I remember a time when people in Memphis said there was nothing to do here. College students left home for new adventures – many never returning. Young families moved to larger cities with better job opportunities. Sports enthusiasts traveled to other cities to see major league teams.
There were those who just couldn’t leave or had to return. They had grown up here, their families still lived here, and their heart and souls were buried in Memphis history. They believed in Memphis.
Then something amazing happened. Downtown became a popular spot for millennials and even their parents. Great restaurants, breweries and coffee shops started sprouting up everywhere from South 3rd, to Broad Ave., down the Poplar corridor and into East Memphis, Germantown and Collierville.
The Memphis JCC pool, early education, and gym regained its status as gathering spot for Jews and non-Jews of all ages. The variety of excellent Jewish education opportunities at schools and synagogues attracted a collage of people from all walks of life.
That’s when a group of concerned Jewish Memphians rallied to market all of these fantastic qualities that Memphis had to offer.
In 2014, Hal Newburger, Larry Wruble, Joel Siegel and Jessica Baum Sukhadolsky formed the Memphis Jewish Recruitment Committee and became the backbone of the 100 New Families initiative. Their goal – spread the word about the great things Memphis has to offer Jewish families – especially those with young children – who were looking for quality religious education, synagogues, jobs, affordable housing and short driving commutes.
“I already knew that people my age living in larger cities on the East and West coasts were unhappy with their high cost of living, quality of life and looking for alternatives,” said Jessica. “We also knew that bringing these families to Memphis was an investment in the sustainability of our Jewish community and institutions. It was a win-win for us all.”
They were right.
Each year the committee hosts two Taste of Memphis weekends. “We try to arrange Shabbatons around big events such as the ASBEE Kosher BBQ Contest and Memphis Israel Fest,” said Jessica. “But, it’s not unusual to host families throughout the year.”
Southern hospitality is a key to their success. Memphians open their homes to weekend guests and invite neighbors for Shabbat dinners. The schools and synagogues are open for tours. Job interviews are often arranged during the visits.
About 60 families have since made the move including Ari and Molly Hagler. Ari grew up in Teaneck, NJ. Molly grew up in Memphis. “We were living in Washington Heights, NYC, while Ari was in Yeshiva University, and it was a convenient place to live while we were both working in New York City,” said Molly. “However, we were looking to move to a place with more of a community.”
Molly applied to medical schools around the country, so they knew they were to likely to be moving, but it was unclear where. Molly was accepted at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center. Ari is an IT Systems Analyst at Sedgwick.
When asked what they loved about living in Memphis the couple said, “The affordability is amazing. Almost none of our friends outside of Memphis and in our stage of life were able to buy their own home and have two cars. One of Ari’s favorite parts of living here is his four-minutes commute (eight minutes if there is traffic) as opposed to the over 45 minutes it took him to get to work in New York. We also love how relaxed everything is, Ari describes living here as if being constantly on vacation.”
A “Fedovation Grant” from Memphis Jewish Federation helps fund the initiative by offering incentives such as $250 towards the Shabbat weekend airfare, $500 towards relocation expenses, a year’s membership at any of the city’s synagogues and a three-month membership to the Memphis JCC.
Memphis has become a hot spot for those looking for an affordable living option. We welcome the Haglersand other newcomers who are enjoying all of the amenities of our city including the Memphis Zoo, Shelby Farms, the Greenline, Grizzlies and Redbirds games, The Orpheum Theater and the Memphis Symphony. And even with all of these big-city-like features, traffic – it’s nothing like New York or even Atlanta.
If you have out-of-town friends looking for big-city feel with a small-town lifestyle, visit 100newfamilies.com, facebook.com/100newfamilies, or contact Jessica Baum Sukhodolskyat firstname.lastname@example.org or 901.352.1776.