Neighborhood Stories : Western Suburbs

Neighborhood Stories

When the burgeoning Jewish community began moving westward by the tens of thousands from the Maxwell Street area to Lawndale and Garfield Park early in the last century, one might have assumed that the trend would continue when suburbia beckoned in the post World War II era. But rather than move to the western suburbs, the majority of those Jews moved north or south.

Today, there are relatively small but growing Jewish communities in such widely dispersed western suburbs as Oak Park, Naperville, River Forest, Lombard and Westchester. Residents can point with pride to what their communities offer, in terms of ambience and quality of life.

Naperville, 30 miles west of Chicago has experienced tremendous growth, with a population now exceeding 130,000. Residents cite as pluses the career opportunities for professionals, relatively affordable housing, good hospitals and outstanding schools with students consistently winning science fair awards. Naperville has been ranked as a top community in the United States to raise children and retire.

Lombard, like Naperville, is in DuPage County. Its rich farmland attracted settlers as early as the mid 1830s. One may tour the historic downtown area that is within walking distance of the commuter rail station. The city's "Lilac Parade" is an annual favorite drawing more than 50,000 spectators. Closer in, some eight miles west of the Loop, is River Forest, which has received a number of Tree City USA Community and Tree City USA Growth Awards. And nearby historic Oak Park is home to the largest collection of Frank Lloyd Wright-designed structures in the world.

With relatively few Jewish organizations in the area, synagogues have had added importance in the western suburbs. There are congregations reflecting all Jewish streams within reach.

In recent years, the Jewish Federation has been reaching out to the west suburban Jewish community. In 1999 the Federation launched the West Suburban Service Project, which coordinates services and programs provided through the Community Foundation for Jewish Education, Council for Jewish Elderly, Jewish Children's Bureau, Jewish Vocational Service, Jewish Family and Community Service and Jewish Community Centers.

Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, with some 175,000 graves, is one of Chicago's most historic cemeteries, and the largest of its kind in the Jewish world.


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