By Stephen Steiner
It was once an untested concept; now it is reality. When the Orthodox Union presented its first Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair, back in 2008, the visionary thought of then-OU President Stephen J. Savitsky was that there were “emerging” Orthodox communities across North America that would be thrilled to throw open their doors to families and individuals relocating from the most populous (and expensive) areas of Orthodox life, that is, the New York metropolitan area.
Show them affordable housing, show them affordable Jewish schools, show them Orthodox community necessities such as mikva’ot, kosher food and Judaica stores—and above all show them jobs—and they would come.
Now, as the OU prepares for its Fourth Jewish Communities Fair, to be held Sunday, April 21 from 12:00 noon-6:00 p.m. at the Metropolitan Pavilion in Manhattan, 110 West 19th Street, there is a proven record of success. Following the 2011 Fair, according to the fair coordinator, Hannah Farkas, seven couples moved to Cherry Hill, NJ; two to Columbus, OH; and one couple each to Jacksonville, FL; Stamford, CT; Wynnewood, PA (near Philadelphia); Southfield, MI; Binghamton, NY ; Rochester, NY; Elizabeth, NJ; Bangor, ME; Manalapan, NJ; and New Haven, CT. It is now no longer guesswork that people will relocate. Planning a move takes time, but there is little question that some people will be packing their bags and calling for a moving van after attending the Fair.
The original program was attended by 14 communities, followed by 23 in 2009 and 37 in 2011. This year, 41 communities from 18 states will be represented, covering all areas of the country: the Northeast, the Southeast; the Midwest; the Southwest; the Rockies; the Pacific Coast.
The nature of the Fair has changed. Where once the participating communities were regarded as “emerging,” now most are well established in Orthodox Jewish life. What is being emphasized is affordable living, explained Rabbi Judah Isaacs, director of the OU’s Department of Community Engagement, which produces the Fair.
“The OU Jewish Communities Fair will feature more than 40 communities from throughout North America,” Rabbi Isaacs said. “This year will see the largest community participation in the Fair’s history. The Fair will highlight communities both big and small, geographically both close to New York City and far away, that all offer the amenities needed for an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle — day school, mikvah, eruv, availability of kosher food.
“Each of the communities offers the ability to live a more affordable lifestyle, with good paying jobs and reasonably priced housing,” Rabbi Isaacs added. “It is not possible to visit every community, so the Fair offers a unique opportunity for ‘one stop,’ shopping, to learn about each and their unique characteristics. These communities offer a better quality of life for a young Orthodox Jewish family. Interested people will be encouraged to visit communities for Shabbat following the Fair, to learn more and to meet residents.”
Although in some cases retirement is the reason for moving, young families are such an important part of the constituency for the Fair, that a stroller parking area is a must (see photo below). The attendance is always in the hundreds, meaning that parking spots for the little ones helps relieve congestion and enables the families to move smoothly from booth to booth.
The participating communities, arranged by state, are as follows (* connotes first time presenters):
Connecticut: New Haven, Stamford
Florida: *Boynton Beach, Jacksonville
Michigan: Southeast Michigan (Oak Park and Southfield)
Missouri: Chesterfield (near St. Louis)
New Jersey; Cherry Hill,*East Brunswick, Elizabeth, *Fair Lawn,*Jersey City Heights, *Long Branch, Manalapan, *Paramus, Springfield, *West Orange, Linden, Livingston
New York: *Buffalo,*Fleetwood (southern Westchester County), *New Hyde Park
Ohio: *Cleveland, Columbus
Pennsylvania: Allentown, *Bethlehem, *Elkins Park (Philadelphia area), Harrisburg, *Scranton. White Oak (Pittsburgh area), Wynnewood (Philadelphia area)
Rhode Island: Providence
Texas: Austin, Dallas
Particularly since the 2009 Fair, after the economy crashed, jobs have been the key. The OU Job Board, under the leadership of International Director Michael Rosner, has worked with each of the participating communities to locate white collar positions and to promote them at the Fair. Preparing for the upcoming event, Mr. Rosner said, “The Job Board will be displaying every community’s jobs as well as reaching out to communities who may need help finding jobs in their back yards. We will also post blurbs about each community on each job. In addition we have sent out mass mailings and we will start social media networking by the end of this week.”
Another key to raising interest in a community, as Rabbi Isaacs noted, is inviting potential newcomers for a visit, particularly for Shabbat. Research following the 2011 Fair by Hannah Farkas, now the Fair coordinator, determined that Cherry Hill, with its seven couples that moved there, hosted two “Experience Cherry Hill Weekends,” complete with a Friday night oneg, Shabbat afternoon programs for adults and children, a melave malka following the conclusion of Shabbat, a visit to the local kosher pizza parlor, and a tour of the Hebrew Day School. Cherry Hill will return to the Fair this year.
Columbus, Ohio, according to Mrs. Farkas, introduced prospective residents to the entire Orthodox community through a general Columbus tour, Shabbat accommodations, visits to the schools and shuls, and interviews with job sources. Columbus will also be back.
In other words, the communities will be preparing their booths and their presentations, but once the show is over, the real work begins in terms of follow-up, hospitality, and again turning the concept of the OU Communities Fair into reality.
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