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Community mourns Sidney Schonfeld

Philanthropist called ‘a very caring individual’

Sidney Schonfeld, who died Sept. 15 at the age of 87, is being remembered by many in the same choice words: “mensch,” “friend,” “gentleman”; “kind,” “caring,” “principled.”

The Tenafly resident left Nazi Germany with his family at the age of 12, knowing no English. But as he told The Jewish Standard in 2006, on the occasion of his receiving the Shem Tov (good name) award of Temple Emanu-El of Closter, he quickly taught himself the language, eventually attended City College at night, and started a successful food-importing business. This gave him the means and the time to be generous to worthy causes.

In his eulogy at Schonfeld’s funeral at Temple Emanu-El last Friday, Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner said, “Sid was a giver. He always had his hands in his pockets and was helping out someone or some group in need. He would confide in me, ‘Rabbi this person came to me. They are in trouble. They need help. They are getting divorced, paying for day school. It is hard for them to make ends meet.’”

Kirshner said he would reply, “‘Sid, you are a tzaddik. You give to any and every organization that has the letter J in its initials. UJA, JNF, UJC, JTS JFS, USCJ, JCC, JCRC, and many more. Sometimes you can say no, Sid.’

“It was like I was speaking a language he had never heard,” Kirshner continued. “He said to me, ‘Rabbi, he needs help. I can. I will.’”

Ed Ruzinsky “knew Sidney through his caring affiliation with JFS” — Jewish Family Service, one of those J-initial organizations. Ruzinsky, a JFS board member for more than 30 years, said that “from the day he got involved he was committed to the mission of JFS and he lived it…. Until his health began to deteriorate he would be at board meetings. Sid was a trustee to the end of his life.”

He was also, Ruzinsky said, “as close to the perfect gentleman as you can find — a mensch, unequivocally devoted to our community, a very caring individual and a great human being.”

Sandra Gold, the president of the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, worked with Schonfeld on the boards of the JHR, the Jewish Association for Developmental Disabilities, and the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, and in other ways.

“When he undertook to resolve a need in our community he was tenacious,” she recalled. “He took it upon himself to create a scholarship fund at the JCC for students who could not [afford to] go to college without some help. He was relentless in his pursuit of raising enough funds to make a difference.”

Also, she said, Schonfeld “knew how to be a good friend…. I do not know a kinder soul. He was an elegant, old-world, sensitive human being who resonated with the people around him…. You just have to look at the causes that he undertook. He just couldn’t look the other way. He felt compelled to reach out his hand and help.”

Gold and her husband, for whom the Arnold P. Gold Foundation is named, promote “humanism in medicine,” the tradition of compassionate care, and she was touched by the fact that Schonfeld “never failed to go out without a ‘Humanism in Medicine’ pin on his jacket.”

And like Ruzinsky, she was struck by the fact that Schonfeld did not let age and illness keep him from communal work.

“As Sid grew more frail,” she recalled, “he still managed to come to allocations meetings at UJA and board meetings at the Jewish Home. He put himself second. He continued to work on behalf of those in need.”

Gold called him “a terrific role model,” adding, “he could have put his feet up and watched television and leave [communal work] to others, but he continued to advocate for those in need….

“When I think about Sid,” Gold said, “I think about 1. what a good soul he was, and how kind, and 2. how much he loved his wife Hilde.”

That love was legendary. Hildegard Schonfeld died 10 years ago, and those who knew him say that he missed her every day.

Emanu-El’s Kirshner noted that Schonfeld had donated a Torah to the shul in her memory, and “each week, as we would march the Torah around, a smile would go from ear to ear, not only because it was a reminder of his tradition but also because it was a reminder of his wife.”

At Schonfeld’s funeral, which was attended by some 500 people, Kirshner said, “We can be consoled that, after 10 years, Sidney is in Hilde’s embrace.”

Schonfeld is survived by his son Gary and his wife Elisabeth; his daughter Victoria and her husband Victor Friedman; and five grandchildren, Jared, Remi, Zachary, Matthew, and Sam.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Sidney Schonfeld Fund at Temple Emanu-El or the Schonfeld College Scholarship Fund at the JCC on the Palisades.

Arrangements were by Gutterman-Musicant Funeral Directors in Hackensack.

 
 

Jewish Family Service hunger campaign wins award

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These graphics draw attention to hunger in the community.

When a college graduate in his 30s came in to arrange help with a dental problem, his case manager learned that he hadn’t eaten in two days.

That story and similar ones are being told with increasing frequency at Jewish Family Service in Teaneck.

“We didn’t let him leave hungry,” said Jeff Nadler, director of development for JFS of Bergen and North Hudson and initiator of the group’s hunger campaign. But with more clients coming in hungry, the agency soon realized that emergency food assistance and supermarket gift cards were no longer sufficient.

“So we started a food pantry,” said Nadler. “Not as big as those run by local towns, but big enough to help out clients who are skipping meals in order to feed their children.”

Nadler said some of the people they feed might not go to their synagogues or to public food pantries “out of embarrassment. A lot of how we approach this is about restoring people’s dignity, getting them on the right track again.”

To support this venture — as well as Kosher Meals on Wheels, which relies heavily on donations from individuals — in September 2010 JFS launched a communications initiative focusing specifically on the issue of hunger.

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Jeff Nadler

That initiative, and the graphic artist that helped convey its message, were recently honored for “communications excellence.” In May, JFS received an Aramark Building Community 2011 Innovation Award, while Debbie Barnett, president of Barnett Design, won the Hermes Platinum Award — the highest honor bestowed by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. Barnett’s design, created for the JFS Wheels for Meals project, featured a bicycle made out of a plate and eating utensils.

Aramark is an international food-service company that has teamed up with the Alliance for Children and Families, to which JFS belongs. Aramark Building Community is the company’s signature philanthropic and volunteer program, which, according to its website, “enriches the lives of low-income families by strengthening the capacity of local, place-based community centers.”

“We launched the hunger campaign to bring attention to hunger in the community and to attract donations and support,” said Nadler, noting that this was the first time an organizational message focused on a specific theme rather than on the menu of services offered by the organization. Using the money raised by the campaign — as well as food donations from individuals and synagogues — JFS can provide food directly to clients in need.

“Once this initiative started, we began doing outreach to synagogues, asking that it be their tzedakah project of the month or that they do food drives,” said Nadler. “One young father living in Englewood came with two of his kids and unloaded an entire car filled with food.”

So far, the campaign has included a direct mail appeal during Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, an end-of-year direct mail project, the annual “Night of 100 Dinners,” adapted to reflect the group’s message, and Wheels for Meals: A Ride to Fight Hunger in Bergen County.

The effort kicked off with a High Holiday message in The Jewish Standard “that was provocative without being rude,” said Nadler. The ad, showing an empty paper bag, included the words, “Millions will fast this Yom Kippur. Unfortunately, thousands have a head start.” The reverse side began with the appeal, “Your neighbors are hungry and need your help.”

“We had an amazing response,” said Nadler.

The end-of-year appeal repeated the paper bag image, bearing the words, “Hunger. In our neighborhood? Yes, and you can help.”

That, too, drew a “powerful response,” said Nadler.

The development director noted the irony in the name of the “Night of 100 Dinners,” but said it helped make the point that “we’re enjoying this wonderful meal but there are those who can’t, who are struggling.”

The group’s most recent event, Wheels for Meals, spearheaded by teenager/philanthropist David Feuerstein — who was profiled in the Standard last year — was a great success, said Nadler, explaining that his desire for JFS “to find ways for families and young people to participate” dovetailed perfectly with David’s desire to support the agency. While the project “came together quickly,” it attracted more than 150 riders and raised some $50,000.

“We asked riders to each try to raise $180, to equal one month of Kosher Meals on Wheels for one person,” said Nadler.

While, following each fundraiser, donations have grown substantially over last year’s figures, the hunger campaign is not finished, he said.

“There’s still a huge need,” he said, pointing out that the agency must raise some $175,000 in donations to run its hunger programs. “We’ll keep going to the community to try to build them.”

For further information, visit www.jfsbergen.org.

 
 

Economy taxes agency resources

‘Second wave’ of needy feared as nation’s financial picture worsens

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Stocking shelves in a food pantry are employees of JFS of Bergen County and North Hudson (from top to bottom) Mimi Paperman, director of elder care; Suad Gacham, director of the school-based program; and Amy Adler, elder care case manager. courtesy JFS of Bergen and North Hudson

In the wake of the economic downturn three years ago, many people in our area turned to local Jewish social service agencies for help, according to those agencies’ directors. Last week, as stock markets seesawed wildly, those same directors said their agencies were preparing for the possibility that another wave of requests for help is on the horizon as uncertainty grips the U.S. economy.

“We are bracing for a possible second wave, although the market went up yesterday,” said Leah Kaufman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey in Wayne. “We still don’t know how many people will lose their jobs.”

“We are preparing for a second wave of unemployment if things get worse,” said Lisa Fedder, executive director of Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson in Teaneck.

The big increase in clients seeking services for financial reasons came in the aftermath of the economy’s dramatic plunge three years ago, social service directors say. Around that time, local agencies were hit with a wave of Jewish clients seeking their services for financial reasons. In the past week, Fedder said, she noted an increase in calls from individuals seeking help for financial problems, and all directors interviewed noted an increase in anxiety.

Faith O’Connor, information, referral, aid and advocacy coordinator for JFS of Bergen and North Hudson, said, “The anxiety levels and depression levels are skyrocketing.”

“It’s been ongoing, but more so in the last six months,” she added. “‘Til then, people were getting unemployment benefits. Now that’s run out and it’s ‘What do I do?’ People are going to the board of social services for food stamps who never in their lives thought they’d need that kind of help. There is high demand on whatever small help exists for rent assistance and utility assistance.”

Other agency directors reinforced this picture of client anxiety.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty [among clients] around what is going to happen regarding possible entitlement reductions,” said Reuben Rotman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of MetroWest in Florham Park serving Essex, Morris, North Union, and Lower Hudson counties. “Things are so up in the air politically [and] people can’t even contemplate what that will mean.”

Fedder said, “In the last month, as the budget discussion became so public, no one knew what would happen with benefits and entitlements.”

There “was genuine anxiety,” she said, over such issues as “whether Social Security checks would go out.”

While she noted that the greatest increase in calls for help from clients with financial issues started in the summer of 2008, Fedder said last week that she saw a slight increase in such calls.

“Three years ago, we got 130 to 150 calls a month around financial issues,” she said. “Then by early 2009, we were getting 230, 240 a month, then 250 a month, which was a huge increase.”

That trend has continued for approximately three years, said Fedder, who added that “last week alone, we got 60 calls” related to financial issues, which could reflect a slight, if not statistically significant, increase. She said she noted an increase in anxiety among clients that she speculated might stem from the frenzied stock market fluctuations.

One trend all directors interviewed noted is growth in poverty among the formerly middle class.

“Three years ago, people who were donors, making contributions of $180 or $360 a year, started coming in, a little regretfully, as clients,” Fedder said. When you think of people in need, she said, you do not think of “the mainstream American family, but we are seeing those families.”

The financial problems these middle class clients are struggling with “are deeper” now that they were three years ago, she said.

“Imagine you are 50-something years old, you’ve raised a family, you and your wife both worked, or maybe you were fortunate enough your wife could work [at home] raising the family,” she said. “Let’s say you lose your job. You have to draw on your savings.”

Because “the recession has been tenacious,” she said, savings did not last for very long.

“In the second year, people had gone through their savings, and still could not find work. They could not sell their houses and, in some cases, their families are in similar situations so there is no one to turn to….We are seeing deep, complicated problems.”

Kaufman echoed Fedder’s observations about the increase in demand for help.

“Three years ago, we saw a lot of Jewish individuals who had corporate positions, who were earning six-figure incomes, who had to make major career shifts,” she said. Typically, these individuals sought both vocational counseling and financial assistance.

One client of JFS of Bergen and North Hudson, Harry Perkal, 59, of Paramus, spoke with The Jewish Standard on Tuesday. Unemployed or underemployed for the past two years, Perkal has sought job counseling. He has not sought financial assistance, he said.

His field was human resources, but he moved into finance around the time “financial markets collapsed,” he said. Prior to losing his job two years ago, he said, “I had never been without a job and had never been without income.”

He has taken several full-time temporary jobs in the interim, including as a tax preparer.

At one time, he says, he was a donor to numerous charitable organizations. He can identify with the shock directors say many of their middle class clients experience in having to seek help.

“I never thought I would be on the other side,” he said. “Perhaps falling from grace is the right phrase.”

He has the sense he is not alone. In attending networking events, he said, “I see the same faces for well over a year. People like myself [who are] still looking—all professionals, all people who thought they’d never be out of the labor market or it would be easy to get back in.”

Working as a tax preparer, Perkal said, he saw many people who are struggling. He believes the government’s unemployment statistics underestimate real hardship. “I saw a great many people in foreclosure, people who received unemployment as part of their income for the year,” he said.

At present, he is trying to get a job in human resources. Because he has not held a permanent, full-time job in two years, he believes he is at a disadvantage in seeking employment. “Once you’ve been out of work for more than a year it gets harder,” he said, adding, “It’s sort of amazing how may people are in this position.”

All social service directors interviewed said that increased client need has coincided with stark government cutbacks, leaving the agencies strapped.

Services the agencies provide include emergency financial aid, food assistance (JFS of Bergen and North Hudson has a food pantry for clients of the agency), job counseling, access to job search networks, financial counseling, therapeutic counseling, and elder care management. JFS of North Jersey in Wayne, which also has an office in Fair Lawn, provides child therapy and parenting counseling, as well.

Sometimes the desperation—even among formerly middle class families—is overwhelming. Fedder said she has worked with “good decent middle class people [who] have [had] to make the choice…to feed their children, they’ll skip a meal.”

How to help

Local social service agency directors say they are in need of “gift cards” from food stores such as ShopRite or Stop & Shop, gas stations, and purveyors of other essentials. These items, or the money to buy them, may be donated to the agencies, which will give them to clients. For more information or to arrange a donation, write or call Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson, 1485 Teaneck Road, Teaneck, NJ 07666, (201) 837-9090; Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, One Pike Drive, Wayne, NJ 07470, (973) 595-0111; or Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. 256 Columbia Turnpike, Florham Park, NJ 07932, (973) 765-9050.

 
 
 
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