by a sizable chunk to send their children to day school, buy kosher food, live in frum areas. We all make our sacrifices, and the notion that people living in the US don't sacrifice for a Jewish lifestyle is simply false.

  3. Another thing: what makes you think that every Orthodox Jew thinks that at any point, every single Jew will reside in Israel? That wasn't even true when we had a Beit HaMikdash.

    Finally, the biggest factor, which you left out, is jobs. Michigan's economy has basically bottomed out. Texas is growing at an excellent rate.

    1. Doesn't "bottomed out" mean that there's nowhere to go but up?

    2. The entire American economy is in the toilet. Unlike Israel's- we have the lowest unemployment in 30 years, hovering around 5%. Yours is in the double digits, even though the government pretends it's not.

  4. Doesnt michigan have one of the highest foreclosure rates in the country?

  5. Rabbi Spolter,

    Detroit's Jewish community is wonderful, but I suspect the reason the OU chose Houston is because the economy there is booming with jobs in healthcare, engineering, and professional services. Detroit... isn't.

    1. I suspect the reason that OU chose Houston is because there are some major donors in Houston who were willing to not only sponsor this entire initiative, but underwrite some other OU project(s) as well. I doubt that the OU sat down in a room and went through the different communities trying to figure out which community would best fit its program. Money talks, and this time, I really see nothing wrong with that.

  6. I agree that we should be promoting aliyah, but that does not negate the need to promote strong Orthodox life in the diaspora at the same time. The OU spends most of their time and effort on this mission as they promote Jewish infrastructure in North America. This program is just one more illustration of that mission.
    It would be a momentous event if five million Jews picked up tomorrow and moved to Israel. Since, barring arrival of moshiach, none of us see that happening in the near future, wouldn't you agree that in the meantime we should be strengthening the second largest Jewish community in the world?
    You argue that we don't need more Jews in America. That is not the issue. The issue is that if more mid-size communities had a basic infrastructure it would be good for Jews everywhere. Quality of life is a real struggle for many Orthodox families on the east coast. Many families make aliya because of this issue, but not everyone is moving to Israel as a result. Mid size communities are often better suited to raise socially and emotionally healthy children, and basic Jewish infrastructure, (which is partly a function of community size) is critical to ensuring that these children are passionate and observant Jews. I am all for strengthening the Orthodox communities in America and applaud the OU for the vision to see the impact this can have on thousands of families.
    And regarding Detroit- the OU has said that they will work with a few other communities. If Detroit has strong leadership, available jobs, etc, then maybe they will be one of the next communities chosen.

    1. With the state healthcare, schooling and the economy as a whole being what it is in America, it's simply foolish to imagine this can last for much longer. Promote as many initiatives as you want, it's basically a hopeless case. Deck chairs, Titanic, etc.

  7. As an Austin Jew, I am glad to see any of the Texas Jewish communities grow and become stronger. In fact, I'd love to see Jews start flocking to Austin so we might build an eruv and strengthen the more observant communities here. There is almost no modern orthodox community at present and few observant conservative Jews. Please come here.

    Also, isn't it really cold in Michigan?

  8. There is no need to trash A in order to tout B !!

    We've lived in and enjoyed the friendly Orthodox Jewish communities in both Oak Park, MI and Houston, TX. Each has something special to offer, and every family has to consider which makes the most sense for that family in that situation.

    OU's concerns in the current initiative include job availability, in the near, intermediate, and long term. Sadly for Michigan boosters, things don't generally look too hot for jobs there. There are, of course, many exceptions.

  9. Rabbi Spolter, why would you suggest Michigan at all? Or is it the "lesser of two evils?" Or is it all about selling your house to another frum person who will be stuck in galus? :)

  10. A. Of course you should buy my house. I don't understand the question.
    B. Of course you should move to Israel. If you're thinking about aliyah, don't move to Michigan!
    C. If you can't or won't move to Israel, then I wholeheartedly recommend living in Michigan. Also, regarding your comment about being "stuck" in galus: Thank God, most people aren't "stuck." They make choices, and those choices have ramifications. Many people feel that they are "stuck" when in reality, they can't see themselves making a change that's altogether possible.

  11. Well, let's see, buying your house would mean moving west, further away from Yerushalayim Ihr HaKodesh, so I think I will have to pass. But it may a good idea for someone west of Marlowe Place.


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