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SCORE-ing big for small businesses

 
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After he retired from his job as a financial specialist, Fair Lawn resident Howard Sirota, a long-time member of the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, tried playing tennis and bridge.

“It was fun,” he said, “but I wanted to give something back to the community.”

For the past 15 years, he has been doing exactly that, serving as a mentor for the Bergen County chapter of SCORE, based in Hackensack.

Formerly known as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, SCORE is a nonprofit association that helps small businesses get off the ground, grow, and achieve their goals, says Lewis Marchiona, chairman of SCOREBergen.

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Harvey Starr shares his 35 years of experience. SCORE

The group, which helps businesses through education and mentorship, is supported by the Small Business Administration. With some 13,000 volunteers in chapters throughout the country, the 50-year-old organization has seen the demand for its services rise as the economy has worsened.

“The demand has increased with the bad economy,” Marchiona said. “It started to spike about three years ago.”

Sirota estimates that he has counseled about 200 people. He said he derives great satisfaction from his volunteer work, which sometimes consumes as much as five hours a week.

“When I help some people go into business, I feel very good about it,” he said. But he’s also gratified when he can prevent people from making a mistake and spending their life savings on a business they know nothing about.

“The most important thing is to listen,” he said. “It takes trainees a few months to learn how to do that. I tell them to listen to other [mentors] and listen to the client.”

The mentor said he is learning constantly from his fellow counselors.

“You always learn from other people,” he said. “Everyone brings something else to the table. There’s so much knowledge over there. We can help a business if there’s enough time.”

Sometimes there isn’t, he said, pointing to one client who approached them for help after he already had used up his savings.

Sirota pointed out that with the large number of Jews in Bergen County, it’s not surprising that many of SCORE’s clients are Jewish.

“You get a lot of Jews with problems,” he said. “They may be out of a job. While we can’t find one for them, I may suggest that they get a part-time job in an area they’re interested in.”

Most of the clients he sees are interested in starting a business.

“You have to question them to see if they’re capable of going into business or if they’ll just lose their money,” he said. “It takes one or two sessions to find out. You tell them everything they’ll have to know — marketing, finance, purchasing, etc. — and tell them nicely if they won’t be successful.”

Sirota said people also come because they need a job or don’t like their current jobs or want to make a change in their lives.

“They may have a little bit of money saved up. They may not understand that when they start a business, it’s a total commitment. An idea is not enough,” he said. “They have to know how to execute it, solve problems, and think on their feet.”

“It’s rough for some people,” he said. “Many have been out of a job for a long time and the only thing left is to start a business when they’re middle-aged.”

While he doesn’t want to dampen their enthusiasm, he is convinced that for many, it’s the wrong thing to do.

“If I can help them save money by not going into business, it’s a small victory,” he said.

Harvey Starr, also of Fair Lawn, who belongs to Barnert Temple, has been a SCORE counselor for 15 years as well.

“When I retired, I took a year to find out what things I wanted to do,” he said. “I tried various things. This is one of the things that worked.”

Like Sirota, he was prompted to join the group because “I had 35 years of experience and want to share it so people don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Every once in a while, you reach a client who brings you satisfaction, so you come back and do more.”

Starr — whose pre-retirement job was financing machinery for all kinds of businesses — said the usual kind of client is someone who is starting a business or has just gotten one off the ground.

“Basically, I let them talk,” he said. “Somewhere in their talk, I’ll pick up inklings of the solution. Often, they know what the problem is [but] they don’t know that they do.”

Occasionally, he said, he gets a “pleasant surprise, where you can really make a difference in their lives.”

One client was approached by a large company to sell his business but turned down the offer. The would-be purchaser then set up a competing business across the street, selling the same products at a lower cost. By the time the client came to SCORE, he was losing a great deal of money.

Starr said he understood the client’s anguish, having lived through a similar situation.

“It took six weeks to get him to understand what he was enduring and come to the obvious conclusion, which was there from the start,” said the counselor. “One day he said he really didn’t have a choice.”

Six months later, the client called Starr to thank him for helping him remake his life.

The mentor, who estimates that he spends about three hours a week counseling clients, said the faltering economy has produced some “tearjerkers,” with people of middle age being let go after 25 years with the same company.

“It’s sad to watch these people dipping into savings, getting into something they don’t know much about. They take, or don’t take, my advice. They may listen to the advice of relatives [instead], and it doesn’t work.”

People can come back as often as they want and counseling is free. In addition, Starr said, clients who are not satisfied with their counselor can request another.

“People at SCORE have nothing to prove,” Starr said. “If we can’t help, we reach out to another mentor in another discipline.”

He pointed out that his fellow volunteers are successful people in their own right.

“They bring the expertise; we counsel them in how to use it.”

Describing SCORE as “a resource partner of the Small Business Administration,” Marchiona noted that the Hackensack office was founded 40 years ago and now has about 41 volunteer mentors.

“They run the full gamut,” he said, “retired, semi-retired, and those who are active in business but still donate time.”

Mentors combine about 500 different specialties, from financial banking experience to manufacturing, and the group sees about 1,100 clients a year. In addition to counseling, it offers low-cost workshops on topics ranging from social media to sales management. [For a full listing of workshops, go to SCOREBergen.org.]

“A special thing we offer is a program for people thinking about starting a business,” he said. Called Simple Steps, the five-week program meets every Monday night and “is heavily staffed with mentors who sit close by the participants and help them through the program.”

Workshops are offered free of charge to veterans and members of their families.

Marchione said the mentors, all Bergen County residents, take on the challenge because “with all this talent and experience, it’s a mortal sin not to pass it on to people. There’s a real rush of satisfaction when you’re talking to someone and you can see the light coming on.”

For more information about SCORE, go to SCORE.org.

 
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French Jews face uncertain future

A look at some stories from a local leader

In the wake of the terror attacks at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office and the Hyper Cacher grocery store — a kosher market — I participated in a Jewish Agency mission to Paris.

Our delegation of Americans and Israelis arrived last week to show solidarity with the French Jewish community. We also sought to better understand the threat of heightened anti-Semitism in France (and, indirectly, elsewhere in Europe). We met with more than 40 French Jewish community leaders and activists, all of them open to sharing their concerns.

On January 7, Islamist terrorists murdered a dozen Charlie Hebdo staffers as retribution for the magazine’s cartoon depictions of the prophet Mohammed. Two days later, another terrorist held a bunch of Jewish grocery shoppers hostage, killing four, which French President Francois Hollande acknowledged as an “appalling anti-Semitic act.”

 

When rabbis won’t speak about Israel

AJR panel to offer tips for starting a conversation

Ironically, what should be a unifying topic for Jews often spurs such heated discussion that rabbis tend to avoid it, said Ora Horn Prouser, executive vice president and dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Dr. Prouser, who lives in Franklin Lakes and is married to Temple Emanuel of North Jersey’s Rabbi Joseph Prouser, said that she heard a lot over the summer from rabbis and other spiritual leaders. They said that they were “unable or not comfortable talking about Israel in their synagogues,” she reported.

“It didn’t come from a lack of love,” Dr. Horn said. “They’re deeply invested in Israel, and yet they felt they could not get into a conversation without deeply offending other parts of their community.”

 

‘Oy vey, my child is gay’

Orthodox parents seek shared connection in upcoming retreat

Eshel, a group that works to bridge the divide that often separates lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Jews from their Orthodox communities, is holding its third annual retreat for Orthodox parents of those LGBT Jews next month.

Although most of its work is done with Orthodox LGBT Jews — who may or may not be the children of the parents at the retreat — the retreat offers parents community, immediate understanding, the freedom to speak that comes with that understanding, the chance to learn, and the opportunity to model healthy acceptance.

“There are particular issues to being Orthodox and having a gay child, although it varies a lot from community to community,” Naomi Oppenheim of Teaneck said. “You worry about what the community is thinking about you. Someone — I don’t remember who — said, ‘When my kid came out, I went into the closet.’”

 

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Initiative brings student nurses together with Holocaust survivors

Nursing is changing, according to Kathy Burke, the assistant dean in charge of nursing at Ramapo College of New Jersey in Mahwah.

“Nurses need to be prepared to move into the community, away from the hospital,” she said. “The community is the most important care-giving site.”

To ensure that their nurses receive this training, Ramapo provides its students with a variety of clinical experiences which “will redefine the health care of the future,” Ms. Burke said.

A new initiative — conceived by Dr. Michael Riff, director of Ramapo College’s Gross Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and Leah Kaufman, director of JFS of North Jersey — brings Burke’s students together with Holocaust survivors.

“Taking care of the elderly, especially those with such a unique history, will double the impact of this experience” for her students, Ms. Burke said. “It’s [important] for this newer generation of nurses to talk with individuals who have experienced the Holocaust.”

 

‘You are not numbers. You have a name’

Tenafly JCC Holocaust commemoration highlights survivor from Tappan

When the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades marks Yom Hashoah this year, its ceremony will combine words from the past with the voices of youth. Indeed — in a twist of fate Holocaust survivors could not have foreseen — Jewish children will sing the same opera performed by children at the Theresienstadt concentration camp.

In 1942, Holocaust survivor Ela Weissberger, who lives in Tappan, N.Y., performed the role of the cat in the children’s opera “Brundibar.” The show was staged in Terezin, Czechoslovakia, as part of an effort to convince Red Cross inspectors, visiting delegations, and the world at large that nothing improper was taking place there.

“They took them to a staged area,” Ms. Weissberger said. “They were really fooled.”

On April 16, Ms. Weissberger — the last surviving member of the original cast — will share her memories as part of the JCC’s annual Yom Hashoah commemoration.

 

Evil, hope onstage in Teaneck

Yavneh students tell the story of Berga slave camp in annual Holocaust play

Glen Rock eighth-grader Shmuel Berman took on the role of murderous SS Sgt. Erwin Metz in Yavneh Academy’s recent Holocaust play about the little-known slave-labor camp at Berga in eastern Germany, where hundreds of American prisoners of war were interned along with Holocaust victims.

What was it like to portray a real-life Nazi?

“It was hard,” Shmuel said. “I had to try to get into the character of someone who was not a good person and did terrible things to people.

“I was hoping the audience saw that Erwin Metz considered himself a ‘normal’ person, yet he lied during the court scenes, claiming that he didn’t mistreat anyone. We can learn that evil could happen anywhere; it doesn’t require an evil person.”

 
 
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