SodaStream offers to take in Syrian refugees


The Israeli company SodaStream has offered to take in Syrian refugees and employ them in its new factory in the Negev Desert.

In an announcement over the weekend, SodaStream and the mayor of Rahat, which is near the home beverage maker’s factory, said they can absorb up to 200 families. Some 30 percent of the 1,100 workers at the factory live in the Bedouin city led by Mayor Talal Al-Krenawi.

“As the son of a Holocaust survivor, I refuse to stand by and observe this human tragedy unfold right across the border in Syria,” said SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum said in a statement. “Just as we have always done our best to help our Palestinian brothers and sisters in the West Bank, the time has come for local business and municipal leaders to address the Syrian humanitarian crisis and take the initiative to help those in need. We cannot expect our politicians to bear the entire burden of providing aid for the refugees.”

The Israeli government must approve the endeavor.

SodaStream announced a year ago that it would close its controversial West Bank factory and move its operations to southern Israel. The move was widely seen as due to international pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks to hurt Israel’s economy over its policies toward the Palestinians.

Tackling the Job Search


After some 40 years in the business world, Gordon Steen never thought his morning would start outdoors with hyenas, elephants and monkeys.

But that was more than six years ago, before he had closed his 17-year-old shipping-and-packing business. While contemplating his next career move, he became a customer-service representative at the Baltimore Zoo.

“That was a tough job, being out in the sun all day long,” Steen, now 65, said of the seasonal work that ended with winter’s onset. “But I thought it would be interesting, and it was — and the economy hadn’t tanked yet.”

But in the late summer of 2008, the country plunged into a deep economic recession, and Steen soon found himself doing jobs he had never considered as he searched for an elusive full-time position. In the past few years, he has worked part time as a writer, researcher, photographer and leasing consultant.

Struggling senior adults are just part of the national unemployment picture.

In August, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 8.1 percent, or about 12.5 million people, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Economists often accompany such statistics with comments about the uncounted “under-employed,” or those who have stopped searching. Among Americans ages 65 and older, there were 493,000 unemployed people seeking work, up from 480,000 a year earlier, according to the Department of Labor.

Those seniors face some challenges specific to older adults. Although age discrimination is illegal, prospective employers are put off by what they perceive as the seniors’ potential skill deficits, fears about higher health-care costs and concern about longevity in the position. 

“With so many of the jobs I am applying for, they involve technology and the people applying are in their 20s and are three times faster,” Steen said. “At the same time, I am very adaptive to learning, and in fact, my ability to learn is a lot better than I thought it would be.”

Jeffrey Davidson, 67, understands what Steen is up against. The online LinkedIn profile of the Los Angeles-area professional exudes skills and experience — “Professional Consultant/Public Speaker/Trainer specializing in PowerPoint, Excel, Word & WordPerfect at PC Consultants” — but it’s still been an uphill battle.

“There are 4,000 people looking for four jobs in any given vocation,” Davidson said. “I will honestly say that right now I’m not trying as hard as I was. It’s a combination of frustration — what I’m looking for isn’t available, I don’t know who to contact. I’m trying to put the word out, nothing’s happening.”

After seeing his consulting work dwindle in recent years, Davidson turned to Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) of Los Angeles for moral support among like-minded people at a weekly group.

“Prior to the onset of the recession at the end of 2008, I don’t think even 5 percent of the individuals seeking services with our agency were over 65,” said Jay Soloway, training and education director for JVS Los Angeles. Today it’s between 15 to 20 percent, he said.

For Jewish vocational service agencies across the United States, the challenges facing seniors have not gone unnoticed. Some JVS operations have seen increases as high as 20 to 30 percent in the senior category, according to Genie Cohen, CEO of the International Association of Jewish Vocational Services. Her operation provides technical, informational and communications support to 28 JVS operations in Canada, Israel and the United States.

“Everybody is struggling to find help and programs for this part of the community,” Cohen said.

Jewish Family Services in Columbus, Ohio, has a “2 Young 2 Retire” program that focuses on financial needs, staying healthy and “encore career choices with the goal of discovering work on your own terms related to personal values, passions and aspirations.” Jewish Vocational Service of Metro-
West in New Jersey runs the Center for Creative Maturity, which covers people older than 45 and targets subgroups such as those with disabilities ages 55 and older, older refugees and immigrants, and even nursing home residents. In Louisville, Ky., the Mature Work program of Jewish Family & Career Services covers assistance with returning to the workforce and developing strategies to enter new careers.

In Los Angeles, JVS started Mature Ability, a program aimed at people 55 and older. The agency also created the eight-week Bank Work$ program, which guides people toward jobs in banking, often as tellers.

“We get into issues of the realities of working today with younger supervisors and maintaining self-esteem,” Soloway said. He is concerned that some people will not take such jobs as they look for something more lucrative and prestigious, which in turn prolongs the job search.

Other issues abound, points out Tracey Paliath, economic services director of Baltimore’s Jewish Community Services. Even one’s e-mail address — or lack thereof — can be a detriment.

“You have to explain to them that they have to apply online and that paper is sort of past,” she said. “And if they have an e-mail that’s aol.com, that sends up a red flag” because some see it as an outdated system.

The challenge is not just teaching people the new methods of job hunting — the Internet did not exist the last time some older Americans were job hunting — but the reality that works in their fields may not return.

Paliath says that about 40 percent of her colleagues’ clients are 50 and older. “We have had people in their 70s and even a couple in their 80s,” she said.

Not everyone is working to recapture what once were retirement funds, she added. Some people are picking up a mortgage or health-care costs for children and grandchildren in difficult economic straits.

Despite the subtle and overt roadblocks, Steen, who has an adult son living at home — “but at least he’s got a job” — is not giving up.

“They talk about the hidden job market, which is people you know who know someone else,” Steen said. “That’s kind of what’s hidden behind the green door, and it takes some imagination to open it.” 

$2.5 million grant will place young adults with disabilities in jobs


A $2.5 million grant to Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston will fund a groundbreaking program that places young adults with disabilities in jobs.

The Ruderman Family Foundation provided the grant to fund the “Young Adult Transitions to Work” program, which provides young adults with disabilities customized training, placement and ongoing support services, representing a new approach to providing work for the disabled.

The program will be run by Jewish Vocational Services as part of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies’ “Pathways” program for people with disabilities.

Young Adult Transitions to Work is part of a pilot project with Hebrew SeniorLife to identify jobs and develop customized training and support that match those positions. It also combines comprehensive training to fully integrate life, work readiness and vocational skills, and ongoing case management once individuals have been placed in jobs.

Jay Ruderman, president of the Ruderman Family Foundation. called the program “a testament to what partnerships between the private sector, non-profit world and advocacy community can achieve, and a real breakthrough for the disability community.” He said there are some 25,000 disabled young adults between in the ages of 18 and 30 in Boston’s Jewish community who are capable of working in the proper jobs.

The big switch: Eight practical steps to making a career change


Back in the olden days, Pops worked at the same manufacturing plant his entire adult life, waking up every morning at the same time, returning home with the same empty lunch pail, wearing the same faded work uniform. A carpenter was a carpenter for life; a lawyer stayed a lawyer and the town butcher never quit his job to pursue a career in fashion design.

But, alas, those days are long gone. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people hold an average of 11 jobs by the time they turn 40. So if you’re in between jobs and contemplating a whole new line of work, you’ve got company. Especially during this recession hangover we’re still nursing.

At Jewish Vocational Service of Los Angeles, with locations in West Hollywood, Antelope Valley, Glendale, Sherman Oaks and West Hills, the “career changer” is the most common client walking through their doors. “Building better lives one job at a time” is no easy task, but the career counselors at JVS have plenty of tips to help you build yourself a new career. Jay Soloway, director of Career Services, shared some practical steps you can take right now to land that 10th job.

1. Review your history.
You know the saying: You can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. So think back, way back, to that third, fifth and ninth job and write them all down. For one, it’ll show you how far you’ve come, and, if you’re like most Americans, it’ll illustrate just how many different tasks you’re capable of carrying out. Don’t forget to include volunteer positions.

2. Make a list. Or three. Write down all the skills you mastered at each of those jobs, even the seemingly trivial. That major makeover you pulled on the office lunch room may seem inconsequential, but it may be a clue that you have a future in interior design. On another page, list your interests. The things you like to do when you’re not earning a paycheck. List #3: your values. Write down what matters to you in the grander scheme of life. Being home by 6 p.m. to help the kids with their homework? Having flexible hours so you can choose to sleep at 2 p.m. and work at 2 a.m. if you wish?

3. Find a direction.
The lists you made are clues to a new direction, but you have to have the right tools to decode the signs. Soloway suggests using professional career and personality tests (check out careermaze.com as an example) to figure out what your skills and interests are telling you. Career counselors at JVS use the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, among other tools, to narrow down the types of careers that fit your personality and talents. Objectivity is an important tool in assessing career choices, and professional counselors, unlike your wife, don’t have any incentive to tell you that you’re the next Joan Nathan.

4. Try on some shoes. You’ve narrowed down your options. Now how do you choose between pastry chef and greeting card designer? Dig in and find out everything you can about your prospective career: which skills are needed, which degrees are required, what is the pay, what the work conditions are like. Simple online research can fill in many of those blanks, but for the real dish, you have to network face to face. Contact professional societies and industry groups such as Public Relations Society of America (prsala.org) to schedule meet-and-greets. Find people on LinkedIn and request a phone conversation. Secure informational interviews with someone doing your dream job, or even better, that person’s manager. Ask questions. Lots of them. And if you’re really bold, ask permission to shadow someone for a day. Most people would be flattered that you’re showing an interest in what they do.

5. Stay busy.
Spending days at a time in your pajamas, rotating laptop, Blackberry and TV screens in front of your face will not only drag down your mood, it’ll sully your resumé. Use your free time wisely to show prospective employers that you are active, resourceful and willing to work, even without a paycheck as motivation. Volunteer at your synagogue, a local shelter, school or food bank. Bonus points if you do something that’s relevant to your field of interest. Look for internships, freelance opportunities and other ways to get your foot in the door.

6. Hit the books. To snag certain jobs, like an X-ray technician or an electrician, you’ll have to sign up for a vocational school. For others, you may be able to fill in the educational gap with classes at a community college, an online course, or some how-to books: i.e. Bartending for Dummies, Day Trading for Dummies, Event Planning for Dummies. Educating yourself shows initiative and drive, and even if the most important thing you learn in your creative writing class is that you can’t string a sentence together, at least you can cross Romance Novelist off your list of potential careers.

7. Take baby steps. Going from school psychologist to web designer is quite a leap, so consider making the transition in several steps. Soloway encourages clients to take “stepping stone jobs” that move them one step closer to their desired career. For instance, our psychologist can apply for a job writing content for the LAUSD website to gain some basic knowledge of what makes a site appealing.

8. Recruit cheerleaders.
Job hunting, especially for career shifters, is incremental in nature and may take years to achieve the final goal. You’re going to need a cheering section, with verve, and stamina for the long haul. The career counselors at JVS are there to hand you cups of water and granola bars throughout the marathon, Soloway says. But you can recruit your best friend, your daughter, your neighbor – whoever will be genuinely interested – to keep track of your progress and help you focus on the positive.

Changing hair styles is difficult. Changing careers is monumentally daunting. But with the right tools and the right attitude, it’s totally doable. Just look around. Nearly everyone you know has done it at least once or twice in their lives. Or maybe 11 times.

Charedi yuppies


Moshe Shapoff was blown away by the look of the building. He was seeing it on a computer screen in three dimensions, and he couldn’t believe the level of detail. It was a redesign of a residential building in Jerusalem, which the architect had made bigger, more modern and certainly more beautiful.

Shapoff might have been impressed by the building, but he was even more impressed by the architect, a man named Yochanan.

Three years earlier, Yochanan was one of those Talmud-studying, out-of-work Charedim with lots of children who would knock on doors in Jewish neighborhoods across America to help feed their families.

Then, one day, a group of Charedim said dayenu — enough. Enough with the handouts. Enough with losing dignity. Enough with not going to work. They said, simply: Why can’t we find jobs like everybody else?

Last week, I had a chance to catch up with two of the Charedim behind this new effort: Asher Klitnick and Moshe Shapoff.

Their story began in 2004 in the tiny office of the Karlin-Stolin rebbe in Givat-Zev, a small suburb of Jerusalem. The rebbe, Baruch Meir Yaacov Shochet, was quite anxious that day. More and more poor families were coming to him for help. With the reduction in state subsidies, it was hard to help them all. Fundraising efforts were falling short. Something had to be done.

So the rebbe called for one of his trusted aides, Klitnick, a seventh-generation Karliner who would later enlist the aid of another of the rebbe’s followers, Shapoff.

In the Chasidic world, a rebbe is more than a rabbi and teacher. He is also a leader who guides you in all aspects of your life.

Klitnick and Shapoff were clearly in that mode. Whatever the rebbe said was gold — no questions asked.

This rebbe, by the way, was no ordinary rebbe. He was born in Brooklyn’s Borough Park in 1955 to the daughter of the previous Karlin-Stolin rebbe, who had no son. As the story goes, the previous rebbe, who was ailing when Baruch was born, held the baby in his hands every day during his first year and saw enough to anoint him as his successor. When the rebbe died in 1956, 1-year-old Baruch Meir Yaacov became the leader of one of the largest Chasidic sects in the world.

And don’t think he wasn’t taken seriously.

There are hundreds of stories of followers putting kvittels — pieces of paper with Hebrew names of people needing blessings — under the baby’s/rebbe’s crib. Even while he was an infant, thousands of his followers, who are known for their intense and joyful davening, would visit him from Israel to bask in his aura.

As the rebbe grew in Torah knowledge and stature, the Karliner sect expanded into other communities on the East Coast and in Israel, as well. By the time the rebbe decided to move to Israel when he was in his mid-30s, he had picked up enough American know-how to begin doing outreach with secular Jews and enough savvy to understand the importance of image in the modern world.

So when he called Klitnick into his office on that day in 2004 to discuss the growing crisis of poor Charedi families, the rebbe had more on his mind than just fundraising. This time, he was also thinking about jobs. He asked Klitnick and his team to prepare Charedis to join the working world.

After a few stumbles, Klitnick and Shapoff, who were also born in the United States and speak fluent English, broke through with the launch of Amida, a job training organization dedicated strictly to Charedi Jews. So far, they have helped fund the education of almost 100 of their fellow Charedim in fields like graphic design, computer programming, business management, engineering, travel agencies and, yes, even architecture.

Their biggest problem now is that they have a huge waiting list of Charedim anxious to go to school and find work, which is why they’ve come knocking on doors in America.

But this time, they’re asking for fishing rods, not fish.

I can tell that Klitnick and Shapoff have struck a chord in the Los Angeles Jewish community just by seeing who they visit when they come to town. In addition to their Charedi brethren in Hancock Park, they have visited and received support from Rabbi Marvin Hier, Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, Rabbi Laura Geller, Rabbi David Wolpe and even an award-winning Hollywood producer, Howard Rosenman.

They have also been invited to participate in the Limmud Conference on President’s Day weekend in February, which will bring together Jews of all denominations to celebrate the richness and beauty of Judaism.

In truth, it’s painful to admit that over the years, the image of the Charedim has been anything but beautiful. When Prime Minister Ben-Gurion, at the time of Israel’s creation, gave a few hundred Charedim a pass on army service — in deference to their tradition of daily Torah study — no one could have predicted that 60 years later, they would represent almost a quarter of the Jewish Israeli population. With a general resistance to joining the secular work force and a heavy dependence on the state, it’s not hard to see why they have suffered from an image problem.

Now, these two affable, BlackBerry-carrying, black-hat Charedi yuppies, Klitnick and Shapoff, are hopping all around Los Angeles and Hollywood hoping to improve that image.

In addition to their bright-eyed charm, they will have something else going for them. The schools in Israel have told them that Talmud experts, which the Charedim certainly are, are now in big demand among employers. Apparently, the mind-numbing precision of Talmudic discourse, combined with the breadth of knowledge inherent in the Talmud, creates ideal job candidates.

Come to think of it, Shapoff did marvel at the extraordinary amount of detail and precision in Yochanan’s building designs.

Who knew that yeshivas could train future architects?

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

American ideas boost bid to get Israelis to work



One advocacy group’s look at the problem
Click the BIG ARROW to play

Eti Sharabi walked through the glass doors and marveled at the shining hardwood floors and the walls splashed with green and orange, making this space feel more like a sleek advertising or architectural firm than an office to help the unemployed.

She found herself in the headquarters of STRIVE, after not working outside the home since her first child was born 15 years ago.

“I lost faith in myself and thought I would never find it again,” said Sharabi, 38, now a mother of four. “Here they have given me so much strength.”

Sharabi is part of the expanding Israeli underclass — a populace that includes the unemployed, the underemployed and the destitute. Many are casualties of what some consider draconian economic policies.

STRIVE, an intensive work-readiness program, is modeled after an initiative of the same name that began more than 20 years ago in New York’s Harlem in an effort to help women on welfare overcome their severe difficulties in finding and keeping meaningful jobs.

The program’s core message: Participants are important as individuals and therefore are worthy not just of make-work employment but of fulfilling careers.

That message of personal empowerment and tough love is underscored, its organizers explain, by the professional and pleasant look and feel of the STRIVE offices, as well as the intensive personal guidance that the organization provides its clients for more than two years after they enroll.

Participants are counseled in everything from how to pay off personal debts and find creative childcare solutions, to discovering and pursuing an ambitious career path that suits their interests and abilities.

STRIVE is one of at least two programs operating in Israel that are patterned after American-originated efforts to boost employment among the economically struggling and longtime unemployed; it is funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Israeli government.

Another such American transplant is called Mehalev, Hebrew for “from the heart,” based on the state of Wisconsin’s welfare-to-work plan that was unveiled in the mid-1990s after the U.S. Congress revamped welfare regulations.

One STRIVE participant is Tsivka Ben-Porat, 36, who spent a decade working in hotel kitchens as a cook — he had been unemployed for several months before finding STRIVE. With the help of its counselors and coaches, Ben-Porat is now working at a media company editing video, a steppingstone in his new chosen career: communications.

The program, he said, “is like being given a key to life, professionally and personally.”

Another STRIVE participant is Hanan Jaffaly, 32, an Arab Israeli single mother of two who had been in and out of what she described as dead-end customer service jobs for years. She supports her children on her own, with no assistance from her family.

Through STRIVE, Jaffaly is hoping to realize her goal of becoming a social worker and finally creating a stable, middle-class life for her family.

Mehalev was designed as a two-year pilot program in four Israeli cities. Launched in 2005, it was aimed initially at getting at least half of the country’s 150,000 welfare recipients off the public rolls and back to work. Participants are required to report to employment placement centers for 30 hours a week or lose their welfare income, which averages about $380 per month for an individual.

Safi Sasson, 40, now has the first job he’s ever held, thanks to the program. He had spent the majority of his adult life involved in petty crime and spent a total of eight years in prison, off and on, for offenses that included selling drugs and theft.

Sasson never imagined he could be a salaried worker, but for the past three months he has held down a job as a construction worker. He’s doing so well, his boss is planning on giving him a raise.

“I was apprehensive about working; I had never done it before,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot, most of all that I am capable of working. In the past I thought no one would ever hire me because of my criminal past.

“I wake up in the morning and I have somewhere to go. I’m feeling great, and it’s all because of the work.”

Is Mehalev Working?

The program, however, has met with mixed results. It has been widely denounced in the Israeli media and by social welfare advocates, who maintain that Mehalev has backfired. Rather than increase employment, detractors charge, the program has swelled the ranks of Israelis who receive neither paychecks nor public assistance.

A recent report by the National Insurance Institute of Israel found that the program saved Israel $1.43 million in welfare payments since it began, but that relatively few of its participants had found work, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported.

The savings in welfare payments apparently stemmed from people who had dropped out of the program and had their payments cut off.

More than 80 of the Knesset’s 120 members signed on to proposed legislation recently that called for a major overhaul of the program. The bill calls for, among other things, canceling the stipulation that all unemployed people — such as single mothers or those with part-time work — participate full time in the program or lose their welfare benefits.

The bill also would provide alternative arrangements for the disabled, those nearing retirement age, people who speak little or no Hebrew, and others who activists say are hurt by the program in its present form.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert approved the establishment of a government committee that will work to make major changes in the program to address some of these same issues.

According to Dorit Novack, until recently the administrator of Mehalev, in the program’s first year 11,000 job placements were found for participants. About double that number initially reported to the centers.

Not all the participants stayed in those jobs, however. The figure of 11,000 job placements includes those who have been placed in several jobs successively, Novack noted. But those figures, she said, do constitute progress.

“I am not saying the project has not made mistakes,” Novack said. “But the main point of this program is trying to help people change their future. If they are now working a minimum-wage job, that is double what they were making on welfare. I would prefer to see every person work as long as they are able physically.”

One of the main differences between the Wisconsin Works program in the United States and the Israeli version is the demographic profile of the participants. In the United States, the focus is predominately on young black single mothers. But in Israel, the clients are men and women, often older than 40, many of them immigrants or Arabs. Some have physical or mental disabilities or limited Hebrew-language skills.

All told, many participants were funneled into the program by the National Insurance Institute without an adequate assessment of “who might be a good fit,” according to Sari Revkin, executive director of Yedid, a Jerusalem-based social welfare organization.

“The idea [is] not to get people to change their motivation and skills,” Revkin said. “It’s to get them into a job quickly. With the population of new immigrants and Arabs this is very, very problematic.”

One of the four program centers in Israel is located in Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, where some participants are women older than 50 who have never held jobs and have rarely traveled beyond their home villages. Now they are expected to find employment that may carry cultural baggage, in the form of their husbands’ or families’ disapproval over them working at outside jobs, critics say.

Meanwhile, many workplaces in Arab locales pay below minimum wage. And those Arabs who seek work in predominately Jewish areas, such as west Jerusalem, sometimes encounter discrimination and are refused employment.

However, Roy Newey, group board director for A4E, the British company running the pilot Mehalev program in Jerusalem, said he has seen some success in placing Arab women in jobs. He cites 15 women who found work on a mushroom farm near Jerusalem for about $830 a month, the Israeli minimum wage.

“They have self-esteem, finances, purpose in their lives,” Newey said. “It’s a real success story.”

Of the 8,000 participants who have come through the Jerusalem Mehalev, 3,000 have found and kept jobs since they joined the program in the past year and a half.

Role Playing for Success

At the STRIVE office in Tel Aviv — others are planned for Haifa and Jerusalem — a class in how to undergo a group interview is taking place.

In keeping with the STRIVE emphasis on nurturing long-term careers rather than landing stopgap jobs, participants are urged to dress for success. As a result, the Tel Aviv role players are wearing proper business attire — dark pants, skirts and button-down shirts.

In preparation for the group interview, a common hiring exercise used by Israeli firms, half the class is given a problem to solve collectively. The other half observes and provides feedback on how their classmates performed. For example, they evaluate who displayed leadership qualities, who was a good team player, who knew how to set priorities and who failed to participate sufficiently.

“The enthusiasm is catching and they start believing in themselves, and we see people with very limited desires jump to much wider horizons,” said Amir Natan, 33, a former high-tech executive who directs STRIVE in Israel.

Nearly 90 percent of STRIVE participants have found jobs.

One is Sharabi, who said she plans to start work as an office clerk, with hopes of eventually becoming an accountant.

“My oldest son said he has such fun watching me do homework and seeing me interested in something,” she said.

Sharabi then politely excuses herself from talking about the program to continue participating in it. The assignment: A role-playing workshop aimed at familiarizing clients with the ins and outs of office jobs.

There is still a lot to learn, she says with a smile.

STRIVE Israel:
‘ target=’_blank’>http://www.strivenewyork.org/

Yedid:
Israel poverty videos test

Vocational Service Gains Career Center


To Vivian Seigel, Jewish Vocational Service (JVS) is a living, breathing entity that must grow with the times or risk irrelevance. That’s why the organization she heads announced in April that it had acquired a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that, like JVS, provides an array of counseling services to a nonsectarian population.

In the process, JVS will expand its client base to 24,000 from 14,000. It will also add five new locations in the area, including Marina del Rey and Antelope Valley, bringing its total to 16 centers.

Career Planning Center (CPC), which has an annual budget of more than $4 million, will be managed by JVS and led by JVS chief executive Seigel but remain autonomous. The alliance follows the announced retirement of CPC founder and CEO Eleanor Hoskins, who wanted to ensure CPC’s survival by joining forces with JVS.

"This enhances the availability of career and employment services to members of the community, including businesses," said Seigel, a 49-year-old mother of two. "Our services complement and enhance one another."

No Federation money will go toward supporting CPC, which is funded by government agencies, Seigel said. Negotiations between the two groups lasted for about six months, she added.

Change has been a constant at JVS since Seigel assumed the top spot in 1996. At the time, the agency had 45 staff people, a budget of $1 million and helped about 5,000 people annually with career planning, job searches and other services. Post-acquisition, JVS and CPC will have a combined staff of 125 and a $9.5 million budget.

Seigel, who first joined JVS in 1977 as a rehabilitation therapist, said she has worked hard to make sure her agency met the needs of all the community. With nearly 60 percent of its clients now coming from the ranks of middle management and above, the agency has rolled out several initiatives in recent years administering to the casualties of the new economy.

To help promising nascent businesses succeed, JVS recently partnered with the Jewish Free Loan Association (JFLA) to create the Microenterprise Loan Program. Employees of JVS will help entrepreneurs draft business plans and give them marketing and technical counseling to increase their chances of landing a JFLA loan of up to $20,000. The goal: Help small companies become bigger companies that employ lots of people and fuel the local economy, Finkel said.

Mark Meltzer, JFLA executive director, said Seigel’s professionalism, intelligence and good relationship with her board and the community at large have helped her "come up through the ranks and build the agency beautifully."

Working closely with Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss, Seigel has received a $100,000 funding commitment this year from the city. Weiss said he is a big fan of Seigel and the agency she runs.

"JVS is important because it’s not a handout," the councilman said. "It’s a hand up."

Weiss should know. One of his "most successful" staff members got her start in elective politics through a JVS program.

Fortuna Benudiz Ippoliti, a Weiss field deputy at his Sherman Oaks office, said she decided in 2000 to re-enter the workforce after an absence of more than a decade. Failing to land a good job on her own, the 52-year-old mother of two turned to JVS, which helped her polish her resume and gave her career counseling.

Ippoliti’s enthusiasm and intellect led JVS to select her for the WoMentoring program, which, given her interest in politics, paired her with a City Council candidate. Ippoliti worked on the campaign for two months, doing everything from fundraising to planning events.

Although her candidate lost, Ippoliti said the political bug had bitten her. More important, she rediscovered her self-confidence thanks to her four months with JVS.

"I didn’t know where to turn," Ippoliti said. "I was totally lost. I needed somebody to tell me to put this foot in front of that foot. That’s what JVS did. They gave me direction. They held my hand. They gave me a hug. I don’t know what I would have done without them."

After JVS, Ippoliti went back to school at CSUN after dropping out of college nearly 30 years earlier. Just before her second semester, she got a call from Weiss’ then-chief of staff, whom Ippoliti had met years earlier. The chief of staff, impressed by Ippoliti’s recent political experience, hired her as a field director, a job Ippoliti held while attending classes and raising two children.

In May, 2003, Ippoliti, a Sephardic Jew, graduated with high honors and delivered the commencement speech. She spoke about never giving up on one’s dreams.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker Find Me a Job


Benjamin Brown found out a master’s degree in Jewish history didn’t help him much in finding a job. So a few years ago, Brown, 29, launched an employment Web site for the Jewish community, which he named JewishJobs.com. The initiative seems to have been a success: Brown not only secured a job at the now-defunct United Jewish Communities’ (UJC) Trust for Jewish Philanthropy, he has attracted more than 6,000 job seekers to his service, which boasts a testimonials page of happily matched employees and employers.

Brown’s story is telling both about the need to match potential candidates with Jewish jobs, and about the rising number of Internet job sites that serve niche markets

Employers appreciate receiving 70 strong candidates instead of 7,000 who may not be appropriate for the job, said Brown, who left Brandeis in 2001 and received his master’s degree earlier this year.

JewishJobs.com is by no means the only Web site looking to play matchmaker between job seekers and Jewish employers.

Web sites and services like J2J Network, Hatzlacha.com and JewishJobFinder.com, among others, have sprouted up over the past few years, and the Orthodox Union recently announced it will launch an online job bank.

It’s an economic thing, say those involved in the field.

J2J, a self-described network for Jewish professionals, has hosted networking events, run educational programs and provided a career listserv of employment opportunities since 2000, with the goal of strengthening the Jewish community through commerce.

"If I get a random e-mail, I may or may not respond," said David Borowich, chairman of J2J, whose users tend to be 25-45. "An e-mail from the Jewish community, I am more likely to respond."

Unlike JewishJobs.com, J2J does not focus on specifically Jewish jobs. Weekly e-mails advertise jobs in public relations companies and law firms, as well as in banking and consulting groups.

With tight networks in mind, UJC launched its own initiative in 2001 that helps technology professionals find a job.

Blue Knot: The Jewish Tech Initiative (www.blueknot.com) emphasizes networking for its mostly young and transient members, who attend professional gatherings and community service events. The idea is to bring together technology professionals in the Jewish community from across the country who are interested in networking and in getting involved in the Jewish community.

Material Instincts


Every day before Dina Goldstein (not her real name) leaves
the house to take her two young children to day care and herself to work, she
grabs two bagels and two boxes of orange juice. After buckling the kids into
the car, she gives them the bagels and the juice, and they eat breakfast in the
car on the way to school.

“I just don’t have time to get them ready, myself ready and
feed everyone before I leave the house,” said Goldstein, who works as a
religious day school teacher.

Like Goldstein, many women find maintaining a family and a
job overwhelming. With over 75 percent of women in the United States between
the ages of 25 and 54 working outside the home (according the International
Labor Organization), it is very likely that at some point most women will have
to do both things concurrently. While women choose to work for a variety of
reasons, for many in the Jewish community, a woman’s employment is not a matter
of personal fulfillment but of financial necessity.

With high tuition fees, synagogue dues and mortgages in the
Jewish neighborhoods, maintaining a presence in the community is difficult to
do on one income alone — meaning that the husband is no longer the sole
breadwinner in the family.

But many women find that their careers give them not one job
but two — their paid employment and their nonpaid work inside the house, which
seldom diminishes with the onset of employment. Few will say that the feminist
ideal of “having it all” is viable unless certain sacrifices are made. Finding
ways to produce calm out of the chaos requires innovation, skill, organization
and lots and lots of help.

“The ‘superwoman’ is a myth,” said Tova Hinda Siegal, a
Pico-Robertson midwife who is on-call seven days a week while raising her six
children. “It’s tremendously tricky to try to do everything.”

One of the ways that some women try to balance both job and
family is by finding careers that allow them to work from home, which gives
them close access to their family while still enabling them to bring in some
extra money. While there is not necessarily the same kind of career advancement
available to those who do not work in an office, many say that the sacrifice is
worth it.

“It’s a hugely satisfying feeling to know that I can be
there for my kids when they need me, because I know how stressful it is for a
mother in an office when her kids have an odd day off,” said Judy Gruen, a
mother of four, Journal contributor and  Pico-Robertson writer on domesticity.

Other women make sure that their husbands are picking up the
slack, and that paid help in the house is not a luxury, but a necessity. “I
think it’s more important to have part-time help in your house than to buy new
clothes,” Siegal said. “People who are working should not be fighting with each
other over who does the laundry.”

Siegal also said that it’s up to a woman to train her
husband to do his share of the work.

“I think you have to tell your husband, ‘No, it’s not a good
idea to sit while I’m in the kitchen cleaning up,'”she said.

“In our house we made a rule that whoever cooks does not
have to clean up,” she continued. “That is an equitable division of labor. I
also think it’s fine that a mother gets up in the middle of the night to nurse
her babies, but in the morning, the father should get up and take the baby out
for a few hours and let her sleep. The husband should not feel that when he
does something he is doing his wife a favor. Both need to feel that they are
contributing to the family’s welfare.”

Even with a spouse’s help, keeping your household together
requires careful organization for it to run efficiently. Esther Simon, a Santa
Monica mother of seven and a professional home organizer, said that there are a
number of things one can do to help this process.

“You need to create a clutter-free home, where everything
has a place,” she said. “You should also have a family calendar day planner
where you write down what you want to do each day and what things need to be
done during the week, and then you work out what things can only be done by you
and what things can be done by someone else. Only you can give love to your
child; someone else can wash the floor.”

Simon also suggests laying out all your children’s clothes,
preparing breakfast and putting backpacks by the door the night before to
minimize the rush in the morning.

There is one upside to trying to do everything. “Working and
taking care of a family definitely keeps you out of trouble,” Siegal said. “You
just don’t have the time for anything else.”  

We Have Mountains to Melt


Below is an excerpt from a speech delivered by the late Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) at the Shadow Convention in Los Angeles on Aug. 13, 1999. Wellstone, his wife, daughter, three campaign aides and two pilots were killed in a plane crash Oct. 25, see story, p. 18.

I was, this past week, on the north side of Minneapolis. It was a low-income, African American community, among the highest concentration of poverty in the United States. Eleven-year-old, Kevin Brewer was in Cottage Park at 10 p.m. He shouldn’t have been there. His mom was working two jobs and his aunt was taking care of him — he shouldn’t have been there alone. There was a group of men, 20 men playing dice, and somebody got angry. This three-block area, by the way, it’s a war zone. You’ve got drug dealers everywhere. You’ve got one gang that controls the trade and makes a lot of money. And there was gunfire … and they killed that 11-year-old boy. He was shot four times. It was the bullet in the chest that cost him his life.

I’m not just a father. I’m a Jewish grandpa. I cannot accept the death of an 11-year-old child anywhere in the United States. And I’ll tell you something, these communities … we ought to be making a difference. The people there, they’ve got a lot of dignity. I went to his service, it was so moving. There was dignity. There was strength. And everybody mourned for their child. But I don’t see why, with this booming economy and as well as we’re doing, we can’t make sure that these neighborhoods, and that these small children, are safe. I don’t know why we don’t have affordable housing, why we don’t have good child care, why we don’t have jobs for people that can work at decent wages. We can do better….

How can it be that with record economic performance and record-low levels of unemployment, that Republicans — and too many Democrats — still tell us we can’t afford to provide a good education for every child, we can’t have health security for every citizen, and that we should tolerate a set of social arrangements that allow children to be the most poverty-stricken group of people in the United States? If you want real welfare reform, focus on a good education, good health care and a good job. If you want to reduce poverty, focus on a good education, good health care and a good job. If you want to have a stable middle class, focus on a good education, good health care and a good job….

And yes, if you want to reduce this violence, the truth of the matter is this — we ought to shout this truth from the mountaintop — we can build a million new prisons, we will fill them all up, but we will never stop this cycle of violence unless we invest in the health and the skills and the intellect and the character of our children….

It’s a heartbreak to me … I’m the son of a Jewish immigrant from the Ukraine. My father fled persecution. I love this country. And it breaks my heart when I talk to people and they say to me, both parties are controlled by the same investors and heavy hitters…. And when they say to me, if you pay you play and if you don’t pay you can’t play, there’s so much disillusionment. So many people who now believe that their concerns are of little concern in the corridors of power in Washington, D.C.

I’m tired of waiting. It’s time for us to find our own voice, to do our own organizing, to push forward on reform, to push forward on the economic justice issues, and to make the United States the good country.

Wendell Phillips, speaking in the 1840s, condemned slavery as a moral outrage. When he finished speaking, a friend came up to him and asked, "Wendell, why are you so on fire?"

My favorite quote from history: Wendell looked at his friend, and he said, "Brother, I’m on fire because I have mountains of ice before me to melt."

We have mountains of ice before us

to melt.

Thank you. Thank you, everybody. Stay strong! Stay strong! Stay strong!

Jew in a Gentile World


I found a job! After spending three years in Jerusalem, I am now gainfully employed in Orange County. I’m also in deep culture shock.

Before moving to Israel I had lived in Los Angeles, where Jews abounded at each of my jobs. I rarely interacted with non-Jews in Israel, much less worked with them.

Now I’m working for a stock brokerage firm in Irvine and find myself the only Jew in my department, maybe even the company.

I’ve lived most of my life in a gentile world, so why is this such a shock to my system? Maybe it’s because I underwent a major transformation in Israel. Or perhaps it’s the crucifixes that adorn my co-workers’ desks.

After three glorious years in the land of our forefathers, I feel a little out of kilter each time I confront one of these symbols of Christianity.

While getting to know my co-workers, it’s almost impossible not to reveal I’m Jewish. Among the questions they ask: What did I do before landing in their midst?

"I spent the last three years living in Israel," I tell them. My nonchalance dissolves in the midst of their awe and wonder. And then the questions begin to bounce off each other.

What did I do there? How was the security situation? Was I ever in a terrorist attack, or did I see or hear one? What is the lifestyle like? How does it compare to America?

It’s hard to avoid discussing the political situation when answering these questions. This is a very personal, potentially touchy subject. I never know when I’m going to run into someone who believes Israel should be handed over on a silver platter.

Lucky for me, my co-workers all seem to be very open-minded and receptive to my views. I simply tell it like I see it and let them draw their own conclusions.

But the questions become more challenging when the subject turns to religion. Do you follow the Old or New Testament? Do you believe Jesus Christ is the savior? What are your beliefs regarding the Messiah? And that most important question of all: What in the world is a matzah ball?

I can discuss the Torah and Judaism, but I know next to nothing about Christianity. I’m very upfront about this. I readily admit my ignorance and then proceed to explain what I do know in the least offensive way.

As I find myself answering questions about Judaism, and deflecting subjects I know nothing about, I realize I am representing the Jewish people. In this time of conflict, of increasing anti-Semitism, being a Jew in a gentile world takes on extraordinary significance. I always considered being Jewish a privilege. And over the past few years, as I’ve delved into the Torah, I’ve come to learn it’s also a responsibility.

I wonder how many Jews out there could do a better job answering the questions, explaining the differences, conjuring awe and reverence rather than hatred or ignorance. Then my thoughts take an even scarier turn: How many Jews out there know even less than me? People who are not able to answer the questions, and worse, people who don’t care enough to even engage in the conversation.

If the nations of the world are ever to show the Jewish people respect and admiration, we have to rid ourselves of our ignorance about our religion and answer the questions put to us honestly and openly. We have to stand up and say, being Jewish is not my religion — it’s who I am, and I’m proud of that.

Now, if we want to talk about traditional Jewish foods, on that I have no trouble. I even do a pretty good job explaining how to make a mean matzah ball.


Marisa N. Pickar is a freelance journalist living in Laguna Woods.

American Aliyah to Rise


Los Angeles resident George Giles, 26, Has been looking for a job in marketing ever since he was laid off five months ago. With the economy continuing to falter following Sept. 11 and a child on the way, George is hoping that his job search will be more fruitful in Israel.

The Los Angeles Israel Aliyah Center recently gave George and his Israeli-born wife, Tirtza, the green light to make aliyah (immigration to Israel), two months after the couple opened a file with the agency.

“Employment is more of a concern for me now than the issue of security,” he said.

Tirtza and George are part of a growing number of North America Jews considering moving to Israel. In Los Angeles, New York and other cities, first-time aliyah inquiries are booming.

Tehilla, the organization for religious aliyah, attributes the increase to a “reality check” following the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.

“Our membership has doubled compared to the same period a year ago,” said Chavi Eisenberg, Tehilla’s North American director.

But Larry Tishkoff, director of the Los Angeles Israel Aliyah Center, a program of The Jewish Agency for Israel and a beneficiary of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, cautions that while the events of Sept. 11 may have influenced some people, the reasons for the growing interest in aliyah are more complex and difficult to pinpoint.

“There are no two stories that are similar,” he said. “Everyone has a different reason for going.”

North American immigration to Israel averages 1,500 annually. While the number of North Americans who made aliyah in 2001 was down 5 percent from the year before, the trend is expected to experience a dramatic reversal by the middle of 2002.

Initial inquiries at the Los Angeles Israel Aliyah Center in November, compared with the year before, were up 413 percent; people who have opened a file with the office rose 130 percent. Inquiries in New York, a population that accounts for 45 percent of all North American olim (immigrants to Israel), rose 100 percent, and Miami experienced a 600 percent increase.

“In all the big cities, the numbers have increased dramatically,” said Dan Biron, executive director of Israel Aliyah Center of North America. “We have more people who are seriously checking into it. It’s an indication that in six months, we’ll see an increase [in aliyah].”

Even though Jews can immigrate to Israel without the assistance of an aliyah agency, it can be a “confusing bureaucratic process,” said Rabbi Yochanan Kirschenboim, Tehilla’s executive director.

Tishkoff, an Encino native who made aliyah in 1977, recommends that people “get their feet wet before they jump into the deep end.” He cites the rude awakening many North Americans experienced in the 1970s when they immigrated to Israel after the Six-Day War.

“A person who comes back oftentimes is embittered, incomplete,” said Eddie Friedman, Israel Aliyah Center’s lay chair, stressing the importance of counseling to prepare for the psychological impact. “Unsuccessful aliyah hurts everybody.”

Aliyah agencies offer a variety of programs, including pilot trips, internships and volunteer opportunities, and ulpans (an intense Hebrew-immersion program) to help prospective olim test the water. The programs can last anywhere from one week to one year.

Bruce and Sharon Schraer, a 50-something San Diego couple, have already been approved for aliyah. The intifada has cooled their enthusiasm a little, but they’re still interested.

“We’ve been trying to do this for two years,” Bruce said.

“We’re taking our time to check things out a little more and do a pilot trip,” said Sharon, referring to a program that gives potential olim the opportunity to investigate housing and employment opportunities.

Nicole Schuller, who did a double master’s in Jewish communal work and nonprofit management at Brandeis University, recently decided to go ahead with aliyah after completing a five-month ulpan in Israel.

“It’s the greatest place to be young and single,” said the 27-year-old from Studio City.

Schuller, who would like to land a job doing Jewish communal work, possibly in absorption services, knows that she won’t earn as much working in Israel.

“Once I do find a job, which might be harder these days, you just have to be willing to live with a lower standard of life as far as material needs,” she said. “It’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”

For more information about Israel Aliyah Center, call
(323) 761-8915 or visit www.aliyah.org
. For more information about Tehilla,
visit www.tehilla.com .

Finding Work in a Bear Market


It was a rough transition for Debbie Murphy. She had just emerged from a difficult divorce after being trapped for two decades in an abusive marriage. Two years ago, she found herself on her own for the first time, unemployed and unequipped.

"Even though I had a bachelor’s degree and a certificate in computer graphics," Murphy recalled, "my husband had never allowed me to work professionally, and I didn’t know the first thing about how to use my skills in the marketplace."

Then Murphy heard about WoMentoring, a program created by Jewish Vocational Service (JVS). The outreach organization matched up Murphy with mentor figure Kristen Silverman, a Woodland Hills-based graphic designer at G&G Print Shop. Working closely with Silverman helped Murphy regain her confidence.

"She is truly an inspiration," Murphy said. "She has a tireless energy that she gives in abundance. I cannot begin to express how much she has helped me because of her altruistic and loving nature."

Thanks to WoMentoring, Murphy was among the 19 women who graduated and landed jobs in their respective fields. She went on to work as a graphic designer for Computer Associates, a Fortune 500 company. She says she owes much of her success to Silverman, and the pair bonded so well that they are starting a Web site-design company together.

A beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, JVS is committed to assisting people of all races and faiths in finding work or redirecting their careers. JVS also works the other side of the fence, helping businesses find qualified employees. With offices in West Hollywood, the San Fernando Valley, and at the Federation’s 6505 Wilshire headquarters, the nonprofit, nonsectarian outreach organization serves more than 7,000 Angelenos each year.

The timing of JVS’s WoMentoring and Winning New Jobs programs couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Dramatic changes have added new work-related stresses and fears that were invisible a scant three years ago. Dot-coms and start-ups are crashing and burning. Brick-and-mortars are laying off employees by the thousands. The Dow Jones industrial average recently plummeted below 10,000 points in its biggest one-week drop in 11 years. The Standard & Poor 500 Index is down 25 percent from its peak last March.

"We are flattening," said Claudia Finkel, JVS’s vice president of programs. "It’s hitting a lot of industries that thought it would never happen to them."

Now that the e-bubble has e-burst, people working for Internet start-ups must update their skills in order to rejoin the corporate world. Also, as Vivian Seigel, CEO and executive vice president of JVS, noted, Congress jettisoned the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s ergonomics rules a few weeks ago, sending a chill throughout the corporate world. With the prospect of two major entertainment strikes looming large this summer, JVS is bracing itself to meet new demand.

Career counselor Bobbi Yanke was instrumental in developing the WoMentoring program and its training infrastructure. She now runs two Valley WoMentoring programs (10 pairs of participants each), including a group focused on small businesses. The professional focus this year includes public relations and journalism; psychology; medical research; television writing; and sales.

"The rewarding aspect has been to watch these women grow and develop and to really take control of their lives," said Yanke, who added that WoMentoring is mutually beneficial. "The mentors help the mentees really become motivated. It’s a cyclical kind of thing. As mentees get inspired, mentors get more inspired."

Silverman attests to this aspect. Her pairing with Murphy was as therapeutic and confidence-building for Silverman as it was for Murphy. "Even people in creative arts have told me that I’m too scattered," Silverman said, "that I have to pick a field." Neither Silverman nor Murphy believed it, she said. "Everything feeds everything else."

Silverman has seen a substantial evolution in Murphy across the year of their exchange.

"In the beginning, she was just really disempowered. She had little notion of being able to support herself, let alone do it as an artist. At the end, we were like, ‘We’re going to be rich!’" Silverman said with a laugh.

They bonded strongly over their shared creative passions and their interest in meditation. In fact, they developed personal mantras to help Murphy gain her confidence, even naming their new graphic design venture CyberShakti (shakti is a Hindu word for the feminine creative force of the universe).

Silverman believed that WoMentoring could use some fine-tuning at the administrative end. She has suggested including a checklist of areas of interest — social skills, interpersonal skills, motivation, confidence issues — on the mentor’s application, to target which areas of growth could be addressed. She even envisioned the concept of a mentee being assisted in different areas by various mentors selected on the basis of this checklist.

"What worked for us," she said, speaking of her relationship with Murphy, "was that we started with the interpersonal stuff. Once you get the interpersonal stuff straight, all the professional stuff works out."

But Silverman’s criticisms do not diminish her affection for the program, which she ultimately found very rewarding and would like to participate in again. "It was very worthwhile," she said.

A program that opened in September 2000, "Winning New Jobs," is another way JVS hopes to help fight unemployment. Many unemployed need to brush up not only on their job skills but on the tools to face the mental health issues that come with the search process. The monthly, five-day "Winning New Jobs" specifically focuses on the psychological aspects of job-seeking, reinforcing positive thinking. After all, even for an employed person, it can be disconcerting to wake up one morning and suddenly realize that age-old corporate bellwethers — such as the 103-year-old Oldsmobile, or Montgomery Ward — have gone the way of the dodo bird.

"’Winning New Jobs’ empowers people to refocus their identities and to realize what they are capable of accomplishing in the workplace," said JVS rehabilitation counselor Brian Ebenkamp. He achieves this through a variety of exercises that allow participants to role-play, assuming both the applicant’s and hiring executive’s perspective. From day one to five days later in this intensive program, Ebenkamp sees a difference.

"It’s like day and night," he said. "They come in thinking they know a lot, but after the workshop they gain a different perspective and the skills to be more effective."

One thing may be certain in this uncertain world, say JVS’s administrators: celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, JVS intends to adapt constantly to the current needs of the marketplace.

"I definitely believe in the WoMentoring program," said mentee Murphy. "It has changed my life for the better in ways that I could never have imagined. I will definitely serve as a mentor someday."

Jewish Vocational Service will hold its Strictly Business L.A. Awards Luncheon on Wed., May 16, 11:30 a.m., at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. S. David Freeman, general manager of Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, will be the keynote speaker. Kaiser Permanente and three JVS employees will be honored. For reservations, call (323) 761-8888, ext. 8895. For more information on Jewish Vocational Service, call (323) 761-8888 or (818) 464-3222 or visit www.jvsla.org.

My Year with Pork


About a year and a half ago I found myself in need of employment. I scoured the papers in search of openings in my field, which is quality control of food products. One opening caught my eye — “QC Manager of a medium-size food processing plant, within commuting distance.” Just what I was looking for. The product? Deep-fried pork rinds.

I had never eaten a pork rind, and, to be honest, I wasn’t sure exactly what they were. Like many Jews of my generation, I grew up around old-world, kosher-keeping grandparents, at whose table you’d be as likely to find pork rinds as fresh vegetables or a garden salad. Even though habits changed over the generations, pork rinds never made it into our culinary canon. Still, a job was a job, and I needed one. I faxed over my resume and got the call to come in for an interview.

While waiting in the lobby I perused the sales literature. The company, I learned, was a family business — a Jewish family, in fact. The first person I met was the owner’s father, a 70-something accountant whose main function seemed to be entertaining the staff with Catskill-vintage wisecracks. He was the office tummler, the Henny Youngman of the pork rind business. This could turn out to be an interesting gig after all.

The interview went well, and a week later I got the call offering me the job. Could I start right away? It didn’t take long to make the decision. I knew there would be a downside though. Certainly my mother-in-law wouldn’t be kvelling to her friends in the sisterhood about “My son-in-law, the pork rind tester.” Still, better this than “That unemployed bum my daughter married.” In a way, I was following a family tradition of iconoclasm. My Litvak great-great-grandfather, according to family legend, earned money to bring over his wife and children by peddling pictures of Jesus door-to-door in New York. Hey, you’ve gotta give the people what they want, right? I decided to go for it.

Before long I was immersed in the minutiae of the industry. Pork rinds, I learned, are made from rendered bits of pig skin and fat. Deep-fried in 400-degree lard, they puff like popcorn as the water in the meat turns to steam. Sales of the product had gone through the roof in recent years, due in part to the popularity of Dr. Atkins’s diet (no carbohydrates, plenty of protein and fat), which heartily endorsed rind consumption. Latino immigration also played a part, as did exports to countries such as China and the Philippines, where pork rinds are a delicacy. Spicing up the product with salsa, oil and vinegar, and barbecue flavoring was also goosing sales. The rind business was better than ever, and our factory worked around the clock to meet the demand.

As quality control manager, one of my responsibilities was dealing with the rabbis from the Orthodox Union who inspected our plant. Yes, the pork rind factory was kosher certified. Not the rinds themselves, of course, but other products such as popcorn and cheese puffs that we made in pork-free areas of the factory. In addition to our regular inspections, we occasionally had visits by rabbis from the Union office in New York. Visiting rabbis were always fascinated by the pork rind operation, and I often gave plant tours, featuring my canned spiel (“The puffing of the rinds when immersed in hot oil is truly a marvel of nature”). During one tour, a smart-aleck line worker asked a rabbi what it would take to get kosher certification for the rinds. Unfazed, the rabbi shot back, “Well, for that, you’ll need a higher authority than the Orthodox Union.”

After a year on the job, it began to wear on me. The hours were long, the commute tough, and my wife was getting tired of the fried-pig smell that permeated my clothes and hair. I began fishing around, found another job, and said farewell to the pork rind business. I can’t say that I really miss the place, but I do have a greater appreciation of the effort and dedication it takes to make a good rind. Still, I have to admit that I don’t find the greasy, salty morsels particularly appetizing. Call it a cultural thing, but I prefer a good schmaltz-laden fried kishka to a pork rind any day.

Help Wanted, Will Train


Looking for a job where you can impart knowledge, be a positive role model and get all the Jewish holidays off? One field offering those opportunities desperately needs qualified people: Jewish education. Nationwide, day schools, supplementary schools and after-school Hebrew programs are suffering from a lack of qualified educators.

While education agencies and schools are recruiting through local Hillels, ads in Jewish newspapers and college publications, filling those positions is only becoming more difficult.”We’re experiencing some real staffing problems,” says Yonaton Shultz, director of school personnel services for the Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles. The bureau services more than 165 different programs and schools, incorporating 2,500 educators from nursery through 12th grade, according to Shultz.

Similarly, the greater Boston area needs teachers in a variety of settings, including new positions that combine duties, explains Nathan Kruman, professional development consultant for the Bureau of Jewish Education in Boston.

“Boston has many very exciting positions and many new hybrid positions that combine teaching in the classic sense with other activities, sometimes administrative, sometimes youth, sometimes family,” says Kruman. “There’s generally something available because we’ve built up institutions and added more full-time and part-time jobs over the last 25 years.”

The needs are just as great in Chicago, where there are three organizations that staff Jewish programs: the Bureau of Jewish Education, the Community Foundation for Jewish Education and the Associated Talmud Torah.

Yaffa Berman, director of recruitment and placement for the Community Foundation for Jewish Education, says there are 150 to 225 positions open in the Chicago metropolitan area every year for teachers in early childhood, supplementary, high school and adult education. “Despite major recruitment efforts at major university placement offices, Hillels, the Israeli Consulate, newspaper ads, congregational and day school bulletins and more, the problem still exists,” she says.

Because these positions need to be filled, schools are forced to hire people who don’t meet the standard of excellence preferred. “About 70 percent of the respondents to our call for teachers meet our expectations, leaving us with no option but to lower standards for the remaining 30 percent,” says Berman, “thus compromising the quality of the education that our students are receiving.”

On the other hand, Rabbi Harvey Well, superintendent of the Associated Talmud Torah in Chicago, who fills slots in more than 25 programs throughout the Midwest, doesn’t have the trouble finding people that he once did.

“There used to be a time when we really needed to search high and low for teachers, but now with so many post-rabbinic institutes, it has become much easier and teachers are much more available,” says Well. “There are probably 10 to 20 teachers yearly where… people leave the city, people retire, people decide they want to go into different areas. But it really isn’t the crisis that it once was; it’s much more easily managed.”

Challenges of the times

The challenges are greater for supplementary religious and after-school programs. According to Shultz, when both parents work, a mother isn’t able to do all the necessary carpooling to take her children to the program. Schools that once went Sundays through Thursdays now have to cut their programs back to three and sometimes even two days per week. So even with more teachers than before, scheduling difficulties compound the situation.

“That’s a very hard thing to deal with,” says Shultz. “If one teacher is going to teach at one school Sunday and Tuesday and another school was offering her a job on Sunday and Wednesday and another school was offering her a job on Sunday and Thursday, she can’t take any of those other jobs because they’re all attached to a Sunday, and she’s already committed for a Sunday. So the teachers are teaching less hours. It’s not that they’re less available, it’s just that the schedules are worse. And this is a challenge that our schools are going to have to deal with.”

Qualified teachers, it seems, almost need to be masters of illusion to appear at multiple institutions to give students the education they need to receive. This can be resolved in one of two ways: “One teacher can teach in two schools as long as the schools agree to change their scheduling,” says Shultz.

Another challenge is finding qualified candidates.

“The State of Illinois tells us when it comes to private education, parochial education, that a teacher has to show competence in the area that they’re teaching,” says Well. “[That’s] our main criteria, that the individuals hired should show competence in the areas that they’re teaching. Usually [while] the general studies teachers have [Illinois teaching certificates], the Judaic teachers do not. We offer a full range of educational courses to train teachers and at the end of three years we ourselves give the teachers certificates to show that they have completed the course.”

Many programs offer some kind of training. People who have a pedagogic background or a degree in education can be trained in Judaic content, according to Berman. “And those who have the Judaism knowledge without the pedagogic skills can be trained to use those. We are very flexible,” she added.

Unique solutions

The Bureau of Jewish Education in Los Angeles has started one attempt at a solution: training synagogue congregants to be religious school teachers.

“We believe that there is a whole slew of people out there who belong to the congregation and rather than serving on the ritual committee and rather than being in the sisterhood, they probably would enjoy teaching in the religious school,” Shultz says.

The program, a year and a half long, includes courses on Sundays, being a teaching assistant, and being a student teacher. Participants will be mentored by other teachers on the staff and by the principals.

“We have a triple-pronged program, actually: training of the teachers, the training of the mentors and the training of the principals to supervise the whole thing. We’re excited about both of the programs” Shultz adds.

Boston has a new program that provides both professional development and financial support. Open to 100 educators, the program provides an advisor who works with the educator to identify the educator’s needs, and the educator can fill those needs at schools such as Hebrew College or Brandeis University, or through other local Jewish continuing education programs. The community helps pay for those courses.

“They’ll be able to take courses to the equivalent of up to about to a half of a master’s degree in Jewish education. Then the community will continue to support them, not 100 percent, but certainly a very significant amount. I don’t think it’s happening anywhere else,” Kruman says of the program supported in part by grants from the Cummings Foundation and from the Covenant Foundation.

“In other words, we find jobs for people and we then match them… with a personal advisor who creates with them an individual professional development plan. And that plan will identify their strengths and where they have room to grow.”

Boston also has a New Educators Institute that provides an overview of some of the areas that a new teacher needs to master over the course of approximately six months. Graduates finish those skills while working as teachers and then are eligible to begin the program to work towards their master’s degrees.

Passionless need not apply

The professionals responsible for recruiting teachers emphasize that interested candidates shouldn’t worry about qualifications, since training is often provided.

“[We’re looking for] somebody who wants the job and is serious about it and is ready to really jump on and … take on an active role in shaping the lives of the children who are
a part of our community,” says Kruman. “[Jewish education] is about improving the quality of our life and passing it on.”

Ideal candidates, according to Kruman, should be committed to education, have some experience, know the field, and most of all, enjoy kids.

Well adds, “If you don’t like getting kids excited to learn, then no matter what training you’ve received, in the end it will basically be very sterile or ineffectual. If I’m looking for a teacher, I look for a spark that they have, a link that they want to establish with the kids that they’re going to teach, because it’s been proven that’s been the best kind of teacher.”

Developing teachers has to be a communal responsibility, says Berman. “High quality Jewish education is dependent upon the community taking this challenge seriously and doing something about it.” she says. “We must …hire and retain dynamic teachers who have a passion for educating the future generation of Jewish leaders.”

Shultz adds, “We’re all Jews by choice – those of us who were born into Jewish families and those of us who came in to it. Our children are going to be choosing if they want to stay Jewish or not. We’ve got to have the best people available to convince them that this is something worthy of their time, effort, energy and identification.

“If we don’t bring the best people in, if we don’t have well-trained, knowledgeable Jewish educators, we can close up shop now, because all we’ll end up having is a sham, and kids see through that right away. That’s the challenge that faces our community.”

This article appears courtesy of Zipple.com

A Beacon of Hope


Carlanna is a young woman who was paralyzed in a car accident in high school. She is now a producer with the “Judge Judy” show. Alex is a qualified doctor from the Ukraine who cannot work in his profession here. He is now a highly successful radiology technician. Irene was a newly divorced mother on welfare in the depths of despair. She is now a fundraiser working on the corporate level and providing services and support to single mothers.

These are among the hundreds of success stories generated each year by Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), examples of people overcoming great obstacles to achieve career growth in order to support themselves and their families. JVS is a beacon of hope in the greater Los Angeles area for those who are looking for work or career advancement.

A not-for-profit organization founded in 1931, JVS offers high-quality programs to individuals, businesses and agencies related to job seeking, career planning, skills assessment, training and retraining. It helps people find work and redirect their careers. It has developed a strong network between employers and employees and has assisted multimillion-dollar firms in finding qualified employees.

Vivian Seigel, executive vice president and CEO of JVS, says the mission of the group is “to do whatever it takes to help people build, enhance or change their careers. Our clients are as diverse as L.A., from newly arrived refugees and immigrants looking for their first jobs in the U.S. to clients with disabilities who are trying to determine if they can go back to work, to a welfare recipient transitioning from welfare to work, to a high level CEO who’s just been laid off from his or her company or who is a product of mergers and acquisitions.”

At least 25 percent of the 6,000-plus clients JVS serves are African-American or Latino. “We are a big believer in bringing our services out to the community,” Seigel states.

JVS runs employment services for the city of West Hollywood and has staff at Santa Monica College, three Urban League sites and at an East L.A. Lockheed location as well. It also has staff at high schools such as Fairfax, Monroe, and West Side Opportunity Center.

JVS has a staff of certified vocational evaluators and rehabilitation counselors. Its multilingual staff of 69 can do assessments in English, Spanish, Russian, Armenian, Yiddish, Farsi, Vietnamese, French and American Sign Language. “We think that if we have a service that we offer well,” Seigel says, “we should be sharing that service with anyone who can use it, and vice versa.”

Seigel cites client assessment as one area of JVS strength. “That’s the ability to assess someone’s strengths and weaknesses and make employment recommendations,” she explains. JVS runs the assessment labs at the Urban League sites and staffs the career resource centers at the East L.A. One Stop.

A One Stop “is a comprehensive center funded by either the city or the county providing employment and training services,” explains Angie Cooper, director of workforce development for JVS.

Cooper oversees the organizations that Workforce Investment Act contracts with, groups like the Urban League and East L.A. One Stop. At the centers, Cooper says, “we have evaluators who administer vocational tests to determine someone’s basic skill levels. Our evaluators make people feel comfortable. They know that most of these clients may not have been in school for years.”

JVS offers a wide variety of programs that instill hope in those who are seeking to restructure and rebuild their lives. It offers a Jewish 12-step program that includes career development and employment assistance for people who have been through the penal system, the majority of whom have had substance abuse problems. The program, offered in collaboration with Gateways Hospital, is called Beit T’Shuvah (House of Return).

JVS also helps refugees from the former Soviet Union receive customized training in fields expected to grow rapidly during the next decade. These students receive English as a Second Language instruction. JVS gives employment services to residents of the Sydney M. Irmas Traditional Living Center, a North Hollywood shelter. JVS’ employment center, located at the shelter, helped more than 240 residents conduct their job search efforts this year and prepare for reentry to the workforce.

The organization also helps high school students who want to pursue higher education obtain scholarships to supplement financial aid packages, and it works with the State Department of Rehabilitation to deal with people who have disabilities, including mental health issues, physical disabilities, and visual and hearing impairments.

JVS aids senior workers cope with age bias through the Seniors Achieving Generational Equity (SAGE) support group. SAGE members are eligible to strengthen their technology skills at SkillsPlus!, a JVS computer training center.”Whether it be a substance abuse center that we partner with,” Seigel explains, “or a homeless shelter or a domestic violence center, we know that in order to break the recidivism cycle, you have to be able to come in and help people become self-sufficient. And you have to give them the tools to do that while they have a roof over their head and food in their stomach.”

Pray for the Union Label


Asserting the moral high ground and evoking biblical imagery, Jewish labor activists announced at the AFL-CIO’s national convention here in Los Angeles last weekend a new interfaith campaign to protect worker’s rights.

The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, formed with activists from the Jewish Labor Committee and the Jewish Committee on Sweatshops, announced a new campaign last Sunday to build bridges between houses of worship and union halls. Local religious leaders from Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice (CLUE) helped finalize a national plan at the three-day conference, which drew 300 participants. The plight of low-wage workers, often living in poverty and without health insurance, will be the continuing focus on the organization’s efforts.

“Some of our role models are the Hebrew prophets who brought truths to lights,” the National Interfaith Committee’s Evelyn Laser Shlensky said at the Sunday press conference, which also was attended by AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Monsignor George Higgins and the Rev. Jim Lowery. “In the aftermath of the El Monte Thai workers, we looked to our own immigrant history, when many of our grandmothers sewed clothes in sweatshops.”

The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice’s plan, titled “Forging Partnerships for the New Millennium,” has four immediate goals: passing living-wage ordinances in cities and obtaining health insurance for all workers; emphasizing the right to unionize in public discourse; standing up for human rights in the United States and abroad; and increasing the diversity of workplaces and increasing support for immigrant workers.

“Most of the leaders of the religious communities and labor communities don’t even know each other,” said Kim Bobo, director of the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. “But our faith and the lives of workers depend on the same values.”

“This is a natural alliance because labor and communities of faith share core values of basic decency and justice,” said Sweeney. “Dr. King stood with workers in Memphis on his last day of his life.”

The sacredness of work, in religious and union traditions, remains the alliance’s foundation, according to several speakers.

The alliance appears to be working. Linda Lotz, CLUE’s interfaith coordinator, cited recent labor victories at USC and at Summit Rodeo Hotel. Last Passover, CLUE and the Jewish Labor Committee (JLC) “not only castigated the owners [by] leaving bitter herbs, but also left milk and honey for two hotel managers,” said Lotz. The protests led to a contract for Summit Rodeo Hotel workers.

Another area of alliance between Jewish activists and labor is hate crimes. At the conference, 200 people listened as a distinguished panel discussed the need for strengthening the federal hate crimes law. Panelists included San Fernando Valley Congressman Brad Sherman (D-24th District); Congressman Julian Dixon (D-32nd District); Sweeney; John Fishel, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Ismael Ileto, the brother of slain postal worker Joseph Ileto; and Linda Chavez-Thompson, the secretary treasurer of the AFL-CIO. Morton Bahr, president of the Communication Workers of America and the JCL, chaired the 1 1/2-hour meeting.

“The Jewish Labor Committee was formed over 60 years ago to fight Nazism — which was the ultimate hate crime,” said Bahr. “As the century closes with victories over Nazism, Soviet communism and apartheid, we wondered if it was time to close shop and declare victory.

“Did we win the war against hate? These [recent] crimes should remind all Americans of good will that we must be eternally vigilant against hatred and the fear that leads to violence. Whether it is the misguided hatred of teen-agers or white supremacists, we must take a stand against hatred and intolerance.”

The JLC played a pivotal role in getting the AFL-CIO to support hate crimes legislation this year.

“Hate crimes are attacks on the American idea itself that people of different backgrounds can come together for the common good,” said Sweeney. Unions, he argued, rest on that assumption. “Unions are about more than wages and benefits; they are concerned with quality of people’s lives.”

Fishel described the intense reaction to the Aug. 10 shootings at the North Valley Jewish Community Center and the murder of Joseph Ileto on the heels of other shocking hate crimes in Illinois and Sacramento.

“Although we American Jews, today, may feel more vulnerable than a few months ago,” he said, “we can have enormous satisfaction knowing that in Sacramento and in Los Angeles…we witnessed an enormous outpouring of empathy and support from other ethnic communities and other religious communities…. Because of this response, we as Jews and Americans stand a little taller and more proudly.”

The focus on hate crimes seemed obvious to JLC executive director, Avram B. Lyon. “We are the Jewish voice to the labor movement, and the labor movement’s voice to the Jewish community,” he said.

“I look for a place where we can bring Jewish traditions, history and teachings to an issue,” said Shlensky, explaining her involvement with the issue of sweatshops in the garment industry. “We all have a duty to be part of the solution. As consumers, as citizens, as manufacturers, everyone has a part they can play. The mission of Jews is to be God’s voice on earth.”

Singles


I’m reading amagazine. Apparently, there’s a woman who won’t stop having plasticsurgery until she looks exactly like a cat. I’m pondering theimplications of this when someone walks by my cubicle. Fortunately,I’ve positioned myself and the magazine so that passers-by mightassume my concerned look has to do with work.

You see, I’m not paid to read magazines. I’m beingpaid to name weight-loss products for use in foreign markets. It’s anodd job, a temporary job, just another gig in the life of afree-lancer. Definition of free-lancer? No medical benefits, no jobsecurity, no 401K, and you’re lucky if you get a parkingvalidation.

But you do have your freedom.

This is one of the more bizarre corporatefree-lance jobs I’ve had, though the company is not unusual in thesense that, like many others, it has done away withbenefits-expecting “perm” employees and replaced them with disposable”temps” from staffing agencies. Oh, sure, we may read a few backissues of Allure, but we’re paid by the hour and can be hired andfired like you order office supplies, on an as-need basis. We’re solow-maintenance, it isn’t even necessary to learn our names.

For me, this was supposed to be a two-weekassignment. Six months later, I’m still reporting to my cubicle forabout 20 hours a week, like one of those relationships you know isdoomed on the first date but continues, inexplicably,nonetheless.

Perhaps I have a special knack for naming fat-freesnack bars and diet gum that makes me valuable, despite my proclivityfor magazine reading. Still, after seeing most of my temp friends getthe ax, I wonder when my time will come.

I know I am marked. On my way to the water cooler,I can practically hear Human Resources yell, “Dead man walking.” Suchis the life of a temp, however. You can’t get emotionally attached.You’re a handshake away from no job.

And that’s the way I like it, really. I can’treally complain about “The Man” trying to squelch my spirit or theomnipresence of the cruel capitalist machine, because I have chosenthis life. I have opted to be a nameless cog. For all theinsecurities of this lifestyle, I don’t owe the company anything. Ican come and go as I please, stockpiling office supplies and perhapsmaking a long-distance call or two along the way. My time isflexible, and when I lose this job, there will always beanother.

My goal has long been to work as little aspossible in order to earn enough to live and have ample time topursue my as-yet-non-lucrative creative endeavors.

Oddly enough, I see my less-is-more work ethic asthe legacy of my Jewish immigrant grandparents. Did they come toAmerica and slave, sewing seams and painting houses, so that I couldaspire to a weekly timecard with as few billable hours as possible?Maybe. They weren’t working manual labor for the love of it, or forthe honor, but for the necessity.

They earned enough to send my mother to college,after which she got a cushy government job and raised me to believethat a sunny day is reason enough to call in sick. If it was warmerthan 72 degrees, I knew she’d come flouncing in from the beach, flushfrom the sun and donning her favorite “I just told my boss I have theflu” peach sundress. She never looked happier than she did on thosedays.

My inheritance is the luxury of owning my time, ormost of it, anyway. It’s no trust fund, but it is it’s own freedom.I’ll admit that it’s no day at the beach, living without vocationalsecurity, not to mention the neck strain involved with my on-the-jobmagazine-reading technique.

To me, though, it’s a small price to pay. While Imight be a lowly temp to companies who choose to hire me, I am theCEO of my own life.

If I were a corporation, I would be a terriblestock risk. Investors would run for cover. But I would have abeautiful logo — a snapshot of my mother’s sunburned smile.

So, when the hatchet falls on my latestincarnation as the Walt Whitman of weight management, I’ll be sad,sure. And broke. But only temporarily.

Teresa Strasser is a twentysomethingcontributing writer for The Jewish Journal.