Houston Designated As First Affordable Orthodox Living Community

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houston-texasThe OU has announced a program to highlight communities where full Orthodox lives may be experienced, but at a much more moderate cost.  The objective is to interest Orthodox Jews to resettle there and to help the community grow.

The pilot community is Houston, Texas, the fourth largest American city, with an estimated 2010 population of 2,100,000, but with a cost of living far more affordable than the three largest. According to one local rabbi’s estimate, there are 400-500 shomer Shabbos families in Houston. The goal of the program is to have 100 families move there over the next few years.

The program represents a joint effort of the OU and the Orthodox community of Houston – its shuls, day schools and other institutions – with the Texas metropolis projected to be followed by four or five other communities once the program takes hold.

“We determined that Houston would be the ideal community for us to promote,” said OU President Dr. Simcha Katz.  “At the OU, we’re very excited about this project.”

Focusing on one city is the logical development in an initiative first put forward by OU Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Savitsky, when he served three terms as OU president. Under Mr. Savitsky’s guidance, the OU presented three “Emerging Jewish Community and Job Fairs,” which drew hundreds of people from the New York Metropolitan area to each event to focus on several dozen communities at once, including Houston.

“If we were going to be successful at the OU, we had to focus on smaller Orthodox communities – even if the city is large – to provide options for our people,” Mr. Savitsky explained. “The communities we evaluated for the fairs and now for Affordable Orthodox Living had to be established, with shuls, schools, kosher food, kosher restaurants, mikvaos, and an eruv. Housing had to be affordable and jobs available. We wanted the host community to come together as one to work on this project. Houston has people who share our vision and are willing to work with us. The OU is prepared to provide the financial and human resources to make this program work.”

According to OU Managing Director Rabbi Steven Burg, “In Houston, there is less pressure in your life, there are lovely shuls and lovely schools, and Houston was able to unify behind the effort. You are not sacrificing by moving there. We are proud that Houston is the community that we are starting with.”

Mr. Savitsky scouted out the community with many visits there, including for Shabbos. With New York’s notorious Long Island Expressway in mind, he said, “You can drive downtown to work in 10 minutes. There are all kinds of jobs there and a booming economy. There is no state income tax. You can get a job there and have an affordable life. There is a simchas hachayim there, a joy of life. ”

The Orthodox Union played host to two of Houston’s community representatives last week, both non-native Houstonians, Etan Mirwis and Rabbi Moshe Davis. Mr. Mirwis, a native New Yorker in the real estate business who moved there 16 years ago, said, “What brought me to Houston is what kept me in Houston. After two years, my wife and I said, ‘Why should we go back toNew York?'” They didn’t.

He was joined by Rabbi Davis, who has been hired jointly by Houston’s CHAT committee – Come to Houston and Thrive – and by Affordable Orthodox Living, and whose salary is paid by both CHAT and the OU.

“Houston is no longer the mosquito capital of America,” Mr. Mirwis said, crediting central air conditioning for making summers livable, while winters are mild. He said that there are 11,000 housing units within the eruv area, with a good home available starting at $150,000 and apartments at $800 a month. Regarding economic and job growth, with its foundation in the oil and gas industry, “Houston is off the charts,” he said. “Unemployment is down; affordability is up.”

Rabbi Davis, who is from Chicago and whose wife is from the Five Towns in New York, came to Houston four years ago. For the past six months, he has been “developing this community-wide growth initiative.” He explained: “It’s a tight-knit, warm community. Your neighbors are your best friends. You can have Shabbos meals booked for six months.” He brought with him to the OU offices an impressive collection of materials which gave some of the following details about the economy in Houston, based on various recent surveys:

• #1 fastest growing millionaire city in the United States;

  • #1 most affordable city to do business worldwide;
  • #1 wage growth;
  • #1 lowest cost of living in large metro areas;
  • #1 best city to start a new career;
  • #1 best city for young professionals;
  • #1 best city to get ahead; and
  • nation’s #1 healthiest housing market.

Rabbi Yehoshua Wender, of Washington, DC, came to the Young Israel of Houston in 1985, when there were less than 100 shomer Shabbos families in the city. “There were two Orthodox schools but not that many Orthodox kids in the schools,” he recalls.  Besides the growth in his membership, “nowadays, almost everyone who comes here learned in day schools, yeshivos. It is a very different group from the original members.” His kehillah, he said, “is thrilled” that the OU has chosen Houston as its model community.

“At last count,” he said, “we had 100 people who have been in touch who would move here if they had a job. Working with the OU Job Board, we know that jobs will become available.”

“We’re committing the resources of the Orthodox Union to help the community grow,” Mr. Savitsky told the visitors from Houston. “Anything and everything we can do to help achieve that objective, we’re going to do. It’s a fantastic community. I believe that there are a lot of people in New York, in Los Angeles, and in other major cities who are struggling and who would be interested. People are choking on the expenses. At the OU, we are looking one and two generations ahead, to the future of our people. The fact that we selected Houston among all the cities of the United States, we want it to be a winner. It will help the Orthodox community, and the Jewish community as a whole.”

{Noam Amdurski-Matzav.com Newscenter}


  1. I applaud organizations, such as the OU, who seek to strengthen out-of-town communities. However, I do not see what is new about this. The OU started the emerging communities fair a few years ago to help support these communities and get the word out.

    Also, I am looking for an affordable community that does not put all its effort into kiruv. Kiruv is important, but it is not the only thing. If such a community exists, please let me know.

  2. To comment # 8 – I live in Houston. It is a wonderful place to live with a great frum community! It is not at all all about Kiruv. In fact, some would say that there is not enough kiruv being done here!

  3. There ARE other very affordable cities outside the NY metro area, with more than one frum day school, several kollelim, a “name” yeshiva, and a place where it rarely gets above 95 degrees! I can think of 2 cities right off the bat: Detroit and Cleveland.

  4. To Michael Bayme (commenter no. 1):

    Of course you are correct. But I fear that the Neshamas of Orthodox Jews in America are so thoroughly compromised, that even if Eliyahu HaNavi were to come and tell them that it’s time to go home (to Eretz Yisrael), most would answer: “Thanks, but no thanks. We love America…we are deeply invested here…so we have no intention of leaving.”

    Remember, Chazal tell us that Yetzias Mitrzayim is a paradigm for the final geula. If only twenty percent of Klal Yisrael heeded Moshe Rabbeinu (of all people), and left the “fleshpots” of Egypt to ascend to Eretz Yisrael, what chance will Eliyahu HaNavi have to convince the Jews to leave the comforts of the goldena medina? Tragically, the example of “LeShana Haba’a B’Houston” is becoming the new mantra.

  5. You are correct there are not that many Jobs for “Unskilled” workers in Waterbury. However if you are a professional or a skilled , whether your expertise is in education, law, accounting, medicine, construction, finance, computers, sales, programming, real estate or business, there is plenty of work.

    Yes there are some people that move here and keep their jobs in NY or a short while until they find a suitable (perfect) job. That is indeed an opportunity that Waterbury gives you, to be able to keep your NY job until you find just the right one.

    The cost of living is lower.
    The Yeshiva K’tana is great.
    The community is wonderful.
    It’s less than 2 hours from Boro Park, Flatbush, 5 Towns, Far Rockaway, Monsey, Teaneck…!

    We love it there… And you may too…

    Come visit for a Shabbos find out more here: http://www.lifeinwaterbury.com/directory/community-organizations/hachnasas-orchim/

  6. Detroit is even more attractive. Housing is less and the schools are very impressive. Kids grow up normal and the neighborhoods are safe.

  7. # 14: (and anyone else mentioning Detroit:) Detroit?! SAFE?! Are you kidding me?! Detroit is eternally listed within the TOP 3 MOST Dangerous cities in America!!
    They recently needed to completely revamp their “Shomrim Patrol” after too many attacks on Frum residents!
    And what exactly constitutes “normal” in regards to child raising, and “impressive” in regards to schools? These are very hard attributes to generalize for the public looking for new communities to settle in.
    (and for the weather conscious, Detroit is VERY cold for a significant part of the year
    I wish Detroit the best as I’ve been there several times myself and it most definitely has it’s advantages, but let’s look at the whole picture here!

  8. Don’t forget this Sunday night is the Bensalem dinner – Young Israel of Avenue K. Please come & show support for all of the unbelievable work the Kollel does over there!

    Distance to Bensalem from Brooklyn: Hour & 40 minutes with traffic.
    Distance to Bensalem from Lakewood: 50 minutes with traffic.

  9. #18: Yes, we are a safe city. The frum community does not live in the city itself but in the Oak Park, Southfield, and West Bloomfield communities. Those are VERY SAFE places to live in. The housing is very cheap,(you could get a 4 bedroom colonial for 80k), great schools, a “name Yeshiva”, etc. Compared to New York this area is Dirt cheap!

  10. I would put the northwest suburbs of Detroit against any Jewish community in the country in terms of safety and affordability. The city of Detroit is a completely separate place where very few Jews live.

  11. When Rabbi Wender came to Houston 1985 he says, “There were less than 100 Shomer Shabbos families in Houston, two Orthodox schools and a Mikvah” Who built that community? Who built a Mikvah? Who encouraged the religious growth of those >100 families? Why is that left out?

  12. #1 and 13, I assume that you both have made aliyah.

    I want very much to live in Israel. However, given the fact that Iran, has a rocket capable of reaching Israel, and will most likely, very soon have a nuclear weapon, AND they they feel it is their duty to destroy Israel, AND they don’t have a problem killing a few arabs and other muslims, I am having a difficult time convincing myself that getting all the Jew into one place is such a good idea.

    My G0d have mercy on us all and hasten the final redemption soon in our days

  13. I am not sure why this article has left out the selfless dedication of Rabbi Joseph Radinsky in building the Orthodox community. Rabbi Wender only had a community to come to because of him.

  14. There are real opportunities in outlying areas of Houston, such as the neighborhood just South of Houston: Sugarland,in Missouri City, TX, where a sizable community is being formed w/ shuls, mikvahs, and dynamic Rabbis’.

  15. Who needs to make Aliyah when you can go to any mall in America and practice your Hebrew whilst half the population of Israel try to sell you soap.

  16. My wife and I lived in numerous cities, now we are in Houston and every time we come back to Houston from NY, LA, or any other city, we always say “Why would we ever leave.”

    Our families in NY keep asking “When are you leaving Houston?” If only they knew how good we have it.

  17. #9
    Houston has one of the most active and successful Kiruv Kollels in the country, known as TORCH. It’s famous in the Kiruv world for their innovative and effective work.

    See for yourself – The Houston Community Kollel is doing great things!

  18. #35
    Actually, if you visit TORCH’s website (www.torchweb.org) you’ll see the tremendous programs offered in the community. Actually, you should probably attend one and see for yourself. You’ll be surprised.

    Also, if you weren’t at the TORCH dinner in November, there were over 430 guests. That doesn’t sound defunct to me.

    Also, it was TORCH who started the full time learning Kollel in 2006, which is today the Lakewood Kollel here in Houston. An accomplishment TORCH has been very proud of.

    Mendy, it’s good to see you back in the circuit!


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