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A website for deeds of kindness

Local activist launches online effort to spur volunteerism

 
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As a community activist and volunteer around Bergen County, Ariella Steinreich often found herself fielding calls from acquaintances and friends seeking ideas for chesed projects. “Chesed,” loosely translated, refers to acts of kindness.

“People would say, ‘I have a kid being bat mitzvahed and you have your pulse on volunteer opportunities. What can she do?’”

As the former community service coordinator of Ma’ayanot High School in Teaneck and a board member of several organizations, including the Jewish Association for the Developmentally Disabled, 22-year-old Steinreich is acutely familiar with the ins and outs of community volunteer work. Last year, she founded the “Pay it Forward” program, which pairs high-schoolers with younger students so they can serve as mentors and help with schoolwork.

The idealist in her, however, wanted to connect more people to volunteer work and, she said, “to bring chesed to the forefront.”

To that end, she created a one-stop resource for area chesed projects and opportunities. The website, called “allchesed.com,” is a clearinghouse for volunteer opportunities geared towards adults and children who want to help others and give back. Allchesed.com provides information about volunteer opportunities at hospitals, schools, and organizations and lists opportunities to help the developmentally disabled, the poor, cancer victims, the blind, and just about anyone else who can use a helping hand.

“The website is a fun and easy way to find new volunteer opportunities within the community, to help volunteers find the leader within themselves,” she said.

“Some people are nervous about going to a hospital, or a nursing home. This makes it simple to find other options,” she said.

The site also contains a Google calendar with daily community chesed events. Steinreich said she already has items to list through March and is hoping for more.

The website brings the user to various categories and is easy for adults and children to navigate, she said, noting that she created it to be as user-friendly as possible.

The site, which is free of charge and does not contain ads, has generated a lot of positive feedback since it was launched recently. Thus far, more than 250 people have used the site, and many have signed up to receive the weekly e-mail containing information about upcoming chesed opportunities, she said.

Teaneck resident Betty Moheban first visited the site when looking for a way to volunteer and came away impressed. “It addresses a prevalent need in the community by uniting those who wish to volunteer,” Moheban said, adding that she found it easy to use. “It offers a wealth of information regarding various volunteer opportunities…and the monthly volunteer calendar is a convenient tool that enables volunteers to clearly view the opportunities that fit into their individual schedules.”

Steinreich said she hopes more organizations will hear about the site and contact her to have their information displayed so that more groups can be included. The site already includes links to various organizations and provides contact information enabling people to become involved with just a mouse click or phone call. The website features opportunities that allow volunteers to step forward at the spur of the moment — such as blood drives, walkathons, or hospital visits — or to become involved in long-term projects that are appropriate for b’nai mitzvah candidates, she said.

The listed organizations come from Jewish and non-Jewish backgrounds, including some that are well established and others that are newer.

“This is a one-stop shop with no political allegiances. It’s a launching pad for chesed that bridges the gap. There’s Orthodox, non-affiliated, and non-Jewish groups,” said Steinreich.

“Chesed is one of these things that affects everybody. It’s not as if only a certain group of people need the chesed or need to do the chesed,” she said. Recalling that her parents’ generation “was all about rallying for things such as Soviet Jewry,” she noted that her peers are the volunteer generation and should be exposed to different ways they can contribute to the world.

“Chesed is something that is not based on intellectual ability; everyone can make an impact on their community using their talents. It enables everyone to become a leader,” she said. No matter what your skills, you can find an organization or opportunity where you can have an impact, she said.

One exciting feature is a page that provides ideas for travelers to Israel who are searching for volunteer opportunities there, she said.

Steinreich, who recently started working at a public relations firm, paid for the site herself and does weekly updates to the pages. “It was my way of giving back and doing chesed for my community,” she said. “I’m targeting my own community and hope this concept extends to other communities. I want this to grow.”

For now, however, she is content to get the conversation about chesed flowing.

 
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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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