New online platform enables participants worldwide to explore dozens of communities in the U.S. and Israel.
(Courtesy of OU) Registration is now open for the Orthodox Union’s (OU) free Jewish Community Home Relocation Fair, which will take place on Sunday, February 13, with a special twist: Whereas the past eight biennial fairs were held in Manhattan, this year’s will be virtual, enabling participants to join from around the world.
Young families, retirees, empty-nesters, singles, newly married couples and all others considering relocation will have the opportunity to visit 52 booths representing more than 60 Orthodox Jewish communities from 22 states and Israel. From Albany, New York to Wilkes Barre/Scranton, Pennsylvania; Chesterfield, Missouri. to Savannah, Georgia; Buffalo Grove, Illinois to West Orange, New Jersey, this year’s fair will be the largest yet and will feature 17 never-before showcased communities.
Additionally, one of the event’s major sponsors is Nefesh B’Nefesh, which will offer sessions such as “Intro to Aliyah” and “Choosing a Community.” Gush Etzion will have a featured booth showcasing the communities of Neve Daniel, Elazar, Alon Shvut, Bat Ayin, Tekoah, Nokdim and Ma’ale Amos.
The Community Fair provides new and unique avenues for families and others to address the rising cost of living and explore Torah-based communities they wouldn’t otherwise be able to visit, noted Orthodox Union President Mark (Moishe) Bane: “This new, virtual format opens these options to so many more people, enabling them to participate regardless of the city, state or country in which they currently reside.”
Explained Orthodox Union Executive Vice President Rabbi Moshe Hauer: “While Orthodoxy is thriving in its major centers, a big part of its future is unfolding in developing communities in Israel and America. The OU’s Community Fair plays an important role in writing that future by providing a platform for those developing communities to attract their future members and builders.”
Rebbetzin Judi Steinig, the OU’s senior director of community projects and partnerships, oversees the fair and works with featured communities before and after the event to ensure participants get the most out of the experience.
The event’s objectives are to enable growth of religious communities, she said, and to highlight affordable geographic alternatives that offer both the amenities of an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle and an enhanced quality of life, such as reduced living costs, more physical space or shorter work commutes.
Two months ago, 20-somethings Moshe and Alexi Eisenberg and their 19-month-old son Daniel moved from a three-story walk-up in Queens to a home in Springfield, New Jersey—a community they discovered by attending the 2019 fair. The couple hadn’t seriously considered relocation until they decided, at the last minute, to attend the fair.
As Moshe works in Manhattan, the Eisenbergs knew they wanted to settle in the tri-state area. At the fair, they were impressed by the range of communities and the warmth of the representatives, which included rabbis, mortgage brokers and laypeople, among others.
“I really appreciated the chance to see the various facets of each community and to gain an understanding of the spiritual workings, costs and community members,” said Moshe. “The event was super-organized,” said Alexi. The communities were very forthcoming with information, and they followed up with us afterward.”
Shortly after the fair, the couple spent Shabbat in Springfield, an experience that helped them decide the community would be an ideal place to raise their young family.
“We love Springfield,” said Alexi. “It’s such a down-to-earth community, and so many people have young kids.” Added Moshe: “We’re also really happy with the house we found, and we really love Rabbi Chaim Marcus of Congregation Israel. It was definitely a great move to go to the fair.”
Like the Eisenbergs, Drew and Amanda Feld of New Rochelle, New York weren’t quite ready to relocate when they registered for the 2019 fair. But the couple, in their early 30s, had recently had a new baby daughter, Abigail, and anticipated a time they would outgrow their small Riverdale, New York apartment. Knowing the fair takes place every second year, they took advantage of the last one to arm themselves with as much information as possible.
And like the Eisenbergs, the Felds most valued the opportunities to interact one-on-one with the friendly, candid community representatives.
“It was important to us before moving to meet the community rabbis beforehand,” said Drew. “We really liked that we were able to connect with many rabbis live and thereby get a sense of them and their communities. A number of booths also had real estate agents who helped us to get a sense of the type of home we’d purchase in a given location. Hearing community members’ unfiltered perspectives about life in their respective regions was also really insightful.”
First impressions count for a lot, said Drew, and the representatives expressed a genuine interest in cultivating relationships with participants while showcasing the best of their communities.
“Attending a fair and meeting actual community members is not the same as reading about a community on paper,” said Drew. “The human dimension enables you to compare one community after another in rapid succession, and make a decision more easily.”
In addition to making the fair accessible to people worldwide, connecting with community representatives online will free attendees from wearing masks, social distancing and arranging for childcare, says Steinig. The online format also offers more streamlined discretion for those who may have private issues to discuss, such as a child’s special needs or recent unemployment.
For those wary of tedious Zoom sessions, Steinig assures it will be anything but boring, as attendees will be able to move through the fair as they would in a virtual reality experience.
“Participants will access a beautiful virtual venue and there will be avatars walking around and escalators going up and down,” she said. “The lobby will have a number of large signs, each linking to an expo hall with smaller street signs” to direct people to their desired destinations.
The fair spans 10 hours, and participants may stay as little or as long as they wish. Private appointments with community representatives may be made prior to, during, and after the event. Highlights of the fair will include brief videos showcasing communities, e-brochures available for immediate downloads and discussion groups on topics of interest to participants.
Seven communities and four sponsors will also be spotlighted in longer, pre-recorded seminars on topics including “How to Make Ownership Happen” and “Living Smarter Jewish—Tools to Inspire a Healthy Financial Future,” followed by live discussion groups with community representatives.
When registering for the fair, individuals are encouraged to complete a brief survey detailing their demographics, reasons for possible relocation, field of employment, and the stream of Orthodoxy with which they most identify.
Currently, the OU is offering all registrants $5 off the fair’s accompanying 2022 Orthodox Jewish Community Guide, available both in print copy and PDF formats and sells for $15. The beautiful, 64-page color booklet profiles all 2022 communities and sponsors and is an invaluable resource for anyone considering relocation.
Given the importance of researching communities before making an actual move, the OU’s Community Relocation Fair is a one-stop shop for anyone considering a move.
“You need to know which communities are hashkafically appropriate for your family, depending on where you are on the Torah spectrum,” said Steinig. “You want to find a place where you will be comfortable. Besides the fun and excitement of the fair, the most important objective is that it is effective. People are interested in moving for many different reasons and communities are interested in growing, and we’re doing our best to help facilitate a shidduch.”
For more information about the communities and to register for the fair, please visit www.ou.org/fair.