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Charity begins at home but it doesn’t have to end there.

There is no question that charity priorities have to cover first the local needs of one’s community. However with that having been mostly satisfied, there is also the need to extend the view towards the needs of one’s greater community, both geographically and in terms of ethnic makeup. This is what I am currently involved in with my participation in the The Queens Fellowship program (TQF) or One Queens as it is showcased on its website. TQF is a division of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC). The JCRC itself, of which Michael Nussbaum, owner of the Queens Tribune is a board member, is a large organization representing 62 different Jewish groups.

The Queens Fellowship consists of mid-level managers of Queen organizations, be they government or non-profit, faith-based or secular, who attend a ten month training program thus becoming ‘fellows’. During this period fellows are further honed in leadership skills through communication workshops and are trained in coalition building. Fellows develop a sensitivity for the cause and even the community for which their classmate fellows represent. The workshops develop confident and sensitive leaders of organizations who network with each other and are also able to see the bigger picture of the community in which they serve. The program culminates in a grant being offered to a meritorious non profit (not a part of the ‘fellowship’) afforded by fundraising of the fellows and a minimum amount sponsored by TQF itself.

TQF is headed by the Orthodox Rabbi Bob Kaplan. Rabbi Kaplan is a humble man but who has numerous accomplishments to his profile. He is involved with coalition building and conflict resolution between ethnic groups. Among the many organizations that he was or is a part of, are these: YouthBridge-NY, the NY-Jerusalem Dialogue Project, Project C.A.R.E (Crown Heights); he founded the Queens Community Forum and Institute at La Guardia College. For 5 years Rabbi Kaplan was the Associate Executive Director of Hillel of Manhattan after having served Hillel directorships at NYU, C.W. Post and Pace University. Bob Kaplan was among a team of policing experts, as part of a U.S. State Department sponsored program, who traveled to Belfast, Northern Ireland to train local community leaders on peace building efforts. He served as a member of the NYC Dept of Education Chancellor’s Interfaith Commission. He contributed towards President Clinton’s White House Conference of Race and was a part of a committee for the United Nations. He was a consultant to the Black/Jewish Congressional Coalition in Washington D.C. and was a grief counselor for the American Red Cross. Bob is a clergy liaison to the Chief of the NYPD. Rabbi Kaplan studied at Empire State College and learned in Yeshiva Chaim Berlin.

The reason I describe all his accomplishments is not only to show the worthiness of The Queens Fellowship, which is headed by the Rabbi but partly to show all the different organizations that exist to keep the fragile peace that we currently have. Jewish people historically were often preyed upon by governments but also by poor criminal groups who found the Jews as convenient scapegoats for what their governments or societies did not provide them with. This phenomenon is with us even today and was demonstrated in a major way with the Crown Heights riots but more recently with the knock-out games that were taking on steam for a while throughout the country. Needless to say, racial or tribal tensions are prevalent throughout the world, as we see horrific violence in the Middle East and African countries by warring factions.

Government can’t do it all and what government does is often not as efficient as what reputable non profits can do with comparable resources. Among the needs that the current 20 odd non profits from our Fellowship programs address, are the following: after school program for latchkey children, the advancement of affordable housing, senior services, cultural events for underserved populations, crime victims program, positive youth empowerment, health insurance education, help for the disabled, food pantries, financial aid for college, spiritual enrichments by religious organizations, family and youth counseling, education of technology for seniors who don’t want to be left behind in the modern age, inspiration of youngsters through music, outreach to recent immigrants who need help navigating our system, academic tutoring and mentoring for immigrant youth, quality of life issues for neighborhoods, domestic violence support groups, classes in parenting and anger management, child abuse prevention, help with substance abuse programs, medical transportation, workers rights, educational justice and finally, high quality education and a nutrition program for low income young children.

I’ve often written in this column that no group can act just for itself in the modern world. We are all a part of a larger society and community and while we must provide for ourselves, our families and our community - we must also contribute to the overall society as a moral gesture and also to secure the peace for ourselves. In this vain I ask the Jewish Orthodox community to join Rabbi Kaplan’s efforts this year and be a part of the fundraising event to provide grants to a non profit, or more than one, who educate youth to become proficient in science, technology, engineering, math and entrepreneurship.

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