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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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Reality check

Author to discuss intergenerational ‘experiment’

Katie Hafner began her professional career writing for a small newspaper in Lake Tahoe.

That didn’t last for long, though. “I worked my way up,” said Ms. Hafner, who now writes on health care for the New York Times.

A seasoned journalist, Ms. Hafner was exceptionally well prepared to chronicle an experience in her own life that she calls both an “experiment in intergenerational living” and a “disaster.” Inviting her 77-year-old mother to live with her and her teenage daughter, Zoe, in San Francisco, Ms. Hafner learned that fairy-tale imaginings are no match for emotional truths.

(In her book, Ms. Hafner calls her mother Helen. That is not her real name; her mother requested anonymity, and Ms. Hafner honored the request.)

 

Self-defense or unnecessary danger?

Armed self-defense is a value strongly supported in Jewish law, according to a statement issued last week by a local Jewish gun club, which is urging two of the largest Orthodox organizations in the country to reconsider their positions on gun control.

On July 16, the Rabbinical Council of America, an organization representing Orthodox rabbis in the United States, issued a statement recognizing the rights of private citizens to own weapons and engage in violence for self-defense, but also calling for the restriction of “easy and unregulated access to weapons and ammunition,” and denounced “recreational activities that desensitize participants … or glorify war, killing, physical violence, and weapons….”

The RCA resolution came just over a year after the Orthodox Union issued a similar resolution citing its longtime commitment to “common sense gun safety legislation” and calling on U.S. senators to pass legislation to ensure “a safer and more secure American society.”

 

She’s a project-based fellow

Tikvah Wiener tapped by Joshua Venture Group

Tikvah Wiener of Teaneck describes herself as “passionate about project-based learning.”

As head of the English department at the Frisch School in Paramus, where she taught for 13 years, Ms. Wiener brought that innovative educational approach into the high school’s curriculum and extracurricular activities. “It’s a pedagogy where students engage in solving a complex real world problem and they create different products as a result of their learning,” she said.

The products could be a multimedia presentation, or a blog displaying students’ interpretations of Shakespeare. But it also could be a class-wide effort to study the problem of snow removal and offer suggestions for improvement — a project that would include math and science as well as civics and English.

This school year, Ms. Wiener has a new job: She is chief academic officer at the Magen David High School in Brooklyn. And she has just received a prestigious — and lucrative — award to help her promote project-based learning in Jewish day schools across the country.

 

RECENTLYADDED

Meetings of very sharp minds

Larry Krule, retiring Jewish Book Council president, talks about literature and Davar

To learn more about the Jewish community in the late 1960s, you could just read “The Chosen” and “Portnoy’s Complaint.”

Chaim Potok’s 1967 novel was sharply drawn, sociologically on point, and deeply moving. Phillip Roth’s 1969 novel was brash, irreverent, shocking, and controversial.

Both were central to mid-20th-century urban Jewish self-understanding (it’s tempting to say they were seminal, but given the specifics of Portnoy’s complaint, that might not be the best choice of words).

Those two books, among others, had such a strong influence on Lawrence Krule, who read them when they were new and he was young, that eventually they led him to a ten-year presidency of the Jewish Book Council. His term is now ending; he and the council’s president, Carolyn Hessel, are retiring, and both will be honored at a gala dinner on November 18.

 

Remembering Bernie Weinflash

Community mourns visionary leader and founding patron of Shirah chorus

Some people are irreplaceable, said Matthew (Mati) Lazar, founding director and conductor of Shirah, the Community Chorus at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly.

“Bernie Weinflash was one of them.”

Mr. Weinflash, founding patron of the choral group now celebrating its 21st year, died on November 9 at 94.

Mr. Weinflash was born on the Lower East Side and was a veteran of World War II. Trained as an accountant and lawyer, he was a stockbroker for Oppenheimer and Co.

Shirah was one of Mr Weinflash’s proudest achievements. In a video of his talk at the choral concert that marked his 90th birthday — “Bernie always spoke at our concerts,” Mr. Lazar said — the founder mused that “by creating Shirah, I will have helped perpetuate Jewish survival.”

 

Here comes the sun

Yeshivat Noam installs solar panels

From the parking lot, all you can see is the yellow warning tape.

But the roof Yeshivat Noam in Paramus holds 1,500 solar panels.

On Friday, the panels were connected to the school’s electric wiring. When they are switched on — that is expected to happen any day now — they will provide about half the school’s electric needs.

And they will make Noam the first area Jewish day school to have gone solar.

 
 
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