April 4—Chaim Shapiro, assistant director of career services for the Lander Colleges, and three other career professionals who work with the Orthodox Jewish community, traveled to Washington DC to meet with Matt Nosanchuk, associate director of the White House Office of Public Engagement for Jewish Outreach.
The White House had formally invited Shapiro, Duvi Honig and Dovid Hasenfeld of the Parnassah Network, and Elliot Lasson of the Job Link of Baltimore to discuss the challenges Orthodox communities face in the workplace. Both the Parnassah Network and the Job Link of Baltimore are organizations that assist Orthodox Jews in their job searches.
“It was a great honor to be chosen to represent the needs of the frum community at the White House,” Shapiro said. “I was especially pleased to be able to report that Touro has been out ahead of this problem by establishing the Lander Colleges, which offer Orthodox Jews an outstanding education without compromising their religious traditions.”
The primary goal of the meeting was to convey to Nosanchuk the importance of gearing government programs toward the unique needs of religious communities. They stressed that the White House has the capacity to help by pushing for the job-training and development tools the government already provides to other ethnic groups to be made available to the Orthodox Jewish community.
Honig explained to Nosanchuk that many Orthodox Jews have difficulty obtaining gainful employment because they have religious objections to attending college. However, Shapiro noted that Touro College was established explicitly for this purpose—to provide educational opportunities for Orthodox students that are in tune with their religious requirements. Two of Touro’s schools—Machon L’Parnasa and the School for Lifelong Education—were created to serve the academic needs of the Chassidic communities, whose unique culture, commitment, and lifestyle require bold and innovative approaches to higher learning.
“I thought it was important to emphasize Touro’s success in preparing highly qualified and very successful professionals,” Shapiro said. He added that Dr. Bernard Lander, the founder and first president of Touro, took that vision even further by creating the New York School of Career and Applied Studies (NYSCAS) to meet the educational needs of other diverse and underrepresented populations.
Shapiro, who was recently selected as the winner of the 2014 National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)/The Spelman & Johnson Group Rising Star Award, also told Nosanchuk about the different ways Touro’s career-services department prepares religious students to join the workforce, beyond revising résumés and giving interview tips. To emphasize the challenges faced by Jews and other religious minorities, Shapiro showed Nosanchuk a presentation he made at the 2103 NACE conference with examples of problems that might be encountered in the workplace:
• Would a Muslim woman wearing a hijab, a traditional head covering, or any other religious garb, feel uncomfortable in a work environment?
• What’s the proper way for an Orthodox Jewish man to respond when, at a job interview, a female extends her hand in greeting?
• Will coworkers look askance at a Catholic with ash on his forehead on Ash Wednesday?
Because most people aren’t even aware that these issues exist, the ability to have a dialogue with someone of Nosanchuk’s stature is an important first step in convincing the government to make policy changes that would help religious individuals join the workforce, Shapiro said.
The Lander College of Arts and Sciences in Flatbush, with separate divisions for men and women, is located at Avenue J and East 16th Street in Brooklyn. The school offers more than 20 majors and pre-professional options, including honors programs in biology, health sciences, psychology, and political science. More than 1,000 students are enrolled each semester at the campus. v