Minutes from Universal Studios, Seaworld and Disney World, Orlando is known as a popular destination city for its exciting theme parks. Recently named with the highest job growth and the 4th fastest growing city by Forbes magazine, Orlando has become more than just a vacation destination. Home to many of the nation’s largest corporations and award-winning medical facilities, job opportunities exist in all fields and are continually growing.
Over the past seven years or so, Orlando has become home to a young, growing and vibrant Orthodox Jewish community. Orlando’s Jewish communal amenities include those that any large Jewish city has come to expect: An eruv, mikvah, kosher restaurants, preschool, yeshiva elementary day school, daily and weekly men’s and women’s shiurim and Orthodox Ashkenaz and Sephardi Minyanim.
Orlando offers the best of both worlds. In addition to providing a spiritual atmosphere for its community, the city offers a high quality of life with perks such as great weather, no state income tax, low cost of living and affordable housing. Homes with 4 bedrooms, 2 baths, a garage, and a pool typically sell for between 250 and 300 thousand; the same size house on a smaller acre of land within the Orthodox Jewish communities in South Florida is minimum a million in Miami and half a million in Boca Raton. Condos, apartments, and co-ops are also available for those looking for smaller living spaces for very low rates.
At Orlando’s fastest growing Orthodox shul, The Orlando Torah Center, which is part of the OU member shul family, the first year membership is free for new members. Rabbi Dovid Yachnes, from the Orlando Torah Center, says, “The Orlando Torah Center was created with the intention of giving the Jews of Orlando a real appreciation of our Torah and its values. Our goal is to develop a Torah community in which our members can learn Torah as well as experience the joy of living a true Torah life.”
There’s also tuition incentives from Orlando’s largest Orthodox Jewish Day School, the Orlando Torah Academy, which boasts high standards for both Judaic and secular studies, scoring among the highest in the state for standardized tests.
Deans Rabbi Yehudah Schepansky and Rabbi Avraham Wachsman at Orlando Torah Academy say their mission is, “To inspire personal and ethical growth through the study and integration of Jewish Values. We provide a general studies program of excellence that meets and exceeds State of Florida standards, while also promoting a love for and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people, encouraging a sense of kinship and unity to Jews throughout the world.”
Its broad job market in all industries, especially in the medical, legal, hospitality and defense industries, provides employment opportunities for those looking to relocate to Orlando with all its excellent amenities. There are jobs for both non-college educated and college educated positions. Since the medical industry is so huge, it has three hospitals, a medical office or urgent care center on every corner, and “medical city” that employs 9,000 employees just within its series of institutions. Other common positions include mechanical and electrical engineers, bio or chemical engineers, accountants, and lawyers. Most major firms in Miami have offices in Orlando, many celebrities have homes there, along with ranks of high profile people living there. As a result, there are financing companies, marketing companies, and law firms typical of any city with an abundance of hotels, restaurants and concierge services.
Efraim Ellman, Director of the Orlando Center for Jewish Development, represents Orlando to those outside the community and offers free job placement services and recruitment. “Our main goal is to promote the city to those not familiar or to those who just need more information in the Orthodox Jewish community, and we do what we need to help with the costs of moving,” says Ellman.
The organization works on the site discoverjewishorlando.org, pays for the OU fair, membership and marketing materials, helps with finding realtors, picks up costs of headhunting, and when new Orthodox families get to town, they receive a welcome package and financial help with unpacking.
The Orlando community located in the Dr. Philips neighborhood, considered a very safe area, has primarily seen an influx of married couples and young families with two or three kids over the past three years. “We outgrew our current shul, and they purchased a building and started construction to build a new shul around the corner to accommodate the growth,” says Ellman.
In addition to a higher quality of life for lower costs of living, Ellman sees another advantage to living in Orlando. “People coming from cities like New York usually leave other [non-immediate] family behind,” he explains. “One reason it’s a great neighborhood is that because it’s a destination city, the chances are that they’re going to visit often. You will likely find out you have friends calling when they visit, and it’s only a two or three-hour drive from South Florida. People are quite happy to visit.”