Philanthropist George Kaiser giving the Tulsa Tomorrow group a private tour of The Gathering Place
Philanthropist George Kaiser giving the Tulsa Tomorrow group a private Philanthropist George Kaiser giving the Tulsa Tomorrow group a private tour of The Gathering Place. (Courtesy of Dan Brotman)

The Tulsa Jewish community made it clear that it is ready to welcome newcomers and make their move a success, from helping arrivals find employment to getting new business ventures off the ground.

Jewish entrepreneurs first settled in Tulsa, Okla., in 1902, once known as the “oil capital of the world.” Although the Tulsa Jewish community only has an estimated 1,800 members today, several Jewish families amassed fortunes in oil and gas, resulting in the city being home to some of the Jewish world’s most recognizable philanthropists, including the Kaiser, Schusterman and Zarrow families. 

Among these three Jewish families alone, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent annually on services throughout the city, plugging the holes of significant state budget cuts and limited public services.

I’ve been told that Tulsa is possibly the most philanthropic city per capita in the country, and that Jewish philanthropists fund close to half of all social services in the city. Both Tulsa’s United Way and Tulsa’s Community Foundation are the second largest in the country, which says a lot for a medium-size city. 

Dan Brotman
Dan Brotman

In 2016, businessmen David Finer and David Charney convened a few friends and decided that the Tulsa Jewish community needed to take proactive steps to reverse its demographic decline. The group calls itself “The Guerillas” and decided to tackle the community’s demographic challenge by founding an independent organization called Tulsa Tomorrow. Tulsa Tomorrow’s mission is to create curated experiences and opportunities for people looking at Tulsa as a place to move, grow and connect with a Jewish community. 

Since 2017, Tulsa Tomorrow has assisted with the relocation of 50 Jewish young adults from throughout the world and is continuing to attract new arrivals to the city through curated weekends that bring together prospective transplants to see in just three days what the city and its Jewish community have to offer.

I recently attended Tulsa Tomorrow’s fifth-such weekend as an observer, as Windsor is in the process of launching its own newcomer program. I was joined by 15 young professionals from geographically disparate locations, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami and Buenos Aires.

The participants’ professions were as varied as their geography, and our group included a rabbi, software engineer, closed caption writer, university student and clinical psychologists. Their motivation to move also varied, but some admitted to experiencing “pandemic flux syndrome,” which authors Amy Cuddy and JillEllyn Riley describe as “a desire to drastically change something about their lives” following the collective pandemic-induced trauma of the past year and a half. 

Participants from New York and California were especially drawn to Tulsa’s affordable cost of living, which, according to Rocket Homes, is 14.8% below the U.S. average, making it the second most affordable big city in the country. It also doesn’t hurt that Tulsa has 227 days of sunshine a year. The majority of the millennial participants I met had previously relocated in the past and were not daunted by the prospect of moving again.

Windsor Jewish Federation’s Dan Brotman and Richie Kamen in Greenwood, the former district known as “Black Wall Street” prior to the 1921 Tulsa Massacre of Black residents by white rioters.
Windsor Jewish Federation’s Dan Brotman and Richie Kamen in Greenwood, the former district known as “Black Wall Street” prior to the 1921 Tulsa Massacre of Black residents by white rioters. Courtesy of Dan Brotman
Giving Pledge

George Kaiser, the child of Jewish refugees who fled Nazi Germany, is one of the wealthiest Oklahomans. Both Kaiser and Lynn Schusterman are signatories of the Giving Pledge, where philanthropists commit to giving away half of their wealth for charitable purposes. The George Kaiser Family Foundation is a supporter of both Tulsa Tomorrow and established Tulsa Remote, which provides $10,000 grants and free co-working space to remote workers of all backgrounds from outside the state who relocate to Tulsa for at least a year.

Research has shown that the amount that transplants pay in sales tax alone during their first year in Tulsa exceeds the investment made in their relocation. To-date, Tulsa Remote has helped 1,200 professionals relocate, boasting a retention rate of 82.5%. 

George Kaiser gave our group of prospective newcomers a private tour of the Gathering Place, an interactive, 64-acre green space he spearheaded that cost $465 million to build on the city’s iconic waterfront along the Arkansas River. Time Magazine listed the Gathering Place on its “Greatest Places of 2019” list, and it was named “the best city park in the country” by USA Today Readers’ Choice 2021. It also happens to be the largest private gift to a community park in the country.

Full Infrastructure

The Tulsa Jewish community made it clear that it is ready to welcome newcomers and make their move a success, from helping arrivals find employment to getting new business ventures off the ground. Our group was hosted at community members’ homes for Shabbat dinner and Havdalah, and we were warmly welcomed into its communal institutions, including synagogues, Federation, JCC, art and Holocaust museums, Jewish day schools and a seniors’ home.

For such a small Jewish community, Tulsa has an abundance of communal infrastructure; it just needs more new members. 

Although Tulsa’s circumstances are unique to a region powered by the energy sector, the main lesson I took away is applicable to Metro Detroit or any other Jewish community looking to grow: There is a growing number of untethered, location-independent young adults throughout the world living in overpriced, overcrowded cities. Suddenly able to work from anywhere, they are looking to relocate for a higher quality of life and are craving community and connections. Detroit and Windsor offer some of the most affordable housing in their respective countries, and both have Jewish communities that have experienced demographic decline following the diminishing fortunes of the automotive industry. If our home cities and Jewish communities start proactively marketing what we have to offer to millennials on the move, we have a high chance of infusing our communities with much-needed new members. 

Dan Brotman is the executive director of the Windsor Jewish Federation & Community Centre. He writes in his personal capacity.

Previous articleFenster Sentenced to 11 Years 
Next articleGift Guide 2021: ‘Star’ Power