New incentive program is offering families up to $100,000 to move to Ottawa and enrol in day school

The Torah Day School of Ottawa’s Grade 1 siddur party.

A Jewish day school in Ottawa is offering families up to $100,000 to relocate to the city and become part of the growing Jewish community there. 

The incentive is part of Torah Day School of Ottawa’s creative new program, which offers the money to families who move to Ottawa between August 2023 and July 2024 and send their children to the school.The gift is not without conditions; the family must use the money they receive as part of a down payment on a house in Ottawa and also commit to remain in Ottawa for a minimum of five years, attending TDSO.

Families are eligible for the full $100,000 offer if they have two children attending Torah Day School in grades 1 to 8; $50,000 if they have one child in grades 1-8, and $25,000 for a child in kindergarten. 

An important purpose of the initiative is to revitalize the city’s lone source of Jewish secondary education, the Yeshiva High School of Ottawa.  The Yeshiva High School of Ottawa, formally Ottawa Torah Institute and Machon Sarah, has served the Jewish community in Ottawa for over 40 years. In recent years, however, it has seen waning numbers, sometimes even having few or no incoming Grade 9 students.

According to Stacy Goldstein, one of the founders of the initiative, while several grades at Torah Day School are projected to be strong incoming high school classes, increasing the numbers of elementary students across every grade would set up the high school for an even stronger revival. 

This year, the day school has 90 children in kindergarten to Grade 8. The high school normally has 10 to 15 students and the goal is to boost numbers to between 20 and 30 students.

“We’re trying to just build the school up into a slightly larger level to create larger high school classes, so that it can get back into a vibrant zone again. It has amazing educators, it’s a really incredible academic institution,” Goldstein said. “But when it gets small, then families say, ‘You know, we want something bigger,’ and they elect to move out.”

Stacy Goldstein and her daughter at Torah Day School of Ottawa’s Grade 1 siddur party

The initiative, which is funded by private donors, is designed to provide that final push for Jewish families who are already considering making the move to Ottawa. It is the brainchild of Goldstein and her husband Michael, a local couple who currently send three children to Torah Day School.

Goldstein, born and raised in Toronto, is responsible for marketing and outreach for the initiative, including organizing the initial interviews and visits for prospective families. Michael, who grew up in Ottawa, is the current chair of the board at Torah Day School. The couple met and got married in her hometown, but shortly after marriage they began looking for somewhere smaller to settle.

“Honestly, Ottawa wasn’t on my radar because, having grown up in Toronto, I really had no idea there was a Jewish community here,” Goldstein said. “But Michael had grown up here, so we obviously had come for a visit or two. And then, shortly after we got married, we explored the possibility of moving back here, and I quickly fell in love. It was really a very easy transition for me.”

“It immediately felt like we were home. We were having an amazing time being part of the community, even as a young couple. We met friends easily, we had short commutes, and we were able to buy our first home.”

It wasn’t just Goldstein who was surprised at the quality of Jewish life in Ottawa, her friends and family initially held the same misconceptions. But eventually, the Goldsteins’ experience not only changed their acquaintances’ minds about Ottawa, but even led some to consider making the same move.

“Over the course of the years after (moving), every time we’d visit Toronto, people would always ask us about Ottawa in this tone that sounded like they were expecting us to express some sort of discontentment, like, ‘When are you moving back?’ Goldstein said.

“But we kept saying ‘No, we really love it. We love Ottawa.’ And then, as real estate got more expensive… we had more friends reach out to us saying, ‘You guys are really liking Ottawa. Tell us more about it.’”

That interest led the Goldsteins to create an official program called Choose Ottawa to promote what they felt was their hidden gem of a Jewish community. They received a grant from the Jewish Federation of Ottawa to create a promotional website in 2019 (although it only went online in 2021 due to COVID).

They believe the quality of Ottawa’s Jewish community is enough of a draw on its own, but they were motivated to up the ante in response to ballooning real estate prices in recent years. An extra $100,000 might be the difference between being able to purchase a home for many families—especially in Ottawa, whose real estate market is relatively affordable compared to most cities that host full-fledged Jewish communities.

The Goldsteins acknowledged the risk that Ottawa would not end up being the right fit for a family, in which case the recipients would have to pay back the sum. However, because the money originally went into a down payment for a home, the family should be able to recoup the price when they sell it. Beyond that, the program helps prospective families do their due diligence, so they are hopeful and confident that everyone who makes the move will be a good fit.

Since launching the program, the Goldsteins have heard from people located in more familiar Jewish communities, including Toronto, Winnipeg, the Maritimes, and the United States, but have also garnered interest from families as far afield as France and South America. The couple hopes to see somewhere from five to ten families take up the offer.

 If it goes well with the initial cohort, says Goldstein, then there’s a possibility that the program will run again. In the meantime, she wants more people to be aware of the city’s “thriving” Jewish community.

“What we want people to know is that it’s already here. Everything you need is here. Mikvehs are here, shuls are here, Jewish learning is here, schools are here. There’s a beautiful community, and we just wanted people to know that this was an option.”