Megan Hyman and her husband, Adam, were living in New York City with young children at the beginning of the pandemic, so they wanted to find somewhere with a little more open space. Luckily, her position with J. P. Morgan Chase allowed her to work from home, and they packed up and returned to her husband’s hometown of Allentown indefinitely. With her husband starting a remote position with a real estate firm in Washington, D.C., their future permanent location was unsure. But one thing that was definite was how much the Hymans enjoyed being in the Lehigh Valley.
“We really just kind of fell in love with it here,” shared Hyman, who got to experience being a “room mom” at the Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley.
“That has been an incredibly warm, friendly, welcoming environment for us. We couldn’t physically connect with people in person, so it was nice for our son to have that outlet, something that was just his that he could do,” she said.
The Hyman kids also enjoyed the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley’s Early Childhood Education and camp programs, and they were signed up for JDS again in Fall 2021.
“We would love for this to be a longer term solution. My in-laws are here, and it’s been really great for our family,” said Hyman. “The people in Allentown have been so welcoming and warm, and even in a world where you have these health-related barriers to making connections, I still found other people from JDS were reaching out and encouraging planning fun activities for students and finding ways for teachers to feel appreciated. It was definitely a positive insight into what a more normal life here would look like. The school has been a major, major factor for us.”
Sybil Preisler moved to Kunkletown with her adult daughter, Tracy Haym, from the Morristown, New Jersey area, in February 2020. One month later, they found themselves in a brand new place in the middle of a global pandemic.
“It was good for us to have a chance to unpack a little bit, but it closed everything down as far as our ability to meet people, but we did get to know the neighborhood a little bit,” said Preisler.
They also became as involved as they could with Congregation Brith Sholom in Bethlehem through virtual programming throughout the year.
“A friend of mine grew up in that synagogue and her parents are still very active. And they seem to be the kind of congregation that I had come from after 30 years being affiliated in New Jersey,” said Preisler.
Even though she wasn’t able to visit in person for over a year, she enjoyed attending holiday services and taking classes online.
“I felt very welcome when we received welcome packages for the High Holidays, Chanukah, Purim and Passover, which I thought was really, really nice,” added Preisler.
Preisler and Haym chose their new home because they “wanted more of a country atmosphere,” and they are pleased to have found it.
“We moved to a lovely lake community, and we can see the lake from our house, just a few yards down the hill,” shared Preisler.
A retired educator, Preisler now would recommend the Valley as an affordable place to live to others who share her interests in nature, gardening and mahjongg.
“The best part has been being so close to nature all the time and yet close enough to shopping and medical care, which has been terrific,” she said.
Julie Fraenkel is a young professional who found herself rushing back home at the start of the pandemic like so many others. She was working in the restaurant industry in New York for a few years after graduating from Bucknell University, but when COVID hit, her job was no longer an option.
“I was actually with my dad the day before the city shut down. He works in finance and knew something was about to happen, so he said ‘you should just come home.’ I didn’t really pack anything, he woke me up at four in the morning, and I moved back home,” Fraenkel recalled.
After she got back to Allentown, Fraenkel got a remote job working in event sales for a gallery in New York. She used the time at home to reconnect with some old friends she grew up with at the Jewish Day School of the Lehigh Valley and at BBYO. She also made a big decision about her career.
“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, so I’ve been earning my master’s from Lehigh University during COVID. The program has been virtual the whole time, so I’ve been able to be pretty flexible and take classes from anywhere. I’ve really been loving it,” shared Fraenkel.
When she’s not checking out the new restaurants in Easton and Bethlehem with her new friends from Lehigh, Fraenkel is enjoying the slower pace of life in the Valley.
“I loved every second of my childhood growing up here and everything at the JCC day camp and JDS. Now that I’m back, I’ve been taking advantage of being in the suburbs. I start every day with a really long walk with my dog, and that makes every day better,” said Fraenkel.