Community averages 30 newcomers each year

Newcomers, May 2011

Amenities, hospitality key to encourage new arrivals to stay

By Scott Halasz, Special To The Dayton Jewish Observer

Ever hear someone in the Jewish community say, “Nobody’s moving to Dayton,” or, “Nobody’s staying?”

Don’t necessarily believe it.

Newcomers Lucy and Mike Birnkrant with pet Sidney

While it’s unlikely an individual would look at a map and decide to move here without a job or family consideration, there has been a steady if small influx of newcomers. And the organized Jewish community is trying to give people a reason to come here and to stay.

After graduating from Drexel University with a Ph.D., Mike Birnkrant moved here from Philadelphia with his wife, Lucy, in late 2009 for a 2-year research fellowship at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. It wasn’t supposed to be a permanent move for the New Jersey natives.

But now, they’re not ready to return to their East Coast roots.

“We’re looking to stay,” Mike Birnkrant says. “We’ve just been enamored with the area, how the Jewish community has welcomed us. If the community wasn’t so welcoming, I don’t think we would consider staying here because it is so far away from our family.”

The Birnkrants participate in J-YAD, the Dayton Jewish Community Center’s young adult group, Jewish Federation activities, and are members of Temple Israel, where they’ll help with the food for the temple’s Jewish Cultural Festival in June.

“We’ve made some very good friends,” Lucy Birnkrant says. “That is one very good reason to stay.”

The Birnkrants story isn’t unusual. Since 2006, an average of about 30 Jewish households have relocated each year to the Dayton area, according to the Jewish Federation.

Of those who arrived in 2010, about half have attended a Federation or DJCC program or have a child enrolled in the DJCC’s preschool, according to Baree Nottberg, community outreach coordinator for the Federation.

“With all of the people moving here it would be easy for some newcomers to just get involved,” Nottberg says. “Hopefully we can get them involved and get them to stay in town.”

That’s what happened with the Birnkrants. They were invited to a monthly Share Shabbat potluck dinner by a member of Temple Israel and have been hooked on “Fried Chicken Fridays” ever since.

Though the overall population of the Dayton area’s Jewish community (approximately 3,500 identified individuals) has lost a net total of 100 people a year over the past decade, to borrow from Mark Twain, reports of the demise of the Dayton Jewish community are greatly exaggerated.

“(The area has) some pluses and I think it does attract some people,” says Temple Israel Senior Rabbi David Sofian, who previously served congregations in Worcester, Mass., Lancaster, Pa., and Chicago.

“Someone coming here can find low cost of living, lots of amenities, good regional stuff and a pretty vibrant Jewish community,” he says.

Sofian cites professional industries “so rooted here” — two major universities, several hospitals and a large Air Force base — “there’s always going to be a (Jewish) community here.”

The key, Sofian and Nottberg agree, is to offer amenities so that people stay. In May alone there are enough activities on the Jewish community calendar to fill almost all 31 days.

Last year, the Federation launched its Renewal Committee, led by Andy Schwartz, to brainstorm and implement ways to get the message out about what Jewish Dayton has to offer. Plans call for an overhaul of the Federation’s website to more effectively convey the Dayton Jewish experience, a job bank, networking for young professionals, and reaching out to area universities.

On the committee are Jewish professionals from each of Dayton’s synagogues. Linda Kahn, senior vice president of media with Penny Ohlmann Neiman ad and marketing agency, is helping with the committee’s marketing efforts.

“There are some big changes going on here that are bringing new people to town in the general community,” Schwartz says. “The biggest one is BRAC, the Base Realignment And Closure process, which will result in about 1,100 jobs and possibly more, coming to the Air Force base. With the number of doctors and engineers, scientists and research people coming, there could be a reasonable number of new Jewish families coming to take those jobs. We’re trying to work on being more conscious of how the Federation is reaching out to newcomers.”

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