Debi

2022 Opening Event

Together Again!
featuring a performance
of Oh God, a Show About Abortion

Wide smiles and feelings of excitement filled the room on October 19 at our first in-person Opening Event in three years. NCJW/Essex members – many of long-standing and some new joiners – gathered at the Park Avenue Club to rekindle friendships, make new connections and be together again!
 
Always a leader in advocating for abortion rights, events of the past few months, including the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the US Supreme Court, served as a fitting backdrop for the night’s program, once again made possible through the generous support of Ellen and Donald Legow. Our fantastic co-chairs, Jaimee Baumgarten and Sheri Trugman, and VP of Programming, Lori Gelman, created a fun, stimulating and meaningful evening. 
Following conversations and catching up over delicious food, delightful drinks – and a donut wall! – more than 200 attendees settled in to watch and listen. Jaimee welcomed everyone and called the meeting to order, sharing her joy in seeing everyone together and the relevance of the evening’s agenda. NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman then took the podium to highlight the activities, advocacy and momentum that fuel NCJW/Essex, and how we have a place for everyone. 
“Our ability to do what we do requires each member’s commitment and contribution. So, tonight I ask each of you to commit to being active in the work of NCJW/Essex in a way that works for you.”
Jennie Goldsmith Rothman
NCJW/Essex President
Jennie also set the stage for the main reason we came together: to hear a remarkable story. 
 
“It’s fitting because storytelling is deeply Jewish,” she added. “For centuries, our history and values have been shared and preserved by transmitting stories from one generation to the next, whether at synagogue or at home around the Seder table. We know this is a moment when abortion access is under siege, and it is more important than ever before to share our abortion stories.”
 
Special guest Shira Zemel, NCJW’s Abortion Access Campaign Co-Director, echoed Jennie’s remarks. “We need to say the word – abortion – and destigmatize it,” she said. She also thanked our section for our ongoing advocacy and reminded us how valuable it is to make our voices heard.
Then, on to the main event.
 

Introduced by Deborah Legow Schatz, Alison Leiby took the stage to perform her acclaimed one-woman show, Oh God, a Show About Abortion, which chronicles her own abortion story and so much more. Alison, an accomplished comedian, writer and producer, connected the ideas of bodily autonomy, the fundamental right to make choices about whether to become a mother and the challenges and pressures faced by women in our culture, with insight and humor.

Alison brought the audience with her on her journey from learning about sex and birth control in middle school, to an evolving relationship with her mother, to living a full and independent life in the arts, and ultimately, to navigating the path to her abortion, sharing hilarious and sometimes pointed examples of each step along the way.  
Throughout the show, one thing was clear through the laughter: the choice of what to do about her body and her pregnancy was Alison’s. 

Moments of reflection and recognition emerged during the performance. Our intergenerational audience perhaps remembered their own stories, or recalled abortion stories from friends, colleagues and family. Alison’s message that building and living the life you want is more than enough, even and especially if society tells you otherwise, reverberated in the room.  

As our 2022 Opening Event drew to a close, our thoughts turned to the work we do collectively as NCJW/Essex to raise awareness, support abortion seekers and abortion providers, and advocate for equitable access and the right to choose.

Attendees headed into the crisp fall evening thoughtful about the story they heard, reminded that abortion is healthcare and should be equally available to all who become pregnant, and energized to continue our work and to make a difference.

An evening of laughter and conversation ...

Meet our Members – Adrienne Lewin

Adrienne Lewin

Adrienne’s hometown is King of Prussia, PA.  She now resides in Livingston. 

Favorite place? The beach!

A Mitzvah in a Minute was Adrienne’s introduction to NCJW/Essex many years ago.  She has since served as co-chair of the Pack the Pantry project, on the Back 2 School Store deep dive committee and as a Teen Dating Abuse presenter.  Adrienne is currently co-chair of the Period.Project.

Favorite Quote:  “People will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  — widely attributed to Maya Angelou

Fun fact:   Adrienne used to write the headlines for the ABC News “ticker” in Times Square.

Advocacy Lately

Advocacy in Action in October

With just about a month to go before election day, NCJW/Essex ramped up its efforts in early October to get out the vote, rally for reproductive rights and focus on menstrual equity.  Together we are making a difference – one voter, one woman, one legislator – at a time. 

Get Out the Vote

On October 6, Advocacy in an Hour joined forces with Get Out the Vote to write hundreds of postcards and letters to historically disenfranchised voters across the country. Special thanks to Ruthann Fish, Ellen Barocas, Jordana Horn Gordon and Elisa Madorsky for making the event such a success! 

Reproductive Rights

Later that night, NCJW/Essex members enjoyed an evening a fine art celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month in support of equal abortion access in New Jersey. Hosted by Heather Carter Fine Art Consulting and NCJW/Essex members Teddi Dolph and Phoebe Pollinger and co-sponsored by the Latino Action Network Foundation, the event raised products for the After Abortion Care kits NCJW/Essex will be supplying to local abortion providers.

Later that week, on October 8, NCJW/Essex members joined hundreds of advocates at a March to ROEvember in Montclair in support of reproductive rights and to mobilize voters ahead of the November election. Speakers included Senator Cory Booker, Representative Mikie Sherrill and State Senator Teresa Ruiz.

Menstrual Equity
Local and Statewide Accomplishments
Changes in Livingston

How do you get free menstrual products put in municipal buildings in your town? Ask VP of Advocacy Laurie Kahn who, after many months of persistence – including more than 70 points of contact to town officials – successfully lobbied Livingston officials to put menstrual product dispensers in the Town Hall building, the library and the community center. Period.Project members were so moved by her presentation at their last meeting that some vowed to start similar initiatives in their own towns. 

Progress in Trenton
“In the history of the state, I think this is the first time that we have actually had an open discussion about menstrual products. I mean, honestly!” Assemblywoman Mosquera said at the Assembly Women and Children Committee meeting on September 29.
 
NCJW/Essex members were on hand to witness eight menstrual equity bills, including those that will provide menstrual products in homeless shelters and food banks, pass through the committee – the first steps the state legislature has taken to address menstrual equity in New Jersey! 

Reproductive Rights – Legislative Summit 2022

Abortion Access is a Winning Issue

At the Reproductive Rights Legislative Summit held in Trenton on Sept. 29, NCJW/Essex members joined Planned Parenthood, ACLU, Women for Progress, UU Faith Action of NJ, Cherry Hill Women’s Center, NOW, the League of Women Voters and other advocates to learn about the state of abortion access in our country, and how we can help protect and expand access in New Jersey. 

Our members staffed an NCJW/Essex activist station at the State House and participated in a rally for reproductive rights on the State House steps. Reproductive Rights co-chair Phoebe Pollinger spoke passionately about eliminating all obstacles that limit reproductive freedom. 

Reproductive Rights co-chair Phoebe Pollinger spoke passionately about eliminating all obstacles that limit reproductive freedom.   (Click the picture below to hear Phoebe’s remarks!) 

NCJW/Essex members also attended a Women and Children committee meeting in the State Assembly where eight menstrual equity bills were passed, including those to provide products in homeless shelters and food banks.  These are the first menstrual equity bills passed in New Jersey! 

Thanks to Phoebe, Sharon Falkin, Sara Goetz, Laurie Kahn, Deborah Legow Schatz, Amy Schwartz and Stephanie Abrahams for being our voice in Trenton on these very important issues. 

Get Out the Vote – Elections 2022

The Power of a Team to Power Up the Vote

A rainy forecast did not deter a rock star group of volunteers from working to Get Out the Vote on Sept. 22 at our first Power Up the Vote event.

More than 75 people donned their waterproof gear, braved the weather and gathered at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun to write postcards, send letters and let people across the country know how important their vote is in all elections, especially the one coming up in November.

During the event, the hard-working volunteers wrote:

  • 500 postcards on behalf of Black Voters Matter 
  • 200 postcards on behalf of The Civics Center 
  • 280 letters on behalf of Vote Forward 

And, even though the event has ended, our work to get out the vote continues.  Volunteers took more than 700 postcards to complete at home on behalf of Reclaim the Vote.   NCJW/Essex also has several more Get Out the Vote events planned for October 2022.

Other groups represented included League of Women Voters and Democracy in a Day, which supports same-day voter registration. 

Power Up the Vote was co-sponsored by the JCRC of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Thank you to NCJW/Essex Get Out the Vote Co-Chairs Jordana Horn Gordon and Elisa Madorsky and to everyone who participated for your commitment to democracy and to making sure everyone votes in November.

Mitzvah-in-a-Minute – Diaper Drive 2022

Fall Mitzvahs-in-a-Minute
Kick Off with a Call for Diapers

Did you know that most babies require up to a dozen diapers a day, and that one in three families in New Jersey struggle to afford diapers to keep their babies healthy and clean?

Our first Mitzvah-in-a-Minute for fall 2022 addressed that issue, with a Diaper Drive to support National Diaper Need Awareness Week, which begins on Sept. 24.   This is part of an annual #greatbigdiaperdrive designed to bring attention to a need that often goes underreported.

Nearly three dozen people dropped off donations at the NCJW/Essex office.  They brought infant diapers, toddler diapers and adult diapers, along with wipes and creams that are often overlooked, but are much in demand.

The team, led by Stacey Laken, with help from Dawn Seewald, delivered several carloads of diapers to the Community FoodBank of New Jersey and the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges.   Both organizations provide diapers and other supplies to those in need in Essex County. 

Thanks to everyone who participated.  Look for more information on upcoming Mitzvahs-in-a-Minute, including hands-on volunteering opportunities. 

Meet our Members – Beth Randall Branigan

Beth Randall Branigan

Originally from Spring Valley, NY, Beth spent more than 30 years in Maplewood and now lives in Morris Township.

Favorite Quote:  “Try not to resist the changes that come your way.  Instead let life live through you and do not worry that your life is turning upside down.   How do you know that the side you are used to is better than the one to come?” – Rumi

Beth’s “fun factor” is her granddaughter, Georgia Mae.  “I never guessed being a grandma could bring so much joy to my life.” 

Beth jokes that her Catholic next-door neighbor introduced her to Teen Dating Abuse programs, and she’s still here!   She discovered RISE and life changed.   Observing several workshops led Beth to a higher level of understanding that she needed to better care for herself.  She has since served as Chair for RISE and remains involved with the facilitators.   In addition, Beth is co-chair of our Personnel Practices Committee, on the Section Board and on the Executive Committee.  

#ActforAbortion

NCJW/Essex and NCJW's Abortion Access Week of Action

The blasts of the shofar have been used to call the Jewish people to action – whether in the spiritual or political realm. 

On Monday, Sept. 12, those sounds signaled the start of NCJW’s Abortion Access Week of Action, bringing  the Jewish community and our tradition’s wisdom and moral leadership, our thirst for justice and communal power to the fight for access to abortion for everyone. Our own Jennie Rothman, Caitlin Higgins Joy, Laurie Kahn and Stephanie Abrahams marked the day with a “sho-test” (Shofar + Protest) to kick off NCJW/Essex’s outreach. 

NCJW/Essex Sho-Test

Legislative issues dominated the middle of the week, with a call to action to reach out to legislators in New Jersey to pass the Reproductive Equity Act (S2918/A4350). New Jersey needs legislation that removes remaining cost barriers to abortion, especially for our most vulnerable communities. Visit our Reproductive Rights page to find your legislators and suggestions as to what to say when you call. 

Next, as reproductive health clinics are disappearing across the country, Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), which spread misinformation about pregnancy and abortion, are thriving. The federal Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation (SAD) Act would create a critical tool for ensuring patients’ rights to legitimate information by authorizing the Federal Trade Commission to regulate CPCs’ misleading advertising.

Thank you to our NJ representatives Mikie Sherrill, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Tom Malinowski and Josh Gottheimer who have signed on as co-sponsors in the House. And thank you to Senator Menendez for introducing the bill and Senator Booker for co-sponsoring in the Senate! There is still time to urge the House and the Senate to pass the SAD Act immediately!

Legislative Outreach
Thank You Abortion Providers

We can’t forget those on the front lines of this fight – abortion providers.  NCJW/Essex has sent more than 600 postcards to providers across our state thanking them for their work and pledging our ongoing support. 

There's More We Can Do

Now, as the NCJW Abortion Access Week of Action ends, there’s so much more we can do  NCJW/Essex is creating Abortion After Care Kits for people seeking abortion care in New Jersey.  Shop our Amazon Wishlist.  And, consider donating to the NJ Abortion Access Fund to help those who are not able to break through financial barriers to abortion care in NJ or the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access that serves and supports abortion providers. 

Meet our Members – Claudia Sandonato

Claudia Sandonato

Claudia grew up in a small town in Northern Minnesota called Virginia.  She spent most of her adult life in the Detroit suburbs and now calls Wanaque, NJ home.

Her favorite place?  The Jersey shore!  There were only lakes where Claudia grew up! 

Favorite book read recently?   Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  

According to Claudia, “It’s a real eye-opener.” 

Life motto:  Live according to your values! 

Claudia started with NCJW/Essex teaching job search skills workshops, specifically resume writing for the Center for Women, then learned about the Back 2 School Store and the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee.  She now proudly serves as the co-chair of the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee. 

2022 Back 2 School Store – Another Huge Success

Empowering Essex County Children with Tools to Help Them Learn

On yet another 90-degree day, during yet another heatwave, visions of winter coats, hats and gloves rarely come to mind. That is, unless it is time for the annual NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store (B2SS).  
 
For 14 consecutive years, the B2SS has served children in Essex County, empowering them with essential items to get ready to learn as they head back to class in a few weeks.  
 
“The Back 2 School Store is a massive undertaking that brings together every part of NCJW/Essex. We are so grateful to our Committee, the Board, our volunteers, our employees, our sponsors and donors, our partner agencies – and especially our families – for making the effort so fulfilling and fun,” said Rachel Khedouri, 2022 B2SS Co-Chair. “Back 2 School Store week is one of the best weeks of the year!”    

Assembling and distributing more than 1,000 customized bags and backpacks brimming with school supplies, along with making sure each child receives their individual package, is a feat worthy of the best planners around – and our whole team more than met the challenge. Armed with clipboards, color-coordinated neon stickers and eagle eyes focused on quality control, volunteers readied nearly all of the bags for pick-up by agency partners. With the help of buses provided by Essex County Transportation and an NCJW/Essex brigade of drivers, volunteers delivered the remaining bags to select agencies around the county. In total, 34 different agencies participated in the B2SS this year.

We were once again fortunate to work with the Bloomfield Health Department distributing bags at Bloomfield Fire Station #2. A parade of kids and their parents came by to choose a backpack – who knew turquoise would be such a popular color? – and collect their bags. We watched as the kids disappeared inside the oversized bag, which doubles as a laundry tote, diving in and checking out their new gear! 
 
“It has been a tough few years for many, and the feeling when you glimpse a bit of relief in a parent’s face and when you see the giant smiles on the kids’ faces as they show off their new treasures makes all our meetings, phone calls, work and sweat so, so worthwhile,” said Susie Botwinick, 2022 B2SS Co-Chair. “It’s nice to know that, even if for just a little while, we are helping to make the world a better place.” 
Our stellar B2SS Steering Committee works throughout the year, scouring stores and websites, seeking deals, and searching for just the right items. Then it is time for the Steering Committee to kick into high gear and set up the store in an empty retail space provided for the past two years by sponsor Eastman Management. Two Men and A Truck – and a determined group of NCJW/Essex volunteers – pushed, carried and unpacked hundreds of boxes filled with clothes according to size and gender, all to get ready for six very full days of sorting, packing, checking, re-checking and filling up a “Dream Big” bag with a brand-new winter coat, socks generously donated by Bombas, underwear, age-appropriate books, and personal care items. More than 150 volunteers, including teams from our sponsors, participated in the B2SS this year. We thank each of them for their time and dedication. 
 
This was the third year that the B2SS went “mobile” to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While having the kids onsite for their shopping experience was greatly missed, the team was able to take requests for favorite colors, sizes and other special touches, to make the bag of items as unique as each child.   
 
The Gaelen Family Resource Center morphed into a Family Resource bag distributed to each family, including a Guide to community resources and other informational material, along with menstrual products generously donated by Girls Helping Girls.Period. Our agency partners also told us that mental health was a big concern this year, so the Committee brainstormed and compiled a kit filled with stress relief tools for each child, including colorful squeeze balls, fidget spinners, pop-it keychains and other ways to put their minds at ease. 
 
“Mental health is such a critical issue, and it speaks to our team’s flexibility that we are able to quickly address the changing needs of the children we serve,” said Lori Gelman, 2022 Back 2 School Co-Chair. “Building the stress relief tools allowed us to flex our creative muscles and add something really important to the Back 2 School Store that we’re hopeful will serve as a template for the future.” 

If you would like to learn more or get involved, the 2023 Co-Chairs would love to hear from you, or contact volunteers@ncjwessex.org for more information.  If you would like to support the 2023 Back 2 School Store, click here.