Israel Fair in Poconos Draws Throng

Temple Israel of the Poconos held its first-ever Israeli fair on Sunday, welcoming close to 500 people to the conservative shul in Stroudsburg, Pa. Among other attractions, the day featured vendors selling Israeli food, clothing and art, in addition to Israeli singer Yoel Sharabi performing on the synagogue stage.

The synagogue's rabbi, Mel Glazer, noted that Monroe County has seen a great deal of Jewish growth of late. "We're taking advantage of that, and inviting all our Jewish neighbors to Temple Israel to see that there is a proud, active synagogue here in the Poconos."

Monroe County's population has increased by 17.7 percent from April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, considerably faster than Pennsylvania's overall growth rate of 1.2 percent in the same time period. And the population boom, say congregants of Temple Israel, has brought an influx of Jews to the area.

The synagogue currently has a membership of 100 families, an increase of 10 since last August. Organizers were hoping that the fair would draw even more interest to the shul.

"The primary goal was to expose unaffiliated Jews – to let them know that Temple Israel of the Poconos is really a rockin' place," said Marcie Rabinowitz, the synagogue's program director. "There are a lot of interfaith and Jewish families relocating up here – and now they know we're here."

Although it rained considerably throughout the day, folks enjoyed eating homemade falafel under a large tent while others shopped for Israeli jewelry, silver, Judaica or artwork inside.

People could also buy Israeli Defense Force T-shirts or Israeli books.

One transplant to the area is Sandra Alfonsi, 60, who permanently moved to the Pocono area last May from Queens, N.Y., after commuting back and forth for several years.

Said Alfonsi: "It's a Conservative synagogue, and it's [just] 20 minutes from the house."

Also a national vice president of Hadassah, Alfonsi used the Israeli fair to gather names, as she hopes to start a new Hadassah chapter at the synagogue.

"There's no ombudsmen for the State of Israel in this area; there's no face for the State of Israel," she said. "Temple Israel of the Poconos was the logical choice of where to bring Hadassah."

Vernon and Marilyn Schlamowitz see the area as a respite from their native Brooklyn. During a typical week, the couple – in their late 50s – spend four days in New York, then three days at their home in the nearby development of Hemlock Farms.

"The population is growing," acknowledged Vernon Schlamowitz. "People who can't afford homes in New York City or Philadelphia come here to live."

Since their home is also just a 20-minute drive from the synagogue, they decided to spend their Sunday at the Israeli fair.

"We heard about the fair, we'd visited Israel twice, and we wanted to see what this is all about," explained Marilyn Schlamowitz, whose favorite part of the event was watching Sharabi perform.

Stroudsburg seems to have embraced the synagogue, as local VIPs came out for the day.

"Some of the town councilman are here, town dignitaries are here," said Glazer. "We have a banner on Main Street, and it is accepted because we are part of the city."



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