Following the Progress in Dothan, Alabama

Last month, we blogged about an ad in the Washington Jewish Week placed by the Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services of Dothan, Alabama. They were advertising no-interest grants of up to $50,000 for Jewish families to move to the area. In today’s economy, this struck us as an interesting take on the idea of offering incentives as a way to attract unaffiliated members of the Jewish community (something we often advocate for). Whenever a community attempts a bold form of outreach, we like to keep an eye on their progress. It seems in this case we were not the only ones interested in Dothan’s ideas.

In what is sure to be a good boost to their efforts, the Associated Press recently went in depth on this topic to find out more about what the BFJCS is offering, and why. They talk to one woman, Thelma Nomberg, who has watched young people move out of town to bigger southern cities, leaving her congregation, Temple Emanu-El, with only about 50 families.

But are financial incentives enough to attract Jews to the area, specifically young Jewish families who will make a home there for five years (which is one stipulation of the grant)? That’s what the BFJCS is counting on. Other cities have offered relocation assistance for moving to places with a bigger population, like New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. Dothan (also known as the Peanut Capitol of the World) is a city of 38,000 in the heart of the Bible belt – and local Jewish leaders know this is a major hurdle.

The BFJCS says about 20 families have inquired about the grants since the ads were first placed last June, but none have accepted. Perhaps that will change since the article was published – especially since it went out over a wire service, where numerous other newspapers and media outlets have already picked it up. This kind of publicity is certainly one measure of success, and we hope that with more coverage, more people will see what Dothan’s Jewish community has to offer.

1 Comment

  1. I am a native of Dothan, Alabama who is now residing in Lawrence, Kansas. I discovered my Jewish soul (I dislike the terms “convert” and “Jew-by-choice”). After attending college at The University of Alabama, my fiancé (now wife) and I moved to Kansas so that she could continue her studies. I can attest that the Wiregrass, as the Alabama-Florida-Georgia area is known, is indeed a beautiful place. Nearly all of my (non-Jewish) family still lives there. While the Jewish community there perceives itself as having a high profile it definitely does not. I lived there for nearly twenty years without realizing that there were any Jews in the entire region. This is reflected in the common dialect as a large portion of the community is obviously ignorant of Judaism and our practices and beliefs. We have discussed moving back many times but every time we decide not to, mostly based on these facts. The grants are interesting and change the equation, so we’ll probably reconsider, but I doug that it will change the results. Good luck to Temple Emanuel!

    Comment by Michael Price — September 13, 2008 @ 7:50 pm

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