Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services of Dothan (“JCS”)
Stephanie Butler, Executive Director • firstname.lastname@example.org • 334-793-6855, ext. 279
- Visit our website www.BFJCS.org for details about the family relocation project, an extensive news archive, links to jobs, and links to many local and regional information sources.
- Facebook/Twitter/Instagram: @JCSDothan
(click for full size image)
Established November 2007, the JCS’ Mission is to seek, build, sustain, and assure the continuity of a vibrant Jewish community at Temple Emanu-El of Dothan Alabama. To meet its Mission, the JCS formulated, and now operates, a very distinctive initiative to move Jewish families to Dothan by providing significant financial assistance in the form of relocation grants up to $50,000 per family, for those who qualify.
The Family Relocation Project – Why?
Jews have been in Dothan since the 1880s; Temple Emanu-El was founded during 1929. Up until the 1970s, Temple flourished to over 110 members but then diminished, like so many other mid-west and southern congregations, to the point of about 35 members circa 2005. That was the point in time when our philanthropist Larry Blumberg outlined his vision for a program to assist Jewish families to relocate to Dothan because “Dothan’s congregation was not going wither and die.”
JCS Initial Phase, Formulation and Implementation
An aggressive advertising initiative brought significant positive exposure to Dothan’s Jewish community, Temple Emanu-El, the JCS and the Family Relocation Project. A series of ads was placed in major Jewish community newspapers, reaching 280,000 people plus the JCS’ website went live. The JCS and Temple Emanu-El enjoyed international media attention as a result of two wire service articles published worldwide by the Associated Press, a full-page profile of Mr. Blumberg in Reform Judaism Magazine, an article in Hadassah Magazine, a story broadcast by CNN, a five-minute story broadcast to 13 million listeners on National Public Radio and a lengthy profile in B’nai B’rith Magazine.
Ouch – The Great Recession
Our prospect families became very conservative and risk-averse for 18 months or so during the heart of the recession but the JCS continued to enjoy positive press including an article in the May 2010 issue of The Economist (with a weekly readership of 1.6 million) and in The Atlantic Magazine which has a circulation of 400,000.
Moving Out of the Recession
The JCS and its family relocation project rebounded as our prospect families gained some confidence that the nation’s challenged economy was improving. We greatly expanded our pool of prospect families by aggressively reaching out to active empty nester couples age 55+, via advertisements placed in Moment Magazine, Hadassah Magazine, and Reform Judaism Magazine. We also established a Facebook page and purchased a Facebook advertisement. The JCS was very proud to be a role model for other Jewish communities that were formulating initiatives to retain/attract families to their community: Meridian, MS; Tulsa, OK; Greensboro, NC, and; Cincinnati, OH.
Implementing More Initiatives Along the Way
JCS reaffirmed its positive working relationship with leadership at the Southeast Alabama Medical Center and the new Alabama College of Osteopathic Medicine as they expanded recruitment of hospital physicians and faculty/staff for the new Medical College. The JCS was honored to be an active partner with these recruitment activities, hosting Jewish candidates/families brought to town for interviews. Working closely with leadership at the Southeast Alabama Medical Center Foundation, the JCS established a four year scholarship to help recruit and retain full time ACOM medical students of the Jewish faith, to be named Blumberg Scholars. This represents a JCS commitment of $240,000 to fund the Blumberg Scholarship. ACOM student David Wilkerson was the first Blumberg Scholar and is now a member of Temple Emanu-El. We were very proud as David was selected to represent the student body at the ACOM’s July 29, 2013 grand opening ceremonies, speaking from the microphone with various dignitaries including Alabama’s Governor. During the fall of 2015, the ACOM selected the second and third Scholars: Andrew Glickman of Davie, Florida and Jeffrey Bloom of Dayton, Ohio. And in 2016, Max DeLap of Birmingham, Alabama became the final Blumberg Scholar. Andrew, Jeffrey and Max are now members of Temple Emanu-El. JCS has also made a five-year, $20,000 commitment to support the Temple’s cultural activities fund, donated $2,000 to Temple to help repair/restore the congregation’s precious Holocaust Torah, and donated $45,000 to the synagogue (in supplement to the lead donor’s magnificent gift) to design/reconstruct the Temple’s entrance, handicap accessible ramp, and parking lot. JCS is also supporting the Temple’s rabbinical search efforts, as Rabbi Lynne Goldsmith announced she would be retiring in June of 2017. The JCS family relocation project has continued to enjoy more, very positive published stories (newspapers, radio, and video) including: Associated Press; Jewish Telegraphic Agency; BBC International Radio, and; USA Today/Gannett Newspapers.
There Are Jews Here – Documentary Film
JCS and the Dothan Jewish community are featured in There Are Jews Here, a major documentary that is now being shown across the nation at major Jewish film festivals. The film follows the stories of four small Jewish communities in Texas, Montana, Pennsylvania and Alabama. While the other small communities are preparing to close the doors to their synagogues forever, Dothan and the bold JCS relocation initiative show how a community can successfully respond to such a challenge. There Are Jews Here was produced and directed by Brad Lichtenstein and 371 Productions.
Great Results So Far – Dothan’s Jewish Community
Temple Emanu-El is very clearly reinvigorated, with strong lay and Rabbinic leadership, standing tall as the only a house of Jewish worship, study, and assembly within a 90 mile radius of Dothan. We are proud to say that we are “small but mighty." Our membership has increased since 2005, from 35 to 60 members; religious school has grown from four kids to twelve. Brotherhood is reborn, now enjoying 30 members and 17 yearly activities. Sisterhood and Hadassah are thriving. We have 15+ regular attendees at weekly Torah Study; are experimenting with Shabbat Morning Services; added more music to our Services; established an adult Hebrew class; celebrated an array of individual/entire family conversions to Judaism; had several adult B’nai Mitzvot, and; enjoyed the congregation’s first-ever trip to Israel. A great, positive dynamic has been recent successes initiated by congregants: a fun monthly bowling league of 20 participants (“The Mitzvah Misfits”), a Monthly Book Club, and a Mahjong group.
The JCS is honored to be a part of the congregation’s on-going reinvigoration and wonderful vibrancy, described above. We recently moved our eleventh Jewish families to the area. The families are from Illinois, Pennsylvania, Florida, New York, Virginia, Georgia, California, Ohio and Massachusetts – an aggregate of 22 adults and 10 children. The 22 adults have quickly become very active congregants including: leading Temple’s building and grounds committee; volunteering to lead and teach in the Religious School; serving as Shabbat Services vocal soloist; founding the Mitzvah Misfits; facilitating an update of Temple’s strategic plan, and; serving on/elected to Temple’s Board of Trustees. Why Just Eleven Families So Far? Not all families qualify, we do a lot of due diligence. A family’s first step is to complete/transmit to us a “prospect questionnaire” via our website. We’ve received hundreds of those, many do not move on to, or beyond, the next step which is a lengthy screening phone call. Overall, we seek serious, committed Jewish families who are prepared to move to town for the long term. The financial dislocation can be very challenging, having to sell one’s house, be willing to resign their current employment and find good/gainful employment in Dothan. Public education, K-12 is fair to good in Dothan, at best.
How Many Additional Families Can We Accommodate?
At least seven, apply now!
What is the Profile of a Promising Prospect Family?
The families are ready for their next great adventure; are often times risk takers. They understand there will be some culture shock here compared to what they are used to. They appreciate there will be challenges to maintaining a Jewish life in a small, remote congregation – it’s hard work, you need to be active and engaged. They have to be an ambassador – there will be many Jewish teaching moments after you move here. Such promising prospect families tell us that they are ready for change, to leave traffic congestion, too fast a pace, high crime and taxes, oftentimes cold and snow. They seek a vibrant and growing Jewish community where they can enjoy a lower cost of living, improved quality of life, better weather and be close to the beach. They seek to move to a positive place where they can make a difference in their congregation and community. They yearn for an extended family congregation like ours where expensive dues/five year building fund pledges/high holiday tickets are not the ethic.
It’s a progressive community, great place to live, work, and raise a family. Our Mayor says that this is a faith community and we agree, with 140 houses of worship. There really is such a thing as southern hospitality, folks are super friendly, our community has zero history of anti-Semitism, Jews are highly respected. We enjoy great parks and rec, police and fire protection, really low taxes and cost of living – especially real estate prices. During the late summer, 2015, Dothan was named the Alabama city with the lowest cost of living. Oh, and yes, we are only 70 miles from the beautiful beaches of the Gulf of Mexico and Panama City, FL.