Over 800 Children Shop Cost-Free at the NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store

Bring on the Smiles!

“I can’t wait to get new shoes! I want sparkles on them!” exclaimed a young girl to her volunteer personal shopper as they entered the store with her new cheetah print backpack opened and ready to fill. Inside the gym, walls were lined with rows of brand new coats, sneakers, and clothing. This year NCJW/Essex celebrated its 11th year of the B2SS, outfitting over 800 children with the help of more than 600 volunteers. The children shopped for brand new clothing, school supplies and personal care items, encouraging a well-equipped and confident start to the new school year.

The day started with a ribbon cutting ceremony for dignitaries and supporters of the store led by NCJW/Essex President Lesley Greenstein of Summit, NJ. B2SS co-chairs Andrea Mintz, Stacey Laken and Laurie Schuftan, all Livingston, NJ residents, joined with dignitaries to cut the ribbon. What followed was a long line of excited children, eager to enter and pick out their new items. The children, referred by over 35 social service agencies, were each greeted by a volunteer personal shopper who assisted them through their shopping journey. This year’s event was held at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston, NJ.

While the children shopped, parents and guardians visited the onsite Gaelen Family Resource Center where they could speak with representatives from organizations such as Advocates for Children NJ, the Essex County Family Justice Center, the NCJW/Essex Center for Women, Planned Parenthood of Metro NJ and the Rachel Coalition. University Hospital, a major participant at the Gaelen Family Resource Center, offered free health screenings and health information throughout the day.

The cost of school supplies is often overlooked as a major annual expense. Families that are living in poverty struggle with the rising cost demands of public education. In 2018-19, parents paid an average of $637 on school supplies for elementary school children. In Essex County alone, 21% of households with children lived below the poverty level in 2017. NCJW/Essex believes that no child should start off the school year already behind, and has put together the B2SS for the past eleven years to meet this need. All of the items given away at the B2SS are free to children and their families.

“The entire experience was extraordinary from beginning to end,” said Debra Goldsmith, a volunteer personal shopper from North Caldwell, NJ. “Interacting with such eager children and being a part of the positive environment that NCJW/Essex creates at the Back 2 School Store is inspiring. I’m so glad to be a part of it.”

Ranging from college students to grandparents, the passion each volunteer brought was undeniable through the evident excitement expressed from hundreds of children who filled the store. With three shifts throughout the day, volunteers underwent specific training on how to optimize the shopping experience for each child. From picking out pens and calculators to help finding jeans with the perfect fit, the personal shoppers guided and encouraged each child through every step.

Each year the Back 2 School Store is supported by grants and generous financial contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations, enabling the children to “shop” cost-free but leave with million-dollar smiles!

Don’t Do Nothing Just Because You Can’t Do Everything

Saving the world is a lofty goal that seems impossible on an individual scale. Right now, America is faced with issues surrounding reproductive rights, gun violence prevention, human trafficking and voting rights – none of which can be solved overnight.

But in just one hour, you can still make a difference! If you are looking to share your passion for advocacy but are on a tight schedule, the NCJW/Essex Advocacy-in-an-Hour program is for you. This is an opportunity for individuals with limited time but unlimited passion.

NCJW/Essex Advocacy hosted a successful Advocacy-in-an-Hour in the spring, fighting for reproductive rights. NCJW/Essex volunteers gathered to write postcards of support to abortion providers around the country who provide caring and quality services to protect women’s health. These clinics so often receive hate mail and withstand protestors at their sites, not to mention bearing the brunt of legislation coming down on abortion rights and access. In just one hour, our advocacy volunteers wrote over 200 postcards! This was a huge effort in a short amount of time, but one that was much appreciated by the recipients at abortion clinics nationwide. “It was a real morale booster,” said one representative whose clinic was a recipient of postcards. “It made us feel appreciated for the difficult work we do.”

If you have an hour to spare and the passion to change the world, we hope you will join us for the next Advocacy-in-an-Hour this fall! Watch for details!

Don’t have an hour? What about a minute? Our new Advocacy-in-a-Minute initiative is perfect for those who are interested in an issue and want to learn more in a short amount of time. Our own NCJW/Essex experts will be squeezing a wealth of knowledge and a Call to Action in 60 second videos. The video series will be posted in Happenings, on social media, and on our website. If you have the passion and the time, watch out for Advocacy-in-a-Minute soon! Feel free to email Stephanie Abrahams, Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement, at sabrahams@ncjwessex.org.

Getting Hooked on Current Events

If you have a passion for the news and are looking to do direct volunteer service, the NCJW/Essex Current Events program, in partnership with local independent living residences, is a sure fit. Volunteers facilitate groups of senior citizens in engaging and timely discussions of local, national and world events.

I expressed my interest, went to one of the groups as an observer and I was hooked! In the last two years I’ve facilitated groups with all types of volunteers, both men and women. The common denominator is our desire to bring newsy discussions to people who sometimes aren’t heard or listened to on the topics of the day.

I found out quite quickly that seniors have strong opinions and want to express them. The role of facilitator is to set an open, honest and respectful tone and try and give everyone a chance to speak.  We don’t share our personal opinions, but rather keep the discussion moving and suggest topics should the conversation lag.

What happens in a typical hour-long group? I usually have a list of topics on my phone along with an ending joke or funny story…always a hit!  We work in groups of two facilitators each week; some facilitators work with notes, others bring clippings from newspapers. We begin by asking, “What would you like to talk about today?” and then it’s off to the races!

There are people of differing political persuasions in every group.  We’ve spent hours talking about the state of the presidency, the #MeToo movement, moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem, the North Korea summits, climate change, local elections, self-driving cars and other tech innovations…the list goes on and on. We’re always looking for additional facilitators. You don’t need to have any experience with seniors, just a desire to lighten up their day with a lively discussion. Make that first call and join the Current Events team! Email volunteer@ncjwessex.org.

Three Women Honored at the NCJW/Essex Annual Installation and Awards Evening

Three local women were presented with awards for their leadership, service and contributions at the NCJW/Essex Annual Installation and Awards Evening, which took place on Tuesday, June 11, 2019 at Cedar Hill Country Club in Livingston, NJ.

Leslie Lavinthal of Florham Park, NJ, was the recipient of the NCJW/Essex Service to Section Award, recognized as a member of NCJW/Essex whose generosity and resolute work as a volunteer has changed the lives of women, children and families. Lavinthal has been a steadfast and productive member of NCJW/Essex for 45 years. Initially drawn to the organization because she was new to her neighborhood, she found the women to be intelligent and committed to community service. She has held multiple leadership positions including Co-Chair of the Back 2 School Store, Vice President of the Center for Women, and currently Assistant Treasurer. She has loved the hands-on opportunities, such as helping women at the Career Closet. With her training as a special education teacher, she has especially enjoyed helping children attending the Back 2 School Store and supporting young children who have suffered losses through the peer support group, Rainbows.

Elisa Madorsky of Livingston, NJ, was the recipient of the Henrietta Weiser Emerging Leader Award, presented by NCJW/Essex to a promising member who has demonstrated leadership potential. Madorsky has worked tirelessly in her commitment to NCJW/Essex and demonstrated talent at taking on leadership roles. She first became involved at the Back 2 School Store in 2014 and has since increased her involvement with this event as well as others. She spearheaded a Lunch and Learn on gun violence prevention with Sandy Hook Promise, and later joined the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee, working to bring art supplies to victims of trafficking housed at Covenant House in Newark. Additionally, she chaired Mitzvah-in-a-Minute (MIM), offering quick community service projects that make a difference, and in 2018 assumed the role as Vice President of Advocacy, a position she will continue in the year to come.

Marion Medow of Livingston, NJ, was the recipient of The Hannah G. Solomon Award, presented by NCJW/Essex to an individual who has changed the lives of others through leadership efforts and service on a community level. Medow has consistently stepped up to lend a hand during her many years in New Jersey – in her synagogue, Hadassah, the Livingston PTA and Jewish Family Service of MetroWest (JFS) where she recently completed her term as President from 2016-2018. A strong advocate for reducing the stigma of mental health issues, Medow first learned about JFS through NCJW’s participation in the launch of the Rachel Coalition, a division of JFS. Her work at NCJW/Essex has spanned a broad cross-section including chairing fundraisers as well as community service initiatives. From 2004-2006 she served as President, the culmination of her many years of active participation in the section.

Anthony Garubo Salon in Maplewood Partners with the Linda & Rudy Slucker 
NCJW/Essex Center for Women to Help Empower Women

For the sixth consecutive year, ten women from the Linda & Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women (CFW) were treated to a special pampering this spring, thanks to the generosity of the award-winning Anthony Garubo Salon in Maplewood, NJ.

Usually closed on Mondays, the Salon opened its doors and donated its time and talent to help empower the CFW clients with a new look. All services were donated and anything was possible, from a blowout to cut, color and even highlights, as the stylists consulted with each individual client.

Patty Kremen, Career Services Manager at the NCJW/Essex Center for Women, explains that this event is part of the CFW’s overall approach to help women feel a sense of confidence and at their best. “When you witness the transition in these women simply from the beginning of the day to when they walk out of the salon, it’s priceless seeing them feel so good about themselves,” she says. “The confidence they feel when they look in the mirror is inspiring.”

 “The Center for Women has been amazing,” says Dana Kuiper-Nauer of Pine Brook, NJ, a client at the Center for the past nine months. “With everything going on I rarely get time for myself. This has been ‘me’ time that is long overdue.

The Anthony Garubo Salon has graciously hosted this event for the past six years because of their desire to give back to the community and specifically to women in need. As Janine Garubo Austin, Managing Director said, “We love this tradition and it is the high point of our year. Spring feels like a good time to have a new beginning. My staff and I are honored to be a little bit of a catalyst for change.” Moises Cabides of the salon echoed these sentiments saying, “It is always rewarding to help out and give confidence to those who really need and want it.”

The Center for Women is a resource for women focusing on growth and self-improvement. The Center offers workshops on a variety of topics, computer classes, legal guidance, career services and peer support. Clients of the Center are learning skills to enter or re-enter the workforce, finding encouragement to cope with new or unexpected life situations, gaining the confidence to develop their own career path and improving personal relationships.

The Linda & Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women is located at 70 South Orange Avenue, Livingston, NJ. For more information, please visit www.centerforwomenNJ.org or call (973) 994-4994.

Three Essex County Students Win the Annual Nancy and Robert Eskow NCJW/Essex Volunteer Awards


The National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section (NCJW/Essex) honored three extraordinary Essex County high school students with the Nancy and Robert Eskow NCJW Volunteer Awards. The recipients of the awards were recognized for their outstanding contributions to many different causes, including long-term volunteer efforts towards congenital heart defects, preventing and raising awareness of substance abuse, and creating a district program to assist children with Selective Mutism. This is the 16th year the award has been bestowed to deserving high school students.

                  The 2019 award winners include Curtis Mark of Orange High School, Giulia Russo of James Caldwell High School, and Allison Kofsky of Columbia High School. These high school seniors have shown a dedication to improving the lives of others locally and globally. This year’s winners of the Nancy and Robert Eskow NCJW Volunteer Awards each received a $500 scholarship and a commemorative certificate.

                  Curtis Mark, a senior at Orange High School, began volunteering with the non-profit organization Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team (ADAPT), where he was able to expand his knowledge about substance abuse in order to help his community. “To make a community-level change, we must involve the community in our efforts,” reflected Mark. “Once we do this, the room for growth is endless.” Through all of his efforts to prevent substance abuse, he was presented with numerous awards and was selected as the sole United States Delegate at the United Nations Youth Forum.

                  Allison Kofsky, a senior attending Columbia High School, was 15 when she started her own district program called “Playground Pals” to aid and spread awareness of children impacted by Selective Mutism (SM). The inspiration behind this program was generated from someone she knew battling SM, a rare childhood anxiety disorder that hinders people’s ability to vocalize in various settings. “Playground Pals assists children struggling with Selective Mutism with feeling included and less isolated during their lunch and recess periods. It quite literally, provides a voice to the voiceless,” she says proudly.

Giulia Russo, a senior attending James Caldwell High School, was twelve years old when she was informed that she had a large hole (atrial septal defect) in her heart that only open heart surgery could fix. Although this information would change Russo’s life forever, the positive path she followed stands out. She became involved with the Congenital Heart Defect (CHD) Coalition and has led a journal drive for the past 5 years to distribute journals to patients during treatment.

Winners of the Nancy and Robert Eskow Volunteer Award reflect the mission and values of NCJW/Essex through their commitment and dedication to community service projects and advocacy experienced during their high school careers. In recognition of their exemplary contributions, each received a $500 scholarship and an award certificate from NCJW/Essex.