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Jewish agencies team up to offer internships

Even as the economy slowly recovers, many recent college grads are finding themselves unable to land jobs and are increasingly returning to the area to live at home.

UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey, the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, Jewish Family Service of Bergen County, and Jewish Family Service of North Jersey are teaming up to create an internship program to help these young adults through this transition from college to the working world.

The idea, said Rabbi Ely Allen, director of Hillel of North Jersey, part of UJA-NNJ, is to place these recent grads in programs in or related to their fields that could lead to permanent jobs.

“We’re going to be finding young people who have just graduated who could use something to do,” he said.

“Several months ago the JCC recognized that there was a whole group of people in our community that we never catered to — the post-college age group,” said Judi Nahary, director of Children & Teen Services at the JCC. “We’ve never provided programming for that age group because they never lived locally.”

Recent college graduates tend to move to New York City or other hubs but typically do not return to their hometowns — until a bad economy began limiting job opportunities for recent grads, Nahary explained.

“They’ve never been part of our community, and this was an opportunity for us to cater to them,” she said.

The internship network doesn’t have a name yet, but that is expected soon, along with a Website, according to Nahary. She said she hopes the database would be up and running within the next few weeks and people could then sign up for internships.

To date, internships have been arranged with the JCC, UJA-NNJ, the Arnold P. Gold Foundation in Englewood Cliffs, and Rampage/ECI in New York. Other programs are in the works as well, said Esther Mazor, director of Adult Services at the JCC.

Allen would like to see the internship network be the first step in reaching out to recent college grads. The Jewish communal world outside of major urban areas has done little for this age group, according to the rabbi. The federation’s Young Leadership Division, which shut down two years ago, was mainly a fund-raising tool rather than a social group, and nothing has taken its place, he added.

“Ultimately, there’s not too much for people in their 20s and early 30s to be doing around here,” he said. “We hope we can create a network for young Jewish people that can be a network not only for people to find employment, but … feel part of the Jewish community.”

Allen has looked to such programs as Moishe House — a national program that provides subsidized housing for Jews who run programs for other Jewish young adults — as an example of what’s missing in the area. The federation’s new youth emissary, Niva Kerzner, is looking to such organizations as Birthright Next, a follow-up to the popular Birthright Israel free trips, as a draw for college students and recent grads.

“We’re really missing this entire age group and we really need to do something to keep them in the Jewish community,” Allen said. “If we can identify people and have them socialize together and take it to the next level that would be amazing.”

For more information on the internship program, call Allen at (201) 820-3905.

 
 

Be prepared

Educators help freshmen advocate for Israel

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Hasbara has brought more than 1,800 students to its biannual training workshops in Israel and is on more than 250 campuses throughout the United States and Canada. Hasbara also provides a variety of options to help extend the knowledge about Israel on campus, through various training classes, film screenings, and speakers for student organizations.

Area teens heading to college may encounter anti-Israel and anti-Semitic attitudes and behavior there — and educators and youth leaders have ways to manage an often overwhelming experience.

“For freshman going to college, it can be a very surprising experience, especially if you come from a tight-knit Jewish community, or a Jewish school,” says Andrew Getraer, the executive director of Rutgers University Hillel in New Brunswick. “Most high school students have never had to deal with such a variety of opinions and events, especially ones that may directly challenge their own.”

Getraer notes that while recent news like that of the Gaza flotilla raid is hard for government officials and adults to digest or respond to, “imagine how hard it is for 18-year-olds to hear Israel attacked on their own campus, just as it’s attacked on television news channels.”

Student groups often sponsor events condemning Israel, as The Jewish Standard has reported. Israeli Apartheid Week, for example, was held for its sixth consecutive year in March, on many campuses. According to the IAW website, the goal of the event is to “educate people about the nature of Israel as an apartheid system and to build Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaigns as part of a growing global BDS movement.”

IAW often invites speakers who are known for their virulent anti-Israel sentiments and critiques. Michael Cohen, a Wayne resident who is entering his junior year at Boston University, said of a speech by Noam Chomsky, a persistent and harsh critic of Israel, during IAW at his campus, “Growing up in a relatively sheltered community that had a large Jewish presence, I never experienced anything like it. I was shocked.”

The most effective way to respond to such attacks, according to Lauren Krol, director of the Young Professionals of Hasbara Fellowships, is for students to learn, and for advocacy groups to educate them, “about Israel’s true nature, as a democracy and a peace-seeking nation.”

The organization, founded in 2001, aims to establish successful Israel advocacy on campuses throughout the United States and Canada. It provides information, fact sheets, and educational videos on its website, www.israelactivism.com.

IAW was a hot topic during Hasbara’s workshop last winter. Students taking it wondered why there wasn’t a more united response across campuses. The result, according to Krol, was “Israel Peace Week.” In 2010, this program made its way to more than 30 different schools.

Krol encourages supporters of Israel to keep in mind that “they are on the front line; they should use every opportunity they have to get across a positive image, and they must always remember the bigger picture.”

Rutgers’ Getraer explains that situations on some campuses are more difficult for Jewish students than others. “Any campus might have a wide range of opinions,” he says, “and some may be anti-Israel — this can be very upsetting or confusing for many students.”

At Rutgers, he says, students are encouraged to tell Hillel about hostility in their dorms, in class, or on campus, because it can help.

Another simple recommendation, he said: Pick a school with a Jewish community. “We have over 5,000 Jewish students,” Getraer says of Rutgers. “If students feel threatened, they always have a place to go.”

Northern New Jersey Hillel — part of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey — runs Jewish student clubs at Bergen Community College (Paramus), Fairleigh Dickinson University Metropolitan (Teaneck) Campus, Ramapo College of New Jersey (Mahwah), and William Paterson University (Wayne). Director Rabbi Ely Allen explains that these local campuses do engage in classroom discussion and debate, but that overall, organized events like IAW are not as great a problem as on other campuses.

Allen says that college students are “in much better shape [to respond to anti-Israel attacks] because of Israel advocacy organizations that are partnering with Hillel; there are more and more of those organizations, which is definitely a big plus, because we all need to work together.”

 
 

The families of Ovadia Mussaffi and Larry Krause mark one year after devastating storm

Remembering Shabbat with Ovadia

Susan Mussaffi honors her husband with Sephardi loaves

Ovadia Mussaffi lived for Shabbat.

Maybe that was because, six days a week, the hardworking businessman operated his midtown Manhattan clothing store well into the night.

Or maybe it was because the Israeli native didn’t discover Orthodox Judaism until adulthood, when he grew passionate about Jewish observance.

Or perhaps the father of four simply treasured every moment spent with his wife and children. And Shabbat — with its freedom from electronic devices, and all forms of work — offered hours of quality time.

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Ovadia Mussaffi felt joy in Judaism. Courtesy Mussaffi Family

Friday nights, as Mussaffi returned home from the synagogue near his Teaneck home, he would burst through the front door singing “Shabbat Shalom” in a rich baritone voice that elicited smiles from every corner.

“He’d walk in so happy,” recalled his wife Susan with a faint smile. “Shabbat with Ovadia was always filled with a lot of love and joy.”

March 13 will mark the one-year anniversary since the 52-year-old celebrated his final Shabbat. His brief but full life was cut short during a violent nor’easter when a 50-foot oak tree fell, striking him and a neighbor, Larry Krause, as they returned home from Saturday evening services.

In the months since, much has changed in the Mussaffi household. Most of all, Shabbat seemed to have lost its joy.

Some Friday nights, Susan Mussaffi and her four young children sat at the dinner table fighting tears as they stared at the empty chair where their husband and father had sung Shabbat z’mirot (songs) weeks earlier. Other weeks, she was so lost in her grief, her children had to remind her to light the Shabbat candles.

Yavneh basketball tournament to launch memorial scholarship

Among the programs scheduled to commemorate the yahrzeit of Ovadia Mussaffi, Yavneh Academy in Paramus, together with the Mussaffi family, is organizing a three-on-three basketball tournament at the school on April 10 to raise money for a scholarship fund in his memory. Also, said Rabbi Steven Penn, assistant principal for Jewish studies, “each year we will bring a speaker to talk about Sephardic customs to the students around his yahrzeit. Teaching about the richness of the Sephardic culture was very important to him. I remember when Ovadia spoke to the fourth grade at our Siyum Sefer Beresheet. We borrowed a Sephardic sefer Torah from a family and he showed all the children the beauty of many Sephardic religious items and customs. Ovadia took off from work in the middle of the day for this program. When I asked him what time would work best for him he said, ‘I will work around your schedule. Teaching children about the beauty of their heritage is the most important job I can do.’”

For more information, or to become a sponsor and/or a volunteer to help out the day of the games, call Penn at (201) 262-8494.

DYF

“He was the most amazing husband [and] father to our children; he was my best friend and the love of my life,” Mussaffi said.

As she floundered in sadness, she wondered how she could preserve the memory of her soulmate, father to her children, and friend of countless souls around the globe.

Mussaffi, who left her Wall Street career years ago to care for her young children, also pondered how she would support her family.

She found an answer to the questions in a single concept, as she transformed her love of cooking into a business venture. Her creation, Motzi Challah, arrived last month on shop shelves throughout the New York/New Jersey area. Motzi Challahs are handmade gourmet breads that come in an array of Sephardic infused flavors, including Israeli Olives and Za’atar, Pumpkin and Spices, Sun-Dried Tomato, and Pepper and Basil Challah.

“Motzi” on the label is a play on words: It was taken from the blessing recited over bread (“Motzi” means “bring forth” in Hebrew) but “Motzi” was also her husband’s nickname — Mutzi, short for Mussaffi.

Sold at local kosher groceries around Bergen County, Motzi has just rolled out at Shoprite, Supersol, Brachs, and West Side Kosher, and there are plans to expand the line, said Susan Mussaffi.

Motzi Challahs are flying off the shelves at Glatt Express in Teaneck, said owner Tammy Secemski. “It’s a delicious gourmet challah that dresses up any Shabbos table,” she said.

Sheryl Krantz of Teaneck, who along with her husband and children was a frequent guest at the Mussaffi home, called Motzi an apt tribute to a Jew who filled every Shabbat with an infectious joy and hospitality. “If you were walking by his house on a Friday night, Ovadia would run out and say ‘Come in for dinner, we’d be honored to have you,’” recalled Krantz. “He was very inviting and welcoming — he relished having a lot of family and guests in his home.”

Susan Mussaffi said she feels blessed to have created a business that is both meaningful and successful. “I feel like all of this is happening because I have guardian angels guiding me,” she said.

Among those angels, she said, were the proprietors of Bagels-N-More, who offered to help her in any way. Motzi is made in conjunction with Bagels-N-More as a result of their generosity, Mussaffi said.

While her family is of Eastern European descent, she was inspired to create the original flavors because her husband, who came from a Sephardic background, loved Sephardic food. “When we got married, he taught me how to cook Sephardic dishes, and I became interested in Sephardic cooking because I wanted to help preserve his heritage,” she said.

She is grateful to have found a way to make something beautiful come out her anguish.

“I was worried that my family would never again be happy on Shabbat, so I created something to make everyone’s Shabbat more joyous,” she said. “Every challah has a blessing for Ovadia and, with every blessing we make over the challah, his neshama gets higher and higher.”

Ovadia Mussaffi grew up in the Israeli city of Ramat Gan with parents who emigrated from Baghdad. He served in the Israeli air force for 10 years and then decided to try his hand in business. He arrived in America 20 years ago with a small wad of cash and boundless optimism.

He opened a fur and leather store in Manhattan, and Susan — then Susan Lazar — who worked nearby, repeatedly found excuses to stroll into the store to chat with the handsome storeowner. Finally, she summoned the courage to ask him out. She fell in love with him on their first date, she said. They married about a year later.

After his parents died, Mussaffi recited the Kaddish for them faithfully, although he was not particularly observant at the time. He never missed a minyan, and continued attending synagogue services after the year of mourning was over. He felt drawn to synagogue services, said his wife, and to greater observance of mitzvot.

When he decided to take on Shabbat, his wife, who was not Sabbath-observant at the time, embraced it wholeheartedly. “I was thrilled because it meant an entire day that I could have him all to myself,” she said.

They opted to settle in Teaneck after spending a weekend with friends there. “We walked down the street on Shabbat and so many people were saying ‘Shabbat Shalom,’ Ovadia loved it. He felt like he was in Israel,” she recalled.

When he returned home from a long day of work, Mussaffi rarely sat down to relax or watch television. Instead, he helped the children with their homework and then ran to Shaarei Orah, Teaneck’s Sephardic synagogue, where he served as president for six years.

“It was HaShem and family first,” Susan Mussaffi said, adding that he would never leave in the morning until he had kissed the children goodbye. “Those were the things that were of priority to him, so that was how he lived his entire life. It was who he was.”

Leaders and members of the tightly knit synagogue say they still feel the pain of losing the man whom many called their “best friend.”

Rabbi Ely Allen, Shaarei Orah’s rabbi emeritus, described Ovadia Mussaffi as a warm soul who helped make the synagogue the kind of place where people wanted to go. “There wasn’t anybody that walked in without a personal greeting from Ovadia,” Allen said. “There wasn’t ever an opportunity to do something nice for someone that he missed. He was one of the warmest people I knew.”

Rabbi Howard Jachter, the religious leader of the congregation, added that Mussaffi used to take it upon himself to bring other people to the daily minyan to ensure it had the necessary quorum of ten men, not an easy feat for a small congregation. “Now it takes three people to do the work that Ovadia did all by himself,” he said. “It’s a testimony to him…. He brought such a positive vibe to the congregation,” Jachter said. “Losing him was an enormous blow, and we still feel it.”

But it is on Shabbat when Mussaffi’s absence is felt most acutely, because that was clearly his day.

“Ovadia had a very special shine on his face on Shabbat,” said Jachter. “He had an extra-wide smile and wore very beautiful clothing for Shabbat. His honor and joy for Shabbat was evident to everyone.”

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Susan Mussaffi displays her challah creations. Courtesy Susan Mussaffi
 
 

Back to school

Hillel’s hardworking honcho

Serving four campuses while standing on one foot

When Ely Allen was a student at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a Chabad Lubavitch rabbi asked him to help recruit students for Jewish events on campus.

“Why would I want to do that?” asked Allen. He had grown up in a traditional Jewish home. His parents, originally from Egypt, had met in Jersey City. After 12 years of Orthodox day schools, “I was sick of it. I didn’t want to be observant any more. I didn’t want to be Jewish any more.”

The Chabad rabbi and his colleagues persevered. “Through their kindness and teaching, I became re-observant,” he recalls.

Now, it is Allen who brings Judaism, kindness, and teaching to the FDU Teaneck campus — as well as those of William Paterson University, Bergen Community College (BCC), and Ramapo College of New Jersey — in his capacity as the director, and only staffer, of the Hillel of Northern New Jersey.

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Rabbi Ely Allen

Allen is beginning his 11th year in that position. Since his undergraduate days, he has studied in Israel; taught for nearly two decades at the Bergen County High School of Jewish Studies; led services at the Sephardic minyan in Englewood; and studied at Yeshiva University, where he received rabbinic ordination.

“I think he’s awesome,” says Melissa Brown, who graduated from William Paterson University, where she served as as Hillel treasurer. A native of Parsippany, she majored in business and marketing, with a minor in studio art. She is starting work as a nursery school teacher at the Glen Rock Jewish Center.

“He’s very relatable. He doesn’t push, he just lets you go at your own pace,” she says of his approach to Judaism.

Four campuses keep Allen busy. He tries to visit each one each week, one day per campus.

All told, he estimates that the four schools have 2,000 Jewish students. “There are a thousand at BCC, but the majority are working full time. We’re in touch with about 400 to 500 students between e-mails and Facebook groups, and the students I’m in touch with,” he says.

That’s a fraction of that of Rutgers. Rutgers Hillel, however, has a full staff, including rabbis and fundraisers and program officers, and a building. Allen has only himself and an office at the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. The federation provides the bulk of his funding; many area rabbis chip in as well. And he is working to build a board of supporters.

A few years back, the national Hillel office stopped its annual $13,000 contribution to Allen’s program. That forced him to cut back on large, multi-campus events such as a Matisyahu concert at the YJCC.

“The biggest challenges we have are money and resources,” says Lauri Bader, co-chair of the federation’s Hillel committee. “Ely runs his programs on four campuses on a shoestring budget. He does the best he can with the money he has, but he’s very limited.”

Allen’s limits in time and staff do not extend to his personal commitment. “We try to create unique meaningful Jewish experiences for each student. We try to cater to the needs of each individual,” he says.

One of the highlights of the Hillel calendar, according to students, are the monthly shabbatons he hosts at his Bergenfield home, where he hosts dozens of students for Sabbath services and meals.

Hillel brings students into the community, drawing in volunteers monthly to work with the Yachad program for people with special needs. It brings volunteers to help with federation’s Super Sunday phonathon. And it holds Sukkah and Passover programs with the elderly.

Then there are the programs on campus.

Michael Chananie is entering his senior year at Ramapo College and is co-president of the school’s Hillel chapter. He is proud of expanding the Shabbat dinner program on campus. “Last year we had it about once month. This year, we’re going to have a lot more,” he said.

The dinners attract 15 to 20 students, Chananie said.

The Hillel programs have brought Rabbi Joel Mosbacher from nearby Cong. Beth Haverim Shir Shalom to campus. They have sponsored programs with the college’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. And they have had events such as a cupcake decorating contest, where Allen brought in cupcakes and the students were challenged to decorate them Jewishly.

To recruit students, “We do club fairs, have posters around campus, we reach out on Facebook,” said Chananie.

The Ramapo student is happy with the results of his Hillel involvement. “I met a lot of new people. I made a lot of friends. I met my girlfriend.

“I got my Birthright trip to Israel through the organization. It’s been a chance for leadership experience as well,” he said.

As for Allen, he loves his job.

“It’s a very fulfilling place for me. That I can really help someone out every day, inspire someone who needs help. I have a lot of gratitude to God and all the people that help out that I’m able to do something meaningful every day.”

 
 
 
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