Five years ago, the Kogan family peered out the window of their new home— a house fully furnished by donations from people in Akron’s Jewish community. They looked in awe at the yard, the neighborhood and exclaimed, “There’s no fences here!”
Paul, Miri, Joshua, Ariel, and Tzvi Kogan had just moved to Akron from Mexico City, where security issues produced walls, fences and police.
“The [lack of] security was difficult in Mexico,” Miri says. “We wanted new opportunities for our kids. Of course it was a hard decision to leave our family and friends. But we decided if God opens the door, we will take it.”
The Kogans had grown up in a strong, tight-knit Jewish community, where “people stay there forever.” Miri explains that people don’t move around as much as North Americans do. “That doesn’t happen in Mexico City, especially in the Jewish community.”
The Jewish community in Mexico is concentrated in Mexico City, with about 45,000 Jews there. Along with other Jewish immigrants, “our grandparents came from Eastern Europe in 1925 because the doors closed to the U.S.”
Sectors of the Jewish community there formed according to the origin of the immigrants: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Syrian, and Damascus/Lebanon. Jews in Mexico are comparatively more connected to Judaism than other diaspora communities. Approximately 95% of the families are directly affiliated to a community or the Jewish Sport Center.
When Paul was offered a job opportunity in Akron and his employer agreed to sponsor him for a work visa, the Kogans made the decision to move.
“‘When I googled ‘Jewish community in Akron,’ Cathy Baer popped up,” Paul says. At the time, she was Shaw JCC membership director, but Baer responded to the Kogans’ interest in settling in Akron as she currently does in her role as Akron Jewish community concierge. She assisted them with finding a house and making introductions and connections to Akron and the Jewish community.
“The community opened their arms and hearts,” Paul says. “Since before we came they helped us.”
Members of the Akron Jewish community donated household items and furniture so the Kogans would feel at home right away when they arrived. “We had everything from dishes to towels…everything,” Miri remarks. “A Shabbos meal was ready for us. We were so impressed and wowed.”
“We are very, very thankful for the community,” Paul says. “The list of people who have touched our lives is endless.”
The Kogans jumped right into the Jewish community here. Their youngest son Tzvi attended The Lippman School, and Miri started out volunteering there. Now, she is a teacher at the school. They actively participate in community and synagogue events. Their sons Joshua and Ariel now attend Kent State and are involved with Hillel and Chabad there.
Their transition was not without challenges. Even though they spoke English well, language was still a barrier. A cultural difference is that in Mexico, children live at home until they get married. When the Kogans moved, their sons were concerned they’d have to move out right after high school graduation. But Paul and Miri reassured their sons that they didn’t have to give up traditions from Mexico. So, Joshua and Ariel commute to Kent State.
The Kogans stay connected to their Mexican heritage in other ways, too— often through food. “At Rosh Hashanah, we eat gefilte fish in Mexican sauce,” Paul says.
“Every year for the Winter Bash auction, we donate a Mexican dinner,” Miri explains. “It gives us an opportunity to meet people and show people our traditions. It’s nice.”
The Kogans became permanent residents a year ago. That’s when Paul decided to open his own dental restoration lab. Previously a lab owner for 17 years in Mexico City, Paul opened Denko Dental Lab in June, where he works with dentists (and their patients) to craft custom dental prosthetics (like crowns).
“We have met absolutely wonderful people here,” Paul says. “We still miss home and our family and friends, but we have made our way in this community.”