Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sometimes hope can be best defined by an employment opportunity or a workable family budget. It is taken for granted sometimes that everyone knows how to be financially responsible and live self-sufficiently. We also know, sometimes all too well, that financial ruin can happen to anyone, at any time, for many reasons.

Since 2001 when it was launched by our dear friend Rabbi Yossi Stern z”l, Project Ezrah, now led professionally by Teaneck’s own Robert Hoenig, continues to take nothing for granted about our friends and neighbors here in Bergen County.

It offers meaningful employment possibilities and an opportunity for individuals and families to better understand personal financial management and budgeting. See our cover article, which continues on page 30, about Project Ezrah’s dinner and its incredible, generous and creative honorees (which this year has special meaning for The Jewish Link as it honors our own Moshe Kinderlehrer and his wife Dena).

Our paper’s ties to Project Ezrah run deep. No one but us remembers, but it was at the Project Ezrah dinner four years ago that we formally “announced” the paper’s founding and walked around telling anyone who would listen that we would be starting a paper called The Jewish Link in March 2013. We recall well the mixed responses we got from those listening who couldn’t believe that we were serious.

One of our first meetings as co-publishers was with Rabbi Stern z”l to discuss how our paper could work together with Project Ezrah, in publicizing all that they were trying to do for our community. As we saw it, we were looking to create a community newspaper and in order to do so, we needed to partner with Project Ezrah. That meeting began a nice partnership that continues to this day and we are looking forward to strengthening that relationship going forward with future events and initiatives.

Just this past Monday night, one of us (Moshe) attended the pre-dinner Project Ezrah board meeting as did a few other invited dinner honorees. The meeting led off with a strong report by Ezrah’s Director of Employment Jeff Mendelson, who reported that nearly 200 people found jobs with Ezrah’s help and assistance in 2016, which represented an impressive gain over 2015. Jeff noted that unlike a profit-oriented headhunting or recruiting firm, Project Ezrah simply cannot and does not ever “give up” on any of the candidates they are trying to help, even those who make mistakes in their job-seeking efforts and would be written off by other agencies.

We heard Ezrah’s board members—some of our community’s most important leaders and donors—challenge the Ezrah team on their vision and direction for the next few years. One senior board member asked how Ezrah could become known not only for helping those in dire need but become a comprehensive  community placement agency able to help literally anyone who is looking for a job or career help or even advice.

This last question sparked a spirited discussion of how Ezrah is perceived in the community as a last resort organization and the strong need to change that perception. One program they recently started is an interest free loan program which does not require the strict and onerous guidelines and restrictions that perhaps other Ezrah programs do necessarily and legitimately require. Another program mentioned was The Aisle: A Path Toward Financial Fidelity; which is aimed at educating recently engaged and newlywed couples on financial management and a whole host of related issues. Project Ezrah is now looking to have chassan and kallah teachers and classes incorporate this program into their curriculums, if possible.

We were deeply impressed by how seriously and sensitively these Ezrah board members and staff took their weighty responsibilities and dealt head-on with the challenges they face. They are trying to do their job. They are all trying to do their job well, and we left the meeting with a strong sense that we—both as a community paper and our community in general—now have to do our part in helping them.

We urge your attendance at Ezrah’s dinner or your support if you can’t be there. With Chanukah in mind, not to mention the coming winter’s colder weather and high heating bills, Project Ezrah will continue to shine its light and offer real help to our community members. People find themselves through Project Ezrah’s work. And that is an act of chesed that can’t be easily measured.

We look forward to greeting you on Motzei Shabbat, December 17 at Project Ezrah’s annual dinner.

By Moshe Kinderlehrer 
Mark Schwartz, Co-Publishers