"So, are you a Cubs or a Sox fan?"
"No comment," I quickly and jokingly replied during my interview at Temple Anshe Sholom of Olympia Fields, the largest synagogue of only a small handful in Chicago's south suburbs.
I moved back to Chicago in 2008 to be closer to my family, becoming the cantor at TAS, and a north suburbanite working in foreign territory! As a product of Buffalo Grove and the northwest suburban Jewish community, in the last year and a half, I have come to know the south suburbs much better than I ever would have predicted.
My parents actually grew up on Chicago's South Side in the South Shore and Jeffrey Manor neighborhoods. I learned from them that Jews from these communities typically either moved north to Skokie, Evanston, and later, they ended up on the North Shore or in the northwest suburbs. Or, they moved just a bit south, populating suburbs like Homewood and Flossmoor. The majority of our congregants at TAS live in the "H-F" community, which boasts a wonderful, highly-ranked school district, lovely country clubs with top-notch golf courses (in fact, the 2003 U.S. Open took place at the Olympia Fields Country Club just a minute away from the temple), and some of the best ice cream in the world at Mitchell's Ice Cream Parlor in Homewood. Others live just to the west, in newer developments in Frankfort and Mokena.
I came to find very quickly that our community, and the south suburban Jewish community in general, is very tightly-knit. It often feels as if everyone knows each other, and many of our families still have two or three generations living in the area. And, when a south suburbanite speaks of "the north," lest you think Wisconsin, Minnesota, or dare I say Canada... No, they are likely referring to Skokie, Northbrook, or Deerfield, and they aren't too afraid to go there—although they often comment that north suburban dwellers are challenged by even the thought of driving this far south. Well, I’ve done this drive many times. On a few occasions, I’ve even driven from Buffalo Grove to Olympia Fields and back, and with some good music on the radio, it really isn’t that far. Plus, you start to feel like you really know the whole layout of the Chicagoland area.
These days, the south suburban Jewish community is unfortunately struggling quite a bit to survive. They are feeling even more the reality that it is not at the center of Chicago's Jewish community to the north. The economy is surely taking its toll on the area, as the demographics continue to shrink. The local JCC is amidst a continual fundraising effort to keep its doors open, and the synagogues, including TAS, are making extreme and drastic cuts to keep the community going. It is not always a pretty picture, but there are still so many dedicated to keeping this segment of the Jewish community intact and alive. It has been a pleasure getting to know this “other-end” of Chicago's Jewish community and I will surely miss it—but this summer I am very excited as I begin my next adventure in Orange County, California. I will become the cantor of Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, California beginning in July.