GO WEST, YOUNG COUPLE—OR POSSIBLY NORTH, SOUTH OR EAST
ORTHODOX UNION COMMUNITY FAIR PROVIDES PLENTY OF OPTIONS FOR NEW YORKERS INTERESTED IN RELOCATION
By Michael Orbach
Families crowded the OU Community Fair, eager to learn of relocation opportunities.
Judy Wallace lived in Louisville, Kentucky in 2001 while being successfully treated for a medical problem. Her physician later served as sandek (holding the baby) at her son’s brit. Years afterward, with her six children in tow, Mrs. Wallace moved back to Louisville in what she described as an act of hakarat hatov, gratitude.
“It’s a holy place for me,” she explained.
This was also the reason why Judy and her husband were such enthusiastic and formidable representatives for Louisville’s small Jewish community at the Orthodox Union’s Communities and Job Relocation Fair, held this past Sunday, April 21. Forty-one communities from across the United States were selected to present at the Fair and more than 1,300 Jews from across the spectrum of Jewish observance filtered in and out of the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City. Judy, whose consulting firm works with the Louisville Chamber of Commerce, had an ace up her sleeve.
“I’ve got 2,000 jobs to fill from the Chamber of Commerce and I’m not going back until they’re filled,” she said.
“I never knew there were Jews in Louisville,” marveled Yakov Rusanov, a food distributor, who, for economic reasons, was contemplating moving his large family out of New Jersey.
The atmosphere was one of friendly competition as presenters attempted to lure younger and older families to their booth with a mix of slogans, products, charm, and job opportunities. Many showcased products from back home: Seattle offered free Starbucks; Louisville gave out an authentic Louisville Slugger baseball bat; Portland raffled off Nike sneakers; Denver blew up a photograph of NFL Super Bowl winner Peyton Manning (“Not the only reason to live in Denver, but one of them,” a representative in a Broncos jersey explained); and Fair Lawn, NJ offered pastries from Zadie’s, the community’s award-winning bakery.
“We have an out-of-town feel with in-town amenities,” explained Rabbi Andrew Markowitz, the assistant rabbi of Congregation Shomrei Torah.
Perhaps the boldest offer came from Richmond, Virginia, where families that meet certain income requirements can enjoy free day school tuition for children in grades K-12. Ariel Klestzick, who grew up in Richmond, moved back last year and represented the community at the fair. As for why he moved back, Klestzick offered a succinct answer: “Middot (emphasis on positive character traits) are huge here,” he explained.
The event also showcased many stories of young couples not immediately planning to make aliyah to Israel, and who are struggling to find a place to live.
Shoshana Yagoda, originally of the Five Towns, upscale suburban communities on Long Island close to New York City, and her husband Will, spent two years looking for a place to live before they chose Paramus, NJ.
“This place felt right,” she said, pointing out amenities like low taxes, school options, easy transportation and even a zoo. “Plus, the shopping is ridiculous.”
A young couple read up on moving to Savannah, GA.
As much as the Fair showcased far-off destinations like Savannah (“Shalom Y’all!”), Dallas, Milwaukee, Seattle and Portland, it also featured a good number of smaller communities in the New York Tri-State area, including New Jersey towns like Cherry Hill, Long Branch, West Orange, Livingston, Springfield, Linden and Elizabeth; Connecticut locations like Stamford and New Haven; and in New York, New Hyde Park in both Long Island and Queens; and Fleetwood, in Westchester County. It was the local offerings that drew Ronnie and Sarah Lee, who were considering a move to the West Coast.
The representative from Columbus, OH welcomes potential newcomers to his community.
“We realized we don’t know the communities around us and we love our jobs,” Sarah said.
Michael and Tova Ganeles of Far Rockaway, Queens were checking out the booth belonging to Boynton Beach, Florida.
“The next thing you do is go for Shabbat, but the Fair helps you narrow it down,” Tova said.
(See OUCommunities.org for a complete list of participating communities.)
The Fair was launched in 2008 by then-President of the OU, Stephen Savitsky, and Department of Community Services Director Frank Buchweitz. Coordinator Hannah Farkas and Rabbi Judah Isaacs, the OU’s director of community engagement, organized this year’s fair.
Twelve communities participated at that first Fair, 23 communities were showcased at the second in 2009, and 37 communities presented at the third. More than two-dozen young couples moved to communities they discovered through the event in 2011. Mr. Savitsky, now chairman of the board of the OU, personally visited most of the communities featured at the Fair.
“If we want a continuity of Jewish life, we need to provide a better quality of Jewish life,” he explained.
He pointed out that two things have changed as the Fair expanded.
“The communities have become more sophisticated; they are really marketing themselves,” he said. “And the people that come to the event are much more focused on moving.”
The Fair “also reinvigorates older communities with new young families, who bring new ideas and new vitality to community life,” said Rabbi Isaacs.
The 2013 Fair also featured many of its own success stories. Two years ago, Tzipporah Daneshrad and her husband Sion were frustrated from traveling across the United States searching for the perfect place to settle down. They discovered the town of Manalapan, NJ at the OU Community Fair. This year the two were the town's representatives.
“The OU Community Fair offers all the information about communities on a silver platter,” she said. “I’m incredibly grateful. We found our home here.”
First time community participant East Brunswick, NJ came well-prepared to the Fair with marketing materials.
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