Inside the OU

HAPPENINGS AROUND THE OU

Yachad members man the counter at the grand opening of Yachad Gifts’ retail store.

Yachad Gifts Retail Store Opens in Brooklyn

Despite the chilly weather, hundreds of excited Yachad staff and members as well as community members gathered in Brooklyn for the grand opening of Yachad Gifts’ retail storefront this past November. The grand opening, featuring door prizes, raffles and contests, marked the start of a new chapter for Yachad Gifts, a project of Yachad, the Orthodox Union’s flagship program of the National Jewish Council for Disabilities. Yachad Gifts was created to provide job training and meaningful employment to individuals with disabilities while supplying the public with specially crafted gift baskets.

“Jobs are hard to come by for anyone with a disability,” says Yachad International Director Dr. Jeffrey Lichtman. “The Yachad Gifts store shows Jewish consumers that you can gainfully employ individuals with disabilities—and that it works to everyone’s benefit, both employee and employers.”

Since its lauch online in 2013, Yachad Gifts has grown rapidly. The new store means an expanded selection of gift baskets and, more importantly, additional vocational opportunities for individuals with disabilities. Yachad members who work at the store are involved in stocking inventory, production, packaging, shipping, data entry, sales and customer service.

“Now we have a physical store, a tangible way for people to see what Yachad can do,” says Stuart Gourdji, Director and Store Manager of Yachad Gifts.

The store is located at 1545 Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. For store hours, contact 855.505.7500 or info@yachadgifts.com.

 

Photo: Ethan Vann

Teens Opt for Torah

Nearly 400 public school teens from across the US and Canada—as well as quite a few from Chile and Argentina—gathered for a week of Torah study this past December at NCSY’s annual Yarchei Kallah in Stamford, Connecticut.

“This Yarchei Kallah marked the sixth month that I have kept Shabbat, and it was the best one that I have had,” says Daniella Abekassis, a senior at Hewlett High School in New York who attended NCSY’s Yarchei Kallah for the first time this year. “Having so many people by my side to celebrate Shabbat made me feel like I had accomplished something great.”

NCSY’s Yarchei Kallah, which was broadcast live for the first time, gives public school teens the opportunity to learn Torah during their winter break instead of going skiing or relaxing on the beach.

 

College women learning intensively at the OU-JLIC Women’s Winter Midrasha.

College Women Spiritually Recharge During Week of Learning

NCSYers weren’t the only ones learning during winter break.

As 2017 came to a close, a dozen young women from college campuses across North America gathered at the Seymour J. Abrams OU Jerusalem World Center (OU Israel Center) for the Third Annual OU-JLIC Women’s Winter Midrasha Program in Israel.

“I learned so much in just five days,” says Devorah Fisher who attends the University of Wisconsin. “This was a great way to spiritually recharge in the middle of the school year.”

The program, created by OU-JLIC Co-Director and Torah Educator at Queens College Rabbi Robby Charnoff, offers a week-long, immersive learning environment that recaptures the atmosphere students experienced during their year of study in Israel.

Featuring shiurim by Rabbi Charnoff, OU-JLIC Founding Director Rabbi Menachem Schrader and OU-JLIC Torah Educator at IDC Herzliya Margot Botwinick—as well as by guest speakers Rabbanit Shani Taragin, Rabbi Menachem Leibtag and OU Israel Center Program Director Rabbi Sam Shor, among others—the young women explored topics in Tanach, halachah, Gemara and hashkafah.

 

Charlie Harary, OU Chairman of Community Engagement, speaking to an overflowing crowd at Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills during the OU West Coast Torah Weekend.

Learning in LA

With multiple scholars in residence at fourteen OU-member shuls, a rabbinic seminar, a Shabbat oneg and a rebbetzin conference, there was something for everyone at the OU West Coast Torah Weekend held this past December.

But the highlight of the four-day event, in which thousands participated, was the Sunday morning “Learn LA” program, held at OU-member shul Beth Jacob Congregation of Beverly Hills and attended by close to 400 people. This special Torah event featured three concurrent learning sessions on topics such as “Current Halachic Controversies,” “Torah Values During Challenging Times” and “New Insights in Tanach.” Lectures are available at ou.org/learn-la.

OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin attends the Chanukat Habayit for the newly renovated and reopened Young Israel of Century City (YICC) in Los Angeles. The OU West Coast Torah Weekend’s Keynote Dinner was the first event hosted in YICC’s new building. From left: Rabbi Elazar Muskin, Rabbi of YICC; Mr. Fagin; and Dr. Mark Goldenberg, Past President of YICC.

 

OU-JLIC Most “Swiped” Program at UCLA

By Simcha Himmel

As most students know, two of the more challenging things to find on campus are kosher food and Torah classes. Not anymore at UCLA. This past semester, OU-JLIC student president and staff writer for UCLA’s Jewish student magazine Ha’Am Joey Levin, created a simple solution: Jew-Swipes, a feature on Ha’Am’s app that lists daily Jewish events taking place on campus offering free kosher meals.

“Since I’ve been at UCLA, I have become reliant on obtaining kosher food from Jewish events and wanted an easy way for myself and others to see all the opportunities for kosher food in one centralized place,” says Joey. The name was inspired by UCLA’s meal plan, which refers to each meal as a “swipe.” The first semester after the app was initially launched, OU-JLIC led the way as the organization whose events were most swiped. Jew-Swipes is an optimal platform for OU-JLIC, which provides Shabbat and holiday meals as well as many meals accompanied by shiurim.

“When I tell students about the app, they are very eager to download it and learn what is going on in the Jewish community,” says Joey. “I know of people who check the app each day so they can plan their meals for the day.”

OU-JLIC’s Torah educators work to advance the Torah education and commitment of Orthodox students at twenty-three secular universities across North America, helping students observe key aspects of Jewish life on campus. 

 

529 Accounts—No Longer Just for College!

In December, OUA’s persistent effort yielded its most recent success: the adoption of a new federal tax provision that expands the use of 529 Education Savings Plans to pay for K-12 education expenses, including those at Jewish day schools and yeshivot. Previously, 529 accounts were limited to paying for college tuition expenses. OUA identified the landmark Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, passed by Congress in late 2016, as an opportunity to deliver support for Jewish education—and the expansion of 529 accounts to K-12 education was among the provisions OUA sought.

The greatest financial benefit derived from 529 Savings Accounts comes from depositing funds as early as possible and allowing them to accrue tax-free gains over a period of years. Depositing funds in the early years of a child’s life can lead to substantial funds by the time that child reaches middle or high school age. Many parents may also be able to benefit (on a shorter term basis) from a state tax income deduction for 529 account deposits. In New York State, for example, parents and grandparents can each receive up to a $10,000 state income tax deduction for deposits into 529 accounts. More information on 529 Savings Accounts for K-12 tuition expenses is available at advocacy.ou.org.

To determine whether a 529 Savings Plan is right for you and your family, contact your personal accountant or financial adviser.

 

FROM THE MAILBAG

Following Hurricane Maria, the OU partnered with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort to help storm-ravaged Puerto Rico.

“Right now, Puerto Rico needs our help more than ever and I am so grateful that Governor Cuomo has once again stepped up to the plate to deliver,” said OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin. “This funding will be key to helping Puerto Rico fix its damaged and failing infrastructure, helping to secure clean water on the island for residents.”

In a letter this past November, Governor Cuomo thanked Mr. Fagin for the OU’s contributions to New York’s relief efforts.

Before boarding a plane to embark on a relief mission to Puerto Rico, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was joined by OU Executive Vice President Allen Fagin and other strategic partners. Mr. Fagin stands on the far right.

Dear Allen:

I wanted to thank you for your assistance with our recent visit to Puerto Rico—Orthodox Union’s water filtration contribution was essential.

I was proud to show, once again, that New York remains united with Puerto Rico, and we are continuing our efforts to rebuild their communities after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Through the Empire State Clean Water Fund’s $1 million investment, we are helping to remedy the clean water crisis—an essential step toward restoring a livable environment for those in need.

We couldn’t have done it without your assistance, and I thank you for standing with me to help our Puerto Rican brothers and sisters in their time of need.

With warmest regards and best wishes,
Sincerely,

ANDREW M. CUOMO

 

WOMEN IN ACTION

Eighty young women from seven New York Orthodox high schools explored tefillah challenges and developed heightened tefillah self-awareness at the Tefillah Yom Iyun, hosted by New York NCSY in partnership with the Women’s Initiative this past February. Photo: Josh Weinberg

WI Launches Bold New Challenge Grant

In an exciting new project, the Women’s Initiative recently launched “The Challenge Grant,” which challenges synagogues and communities to develop innovative programs that engage women and girls in synagogue and communal life. WI will award grants of $5,000 each to the ten best proposals.  Winning programs will serve as prototypes for other communities.

The application deadline is April 30, 2018. Grant awardees will be announced on May 31, 2018. For more information or to obtain an application, contact women@ou.org.

All Women, All the Time

Tune into two new exciting podcasts by the Women’s Initiative. Torata, drawing upon psychological constructs and textual analysis, will explore prayer from a woman’s perspective. In the Spotlight will feature ongoing interviews with impactful Orthodox women—from successful entrepreneurs to talented educators to women with personal stories of challenge and inspiration. Showcasing female talent and leadership, In the Spotlight will introduce you to some of the most compelling Orthodox Jewish women who, in both their personal and professional lives, serve as remarkable role models for our community. Podcasts can be accessed at ou.org/women.

The Impact Institute, WI’s New Leadership Training Program

Honing negotiation skills, creating and leading effective teams, developing motivation strategies and effective communication skills are all part of the curriculum of the Women’s Institute’s new leadership training institute. The Impact Institute will support communal professionals in maximizing their leadership capacity and will be an invaluable resource for women who wish to enhance their impact in lay leadership roles.  Stay tuned for more information.

 

NEW POSITIONS & PROMOTIONS

The OU welcomes Rebecca Kurz as Volunteer Resources Coordinator. Running a new initiative at the OU, Rebecca will be matching individuals seeking to give back to the community with volunteer opportunities at the OU. “When looking for volunteer opportunities, many people think of local organizations, such as schools and shuls,” says Rebecca. “The OU, as an umbrella organization, does so much for the broader Jewish community nationally as well as locally. This initiative is a way for people to use their skills and talents doing what  they enjoy with the reward of seeing the fruits of those labors in the Jewish community.” Rebecca, who has experience in community leadership, previously served as Director of Operations for Camp Nesher. She lives in Teaneck, New Jersey with her husband and four children. If you want to volunteer your skills to make a difference, contact Rebecca at kurzr@ou.org.

Rabbi Adir Posy, who led the OU’s relief efforts in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, has been promoted to Director of the OU’s Department of Community and Synagogue Services. Rabbi Posy has served in the Community and Synagogue Services Department for seven years, first as the Assistant Director of the OU West Coast Office, and then as the Western States Regional Director. Rabbi Posy, who lives in Los Angeles, also serves as the Associate Rabbi at Beth Jacob Congregation and is a father of six.

Maury Litwack, Executive Director of the OU’s Teach Advocacy Network, has been appointed to the Education Transition Team of New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy. This is the first time a yeshivah-community advocate is in this advisory position. “Phil Murphy’s commitment to all New Jersey school children is reflected in the education transition team’s diverse and qualified group. I look forward to helping him craft a government that meets the needs of all children and families, including the needs of yeshivah and day school children,” says Litwack.

Formerly Data Services Specialist at the OU, Suzanne Mazel has been promoted to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Specialist. In this capacity, she will oversee the creation of a new CRM system, manage payment pages and web sites, and process donations. Suzanne has been part of the OU family for more than a decade, first as an NCSYer in the Atlantic Seaboard Region (where she met her husband), and then as a professional, working in the Data Services Department for the past four years.

 

Celebrating Twenty-Five Years with NCSY

Jewish Action recently spoke with three NCSY leaders who reached an extraordinary milestone this past year: twenty-five years with NCSY. Rabbi Glenn Black, CEO of NCSY Canada and Torah High; Rabbi Tzali Freedman, Director of NCSY Central East; and Rabbi Israel Lashak, Senior Educator for NCSY International, reflect on their years working to ensure Jewish kids remain Jewish.

 

How did you get involved with NCSY?

Rabbi Black: In 1989 while I was a student at Yeshiva University, Rabbi Nosson Westreich, the previous Director of NCSY Canada, asked me to get involved with the region. I did. When Rabbi Westreich left NCSY, I was approached about taking his position. The advice I was given was to devote three years to the klal, and then go into the field of my choice—but give the Jewish people some of my heart and soul. Well, three years became five, five became ten, and now, twenty five years later, here I am.

What have you learned in twenty-five years of outreach work?

RB: One: You don’t need more than Torah itself. Expose it to Jews who have little Torah, and they will be moved. Two: Generosity of spirit. In kiruv your agenda has to be to bring people closer via ahavat Yisrael. Three: If you give children opportunities to grow and learn, they will inspire you. I’ve committed to NCSY and made this my life’s mission because I am constantly inspired as I watch decade after decade of young people find a love and passion for their Judaism and take responsibility to share it with others. 

How has NCSY changed over the years?

RB: About seven years ago we started to engage families inclusively—moms, dads, grandparents and younger kids—in our programming; Shabbatonim, Chanukah parties and holidays like Purim and Pesach are all family experiences. We now have parents as fully engaged in the Jewish experience as their children. This is by far our most innovative approach to the way we do kiruv.

 

How did you first join NCSY?

Rabbi Freedman: I was introduced as a candidate for Regional Director by Gary Torgow, a former Regional Director and the Chairman of the Regional Youth Commission (he’s currently a Senior Vice President, OU Board of Directors). My number-one qualification was that I was willing to take the job! In 1992, outside of those already involved, NCSY was not on the radar screen of those seeking a career in kiruv.

How has NCSY changed over the years?

RF: In some ways nothing has changed, while in other ways it is night and day. The professionalization of the organization, the menu of summer programs and the talent available to hire would have been unfathomable years ago. On the other hand, the level of Jewish apathy within families is creating an unprecedented challenge. And with the busy, connected lives that today’s teens lead, it is even more difficult to get their loyalty and consistent participation.

 

How did you first join NCSY?

Rabbi Lashak: In the 1980s, I came to Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore from Mexico and could barely speak a word of English. With the yeshivah’s permission, since I needed an income, I would assist in the kitchen during Shabbatons held by the Atlantic Seaboard Region. Kids would always come to the kitchen to hang out. The Regional Director at the time, Bonnie Pollack, suggested that I become a volunteer adviser, but I needed to support myself. Three years later, Bonnie took me on as a paid adviser.

What’s your favorite NCSY memory?

RL: Some time ago, I was in a sefarim store in Me’ah She’arim, and my daughters wanted me to buy them a 3-D model of the Kotel. It was expensive, so I said no. A few minutes later, a young man with long peyot came into the store, looked at me, and began hugging me. Turned out, this young man was an NCSYer who had been a difficult teen, but was studying to become an av beit din in Yerushalayim! He wanted to buy $400 worth of sefarim. I paid for them. My daughters were upset—you spend $400 on someone else’s sefarim, and you won’t buy us what we want? I explained that the sefarim this young man was buying were so advanced I could never learn them—but I wanted a share in his Torah learning. My daughters understood. “So why didn’t you spend more?” they asked.

 

NEW FROM OU PRESS

With Liberty and Justice: The Fifty-Day Journey from Egypt to Sinai
By Senator Joe Lieberman with Rabbi Ari Kahn
OU Press and Maggid Books

In his new book, written together with Rabbi Ari Kahn, Senator Joe Lieberman discusses the holiday of Shavuot and its important link to Passover. Unfortunately, for many Jews, the Passover Seder is not only the most important Jewish night of the year, it is the only Jewish night of the year. But the Jewish calendar links Passover with the festival that follows it seven weeks later, Shavuot. This book aims to explore and explain this connection, and to consider how the events of the first Passover eve, when the Jews became a free people, reached their culmination at Mount Sinai, where we received our moral and legal “Constitution.” Fifty short essays take the reader through each day of the Omer, thus linking Passover to Shavuot and providing a path for those who attend a Seder to continue on and make the spiritual journey to Shavuot.

Each essay engages briefly with some of the fundamental concepts of Jewish law, peppered with personal anecdotes from Senator Lieberman’s life. To give one example, in an essay about the concept of tikkun olam, the authors highlight how the original meaning of the term diverges from the way many use it today:

In the Aleinu prayer, source of the words “tikkun olam,” this phrase is followed by the words “b’malchut Shakkai,” or “under the kingship [or sovereignty] of God.” In other words, tikkun olam is not a rootless, free-floating morality. On the contrary, it evinces a morality grounded in God’s clear expression of how we should behave. . . .

In the Mishnah, the concept of tikkun olam refers less to ethical or moral considerations, and more to a requirement to adopt a macro, and not micro, perspective on certain issues. For example, freeing a person who has been kidnapped is an extremely important mitzvah. Nonetheless, the Mishnah insists that one should not overpay to free a hostage because overpaying to free a hostage would encourage crime. . . . In adopting laws, we must try to understand their direct and indirect consequences.

For three thousand years, the commitment of the Jewish people to the values of liberty and justice, the values that form the core of Jewish law, has unified and energized us as a people. The essays in this book explore these values as the key to continued Jewish unity in the twenty-first century and beyond, and encourage readers—no matter what their affiliation or background—to connect the liberty achieved on Passover with the laws and values revealed on Shavuot.  

 

Thirteen Steps—Orthodox Judaism in America Comes of Age: My Life and Times
By Rabbi Joseph Karasick
OU Press

In mid-twentieth century America, the future of Orthodoxy was far from assured. The Orthodox community suffered from a lack of organization, leadership and vision. Predictions of Orthodoxy’s demise were phrased in terms of “when,” not “if.” Confronted with these challenges, the Orthodox Union and a group of dedicated and talented individuals who shared its mission helped turn the tide. Rabbi Joseph Karasick was in the forefront of this group, and his memoir brings this crucial period in American Jewish history to life.   

A natural leader, eloquent speaker, erudite rabbinic scholar and successful businessman, Rabbi Karasick played a unique and outstanding role in the development of American Orthodoxy in the second half of the twentieth century. Active in a host of Jewish organizations and institutions, he quickly rose to the presidency of the OU. Rabbi Karasick includes, as an integral part of the story, unique descriptions of interactions with such prominent personalities as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; the Lubavitcher Rebbe; then Israeli chief rabbi, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau; Elie Wiesel; Nahum Goldmann; Baron Alain de Rothschild and many others.

This memoir is more than a description of Rabbi Karasick’s trajectory of leadership and communal involvement in the Jewish organizational world. Woven into the narrative are the strands of a complete and well-rounded life. The saga of Rabbi Karasick’s illustrious family history and the challenges and rewards of his formative years; the adventures of his wife Pepa’s family’s incredible survival of the Holocaust; his romance with Pepa, which lasted a lifetime, as they nurtured and supported each other’s efforts; the success story of the business started by his refugee father-in-law and taken over by Rabbi Karasick, which flourished by dint of hard work and determination; the raising of an Orthodox family in twentieth-century New York; anecdotes of travel and vacations—all come together with the record of his communal dedication to describe a wholeness of existence truly greater than the sum of its parts.

This book is the chronicle of a remarkable individual and is an exceptional window on a formative era in Jewish history, when Orthodoxy in America, on both a communal and a personal level, was coming of age.

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This article was featured in the Spring 2018 issue of Jewish Action.
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