Reform Jewish Synagogue in Rural Alabama Offering Families $50,000 To Move and Join Congregation

| by Dominic Kelly

A synagogue in Dothan, Alabama is offering money to families to relocate to their town and join the congregation in an effort to maintain the Jewish presence in the small southern town. It’s not just a little stipend, though. It’s $50,000.

Five years ago, Jewish businessman Larry Blumberg saw that his congregation in the small Alabama town was starting to shrink in size, so he came up with a plan. Blumberg put up $1 million to fund an initiative to recruit Jews to Dothan.

The original intent of the program was to recruit 20 families by the year 2015, and since the start in 2008, they have gotten six families to relocate, with four more in the works. The hope was that it would bring more attention to Dothan and start to grow, and the plan has certainly worked. The congregation has grown from 38 families in 2008 to 71 today. Blumberg says that he is proud of what has happened in the community.

"The injection of this new blood has really been helpful and refreshing," said Blumberg to the AP. "I think the program has created a lot of buzz and attention both in our local community and throughout the Jewish community at large."

Temple Emanu-El doesn’t just pick any family to give the $50,000, though. People interested have to go through an intensive screening process to make sure they are a good fit for the congregation.

“This is about fit,” said Robert Goldsmith, executive director of Blumberg’s organization that is running the program. “We're not buying Jews here with a blank check.”

While the amount of money involved in the program is large, the type of recruitment program itself is not a new idea. Orthodox congregations have done this before, but Temple Emmanu-El in Dothan is reportedly the first reform congregation to run this type of program. Now, others around the country are considering the possibilities of what this could do for their congregation.