Jewish Gathering Place
Jewish families flock to Solon, and synagogue may follow
Monday, May 08, 2000

SOLON - Lynne and Richard Behrman valued diversity as much as Solon’s quality schools and roomy houses when the couple, who are Jewish, moved here from South Euclid several years ago.

"A lot of people we knew had moved to Solon or Beachwood," Lynne Behrman said. "My husband and I did not want to move to Beachwood. In Solon, we knew our kids would be with a whole group of different people from different racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds."

The Behrmans are among a growing number of young Jewish families who are picking up stakes and moving to Solon from Cleveland Heights, University Heights, South Euclid and other communities with a strong Jewish presence.
"The trend has been going on for quite some time, and it continues because of the combination of good housing stock, schools and a good community," said Solon City Councilman Richard Mendelsohn, who is Jewish.
Mendelsohn and his family moved from Cleveland Heights to Solon 13 years ago for those very reasons.

Chabad Jewish Center of Solon, the city’s lone synagogue, is bursting at the seams. Its preschool room on the ground level of an Aurora Rd. office building is used for Saturday services, a classroom for Judaic adult education courses and Sunday school.

"We are overwhelmed," said Rabbi Zushe Greenberg, spiritual leader of Chabad Jewish Center. "Everything is growing."  And the movement of Jewish families to Solon has prompted a prominent University Heights synagogue, Temple Emanu El, to consider moving there. About 100 members - one-sixth of the congregation - live in Solon and commute to the synagogue.

"We have an option on a piece of property in Solon," said Temple Emanu El Rabbi Daniel A. Roberts, who would not disclose the location except to say it is near an expressway. "We’re in the process of jumping through hoops to survey the congregation.

"We don’t want to desert the area or our longtime members. But some longtime members are saying that it’s not good for them personally, but relocating may be good for the young families."

For the Behrmans, who are members of Temple Emanu El, moving the synagogue would make life easier.

"My kids go to religious school, and we make the trip from Solon twice on Saturday and twice on Sunday," Lynne Behrman said. "We will be doing this for at least another year."

Jewish migration from Greater Cleveland’s inner-ring suburbs to Solon is a trend not exclusive to Jewish families. Solon is luring blacks and Asians as well.
"We have seen a significant growth in the Jewish population," Solon schools Superintendent Joseph Regano said. "One of the things about this community is that it’s multi-everything. There is strong Jewish, Asian and African-American presence here."  As Solon has become more diverse, more young Jewish families are wanting to move there.

"Jews have really felt at home in Solon," said Ed Kraus, a trustee of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. Kraus’ family moved to Solon from Shaker Heights seven years ago and attends services at Chabad Jewish Center.
The Jewish community’s comfort level with Solon may have been shaken a bit a few weeks ago when vandals painted swastikas and anti-Semitic graffiti on the rear wall of Solar Shopping Center on Aurora Rd. Kraus said the incident was an anomaly. He and other Jews were impressed with how seriously Solon police took the matter.

But Behrman said the incident pointed to some underlying bitterness. "There still is a certain amount of quiet anti-Semitism and resentment about Jews moving to Solon," she said. "Ten years ago when Jews moved to Solon, people said, Oh it will stop.’ But it hasn’t."

It is difficult to pin down just how many Jews have moved to Solon in recent years because no government agency keeps such statistics. But the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, an agency that does community planning and fund raising, has 1,200 Jewish households in Solon in its database. A 1996 study found 1,062 Jewish households in Solon.

Solon’s total population is more than 20,000. "Solon’s growth has been attributed to out-migration from inner ring suburbs," said Solon Planning Director Donald A. Lannoch. "Jewish migration has been part of that natural out-migration."

But as some young Jewish families have moved farther east and south to outlying suburbs such as Solon, Russian Jewish immigrants have established themselves in the older suburbs of the East Side, including Cleveland Heights, Mayfield Heights and Euclid.

Greenberg, an Orthodox Jew, and his wife, Miriam, opened the Chabad Jewish Center of Solon more than eight years ago because there are few Jewish institutions to support the growing Jewish presence here.

"I am the only rabbi in Solon and we have the only synagogue in Solon," Greenberg said.

Greenberg’s center draws a diverse mix of Reform, Conservative and unaffiliated Jews to its Saturday services, adult education classes, a youth club and Sunday school. All of Chabad’s programs serve nearly 500 families from Solon, Twinsburg, Orange, Aurora, Chagrin Falls and South Russell.
"The philosophy behind our center is that every Jew deserves to know about their heritage," Greenberg said. "All Jews are equal. People don’t believe this, but I’m the only Orthodox Jew in the center. We are not looking to find Orthodox people, but we come here to offer Judaism to people who live in Solon."

Greenberg dreams of building a synagogue in Solon to house Chabad’s growing programs. In the meantime, the center employs a woman whose primary job is to transform the center’s main room from preschool to synagogue to education classes when needed. Chabad holds large events like family dinners at Solon High School.

The preschool is Miriam Greenberg’s "baby." A former teacher, she oversees the preschool program, as well as new infant and toddler programs.
One recent morning, preschoolers swirled their fingers in purple and green finger paints as they put the finishing touches on Mother’s Day gifts.

"Children are our purpose," Rabbi Zushe Greenberg said. "This is the future for Jewish people. The young generation has to be connected to their roots. This is the continuity of the Jewish people."

Solon Councilman Mendelsohn and his family moved to Solon 13 years ago.
"This trend has been going on for quite some time," Mendelsohn said. "The trend continues because it affords a combination of good housing stock, schools and a good community. There is significant growth. That’s why temples are looking at possibly relocating there."

Mendelsohn added that Solon’s cultural and racial diversity is an asset.
© Copyright 2000 Plain Dealer, Cleveland, Ohio