The Celebrate Israel Festival on May 31 at Pier 94, slated to be the largest gathering to date of Israeli-Americans in New York.
During the day, Shea Rubenstein works in real estate development. In the evenings he helps run the Jewish Community Council of Marine Park, an organization he helped establish, to meet the needs of the local community, as its executive vice president.
The Jewish Press: How long ago did you start this organization?
Shea Rubinstein: This organization started about two years ago. Over time, we have focused more on understanding the needs of our community and have developed different programs. I would say that Marine Park is the fastest-growing Jewish community in the world. Seven years ago, there were 50 families in Marine Park; now, we have over 1,000 frum, Shomer Shabbos families, almost all between the ages of 25 and 35. We have 14 shuls and three yeshivos within the district, ken yirbu.
We saw an opportunity to create achdus; it’s a small community, outside Flatbush and Midwood, with a younger crowd with similar mindsets. Baruch Hashem, other organizations have been extremely helpful to us in the past. They are dealing with a big workload by representing their own communities. I figured, let’s use the same model.
That’s how a few individuals – Shua Gelbstein, Jeff Leb, Yossi Sharf and myself – decided to create this JCC of Marine Park. Each of us has our own area of expertise. Shua Gelbstein, who’s a practicing attorney, is our legal mind, Yossi Sharf our financial whiz who serves as our treasurer, and Jeff Leb is our political strategist who knows local, City, State and Federal Government like the back of his hand. We all brought different ideas to the table and the JCC of Marine Park was formed.
Of course, we went to the rabbanim. Here we have 14 rabbanim, a Vaad HaRabbanim of Marine Park, and we work closely with them through that vehicle. We come up with ideas, and they give us their da’as Torah. They guide us on how to create achdus, and have our community prioritize issues, rather than relying on neighboring communities.
Where is Marine Park?
Marine Park begins after Midwood, at Nostrand Avenue, and continues until Flatbush Avenue, and from Kings Highway until Ave U. Mill Basin, Gravesend and Flatlands are a few different neighborhoods that border us. Even though we call ourselves JCC of Marine Park, we represent a lot of people in the 20’s and 30’s.
Tells us how you operate.
We have about 25 volunteers and a call center. People call with any issue, social services, or in need of some of the other projects we’ve developed. Volunteers take those phone calls and either they answer the questions, send them the paperwork or set up appointments for them with caseworkers or local organizations, when necessary.
Do the volunteers work home?
We have an office on Flatbush Ave and volunteers who get together at night, and work from their homes or offices. You phone the call center and tell them, for instance, “I need health insurance.” They’ll put you on hold and connect your call through to a woman who helps people with health insurance, HEAP, Medicaid and food stamps. She’s a volunteer.
Let’s say you need a job; they’ll refer you to someone like me. Some people will call because they’re in too high a bracket to qualify for Medicaid or food stamps, but they need money; they cannot sustain themselves. The rabbanim take care of qualifying a person for a project we came up with, called Project Mazon.
What is Project Mazon?
Tomchei Shabbos is an amazing organization that does fantastic things. Some people, though, might not be utilizing this wonderful organization. Many of the families in our community suffer in silence – they would rather starve than get a food delivery to their door. Their needs are different in that they have young families. They also need formula and diapers. For these reasons, we began Project Mazon.
We try to get everybody in the community to sign up, to donate five dollars a week via their credit card. They either go to ProjectMazon.org, on the web, or they’ll call our office and give their information. We charge their credit card $5 or $10 a week, but the minimum is $5 a week, which is equivalent to a sandwich and a coffee. The money goes into one pot, one bank account.
Then, in order to qualify, any rav in the community has the ability to sign somebody up. So if somebody feels they need it, or if a rav feels that somebody in his shul needs help, he calls one central person. He gives him only the person’s phone number and the grocery where they shop. From that week on, every Thursday morning, there’s a $50 credit in that person’s account, so they can purchase without anyone knowing. They prioritize their own shopping list and buy things that they really need for their family. It’s all done anonymously so that people feel comfortable about accepting help. No one in the JCC knows who the recipients are; only the rabbanim know. Obviously, we all trust the rabbanim to qualify the people.
We worked it out with the kosher groceries in Marine Park, and in the high 20’s and 30’s for now. It takes 10 people giving $5 a week to help one family. So if we opened it up to the entire public, the system would be overwhelmed. I spoke about this recently at the Agudah Convention, and encouraged other communities to each start its own “Project Mazon” to support those who are struggling in their own communities. We have a standing offer to assist any organization that would like to start a similar program in its community with organizational support.
You have two big events coming up for Project Mazon. Can you tell us about those?
Yes, We do have two big events coming up for Project Mazon. The first event is coming up in less than two weeks. On July 21, 2010 – the day after Tisha B’Av is our Second Annual Project Mazon – Glatt Mart Barbeque. It starts at 7:00 p.m. and will be in a large tent at the playground of PS 240 – at 2500 Nostrand Avenue, between Avenues K and L, and it features the delicious meats of Glatt Mart and the wonderful talents of the renowned mentalist Shimi Illuzini. It is the only fundraising event of the year for Project Mazon and we encourage everyone to attend and help support your friends and neighbors who are in need of assistance.
The second event that we are running concurrently is our Project Mazon Raffle where you can win a free two-year car lease for a new Honda Insight! This is sponsored by Plaza Auto Mall car leasing. We are having the raffle is September, IY”H. One ticket is $36 and 4 tickets are $100.
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