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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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Not just blah-blah-blah and pizza

Mahwah shul develops programming for pre- and post-b’nai mitzvah kids

So now there’s a how-to-write-a-blessing class. “The parents are really appreciative,” Rabbi Mosbacher said.

“I used to meet with b’nai mitzvah kids and their families twice,” he added. “Now we meet seven times in the course of a year. The last one is right before the bar mitzvah. Now I’m thinking the last one should be after the bar mitzvah. It’s a lot of time on my part, but it’s time well spent in developing a relationship with the kids and with the families.”

While these efforts are designed to connect children and their families to the congregation before the bar or bat mitzvah, the synagogue also has changed its post-b’nai mitzvah connections to the children.

 

Reworded interdating rules sow confusion, controversy

United Synagogue Youth convention may have eased standard … or not

What’s in a name — or a word?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Take the word “refrain,” for example.

At its annual international convention in Atlanta this week, some 750 members of United Synagogue Youth voted to change some of the wording in the organization’s standards for international and regional leaders.

Most of the changes are clear, easily understood, and warmly welcomed. For example, the group added provisions relating to bullying and lashon hara — gossiping. Leaders should have “zero tolerance” for such behavior, the standards say.

 

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.”

 

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A school grows in Englewood

Moriah, first local Jewish day school, celebrates turning fifty

It was 1971, and Dr. Norman Sohn was finishing his training in Boston. He and his wife, Judith, were faced with a decision. Where would they go next? Where would they settle down?

As a newly fledged surgeon, the world was open to him. He could get a job almost anywhere. He was originally from Manhattan, and his wife was from New Rochelle, so the New York metropolitan area made sense to them.

They knew they wanted a yeshiva education for their children — Dr. Sohn had gone to the Rabbi Jacob Joseph School on Henry Street in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, a school that combined religious and secular studies in a way that was progressive for its time — and they also wanted the luxury of choice. They didn’t want a one-school city, as Hartford and even Boston were at the time. “What really attracted me was the multiplicity of neighborhoods that were hospitable to Orthodox people,” Dr. Sohn said. “But here there were so many that if one didn’t work out, there was another.”

 

Sounds of joy

Children’s choir ranked number one by congregation

Perhaps if Tzipporei Shalom’s music were to be reviewed by a professional critic, the word “wow” might not find its way into the finished product. But to the congregants of Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck — home to the children’s choir — the word seems just about right.

“It was the top-rated program in two synagogue surveys,” said Ronit Hanan, the shul’s musical director, who co-founded and co-directs the group with congregant Adina Avery-Grossman.

The a capella singing group has appeared with Safam, recorded a selection on a CD with the noted chazzan Netanel Hershtik, sung with Neil Sedaka, and joined with the synagogue’s adult choir, Tavim, on special occasions, most recently at CBS’s recent Shabbaton. They also participate in an annual community-wide junior choir festival together with choirs from local Reform congregations.

 

Affordable BRCA screening available for all Ashkenazi Jews

A new program at Yeshiva University’s Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in the Bronx is offering affordable genetic testing for the Ashkenazi Jewish BRCA cancer mutations.

Anyone who is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, with at least one Ashkenazi Jewish grandparent, is eligible for the testing for a modest fee of $100.

For many years the recommendations to test for the gene were based on family or personal history of breast or ovarian cancer. But a research study recently revealed that in the Ashkenazi Jewish population, the risk of harboring BRCA cancer genes is high whether or not there is a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

One in forty Ashkenazi Jews carry genetic glitches in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that elevate the risk of breast and ovarian cancer to as high as 80 percent by the time they are 80 years old. In fact, the landmark study of randomly selected Ashkenazi Jewish men in Israel found that “51 percent of families…harboring BRCA1 or BRCA1 mutations had little or no history of relevant cancer.”

 
 
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