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 on 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 booths 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.
Shoshana Yagoda, originally of the Five Towns, the upscale suburban communities on Long Island, 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.”
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.
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.”
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.
(See OUCommunities.org for a complete list of participating communities.)