Clothes make the mitzvah
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Clothes make the mitzvah

Boutique set to open for Project Ezrah's clients

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A Project Ezrah employment counselor surveys the clothes available

An Englewood boutique called Ezrah’s Closet is set to open in time for fall holiday shopping, offering women’s workday and dressy clothing as well as teens’ trendy dresses, separates, and special-occasion outfits. The display racks, mirrors, and changing rooms make it look like any other upscale shop in town.

The difference is that Ezrah’s Closet is open only to clients of Project Ezrah (“ezrah” is Hebrew for “assistance”), a non-profit organization helping hundreds of financially strapped Jewish families in Teaneck, Englewood, Bergenfield, Fair Lawn, Paramus, and New Milford. And the clothing, all lightly used and donated, is free of charge.

“The idea had been brewing for awhile,” said Susan Alpert, Ezrah’s director of fundraising and development. The high cost of clothing is a serious issue for many of the hundreds of families aided by the organization – particularly Shabbat, bat mitzvah, or wedding apparel, but also career apparel.

“It’s important for our clients going out on interviews to look presentable and also feel good about themselves,” said Alpert. In 2010, Project Ezrah’s employment division received inquiries from 1,891 job seekers, up from 900 the previous year.

“Even for going to shul, a new outfit lends a little more self-esteem when you’ll be seeing your friends – especially for teenagers, for whom clothing is so important.”

Project Ezrah at a glance
Between January and June 2011, Project Ezrah has:

“¢ posted more than 1,800 jobs on its job board, including 288 new employment opportunities

“¢ worked one on one with 308 job-seekers, 65 of whom have so far found meaningful employment

Ң rewritten 56 r̩sum̩s

“¢ coached 59 candidates on interview preparation

“¢ arranged for 60 job interviews

“¢ helped 117 families learn how to identify goals and budget critical living expenses

“¢ “graduated” 33 families formerly needing financial assistance

A Project Ezrah supporter had collected donated clothing she made available in her basement, but clients were hesitant to come, uneasy with the idea of neighbors learning of their plight.

“We really needed a private place of our own,” Alpert said. “We thought of all sorts of different ideas, and then our landlord here said he had a space available and would give it to us until he rents it. It’s wonderful, because our clients can go there one at a time by appointment, and no two people will see each other.”

She had started collecting items two years ago, at a bat mitzvah party for Teaneck resident Chana Waintraub. “All of us here wanted to get younger people involved in Project Ezrah, not by donating money, but by helping the community,” Alpert explained. “A natural start was for girls to share the bat mitzvah party dresses they don’t want to wear twice. We did a chesed party for Chana where the guests brought their [used] dresses and had fun sorting and bagging them.”

Teaneck residents Gila Jaffe and Shelly Badner put together their experience in clothing merchandising and interior design to take charge of the project. They arranged the donated space like a retail boutique and posted a request for gently used items on the Teaneckshuls Yahoo group. “The response has been truly remarkable,” according to Alpert.

One exceptional out-come was a call from Dr. Norman Sohn of Englewood, she relates. “He had a closet full of his dear [late] wife Judy’s beautiful and classic clothing. These dresses, suits, gowns, skirts, sweaters, and blouses were just what was needed. Judith Sohn was truly a woman of style.”

Another significant boost to the inventory came from Margo Rappel, a Monmouth County candy-maker whose treats are distributed in Project Ezrah’s fundraising Purim packages. She and her bat mitzvah-age daughter, Jenna, gathered more than 50 gently used party dresses from Jenna’s classmates and drove them up from Middletown.

For now, the service is limited to Project Ezrah clients, and only female ones at that. If all goes well, Alpert indicated, menswear could be added to the stock. For now, Jaffe and Badner are still seeking additional donations of items in children’s and pre-teen sizes.

“We stress that we want the clothes to be clean and in good condition – something you’d want to wear yourself,” Alpert said.

Clothing donations can be dropped off at the Project Ezrah office at 95 Cedar Lane in Teaneck on Mondays through Thursdays from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m, and Fridays until noon. For further details, call Alpert at (201) 569-9047.

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