Alabama town is peanutty for Jews

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Larry Blumberg is looking for a few good Jews to move to his corner of the Bible Belt.

Blumberg is chairman of an organization offering Jewish families as much as $50,000 to relocate to Dothan, Ala., an overwhelmingly Christian town of 58,000 that calls itself the Peanut Capital of the World. Get involved at Temple Emanu-El and stay at least five years, the group’s leaders say, and the money doesn’t have to be repaid.

More Jews are living in the South than ever before — about 386,000 at last count in 2001, according to Stuart Rockoff, a historian at the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute of Southern Jewish Life in Jackson, Miss. But many young Jews are leaving small towns in favor of cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham. The trend has forced dozens of small-town synagogues to close.

Launched in June, the Blumberg program has put advertisements in Jewish newspapers in Boston, Miami, Providence, R.I., and Washington, D.C., and it plans to expand the campaign.

Trying to lure Jewish families to a quiet Southern town in a state with a reputation for far-right politics and racial intolerance might be difficult. About 20 Jewish families have sought information about Dothan, though none has made the move.

Rockoff credits Blumberg and the rest of the congregation with fighting to remain in Dothan, where the synagogue has a full-time rabbi and the temple, which is aligned with the Reform movement, hasn’t missed having a Friday night service in decades.

“It is a small community, but they have some deep pockets to be able to do this,” said Rockoff. “As a historian it is fascinating to see them trying to buck this trend.”