We are like any other horrible yuppy couple: We covet Pottery Barn lighting fixtures, only let our 3-year-old watch PBS shows, and spend our free time visiting new eateries and then Instagramming about it. After getting married almost six years ago, we lived on the Upper West Side for three years until we could no longer afford it, then migrated (along with many other yuppies) to Jersey City, where we could breathe a sigh of relief surrounded by an increasingly gentrified neighborhood, shiny, new buildings with amenities like pools and gyms and doormen, and an emerging downtown with cafes and bookstores where UppaBaby strollers lined themselves neatly in a row outside. We had our first child in Jersey City and were loving life in this comfortable enclave.
But after four years and three rent hikes, it was time to make our next move. We knew several couples moving to Maplewood/South Orange, New Jersey and decided to check it out.
As we drove through the idyllic downtown Maplewood (just voted New Jersey’s #1 downtown area by New Jersey Monthly Magazine), it was like the angels of yuppy heaven descended down for a chorus of “aaaahhhhh” in our head. We scanned the independent book stores, artisanal, brick-oven pizza joints, and various bearded men and knew: We were home.
We found a house, yadda yadda yadda. And then I started shopping around for a preschool and synagogue community. I scheduled visits to tour preschools, possibly the most annoyingly typical parental thing I can imagine doing. I arrived bright and early on a Monday morning to tour Beth El in South Orange. Little did I know, the preschool director’s mother had just passed away. Instead of canceling the visit, the president of the synagogue arrived as well as the president of the parent’s association. They greeted me with warm smiles and patiently toured me around the school, sharing tidbits about their experiences and the makeup of the community.
They proactively emphasized the diversity of Beth El: There are families from Orthodox backgrounds and families who are intermarried. As a child of an interfaith marriage myself, married to a man from a Modern Orthodox family, this was sounding pretty great.
We finished up the tour, I got a stack of paperwork, and jumped back in the car to go pick up my daughter. Soon after, I got a follow-up email from both those women and an invite to an upcoming young family’s dinner. We also got a personal email from the rabbi, welcoming us to the area and offering to take us out for coffee any time. My husband was a bit freaked out, but I was delightfully overwhelmed to see such true welcoming in action.
We enrolled our daughter at preschool there, and two days before Rosh Hashanah, we moved into our new house. Thankfully Beth El also offered us complimentary High Holiday tickets, making our decision of where to go for the New Year an easy one, especially at such a harried time in our life.
Most synagogues I have attended on Rosh Hashanah make a pushy fundraising appeal that can feel pretty uncomfortable especially for an outsider. But at Beth El, the president of the synagogue immediately jumped into a talk about why welcoming new people and diversity are such a crucial parts of their synagogue’s values. As we made our way out of the building after services, we were encouraged to take shopping bags to fill with groceries for their annual Yom Kippur food drive. Welcoming, diversity, and a true commitment to helping the surrounding communities? Yeah, I was totally sold. Sign me up, and give me your biggest pitcher of Kool-Aid.
But it’s really the little things, the indescribable things, that make a community—not just big picture values. Every time I walk into the synagogue, I am welcomed with a smile by a staff member, fellow parent, or member of the lay leadership. My daughter talks endlessly about Rabbi O and her teachers, and she comes home singing Shabbat and holiday songs I haven’t heard in years. We haven’t felt pushed into joining, but because of the warmth we have experienced, we feel strongly that we want to join this community.
Moving from city life to the suburbs is a big transition. And our friends in Manhattan like to tease us about our new, minivan-driving, leaf-raking lives. Not every part of the suburbs is peachy (more space is great though!) but finding a Jewish community that speaks to our family and has welcomed us exactly where we are has made this transition so much easier. And what a relief to see that great Jewish community truly lives right here in the wonderfully yuppy suburbs of New Jersey.