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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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Laughing with Joan

I made Joan Rivers laugh.

Of course she made me laugh, like she did to millions of others through her decades-long, often unfiltered, and ever-funny career, but yes, I made Joan Rivers laugh.

At the time, I was working at the celebrity-obsessed New York Post, and as the features writer for its women’s section, I had reason to ring up the raspy-voiced, Brooklyn-born blonde for a quickie. I had to grab a quote for some story that I was writing. As I recall, the conversation had turned to food, a favorite subject of the Jewish woman on my end of the phone, and, apparently, of that Jewish woman on the other end as well. Joan told me that she just adored the creamed spinach served at the legendary Brooklyn restaurant, Peter Luger’s — a must-have accompaniment to its famous and robust steaks. Joan told me she would dine there with a hairdresser-to-the-stars, the late Kenneth Battelle. (She kept her physique petite with this practice: She never ate anything after 3 p.m. If she did find herself dining with someone, she popped Altoids to keep her mouth busy.)

 

Cookin’ it up!

Tales of a Teaneck kitchen prodigy

How did 12-year-old Eitan Bernath of Teaneck come to be on the Food Network’s popular cooking show “Chopped”?

“He’s always been curious and he likes science,” said his mother, Sabrina Bernath. “He thinks it’s cool to mix flavors and watch things rise. He also likes to make people happy,” she added, pointing out that he had just brought his friends a freshly baked batch of cinnabuns.

For Eitan, a student at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, cooking is more than just a hobby. Struggling for the right word, the fledgling chef — whose website, cookwithchefeitan.com, will launch this week — described his relationship with the culinary arts as a “passion.”

 

Policies are the best policy

Teaneck synagogue forum addresses child sexual abuse

Does your synagogue have policies in place to protect children from sexual abuse? Do your children’s schools and camps?

Such policies, Dr. Shira Berkovits told a meeting in Teaneck on Sunday night, can make a difference to children’s safety.

Dr. Berkovits is a consultant for the Department of Synagogue Services at the Orthodox Union, and she is developing a guide to preventing child sexual abuse in synagogues. She was speaking at Teaneck’s Congregation Rinat Yisrael, as part of a panel on preventing child sexual abuse co-sponsored by three other Teaneck Orthodox congregations: Netivot Shalom, Keter Torah, and Lubavitch of Bergen County.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Many ways to learn

Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey reboots its adult ed program

We don’t know much yet about the findings of the soon-to-be-released survey by the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, but there is one nugget that already has been made public.

Jewish adults hunger to know more. Their desire for Jewish learning continues to grow. Jewish educators and leaders know that to be true intuitively, and that understanding is borne out in the proliferation of programs and institutes around the area.

Until recently, the federation has fed that hunger with its Melton program. For years now, the Florence Melton program has brought its two-year, pluralistic, in-depth lessons to synagogue classrooms across the region. But nothing lasts forever, and the Melton program has now ended locally — as it has, in fact, in many of the other places that once hosted it.

 

Walking for life

Bone marrow donor, recipient to meet

At the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Foundation’s third annual Walk for Life in Memory of Mel Cohen on Sunday, October 26, a 23-year-old Englewood bone-marrow donor will meet his 43-year-old recipient for the first time since the successful procedure was done, more than a year ago.

These emotional meetings are a highlight of the annual walk, Gift of Life’s CFO, Gregg Frances, said. “Every year at these events we introduce a donor who has never, until that point, met the recipient whose life he or she saved. There’s a one-year moratorium from the date of transplant to the date of meeting, as legislated by the United States.”

 

Teens: Don’t drink on Simchat Torah

Local yeshiva high schools send joint letter urging celebration but also restraint

The principals of six Jewish high schools serving northern New Jersey sent a joint letter to parents urging vigilance in the face of teenage drinking on Simchat Torah, “to guarantee that this special time of holiness will not degenerate into the opposite kind of experience for anyone.”

Nobody is sure how alcohol consumption became a tradition of this holiday, which celebrates the completion of the yearly Torah-reading cycle.

“There are rabbinic sources about drinking wine in the context of the Purim seudah,” or meal, says Teaneck’s Rabbi Michael Taubes, head of school for the Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and one of the six signatories.

 
 
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