It took me 15 years of living on the Westside and in the San Fernando Valley to find what I was looking for -- a Jewish lifestyle in Los Angeles fit for my family.
It has been seven years -- although it seems a lot longer -- since my family and I moved from the San Fernando Valley to the Conejo Valley. The Conejo Valley stretches from the hills of Calabasas in the West San Fernando Valley to the Camarillo grade, encompassing the cities of Calabasas, Agoura Hills, Westlake Village, Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park. It is part L.A. County and part Ventura County.
This area of Los Angeles is not that well-known by Jews on the Westside, but year after year, more and more Jews are migrating westward. Starting in Boyle Heights, then through Fairfax, Beverly Hills, the Westside and into the San Fernando Valley, Jews in Los Angeles have left a trail steeped in tradition, success and community involvement. And, now, as this westward migration continues through Woodland Hills and West Hills and into Calabasas and the Conejo Valley, we expect nothing less from our Jewish leadership.
At last count the Conejo Valley has two Reform temples, two Conservative temples, one modern Orthodox synagogue, five Chabad houses and a Jewish day school, a small JCC/preschool, a kosher makolet (grocery store), a glatt kosher pizza place, a glatt kosher restaurant and a Judaica store. A kosher bakery is on the way. If you're a Reconstructionist, you will be accommodated with a 10-minute drive over the hill into Malibu. (We joined Temple Beth Haverim, a small temple in Agoura Hills housed in an industrial park that used to rent classrooms at the local public elementary school for Hebrew school. It turned out that, after school, at least five kids in my eldest son's public school class walk down the hall into his Hebrew school class.)
Many Jewish organizations are now focusing their efforts on the West Valley and Conejo Valley. These organizations include some of Hadassah fastest-growing groups, the New Community Jewish High School located at the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus in West Hills, and the Kadima Hebrew Academy in Woodland Hills. Heschel West Day School -- now located in a temporary location in Agoura Hills -- is looking forward to moving into its new location, also located in Agoura Hills, the land for which has already been purchased.
The largest contingent of Los Angeles Hebrew High School this past year has come from the Conejo Valley (including Calabasas and parts West), accounting for more than 200 of the 500 students. So it is not surprising that next year's Sunday campus of Hebrew High will be at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where they will have almost one-third more classrooms than their current home at the University of Judaism. Hebrew High will be busing the students from the Westside.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles conducted an extensive study in the early '90s showing that the Conejo Valley is one of the fastest-growing Jewish communities in the country. They could have saved some money by asking me. Living here, you really feel the migration of Jews to the area. You see the "for sale" sign going up around the corner. Then, a month later, you see the moving trucks, only to be followed days later by the comforting appearance of the mezuzah.
My family and I moved to the Conejo Valley for the typical reasons: safer neighborhoods, better schools and, yes, to be around other Jews like us. I consider that move to be the best thing I have done for my family. I have never met anyone who has made the move who regrets it. Yes, for those who work in downtown Los Angeles, it's a bit of a shlep, but the rewards outweigh any of the downsides, by far.
On the behalf of the extended Jewish family of the Conejo Valley, I invite you to come join us in celebrating Jewish life and values in this thriving Jewish area called the Conejo Valley.
Peter Fehler is vice president of communications at Temple Beth Haverim and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.