In Their Own Words: Why I Work for the Klal

I’ve been working in the non-profit sector since I entered the workforce eleven years ago. I began in outreach and found my way into operations and fundraising.

I did not grow up observant; that experience fuels my passion for educating Jews who have not had access to a Jewish education.

At Partners in Torah, I oversee all operations and assist in grant writing, HR and marketing. I learned the ins and outs of product development, and wrote curricula. I am constantly learning and developing new skills.

Non-profit work is a fantastic opportunity to meet like-minded professionals. I love the people I work with. It’s like a close-knit family and very people-centric. The work is really flexible; they trust me, a single mom with three kids, to get the work done.

Non-profit work is particularly meaningful. It makes you feel alive; you feel that you are changing lives.

Tehilla Friedland, COO, Partners in Torah, Passaic, New Jersey

As told to Steve Lipman

 

I teach elementary-age students with special needs in a yeshivah setting. There is no greater joy than knowing that on a daily basis, I am making a difference in their lives. I reach deep within myself to create lessons that build passion, responsibility, grit and self-confidence. I see students who stand up taller and reach deeper within themselves. I feel that I touch eternity.

Dena Mayerfeld, special education teacher, Passaic, New Jersey

 

I was a senior director at IBM. I left a high-level, intellectually stimulating job in the corporate world, where I was making triple my current salary, with much better benefits, to go into outreach and community work.

Nowadays, I work hard. But I’m no longer working hundred-hour work weeks or into the “eighteen minutes” on Friday afternoon. More importantly, working with neshamos is so much more stimulating than what I was doing before. Kiruv work forces you to be more intentional about your own Yiddishkeit.  

I’m doing what I love—I want to prevent intermarriage. I want to prevent what happened to my family.

Rivkie Kahn, Brooklyn outreach educator, NCSY

 

Back in 1989, as a college student majoring in special education, I started working at the then-Board of Jewish Education in New York (now The Jewish Education Project). By the time I finished my undergraduate degree, I enjoyed the work so much I didn’t want to leave.

In the 80s and early 90s, there were very few opportunities for children with learning disabilities to stay and thrive in a yeshivah environment. The Jewish Education Project helped change that by supporting and promoting special ed programs in Jewish schools. Over the years, I have advanced Jewish education by running the first Jewish master’s degree programs for special education, educational technology, and school leadership. I’ve helped yeshivot and day schools implement a wide range of government-funded, professional-development programs for all educators; access technology and other school resources; and receive free kosher food and reimbursement for the national school breakfast, lunch and snack programs.

My team and I are not lobbyists. We ensure that we know about all the government-funded resources that our schools are eligible for and how to access them. We share that knowledge and know-how with schools. For example, over the past two years alone, we facilitated recovering over $172 million in government aid for New York City Jewish day schools. I stay because I truly love the work I do—helping Jewish schools and their students. When I look in the mirror, that’s what keeps me going.

Sara Seligson, director of day schools and yeshivot, The Jewish Education Project, New York, New York

As told to Steve Lipman

 

I am driven to help Jewish teenagers become excited about Judaism and being Jewish. It’s an incredible thing to wake up to every day. The underlying premise of NCSY’s JSU (Jewish Student Union) programs is that kids feel great about being connected to something larger and greater than themselves. (JSU clubs are aimed at educating Jewish youth in public schools about Jewish culture, heritage and religion.)

Parents call me after our Challah Bake, in awe and wonderment, telling me that their child came home, explained challah to the family, and asked if they can now integrate challah into their lives. And that’s usually just a starting point for these kids. “Rabbi Neiditch,” they’ll say, “my child had zero interest in anything Jewish and now—it’s amazing. We just baked challah. We are going to eat it Friday night. My husband will say the blessing over the wine. They’re encouraging the entire family to connect with Judaism!”

Rabbi Chaim Neiditch, regional director of the Greater Atlanta Region of NCSY, national field manager for national NCSY and executive director of JSU of Atlanta

 

For thirty-five years I have been a mechanech. I love teaching Torah to students of various ages in various contexts. I also appreciate the opportunity to help individuals and families in challenging situations, and enhance and shape their positive life-cycle events in a meaningful fashion. Teaching Torah has been enriching for me and my family spiritually and emotionally, and has made me a better human being and a better Jew.

Rabbi Nathaniel Helfgot, rabbi of Congregation Netivot Shalom, Teaneck, New Jersey, and chair of the Department of Torah SheBaal Peh at SAR High School, Riverdale, New York

 

Thirty-two years ago, my wife and I adopted a Jewish baby and discovered that many Jewish children, especially those with special needs, were being placed in non-Jewish homes or abandoned in institutions. We tried to encourage Jewish organizations to help find Jewish adoptive homes for such kids, but none felt they could do it. So we founded the Jewish Children’s Adoption Network, ran it out of our home, and helped find Jewish families for over 2,000 Jewish children. Every time we help a Jewish child find a Jewish home, we know we have helped save a Jewish neshamah.

Stephen Krausz, assistant director, Jewish Children’s Adoption Network, Baltimore, Maryland

 

My parents were one of the founding families of Aish HaTorah Toronto; my father was a close student of Rabbi Noach Weinberg, zt”l, founder of Aish HaTorah. As a kid, I saw how many people viewed my parents as mentors and a lifeline—which made me feel that my parents were heroes. I feel very fortunate to have grown up in such a home. It’s no surprise that I decided to spend my life in the world of kiruv.

Rabbi Shlomo Mandel, director of JSU and Toronto chapter of NCSY, Toronto, Ontario

 

In my role at Ohel, I supervise a group home, creating a supportive environment for a group of men to thrive. In addition, through our respite program, we provide recreational programs in which we take children, teens and young adults for holiday weekends, as well as offering gap-camps at the end of the summer when most camp programs are over and schools have yet to resume.

Seeing the impact we have on the families we service motivates me.

Over the years, I have helped families place their child in a group home; assisted families through the death of a loved one; created educational tools; provided support through illness; aided parents in finding appropriate schools and fought for children to receive the proper services. I have been given the opportunity to change other people’s lives.

It’s a job that makes a difference.

Hillary Zimmern, area coordinator, Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services, Brooklyn, New York

As told to Steve Lipman

 

More in this Section:

In Search of Talent: The Future of Jewish Communal Work

The OU: Investing in its People by Rachel Schwartzberg

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This article was featured in the Fall 2022 issue of Jewish Action.
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