In the Spotlight: Shay Yonaiev

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People Who Make a Difference in Our Community

We are excited to present our readers a new column that will feature interviews of community members who are making a difference in their neighborhoods and the community at large. One such person is Shay Yonaiev, who heads the couples division at Emet.

BJL: People in the community know you as someone who runs Emet’s very popular couple division. You have assumed this role not too long ago. Before we get into the specifics of your role with Emet, I’d like to ask you what you did before your involvement with Emet began.

Shay Yonaiev: I was always involved in human resources. I started as an assistant in a non-profit organization called Ohel. Then I moved on to B&H photo, a company that I was with for 14 years, and I took various roles within the company. And right prior to Emet, I took on a role as HR director for a home care agency in Brooklyn. 

BJL: What inspired you to join Emet?

SY: I was always connected with Emet and involved with the organization for many years. In fact, I worked part time for Emet when I was in Hunter college, as the organization’s liaison. I was able to organize lectures and different programs for the Jewish students at Hunter. Even after I left Hunter, I maintained a strong relationship with Rabbi Rutenberg and Rabbi Kraft. Throughout my career in human resources, Rabbi Rutenberg would often mention how I would eventually join human resources at Emet, and I would just laugh it off because I felt that I wasn’t about to work for a nonprofit organization and receive a pay cut. But one day, Rabbi Rutenberg reached out and said: “Shay, we are ready for you.” 

BJL: What solidified your decision to work for Emet?

SY: Working for an organization that services the community can be very alluring and exciting, especially when they are doing such special and holy work for our community. I thought that was very important. Also, it was based in Queens, which was close to home. Plus, it made sense financially. I find myself very lucky to be working for such an organization.

BJL: What is your specific role within the organization?

SY: I wear three different hats within the organization. One of them is human resources. In that role, I am in charge of hiring, employee relations, and policy making. The 2nd role is heading one of Emet’s 4 divisions, which is the couple’s division. In that capacity, I am responsible for bringing in very exciting and relevant workshops and programs for our couples. In that role, I also build and maintain relationships with many of our Emet students who are now married and starting their own families. My third role in Emet is that of administrator, being in charge of all the admin staff and taking care of all the logistics behind the Shabbatons and programs for the organization.

BJL: What do you like most about your position at Emet?

SY: My key skills are in organization-building, and I very much enjoy helping solidify the organization and helping it grow. As an organization tries to scale and grow, it’s difficult to do when it’s not expanding in an organized and structured way. One of the things that I bring to the table is structure and organization, my skill set.

BJL: How do you manage challenges that inevitably rise when working with such a dynamic organization?

SY: There are certainly challenges involved. I am very much used to a corporate environment, which Emet is not. So there could be tension sometimes but we deal with it respectfully. I work for rabbis who run the organization and who strive to do the right thing. And it helps when they are open to the ideas presented.

BJL: What advice would you give people who are looking to be more proactive in their community?

SY: Pursue something you are passionate about and follow your heart. There are so many places within our community where one would be able to contribute and connect with people. The need is great and there is definitely an outlet for people who are willing to help. It doesn’t have to be big; it can involve mentorship or hosting people for Shabbat meals. Emet is always looking for volunteers who are interested in Jewish outreach and connecting with other people in the community.

 By: Shalom Meirov