Is there an Out of Town Advantage?

In the Jewish world, where the term “out of town” means anywhere outside the Tristate area, an “out of towner” is someone who, while working a little harder with limited resources, also knows what it means to be an integral part of a small community.
But what are the trade-offs? The spiritual and physical inconveniences and benefits of living far from the centers of Jewish life?
Several prominent “Out of Towners” addressed these questions in a recent symposium, which drew wide response from Everytown.
What do you think? Join the conversation below. 


Conversations on Mishpacha.com continue the dialogue on current issues covered in Mishpacha Magazine. The Conversation Host will respond to a selection of comments and points raised by the participants. See our Conversation Guidelines right here. 

Ruchi Koval |
August 5, 2019
LAST UPDATED 4 years ago

Comments (27)

  1. Avatar

    I was born and raised out of town but have been living in town for several years, and think there are other points that should be addressed.
    As mentioned, there is the “one family” aspect of out-of-town. It should be emphasized that this stretches beyond the physical out-of-town community. Those of us who grew up in that community have a strong kesher to each other. While I was in yeshivah in Eretz Yisrael, I felt very connected to people that grew up with me just because we were from the same out-of-town community. In contrast, there is no synergy between two people just because they both hail from Flatbush.
    Secondly, there are drawbacks that are not connected to sushi and dips. There is indeed a sense that one person makes a difference., yet this can be a serious drawback. If there is one shul that caters to everyone, shul events are usually geared to the lowest common denominator. For someone with an extended yeshivah background, hearing a derashah week after week that’s geared toward beginners and advanced beginners can be a turn off. While everyone needs chizuk, people need chizuk based on where they are holding. As a result, those with yeshivah backgrounds may have difficulty connecting with the shul, especially if they are people who are in the working world and not learning in a kollel all day.
    It should be noted that this will probably be the case for all aspects of community life., for example shiurim for the women and Halachah discussions before Yom Tov will follow this theme.

    1. Avatar

      Thanks Boruch for your comment. Obviously there are gradations of “out-of-town” but I think you’ve painted a rather stark picture of “either/or.” Either we all know and love each other and suffer religiously – or it’s anonymity + spiritual stimulation.
      I don’t see it this way at all. As a community grows organically (which is the healthiest way) its offerings grow organically too. This is a natural process. And it applies to Shiurim, to frum business meeting our spiritual needs such as tzniyus clothing and head covering options and sefarim; as well as, yes, kosher sushi and dips.
      Why the trade off? Also, I have found that when frum people take responsibility for the beginners in their midst, their own spirituality only deepens.

  2. Avatar
    Zave Rudman

    I once asked Mori v’Rabi Rav Moshe Shapiro ztz”l the following question: If the second Luchos were given on Yom Kippur, why don’t we mention that event anywhere in the 12 hour davening of Yom Kippur? His answer: Since Rashi says that the reason the second Luchos weren’t destroyed is because they were given b’tzniyus, we cannot mention them out loud. That is contradictory to their entire essence.
    This article mentions that one of the organizations which does tremendous work helping young women cross the Yam Suf of shidduchim facilitates, among other things, photo shoots for shidduch rèsumè pictures.
    I am aware of another prominent organization that had an evening of chizuk for girls in the parshah which included divrei chizuk, along with makeup artists to prepare them for the shidduch rèsumè pictures, which would be taken at the end of the evening.
    As teachers in seminary, my wife and I are constantly asked our opinion of this aspect of dating. I find it hard to answer. On the one hand, after consulting with shadchanim in America, I know that it is a fact. But as bnos Yisrael, is it the proper thing to do? One student even told us how a shadchan told her that the head shot was not sufficient; there needs to be a complete picture. Is this our goal in creating a Jewish home?
    I always emphasize to my students that the point of the shidduch process is not to disregard the inner and outer beauty of a zivug, but to allow the different aspects to form a harmonious whole that creates a home of kedushah. Chazal do discuss the beauty of the Imahos. But that is in context of the complete person they were.
    I once told by my rebbi Rav Moshe Chait ztz”l, that since we do not hear the bas kol announcing the name of our bashert, Hashem gave us the concept of attraction so that we can sense it instead. Meaning, on (rèsumè) paper there are many potential spouses, and they are all fine, personable, bnei and bnos Torah. The spark of attraction serves as our bas kol.
    But since we live in a world filled with confusing messages, we are in danger of confusing that Divine bas kol with what the outside world calls attraction. By conflating our definition of “attraction” with something so one-dimensional as a picture, are we falling into that trap?
    I know it is easy to complain, but there needs to be a loud voice raised in the defense of the beautiful, silent sound of tzniyus.

  3. Avatar
    C. G.

    A tremendous thank you to all those involved in the “out of town” shidduch initiatives!
    As an out-of-town mom, who’s been involved in her children’s shidduchim for two decades, I can attest that the trend has definitely turned, and the numbers of shidduchim are going up.
    But there’s something else that has been happening at the same time. As we have seen in recent years, in communities, schools, and shuls, an increase in numbers creates a reduction in diversity and a growth of labeling.
    While it’s commendable to try to bridge the gaps and help out-of-town girls meet in- town boys, the truth is that not every “out of towner” is an “in town” type. The old school thinking of “invei hagefen” — like should meet like — still holds true. Be it in lifestyle, passions, background, social standing, affiliation, education, and so on —just as the girl across the border is logistically impractical for an in-town boy, the in- town boy often lacks qualities considered desirable out of town.
    May I suggest that instead of sending our young ladies where they aren’t valued, the out-of-town shadchanim share their lists of boys with one another. These boys will likely have more in common with our girls: They support diversity, encourage friendliness, and understand travel, without seeing it as a complicated logistical issue.
    It’s time to bring our boys home, be it a mixed marriage of Toronto, Chicago, L.A., Baltimore etc. — where we understand and appreciate each other.
    Let the networking begin!

  4. Avatar

    Rabbi Avrohom Weinrib writes about learning to be a baal achrayus in Cincinnati. Rabbi Weinrib is my nephew and Rav Chaim Weinrib, the source of his lumid, is my father.
    Growing up in Hartford, Connecticut had its challenges and limitations. However, through them, we became stronger and more dedicated Jews.
    From small town USA, we made aliyah to Beer Sheva, which at that time almost 50 years ago, was “out of town” by any standard.
    We learned my father’s lesson of what it means to be a “baal achrayus.” If you want something to happen, you cannot wait for others — you must take initiative and create the reality.
    We took part in helping in the mass Russian aliyah absorption in the early 1990’s. We met olim from all over the world in the shul housed in an absorption center. Being some of the few English-speaking chareidim, we felt a sense of purpose.
    Since we lived “off the beaten track,” seminaries would send us students looking for a “chavayah” in their Israel experience. Our tables were graced with students from Aish HaTorah and Ohr Samayach who exposed our children to the excitement of being a baal teshuvah. Lifelong friendships were forged.
    While we no longer live in Beer Sheva, I believe that our experiences there turned us into caring, openhearted, and committed Jews.

    1. Avatar

      I so appreciate this comment. Ask not what “out of town” can do for you. Ask what you can do for “out of town.” And in the process – you yourself will be enriched. One of the disadvantages of Cleveland, my hometown, growing as it has, is that each individual person feels less needed. To my view, one of the biggest problems troubling our young adults is that they don’t feel needed in our communities. There are a thousand couples just like me – who would even notice if I disappeared? This is part of what draws young idealistic in-towners to tiny new communities: the drive to make a difference.

  5. Avatar

    I would disagree somewhat with the letter in last week’s magazine saying a BT needs to live in town. I am a longtime baalas teshuvah, and I benefited so much from living in two wonderful small out of town communities before I got married. Certain families invited me week after week for Shabbos meals, and it helped me fill in the gaps in my own traditional-yet-not-shomer-shabbos upbringing. In a larger in town community, I think I would have gotten lost in the shuffle. I do agree that a baal teshuvah should not live too far out – there should certainly be opportunities for chinuch and shiurim for example. But a nice, nurturing out of town community can provide exactly the type of environment that a BT needs.

    1. Avatar

      Hi Lani,
      I hear you – let me comment on the advantage that so-called FFB “out-of-towners” have in the many baalei teshuvah in our midst. It’s good and healthy for our kids to interact with a wide variety of Jews. It’s important for our shuls and schools. And baalei teshuvah, who are often college educated, well-read, and well-rounded, have a lot to offer any rich and vibrant community. This is one of my favorite parts of Cleveland.

  6. Avatar

    I have never lived in New York or the tri-state area (though I have visited). I am very happy, though, to not live there. Just the recent articles about the rent crisis and hearing from friends how hard it is to find a place makes that clear. What I do wish, though, that we had was the immense number of organizations that allow their volunteers to do chesed. From an outsiders point of view, at any time when you want to do something for someone else, you can find an organization that can make that happen, and that is incredible. Otherwise, I wish people would stop talking about what we don’t have if we don’t live in NY and realize what we do have – warm, caring communities that value each member.

  7. Avatar

    It’s nice to see Rabbi Shlomo Landau, director of Torah Links of Middlesex County, share his perspective on raising a family in East Brunswick, NJ, and we are especially proud that his valued work as a kiruv rabbi has been built upon the close relationship and financial support of our 215-family Young Israel of East Brunswick community.

    We may not have a dedicated coffee room in our shul, but let’s talk about what we do have: daily minyanim, an eruv, a renovated mikvah, summer camp, and programming for all ages. Our congregants enjoy many incredible Jewish amenities including 6 kosher restaurants within a six-mile drive, one entirely kosher supermarket plus other supermarkets with expansive kosher selections, a range of local yeshiva day schools, and much more.

    Located along the Raritan and South Rivers in Central New Jersey, East Brunswick is hardly out-of-town! We love the warmth and intimate nature of our suburban community, and you will too.

  8. Avatar
    Jessica Chavi Cohen

    As a native New Yorker and a current Clevelander (for 11 years!) I think that the distinction between the Tristate area and everywhere else is blown out of proportion. I agree with another comment below that there are levels of out of town. Cleveland, Ohio is not the wilderness when it comes to frumkeit. But we do have our challenges and it’s not the same as living in New York. Anyone living here would tell you that. But, the advantages and disadvantages of living here are completely different from those living in San Diego, California or Tuscon, Arizona.
    As an American frum community, we need to titrate better how we evaluate our many communities. A better approach to this would have been to group the different “types” of out of town communities and provide multiple perspectives for each group. That would have been more informative for all in my opinion.

    1. Sarah Moses Spero
      Sarah Moses Spero

      I wonder how you’d classify some of the places that I lived in as a kid.
      My father was a rabbi and we were ‘preachers kids.’ Name the city – we lived in it (New York and its environs were not one of those cities). I was born in Prague, my sister Esther was born in Bangor, Maine and my other sister, Chaya, was born in Los Angeles, California (see, told ya…)
      I was part of the first generation of the Day School movement having attended all the fledgling day schools in those many cities along the way, with only a few months spent here or there in public schools, until arrangements could be made for an appropriate school in the not-too-distant areas. (I’m the only one I know who can recite the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ by heart for, though I was not the only Jewish child in the class, I was the only one who was excused from saying it on her knees – in the days before the separation of church and state.)
      My first experience meeting other religious children whose parents were not ‘klei kodesh’ was when we moved from Olyphant, Pennsylvania (where?) to Pittsburgh. My father ministered to Orthodox congregations, though most members were not actually religious, and we remained frum because I don’t honestly think it occurred to me to be any other way.
      Who knew that Pittsburgh was not the center of the frum world?! At that time, my father was a rabbi in a very small congregation in Oakland, right outside of Squirrel Hill, which was the center of Jewish life there, so even in Pittsburgh we were still different. In Oakland there was only one other family with children that were religious, plus an older couple or two, who kept Shabbos. Walking to Squirrel Hill on Shabbos was our opportunity to socialize with children our own age and that walk was just a few short miles away.
      Once in a while we would travel to Brooklyn. It was such a different place from where or how I lived that relating to it was just too distant and difficult. It wasn’t just the change in location. It was the hustle, the bustle, the crowding, the pushing, the air, the traffic and the noise. It still is. I still can’t figure out why leaning on a horn is not against the law?
      I just knew, growing up as an out-of-towner, that I was part of a community and it was not just about me. It was about what I had to do for others. Because we all had to do for each other. Maybe that’s just my generation…

  9. Sarah Moses Spero
    Sarah Moses Spero

    It’s really nice to read about these initiatives by activists and Shadchanim. As a long time out of towner, I know from close up that one of the prerequisites on a shidduch profile is wedding location – before the first ‘yes.’
    Expecting the young lady to come to the NY/NJ area for the first date before a young man (read: his parents) will agree to have him travel to her home state is demeaning and begs the question of where we place our priorities. I certainly understand he has commitments (learning, school, job.) But so does she. And then we wonder why young couples can’t get their priorities straight?!
    To all those New Yorkers will not consider an OOT shidduch, I have news for you: did it occur to you that sometimes the opposite is true??
    Let’s modify the old saying – “New York – it’s a nice place to visit, but…’ Give me OOT any day of the week.

    1. Avatar

      As for Shidduchim with Girls ‘OOT’, I just want to say, that my son was very open to going OOT for a Shidduch. We encouraged it. (For what it’s worth, because I have both a boy and girl in Shidduchim now, I try to be sensitive to all Shidduch biased ‘ issues’). But even with all the ‘perks’ of a ‘free car’ and ‘free lodging’, his venture OOT- including a plane ticket to LA and just expenses, came out to 600 dollars. I’m not knocking all the wonderful chesed that is done, but it still is very difficult to date OOT. Even not traveling to LA, the last OOT girl he dated dragged on 4 dates for 6 weeks because of the distance. The next girl was a bit more closer to in-town, but as they dated, it became apparent that she had no intention of leaving her community. Even though my son was willing to compromise ‘half way’.
      Another 800 dollars later…..
      I can’t blame him for only wanting to date ‘local’ now. He’s a bit burnt.

  10. Avatar

    The OOT discussion touches on many issues, but I haven’t seen anyone wonder the obvious- why can’t we turn in town into out of town, giving that same charm and warmth to in town life? Instead of just rhapsodizing about people being connected to each other and neighbors sharing more than a sidewalk, let’s try to create that warmth in our in town kehillos too. Now THAT’S a conversation Mishpacha should start.

    1. Avatar

      This is great idea but remains theoretical. How would you see that happening practically? With whom would the initiative begin?

  11. Avatar

    To be fair, there are different levels of Out of Town.
    Chicago, Toronto and LA: OOT but wealthier community, so like NY
    Baltimore: Closest to NY and a huge community, but…Baltimore
    Montreal: Hungarian community, so baalebatish like NY, but freezing
    Detroit, Cleveland: Yeshivish, American, main draw is affordable housing.
    Miami: Its Miami.
    Then there’s everywhere else

    1. Avatar

      This is funny.
      But with all due respect, the main advantage of Cleveland is that it is a wonderful, warm and wholesome place to raise a family.

  12. Avatar
    Rabbi Henoch Plotnick

    I just spent a few days in Camp Agudah Midwest – Loaded with OOTs.
    I heard one shmuess from Rav Volbe zt”l, in Lakewood back in the mid 1980s. He said if someone can only observe Rosh Hashana in Lakewood, with its great tzibbur and ruach, then he hasn’t really “made it” yet. “Let him go to Texas or West Virginia and daven over there on Rosh Hashana and feel the ruach of Rosh Hashanah. Then he knows he has made it!”
    I don’t know why those two states struck his fancy more than Vermont and Arkansas but you get the point. (I particularly enjoyed repeating this in a drasha to the Dallas Kollel).
    There is a great lesson here. Everyone can interpret it as he wishes but one of the points the Mashgiach was making was that to bring all one’s potential out, and truly grow as great as he can, he needs to push himself beyond the cradle and security blanket of a kulo Torah s’viva and give his kochos a real good spin.
    That doesn’t mean to say he has failed if he didn’t but a major growth opportunity awaits him when he can retain his Torah stature even under more trying situations. Just ask the Alter Mirrers from Japan.
    As one who grew up in Boston and settled in Chicago with a pit stop in Lakewood,and many years in yeshiva with in towners, I have seen the whole gamut of frum humanity. Although painting with broad brushes is never fair, I believe al pi rov that the OOTs do have a higher tolerance and acceptance level for a broader spectrum of Yidden. And might I add I think there is an elevated respect for people in general, yes, nochrim.
    Just by living as they do amongst other cultures and communities, how could they not? They are not just props in the World play but people as well that deserve respect and cordiality. Irreligious Yidden do not feel so put off either, as they too are treated as they should be and not with disdain and condescension.
    Again, this does not insinuate that in towners are incapable of the same, but the environment itself makes it more conducive towards such relationships.

  13. Avatar

    What’s with all the comments about dips and sushi? As a Tristate in-towner, I found it insulting that you see our community as people who need every dip, diced fruit, or sushi.
    The in-town communities are based around yeshivos, gedolim, rabbanim, teachers, organizations, and a paramount of chesed. We might have sushi and dips, but it’s definitely not the focus of our lives.
    Additionally, I think the stigma that we don’t accept out-of-towners is wrong. We think all of Klal Yisrael is incredible no matter what city you’re from. In many ways, we look up to you and admire you.
    Wishing the best to all of Klal Yisrael wherever you are!

    1. Avatar

      Actually, we have plenty of sushi and dips here in Cleveland. But to be fair, some of the questions we were asked were biased, such as “what made you decided to make the move to ‘out-of-town’?” Why is there an assumption that we all had to make a decision to move here? Can’t people be born here? Can’t people be from here? Can’t people move here from other locales other than NY and NJ?

    2. perelerubin

      This is SO true! Exactly what I say!

  14. Avatar

    I think these articles were ok but didn’t show what living out of town really means. Out-of-town living has nothing to do with not having enough dips at the store and only having sushi when it gets brought in. If anyone thinks the place you live is defined by what food you have, then honestly, you probably need to go on a diet!
    The whole point of out of town is that not everyone is necessarily the same exact type. You can’t define even one out-of-town community as one type, so you definitely can’t define the concept of living out of town in general! If you really want to know what living out of town is like, please don’t waste your time reading these articles — come and see for yourself!

  15. Avatar
    T.R., Cleveland, OH

    I live in Cleveland, and I was pretty surprised to read your contributors’ takes on the pros and cons, as I do not relate to them in the same way. I do not find that we specifically go to East-Coast-dominated camps because we are out-of-towners. We go because we enjoy being with people from the East Coast and hearing the pros and cons of in town/out of town. We don’t suffer from not having a large supply of food and clothing. We have a steady supply of chalav Yisrael products; you just need to know when the shipment comes in. In our Bais Yaakov circles, we do not feel any different from any Lakewooder.
    I just want to make it clear that Cleveland is a wonderful place. We have everything we need, we are never food deprived, and we would love for you to come visit!

    1. Sarah Moses Spero
      Sarah Moses Spero

      I agree, Cleveland is a great place, I lived for many years and still miss it.
      In my days, the community maintained a ‘Community Calendar’ where if one organization or school scheduled an event on an evening, out of respect, no other organization would infringe on their timing. That crossed all lines and all religious denominations.
      And it went for the fundraising as well. If the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland was holding its fundraising campaign, other Jewish organizations would not initiate or begin their own individual fundraising efforts. Seriously.
      Celebrating a simcha – especially a wedding – was a real community effort. Cleveland would pride itself on welcoming our guests. Aside from helping your friend plan the simcha itself, it meant helping her to host her out of town guests because we all knew that (forgive me) New Yorkers could not cross the Hudson. As soon as they did no one knew how to walk or talk. ‘Who’ll pick me up? Where will I stay? Where will I eat? How will I get to the wedding?’ were all part of the conversation we knew we would hear. (Who picks us up, worries about where we’ll stay, what we’ll eat or how we’ll get to the wedding when the reverse is true? – but that’s another subject for another time…) A wedding was a city-wide event. You came to the simcha, shared the delight, the joy and the tears and you stayed for the evening to dance with the baalei simcha.
      Fast forward a generation: What a disappointment it is to come from out of town to an in-town simcha and watch people parade in and out, wish Mazel tov and go on the the next simcha – all the while checking their watches AND TEXTING as they race in and out. Its so impersonal.

    2. Sarah Moses Spero
      Sarah Moses Spero

      Much has dramatically changed in Cleveland as the community has grown and some of the interpersonal relationships that we once had have modified but, with my rose-colored glasses, I’d like to think that the feeling is still there. We all might daven in different shuls, but the community services we fund and support are like the Three Musketeers – all for one and one for all. I see it in the sophisticated way in which both Cleveland and Baltimore, where I recently moved to, approach many of the issues that face our growing ‘families.’ It is refreshing to see the positive changes happening all around us while still maintaining the ‘caring out of town touch’ and it makes me proud to experience it in both communities.

      1. Avatar

        Couldn’t agree more!

Ruchi Koval is the co-founder and associate director of Congregation JFX, a kiruv community in Cleveland. She is a certified parenting coach, educator, author, musician, and motivational speaker. Her first book, Conversations with G-d, was released in 2016. 

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