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entries tagged with: Jewish Family Service Of North Jersey


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.


Giving back by helping out

Pro bono program takes off in Bergen County

Lisa Fedder, left, Alice Blass, Joy Kurland, and Leah Kaufman
table class="caption">image David Siegel, left, and David Giller
Lori Sackler, left, Alan Sotnick, and Stan Goldberg

“People are really struggling,” said Lisa Fedder, director of Jewish Family Service of Bergen County and North Hudson. There are “80-year-olds looking for jobs as receptionists. It’s awful.”

That’s why, when UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey convened its economic crisis meeting in October 2008, organization leaders realized that not only must an economic action plan help increasingly strapped community agencies, but that help must filter down directly to individuals.

That’s why, when UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey convened its economic crisis meeting in October 2008, organization leaders realized that not only must an economic action plan help increasingly strapped community agencies, but that help must filter down directly to individuals.

“We knew that agencies, schools, and synagogues were seriously affected by the economic downturn,” said Alice Blass, volunteer coordinator for the Jewish Community Relations Council. But there was also a clear need for emergency financial assistance and pro bono services.

The call for a pro bono network obviously struck a chord.

“Professionals stepped forward,” said Blass, reeling off a list of volunteer service-providers. Some were recruited through the federation’s Commerce & Professionals arm and Physicians & Dentists division; others came forward on their own.

“We spoke with JFS about the specific types of pro bono assistance they could use,” said Blass, noting that landlord-tenant relations, credit management, bankruptcy, and medical issues were most frequently mentioned.

Some 70 professionals — including accountants, dentists, financial experts, lawyers, funeral directors, and mohels — now participate in the pro bono project, said Blass. There is even a hairdresser, to help people preparing for employment interviews. It is up to JFS to screen the clients who may need pro bono assistance, said Blass, adding that “it’s their call; whatever the needs are.”

Jewish Community Relations Council Director Joy Kurland pointed out that when key federation and JCRC leadership discussed the economic downturn, it was realized that “the need was greater than what agencies could provide in terms of human resources.”

Requests for volunteers drew a wide response and the list “kept growing,” she said.

“I haven’t seen this kind of program — the way we’ve done it in northern New Jersey — anywhere else,” she said. “The JCRC was the point of entry in dealing with the economic crisis, and the pro bono network was created with the campaign divisions that handled the professionals. In other places, JFS agencies handle it themselves.”

“Perhaps because the economic crisis was a local emergency, unlike Haiti or Katrina or the tsunami, we had to approach it differently,” said Alan Scharfstein, UJA NNJ president. “We learned that it’s only when the community acts together as a whole, with federation as the convener and the key agencies as partners, that we can come up with solutions on how to deal with it. The idea of the pro bono network resonated widely and immediately throughout the community and was implemented quickly.”

“The decision was made to fully support the pro bono network and commit staff hours to the running of it,” said UJA-NNJ’s executive vice president Howard Charish. “What’s more, our Commerce & Professionals Division was a natural partner….Its members stepped up to volunteer their services.”

According to Kurland, “We also wanted to take care of the caregivers. We’re concerned about their health as well.” As a result, the pro bono network includes a professional masseuse who offers her services to clinical social workers at JFS.

Leah Kaufman, director of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, said her agency has been referring people to pro bono professionals “mostly for legal and financial issues.” According to Kaufman, clients especially need assistance with bankruptcy issues and credit card debt.

“Some need assistance trying to figure out their budgets,” she said. “There are major lifestyle changes that clients are having difficulty adjusting to. They’re in a position they never thought they’d have to be in.”

Some clients, she said, were from middle- and upper-middle-class families, previously earning six-figure incomes.

“Now they find themselves on the verge of losing their homes.”

The agency used more than a dozen pro bono professionals in the past year, she said, whether referring clients directly or calling the professionals on their clients’ behalf.

As for her own clinical staff, “We took advantage of a hand masseuse who came here several months ago. It was a treat for the staff. We had to twist ourselves into a pretzel to find the time.”

Kaufman said she thinks the pro bono program is “a wonderful resource for us and I would like to see it continue.”

So would Fedder. “It’s been a fabulous boost to families in need,” she said, noting that her agency has referred clients for dental and medical problems as well as for financial concerns.

“We also have somebody offering haircuts,” she said, adding that the service was provided to an elderly woman who can no longer take care of herself.

Fedder pointed out that the two JFS agencies screen clients before referring them “so we don’t take advantage of the kindness of strangers. It’s a huge mitzvah these people are doing.”

The volunteers

The professionals in the pro bono network are a mixed lot, but all who were interviewed told The Jewish Standard that they are driven by a feeling of communal responsibility and a desire to “give back.”

David Siegel, who reached out to JFS and offered his services, helps clients with bankruptcy issues and debt settlement.

The Teaneck resident said that “a lot of people out there have problems and they don’t know how, or that they can, address them. They feel stigmatized by the idea of bankruptcy. But you can get your life back on track.”

A business insurance specialist based in New York, Siegel has already spoken with about a dozen people referred by JFS, either “offering some advice on what they can do on their own or referring them to a bankruptcy attorney.”

“The greatest need is for loan modifications,” he said. “It’s becoming very difficult; banks are making it very difficult to get modifications approved.”

He noted that people can go to to get the name of an organization, paid by the government, that does this work for free.

“You don’t need to pay an attorney for that; there’s stuff they can do on their own,” he said. “I guide people toward that.”

Siegel said he has put together a brochure that he has distributed through TeaneckShuls, among other outlets. Describing it as “a short booklet that will give you the basics on topics relating to settling various forms of debt, without the need for an attorney,” it covers issues such as second mortgages, credit cards, loan modifications (of first mortgages), student loans, and bankruptcy.

“I have been frustrated at the lack of media coverage on this issue,” said Siegel, pointing out that the Orthodox Union has held several “webinars” on the subject, which people can access in the archives section of the group’s Website,

Siegel said that “the gamut of people we’re seeing is pretty wide. We’re seeing those we didn’t expect to. The banks are causing this to continue and to drag out,” he said, since people who could otherwise make deals and modify their loans may now need to file for bankruptcy.

Pointing out the “sad toll” that economic problems can cause, Siegel said that “one client filed for bankruptcy, and his wife filed for divorce. I’ve had to be a bit of a marriage counselor.”

On the other hand, he believes people are becoming more reasonable.

“They’re becoming more realistic with expenses and doing what they can to live within their means. They’re trying to learn from difficult situations.”

David Giller has been reaching out to various charities in Bergen County “to work with them and help them out.”

The Bergenfield resident, an attorney based in Hackensack, said he has spoken with about 30 pro bono clients over the past year, many referred by Project Ezra.

A typical presenting problem “is a person married and in dire financial straits,” with credit card debt, auto loans, personal loans, possibly taken out for business purposes, and a mortgage.

“They’re struggling to find out how to make things work,” he said. “They might just have been getting by for a while and then their industry wasn’t doing well or their spouse got laid off or developed a medical condition.”

“It snowballed,” he said. “I’ve seen many variations of that story. A couple of years ago they were getting by. They’re not people who just went crazy with credit cards.”

Giller said he has seen this story unfold for people of all professions and in all industries.

He has also seen the marital stress that results from these problems.

“I try to help guide them through the cumbersome, time-consuming legal process,” he said, adding that when he’s done, he has sometimes “eliminated several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of debt. It’s incredibly rewarding.”

“What better way to reach out to people hurting the most, and [do it] within my own community?” he asked, noting that he has also approached various organizations offering to speak on budgeting and money management.

“It’s a way of giving tzedakah without being able to write a big check,” he said.

Tenafly resident Lori Sackler, first vice president/senior investment management consultant at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, stressed that while she has been speaking with individuals referred by JFS, “I’m not giving tax or legal advice.”

Sackler said the issues she encounters are typically the result of people losing their jobs or having significantly reduced income because business is off. They may also be overleveraged, affected by changing interest rates and no longer able to afford their mortgages.

“Typically, we talk about their budgets,” she said, noting that “there’s not a lot I can do, but I can counsel them about looking for part-time work, changing jobs, or consolidating their debt.”

Sackler may also suggest that they speak with their banks to make sure that they’re taking advantage of all options available under the government’s debt-relief program.

So far, she said, she has not been surprised by anything she has seen.

“It’s a reminder that this is happening all around us, not just on the news,” she said. “It’s good for people to talk to professionals, and I hope that more people will do pro bono work. It allows people a forum to speak openly about their economic problems.”

Reverse mortgage consultant Alan Sotnick was prompted to offer pro bono services by Rabbi Neal Borovitz, religious leader of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge. “I’ve been doing it for less than a year and have spoken with three people so far,” said Sotnick. “I thought it was time to give back.”

He said that generally, the people he speaks to have incomplete information, or even misinformation, about their situation, often gleaned from well-meaning friends.

“They talk to friends and relatives who are trying to give good advice but aren’t so knowledgeable,” he said.

The Hillsdale resident said he has seen people from all different professions who are in financial trouble “through no fault of their own.”

“Unfortunately, the problem also affects people of all ages,” he added, noting that he has done volunteer work with the elderly, driving a seniors van in his community after he sold his company four years ago.

The Kaplen JCC on the Palisades is also reaching out to those in need, offering free “Coping with Unemployment” seminars led by Fort Lee resident Stan Goldberg, past president of Fortune Personnel Consultants.

Goldberg, who answers questions about writing résumés and preparing for the interview process, said he thought “giving to the community” would be an appropriate way to deal with the recent loss of his wife.

According to Goldberg, his seminars, which will be offered until March 18, recognize not only that many are unemployed but that others “anticipate being laid off.”

Goldberg said he is interested in creating other forums where people who are out of work “and don’t know what to do with themselves” can meet to talk and network. “It’s nice being able to talk,” he said. “You stay motivated.”

The economic crisis was not a surprise, said Goldberg, a longtime expert in the employment industry. Still, he said, while “we’d been through [similar] situations before this, they were not as bad.” Nor does he think there will be much improvement in the short term.

“People have to be realistic and see if their skills are transferable, or they have to further and enhance their education in areas where there may be job opportunities in the future, doing research on [which] sectors will get better.” Still, he said, “No one has a crystal ball; it becomes a guessing game.”

Goldberg said his seminars are customized to address participants’ individual problems. For example, he said, he may suggest that if someone has gone on five or six unsuccessful interviews, “he may have to start looking to see what has to change. Maybe he’s not dressing correctly, or he’s antagonistic or bitter. A lot of it is chemistry. Employers are looking for someone to join a team.”

In the meantime, JFS-Bergen’s Fedder believes that the pro bono program should continue when the recession ends, since “the needs of the community won’t decrease in the short term.”

“There are kids in their early 20s with no real experience who can’t get their first job; and those 50-plus who won’t get a new job at the same level or with benefits. The recession may end ‘by the book’ but not in the lives of the people we are serving.”


JFS focuses on Jewish men in interfaith relationships

Effort is funded by Berrie Innovation Grant

The challenges facing interfaith families are more than just deciding between church and Chinese food on Christmas day. Often, the Jewish partner doesn’t have the answers to his or her spouse’s questions, and Judaism can disappear from the home because of that.

The Jewish Outreach Institute is partnering with Jewish Family Service of North Jersey to launch “How Should I Know?” geared toward Jewish men in interfaith relationships. The three-session program, which will begin in October at the YM-YWHA of North Jersey in Wayne, is meant to strengthen both partners’ knowledge of Judaism and spur them to create a Jewish home, organizers said.

“It’s focused on the assumption that Jewish partners in interfaith relationships have all of the answers to their non-Jewish partners’ questions,” said Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, director of the Manhattan-based JOI. “That’s an erroneous assumption. What this program does is help the Jewish partner prepare to answer the questions that their non-Jewish partner would have about basic Judaism.”

“How Should I Know?” is meant to empower Jewish men in interfaith relationships, says Leah Kaufman, executive director of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey. Courtesy JFS of North Jersey

The sessions will include discussion on why be Jewish, how to create a Jewish home, how to articulate to a non-Jewish spouse the desire to create a Jewish home, how to handle lifecycle events, and how to address holidays — both Jewish and non-Jewish.

“Traditionally women tend to be the ones to focus on the religious aspects within the home,” said Leah Kaufman, director of JFS of North Jersey. “Through this JOI initiative we’re helping men find their own voices and be able to articulate what they would like to see.”

JFS held an outreach program in Fair Lawn last year for parents of adult intermarried children. That program attracted 15 participants and more on a waiting list. Kaufman isn’t sure what kind of response the JOI program will receive but she is hopeful

“We felt through JFS we can provide Jewish men who are in these interfaith relationships with the education and support they need, provide them with some tools, and help them navigate the issues that obviously come up with interfaith marriages,” Kaufman said.

JOI received a Berrie Innovation Grant last year from the Berrie Fellows Network, sponsored by the Russell Berrie Foundation, that went toward development of its “For the Men” initiative, targeting men in interfaith marriages. In addition to “How Should I Know?” the initiative includes “The Nuts and Bolts of Raising Jewish Children,” with such topics as becoming a Jewish role model, holiday and lifecycle celebrations, and how to answer questions about life, death, and God.

Earlier this year, JOI held a pilot program of “How Should I Know?” in Indianapolis, Ind., which received positive feedback, according to Olitzky. If the Wayne pilot is successful, JOI will circulate the program nationwide.

“Our goal is always to provide low-barrier access to programming, particularly for those interfaith families but also for those unengaged by the Jewish community in general,” Olitzky said. “This is a reflection of the increasing openness that the Jewish community is showing to interfaith families, and I welcome that change in attitude and approach.”

JFS hopes to repeat the program if it is successful, according to Kaufman. Because of the Berrie Grant there is no charge to participants for the pilot program. If JOI cannot provide funding for future programs, JFS will continue the program on its own, Kaufman said.

“We’re just very excited to be able to partner with JOI, especially on this new initiative,” she said. “There is a need for it in the community and I hope this will be successful.”

For more information on “How Should I Know?” call Jewish Family Service of North Jersey at (973) 595-0111. For more information on “How Should I Know?” call Jewish Family Service of North Jersey at (973) 595-0111.


UJA-NNJ’s Mitzvah Day opens window to year-round event

When Orette Vaziri offered to provide free services to needy clients of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey during Mitzvah Day Nov. 7, she had no idea how the experience would affect her in such a profound way.

She was so moved by the stories she heard that the very next morning, the owner of Salon Gisu in Wayne called the American Cancer Society and Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in Manhattan to offer cuts and blow-dries every Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. to cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy.

Both the American Cancer Society and Memorial Sloan Kettering loved the idea, she said, and had never been approached in that context. Plans are to get the program up and running come January.

“When you hear other people’s tzuris, you realize how trivial your own problems are and appreciate your good fortune,” said Vaziri, who was brought to tears when she learned of one client’s path to free services on Mitzvah Day.

Orette Vaziri was moved by Mitzvah Day to offer salon services to chemotherapy patients. Courtesy Oette Vaziri

Because she has several regular clients whom she has seen through the chemotherapy and hair loss experience, she feels she can make the experience less traumatic. “I go through a process and bring them from long, to short, to shorter, to a buzz cut,” she explained. “By the time they get to the buzz cut, they are OK with it. Then when the hair grows in, at first it is fuzz…. We keep cutting it and, in my experience, three months after chemotherapy the hair gets stronger again.”

For that reason, she said, she and her staff will offer services from shortly before treatment through the hair loss, clean-up of the fuzz, and finally, until the hair comes back again. She is also offering 30 per cent off services for a friend who comes along because “often the patient doesn’t want to come alone,” she explained.

The 51-year-old Vaziri was born in the Bronx. Her parents were Sephardic Jews from Istanbul. She met her husband, Mehran, an Iranian Muslim, in California. He was studying film and managed a hair salon after the shah lost power and he lost his school funding.

“With all going on between Jews and Muslims, he was a wonderful son-in-law to my aging parents, who lived with us until they died,” she said. She and her husband are the parents of two boys, Austin, a sophomore at Wayne Valley High School, and Alex, who attends the Academy of the Arts in San Francisco.

Vaziri is no stranger to philanthropy. In years past, her salon has donated work and tips to raise thousands of dollars for breast cancer and ALS because of clients affected by these two diseases.

For more information, call Vaziri at (973) 600-3112.


Interfaith teens to discuss their identity

Leaders plan to listen, not lecture

Felicia Sparozic gets presents for both Chanukah and Christmas. While she says “I make out pretty well,” at times she wishes she could talk with other teenagers about being between worlds.

“My mom’s Jewish and my dad isn’t,” said the 16-year-old junior at Ramapo High School in Franklin Lakes. “At times I’ve thought, ‘It would be good to hear from kids who are in the same boat.’”

Felicia will get her wish on Wednesday, March 16, when she and other local teens will gather to share stories and discuss issues related to growing up in interfaith families.

Hosted by Temple Beth Rishon in Wyckoff, the “Teen to Teen Listening Tour” is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Goldberg.

Goldberg, a dentist who practices in Midland Park, would like to provide young people ages 16 to 18 with a chance to investigate their Jewish identity.

“We hope they will learn more about Judaism in this forum, and it might give them a seed to look further into their Jewish identity,” Goldberg told The Jewish Standard. “But we can’t do that by lecturing to them; they have to come to that conclusion themselves.”

Goldberg, the immediate past president of Temple Beth Rishon, initiated the project after taking part in a Torah study program that encouraged him to give back to the community. He says the idea was inspired by his own experience as a teen, when at times he feared that embracing Judaism might mean rejecting the Christian side of his family.

“I had grandparents in another culture and 65 cousins in another culture,” he said. “You want to respect the Christian side of your family but you also want to feel comfortable in your own skin [as a Jew]. It [will be] a forum for kids to come and discuss how they balance the two cultures.”

Goldberg approached Karen Brand, outreach coordinator of Jewish Family Service of North Jersey, after seeing an article in this newspaper about her work with youngsters. JFSNJ will co-organize the project along with Beth Rishon and Beth Haverim Shir Shalom, a synagogue in Mahwah.

The evening will be social; kids will be served pizza and have a chance to share their stories.

Rabbis Joel Mosbacher of Beth Haverim Shir Shalom and Kenneth Emert of Beth Rishon have lent their support to the program; both rabbis have sent an invitation to families in their congregations who have teenagers. They have also asked those teens to invite other teens from interfaith families. All area teens are welcome.

Leah Kaufman, executive director of JFSNJ, says that above all, the evening should be fun.

“It is a difficult age; lots of kids struggle then,” said Kaufman. “This is a support network for them to talk with peers and try to find their own answers. Each person is different.”

The religious portion will come from Rabbi Leana Moritt, who along with Brand will lead the discussion.

The evening will not be a lecture about the dangers of assimilation, but a chance to listen to teens and provide them with a forum to share feelings, as well as to give them guidance in how they can address their questions about being Jewish, according to Moritt, whose organization, Thresholds (, which is co-sponsoring the event, specializes in counseling interfaith couples and families.

“Look, it would be disingenuous to say this is not a Jewish program,” Moritt said. “[But] we’re not looking to give them a litmus test. They have questions [and] stories. What does it mean if their family goes to church and synagogue? If they are feeling Jewish does that mean they can’t go to their Christian family for Christmas? Do they have to minimize their experiences with the side of their loving family that is not Jewish? This is about being able to address their questions and challenges.”

The pilot session will take place at 7 p.m. at Beth Rishon. Another session is planned there for March 23. For more information, call Goldberg at (201) 970-1351 or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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