Drawn by its solid Jewish infrastructure, Southern grace and hospitality, and affordable cost of living, young families flock to Memphis, TN, an incredibly warm and well-established Jewish community.
Lindi Vanderwalde grew up in LA and attended school on the East Coast—both very different landscapes than Memphis. “My husband and I were seeking jobs that suited us better, and when a headhunter advertised a job in Memphis, one of the top 20 cities in the U.S., I thought, there has to be Jews there,” recalled Lindi. She and her husband, both oncologists, flew to Memphis for the day of the interview, and loved it.
“Memphis is a major city, but it’s easy to navigate and most people’s commutes to work are very simple,” said Lindi. “You don’t realize until you leave LA how much time you spent in your car. It’s an easier way of life here.”
Lindi and her family also love the shul community. “It’s much smaller than LA, but there are still three Orthodox shuls and a Chabad here,” said Lindi, who attends the Baron Hirsch Congregation, a flagship Orthodox shul in America since the 1860s.
“The most striking thing about being part of a smaller Jewish community is that the shuls are more diverse because there’s not a million shuls where people can find their exact demographic and segmentalize themselves,” said Lindi. “Furthermore, numbers count here and people really matter. It helps make for a community where people are truly invested in the programming and show up.”
The Margolin Hebrew Academy offers K-12 education, and families also send children to the Bornblum Jewish Community School for grades 1-8. Memphis has plenty of kosher food at the local Kroger’s, including prepared foods like rotisserie chickens and sushi, and residents frequent two small kosher eateries housed in the Memphis Jewish Home and the JCC.
“The JCC has a lot of programming and is a real focal point of our community,” said Rachel Siegel, who moved to Memphis in 2004 when her husband applied for a residency program there; the couple specifically wanted a non-NY community. “Based on lifestyle and cost, Memphis was our first choice, and residency was a great way to try it out for a few years. We thought it would be a three-year stint, but we felt it was a wonderful place in which to raise children, so we stayed.”
Rachel emphasizes the family-friendly nature of Memphis, with the Memphis Zoo, Shelby Farms Park, where families can rent boats or go zip lining, and the Memphis Children’s Museum. “There is never a shortage of family activities, plus the Orthodox community has a tremendous amount of programming where there is almost never a Sunday where people have nothing to do,” she continued, mentioning that Jewish educators also run programming throughout the year for their students like melava malkas, learning, and Shabbat and yom tovmeals.
“It’s very empowering that individuals can really help make things happen here,” said Rachel. “You definitely feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself.”
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.