Passing the torch

Passing the torch

B'nai B'rith endowment will help Hillel 'get kids into yiddishkeit'

Robin Rochlin, the managing director of the endowment foundation of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, stands with donors Henry Schneider, Jack Schneider, and Dr. Irving Plutzer, and Hillel director Rabbi Ely Allen.

Jack Schneider of Fort Lee, president of B’nai B’rith’s Fort Lee Palisades Lodge, recalls the days when the group was in its heyday, with some 120 members.

“I like to feel that we have been victims of our own success,” Schneider said, noting that the lodge has only five remaining members.

“We’re down to an aging few,” he said, pointing out that when the group started, about 25 years ago, members’ children and grandchildren couldn’t get into Harvard or attain high Wall Street positions.

Now they can – and they no longer have the time, or the inclination, to join their father’s organization.

Nevertheless, that club is still making a difference in the life of the community.

According to lodge member Dr. Irving Plutzer of Fort Lee, he and his fellow members met for lunch earlier this spring and decided that the money they had collected over the years could be put to good use. By the time lunch was over, they had decided to create a $100,000 endowment with Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey to benefit Hillel of Northern New Jersey and Rutgers Hillel.

“We decided that we have this money, which is not being utilized, and the best thing would be to give it to Jewish youth in the hopes that they will find a greater interest in Judaism,” said Plutzer, who has belonged to the chapter since its inception. The other members now include Schneider and his brother Henry, Bob Levine, and Sidney Konigsberg.

Plutzer – who Schneider said “was instrumental in pointing us in the right direction” – said that $20,000 will be given to each of the four campuses served by the Hillel chapters: Ramapo College, William Paterson University, Fairleigh Dickinson University (Teaneck campus), and Bergen Community College. An additional $20,000 will be given to Rutgers.

“It was a group effort,” Schneider said. “We wanted to do something for the young people on the campuses and found that it would be best to give to the small group of colleges up here…. We felt that we should give a leg up to this group.”

Schneider said Rabbi Ely Allen, who heads Hillel of Northern New Jersey, will administer the money, devoting it to programs “that will get kids into yiddishkeit. He was working on a very slim budget. This injection of money will enable them to function in a more effective manner.”

He pointed out that while Hillel had been a part of B’nai B’rith, since the early 1990s it has been an independent organization.

“Now it stands by itself, and we thought it would be best to use our money for that particular purpose,” Schneider said.

“We want others to contribute to Hillel as well. It would be good to get other people as interested as we are.”

In early May Plutzer got in touch with Robin Rochlin, the federation’s Endowment Foundation managing director, “who was glad to launch it for us.” The fund will begin making distributions in 2014.

Plutzer is no stranger to endowments. He already has two: one for dental care at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, and one to benefit the Shirah choir. He hopes that setting up this new endowment “will help get some publicity out about Hillel.

“We felt that that is where the need is,” he said. “They have a shortage of funds,” he added, noting that while the group receives some money from federation, “When I spoke with [Allen], he said we were the first ones to make such a contribution.”

Indeed, Allen said, “this is the first endowment we’ve ever had.” While other endowments have allotted to Hillel some of the monies distributed by a particular fund, “this is the first endowment just for Hillel.”

The B’nai B’rith-Hillel shidduch was easily arranged, Allen said. He and Rochlin met with Schneider and Plutzer “and they were very impressed with what we are doing. It just happened.”

He said that the process was particularly smooth because Leon Sokol, who is involved with federation’s endowment committee as well as with Hillel, sits on the board of the Jewish Home with Plutzer, “and they were sitting together at a board meeting and worked everything out.”

Allen said he will use the endowment money “to directly service the four colleges,” spending it entirely on programming, meals, and guest speakers.

Allen noted that the group holds weekly meetings at each campus as well as larger events, such as bowling outings and holiday celebrations. He also offers Shabbat dinners at his home. In addition to drawing students from the four campuses, these meals attract college students who go to school elsewhere but live in the area, such as those from Rockland Community College.

“On Shabbat, we get around 60 students,” he said. “On Simchat Torah, we got more than 120. At some of our concerts we’ve gotten between 300 and 400.

“It’s extraordinarily encouraging that people care and want to make a difference,” Allen continued. “The fact that Dr. Plutzer and his colleagues are interested in having other people join and complement existing funds to build a larger endowment shows that people believe that college outreach and being involved on this level is important and that we need to be investing more resources in it.

“I’m so thankful to the B’nai B’rith lodge,” he said. “I told the students about it at the last event and they were so touched that out of nowhere, someone would care enough to give us this gift. It gave them a lot of encouragement as well.”

Rochlin pointed out that endowments such as that created by the B’nai B’rith members “allow donors to fund particular programs or organizations for future generations. They can be critical sources of funding to help supplement regular fundraising efforts or enable organizations to offer new services or programs.

“We are excited to work in partnership with donors whose interests help support our mission of strengthening Jewish identity and continuity, enhancing connections to Israel, or supporting safety net programs locally and around the world,” she added, noting that endowments can be used for broad “field of interest” programs or restricted to a specific program or organization.

“We also welcome unrestricted endowments or endowments that perpetuate annual campaign gifts,” she said. “Donor-advised funds are another popular funding vehicle.

“In short, our goal is to strengthen our Jewish community for the future.”

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