Warm. Welcoming. Affordable.
That’s what the Jewish community of Wynnewood, Penn Wynne and Overbrook Park want people to know about the growing and engaging neighborhood and, hopefully, those out-of-towners will become part of the community, too.
The Kohelet Foundation awarded a $20,000 grant to Chabad of Penn Wynne and Congregation Beth Hamedrosh to expand their local part of the community and encourage others to move there by using a promotional marketing campaign.
The Kohelet grant went toward the creation of a video, a website (jewishwynnewood.com), and other promotional content, and funded a presentation of the video at the OU Community Fair several weeks ago. This weekend, both congregations will be hosting a community Shabbaton for out-of-town guests.
Rabbi Yonah Gross from Beth Hamedrosh said the community invited about 10 families who reside in the greater New York area and elsewhere to check out their corner of Philly. He hopes they’ll plant roots here.
“If we bring everyone together, people can imagine what it would be like: ‘This will be my community with all these other people who are also planning on moving here,’” Gross said.
The area has a lot to offer: affordable housing, kosher restaurants and tuition-subsidized Jewish day schools.
Gross, originally from Queens, N.Y., moved to Philadelphia almost eight years ago. Three of his four children are enrolled at Torah Academy of Greater Philadelphia.
“Paying school tuition is a challenge for us as well,” he said, but the state Educational Improvement Tax Credit (EITC) program makes it more affordable.
The community is also considering offering grants to new families while they are getting acclimated, Gross pointed out.
Between the two shuls, Gross estimated about 120 families reside within the community.
“What I like about this area is my children have friends with children a couple years older than them, a couple years younger than them. And they are also friendly and have great relationships with members of the shul that are old enough to be their grandparents. They have many surrogate bubbes, zeides, uncles, aunts,” he laughed. “That’s a great experience that they’ve had growing up.”
The marketing content promotes the community at large rather than the individual shuls, which Gross said has increased interest.
“By us leveraging that community approach, we’ve been able to get more excitement than we’ve had in the past,” he said.
“The grant is simply to promote what exists in the community already, to promote the growth that we’ve already had to propel us a little further into the future,” added Rabbi Moshe Brennan from Chabad of Penn Wynne.
Shmuel Hoffman, who created the video, can personally relate to what the promotion is all about. After meeting his wife, Margelit, in Israel, they moved to Jim Thorpe six years ago, and then later to her native Allentown. They’ve lived in Overbrook Park for two years.
“The main thing I love about the community is that it’s a hidden gem,” he said. “We asked around: ‘Where should we move?’ People said, ‘Oh, New York, Teaneck.’ Typical places.”
Friends invited them to Philadelphia — a place they hadn’t considered — and discovered a thriving Jewish community.
The promotion highlights all the aspects of why an out-of-towner would want to live in Greater Philadelphia: affordable housing and living expenses, a short distance from Center City, job opportunities, several options for Jewish day schools, plus the EITC program. But overall, it’s the people within the community that create this bustling environment.
Hoffman belongs to Chabad of Penn Wynne, along with his wife and four children.
“But we, as congregants, don’t feel divisions,” he said of both synagogues. “Whether you go to Chabad, you go to a modern Orthodox place, it’s all really united. It’s really beautiful.”
Being a part of an engaging Jewish community wasn’t always a priority for Hoffman growing up. He went to a Reform shul when he was young, but it didn’t mean much to him, he explained.
His mother kept bringing him back, but he recalled for “some unknown reason” he ended up at an Orthodox synagogue one evening.
“I saw a guy in a hat davening like crazy,” he remembered. “You don’t see that much in Germany; mind you, the place.”
Chabad invited him for religious classes and, eventually, in his late teens he received a Bar Mitzvah — and a bris.
“Chabad was asking out the blue,” he recalled, “‘Hey, did you get a bris?’ I said, ‘No.’”
They asked if he wanted to go forward with a circumcision.
“OK, let’s do it,” Hoffman laughed.
He said the goal of this marketing campaign is simple: recruitment.
“We want to show people an area that I think people don’t know,” he added. “It should be known that there exists a place, at least this one place, that has it all.
You have job opportunities and don’t pay through the roof like some other Jewish communities.”
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