January 2023

Repair the World and Make it More Whole

Sparked by Martin Luther King Day this month, a message on Jewish values and volunteerism from NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman. 

Last year ended in the pursuit of light and hope.

Now, with Martin Luther King Day upon us, I find myself both renewed yet still seeking answers.  I have found myself thinking of Dr. King’s searing words:  “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?'”

For me, Dr. King’s question conjures Tikkun Olam, the Jewish concept at the heart of our work at NCJW/Essex. I love that Judaism posits that each of us has a role in repairing our world and a duty to make the world more whole. NCJW/Essex offers me a place to fulfill this responsibility and to connect with others as they do the same. 

Since I took on the NCJW/Essex presidency, I’ve thought a lot about how to best carry out our mission: “Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.”

As we look ahead to what 2023 will bring, I want to share what the four core Jewish values that serve as the foundation of NCJW/Essex mean to me:

The pursuit of justice is a Jewish imperative

NCJW/Essex begins and ends with the idea that we must work to create a world that is more just and aspire to promote social and economic justice in our community. We do that when we advocate for all menstruating people to have access to adequate period products or provide community members with diapers, food, or Back to School clothes and necessities, and so much more.

Education is the cornerstone of change

As a lifelong reader and learner, I fully embrace the idea that educating ourselves and our community is a vital component of seeking justice.  Talking with each other in formal and not-so-formal setting has gifted me with information that broadened my perspective and inspired me to take meaningful action to champion change. 

There is inherent dignity in all human beings
The spark of the divine is equally present within everyone

These two tenets come together to remind me that we must respect the dignity of each individual. Our advocacy for reproductive freedom and access to abortion rests on the view that we should all have autonomy to make decisions about our bodies. Our Center for Women clients benefit from this perspective as we help them prepare to enter the workforce, going beyond resume reviews to address the needs of the whole woman, encouraging them to determine and meet their own needs. 

Every day, NCJW/ Essex helps me answer the question “what am I doing for others?” I am hopeful it does the same for you. 

The Torah, the rabbis who established our traditions and our own experience tell us that volunteer work does so much more than help others – it also helps the one doing the work. 

As you explore this website, you will see that NCJW/Essex has so many ways to get engaged, to connect with others who are passionate and committed to making an impact and to demonstrate the four core values.  Whether you have an hour, a day, or more, I invite you to join me and NCJW/ Essex in our work to repair the world

Hey, New Jersey, Where Are You?

Read more from Laurie Kahn, Vice President, Advocacy, NCJW/Essex about the important issue of menstrual equity and take action by contacting your state legislators. 

The NJ Assembly is currently considering A1349. Now is the time to correct discrimination against menstruating students. 

Urge the State Assembly: Provide Free Menstrual Products in Schools 

In March 2021, U.S. News & World Report ranked New Jersey number one as the Best State for Education and number three as the Richest State in America. In June 2021, WalletHub named New Jersey as the number one place to live in the US. That same survey also ranked NJ in the top 10 for safety, quality of life and education. New Jersey was also among the first states to abolish the tampon tax.

Yet, every day in our state, over 50% of school age children cannot tend to their basic bodily needs because menstrual products are not provided in their schools’ bathrooms. This often requires an embarrassing trip to the nurse’s office or even back home if the school lacks the most essential supplies. It’s not hard to imagine the loss of class time, but what about the lost opportunity of education, the stigma, the injustice? New Jersey, where are you?

According to a national study commissioned by Period and Thinx, one in five teens struggles to afford menstrual products. As a result, 84% say they’ve missed school, or know somebody who has, putting them at a greater disadvantage and furthering inequities that already exist.

In New Jersey, a recent survey of 100 Jersey City students by the nonprofit The Flow Initiative found that 28% missed school because they did not have access to menstrual products, 90% needed a menstrual product while in school and 76% had a menstrual accident while in school.

Six years ago, in November 2016, before the first menstrual equity legislation had even passed in the United States, New Jersey began scripting the preliminary language for its own menstrual equity bill.  Since then we have watched Washington D.C. and 21 other states, including conservative states like Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and Utah, pass their own versions of menstrual equity bills, correcting an inequality in education and opportunity that is clearly a nonpartisan issue.

New Jersey is noticeably missing from that list of 21 states.  We are no longer on the cutting edge of passing this sweeping legislation that would help middle and high schoolers in our state have equal access to menstrual products. Providing these products corrects discrimination against an entire group, providing equal opportunity to students across the state. It is time for menstrual products to be as accessible as toilet paper and paper towels. It is time for New Jersey to, once and again, stand and lead.

 In September 2022, we witnessed eight menstrual equity bills unanimously pass through the New Jersey Assembly Women and Children Committee. While we were elated at the historic passage of these bills, we couldn’t help but feel as if the one of the largest and most vulnerable group of NJ constituents were not recognized. Then, in December 2022, the NJ Senate passed S1221, which establishes a program in the Department of Education to reimburse school districts for providing menstrual products in public schools grades 6-12 and requires the State to pay costs.

The NJ Assembly is currently considering a companion bill, A1349, to S1221. Now is the time to pass A1349 and to finally correct the discrimination against menstruating students.

We are proud to be able to fund all essential items needed for students to be successful in school. Safe, quality menstrual products should be made available and accessible and there should be no shame or stigma attached to periods or the methods utilized to take care of one’s needs.