“Meet Me at the Fair”

March 30, 2011

Text and Captions by Stephen Steiner and Batya Graber
Photos by Stephen Steiner, YouTube Video by Shimon Gifter

The doors opened at 12:00 noon at the Grand Hyatt New York and closed at 6:00 p.m. By the time the last participant had left, more than 1,000 people had passed through those doors, many of them storing their baby strollers in a special “parking lot,” and visited 37 communities from Maine (Bangor) to Arizona (Phoenix), with substantial representation from the New York metropolitan area as well: Long Island, Staten Island, New Jersey and Connecticut. They were there for the Orthodox Union’s third “OU Emerging Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair.”

The Fair, a project of the OU Department of Community Services | Jewish Community Programs, was under the direction of Frank Buchweitz, OU National Director of Community Services and Special Projects.

When the concept of the Fair was created in 2008 by then-OU President and now Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Savitsky, the purpose was to strengthen OU synagogues and their communities outside of New York, to make it clear that a full and satisfying Orthodox lifestyle could be lived in cities large and small beyond the great hubs of Orthodoxy. It was one of the priorities of Mr. Savitsky’s six-year presidency to help these communities “emerge” and reap the benefits of an expanding population and congregation.

When the Fair was next held, in 2009, there was a new emphasis: on jobs. Given the economic calamity that had occurred since the first Fair, participating communities were called on to seek out job opportunities for people who had either lost their parnossah or were looking for greener horizons. The communities worked in tandem with the OU Job Board | Employment & Resumé Opportunties, and its director, Michael Rosner, to “mine jobs” for prospective residents.

Now, in 2011, with the availability of jobs still a major factor at the Fair, and with the local communities added for those who wanted to stay in the New York area while enjoying a more suburban lifestyle, the attendance was the largest of the three Fairs, exceeding all expectations. With the heavily utilized stroller parking lot as proof, young families were far and away the largest group of participants.

As interviews made clear, the fairgoers were looking for affordability, jobs, and close-knit communities.

On Shabbat, prior to the Fair, another major OU event occurred: a Community Weekend in Chicago, involving a large delegation of OU scholars-in-residence led by Mr. Savitsky, OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil, and Executive Vice President, Emeritus Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. They visited 12 OU synagogues in the Windy City, giving sermons and lectures, providing board and staff retreats, Yachad | Jewish Disabilities Inclusion and NCSY | Jewish Youth Leadership programming, and much more. Then they rushed back to New York to finish their weekend at the Fair.

“An ‘emerging community’ is not a single institution,” Rabbi Weil explained. “Each community was represented by a consortium of schools, shuls and job opportunities coming together. These communities were appreciative to the OU not only for this opportunity to showcase their unique attributes but also for the ongoing support through our Synagogue Services and Community Services departments. It was clear that, truly, we are collectively one greater Orthodox community.”

OU President Dr. Simcha Katz declared, “It was exhilarating seeing the enthusiasm of the community representatives and the huge crowds swirling around the large hall. The crowd over the six hours of the Fair consisted of primarily young people, with dozens upon dozens of baby carriages parked outside the hall. A number of attendees and exhibitors thanked me for the OU’s expression of concern and the chizuk (strength) it gave them that we care.”

Dr. Katz recognized the groundbreaking work of Mr. Savitsky in developing the Fair. “All should be aware that the concept of an Emerging Community Fair was developed several years ago by our then-President and now Chairman of the Board, Steve Savitsky. I recall his dream well, and what a wonderful reality it is,” Dr. Katz said.

In a message to Fair coordinator Frank Buchweitz, Mr.Savitsky said, “I know I am very subjective, but you are a joy to work with. The enthusiasm you bring to every event is breathtaking. Thank you and all your wonderful staff for making my dream become a reality. The emerging communities thank you and Klal Yisrael thanks you.”

Emanuel J. Adler, past Chairman of the OU Commission on Community Relations and Synagogue Services, stated, “Watching well over 1,000 participants from all walks of Orthodox Jewish life interact with representatives of nearly 40 communities across the country was an incredible experience. To hear both a Federal judge from Bangor, Maine and a prominent businessman from Lakewood, New Jersey (with flowing beard) and many, many others enthusiastically proclaim the event a Kiddush Hashem, was an incredible affirmation of the scope of the OU’s service to the Jewish community. The event was produced with great professionalism and punctilious attention to detail, furthering the reputation of the Orthodox Union as a ‘class act.’ ”

In thanking his colleagues for their work over many weeks to make the Fair possible, Frank Buchweitz said, “We’ve planted the seeds, and now it’s up to the communities to help themselves grow.”

The weekend also included the first-ever in a series of kashrut shiurim especially designed for the Sephardic community and held in Brooklyn for an audience of 300 men and women. At the Grand Hyatt, immediately following the Fair, the OU held its 112th Dinner and Awards Presentation. Clearly, it was a remarkable weekend, even by the high standards of the Orthodox Union.

Rabbi Weil summed it up: “This past weekend’s programming was significant on so many fronts. It was not only a nationwide Kiddush Hashem, it enabled us to accomplish our Avodat HaKodesh in an ever-widening circle for the benefit of all Klal Yisrael.”

The photo essay that follows gives a taste of the excitement of the Fair. Some of the captions are direct quotes from the participants. They do not necessarily represent the photo above them – rather, they represent the Fair as a whole.

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Parking was free in the Stroller Storage Area.

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Communities came from as near as Oceanside (top) and Roslyn (bottom) on Long Island…

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…and from as far as Phoenix (Rabbi David Rebibo, top) and Las Vegas.

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New York’s least populated borough, Staten Island, came to lure New Yorkers away from the other boroughs!

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Heard at the Fair: “The community representatives were very friendly, welcoming, informative, and engaging.”

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Cherry Hill, NJ provided face painting for the children.

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Signs of the times: Binghamton, NY and Dallas advertise their wares.

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Maine is famous not only for L.L. Bean.

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Overheard at the Fair: “We are from New York and our family is here in New York, but everything costs so much. We could definitely see ourselves moving not too far. There are more options than we realized.”

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Representatives from Richmond exclaimed “The South Will Rise Again!”

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Dedicated to rebuilding New Orleans, Rabbi Uri Topolosky has become a regular visitor at OU fairs.

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Participants had a choice of Springfields: New Jersey (top) and Massachusetts (bottom).

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Fair Coordinator Frank Buchweitz (center) is obviously pleased with the results.

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OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Steven Weil speaks with a Fair participant.

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Stamford, CT and Malden, MA were among the representatives from New England.

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Qualities promoted at the Fair included affordability, employment options, and becoming part of warm community.

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Michael Rosner, Director of the OU Job Board, has been working with each community to create and promote employment opportunities to meet the needs of potential newcomers.

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Overheard at the Fair: “We just arrived and are overwhelmed by the amount of options presented here.”

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OU Chairman of the Board Stephen J. Savitsky (left), who originated the idea for the Fair in 2008 as OU President, is congratulated by his successor, Dr. Simcha Katz.

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A steady stream of more than 1,100 participants visited the Fair throughout the day.

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OU Board Member Lorraine Hoffman extols the glories of her native Milwaukee, including the city’s NFL claim to fame, the Green Bay Packers.

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Jacksonville, FL (top) and Memphis brought their southern hospitality to the Fair.

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Long Branch, NJ (top) and Long Beach, NY (bottom) extolled their ocean views.

The participating communities included:

Arizona: Phoenix
Connecticut: New Haven, Stamford
Florida: Jacksonville
Kansas: Overland Park (Kansas City area)
Louisiana: Metairie (New Orleans suburb)
Maine: Bangor
Massachusetts: Malden (north of Boston), Springfield
Michigan: Southfield (Detroit suburb)
Nevada: Las Vegas
New Jersey: Cherry Hill, Elizabeth, Linden, Long Branch, Manalapan, Parsippany, Springfield
New York: Binghamton, Long Beach (Long Island), Merrick (Long Island), Oceanside (Long Island), Plainview (Long Island), Rochester, Roslyn (Long Island), Willowbrook (Staten Island)
Ohio: Columbus
Pennsylvania: Allentown, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, White Oak (suburb of Pittsburgh), Wynnewood (suburb of Philadelphia)
Tennessee: Memphis
Texas: Austin, Dallas
Virginia: Richmond
Wisconsin: Milwaukee

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