If you go on the internet and ask “What is Southern Hospitality?” one of the first places it takes you to is Wikipedia (Is there a Wiki for everything?). That site states that “Southern Hospitality is a phrase used in American English to describe culture stereotype of the Southern US with residents perceived to show kindness, warmth, and welcoming of visitors to their homes, or to the South in general.”
More than just a stereotype, it is a reality.
For the past two decades, Toby Hollenberg and Carol Greenberg have been the community’s face of Southern Hospitality. Beginning with a Shalom Savannah initiative that advertised Savannah in northern publications, Toby and Carol have fielded literally thousands of calls and emails from people considering Savannah as their home.
For the past 15+ years, those queries have almost exclusively come through our website (www.savj.org):
Relocating to Savannah?
You wouldn’t be surprised that over the year the majority of the inquires came during the November-March period when it is cold and dark up North and people muse about a different lifestyle. But over the past five years it has transitioned; partially it was due to COVID, partially to the new found “portability” of many jobs; now the inquires come equally throughout the year.
Most people are on a journey. They are considering a move, but don’t know where they want to be. Some of them are “halfbacks: “people who thought they wanted Florida and come half way back north to Savannah, others are looking at a number of communities (typically people who contact us are considering Savannah, Charleston or Ashville), I understand the Charleston vs Savannah, but never quite understood the Asheville thing—we are a coastal community, Asheville is in the Blue Ridge Mountains (most of them are looking to escape snow).
We typically encourage people to come, to meet, to experience the Southern Hospitality of Savannah. Some people come and find it too small, others come for a week, a month the following year, and eventually move here. There have been couples who have come here to see what we were about, fell in love with the city, and bought a home on the third day….and everywhere in between. It is a journey of change.
Toby and Carol have been volunteers extraordinaire. They have gone above and beyond the ‘call of duty.” They have found Shabbat tables for visitors, picked people up at the airport, schlepped and guided. Dozens of people will tell you that Carol Greenberg or Toby Hollenberg was the person who made the first contact from the Jewish community, introduced them to who were to become their friends, guided them to volunteer opportunities, synagogue life, and professionals (doctors/lawyers/accountants/realtors) and more. I personally know that we could never have handled everything that they do. I call them the “cartilage of the Jewish community”- they are the ultimate connectors.
Meeting new members of the community and sharing who and what we are is one of the great pleasures of working at the JEA/Federation. Whether it is a new preschool family, YJS participant, or recent retiree (and everything in between), it is like a transfusion as new thinking, energy, and experiences come to be a part of our Savannah Jewish community.
Yesterday I had the experience twice. In the morning I had a long phone call with a woman in Southern Pennsylvania who told me, “It is time” and she and her husband have heard so much about Savannah and its Jewish community. She told me that they are in the initial stage, her husband still needs to retire, but its time to do their due diligence about their future. When I asked, “Why Savannah?” she quickly answered, “The beach, the culture, the beauty, the Jewish community, and the history.” We have all that.
In the afternoon I met a delightful couple who have been in town a whole three days. I’m not sure that they are even out of boxes yet. Toby Hollenberg had already spoken to them…talk about Southern Hospitality. He’s originally from DC and she grew up on Long Island. The beauty of Savannah and SCAD were the magnets that brought them to town. They will be a wonderful addition to our community in many ways. We’ve already started to introduce them to others in the community.
Shalom Savannah is just one of the many things that the Savannah Jewish Federation does for our community. It is all made possible by your support of the Savannah Jewish Community’s Annual Campaign.
We’ll have to update the classic “elevator speech” - We provide life-saving humanitarian relief, breakthrough programs for all ages, and sustain Jewish community today and for future generations to include Southern Hospitality!