Small-town Judaism is in danger. Here’s how it can be saved

Rabbi Rachel Isaacs, center, with Jewish students from Colby College at a Shabbaton in 2021. (Supplied photo)

Across North America, Jews are increasingly migrating to large urban centres, abandoning smaller towns for more opportunities and a more convenient Jewish life. One rabbi is on a mission to change that.

As a student at the Jewish Theological Seminary, Rabbi Rachel Isaacs was assigned to a one-year stint in Waterville, Maine, with one small synagogue and a handful of Hillel students at a local liberal arts college. She quickly realized that the disparate, dwindling community had a chance at surviving through innovative thinking and consolidation: bring together the students and older families to make a minyan, get Hillel kids going to local homes for Shabbat, and foster a cross-generational, non-denominational community that would inspire younger Jews to get engaged.

Today, Rabbi Isaacs is the head of the Center for Small Town Jewish Life, a university program that runs events and brings together Jews from across the Pine Tree State. She’s now expanding the concept to cities across the United States, from Honolulu to Lexington. Her pitch: if you believe Judaism is not a privilege to be enjoyed exclusively by those living in the densest cities in the country, the impetus is on you to help redistribute wealth and opportunity.

Rabbi Isaacs joins Yehupetzville to share her story, describe her project and explain why small-town Jews are so often primed to become community leaders.


Yehupetzville is hosted by Ralph Benmergui. Michael Fraiman is the producer and editor. Our music was arranged by Louis Simão and performed by Louis Simão and Jacob Gorzhaltsan. Our sponsor is PearTree Canada, which you can learn more about at This show is a member of The CJN Podcast Network. To learn how to support the show by subscribing to this podcast, watch this video.