With one new family already in the fold, and hundreds of others expressing interest, the goal is to bring as many as 19 more Jewish families to this mostly Christian town of 58,000 in rural southeast Alabama over the next five years.
Getting thousands of dollars in assistance was nice, the Reeds say, but leaving their home in Sanford, N.C., for Alabama was an easy decision: Matt Reed was able to get a job quickly near Dothan, and his wife’s relatives were members of Temple Emanu-El years ago.
The friendliness of the people was the final clincher, they said.
“It’s been freaky how easy this has been,” said Matt Reed, 25, taking a break from moving boxes inside his new home on Whatley Drive. The curly-haired Ayden, 2, plays with a new trash can while his mom watches after Sam, just 6 weeks old.
Michelle Reed’s Jewish family has roots in Dothan, while her husband was raised Mormon and is in the process of converting to Judaism. Their mixed background wasn’t a drawback for program organizers — as many as half of Temple Emanu-El’s members have similar histories.
The couple heard about the relocation program through family members in Alabama and applied in September because Matt Reed was finishing a stint with the Army at Fort Bragg, N.C. They moved to Dothan after he left the service on Feb. 1.
“We always wanted to raise our kids Jewish, but we didn’t want to do it in North Carolina,” said Michelle Reed, 26. “We didn’t know anything about the temples up there. The one here my parents actually got married in.”