Parnassah Exchange: A New Clearinghouse for the Unemployed

A resident of a suburb of New York City and a longtime worker in the non-profit world, Naftali (not his real name) was about to lose his comfortable salary earlier this year when his job was eliminated during his firm’s downsizing, a victim of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Naftali took immediate “pro-active” action, networking in his circle of friends and applying for several jobs. “I started looking around,” he says.

Then Parnassah Exchange stepped in.

The initiative (parnassahexchange.org) is a new clearinghouse and connecting point for several organizations under Orthodox auspices in the Greater New York area that assist men and women who are unemployed and underemployed. Since being formed a year ago as an outgrowth of an informal-but-smaller group of men in Long Island’s Five Towns area, the organization has helped an estimated several hundred people find new jobs, or better ones.

The more than a hundred volunteers in Parnassah Exchange do their work largely through Zoom and phone interviews, prepping candidates for job interviews, helping them polish their resumes, and using their network of contacts throughout the business world to find work for the unemployed. The volunteers represent a wide variety of backgrounds in finance, banking and other fields.

One of the volunteers, who also arranged a subsequent, socially distanced in-person interview with Naftali, suggested that his work experience would make him “a perfect fit” for the health care industry; Naftali took the volunteer’s advice, and soon interviewed for two jobs in health care; a month after he learned that his old job was being phased out, he began his new one. At a higher salary than his previous job had paid.

“I ended up doing better” in his new field, says Naftali, thirty, who is Modern Orthodox and active in his local synagogue. “I had bitachon that things would work out.”

Saul Greenberger, a Brooklyn resident who helped Naftali get his new job, calls Naftali “a beautiful success story” of Parnassah Exchange. “There was something about his personality” during the initial Zoom meeting, and Naftali’s reasonable salary expectations, which would make him a good match in health care, says Greenberger, who is a partner in a long-term care pharmacy.

Zev Mandel, one of the co-founders of the independent, “very organic” Parnassah Exchange that began on What’sApp, says the organization has handled some 500 resumes of job-seekers during the pandemic, and has found jobs whose salaries are both modest and six-figures. Parnassah Exchange’s goal is to expand its national reach.

“It’s a major game-changer,” restoring millions of dollars of potentially lost salaries to members of the Orthodox community.

Elie Waldman, another co-founder of Parnassah Exchange and of its smaller predecessor, the Parnassah Initiative, says “we realized we needed to formalize things” to increase the latter’s scope.

The founders of Parnassah Exchange “needed help to scale their project” to meet the increased demands of the pandemic, says Rabbi Simon Taylor, national director of the OU’s Department of Community Projects and Partnerships, which has provided Parnassah Exchange with marketing, technical and moral support.

“It’s a major game changer,” restoring millions of dollars of potentially lost salaries to members of the Orthodox community, providing a financial lifeline to families and preventing loss of untold dues and donations to synagogues and other Jewish institutions, Rabbi Taylor says.

Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program, calls such employment-oriented organizations “extremely necessary. They have done an outstanding job.”

Greenberger says he has “touched” the lives of at least 100 to 150 people who have contacted him in the last decade looking for a job—or a better one. “It’s so simple to pick up a phone and line up a job. I see the power of reaching out to someone—it’s a big responsibility.”

The number of people contacting him has risen in the last year, Greenberger says. “Every week I meet two, three people.”

What would the situation be without the work of Parnassah Exchange?

“Many individuals would still be without work, and need to be supported by the community,” Rabbi Taylor says.

Naftali has recommended Parnassah Exchange to many of his friends and hopes to soon join the organization’s ranks of volunteers—a.k.a. “ambassadors.” He and his family could have gotten by on their savings for a while if Parnassah Exchange had not helped him, he says; he would not have been broke now. But, he adds, “I would be a lot more stressed out.”

Steve Lipman is a frequent contributor to Jewish Action.

 

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This article was featured in the Fall 2021 issue of Jewish Action.
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