As part of its work with unemployed members of the Jewish community, the Orthodox Union has held several job fairs — some in person, some via webinars — in the last few years. The latest one, held in late August at Brooklyn College Hillel, drew more than 700 men and women, along with representatives of 40 firms.
Through online courses, career counseling, a resumé updating service, and positions posted on an RSS feed on OU.org, the OU’s Job Board says it has placed thousands of candidates in “meaningful jobs” in the United States and Israel.
The Jewish Week spoke to Michael Rosner, director of the OU Job Board, about the lingering recession and the job outlook in the Jewish community.
Q: When 700-800 people — from just one part of the Jewish community — come to a job fair, it’s probably not a good sign. How serious is the unemployment problem in the Orthodox community, considering the fact that the recession supposedly is waning?
A: For those who say the recession is waning, I would like to invite them to my office for one day. The unemployment problem among the Orthodox community hovers at about 11 percent, and anecdotally is probably much higher if you count the underemployed in the community.
Were you surprised by the turnout?
No, although we did want to limit the size at first. Our original venue in Brooklyn did not work out — it was too small; we immediately moved to the Young Israel of Flatbush. After five days, we had well over 500 applicants and had to once again move. We finally shut down reservations at 650 people. However, with walk-ins in the last hour, a total of 740 were in attendance.
What is the demographic profile of the typical person who comes to your job fairs?
Typical attendance is from all demographics. However, this fair presented something quite different — 68 percent of the attendees were male, of whom 70 to 80 percent were middle aged and had an established workforce presence before the recession.
Are people getting discouraged, or did they seem hopeful that the economy will turn around?
People are very discouraged and in many cases have given up hope. People are having very real psychological problems coping with this phenomena and often do not even know where to turn. This is why we try to team up with various social services networks across the country.
Is the Jewish community doing enough to help its own unemployed and under-employed members?
It took about a year for some communities to recognize that there was a huge problem in their midst. They look at the houses people live in (mortgaged to the hilt), the cars they may drive (often leased) and don’t realize these people can’t put food on their tables for Shabbat. I think the community now is fully aware of what is going on and has tried to provide as much information as possible about jobs, help services, etc.
Is it discouraging for you to spend a day at a job fair with so many out-of-work people?
This particular job fair was very hard to live with. I stood by the entrance to the hall and for the first hour wished everyone who entered Hatzlacha (good luck). You have no idea how many thank-you’s I’ve received just for greeting people. It’s so sad and really heartbreaking to witness. I have been in the place of the unemployed myself and went through this process.
You’ve traveled around the world. Does the recession remind you of poverty you’ve witnessed in other countries?
I traveled extensively when I was in business. China was my second home. Touring that country, I witnessed abject poverty and the meaning of peasantry. This recession, while perhaps not as visual as the poverty I have witnessed, is most damaging and will be long-lasting on one’s psyche. It is really a retooling of how we live and what to expect.