This is where I was supposed to be on Shabbos Chanukah:
I had been invited by the members of the Orthodox shul in Allentown, PA, to judge their 8th annual cholent contest. Apparently (who knew?) Allentown, which is a 90-minute drive from New York City, is a steadily growing community that seems perfect for young marrieds with kids.
It has a Day School, a JCC, a sizeable eruv, a beautiful mikvah, kosher everything (including meat and a pas Yisrael bakery), a beautiful kosher dining hall in one of the local colleges, and, to top it all off, an annual cholent cookoff.
Alas, my daughter got strep on erev Shabbos, and though we were already packed, we decided not to put our hosts and their kids at risk for getting it too.
But I did agree to write a bit about the community, as it seems to be a group of nice, hospitable people who are dedicated to growing their community. I knew Allentown as the place of Dorney Park, not far from Hershey and the Crayola Factory. Many Jews seem to move there because of the burgeoning medical systemin the Lehigh Valley; there are a good number of jobs for people in the medical profession. The president of the shul, Dr. Moshe Markowitz and Dr. Scott Brenner, a member of the shul and pediatrician, have secured shomer shabbos residency openings for the internal medicine, emergency medicine and the new pediatrics residency programs at Lehigh Valley Hospital.
Apparently the cost of living in Allentown is pretty good too, which is enough of a reason for most to move “out-of-town.” Houses in the eruv run from $150k up to $400k. Three local supermarkets have kosher sections, including meat and a bakery in two of them.
One newcomer to the community mentioned, “For the first six months we were here we were invited out every Shabbos.” It seems if you want to be involved you can – there’s a chevra kedusha, an eruv committee, a sisterhood, an active chessed committee, and lots of shiurim on subjects such as gemarrah, Tanach, Sefer HaChinuch, etc.
Interestingly, the community has a small but strong group of young families that help support the Jewish day School. The school recently hired a new principal, Yossi Kastan, who has been making some exciting changes and bringing innovative thinking to the school. I heard that the school’s annual fundraiser will feature a live performance by Bill Cosby! Yes it’s the real Bill Cosby…..no it won’t be a recording of an older show put on a big screen TV.
So that’s Allentown and my missed cholent. Let’s just sum it up by saying, I hope I can make it the next time they invite me, and I hope they invite me soon. I’m looking forward to receiving in the mail their community cookbook; I’m always up for trying new kosher recipes, as you know.