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Wednesday, October 05, 2022
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(Courtesy of Move to Cleveland) Thirty years ago, if you told someone from the East Coast that you were from Cleveland, they would ask you how long it takes to get around on your tractor. These days, they are more likely to ask whether you can get them in touch with a realtor.

No longer the butt of jokes about flaming rivers, Cleveland is now one of the hottest destinations for young Jewish families looking to get away from the crowds and grind of the tri-state area. From affordable home prices, to a wealth of good jobs in medicine and beyond, to wanting to be part of a dynamic and welcoming community fostered by a broad array of established institutions, the only thing Cleveland has to be ashamed about these days is the embarrassment of riches it has to offer.

It’s been 11 years since the last survey of Cleveland’s Jewish community was published (a new study is underway right now), but even without the hard data, it’s impossible to miss the growth of the Jewish presence in the last several years, especially among the Orthodox community, which has exploded in size and reach since that last survey.

The bulk of the Orthodox community is concentrated in Cleveland Heights, University Heights and Beachwood, as well as Shaker Heights and South Euclid, leafy garden suburbs with quiet, tree-lined streets and well-kept homes, largely within the city’s capacious eruv.

While real estate prices in Northeast Ohio have risen along with the rest of the country, buyers can still find spacious homes in these cities for a fraction of what a cramped condo in Queens might cost. Really. Just check Zillow.

The area is considered among the most desirable locations in Northeast Ohio to live in, and not only by those looking to hook up with the Jewish community, thanks to its proximity to major employers and commercial offerings, as well as abundant recreational activities.

Beachwood’s schools were ranked No. 2 in the state last year (its high school is one of the few public schools in the country to offer Hebrew) and the city was also recently awarded top suburb honors by Cleveland magazine, thanks to its reputation as a safe, friendly community with world-class services. Beachwood may not have a beach (blame a century-old clerical typo for that one) but one would be forgiven for confusing its city pool and splashpad for a waterpark.

Cleveland Heights and University Heights, known collectively by locals as The Heights, are still suburban but also eminently walkable, with a more city-like feel, including abundant shopping and nightlife. Aside from single-family homes, there is a wide array of other housing options, including modest starter apartments, duplexes, condos, townhomes and more.

An Orthodox community that spans five different cities may sound spread out, but it’s only about five miles, or an 80-minute walk, from one end of the mainline Orthodox community to the other. Within those boundaries exists a vibrant, and tight knit, yet diverse Jewish ecosystem that has plenty to offer Jews of every stripe.

The Cleveland area is home to five Modern Orthodox synagogues and counting, all of which have been described as warm and welcoming; there are also dozens more congregations of every type, from long-established fixtures with daily minyans going back a century to a seemingly ever-growing roster of smaller, more grassroots offerings. There are also a smattering of Chabad synagogues in outer-ring suburbs Akron and in Lakewood (not that Lakewood) for those on Cleveland’s west side.

In 1943, Cleveland became home to the first U.S. Jewish day school opened outside of the East Coast—The Hebrew Academy of Cleveland. Today, HAC is just the largest of several day school options going all the way through high school and representing the breadth of Jewish and Modern Orthodox pedagogy, as well as excellence in secular education. Supplementing the formal education, Cleveland’s Orthodox community has traditionally had highly active youth groups, including NCSY and Bnei Akiva, which often help form a bridge for younger newcomers.

We won’t pretend Cleveland can compete with New York on food, but keeping kosher here is far from a burden. There are 10 kosher restaurants to choose from, plus several bakeries, large kosher groceries with deli counters, kosher caterers and a pair of butchers whose kosher beef jerky put Cleveland on the map.

While few are likely coming to Cleveland just for the food, many are coming here for work. Getting from the center of the Modern Orthodox community to University Circle, home to Case Western Reserve University and the main campuses of the top-ranked Cleveland Clinic and nationally ranked University Hospitals—the region’s main economic drivers—takes 20 minutes or less by car. It might take longer in traffic, but jams in Cleveland happen about as often as the Browns win the Super Bowl.

Not a doctor? No problem. Several major employers have headquarters or major offices in the Cleveland area. Some of them, like Progressive Insurance and Eaton Corp., are located near where many Jews live; others, like American Greetings and Benesch, are deeply tied into the Jewish community. Other Fortune 500 companies in the area always looking for more talent include Sherwin Williams, Parker Hannifin, Nestle and KeyCorp. There are opportunities galore for pretty much any other type of work, too, with the city’s revitalization in full swing and attracting more and more young entrepreneurs who are transforming Northeast Ohio’s economy.

When it comes to recreation, Cleveland punches well above its weight. You obviously already know that the Cleveland Orchestra consistently ranks as one of the top in the country, ditto the Cleveland Museum of Art, which gives the Met a run for its money. But did you know that Cleveland’s Playhouse Square is the second-largest performance complex in the country, and one of the few places nationwide that can host an extended run of a Broadway production? Or that one of the city’s newest performance spaces is in a former synagogue, a hulking architectural gem that is an everlasting sign of the prominent place Jews have always had in Cleveland civic life?

The arresting ravines of Cuyahoga Valley National Park are just half an hour away, though one does not even need to travel that far for natural wonders, with the city’s emerald necklace of Metroparks hosting hiking/biking trails and paths atop gushing waterfalls, ancient shale cliffs and serene ponds. Professional sports lovers may not have a ton to brag about, but the fact that Cleveland is the smallest market in the U.S. with three teams means getting tickets is easier (and cheaper).

There’s something else that makes the city special.

According to a review of surveys of Jewish communities, Cleveland’s Jews are more likely to say it is very important to be Jewish and to be part of the Jewish community than practically anywhere else in the country, including New York, Chicago and Baltimore, and is among the top cities in attachment to Israel and other measures of Jewish engagement. Visit https://bit.ly/3As5hHY to read “A Tale of Four Cities: Learning About Jewish Community” by

Jacob B. Ukeles, Ph.D.

Spend a Shabbat with the Modern Orthodox community and the reason why it is unlikely that a new survey will find anything different becomes clear. Whole swaths of neighborhoods seem to transform into something one might expect to find in Israel, but not America. Watch as a chance meeting on a sidewalk becomes a 30-minute trip down memory lane, with four other neighbors joining along the way, as front doors open to welcome acquaintances, newcomers, whoever, as titanic backyards host impossibly crucial football fourth-and-longs, as driveways teem with girls shooting hoops, as lawns blossom with exiting lunch guests mingling and mixing, as people make connections, build relationships, make a city feel like a home and a community like a family.

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