Volunteers speak out
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Volunteers speak out

Vicki Rosenblith — treasurer of Temple Emanuel of North Jersey in Franklin Lakes and a resident of Upper Saddle River — is a comptroller for a mortgage banking company. She has been involved with her congregation for a long time.

"My synagogue is very important to me, and if something’s important to you, you have to work at it," she says, adding that "some people come from a tradition of volunteerism" (their parents may have been volunteers), and others don’t.

Rosenblith feels she can be involved as a volunteer with only one institution at a time. When her kids were small, that institution was their school. She recalls that on nights when she was at home rather than at a school meeting, the children would ask, "What’s the matter?"

It all comes down to caring about the organization you’re involved with, and for the organization "to make [volunteers] feel that what they’re doing is really, really important and you need their help," says Rosenblith, who suggests that one way of doing this is to sponsor social occasions where volunteers can get together, relax, and trade "war stories."

In addition, "you have to identify the right people for the right job," she says, because people don’t want to spend their time doing something they have no interest in. Even at the synagogue, she limits her involvement to those areas where she feels she can do the most good.

Rosenblith says finding volunteers at Temple Emanuel is still done the old-fashioned way, mostly through word of mouth. Once a task is defined, "you can always find somebody," she says.

Closter resident Karen Wartell, education committee chair of Temple Beth El of Northern Valley there, works as a personal trainer. Eight years ago, when her daughter was preparing for her bat mitzvah, Wartell says she found a number of things to "complain about" and was told by a friend (now the incoming president of the shul) that she should stop complaining unless she was prepared to get involved and do something about it.

She subsequently became a shul volunteer, first joining the education committee and then, for the past two years, chairing it.

Wartell observes that most people simply drop their children off at the shul and leave. "They just don’t want to be involved," she says. On the other hand, she recognizes that "everyone is so busy" juggling their own, and their children’s, many activities.

Wartell says that she has a strong committee, with 10 very committed volunteers (all of them female). But it’s "the same people year after year," she adds, and it’s always "a major struggle to get volunteers." She has not found that making a volunteer commitment "time-limited" helps attract volunteers, and says that she is still short on volunteers to help with the shul’s Purim carnival on Sunday.

"I don’t know what the answer is," says Wartell, but she thinks that for some parents, the synagogue and Judaism "are just not a priority." Still, she suggests, people become involved with different things at different times in their lives. The synagogue, she points out, has a very active seniors group.

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