Pupils at Chabad of Forsyth’s JUDA Hebrew school participate in Planting Day to prepare a garden outside Congregation Beth Israel.
Where are Jews moving in metro Atlanta? Whether they are out-of-state transplants or locals seeking a new neighborhood, the short answer is everywhere.
When it comes to selecting a new home, Jews are no different from the rest of the population, real estate agents say. Each person or family has a particular set of priorities driving interest in specific areas of town and neighborhoods.
Factors such as price, transportation, schools, and proximity to family or friends are major influencers in such decisions.
General trends drawing buyers in Atlanta, said Todd Emerson, the general manager at Harry Norman Realtors, include walkability and a sense of city or town. People of all ages are seeking those features, and planners and developers are working to fulfill that trend all around the metro area.
A perfect example, Emerson said, is everything happening around the city of Alpharetta.
Likewise, convenient public and green spaces, such as parks and walking and bike trails, are high on many wish lists.
Brookhaven, which became a city in 2012, has become popular because of those amenities and its location inside the Perimeter between Buckhead and Dunwoody/Sandy Springs.
Debbie Sonenshine, a Realtor with Coldwell Banker who has been in the real estate business for 37 years, said people of all ages are attracted to Brookhaven.
Emily Kleinberg, for example, is a 27- year-old teacher who said she decided last year that, after living with her parents in Dunwoody and then paying apartment rent, she was ready to make an investment in her first home.
She wanted to be centrally located and within easy reach of friends who live in intown neighborhoods such as Kirkwood and Old Fourth Ward. Kleinberg chose a condo with beautiful natural lighting in the heart of Brookhaven on Dresden Drive, above shops and restaurants.
Lucky for Kleinberg, she now works in Brookhaven, but she also takes advantage of being close to the MARTA station to visit her intown friends.
Sonenshine said the condo Kleinberg bought has a great Jewish backstory: Sonenshine sold the condo when it was new to a young, single Jewish woman who had just met a Jewish guy on JDate. Eventually, they married, then lived in the condo for a few years before she helped them find a house in East Cobb.
The condo’s next resident was a young, single Jewish guy who, you guessed it, soon met and married a Jewish girl. After a while, they decided to move.
It was about then that Sonenshine and a member of her team were helping another young, single Jewish woman, Kleinberg, who was looking for a condo in Brookhaven.
“We quickly met with her and her parents and told them about this gorgeous and lucky condo,” Sonenshine said. “They bought it!”
New Empty Nest
Keller Williams associate broker Jon Effron works primarily in the intown market and said he is seeing an influx of all kinds of people moving intown.
“We’re seeing this all over, from Decatur to Kirkwood to Old Fourth Ward, including neighborhoods that you’re seeing populations move to that they hadn’t in the past,” Effron said. “New construction is everywhere. Whether or not I’m seeing more mezuzahs is hard to say, but I’m seeing them all over the place.”
But it’s not just young singles who want to live inside the Perimeter. Effron said he often has conversations with retirees about moving intown, including Jewish empty-nesters Bunny and Bob Lenhard, whom he worked with to move into a new town home near the BeltLine (the 22-mile multiuse trail being developed to connect many inner-city neighborhoods) after they lived in Sandy Springs for 37 years.
Bunny and Bob Lenhard are happy with their decision to buy an Old Fourth Ward town home after 37 years in Sandy Springs.
With grandchildren in Decatur and Marietta, the Lenhards had grown weary of the driving time and traffic aggravations required to visit and be part of their children’s lives. Bunny said she had always wanted to live intown, and she was finally able to persuade Bob in 2014.
Because of its nearness to restaurants, theaters, shopping and BeltLine access, they wanted to be in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood. They wanted a town home but not a high-rise, and they didn’t want to care for much property themselves — just a small garden and a deck to plant flowers, Bunny said.
As she put it, they “took a leap of faith” and put a contract on a 10-unit community that wasn’t built. They lived in a small rental home in Candler Park for a year during construction after selling their Sandy Springs house.
Now in their Old Fourth Ward home for two years, the Lenhards couldn’t be happier, Bunny said. They’re down to one car and walk everywhere possible.
Although traffic is still a factor when they drive to The Temple, where Bob sings in the choir, they’re able to easily visit and pick up the grandkids from school or Sunday school at the Jewish Kids Groups location in their neighborhood.
“It’s the best decision we ever made real-estate-wise,” Bunny said, adding that they love the diversity of their neighbors and their neighborhood. “It’s very stimulating and exciting.”
The Lenhards’ choice of a low-maintenance home reflects a trend called “lock and go,” which is extremely popular with empty-nesters and baby boomers, Emerson said. It typically is a single-family home with decent square footage where the owners feel comfortable after downsizing and where the community takes care of landscaping so that exterior maintenance is minimal.
Sonenshine said she has observed that empty-nesters and retirees are staying in their houses or are moving to closer-in areas, such as Buckhead, or are attracted to condos and smaller houses in Sandy Springs.
But price can cause people in any age group to choose alternatives, Effron said. “Over the last seven to eight years, prices have skyrocketed. People have been priced out of neighborhoods, and they really have to make a choice. It’s just not all cut and dried.”
Eydie Koonin, who works with clients to find homes all over the metro area with Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International, agreed that real estate is getting a little less affordable closer in and said housing inventory in many neighborhoods is at an all-time low.
Outside the Perimeter, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs, where the Marcus Jewish Community Center and many Jewish day schools and preschools and synagogues are located, continue to attract families.
David and Polly Shepard, for example, moved to Atlanta from Nashville, Tenn., last year. Harry Norman agent Robyn Zimmerman helped them find a home near David’s family in Dunwoody, which is where he grew up.
“Dunwoody has been really nice,” Polly said. “There are great restaurants and sidewalks everywhere. The location is great. We’re right across from the JCC. We’re members, and we go all the time.”
She added that their neighbors have been welcoming.
The Shepards now have a 3-month-old son, and Polly plans to stay home with him awhile. But she said she is happy to know that when the time comes, Dunwoody offers great preschool and day care options.
The family’s location is also good for David, a physician. He works in Lawrenceville but benefits from a commute that’s the reverse of the predominant traffic flow.
Others, including Jews, are deciding they want to be even farther away from Atlanta’s urban center. Synagogues and Chabad serve individuals and families settling south of the city, in Gwinnett, and in points north.
Chabad of Forsyth was established two years ago under Rabbi Levi Mentz to answer the calls from Jews there who wanted a center of Jewish community for worship, education and lifecycles in north Georgia.
High-schoolers in Chabad of Forsyth’s JUDA Hebrew school study a course called “Is It Legit?” to guide them through life’s ethical dilemmas.
When he and wife Chaya arrived, they began to meet people from areas such as the Lake Lanier communities, Dahlonega and Lumpkin County, Rabbi Mentz said.
“Everyone thought they were literally the only Jew. It was wild,” he said.
“The job was obviously grass roots, bringing together Jewish people and finding local partners with passion to pioneer and build a vibrant Jewish community,” said Rabbi Mentz, who moved with his wife from the Los Angeles area with their desire “to service an underserved Jewish community.”
Two months after founding Chabad of Forsyth, around Passover 2016, they established the area’s first permanent synagogue, Congregation Beth Israel.
Living in Forsyth and areas farther north has many benefits, Rabbi Mentz said, including distance from but accessibility to Atlanta, as well as good schools, tax breaks for seniors and county government that encourage business growth.
Forsyth County also has the distinction of being named the healthiest county in Georgia for six years in a row by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
The Mentzes are building north Georgia’s Jewish community “family by family, door by door,” Rabbi Mentz said. Congregation Beth Israel now has about 300 families engaged with the synagogue, including 50 children who attend the Hebrew school and an active Sunshiners Group for adults 55 and over.
They’ve been building physically, too. They started meeting in a storefront in August 2016 but now own 10.5 acres in an area called Sharon Springs and are looking to purchase another 10 acres.
The long-term plans call for the development of a campus that will be “a real Jewish community center,” Rabbi Mentz said, with a synagogue, the Chabad of Forsyth headquarters, sports fields, a pool, a preschool, a Judaica store, a cafe, a deli, and a store for kosher food and other items.
“We’re dedicated to building something that is excellent and high quality,” Rabbi Mentz said.
From Toco Hills to Buckhead, from North Fulton to the Southside and virtually every neighborhood in between, the diversity and geographic spread of Atlanta’s Jewish population can present challenges for institutions serving and engaging Jews.
“Atlanta is growing in all directions, and so is our Jewish community,” the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta’s chief impact officer, Jodi Mansbach, said in an email. “We know that we can only truly serve our community by offering Jewish services and experiences in many parts of town, not just in a few resource-rich neighborhoods.”
She added: “Creating Jewish places is a major priority emerging from our work on The Front Porch — Federation’s bold community planning process. That doesn’t mean new buildings all over town. In today’s hyperlocal and networked world, we want neighborhoods and subcommunities to have their own unique character that defines the area and makes it special. We want to empower neighborhoods to prioritize their needs and locate local leadership to activate networks and connect people. And we want to challenge our current partners to be creative and find new ways or, in some cases, expand on what they are already doing, to distribute resources and partner in new ways.”
Mansbach cited PJ Library connectors as a great example. The connectors, who are people in neighborhoods throughout Atlanta, receive resources from the Jewish community to create local networks.
“They meet in people’s homes, playgrounds, parks and coffee shops. And they are creating Jewish community right where they live. It’s a low-cost but really powerful, effective and personal way to build community,” Mansbach said.
Moving forward, she said, Federation sees this strategy expanding to other partners and places while the agency’s planners explore where it makes sense to build physical hubs and gathering spaces.