People in colonial dress, men and women in naval uniforms, and men in black hats—all three styles are not unusual in Norfolk, which has been a home to a growing Jewish community for years, in addition to a major naval base, and is located right near Colonial Williamsburg.
Find out more about Norfolk at the OU Jewish Communities Fair on April 30
Rabbi Sender Haber, who leads the Bnai Israel Congregation, moved to Norfolk in 2001 as a founding member of a community kollel.
“Other than giving up on a pizza shop, there is not much sacrifice involved, Jewishly, in living in Norfolk,” said Rabbi Haber, who would know, having moved from Lakewood, NJ, the epicenter of immediate and plentiful Jewish resources. “Norfolk is also in reasonable driving distance to East Coast communities, so it is easier to stay in touch with family than other out-of-town communities.”
Rabbi Haber explained that the kollel, which began with him and three others and now counts six men, is geared for kiruv, an effort which is deeply appreciated by the community.
“When I moved from Lakewood, I wanted to belong to a community where people were looking to grow,” he explained. “People in Norfolk have a genuine appreciation for Torah, and with that appreciation comes concerted efforts to show up for minyan and make time for learning on Shabbat and Yom Tov.”
Rabbi Haber also counts growth in areas like Jewish education—Toras Chaim elementary school has over 100 students, and girls can attend Bina High School while boys study at Aish Kodesh, which draws a lot of students from Baltimore who live in the school’s dorms. Norfolk also has a mikveh, an eruv, and Vaad Hakashrus.
A kosher Israeli-owned shawarma place, Mr. Shawarma, attracts everyone from Jews to Muslims to plenty of military officers. “A lot of officers who fell in love with shawarma in Iraq are happy to have access to authentic shawarma in Norfolk,” said Rabbi Haber.
Thanks to its naval base and other branches of the federal government that have headquarters in the area, Norfolk has a stable economy and housing market (even in ’08, when the rest of the country was struggling). As part of the Hampton Roads area of coastal Virginia, Norfolk also offers beautiful scenery and numerous activities for outdoor and family fun.
“Norfolk is a community where everybody can make a difference and so everybody does,” says Nat Sims, who moved to Norfolk with his family in 2015 for a job opportunity and has only praise for his new home. “There’s diversity, and with that comes unity. It’s nice to be a part of that.”
Check out more Torah communities outside the metropolitan area at our biannual Communities Fair on April 30!
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.