1,000 People Attend OU’s Communities Fair

16 Jun 2009

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Photo credits: Pat Cuomo

Over 1,000 people attended the Orthodox Union’s Job and Home Relocation Fair, “Emerging Jewish Communities,” which was organized to offer stressed New Yorkers and those in the surrounding areas the chance to relocate – or, more specifically, 22 chances.

Twenty-two small but thriving Jewish communities across the United States came to show people that an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle is not only possible outside New York but in these troubled economic times, more feasible as well; each of the communities also highlighted available jobs in the area. They were: Upstate New York (Albany, Schenectady, Troy); Allentown, PA; Atlanta, GA; Columbus, OH; Dallas, TX; Denver, CO; Des Moines, IA; Harrisburg, PA; Houston, TX; Jacksonville, FL; Malden (suburban Boston) MA; Memphis, TN; New Orleans, LA; Norfolk, VA; Phoenix, AZ; Providence, RI; Richmond, VA; San Francisco, CA; Southfield and Oak Park, MI (suburban Detroit); St. Louis/Chesterfield, MO; Stamford, CT; and Stony Brook, NY.

Frank Buchweitz, OU National Director of Community Services and Special Projects, coordinated the Fair. He declared, “At the Orthodox Union, we are proud that we are able to help our Jewish communities in all areas of the country grow and thrive. The Fair provided excellent exposure to show so many individuals and families various options, all replete with job opportunities and Jewish resources. The communities are out there – and now is a great time to become part of the exciting energy that exists throughout the country.”

Serving the needs of small Jewish communities is a special priority for OU President Stephen J. Savitsky, who has visited many of them in his presidential tours. He was delighted to see so many represented at the Fair and to witness the large attendance that came out to meet their representatives.

“The American Orthodox world is not limited to New York, Los Angeles, South Florida and several other large cities,” Mr. Savitsky said. “Likewise, OU shuls are found in communities of all sizes. We are delighted to assist these communities to grow, to help their shuls to grow, and to provide alternatives for families and individuals who want to be part of the adventure of building an Orthodox community.”

For Tzipporah Teller, who is in the process of relocating to Atlanta with her husband and two children, the move will be a homecoming of sorts as she was born and raised in the community. “My husband and I have lived in Teaneck since we got married,” said Teller. “Now that we have two kids, we’d really love to purchase a house, but Teaneck’s property taxes just seemed too impossible for us to work into our budget. We knew we needed a different option.”

In Atlanta, the couple can be assured that they will get more bang for their buck. “When you work constantly to be able to afford a house in the metro-New York area, when do you really get to enjoy being there?” asked Mrs. Teller. “In Atlanta, you can work normal hours and enjoy being at home, in a friendly community where people like to get involved. More importantly, they actually have the time to do so.”

Rivka Falk Wenger, who grew up with Mrs. Teller, has been back in Atlanta with her husband Daniel since 2005, after the couple graduated from Rutgers University in New Jersey. Daniel Wenger, who was an Atlanta representative at the Fair, said, “Comparing our Rutgers off-campus apartment to our first apartment in Atlanta, we had fifty percent more space than in New Jersey and were paying $150 less a month.”

Marcy Wolf, the community representative for Houston, first arrived in Texas 11 years ago to pursue a job with NASA. Ms. Wolf, who currently owns a mortgage company, says that the availability of jobs in the Houston area is a big draw, especially in today’s atmosphere of economic uncertainty.

And in Dallas, representative David Zoller pointed out the numerous Fortune 500 companies in the area. He also distributed a comprehensive manual including a list of Dallas community members willing to serve as business contacts for those interested in making a job connection there, and a chart showing that Dallas has the shortest average commute from work to home compared to other major cities such as New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Hillel Goldstein attended the Fair with his wife; both are looking for new jobs, and Goldstein said that the convenience of the Fair is such that rather than flying out to different states for interviews, the Fair can provide some good leads without necessitating frequent and expensive travel.

Nine years ago, Rabbi Daniel Alter and his young family moved from the East Coast to Denver, where Rabbi Alter is now Head of School at Denver Academy of Torah (and where four of the Alter children attend) and leads the DAT Minyan housed in the same building. “Denver has all the resources of a Jewish community, even if there are two Orthodox schools instead of ten or twelve,” commented Rabbi Alter. “The truth is, the fact that there are fewer schools means there is a greater diversity of student body. You’re not just interacting with someone who does exactly as you do, but learning from all different types of Jews.” Rabbi Alter says that the children in the area have great middot (positive character traits) and he pointed out that Colorado is a place where commutes are generally close to home, allowing quick transition from work to home life.

Rebecca Weiss Sigman, who recently moved to Stamford, Connecticut from New York with her husband Eric, cannot praise their new community enough. “We moved here because the taxes were less than Westchester (in New York), and because the community was extremely warm and inviting,” said Sigman, who represented Stamford at the OU Fair. “When we arrived, we had neighbors welcome us with open arms. We get invited out for Shabbos all the time and have made instant friends with many people.”

Mrs. Weiss Sigman is certainly a wealth of information for those seeking to move to other areas, even those apart from Stamford, for she lived firsthand the frustration of deciding where to move – and did something constructive about it. She and her husband founded the website, www.stopwandering.com, offering the Jewish home-buyer real estate listings in close proximity to synagogues and other community resources. Several of the communities represented at the Fair are featured on the site.

Localities looking to revitalize their communities are serious about bringing in an influx of Jews: both Phoenix and Richmond offered free tuition for one child for a year to families who move to their communities, and Des Moines highlighted its offer of a $5,000 incentive to any family who moves to the community and stays for a minimum of three years.

But for most families, the chance for a less-stressful, less expensive, and a more small-town Jewish environment, is incentive enough.