Jeffrey Herzog is not in the business of helping people find mates, but he does know a thing or two about making a good shidduch.
Herzog has spent the last six years matching immigrants and refugees with employers through his volunteer work at Jewish Family and Community Services.
“We are job matchmakers,” said Herzog, who retired in 2012 after serving for 22 years as executive director of Rodef Shalom Congregation. “I have people who want to work hard. We need employers who want to hire these people, who know in the beginning there might be a high linear learning curve, but with a little more effort, they will get very good employees.”
Most of the refugees with whom Herzog works have little or no education. The work experience they gained in their country of origin is often limited to subsistence farming, or selling produce in a marketplace.
“In most cases, they came from refugee camps, and had no opportunity to learn skills,” Herzog said.
Yet, they bring with them to the United States a strong desire to be “self-sufficient,” Herzog said. “They are in survival mode.”
Herzog and others at JFCS prepare the refugees to enter the workforce here by counseling them, in their own language, on how to apply for jobs, how to travel to a work site, “all the things that other people learned elsewhere,” Herzog explained, noting that most of the refugees with whom he is working now come from the Congo, Syria and Iraq.
JFCS works with 25 to 30 local employers “trying to make the match,” Herzog said. “And the largest employers of refugees happen to be owned by Jews.”
CleanCare, which supplies and launders linens for hospitals, restaurants and the hospitality industry, has hired hundreds of refugees in recent years, and Woody Ostrow, the president and CEO of the company is impressed with their work ethic.
“We will take all the refugees that JFCS has,” said Ostrow. “We find virtually no turnover. People will stick with the job, people will show up.”
JFCS, Ostrow said, is thorough in preparing the refugees so that they are ready to hit the ground running.
Several of CleanCare’s employees are from Myanmar, and others are from Somalia. Hiring employees who are from the same country of origin has its advantages, Ostrow said, because they are then able to build a community among themselves. When one becomes proficient in English, for example, he can help to communicate employer instructions and expectations to those who are not. Because they often live in the same neighborhood, they can carpool to work.
The work at CleanCare, for some employees, consists of feeding items into an ironing machine for eight hours a day. That could be a challenging task, but nonetheless, the refugees Ostrow has hired have no trouble hitting their quotas, he said.
Temple Sinai currently has two custodians on staff placed by JFCS, Noor Haidary from Afghanistan, and Sanjay Gurung from Nepal.
“One of the advantages as an employer is these guys are incredibly responsible,” said Drew Barkley, Temple Sinai’s executive director. “They’re timely, and if they are going to be late, they let you know. They are good citizens, and good employees who follow instructions.”
Haidary and Gurung “are incredibly reliable, and very conscientious,” Barkley continued. “They are pleasant to be around, and they also maintain levels of flexibility, if we need someone to work extra time. They’re great.”
In addition to learning a bit about Haidary’s and Gurung’s cultures, Barkley enjoys “seeing their English comprehension increase over time.”
“Sanjay understands everything now, and his English is amazing,” Barkley said. “He’s obviously a very smart person.”
Temple Sinai has encountered no problems with either employee, Barkley said.
“The screening Jeff [Herzog] does must be excellent,” he said.
In addition to getting top notch workers, Temple Sinai also takes pride in the fact that it is helping the refugees by providing them with steady employment, according to Barkley.
“We feel like we are doing something great for somebody,” he said.
Likewise, Rodef Shalom Congregation has hired JFCS-prepared refugees for its custodial staff, which is responsible for setting up, breaking down and cleaning up 4,000 events a year.
Currently there is one refugee employed at Rodef Shalom, Luis Marquez, who came from Ecuador via Colombia.
“They are also great people, not just great workers,” said Barry Weisband, executive director of Rodef Shalom. “They are so willing to be part of a team, and have a good work ethic.”
Marquez and his wife sought asylum in the United States a couple years ago, seeking “a better life,” said Weisband. “We have to be welcoming and understand the situation he came from and is in right now.”
Marquez is not yet a citizen, and is still learning English.
The congregation is helping him make his way in the United States, and assists him and his wife by answering questions about paperwork, and transporting them to medical appointments, as they do not have a car.
But perhaps most significantly, Rodef Shalom is allowing the Marquezes to live rent-free in an apartment in the building.
“This demonstrates we are practicing what we preach relative to our organizational stand on immigration,” Weisband said. “It allows us to extend a hand in a very meaningful way. Rodef Shalom supports immigrants from a macro level, and from a micro level, too.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at