It should have been obvious from the start that Janet Hod was, well, a bit different. After all, she said, she wasn’t available to speak on Friday because that Shabbat she would be hosting the entire Yeshiva University men’s basketball team.
“It will be a bit crazy here,” she understated, noting later that she does this every year. “I’ve had three sons on the team, and two are still there,” she explained. In addition, her husband, Lior, as well as his brother, Ayal, are former YU basketball stars.
Still, hosting and feeding 18 young men is a big deal.
Lior and Janet Hod, who have lived in Teaneck for about 30 years, will be honored by their synagogue, Young Israel of Teaneck, on March 10. “We helped to found the shul 20 plus years ago and I help to run the shul — basically, I run the office,” Ms. Hod said. She’s also helping with the synagogue’s expansion project.
“We’ve grown tremendously,” she said, noting that membership is now around 240 families. “There are a lot of young people, from families whose children decided to stay in the community,” she added; in fact, her own daughter moved across the street. “There was a big need to expand the building,” she said.
Perhaps, given the family’s matter-of-fact approach to hosting 18 young men for the weekend, it should not have been surprising to learn from Ms. Hod that “we have four biological children but lots of kids” who grew up in their home because “they needed homes — kids who come from troubled homes, or who are studying away from home. One family lost the mother and we were helping to raise the kids until a remarriage.
“We have an open home,” she said, adding that people arrive there “completely through word of mouth.” The reason for this outreach lies in the Hods’ own history. “People did it for my husband and me, and we passed it on,” she said. “We both had challenging situations in childhood.” It is also noteworthy Janet Hod converted to Judaism before she turned 21. “I wanted to do that since high school,” she said. “I fell in love with Judaism as a family-oriented, home-based religion.”
Her home, indeed, would seem to be a remarkable place.
“My kids are amazing,” she said of her daughter and three sons, who range in age from 21 to 27. “They take in other kids on their own. I take pride in watching them show empathy and kindness, to make these kids” — often with special needs — “feel part of the group.
“My daughter started in middle school, getting involved in a charity helping kids with malaria. When she went to Rutgers, she got involved with the Embrace Kids Foundation, which helps families who have children with cancer. She’s now on the board.” Ms. Hod hopes, she said, that she’s taught her children to help “within and beyond the community — it’s a balance.”
As for her husband, “Fate brought us together. We have similar goals in life. We’re blessed in many ways. We feel that whatever we have is a gift,” leading them to open their home to those who need it. “He’s amazing. I couldn’t do it without a partner.”
She also is proud of her synagogue. “Our whole community is really unique in that it is Orthodox but very non-judgmental, very welcoming. Anyone can move in and feel comfortable. One of our biggest things is showing gratitude for each other, appreciating each other, performing acts of kindness.” She said the mark of a caring community is to “forget about ourselves and take care of each other.”
Ms. Hod’s outreach is not limited to her synagogue. “I help wherever I’m needed,” she said, whether that’s with Chabad of Teaneck, bikkur cholim, or another group that can use a hand. And yet, with all these significant acts of generosity, perhaps the latest one is the most unusual.
As part of the March 10 honoree dinner, the Hods have endowed a new award, to be presented annually. The first such award will be presented to Danny Daurio, who delivers mail to the shul, the Hods, and many local families. But he does much more, Ms. Hod said, explaining why Mr. Daurio will receive the shul’s first Gratitude Award.
“Danny is the kindest, most giving person,” she said. “He goes far beyond” his job description. During a recent hurricane, when the post office was closed and trucks couldn’t get down the street, “he drove around the neighborhood to make sure people were OK. He shoots hoops with the kids, checks on the elderly. He would make Mr. Rogers proud.
“Mr. Rogers would love our neighborhood,” she continued. “Danny is family. You don’t have to be Jewish to be part of the community. He’s a good, kind person. A lot of dinners are about fundraising. The bigger piece is to represent who you are as a community. Every year, we want to endow a gratitude award to show appreciation for a member of the community whose kindness makes our community better, who’s a role model.
“Danny is so excited. We invited him to bring his whole family.” The shul also has written to the Postmaster General with news of the award; it is hoped he will respond in some way. “It’s our way to say thank you to someone who is special.
“I think there’s nothing better in life than being able to help somebody — and there’s so many ways you can help. It doesn’t have to be financial. You can say hello to a neighbor. There are so many ways to be kind.”
Who: Lior and Janet Hod will be guests of honor, Elana and Eli Katz will receive the Charlie Gartenberg Memorial Service Award, and Danny Daurio will receive the Gratitude Award
What: At the Young Israel of Teaneck’s anniversary dinner
When: March 10 at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Fair Lawn Jewish Center, 10-10 Norma Ave., Fair Lawn
How: (201) 837-1710, www.yiot.org