For five long months, the coronavirus pandemic has plagued just about every facet of life worldwide. The American unemployment figure stands at over 51 million, a whopping 20 times the average for a comparable period, and our frum communities have not been spared. With limited youth summer programming and videoconferencing seemingly still on the table for the upcoming school year, many who have unfortunately lost their main financial pipeline are now seeking new pathways to support their often-large families. The Jobs Task Force was created by two dedicated brothers and Queens natives, Yitzy and Mordy Sobel, as a unique way to help our brethren weather the storm. The Queens area has close to 100 shuls – a profound amount of resources waiting to be tapped. It is time we stepped up to help our community and get jobs for our friends, neighbors, and the man or woman sitting next to us in shul.
“Our localized shuls are the most under-tapped networking market available,” explained Yitzy, the director of finance at SeniorCare Emergency Medical Services, to the Queens Jewish Link. During the tri-state region’s April climax of the novel coronavirus, the brothers were inspired to act, utilizing the web of talent within our communities with the underlying goal of shuls helping the unemployed with a flourishing new network.
A supportive family is key to ventures such as this program. Yitzy is back in his hometown of Far Rockaway, and together with his wife Chedvah, along with their son Gavriel, is proud of the work they are doing to get our community moving again. Brooklyn residents Mordy and his wife Miriam and their six sons are fulfilled by the work of the task force, but they owe their successes to their esteemed parents Moshe and Chana Sobel, longtime members of the Young Israel of Far Rockaway and the Yeshiva of Far Rockaway minyan.
Before their website was launched, Yitzy experienced the power of friends helping friends while attending Queens College. “As I had settled into my first job, I became aware of a colleague from college, and a resident from Queens, who was still on the hunt to land employment,” began Yitzy. “My superior was looking for a hire in a different department and this gentleman turned out to be an appropriate candidate. Soon, he was also employed at the firm.” Two years had passed since the contemporaries began their jobs and new ideas were on the horizon. Yitzy had begun interviewing and he had learned that his friend was not very happy in the original position. “On one interview, a new opportunity was not the correct fit for me, but I had a gut feeling that this friend was just the right contender,” explained Yitzy. “My recommendation for this man worked yet again, as he was eventually appointed to the new position and I could not be happier. To be able to assist a married man with a family is an unbelievable accomplishment, and although a third prospect within a six-year time span did not pan out, the inspiration to keep helping a struggling friend was as alive as ever,” noted Yitzy.
Back in November, before the world was turned inside out, Yitzy reached out to Mordy, a behind-the-scenes man, who clued him in on the power of using our shuls as a forceful distribution network to help spread messages. “Our shuls are an incredible and powerful chock full of resources that can easily be tapped into and used for good,” said Yitzy. “I found the brainstorming conversations with my brother to be a huge source of inspiration and chizuk,” Mordy, who works as a cook in Upstate New York each summer and runs a Brooklyn-based night kollel, provided the critical energy to get the program off the ground. His contacts in the nonprofit world played a huge role in getting the plan noticed.
Just a few short months later, the unemployment numbers were skyrocketing and plans for the Jobs Task Force were quickly underway. Yitzy details yet another miraculous account as he was headed into Gourmet Glatt in Cedarhurst while on speakerphone with another brother, Avi. In conversation, Avi mentioned that there was a Five Towns resident eager to help the struggling community find gainful employment. It just so happened that this very individual was right behind Yitzy as he were entering the supermarket! “Imagine my surprise at how the pieces of the puzzle were falling together,” exclaimed Yitzy. “We wasted no time in establishing a deeper connection and swiftly established a WhatsApp group as an initial step for the Five Towns Jobs Task Force.” In a short time, community askanim were assembled and local community organizations were alerted on the grassroots venture.
Soon, a website was built, and within just 45 days three success stories were tallied. Six Five Towns shuls, one local yeshivah alumni group, and one Brooklyn shul have officially signed onto the platform, and communities like Boca Raton in South Florida have expressed interest in replicating the model. “It starts with just one person willing to invest a small amount of time,” explains Yitzy. “My sister-in-law Leah heard about our endeavor and quickly worked to get her shul, the Irving Place Minyan, to be the first to sign up, and slowly more interest followed.”
It’s estimated that between 70 and 85 percent of jobs are obtained through networking channels and not publicly advertised. This is precisely why it is imperative to build out the network within shuls. This can be accomplished by having industry mentors within each field in all registered shuls, under the auspices of a shul captain, possibly appointed by the respective rabbi or president. This may include job prospects opening anywhere from accounting to real estate or healthcare. Individuals are now given the chance to get suitable employment from those who identify with the trade best. Then, the industry guides are linked with their counterparts in other enrolled shuls, who in turn notify those seeking new career options. The Jobs Task Force is also ready and able to plug into existing community organizations that often do not have daily interactions with community residents but are quite capable of providing a variety of career services. It would most definitely be imprudent to duplicate efforts that can be avoided by communal unity, where respective strengths are leveraged amongst all community resources.
The initiative acts as a matchmaker between those within the shul network, and allows for jobseekers to reach out for regular updates. The intake procedures, in addition to résumé reviews, are operated by volunteers. The task force aims to give each candidate the fairest chance at getting a new job. Firms are now able to secure top talent from those who are knowledgeable in the industry.
The program is reminiscent of the Chazaq Shidduch Initiative, which also uses designated shul captains to locate dating mates. The two chesed projects were formulated irrespective of one another, but both empower friends and neighbors to help one other.
The inconceivable eis tzarah endangering the health and wellbeing of our neighborhoods has taken its financial toll on many families, specifically in New York State where communities were proportionately affected. There is no time better than the present to help our communities get back on their feet. It must be noted that there are no recruitment fees or requests for donations. The Jobs Task Force works exclusively on a volunteer basis, striving to help those desperate for stability. In the works is a career service hotline, giving those on the job hunt a listening and caring ear that will look out for the caller’s concerns. The plan is for volunteers to provide résumé review and general guidance to the unemployed and advise businesses looking to hire. “I would be absolutely ecstatic if the Jobs Task Force employs 15 people over the next six months,” concluded Yitzy. Register your shul or apply for a job at www.shulnetworkjobs.org or call 516-514-0154.
By Shabsie Saphirstein