A few months ago, in the thick of the pandemic, West Hartford’s housing market really started heating up, as city dwellers in our region began searching for suburban alternatives to living in their apartments with no backyard, amid densely populated environments. Interestingly, Orthodox Jews started considering moves to our city well before that.
Due in large part to the efforts of Rabbi Tuvia Brander, the entrepreneurial Rabbi of the Young Israel of West Hartford, our town is now high up on the list of potential destinations for Orthodox Jews looking for a more affordable, heimisha (Yiddish for hospitable and warm) community in which to raise their families.
Over the past 18 months, Brander and his synagogue have spearheaded a campaign to recruit new Orthodox families to come to West Hartford. Their goal is to grow Orthodox Jewish life here to help bolster our Jewish day schools, Jewish Community Center, synagogues, Chabad, and more.
And it’s working.
This past summer, 13 new Orthodox Jewish families moved to West Hartford. And in the past eight weeks, 75 others inquired about life in our community. All told, Brander reports that YIWH membership has doubled in the past two years to 130 families, causing a need to build more space in the sanctuary.
“Our objective is not to bring these people to our synagogue exclusively, but to educate them on all the options in the West Hartford area and to connect them to the synagogues, schools and environments that best fit them,” says Brander.
These promising efforts are due mostly to Brander personally taking the lead in the marketing efforts — a task rarely assumed by rabbis — including presenting the case for West Hartford in national Jewish forums, and paying for targeted print ads in New York, Boston, Florida, Los Angeles, and a few other cities across the country.
Brander says his approach highlights the following:
Rich Jewish Life — West Hartford already has a comprehensive Jewish infrastructure that provides a bevy of religious, cultural and educational options for all stages of life. “People are looking to be personally involved with their communities, where they can chart their Jewish lives in a warm and non-judgmental community,” says Brander. “Our community is small enough where everyone matters and is welcomed, and big enough to enjoy the full spectrum of vibrant Jewish life.”
Housing and Cost of Living — West Hartford is very affordable compared to most metropolitan areas. Families looking for more living space without becoming “house poor,” while achieving more purchasing power from their paychecks, will find Greater Hartford very attractive. “According to the Metro Hartford Alliance, the cost of living in West Hartford is 34 percent cheaper that New York City and 21 percent cheaper than Boston,” says Brander.
Mordechai Horwath, who was born and bred in Boston, and moved to West Hartford in August with his wife, Stephanie, and two babies, concurs. “We moved to West Hartford because we were tired paying rent to someone else so they could pay their bills, when we could pay the same amount for a mortgage here and our own home,” he says. “Everything here is so much more affordable and the Kosher food at the Big Y and Crown Kosher Market is better than the stuff we could get easily in Boston.”
Affordable, Quality Jewish Education — The gross cost of a 13-year, kindergarten through grade 12 Orthodox Jewish day school education for each child in New York City, according to Brander, is $250,000. In Boston, it’s $374,000. “Send your kid to West Hartford’s New England Jewish Academy [for the same 13 years] and the cost is $116,000,” he says.
One reason for this considerably lower cost is that the New England Jewish Academy offers perhaps the most generous Jewish day school tuition subsidy in the nation, thanks to the vision and largess of West Hartford philanthropists Jeremy and Ann Pava.
NEJA now offers tuition subsidies to all students starting at $5,000 for kindergarten; the amounts progressively ascend to $12,000 for high schoolers. “The Pava initiative has changed the game in how we recruit and the success we are achieving,” says Brander.
NEJA, as well as Solomon Schechter Day School, our area’s other K-8 Jewish school, also provide generous scholarships to ensure that no child will miss out on a Jewish education, due to finances.
High Skilled and High Paying Jobs — Here, Brander goes to the scoreboard and rifles off that West Hartford is the number one town in the Northeast for job seekers (Indeed) and is ranked fourth in the nation for tech jobs (MONEY magazine) and for being the “most innovative economy” (Bloomberg). It also made MONEY’s list of the Top 50 Best Towns/Cities in the country in which to live.
While all this is enough to make people take notice of West Hartford, a town with which most Jews are unfamiliar, there is “no doubt that Covid-19 has further increased their interest in moving here,” Brander says, “especially from cities like NY and Boston.”
While commuting each day to these cities for work is impractical, going for a “visit for Shabbat or a family simcha (celebration) is very doable,” Brander says. “And with so many workplaces going virtual, you don’t need to be tied to a large metropolitan area anymore.”
Also seeing this open window of opportunity, the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford is at the early stages of an initiative called Destination Hartford, which aims to recruit Jewish families of all denominations and backgrounds to our area.
The program design calls for a sophisticated, multi-channel marketing campaign to raise awareness, and a “concierge” who connects potential residents with community resources of all kinds. A job match program is also being developed to connect people with professionals in their field to help them pursue employment opportunities.
“One of our community’s real strengths is being well-networked,” says Heather Fiedler, vice president of Jewish Education and Leadership at the Jewish Federation. “So we are identifying super-connectors to help potential newcomers explore their options here.”
Meaningful, personal connections and the welcome they’ve received from the Orthodox Jewish community has “blown us away,” says Howrath, who cares for his children and is studying to be an EMT, while his wife works as a nurse at Hartford Healthcare. “From the time we expressed interest in moving to the community, so many people from the [YIWH] synagogue reached out to assist us,” he says. “And when we got here they arranged for a meal train to ensure we had food.”
“I’ve never experienced anything so amazing in my life.”
For more comprehensive and detailed information, please go to www.youngisraelwh.org/jewishwesthartford, or contact the YIWH at 860-233-3084 or www.Visit@YoungIsraelWH.org. Destination Hartford can be reached at email@example.com.
Jacob Schreiber, who moved with his family to West Hartford two years ago and is thrilled to be here, is the President and CEO of the Jewish Foundation of Greater Hartford. He welcomes your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.