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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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A rabbi hasn’t walked into the bar ... yet

It’s not every day that a liquor license comes up for sale in Teaneck. (State licensing laws limit the number of licenses in a formula based on a town’s population.)

So when Jonathan Gellis heard that the owner of Vinny O’s in Teaneck was looking to sell the establishment, including the license, after 28 years behind the bar, he realized that only one of the more than 20 kosher restaurants in Teaneck could sell alcohol.

That seemed to be an opportunity.

Mr. Gellis is a stockbroker by day. He’s used to working in a regulated business — and the alcohol business in New Jersey is highly regulated.

Mr. Gellis grew up in Teaneck; his parents moved the family here from Brooklyn in 1975, back when the town had only one kosher restaurant. His four children attend Yeshivat Noam and the Frisch School, and he serves on the board of both institutions. He also is president of Congregation Keter Torah.

 

Where greatness lies

A memorial to Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

On July 3, 5 Tammuz, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi died. He was 89.

He inspired tens of thousands of people directly — and indirectly he inspired millions more, people who have yet to discover that the spiritual approaches they hold dear were invented and graciously shared by him.

Reb Zalman was prodigiously influential over many decades, but he was not proportionately famous. He was not always given credit for his vast learning or for his astonishing array of contributions. And he was okay with that.

The first time I saw Reb Zalman, he was on the bimah of an auditorium that held 2,000 people. His face beamed love at the congregation. I had been leading another High Holiday service, and I was able to join his congregation for the last few minutes of Rosh Hashanah morning.

 

Paying it forward

Remembering Gabby Reuveni’s generous spirit

Just a glance at the web page created in memory of Gabby Reuveni of Paramus gives some indication of the number of people she touched and — through the ongoing efforts of her family — she continues to touch.

Killed two years ago in Pennsylvania by a driver who swerved onto the shoulder of the road, where she was running, Gabby, who was 20, was “an extremely aware and kind person,” her mother, Jacqueline Reuveni, said. “We’re continuing her legacy.”

The family has undertaken both public and private “acts of kindness,” she said, from endowing scholarships to meeting local families’ medical bills.

According to her father, Michael Reuveni, Gabby — then a student at Washington University in St. Louis and a member of the school’s track team — was a victim of vehicular homicide.

 

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Lessons from the Shoah

Interactive program uses testimonies to give Schechter students a new understanding

“The evil that men do lives after them;
The good is oft interred with their bones.”

Is there any way to turn that around? To make any miniscule amount of good come out of great evil?

The Holocaust as living memory soon will flicker out. Survivors who can tell their stories are growing old. Soon it will be just images, photographs, videos, written and spoken words.

The Holocaust was pure evil, the unleashing of the worst human fears and instincts. There was nothing at all good about it. But in a soul-affirming act of reversal, it now is possible, almost 70 years after it ended, to use it to teach students how to become better people.

The first steps in that process are never to forget it, to honor its victims, and to listen to its survivors.

 

Hands-on learning for local rabbis

Jerusalem’s Hartman Institute teaches about war as rockets fall

If local rabbis attend the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem to take advantage of what Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner calls “great learning and great people,” this year they got more than they bargained for.

Rabbi Kirshner, religious leader of Temple Emanu-El in Closter, who this year spent his fifth summer at Hartman, said that “ironically, the topic was war and peace in Jewish texts. Little did we know it would be so relevant.

“A lot of rabbis in the diaspora talk about Israel from a distance,” he said. “But to be there, to attend the funerals of the three boys” — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, whose abduction and murder were the catalyst for the ongoing situation in Israel and Gaza — “to be familiar with bomb shelters,” makes a big difference.

 

‘It’s a communal responsibility’

The sages say that before a Jewish community builds a synagogue or buys a Torah, it should build a mikvah, the ritual bath used to observe laws of family purity and complete conversions.

The Teaneck mikvah on Windsor Road, next to Temple Emeth, was built in the 1970s, and the township’s mikvah association opened a second ritual bath this spring. Set across the street from the Jewish Center of Teaneck, it is positioned to better serve families on the south side of town. The two mikvaot serve about 1,000 people each month, but rely solely on donations to cover operating costs. Now, many of Teaneck’s Orthodox synagogues are creating a new kehilla fund fee in their membership dues to help support the mikvah.

“Certain things are communal responsibilities,” said Michael Rogovin, president of Teaneck’s Netivot Shalom. “The eruv and the mivkah are really critical to our functioning as an Orthodox community.”

 
 
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