Shul networks target job-seekers, businesses

Shul networks target job-seekers, businesses

Wayne resident Lonnie Helfand is “a big proponent of networking. I use it every day,” he explained. So when Helfand realized in October that people he knew were out of work, he decided he could do something to help.

From top, Steve Gross, Joe Herrmann, Robert Chananie, Bob Levin, and Lonnie Helfand

“I know how to get a job,” said Helfand, a member of Shomrei Torah. “But some of [these people] were clueless – more comfortable with computers than with other people. I wanted to reach out and help.”

Helfand approached Steve Gross, a congregant at Temple Beth Tikvah, and together they created the Wayne Career Networking Group.

“Our goal was to pull together the Wayne community to help each other at this difficult time,” said Gross, noting that the group has two goals: “to share insights from professionals in the field of networking, and to provide networking opportunities in our community.”

“We’ve been quite successful. People appreciate what we’re doing,” he said. In fact, he added, “they say it’s what we should be doing.”

The synagogue is “an important community focus, a logical place” for such an activity, said Gross. “We’re doing our little part to help people through this difficult time.”

The group has met twice, and sessions – open to the community – are publicized through the Wayne Interfaith Network.

Some 68 people attended the first meeting. Most of them were not from the two synagogues, said Helfand, noting that “word of mouth” brought out people from local churches as well as from other communities, such as Fair Lawn. Organizers asked attendees to bring canned food to be distributed through the Interfaith Network.

Helfand said that in his congregation of about 280 families, he knows personally of some 15 people out of work.

“We want to help prepare people to seek new employment and educate them in the skills required to find a job,” he said, adding that “most people don’t understand that 80 percent of jobs never get posted.”

Accordingly, for the first session, the group brought in a professional career counselor to discuss networking – what it means and how to do it. The second meeting focused on interview skills. Beth Tikvah and Shomrei Torah will take turns hosting meetings, which will take place every six weeks. The next one will be in early May.

Helfand stressed that it is important for as many people as possible to attend.

“The more people the better,” he said, noting that of the 68 people who attended the January meeting, only 15 were out of work. This demonstrates “the willingness of others to help,” he said. “People need to realize that it’s not just about today. You may have a job today, but your neighbor may be out of work. You should attend to help your neighbor today,” he said. “You might need help in the future.”

Reinforcing the need for a large attendance, a publicity notice for the group’s March meeting urged individuals not simply to attend “but to invite five others to come as well….Whether you are actively seeking employment, looking for a change, or perfectly content in your work, it makes sense to attend this event.”

For further information, email

Three years ago, Jonathan Rochlin of Temple Avodat Shalom in River Edge – then Temple Sholom – started a networking group where business owners could meet and refer clients to one another.

“It wasn’t about helping people get jobs,” said Rochlin, pointing out that the group “never achieved a critical mass” and disbanded.

Now, however, in the face of rising unemployment and decreased compensation for those still working, his shul has entered into a joint venture with the Jewish Community Center of Paramus to help businesses find new clients and enhance the job-hunting skills of those who are out of work or seeking a new job.

The Paramus group – originally called the Paramus Networking Group but considering a new name to acknowledge its broader reach – is headed by Joe Herrmann, JCCP executive director, and congregant Robert Chananie. Fairly new, it has met only once, in late March, drawing more than 20 attendees. A second meeting is planned for April 27.

“We felt a definite need to help people network to find jobs and grow their businesses in these trying times,” said Chananie, pointing out that while his shul has reached out to other area synagogues, so far it has heard back only from the River Edge congregation.

Chananie said that at the first meeting, attendees were asked to suggest topics for future discussion. Some said they needed help with job-search skills and writing résumés; others sought help with filing for unemployment and COBRA benefits.

The group is geared both to those who are unemployed and to those concerned about losing their jobs, said Herrmann, who has had experience in the corporate world and as a national recruiter for an executive search firm. On March 25, he was guest speaker at the Wayne Networking Group, discussing the “do’s and don’ts of interviewing.”

“We needed to do this now given the unemployment situation,” he said.

Like its Wayne counterpart, the Paramus group plans to bring in speakers (such as recruiters and search consultants) on the job-search procedure and to further business-to-business networking. At its first meeting, members of the two shuls were joined by several people who had learned of the session through other communal groups, such as UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey.

“We’re planning this on the fly,” said Herrmann. “At some point, it will be open to the wider community.”

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Bob Levin, chair of the networking committee at Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, pointed out that while the shul “held various job networking events at Barnert over the past couple of years,” last September Rabbi Elyse Frishman suggested to the chair of the men’s club that a more formal networking group be established.

Since that time, the congregation has held three networking meetings, open to the public, with attendance ranging from 30 to 75.

According to Levin, Beth Rishon in Wyckoff “had a similar starting point. Our rabbis talked, and we started having joint meetings.”

While other community resources exist to help the unemployed, “it is still important for our temple community to recognize the problems of our members,” said Levin. “It is part of our culture – our culture of giving. The synagogue is a perfect venue for this type of project.” He noted that while “we do not have metrics about who is unemployed or underemployed or at risk … we assume that our membership has been affected by the economic downturn.”

“We provide a safe and supportive environment to talk and discuss topics of mutual interest,” said Levin. “Networking is always important; talking and making connections between people. It is especially important in hard times.”

In March, the Barnert Networking Committee, in conjunction with Temple Beth Rishon, ran a program called “How to Fill Your Professional Toolbox.” The session focused on networking, billed as “Tool #1.”

Discussing topics ranging from “what is an elevator speech?” to “marketing yourself,” the event garnered positive feedback, said Levin.

“The only negative comments are the complaints about the lack of miracles. Our team passes those requests on to the rabbi.”

The next program is planned for April 19. For more information, email

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