More than 60 Orthodox Jewish communities from 22 states and Israel will showcase their advantages to potential residents during the Orthodox Union’s free online Jewish Community Home Relocation Fair on February 13.
Among the communities setting up virtual booths will be six in the Greater Metro-West region, from Essex, Morris, and Union counties.
Rebecca Hindin, director of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest’s Day School Initiative, said the OU Fair is an opportunity for young observant families to learn about the resources available to them in this part of New Jersey.
Greater MetroWest has four Jewish schools. Two of them — the Jewish Educational Center in Elizabeth, and Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy/Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston — are Orthodox. (The Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph is a community school, and the Golda Och Academy in West Orange is Conservative.)
“Of course we’re biased, but we think our Greater MetroWest communities of Elizabeth/Hillside, Linden, Livingston, Randolph/Mount Freedom, Springfield, and West Orange are the best choices,” Ms. Hindin said.
“They offer everything a family needs in a vibrant Jewish community, including world-class affordable and excellent Jewish day schools and shuls, kosher stores and restaurants, and easy access to New York City.”
The federation offers financial incentives, including a Smart Move grant of $1,800 to Greater MetroWest newcomers who register children in one of the day schools, and the Tuition Max program. Tuition Max is for qualified families earning approximately $150,000 to $300,000 annually — that’s too high for those families to qualify for the traditional scholarships the schools offer, but for whom the cost of tuition is still a great burden — puts a cap of 18 percent on the amount of adjusted gross income spent on day school tuition, no matter how many children from each family are enrolled.
“Most of our communities have families with kids who go to multiple schools,” Ms. Hindin said. “Federation is really proud to support our communities in any way that allows them to increase their exposure to the benefits of Jewish life in MetroWest.”
The fair, however, is not just for young families but for people at any stage of life who are seeking information on Orthodox communities from Albany, N.Y., to Chesterfield, Mo., to Savannah, Ga., to the Gush Etzion region south of Jerusalem.
Participants interested in the latter area will be able to attend sessions titled “Intro to Aliyah” and “Choosing a Community” offered by Nefesh B’Nefesh, one of the event’s major sponsors.
The fair is coordinated by Judi Steinig, the OU’s senior director of Community Projects & Partnerships. She said that she works with featured communities before and after the event to ensure participants get the most out of the experience.
This will be the ninth edition of the biennial housing fair, and the first held online.
“We have so many people from all over the world — even Australia, Chile, Brazil, Canada, and the United Kingdom — eager to explore new communities from the comfort of their living room,” Ms. Steinig said.
“I tell relocators that it is not a one-day process. The fair is a place to begin and get contacts. The information on each community stays on our website and gets updated and it gets a lot of traffic.”
Communities that apply to exhibit are actively seeking new residents, she said.
“The event’s objectives are to enable growth of religious communities 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,” Ms. Steinig said.
“This fair provides information on so many places. What’s good for one person is totally inappropriate for the next person. Our featured communities span the hashkafic landscape” — that is, the full spectrum of Orthodox lifestyles — “and in terms of weather, types of housing available, and proximity to a city.”
Several months ago, Moshe and Alexi Eisenberg and their toddler son moved from a three-story walk-up in Queens to a house in Springfield, a community they discovered at the 2019 OU Jewish Community Home Relocation Fair.
Because Mr. Eisenberg works in Manhattan, they wanted a new home within a reasonable commuting distance. At the fair, they met with representatives, including rabbis, mortgage brokers, and laypeople.
“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,” Mr. Eisenberg said.
Shortly after the fair, the couple spent Shabbat in the Union County township, and that sealed the deal. They found a house they liked and joined Congregation Israel.
“We love Springfield,” Ms. Eisenberg said. “It’s such a down-to-earth community, and so many people have young kids.”
Ms. Steinig pointed out that the online format of this year’s fair will make it accessible to people with young children, or with physical limitations, or from outside the tristate area.
Throughout the 10-hour event, attendees will be able to move through the fair as they would in person. “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 large signs, each linking to an expo hall with smaller street signs” to direct people to their desired destinations.
The online format also offers more streamlined discretion for people who may have private issues to discuss, such as a child’s special needs or recent unemployment.
Private appointments with community representatives may be made before, during, or after the fair. Highlights will include brief videos of each community presentation, e-brochures available for immediate download, and discussion groups on various practical topics.
Longer pre-recorded seminars, such as “How to Make Ownership Happen” and “Living Smarter Jewish — Tools to Inspire a Healthy Financial Future,” will be available online before the fair; during the fair people who are interested can join a live discussion group with community representatives.
When they register for the fair, participants will complete a brief survey detailing their demographics, reasons for considering relocation, field of employment, and the stream of Orthodoxy with which they most identify. They may choose to buy a 64-page color booklet outlining all the communities and sponsors; they can choose either print or PDF formats.
Go to https://www.ou.org/fair/ for more information about the communities and to register for free.