May 2023

PASSED! Menstrual Equity Bill Passed Out of Committee in NJ State Assembly

June 22 Update:
Menstrual Equity Bill Unanimously Approved by Appropriations Committee
Next Step - Full Assembly


On June 22, the NJ State Assembly Appropriations Committee unanimously PASSED Bill A1349 providing period products, paid for by the state, in school bathrooms.

Appropriations Chair and bill co-sponsor Lisa Swain said we are “finally close to the finish line!”

NJCW/Essex is hopeful the bill will head to the whole Assembly next week for a vote.

The Women and Children Committee of the New Jersey State Assembly voted unanimously today to advance Bill A1349, which mandates period products in all NJ schools and requires the State to pay the costs. This bill corrects an inequity in education and opportunity by making menstrual products as accessible as toilet paper and paper towels in school bathrooms. 

The National Council of Jewish Women, Essex County Section (NCJW/Essex) proudly testified at the hearing today in favor of the bill, alongside many of our partners, including The Flow Initiative, Hospeco, The Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the League of Women Voters, Girls Helping Girls. Period., and students from North Star Academy in Newark.  

The students provided perhaps the most moving testimony of the day. They have worked with the coalition to implement a menstrual product dispenser pilot program in their school. 

“I urge you to pass this bill because as a person who menstruates, having a period is very stressful,” said Heissel Contreras, a North Star junior. “I have had to run around the school hallways trying to ask someone for a pad. This not only was highly embarrassing, but it also wastes a lot of the time I could have taken in class.” 

NCJW/Essex helped script the preliminary language for this bill in 2016, and  together with partners at the Thrive NJ Menstrual Equity Coalition, have worked tirelessly for more than six years to move this legislation on what is clearly a nonpartisan issue. The 10 co-sponsors of A1349 include women and men, Democrats and Republicans.  And, since we began our work in New Jersey, 21 other states and Washington DC have passed similar menstrual equity bills.

Committee Chair Gabriela Mosquera, the bill’s initial primary sponsor, also emphasized the need to reshape thinking on menstrual equity. “If we can afford toilet paper in our bathrooms, we can definitely afford menstrual products,” she said during the hearing. “Our students are faced with enough issues today. They should not be forced to take extreme measures… We should just give them the necessities they deserve.”  

Toilet paper and paper towels on the desk in front of NCJW/Essex Director of Advocacy Stephanie Abrahams .

NCJW/Essex’s Period.Project, launched in 2018, works to help end period poverty through distribution, education and advocacy and has distributed more than 900,000 menstrual products to date. Our ultimate goal is to have period products available wherever menstruators need them, and we look forward to that day when this initiative is no longer needed. 

NCJW/Essex and its partners will continue to watch and support Bill A1349 as it moves through the committee process and then on to the full Assembly for a final vote with the hope and commitment that it will become law. 

Card Party Returns!

"It's so great to see you! It has been way too long!"

Those greetings rang through the rooms at Crestmont Country Club on Monday, May 1 as nearly 250 people arrived for the 2023 Card Party.

Card Party returned following a four-year pandemic-related hiatus, and it was not a minute too soon.  

“What a reunion!” Sharon Falkin shared.  “Friends and acquaintances reconnecting in a way only NCJW/Essex can make happen.  Shared memories of programs, projects and advocacy.” 

This event is one of NCJW/Essex’s important annual fundraisers, and it exceeded all expectations and plans.  A giant thank you to our generous benefactors and to everyone who played, shopped, lunched and bought raffle tickets.  Your support enables us to continue the work of improving the lives of women, children and families in Essex County. 

Co-chairs Debbi Fine, Robin Kollin and Lauren Scher produced a wonderful event from start to finish, flawlessly coordinating players and groups, overseeing a record 15 vendors whose tables were filled with fun and fabulous products and creating a festive and bright atmosphere where everyone enjoyed a delicious lunch.  Thank you to our Fund Development team, VP Lisa Santola and Director of Development Alison Haight for their support. 

“Fabulous day!  Kudos to our three chairs who did a top-notch job,” said Rita Isaacs, echoing the feelings of all who attended. 

NCJW CEO Sheila Katz Speaks in Livingston

The pouring rain could not keep a contingent of NCJW/Essex members away from Temple B’nai Abraham on Sunday, April 30 to hear NCJW CEO Sheila Katz in conversation with Senior Rabbi David Vaisberg. 

Sheila, who was named NCJW’s national leader in 2019, has more than doubled the number of NCJW advocates to over 210,000 strong working collectively to ensure that the rights of women, children and families are protected, translated into public policy and upheld in our courts.   Her path took her from teaching at the elementary school level to rising through the ranks at Hillel International to becoming one of only two women CEOs of a legacy national Jewish organization. 

Sheila traced her history in the fight for equality and justice, and the choices she made along the way.  Sparked by her mother’s illness and disability, Sheila realized at an early age that when things are more accessible it’s better for everyone.  “When one person rises, we bring others with us,” she said

That is especially true when it comes to gender equity, and the role of women in the workplace.  And, it starts early.  Women should be making the same as men in their first jobs out of college, setting the stage for equity for a lifetime.  But, data shows that still is not happening, nor is it happening in practice.  Early in her career, when asking for a raise, Sheila was told instead to “get a husband.”

That was also one of many turning points for her, and shined a light on some fundamental truths.   NCJW (and NCJW/Essex) says it operates on and is inspired by Jewish values, but Sheila asked, are we really putting them into practice?  She implored us to pay attention, reminded us that our budget dictates our values, and explained that issues like abortion access and equity, childcare and paid family leave are really at the heart of what our organization does.

Abortion has been at the top of the agenda lately, as it is a harbinger of an all-out war on women in the United States,  As a Jewish organization, NCJW has an important perspective to add to this conversation.  Abortion bans represent a threat to religious liberty, she said, as the Jewish faith prioritizes the life and health of the pregnant person.  

The thought-provoking, and frankly disturbing reality, according to Sheila is that Christian nationalism is making its way into our legal system, and it is up to all of us to speak up loudly – in our community, from the bimah, and elsewhere – because each person has the capacity to make a difference.

Sheila ended on a hopeful note:  “I have hope because I think about history,” she said, telling a story about Rosa Parks, who was a trained organizer before she stepped on the bus. 

“If enough of us do one thing, then one of us will change history.”