Detroit Ranks Tops on Jewish Affordability List

Grad Student Ranks Metro Areas — and Earns Controversy

The Isaac Agree synagogue in downtown Detroit, which is ranked as the most affordable place in the U.S. to raise an observant Jewish family.
The Isaac Agree synagogue in downtown Detroit, which is ranked as the most affordable place in the U.S. to raise an observant Jewish family.

By Julie Wiener

Published May 05, 2014.
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(JTA) — Sure, the news from the city of Detroit seems endlessly grim: bankruptcy, crime and so forth.

But the metro area, whose northwest suburbs host a panoply of Jewish amenities, is the most affordable place in the United States to raise a “committed Jewish family,” at least according to one graduate student’s admittedly “back-of-the-napkin” calculations.

In a widely shared April 28 post on his blog, Matthew Williams ranked the 10 most and least affordable places that meet the following minimum criteria: a mikvah, an eruv, at least one synagogue for each major denomination, K-12 Jewish day school options and at least one kosher restaurant or kosher-friendly supermarket.

Williams, a Jim Joseph fellow pursuing a joint doctorate in history and education in connection with Stanford’s Education and Jewish Studies program, came up with a list of 50 cities and towns that met the minimum criteria, then ranked them in order of affordability as measured by average real estate prices and average day school tuition.

Just behind Detroit are Cleveland, Buffalo and Milwaukee. At the other end, the least affordable, according to the ranking, are Palo Alto, Calif. (where Williams lives); Manhattan and San Francisco.

The post has garnered more than 57,000 visits, according to Williams.

Not surprisingly, the post generated comments galore, most of them of the “Why didn’t you include my community?” and “Every Jew should move to Israel” varieties, along with a few disses of the communities that the list did include. Others questioned Williams’ methodology, which he is the first to concede is imprecise — more rough draft than final product.

“There’s never going to be a definitive list of what’s the most affordable,” Williams said in a phone interview with JTA. “If anything, I just wanted to provoke the conversation.”

A former day school teacher at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md. — a Washington suburb that didn’t make the list (D.C. ranked 10th least affordable, while nearby Silver Spring, Md. was 24th most affordable) — Williams said he was pleasantly surprised by the interest his list has generated.

“People seem to really care about this issue,” he said. “It strikes a chord.”

Jews searching for affordable places to live are being sought after by Jewish communities looking to bolster their numbers.


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