In Time of Distress, OU Jewish Community Services Expo Responds to Needs of Over 700 People

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04 May 2009
A highlight was one-on-one sessions between experts in resume writing and attendees who went home with vastly improved documents for their job search

The Orthodox Union Takes Action:

The halls of Lander College for Women, in Manhattan’s West Side, are typically filled with busy students rushing to and from class. But on Sunday, April 26, the people who filled the room to capacity were at a very different station in life. They were mostly adults, many out of work and recently laid-off from their previous jobs, and all in search of a more promising tomorrow, thanks to the free Orthodox Union’s Job Board, which was holding a Jewish Community Services Expo at the school.

The Expo is only the latest in a long line of OU Job Board initiatives to help the unemployed and those who are struggling in the face of the economic crisis. Recent events included the well-attended “Resume Checkup” and “Navigating the Financial Crisis” programs. One of the next major ventures the OU is undertaking to help the community is the “Job and Home Relocation Fair” on June 14, in which 23 communities from across the United States will come and showcase the job possibilities available to those willing to relocate.

The Expo, while not a typical Job Fair (in which companies and organizations set up tables recruiting prospective employees), had a large showing of social service organizations, such as the JCC of Greater Coney Island; Hebrew Free Loan Society; Jewish Board of Family and Children Services; the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council; and Bensonhurst COJO, that served as the conduit for possibly finding employment. These organizations, among many others like them, also maintained a presence to provide information to those out of work on what rights they are entitled to with regard to mortgages, public assistance, health insurance, and the like.

Michael Rosner, Director of OU Job Board, declared, “The Expo organized and run by the OU Job Board was a great success. Many people expressed satisfaction and positive feedback with the various social service organizations present and felt encouraged and strengthened by the information and support they received that day.”

In Search of a Better Future:

Among those who attended the Expo, the overwhelming sentiment was that they were there seeking information and resources in obtaining a job.

Christine, a Brooklyn resident in her 20’s, came “just to see what they have around. They really have much more than I expected.” When asked why she was attending the Expo, she replied, “I’m currently unemployed, and before I take a job that doesn’t fulfill me, I’d rather see what’s available so I can take the next step in my life.” Christine noted that she had just visited the Bramson ORT College table, and found some information on furthering her education.

Vera Brenner, the representative for Bramson ORT College in Manhattan, said a good number of people had visited her table to inquire about the continuing education. Typically, in times of economic stress, many people who find themselves unemployed decide to go back to school to learn new skills to enable them to return to the job market, she said. Despite their older ages and very different place in life than the average college student, these returning students know going back to school can be a very necessary step to survive in difficult economic times.

Mrs. Brenner mentioned a 58-year old man currently at Bramson who returned to school, needing a new set of skills after suffering a heart attack from his job doing physical labor. “This man is actually one of our most popular students,” she commented. “You’re really never too old to go back to school to learn another skill.”

Others came to the Expo to discover how to cope with being out of work, and what the necessary steps to take are to keep their heads above water until their situations improve. As one man from Kew Gardens Hills, Queens put it, “I don’t currently have a job, and I thought that it would be a good idea to find out what I’m entitled to while I’m out of work.”

Moshe Solway, Assistant Director of Hebrew Free Loan Society, said, “I definitely see more genuine need that is directly related to the economic crisis.” Mr. Solway commented that his organization, which grants interest-free loans to those in the New York Metropolitan area who are struggling, currently has about $13 million outstanding in loans.

Jay Braun, Director of the Lakewood Resource and Referral Center in New Jersey, stated, “Recently, we’ve noticed an increase in the number of people coming in to the office and inquiring about healthcare, housing assistance, and a variety of other social services. Our organization is here solely to serve the community, and we are doing our best to make sure the families who come to us get the help that they seek.”

Some attendees had more urgent and immediate needs at the Expo than merely finding out what benefits they are entitled to receive during unemployment. One woman who worked as a receptionist before being laid-off explained, “With two kids in Israel this year who are looking to attend a private university, I need to find a job that will allow me to make sure that happens. I have a BA and an MBA, but I’m open to any type of job that may be available.”

More than 130 attendees made their way to a resume writing workshop. For fifteen minutes, each person received a one-on-one session with an expert and obtained helpful advice about polishing his or her resume.

Maintaining a Concern for Others:

Some groups that made an appearance offered information on various social service issues, showing that even when people are struggling, they still maintain a strong concern for others. They included: Masbiah; Yad HaChazakah: the Jewish Disability Empowerment Center; and Uri L’Tzedek.

Yitzi Raisner, a college sophomore and intern for Uri L’Tzedek, an organization founded in 2006 dedicated to social justice in the Jewish realm, said, “Despite the fact that we aren’t really offering any services for people today, people who have come over to the table and learned about our organization seemed really interested in supporting it.”

One highlight of the day was a presentation by motivational speaker Red Katz. Mr. Katz riveted the packed room with his personal tale of bad luck and heartache involving unemployment and a rocky divorce, and how he utilized positive thinking to improve his situation and change his life for the better. “There is a flip side to every coin,” he stated. “Once you find the positive side of things and refuse to let negative thoughts come into your head, you can fill your personal tool box with ways to equip you for any challenges that may arise in life.”

There were perhaps no better words of encouragement which could have been told to the audience that day, many of whom have faced difficulties in these trying times. Thanks to Michael Rosner, the Orthodox Union, the participating agencies, and Red Katz, they left the Expo filled with hope and optimism – not to mention job prospects.

Tova Ross is a public relations assistant at the Orthodox Union.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.