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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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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Doing well, doing good

Israeli band full of New Jersey locals hopes to tour U.S.

If a crowd-funding appeal is successful, the Israeli band G-Nome Project is coming to the United States.

This is not the scientific kind of genome project having to do with decoding DNA, but a musical project launched by four young expatriates — two of them from Teaneck.

It’s also a kind of chesed project. The band’s proposed 10-city “Giving Tour” aims to combine nightly gigs with days of good deeds such as visiting nursing homes and working in a soup kitchen.

This unusual twist was inspired by drummer Chemy Soibelman’s volunteering with Israeli children suffering from cancer.

 

Less is more

Moriah to institute new tuition affordability program

Good news for the middle class — and for Jewish day school affordability.

The Moriah School in Englewood, which runs from prekindergarten through eighth grade, has announced a new tuition affordability program, which will cut tuition for parents making as much as $360,000 a year.

Full tuition at the school ranges from $12,000 for kindergarten to $15,425 for middle school. (The prekindergarten program is not eligible for the tuition breaks.)

“We’ve been talking, as a board and as a community, about tuition affordability and the tuition crisis for years,” said Evan Sohn, the school’s president. “We decided this was the year we were going to address that issue.”

 

Scrolling through Jewish art

Local exhibit looks at text and images in old and new ways

The English letters that Harriet Fincke of Ridgewood learned when she was young are straightforward symbols that combine to form words, just as they are for everyone else.

But Hebrew letters — ah, they are something else again. “They always seemed kind of solid,” she said. “They seemed more like things,” objects in their own right, opaque. “It’s both the meaning and the look, and the relationship between them,” she said.

Those letters were a foundation part of her childhood — she went all the way through school at the Yeshiva of Flatbush. “I’d always had a kind of richly ambivalent relationship with my religious upbringing, and with the text,” she said.

 
 
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