Pooling tips and tzedakah

Pooling tips and tzedakah

Closter couple waits tables to benefit Jewish Family and Children’s Services

Assaf Sibony, left, and Einat Aviraz-Sibony of Closter raised $2,500 for JFCS by waiting tables at Tavlin, a kosher restaurant in Tenafly. Here, they are at home, in front of a drawing Ms. Aviraz-Sibony made of the couple on their wedding night.
Assaf Sibony, left, and Einat Aviraz-Sibony of Closter raised $2,500 for JFCS by waiting tables at Tavlin, a kosher restaurant in Tenafly. Here, they are at home, in front of a drawing Ms. Aviraz-Sibony made of the couple on their wedding night.

It’s not unusual for married couples to dine at a favorite restaurant on their weekly date night. It is unusual, however, for the couple to wait tables at their favorite restaurant, turning date night into an opportunity for chesed — an act of kindness.

This out-of-the-box idea was dreamed up by Assaf Sibony and Einat Aviraz-Sibony of Closter. On social media, they urged their friends to come for dinner to Tavlin, a Mediterranean kosher restaurant at 7 W. Railroad Ave. in Tenafly on January 24. They pledged to donate all tips they earned to Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey in Teaneck.

“My wife and I have a busy schedule and three kids, so we thought, ‘What can we do together?’ After considering a lot of ideas we decided to do something that other people can benefit from,” Mr. Sibony, CEO of a high-tech firm called Uptime NYC, said.

“And this is how the idea of being waiters came up, so we could donate the money to a good cause. JFCS, being an organization that provides food for people who are hungry, is the natural choice for what we do here, and we’re happy to do it.”

In addition to its many other services — including individual and group counseling, support groups, aid and advocacy, and afterschool programs — JFCS runs an emergency food pantry

Mr. Sibony learned of the agency through a friend in Alpine, whose son had requested donations to JFCS in lieu of bar mitzvah gifts. Since then, Mr. Sibony has ridden in the 50-mile JFCS Wheels-for-Meals Ride to Fight Hunger held every June. He’s done it three times — “Last time I even did it with a broken hand on a tandem bike,” he said.

The first evening at Tavlin earned the couple $350 in tips for JFCS. The following Tuesday they did it again, raking in $1,250. “And one of our friends, Guy Tanne, matched it to bring the total to $2,500 that we will donate to the JFCS today,” Mr. Sibony reported on February 1.

“The Sibonys’ act of chesed and financial contribution to JFCS speaks volumes about the type of individuals they are,” Ellen Finkelstein, JFCS’s marketing director, said. “They truly understand the work being done at JFCS to help those in need throughout northern New Jersey.

“This was such a creative way to not only raise funds, but to raise awareness about the agency. As they greeted each table at Tavlin, they explained what they were doing, and why. One of our staff members happened to be seated at their table in the restaurant and was blown away by their incredible kindness. Wouldn’t it be great if this started a trend?”

Waiting tables is no easy task, but both Sibonys have some experience from their native Israel. Mr. Sibony was a waiter at a Jerusalem restaurant for several years, and Ms. Aviraz-Sibony waited tables at an eatery in Tel Aviv. “It’s like riding a bicycle; you never forget how,” Mr. Sibony said.

“We like to entertain, so serving people is natural for us.,” Ms. Aviraz-Sibony added. “We try to have a very open house for our friends, especially not having family here.”

The couple has lived in the Unites States for 12 years, the last five of them in Closter. Their daughters, who are 8, 5, and 3 years old, go to Hillside Elementary School there. So it’s not surprising that when the couple put out the word over various WhatsApp groups, a nice crowd of mostly Israeli patrons showed up at the restaurant, which is under the kosher supervision of Chabad of Monsey.

“I think we had 65 or 70 people on January 24,” says Cresskill resident Eric (Arik) Erlich, Tavlin’s Israeli-born owner. The four-year-old restaurant can seat about 100 diners.

“It was very successful. I thought it was spectacular,” Mr. Erlich added. “Assaf and Einat are good friends and great customers of mine. They are amazing people, who do a lot of things for the community.”

Ms. Aviraz-Sibony is the co-chair of Bereisheet, a local nonprofit Israeli afterschool language and culture program for children from preschool to bar/bat mitzvah age. “We’re always interested in trying to bring the Israeli community together, and food is a great way to do that while having fun,” she said. “It’s a bit more than just reaching into your pocket and giving money to charity. It’s working and gathering the rest of the community to help this cause.”

On the nights they waited tables, the Sibonys invited amateur chefs in the community to come to Tavlin and cook up a special Israeli dish for patrons. (With Mr. Erlich’s permission, of course.) On the first Tuesday, Maya Burshtein Yaari made beet kubbeh, and on January 31 she prepared Moroccan fish. Both proved very popular.

The couple isn’t sure how often they might repeat their waiter gig.

“We’ll do it as long as it continues to attract crowds and is successful, and then we’ll find a different approach,” Mr. Sibony said. “It means every Tuesday night we don’t see our kids, so it won’t go on forever.”

Meanwhile, he is staying in shape not only for the next Wheels for Meals but also for his sixth year of participation in the Century for the Cure 100-mile bike ride in the fall to benefit the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

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