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Recommendations for Old York Road

April 5, 2012
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The key to getting more Jewish families to live along the Old York Road corridor is to make the area more enticing for young families of all backgrounds. It's within the realm of possibility, but it will take a concerted effort that extends beyond the Jewish community.

That, in essence, is the conclusion of a 100-plus-page report on the Old York Road Jewish community that was commissioned to help that community plan for its future.

The report, released by the University of Pennsylvania's Fels Institute of Government's research and consulting arm (www.fels.upenn.edu/Old-York-Road), recommends the creation of a website to promote the area and the staging of an annual local event that might help draw young couples from Center City and other suburbs to check out the area.

The authors suggest that the group of seven synagogues that funded the report, known as the Old York Road Revitalization Committee, change its name, since revitalization connotes that the region has already experienced a backslide.

The areas considered in the study were Cheltenham Township, Abington Township, the borough of Jenkintown and Huntingdon Valley. The area has a dense concentration of synagogues and other Jewish institutions.

The revitalization group was motivated by the recognition that some younger families -- for many reasons -- are choosing to stay in the city or move to other suburban communities rather than the Old York Road corridor.

Though exact data is hard to come by, most local Jewish leaders take it as a given that the Jewish population has declined over the last 30 years. According to the most recent population study in 2009, some 25,000 Jews live in what's known as the Kehillah of Old York Road.

The report discusses how the fate of the Jewish institutions could be tied to the health of the area's public schools and commercial districts. Some of the downsides facing the area are steep property taxes and the lack of a business base.

Rabbi Seymour Rosenbloom, of Congregation Adath Jeshurun in Elkins Park, a member of the Old York steering committee, said that the report's authors "came up with some very good suggestions. They have given us the confidence to move ahead and the impetus to move ahead. We are not going to let this report sit on a shelf."

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