May 17, 2024
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May 17, 2024
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Rachel Krich to Lead Project Ezrah

Along with the new year, Bergen County’s Project Ezrah welcomes a new executive director. Serving Shorefront Jewish Community Council in Brighton Beach, New York, for the past decade, first as site director and most recently as executive director, Rachel Krich will be leading Bergen’s premier Jewish financial and job-assistance nonprofit.

Krich is the third-ever executive director and the first woman leader of Project Ezrah. She follows founder Rabbi Yossie Stern, z”l, who established the chesed organization as a result of 2001’s financial crisis, and Robert Hoenig, who recently retired after six years at Ezrah’s helm. Krich, a mother of four who has lived for the past 13 years in Fair Lawn, is “looking forward to giving back to my own community,” she told The Jewish Link. A Bruriah graduate originally from Northern California, Krich met her husband, Daniel—a pediatric pulmonologist—while both attended Yeshiva University. The school-aged Krich children attend YBH in Passaic.

Hoenig told The Jewish Link that he was looking forward to Krich’s leadership. “The search committee and the board of trustees did a great job in making this selection as we were blessed with many strong candidates. I look forward to passing the baton to Rachel and I thank the staff, board, rabbanim, schools, vendors, pro bono providers, The Link and, of course, our wonderful donors for six outstanding years,” he said.

“We are very grateful for everything Robert has done for Project Ezrah over the past six years, and we will certainly miss his hard work, leadership and guidance,” said Aaron Wertentheil, Project Ezrah’s board president. “We are excited to have Rachel join the team: Her background will allow her to seamlessly continue the existing assistance programs, and her broad community-minded vision will allow Project Ezrah to expand to other services for the Bergen County community in the near future.”

“I have had the privilege of working with Rachel Krich in many communal roles both for our shul and in the broader community,” said Congregation Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi Andrew Markowitz. “Her ability to be proactive to the needs of our community is very present in everything that she does,” he said, explaining that he worked directly with Krich on projects related to the synagogue’s new membership initiatives as well as broader issues involving the Fair Lawn Town Council, the Orthodox Union Women’s Initiative, and Teach NJ.

“Having also worked with Project Ezrah extensively under Robert Hoenig’s leadership for the past many years, I am confident that Rachel’s vision and sensitivity will serve her well in her new role as the executive director of the organization. She is someone who understands the needs of the community, is sensitive to those individuals [who need services] and uses her talents to address them in a dignified manner.”

Jeff Cohen, Congregation Shomrei Torah’s former president, worked closely with Krich on shul matters. “Rachel served on the leadership team with me as vice president of membership for three years. In that period we saw over 50 new families join our shul. She is extremely creative with events, caring with prospective and current members and willing to roll up her sleeves to get the job done. Beyond her membership role, she constantly volunteers her time for the betterment of our shul and the broader community,” Cohen told The Jewish Link.

Krich spoke passionately about getting to the root of communal issues, providing dignified means for others to receive assistance and helping others learn to help themselves. She said she has long admired Project Ezrah for their strict adherence to their mission of getting clients back on their feet financially, and for their care in spending donation funds. “Project Ezrah is so careful with every dollar donated. That is something that is very important to me as a donor and something I will maintain as executive director. Every dollar spent has to be spent wisely, as part of the mission. The community has trusted Project Ezrah for years with their donations, and I plan to continue that relationship,” she said.

Her experiences in Brighton Beach, as well as her master’s in public administration, have prepared Krich well for the new role, though it has marked differences from her previous one. “A community-based organization must provide services based on the very specific needs of its local neighborhoods and communities,” Krich explained, noting that the needs of families and individuals in Brighton Beach are much different from those in the nearby Boro Park, for example, though both SJCC and BPJCC operate under the same network. Shorefront, under Krich’s directorship, operated the largest kosher food pantry in South Brooklyn and provided a long list of social services, including the kinds provided by Project Ezrah, but also with ESL services for its primarily Russian-speaking immigrant community, and many more aged clients.

Ezrah, on the other hand, primarily provides emergency financial-planning assistance, employment services, financial-crisis intervention, premarital financial counseling, pro-bono legal and other services, social services benefits guidance and interest-free loans for those who qualify. Operating entirely on community donations and with a small professional team, it has a $2 million budget and on average helps over 100 families a year through their various financial-assistance programs and over 450 individuals in their job-development program. This year Project Ezrah has helped an additional 150 families who have never received support services in the past with emergency assistance required due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Project Ezrah provides varying levels of support to families in need, anything from referrals for free/low cost services, mid-level support to get through a smaller financial crisis, all the way to extensive longer-term financial support. “Anyone who is in a difficult situation, no matter how big or small can come to Project Ezrah for help. We have incredibly knowledgeable staff that I have recently had the privilege to get to know, that can help members of the community with a wide range of issues. If you need to know who to call to understand how to sign up for Medicare or have a small financial issue that you aren’t sure how to deal with, we can help you. We are not here just for the most extreme cases, we are here for everyone,” said Krich.

In 2019, the employment team worked directly with 324 in-house candidates and was instrumental in placing 126 candidates. The group’s interactive job board hosted 410 candidates and listed over 165 employment opportunities in 2019, as well as a LinkedIn Group for networking with over 2,000 candidates and community members.

What’s most distinct about Project Ezrah versus Krich’s former setting is that many of Project Ezrah’s clients are still able to be part of the workforce, while Shorefront was dealing with a significantly more aged population, those who would be relying on communal assistance long term, and New York has significantly more state-funded social services available to needy clients than does New Jersey. “At Ezrah, we can provide job development, financial assistance, assessing needs and getting people back on track. The best part is we can help our clients leave the program,” she explained.

The Crisis to Come and Bergen’s ‘Myth of Affluence’

Krich shared a concern that Project Ezrah will be called on to serve many more clients in the coming months as the COVID-19 financial crisis continues to unfold. “Things are going to get difficult. There will be a second wave of financial struggles. The first wave affected direct-service industries, like restaurants and retail. Now professional-service industries are going to start to see problems in the coming months. We need to be prepared to support our community when the next wave of crisis comes,” she said.

She added that Bergen County suffers from what she calls a “myth of affluence.”

“The Bergen County community is an ‘upper middle class’ community. However there are significant issues, like yeshiva tuition and unemployment, that are often not visible above the surface. Because of that myth of affluence people fall into very difficult, complicated situations that need a special touch to bring them out.

“It’s important to keep our process at Project Ezrah inviting, so as to help people in a dignified way. The faster a family gets help at the onset of trouble the faster we can help them,” said Krich.

As an example, Krich explained that she was involved, as a layperson, in bringing this past summer’s federal food assistance to the kosher-keeping community, under Teach NJ’s umbrella. “What does it tell me that there were lines and lines of people getting this food every week? There were 3,500 kids receiving lunches all summer in Bergen County. It was an immensely successful program, and not just because people were ‘getting free food.’ It lifted off an emotional load of preparing and shopping for food while children were home from school. People were fearful of going to stores, and some were quarantining.”

Many parents were also pressed for time as they worked remotely; others lost their jobs or had their work reduced, curtailed or furloughed. Predicting a slow unwinding of financial security for many families as a result of the crisis, as more middle managers get laid off as a result of the economy shrinking, Krich said that help to reduce grocery bills during such an uncertain time was important.

Krich said she was very public about personally participating in the program. “It was extraordinarily important to me to publicly participate in the program to help encourage those who might have been uncomfortable participating but otherwise would have benefited from the program.

“The high numbers of participation also showed there are more families hiding under that myth of affluence. It’s an indicator of greater need in our community that we should look into,” she said.

“While Bergen County may not have the same level of food insecurity as surrounding areas, this shows there still is significant need for support and Project Ezrah can fill that need. ”

“One thing that is really good about Project Ezrah is that whether you give an $18 donation or $1800, it’s critical to everyone that it is spent on things that really matter, that all funds help build the capacity to help the community more directly.”

Ezrah means “help.” Learn more at

By Elizabeth Kratz

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