While recently on tour with my book Business Mensch, I was invited to speak as part of UJA-Federation of New York’s CONNECT TO CARE Economic Response Initiative in Westchester County. Geographically situated between New York City and New England, Westchester has touches of both. It has the high energy and pace of New York City along with the leafy traditionalism of New England. While there are certainly pockets of poverty, it is rated as the #7 wealthiest county in the nation with an average per capita income of $74,878.
The event I went to was not a major donor event. There were no limousines parked outside. It was a “meet and greet” event for people out of work, about to be out of work, in transition, or underemployed. I was there to provide inspiration and some useful business tips. I hope I was able to provide both, but I believe I was given a lot more than they were. I was given a glimpse into how communities, in this case the New York Jewish Community, is handling the current economic crisis, by connecting with people, and trying to help each other out.
During the opening remarks the speakers talked about the Connect to Care Program. The audience heard how the Federation was making employment counselors, insurance consultants, financial planners, and psychological services available at no charge. They were told how 33 people had already been put back to work by this new program, and how this was the first in a series of get-togethers to help folks network with each other. The energy in the room was high, fueled by a fabulous little buffet, complete with a wine tasting — all donated by concerned and civic minded vendors.
As I looked out at the scene I was taken back 100 years to the gritty world of the Lower East Side, a mere 30 minute drive from where we were that night. At the turn of the 20th century, with hundreds of thousands of Jewish immigrants pouring into New York, what did the community do? Help the newcomers find jobs by what else: “Networking.” When Moshe got off the boat from Minsk, who was going to find him a job, he was a tailor in the old country? The Jewish Community. When Baruch just came from Vilna not speaking much English, but he had a head for numbers, who helped him out? The Jewish Community. And it was the same with the Italians, the Irish, etc., as their communities helped them find employment.
What the immigrants did for their own in 1909, they were doing again in 2009. Helping each other, and helping themselves at the same time. Is this the beginning of the new old days, or the end to the new breed of greed? Let’s hope it’s both!