The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans is spearheading a remarkable effort to revive their Jewish community and is offering a post-Katrina special, as reported in the New Jersey Jewish News (offline). Under the project name “Re-New Orleans,” the local Federation is offering $5,500 for moving and housing expenses; interest free loans up to $30,000; half-price tuition at a local day school; and a year of free membership at a local synagogue and Jewish Community Center. While the Jewish community peaked at about 13,000 in the 1980s and was at 10,000 before the storm, estimates are now down to about 7,000. Yet they see this time as an opportunity for restructuring and growth, and in fact are seeing some positive results and unity—as also covered by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency here. Will such an approach draw people to (or back to) New Orleans? Time will tell.
On a smaller scale, an Orthodox synagogue in Perth Amboy, New Jersey tried a similar approach several years ago. Since it was diminishing, it took its endowment and offered housing down payments for all those willing to come to Perth Amboy (a blue-collar town on the water in central New Jersey that is finally experiencing rebirth and gentrification).
So my question is simply this: If we can take such a deeply discounted approach in such times, why can’t we do the same in communities that didn’t experience such a disaster? Why can’t we reach out to those on the periphery especially at a time when all second and third tier American cities are experiencing flight to the large urban centers? If the expense of participating in Jewish communal life is indeed a barrier—one of many—then perhaps lowering such barriers will result in communal growth.