Measuring success of Dothan’s $50,000 program

An Oct. 13 dispatch by The Associated Press about a program to lure Jewish families to Dothan, Alab., with $50,000 grants drew wide attention this week — and some confusion.

Longtime readers of Jewish newspapers will remember that this story is not new.

The program was launched about six years ago (see JTA’s archival story here), when Jewish philanthropist and Dothan businessman Larry Blumberg put up $1 million to draw 20 new families to Dothan over five years. The condition was they had to become active members of the local Reform synagogue, Temple Emanu-El.

In six years, a total of six families have moved to Dothan under the program’s auspices.

Does an average of one family per year make the program a success?

Rob Goldsmith, the executive director of the nonprofit group that’s providing the grants, Blumberg Family Jewish Community Services of Dothan, says the community has been reinvigorated by a number of factors — including the dynamism of his wife, Lynne Goldsmith, who became the shul’s rabbi several years ago.

“When journalists challenge me and ask me, ‘Six families, why not 60?’ I say we’re very picky. We’re looking for families who will enrich this community in the long term,” Goldsmith told JTA.”These are people who are doing just what we were hoping — people who have a love for Judaism and Jewish learning and will help enrich our community.”

Since the program was launched, Goldsmith said the synagogue has grown to 72 families from 38, the congregation’s religious school has grown to 25 kids from five, and the moribund brotherhood association now has 30 members.

“Our objective was to help reinvigorate the congregation and our Jewish community,” Goldsmith told me. “To that end, the answer is it’s really happening.”

Dothan is not the only Jewish community trying to use cash grants to lure newcomers. As I wrote in this 2012 story for B’nai B’rith Magazine (see p. 22), it’s happening in places like Plainview, N.Y.; Linden, N.J.; Houston, and New Orleans.

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