This article originally appeared on www.ou.org It has been abridged to include the details about the event itself
Changing Places: Scouting a variety of out-of-town relocation options at OU Jewish Communities Fair offers a lesson in choosing By Judah S. Harris
On a Sunday, back in April 2013, I spent some hours in a large New York City indoor event space. There was no need to push and plead my way through thick and unwieldy crowds. This was certainly not an occasion for the masses. But even as I maneuvered with ease, the room felt full of activity. Things were happening. I had all the visual confirmation that I needed, coupled with the sounds of dozens of overlapping conversations that permeated the heavily-trafficked aisles of arranged longer folding tables. As I looked around at the sources of these voices, I recognized some of the people, but many of the others I’d never seen before. All of them had come to 18th Street in the Chelsea neighborhood to attend an event at The Metropolitan Pavilion, a Manhattan spot that regularly hosts private dinner parties, corporate functions, fashion this or that, product launches . . . but on this particular day was offering observant Jewish couples, young growing families, singles and even people of retirement age . . . simply, a better place to live. For a Jewish demographic that has tended to stay mighty close to the New York Metro area and now wants, maybe, to breathe some different air, this event was a good place to spend a Sunday afternoon. Proudly on display were some of the alternative options for a place to call home, Jewish communities spanning the United States, their exhibits providing an introduction to those looking to be introduced. But as appealing as any exhibit or presentation might seem, any move would involve change. A desire for change — in the relocation sense — stems, often, from practical considerations fostered by tough economic realities. But also at play is a realignment of thinking regarding the nature of a Jewish community, its many permutations, and how to be an active part — in a personal way — of its growth and vitality. A lot to think about on a weekend, but undoubtedly, the reflection and deliberation in the minds of many who came out to explore this event had begun somewhat earlier and developed incrementally. The stimulus might have been related to employment, need for a larger residence, or a visit to an out-of-town community that motivated some introspection. The 2013 Jewish Communities Fair, with 41 communities represented and 1300 attendees, was the fourth hosted by the Orthodox Union, and though the organization’s inventive idea for promoting community-building and economic remedy is not yet an annual event, they have followed in close succession. I attended the second fair in 2009 (the event debuted in 2008), skipped 2011, and now was back for Spring 2013 — the largest so far. (The next one will be held this coming April.) Lots of people in this country move each year. Statistics from various sources fluctuate within the 36 to 43 million range. Couples in their mid-20s to mid-40s with children 2–11 are a prime demographic, housing and employment opportunities significant factors. And at the higher-end of the age range, to be closer to family is a compelling motivator for residential and regional change. The majority of American Orthodox Jews live in the New York area. No surprise for most of us. A New York Federation study released at the start of the summer in 2012 counted just under 500,000 Orthodox Jews in New York City and its environs, a number that doesn’t reckon with areas of Jewish interest that fall outside of the five boroughs and neighboring Long Island. There are sizable bastions in New Jersey, and a few thousand, maybe more, in nearby Connecticut, that we all know about and that can certainly qualify as the New York area for all intents and purposes (and certainly from the perspective of those who live afar in other states or countries). The New York area, in the broadest definition of its boundaries, traditionally has been the ideal place to live — at least New Yorkers have convinced themselves of such — a first (and often final) consideration for the majority, though certainly far from the entirety, of the observant Jewish community in the United States. The reasons are historical and sociological . . . most think they’re practical . . . and beyond that we leave to the academics and researchers to fathom further while we go on with our lives, buy orange juice, reasonably ripe avocados and frozen veggie burgers, and do carpool on alternate days. But maybe there are other spots worthy of exploration . . . viable places where we can move and raise families — or relocate to after the kids are all grown? The Spring 2013 community fair introduced many different and varied options, and I was there to get some of the facts, in tandem with photography of the event, and then reach out to dig a little deeper, after the exhibits were taken down and the Pavilion lights switched off — only to be reignited again on another day for the next cause and presumably a very, very different crowd.