Society

Jewish living in - Overland Park, Kansas

While I was totally hesitant to move to the “middle of nowhere,” after almost six wonderful years here, we have fallen in love with this amazing community

Jewish living in - Overland Park, Kansas
 
Consistently voted one of America’s best places to live, Overland Park, Kansas, is one of the safest, cleanest, friendliest and kindest communities in the world. Not only is the religious community flourishing, but the general Jewish community, which boasts 20,000 Jews, is cohesive, tolerant and very inclusive of the religious community. The Jewish community in particular is best characterized as having real Midwestern nayimkeit. The people are warm, welcoming, caring, friendly and very chesed-oriented. My mother-in-law from England said stepping into Overland Park is like walking into “Pleasantville.” The community offers within an eruv a wide variety of affordable housing options, from very nice apartments to town houses, and also includes beautifully luxurious houses, all substantially cheaper than the price of a home located in any other frum, suburban community.
 
The streets are tree-lined and clean with very little traffic. Overland Park has dozens of beautiful parks, and we often meet in the “Shabbat Park” on Shabbos afternoons. Neighbors always help make kiddushim, brisim, meals for mothers after birth, and for those going through difficult times as well. The religious community is very well-integrated with the general community, which helps strengthen all institutions in the Kansas City area. The size of the Jewish community has kept steady at around 20,000 for a few decades. A continual flow of professionals who have moved to Kansas City for employment reasons, and young adults who have returned to KC after their college years, has kept the community young, growing and dynamic. The Jewish community is very cohesive, and there is a real spirit of cooperation amongst the various Jews.
 
The community works together to pull off large events like The Jewish Arts Festival, which offers several kosher vendors. At the same event this year, the Vaad HaKashruth attracted thousands of people to the first annual Kosher BBQ Competition. Another hallmark of the Jewish community’s collaboration is our amazing school, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy. Among America’s first community day schools, the HBHA has a family feel for its over 200 students in grades K-12. Several religious teachers teach in both the general Judaic studies program and the religious track that has been offered to religious students for the past four years. Top-notch rebbeim and morahs teach in this yeshivah-style learning program. Each year a new grade is added, and next year there will be around 40 students in the religious track in grades K-4.
 
The school works very hard to make the environment welcoming to the religious community; all food is kosher and all Jewish holidays are observed. Kansas City also boasts a high-level kollel, run by the renowned talmid chacham Rabbi Yehuda Sokoloff. The five avreichim in the kollel engage the community in highquality adult Jewish education throughout KC. Pizza and Parsha, Study with a Buddy, classes in synagogues, home-learning groups, divrei Torah for various community boards, ethics classes and lunch-and-learns are just some of our many learning opportunities. The rabbis are also available for private chavrusos at the highest level. The main Orthodox shul in KC is Congregation BIAV, an OU affiliate, led by Rabbi Doniel Rockoff who enjoys a warm and close relationship with the kollel.
 
(kansas city (photo credit: shutterstock
 
The shul has around 150 families and is a very close-knit community, where each individual is free to create his own niche of involvement. We also have very strong relationships with the Chabad centers, which offer a wonderful preschool teeming with frum children, and a growing summer camp, steeped in Torah values. Kosher dining is very accessible compared to other cities with similar religious populations. The Jewish Community Center has a small kosher café that is run by the Jewish school’s volunteer parents, and the local Jewish retirement home, which is breathtakingly pleasant, has a meat and milk eat-in restaurant open daily from 10-2. The Vaad HaKashruth is extremely organized, kashering a Chinese restaurant, pizza restaurant and local Jewish country club regularly, offering families a wonderful opportunity to dine in style and at reasonable prices. We have the largest kosher bakery in the Midwest, and an amazing kosher deli inside the local grocer, which carries a full stock of most kosher foods anyone would want.
 
We are also fortunate to have access to the kosher co-op, which actually started in Kansas, and supplies thousands of kosher items at a very discounted rate to several out-of-town cities across the US. KC has been more immune to the economic downturn of recent years than the coasts, and employers such as Sprint, Garmin, Cerner and Hallmark continue to provide new jobs in the business sector. Overland Park was recently voted one of the “Top five places to start a business” by Fox Business News, and Businessweek called Overland Park the “Best small town for startup businesses.” Money magazine voted Overland Park one of the “Top 10 best places to live in America.” US News magazine recently listed Overland Park as one of the top 10 places to reinvent your life in retirement.
 
The large number of hospitals in KC— including the Menorah Medical Center founded by Jews in 1931—has led to hundreds of Jewish doctors choosing KC as their place to practice their profession, with those in medicine representing a remarkably high percentage of the total KC Jewish population. The University of Kansas and the University of MissouriKansas City both offer exciting and competitive residencies. Our shul in particular has a large number of physicians in various fields of medicine, and their doors are always open on Shabbos or weekday for questions. Children’s Mercy Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital Systems and Overland Park Regional were ranked highly in the US News and World Report’s Top Hospitals. When my husband said, “They are starting a new kollel in Kansas, let’s go visit!” I was totally hesitant to move to the “middle of nowhere.”
 
After almost six wonderful years here, we have fallen in love with this amazing community. Living here is just so easy and pleasant. We, and almost every family, feel integral to the community. We are close-knit and feel like a real family. Our children have a very strong frum identity, while learning to appreciate and accept all Jews for who they are. My boys are very proud of their peyos and tzitzis, and other boys from their classes have started wearing them. My girls feel comfortable in tights and skirts, and again other girls think they are fashionable. It’s not always easy being one of a small number of yeshivish families, but I feel the benefit of our outreach and engagement make living here a very meaningful experience. Having moved from Har Nof, I’ve learned that all women want the same things in their lives: fulfilling, meaningful relationships, well-balanced and happy children—a life we are proud of. We have found that there are so many more similarities than differences, and we enjoy connecting with our fellow Jews through our shared values. 
 
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