OU Inaugurates New National Project CHESEH On Meltdown

19 Nov 2008

The Job Board has placed more than 1,000 people across the continent in jobs in the year-and-a-half of its existence, building up a substantial body of knowledge in the process. Now its goal is to help communities help themselves through a 14-point program emphasizing job search techniques and steps to alleviate financial distress. The program will train synagogue and community leaders in learning these skills.

CHESED (which means grace, loving kindness in Hebrew) is an acronym for Community Help in Education, Social Services Employment/Empowerment & Development. Although it will function primarily through the Job Board and the OU’s Department of Community Services, the program will call on the resources of all OU departments, according to OU Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb.

“Our goal is to cope with the economic meltdown and crises facing our community,” Rabbi Weinreb said.

“The Orthodox Union has special expertise, built up through its Job Board, to enable it to undertake this vital initiative on behalf of our communities,” declared OU President Stephen J. Savitsky. “We are available to help them help themselves and we look forward to their response.”

Through communications with community leaders – including rabbis, synagogue executive directors, community organizers and activists – the OU is reaching out to provide help wherever it is needed. It is doing so through a multi-faceted program that has been designed for implementation.

14 Points to Empower Communities:

Empowerment is the key. “Our 14-point program is designed to empower the community through its own people and to give them the tools to form the relevant committees and actions to solve their problems,” declared Michael Rosner, Director of the Job Board, and the creative force behind Project CHESED. “There is no universal answer for every community. We are empowering each of them to act on their behalf and are giving them as much help as we can to make it a smooth transaction and a success for them.”

The Department of Community Services, under the leadership of National Director Frank Buchweitz, has developed a series of workshops and seminars for communal presentations which impact upon family life due to the current economic situation.

These workshops and seminars include:
• Financial Planning: Redefining Family Priorities and Budgeting;
• How to Make Ends Meet with Shrinking Retirement Funds;
• Getting Back into the Workplace: Retraining and Upgrading;
• A Halachic Perspective on Where to Give Tzedakah in These Difficult Times; and
• Dealing With Communal Responsibilities During Times of Crisis.

Meanwhile, the Job Board has already presented a variety of programs dealing with the mortgage crisis and its ramifications for the Jewish and general communities. They include the webcast, “The American Dream’s Rude Awakening – Mortgage Debacle and Foreclosures,” and two webcasts focusing on the credit card crunch, emphasizing the response of Jewish law to the meltdown. Each of the sessions is archived on www.ou.org.
According to Mr. Rosner, “Now, due to the credit meltdown, we are nationalizing our efforts and focusing on core issues affecting people throughout the community to help stabilize the situation and get people back on their feet.”

The plan is summed up in the 14-point program. It includes “immediate action that the OU Job Board recommends to be implemented on an urgent basis,” according to Mr. Rosner. Highlights include:

• Forming rabbinical and lay committees in each community devoted exclusively to the economic problem;
• Providing workshops and seminars on topics relating to the crisis and means of coping;
• Gathering information on available jobs from local employers and community members;
• Listing these jobs as well as community-sponsored services on a web site;
• Reaching out to community members to provide social work, counseling, moral support and consultations to families and children;
• Reaching out to lawyers to provide free legal services and to doctors and dentists who can set up after-hours appointments in a dignified and confidential manner;
• Providing basic computer training to help people get the skills for work – through classes at local institutions or tutoring in people’s homes.
• Providing listings of free government and social service options;
• Establishing a chesed fund to help people in their utility and food bills (with a yeshiva dollar program with local merchants – when a purchase is made, a percentage goes to help pay tuition.
• Providing advice on household budgeting and expenses, utilizing volunteer financial analysts and retired people;
• Urging communities – including rabbis – to limit fundraising to local needs only;
• Directing daily “pushka” collections to a communal fund for local needs;
• Calling on local merchants to provide school supplies to children where necessary;
• Setting up a committee of rabbinical and lay leaders to negotiate with yeshivas, shuls and other Jewish institutions to lower tuitions, shul memberships, etc.

For more information on Project CHESED, contact Mr. Rosner at 212-613-8129, or rosnerm@ou.org. To have your community participate in the program, contact Frank Buchweitz at 212-613-8188, or frank@ou.org.