MIAMI VALLEY, Ohio (WDTN) – It’s the the third night of Hanukkah and the region’s Jewish community is reportedly diminishing.
As of this year, there are 2,710 residents who identify as Jewish in the Miami Valley. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the community reached it’s peak at 7,200 residents.
Marshall Weiss, the editor and publisher of Dayton’s monthly Jewish publication projects those numbers to decrease at an accelerated rate.
Weiss says about 172 Jewish identifying residents are expected to leave the Miami Valley every year following 2015.
On Friday nights, 32-year old Courtney Cummings sings at Temple Israel, the synagogue she went to growing up.
“It’s interesting to come back as an adult and work as a Jewish professional in the place you felt was home when you were a child,” said Cummings, who has worked as the temple’s music and program director for two years.
While Cummings lives in Butler County and works in Dayton, most people like her have left the state.
“I’ve seen the decline in some of the numbers. To me, a lot of that has to be seen in the context of the overall population decrease in Dayton through the economic recession,” said Cummings.
Weiss founded the Dayton Jewish Dayton Observer more than 20 years ago and says since then things have significantly changed.
“You could feel a Jewish communal presence and you saw people all the time at the Jewish Community Center (JCC), Hillel Academy, Rinaldo’s Bakery, which was a kosher bakery. There was a sense of a geographic community,” said Weiss, originally from Philadelphia.
However, Weiss says in the 1990’s and early 2000’s many people including Jewish residents moved. Areas North of Dayton like Trotwood and Harrison Township was once known as the ‘Jewish neighborhood’ began to scatter south to places like Oakwood, Kettering and Centerville.
Marshall says the migration ‘essentially up Salem Avenue’ hurt Jewish businesses and synagogues anchored in north Dayton. Eventually, the JCC in Trotwood moved to Centerville and places like Rinaldo’s Bakery in Dayton closed.
“That’s when challenges began to appear because you just didnt have enough people to maintain the infrastructure,” said Weiss.
Cummings says regardless of your religion, young professionals follow the job market and the recession caused many families to seek jobs elsewhere.
“Where there are professional jobs thats where people go, whether they’re jewish or not. People go up they go out where the jobs are. Unfortunately, the job opportunities here haven’t been that great,” said Weiss.
Weiss says younger people nationwide aren’t identifying with a religion, which impacts the numbers. Now, to be a part of your faith, you have to be proactive.
“In the old days you walked outside and you were in a Jewish community, now if youre in dayton and you want to be a part of it, you have to make it a point to connect,” said Weiss.
Weiss says mid-size cities like Dayton across the state are seeing the decreasing numbers. He believes counting the number of Jews isn’t important, however making Jewish lives count is imperative.
After completing college and meeting her husband in Rochester, New York. For Cummings coming back home was an easy choice, she wanted spend time with family and contribute to Dayton’s art scene.
“It’s our job, we really are tasked as Jewish professionals to make Judaism accesible to where people are in this moment. For the continued success of the Jewish people we have to change and evolve with it,” said Cummings.
Weiss thinks eventually the area’s Jewish community will plateau.
Both agree no matter what your religion making the region attractive to residents is what will keep them in the Miami Valley.
There are several outreach programs for Jewish residents in the area. For information click on the links below: