Recap of a Wonderful Day
The scene is set: a room buzzing with warm greetings, big hugs and wide smiles as we came together to thank NCJW/Essex’s incoming and outgoing officers, honor our remarkable award recipients, and welcome friends, new and old, to our celebration.
Planned beautifully by Co-Chairs Leslie Lavinthal and Sharon Spindel, the 2023 Installation & Awards Luncheon at Cedar Hill Country Club on Tuesday, June 13 reminded us once again why NCJW/Essex is a special place.
Grounded in our Jewish values, articulated so well in moving words from two Rabbis Cohen, our annual gathering illuminated the impact we have on our community, our fierce advocacy for individual rights and freedoms and the respect and admiration we have for each other, and others have for NCJW/Essex.
This event brings one year to a close and fills us with the hope and promise of another brimming with more volunteers, more advocacy and more connections. Read below for some highlights of a wonderful day.
Thank You to Outgoing Board and Officers and Installing the New Slate
The business of Installation was handled with grace by outgoing Immediate Past President Penina Barr. She thanked Nominations Chair Shari Harrison and Nominations Vice Chair Marjie Zucker for their excellent work then led the group through the steps required to pass the responsibility and the excitement of the new year ahead. The new slate of officer
Penina also shared a few words about her friend NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman, who is entering the second year of her term. Though known for their different approaches – Penina shared she writes her speeches with minutes to spare, and Jennie writes her remarks weeks in advance; Penina captures notes quickly, and Jennie is a fan of binders – the two have become close friends, colleagues and each other’s advisor, all of which will continue well into the future.
2023 – 2024 Slate of Officers
Jennie Goldsmith Rothman
Executive Vice President
VP, Center for Women
Lauren Tabak Fass
VP, Fund Development
VP, Volunteer Outreach
Nominations Vice Chair
Asking the Right Questions
Driven by an innate curiosity and eagerness to learn, Jennie led the organization in the first year of her presidency as we tackled and considered some of the bigger issues of our time: What does the world look like in a post-Roe environment? How do we confront rising antisemitism and hatred of any kind? How do we continue to provide services to increasingly food- and housing-insecure clients at the Center for Women?
The answers to these and other questions are never simple. However, Jennie reminded us of the importance of asking those questions and more directly, emphasized the importance of taking action.
“While asking questions is definitely a Jewish value,” she said, ” our tradition doesn’t stop there. Jewish tradition requires that we act; we must do our part to make the world more whole and just by engaging in Tikkun Olam.”
That manifests at NCJW/Essex in ways big and small – the way we encourage fostering connections with each other and with our community; the way we act, not always with a perfect outcome, but with the knowledge that we did not shy from the task; and the way we treat everyone with respect and dignity.
Jennie concluded her remarks where Rabbi Simeon Cohen of Temple Beth Shalom began. They both highlighted the teachings and guidance from the Pirke Avot which says, “we are not required to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.”
Hannah G. Solomon Award:
Smiles All Around
Known around NCJW/Essex for her fabulous work on the Back 2 School Store, for organizing programs and events and for serving as a member of the Board and Executive Committee, Lori Gelman’s impact in our community has made a massive impact on so many people, especially those who are facing some of life’s toughest challenges.
As her friend and fellow NCJW/Essex Executive Committee member Cindy Charney said in her introduction, Lori is a woman with many superpowers, the brightest of which might be the ability to find joy and optimism in any situation. That was evident when she co-founded the Comfort Cart at Cooperman Barnabas Hospital’s Cancer Center and when she and her family established the Duke Brain Aneurysm Fund to educate and support doctors, caregivers and other families dealing with this situation.
Lori said she volunteers because it “fuels her spirit and passion and is a constant reminder that no matter how bad my worst day may be, there are others who are dealing with life’s challenges… It reminds me to be appreciate of all the gifts I have and to not take for granted life’s blessings.”
She also reminded us that “…a warm smile is priceless. Never underestimate its power.”
Henrietta Weiser Emerging Leader Award: From Generation to Generation
NCJW/Essex is lucky to have many mother-daughter (and even granddaughter) members, but this was the first time a mother and daughter received the same award – 23 years apart!
L’dor va dor — the Jewish concept of ensuring traditions are passed from generation to generation — was in full effect as Lauren Tabak Fass received this year’s Emerging Leader Award from her mother, Judy Wais Tabak. Judy introduced Lauren not only to NCJW/Essex, but to the importance of Tikkun Olam and the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected.
Lauren has long been a leader at NCJW/Essex. From chairing the Back 2 School Store at the height of the pandemic, to serving on the Board and most recently as VP of Communications, she has put her drive, passion, intelligence, and ability to bring others together to further the organization’s mission.
As mother and daughter stood together at the podium, Lauren’s daughter, Skylar, watched from the room. Judy said, “I hope that Skylar, like her mother and me, will come to understand and embrace the qualities contributions and promise this award represents and feel the pull and power of NCJW/Essex to keep us all forever young.” L’dor va dor indeed.
Helen D. Schwartz Memorial Crystal Award: Girls Helping Girls. Period. and the Fight to End Period Poverty
The Crystal Award is given to an organization that has made an impact in Essex County and exemplifies the goals of NCJW/Essex through an outstanding vision and contributions to the community in education, social action and/or service. This year’s recipient, Girls Helping Girls. Period. and its Executive Director Elise Joy, became a natural choice.
Introduced by NCJW/Essex Executive Director Caitlin Higgins Joy (the familial connection is strong!), Elise shared the history of Girls Helping Girls. Period., which began when her daughters, Emma and Quinn, were bat-mitzvah-aged. GHGP believes that menstrual health leads to overall health and human dignity and their focus is on wiping out period poverty.
One of the Joy sisters’ first meetings was with NCJW/Essex, long a champion of improving the quality of women’s lives. Over the years the two groups have teamed to educate the community about how students often miss school and women often miss work because of their lack of access to period products. Girls Helping Girls. Period. has generously provided menstrual products to the Back 2 School Store and expects this year to donate two months’ worth of product for each recipient.
Elise and Girls Helping Girls. Period. have been fierce and frequent advocates for the bill currently in front of the State Assembly that would provide period products in all school bathrooms, at the state’s expense.
That won’t be the end for GHGP; there is always a new beginning. They have many more people to educate, more product to collect and distribute, and more lives to impact with their work.