As Devorah Blumberg talked up the virtues of Twin Rivers, N.J., at the Orthodox Union’s fifth Jewish Communities Home and Job Relocation Fair, her 17-year-old daughter, Shoshana, took advantage of the same fair last weekend to explore the possibility of moving 6,000 miles away.
Holding a neighbor’s 4-month-old daughter as she spoke, Shoshana, now a junior at an all-girls yeshiva, said she’s hoping to move to Israel “right after seminary” to fulfill one of her dreams.
She already conferred at the fair with staff members of Nefesh B’Nefesh, the Israeli-based group that promotes and facilitates immigration to Israel, who helped her consider the various options that face her after she moves — the Israeli Army, national service, university or yeshiva. Moreover, her 16-year-old sister, Rina, who was with her at the fair, hopes to make the same move once she finishes high school.
The OU organizes the fair, now a biannual event, to help Orthodox families explore Jewish communities that might be more affordable, not to mention more relaxed, than those in New York City. Orthodox communities throughout North America come to the fair to attract new families in an effort to strengthen or sustain themselves.
This year’s fair took place April 26 at Metropolitan West, an exhibition hall on the West Side of Manhattan in what used to be the H&H Bagel Factory. Some 2,000 people came, the largest number of attendees so far, visiting the booths of 46 North American communities, more than half of them outside the tri-state area. Each represented by one or more OU synagogues, the communities ranged in both size and distance, with the closest to the city in West Orange, N.J., and the furthest in Seattle and California’s Silicon Valley.
For the first time, though, the fair also included Israeli regions and cities, represented by staff members from Nefesh B’Nefesh.
The OU decided to include Israeli communities after learning from a survey of past participants that Israel is one of the options they consider as they look for more affordable communities, said Rabbi Judah’s Isaacs, the organization’s director of community engagement.
To the naked eye, the fair’s Israel section — located on a separate floor from the North American communities — looked nearly deserted in comparison to the first floor.
But Marc Rosenberg, director of pre-aliyah for Nefesh B’Nefesh, pointed out that the Israel section contained far fewer booths than the 46 in the North American section. In addition, he said, the “steady flow” of people visiting the Israeli booths included many at the “beginning stages” of considering aliyah.
“These are people who are feeling this out,” Rosenberg said, adding that moving “to the other end of the world” is far different from moving between locations in the same country.
While at least one married couple told The Jewish Week that their parents had no idea they were planning to leave New York, saying that they expected resistance once they informed them, Shoshana Blumberg has her parents’ blessings.
Both are “fully supportive,” she said. “They wish they went when they were younger.”