SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange recently recognized three members at its annual congregational meeting in May. The 2017 TSTI Volunteer Service awards, given by board President Sue Wishnow of Short Hills, went to Joel Scharf of Monroe Township, Sheryl Harpel of Short Hills and Alan Levine of South Orange.
“Each year we honor volunteers who have made a special impact on what we do here at TSTI,” Wishnow said in a press release. “Sometimes the impact is specific to a certain initiative that was undertaken; often it’s in recognition of many years of dedicated consistent service. This year we celebrate both types of service.”
Working to resettle refugees, Harpel and Levine were recognized for representing TSTI on the inter-synagogue initiative in South Orange to work on resettling refugee families in town; TSTI has partnered with Oheb Shalom and Congregation Beth El, with two chairpersons from each organization heading up the endeavor. So far, three families — two from Syria and one from Iraq — have been welcomed and helped to begin their new lives here, arranged by the synagogues’ volunteers.
Working with their peers, Harpel and Levine got teams from the three synagogues and wider community fully engaged in providing goods and services for the refugee families. The first family arrived just days before President Donald Trump’s travel ban was to take effect this winter; the second family arrived under short notice soon after. The third family, relatives of the first family, arrived in late May.
Part of Harpel and Levine’s responsibilities entailed organizing hundreds of volunteers from TSTI and the wider community to raise funds, purchase clothing for all family members, as well as purchase food, toiletries and personal effects, and furniture; and work with committees to procure health care, translation services, schooling, transportation and more.
“They provided everything you could imagine,” Wishnow said.
“Our work is not finished, and our teams are preparing for what might come in the future,” said Harpel, who, with Levine, continues to attend weekly meetings to help these families further settle in and prepare for the possibility of others to arrive.
“We are honored to be part of this important work that is building a powerful collaboration among South Orange’s three synagogues, and the wider local community,” Levine said.
In her remarks at the ceremony, Wishnow acknowledged this collaboration, stating that the work they are doing has not only helped welcome families fleeing oppression, it has also built stronger bridges within the Jewish community and beyond.
“This ongoing coalition is putting in deeper and deeper roots among South Orange’s Jewish community while also furthering the bond with area residents who took note of this important work and participated to help settle these families.”
Scharf was given a Volunteer Service Award for his “untold hours giving his talents and dedication to TSTI for years and years,” Wishnow said. He has held many board and committee leadership positions including treasurer, vice president of finance, cemetery committee chairman and Brotherhood president. Although he relocated in 2013 to Monroe Township from Maplewood, he continues to volunteer his time, as he has done a few days a week for many years, with bookkeeping, making membership calls, talking to vendors, and anything else that the synagogue staff and board members need to execute their roles properly.
“When I became synagogue president last year, I asked Joel to sit down with me and tell me about the cemetery committee’s scope of work. Through that great long talk, it became very clear to me how much he loves TSTI and how much knowledge he has accumulated about how things work, as someone who has been volunteering here for many years,” Wishnow said. Scharf and his family have been TSTI members since 1976.
“TSTI means so much to me; in spite of our move to Monroe Township, I’m happy to make the commute to help out as needed,” Scharf said. “I thank Sue and the board for acknowledging me with this Volunteer Service Award; it’s my pleasure to serve in any way necessary.”