image
Rabbi Yossie Stern meets with Project Ezrah clients. courtesy project ezrah

It’s not just about finding jobs for the unemployed. Though that is the core mission of Project Ezrah, a non-profit organization assisting hundreds of Jews in Teaneck, Englewood, Bergenfield, Fair Lawn, Paramus, and New Milford, Executive Director Rabbi Yossie Stern says a holistic approach is essential to success.

“We’ve found that many people who are unemployed can’t interview appropriately because they are wearing their financial stress on their sleeves,” Stern said. “Before we refer them, we have to deal with all their issues to the best of our ability. A lot of behavior modification and retraining is necessary. We work with bankruptcy attorneys, mediators, psychologists – whoever can help the family get past where it’s stuck.”

On Dec. 11, Project Ezrah is expecting about 1,000 supporters at its annual dinner reception at Cong. Keter Torah in Teaneck. It will honor 11 couples from eight synagogues who have been instrumental in its ability to serve 950 families in the past year, a task requiring a budget of $3 million.

The Englewood-based project (“ezrah” is Hebrew for “assistance”) was founded to address a spike in unemployment among Teaneck residents caused by the tragedy of 9/11, but it has grown in both scope and reach in response to a steadily worsening economy. Services now include fiscal planning, budget management, job placement, résumé building, and interview preparation. Though it is best known in the Orthodox community, its services are available to any Jewish family regardless of affiliation.

Ezrah’s employment division worked with 523 candidates in 2010, resulting in 100 job placements. An additional 2,015 candidates are active on its Internet job board – the only active board run by a Jewish organization in New Jersey, with 70,000 hits per month. More than 900 people are members of its LinkedIn online professional networking group. And Ezrah’s trained staff counseled an additional 204 families in need of financial and emotional support.

“The need for employment opportunities and financial aid increases each day,” said Stern. “Many people are earning less than before, and their mortgage becomes a much higher percentage of their income than it used to be.”

Accordingly, Project Ezrah is managing about $1.5 million worth of family budgets. “Our goal is to work out a budget within your means, no matter what you earn,” Stern said, and that often includes negotiating tuition assistance for day-school students of client families.

“We also service catastrophic or chronic cases,” he added. “We touch many different kinds of people and it’s not one-shoe-fits-all. Not everyone can live with our compliance rules, but by and large most have really gotten their lives back together.”

Stern noted a disturbing trend: About 70 percent of those seeking jobs are over age 55. “Their potential to find work in their field at a salary close to what they previously earned is much less likely than for someone younger,” he said. “Toward that end, we’ve been thinking out of the box.”

Two such candidates, one from the information technology field and one from advertising/marketing, benefited from an intensive retraining program to become licensed nursing-home administrators. “This option opens a brand new career when their old one is over and done with,” Stern said.

He related that the nursing-home manager in charge of the retraining also hired the wife of a Project Ezrah client, befriended the family, and eventually married the client’s daughter. “That is one of the most meaningful stories from my time here,” he said.

However, the story didn’t end happily ever after so quickly. The older couple paid off their debts and bought a new home, thanks to their new income, but Project Ezrah continued monitoring their spending and discovered new shortfalls. “I sat with them to micromanage their budget, and we were successful in getting them in the black and they’ve stayed there now for seven years,” Stern reported.

Project Ezrah’s 2010 honorees have donated goods, services, money, or time to the effort. They include: Efrat and Zvi Sobolofsky of Bergenfield/Cong. Ohr HaTorah (Rabbinic Leadership Award); Chaya and Mark Goldsmith of Teaneck/Cong. Keter Torah; Deborah and Alan Berger of Englewood/Cong. Ahavat Torah; Fayge and Michael Novogroder, Renee and Adam Becker, and Shira and Dov Katz of Teaneck/Cong. Bnai Yeshurun; Linda and Daniel Kramer of Paramus and Arizona; Leah and Reuven Escott of Bergenfield/Cong. Beth Abraham; Miriam and Izzy Salomon of Teaneck/Cong. Beth Aaron; Patrice and Marc Schoenbrun of Fair Lawn/Cong. Shomrei Torah; and Miryam and Israel Wahrman of Teaneck/Cong. Rinat Yisrael.

For reservations, click the dinner tab on www.Ezrah.org or call (201) 569-9047.