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Local expert brings corporate best practices to OU

Orthodox group learns how to maximize human capital

 
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Long gone are the days when a company’s human resources department was associated only with the screening and hiring of new employees.

Today, understanding human capital is a growing field, says Seymour Adler, recently reappointed chairman of the Orthodox Union’s Human Resources Commission.

The Teaneck resident, who has worked as a volunteer with the OU for some eight years — five as head of the commission — points out that clarifying the role of employees in an organization serves not just the workplace itself but the people they serve.

For example, said Adler, who advises OU leaders on creating “a place where people can excel in their performance,” managers must ask themselves questions such as “What does it look like when employees are committed and engaged and have the tools and support needed to maximize their performance day in and day out?”

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Seymour Adler, left, and Rabbi Leonard Bessler

“Applying my professional skills to help the community has been a source of gratification to me,” said Adler, who served as president of Teaneck’s Cong. Rinat Yisrael from 2002 to 2004. An industrial psychologist with a doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from New York University, Adler is senior vice president for talent consulting at Aon Hewitt, an insurance brokerage and human resources consulting company.

In addition to helping Rinat Yisrael with strategic planning, something he did as well for UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey’s Jewish Community Relations Council, he has worked as a volunteer with The Moriah School in Englewood and with Kesher synagogue in Tenafly.

His professional expertise contributes “value added” to his work at OU, where “everything I can bring automatically gets plugged in” to their operations, he said. He pointed out that he works closely with Rabbi Leonard Bessler, senior human resources officer.

Still, he said, bringing best practices from corporate America to an Orthodox nonprofit “doesn’t translate without some kind of work,” particularly since the organization doesn’t have the resources of a large corporation and is extremely sensitive to the use of public money. Nevertheless, he noted, the OU has an “enlightened leadership,” interested in hearing about concepts that might improve the organization.

His work with the OU has been diverse, he said, explaining that he reviews what the OU is doing “with respect to people-related issues” — for example, how the group selects new employees, promotes current staff, rewards people, trains people, and generally “instills a performance-oriented culture.”

Those efforts benefit the entire community, he said.

“We’re talking about people,” he said. “People are the place, whether NCSY leaders, kashrut supervisors, or the people who pull together workshops on things like being better parents. They’re teams of people,” and it’s important to find out how to support them so that they’re as effective as they can be.

Over the last year, the OU has enhanced its level of management training and development, Adler said, “with some of it quite sophisticated.” For example, for the first time, the group is now engaged in executive coaching for senior leaders.

“While they’re careful about how they spend communal money, they recognize the huge amount of leverage they gain by helping a leader grow, develop, and become more effective,” he said, noting that several months ago he participated in a training program for managers across all divisions of the organization.

“It was a terrific two days,” he said. “We did what corporate America does, [using] team-building exercises to work more cooperatively.”

According to Bessler, “Nonprofits don’t measure success by dollars but rather by performance goals, so Dr. Adler’s input is essential.”

Adler, he said, has helped the OU greatly by guiding the organization in appraising the talent of its staff, using anonymous ratings of individuals by their subordinates, peers, clients, and supervisors.

In addition, he said, the fact that Adler — whom he described as a top consultant in corporate America — has been a shul president and community activist “only adds to his insight into our unique culture.”

“I would really try to encourage folks to use their professional skills to help the community,” said Adler. “Too often, people in the community feel that they can volunteer labor — for example, packaging mishloach manot, delivering packages, making solicitation calls on Super Sunday — or, obviously, donate money. I feel that the most important contribution many can make is drawing on their professional skills — and especially people who are in consulting roles in their professional lives.”

 
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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

The converso’s dilemma

Local group goes to New Mexico to learn about crypto-Jews

Imagine that you were raised as a Catholic. Then one day — perhaps as a beloved parent or grandparent lay dying and leaned over to whisper something in your ear — you learned that your family once was Jewish. Your ancestors were converted forcibly some 500 years ago.

For those people all over the world who have had that experience, the next step is not entirely clear. Do they jump in with both feet and vigorously pursue their new Jewish identities, or do they simply go about their business, choosing to do nothing with this new information? These dilemmas, and more, were the subject of a recent Road Scholar program in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

The topic — “New Mexico’s Conversos and Crypto-Jews” — continues to fascinate both Jews and non-Jews, as evidenced by the religious identity of the attendees. Among those participating in this month’s session — there are 10 such programs held each year — were five residents from our area, including this author.

 

How to learn Hebrew

Confronting American Jews’ linguistic illiteracy, many programs offer help

Can you read a Hebrew newspaper or order a meal in an Israel restaurant? If you’re like the vast majority of American Jews, the answer is no.

“Half of Jews (52%), including 60% of Jews by religion and 24% of Jews of no religion, say they know the Hebrew alphabet,” according to last October’s “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the famous study released by the Pew Research Center.

“But far fewer (13% of Jews overall, including 16% of Jews by religion and 4% of Jews of no religion) say they understand most or all of the words when they read Hebrew,” the report continues.

Alarmed by this finding, the World Zionist Organization, the Israeli Education Ministry, and several partner organizations recently launched the Hebrew Language Council of North America to help more Jews become conversant in the language of their literature, lore, and land — as well as the language of their peers in Israel.

 

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Mississippi burning, remembered

Puffin marks jubilee of Freedom Summer

It was a summer that changed lives.

It was a fight for American democracy in the face of terrorism.

It was dubbed “Freedom Summer,” and it drew 700 college students and young adults to help Mississippi activists fight for civil rights.

The year was 1964.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech the previous August, during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In Washington, a far-reaching civil rights bill that would desegregate public facilities had been introduced to Congress by President Lyndon Johnson — but quickly stalled and was then filibustered for months.

 

Adding to Jewish life in Clifton

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky heads religious services department at Daughters of Miriam

Rabbi Moshe Mirsky thinks his new position as the director of religious services at the Daughters of Miriam Center/Gallen Institute in Clifton is a perfect shidduch.

Actually, it is not quite a new job. Rabbi Mirsky had already worked there with Rabbi Ira Kronenberg, who just retired from the home this month, in the late 1980s. Back then Rabbi Mirsky was studying for simicha — rabbinic ordination. He worked there once again in the 1990s, while he was teaching at various day schools.

“I would come on the weekends for Shabbat and on yom tov to assist Rabbi Kronenberg,” he said. “I would lead davening, give Torah classes, go to the Alzheimer’s unit, and try to engage the residents Jewishly. I had a special rapport with Rabbi Kronenberg and the residents.”

Indeed, then he already was doing many of the things he is doing now as director of religious affairs.

 

Poor assumptions = poor policy

ZOA’s congressional lobbyist talks about Israel, Oslo, and plans doomed to fail

The two-state solution is a chimera, Joshua London says. It is a lovely vision of something that never can be real, and chasing it — chasing the plan that would make Israel and Palestine two separate states, living next to each other in prickly but sustainable peace — is chasing the wind.

Mr. London, who lives in suburban Maryland, is the Zionist Organization of America’s co-director of government affairs. He will be taking a break from his daily routine — lobbying Congress to further the ZOA’s own understanding of the Middle East — to speak at a parlor meeting in Teaneck on Wednesday.

His goal, he said, “is to bring clarity and critical analysis to the longstanding U.S. policy for support of — and in fact to apply pressure toward — the creation of a Palestinian state from territory that otherwise belongs to Israel, and to do so under the notion that this will bring peace.”

 
 
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