|Jay Shultz, right, with his parents, Howard and Sabina Shultz, and his sister Alana, who is program director at the Spanish & Portuguese Synagogue in Manhattan. Courtesy Jay Shultz|
Jay Shultz entered the world in a delivery room at Barnert Hospital in Paterson, just like his father and his grandmother before him.
When Sabina and Howard Shultz took baby Jay home to Fair Lawn 36 years ago, perhaps they imagined that some day his descendants also would be born in that hospital, founded to serve what used to be a vital Jewish community.
Instead, when he was 29, Jay Shultz moved to Tel Aviv, in no small part because he wanted his grandparents – Morris and Shirley Shultz of Fair Lawn and Holocaust survivors David and the late Kathe Friedman of Wayne – to be assured of Jewish great-great grandchildren.
Barnert Hospital is no longer, the Clifton-Passaic Y shut its doors, and the Wayne Y is no longer a Jewish institution. Many of Shultz’s fellow Hebrew school alumni married non-Jews. It’s clear to him that these trends, seen nationally, exemplify the fleeting nature of diaspora life.
“I spent 10 years in New York working with my sister Alana on a million and one Jewish organizations – and it’s all important stuff, but they’re not going to be there forever. When you invest in Israel, its ours for eternity,” Shultz said. He added that he wants “every young Jew in the world to move to Israel yesterday.”
More specifically they should move to Tel Aviv.
The Israeli dailies Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have dubbed Shultz the “Other Mayor of Tel Aviv” in recognition of his success in promoting Israel’s second-largest city as the destination for youthful, well-educated Jews from cosmopolitan areas across the globe.
He has urged Ron Huldai, Tel Aviv’s actual mayor, as well as national politicians, influential CEOs, and communal leaders to leverage young Western immigrants’ educational backgrounds and vital international networks critical to Israel’s civil and commercial enterprises.
A proponent of “observant proactive Zionism,” which he defines as “something far more than eating chicken soup and buying Israel Bonds,” the Fair Lawn High School and Rutgers University graduate has a database of some 20,000 Tel Aviv young professionals interested in the social entrepreneurial endeavors he has started over the past six years: the Tel Aviv International Salon (www.TLVSalon.com), the Tel Aviv Arts Council (www.TelAvivArts.com), White City Shabbat (www.WhiteCityShabbat.com), Adopt-A-Safta (www.AdoptASafta.com), and Join The IDF (www.JoinTheIDF.com), under the umbrella of his new non-profit, the Am Yisrael Foundation.
Shultz and his friends also are reenergizing an old synagogue, the Jewish Community Center of Tel Aviv, to help bolster Jewish life in Israel’s secular capital. He identifies as “national religious,” roughly the Israeli equivalent of modern Orthodox, having gradually taken on religious observances as the result of experiences during his junior year abroad at the Hebrew University in 1997.
Shultz finds it “painful” that relatively few Torah-observant diaspora Jews have made aliyah. “We prayed for 2,000 years to win the lottery and when God finally gives it to us, the majority of us don’t cash in that winning ticket,” as he puts it, yet “there has never been an easier time in Jewish history for a Jew to live in this land.”
It may seem odd that he chose to base his efforts in Tel Aviv, famed as a party town and liberal social hub.
“Tel Aviv is clearly the most desirable place in Israel for the majority of young Jews around the world to move to. It’s the center of power in Israel; it’s where the jobs are,” he said. “New York is the best city in the world, but Tel Aviv has a far better quality of life for day-to-day living and it’s part of Eretz Hakodesh” – the Holy Land. It’s where I’ll get a ‘Shabbat shalom’ from my taxi driver and my bartender. What a beautiful thing.”
More than 40 percent of Tel Aviv’s residents are under 40 years old. According to municipality estimates, Tel Aviv-Yafo is home to about 10,000 young professionals from North America, Europe, South America, South Africa, and Australia.
Yet many young adults who make the move to Tel Aviv end up back in their countries of origin within five years, Shultz says, partially because they lacked a social and cultural infrastructure. So he focused on substantive events, volunteer opportunities, and Jewish community-building through activities that rival any in the Big Apple.
“I have no cousins, aunts or uncles here,” he said. “When I first got to Israel, I knew virtually no one, so I began coalescing an international community. If something is needed, and I have the ability to create it for others, then I should.”
He describes his initiatives as a cushion, “so that when you come off the plane, you immediately plug into a social and business network and you feel you have a piece of home here, while substantively integrating with the best that Israel has to offer.”