March Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Supports Covenant House NJ

Helping Homeless and Trafficked Youth at Covenant House NJ

On Thursday, March 16, a group of volunteers from NCJW/Essex, led by the organization’s Anti Human Trafficking Committee, gathered to learn more about homelessness and human trafficking and to assemble care packages for residents of the Covenant House Newark Shelter, where 12% of the young people they serve say they have experienced sex or labor trafficking.  

A Covenant House  representative shared that they are increasingly dealing with human trafficking situations, in addition to their work with homeless youth between the ages of 18 – 21.  Covenant House Newark Shelter provides immediate housing and care for more than 800 youths every year.  Homeless and trafficked youth suffer disproportionately from trauma, sexual and physical abuse, involvement in the foster care system, domestic violence, mental health challenges, and life on the street.  

Generous donations for the MIM included some of the residents’ most-requested items such as blankets, phone chargers, underwear and umbrellas they can keep as their own.  Volunteers also assembled care packages and wrote notes of support and encouragement to be shared with the accompanied by notes of support and encouragement.  Thank you to Anti Human Trafficking Co-Chairs Carol Cohen and Claudia Sandonato and event chair Sue Shusman.

Advocacy in an Hour: More After Abortion Care Kits

Showing Our Support for Abortion Seekers in New Jersey

Snow may have postponed us a week, but it couldn’t stop this team as another successful Advocacy in an Hour assembling After Abortion Care Kits was held on March 7.

The need is great, and our team of volunteers put together 400 (!!!) kits filled with necessities and comfort items – and notes of support – for people seeking abortions in New Jersey.

Representatives of Planned Parenthood shared stories about how our first batch of kits have made a difference with their clients, many of whom travel great distances for their abortions.  Upon receiving a care package, one client was grateful she didn’t have to stop at a drugstore for items following the procedure and, more importantly, was touched by the personal note and the fact that someone cared. 

Thank you to our event chairs Paula Green and Marlene Tuch, our Reproductive Rights Committee Co-Chairs Sharon Falkin and Phoebe Pollinger and everyone who participated or donated items, and to our partners from Planned Parenthood and elsewhere who are on the frontlines every day.   

There’s always more you can do.  Click the button to contact your legislators and make your voice heard on reproductive justice. 


Meet our Members – Danielle Kurlander

Danielle Kurlander

Danielle is from New City, NY and now lives in North Caldwell, NJ.

Favorite food?  Pizza every day! 

A friend in Danielle’s son’s Mom and Me class was hosting a Mitzvah-in-a-Minute at her home to donate and wrap holiday gifts. She said to come and bring my son for a playdate with her daughter. (Win-win!) Danielle brought home a membership folder, and that summer she volunteered at the Back 2 School Store and was hooked!  Danielle has co-chaired Kids Emergency Closet and became more involved on the B2SS committee, co-chairing sneakers and coats.  She is excited to be one of the Co-Chairs of the 15th anniversary Back 2 School Store in 2023.

Favorite Quote:  “Be kind, be grateful, never give up!” And TRY not to sweat the small stuff!

Fun fact: Danielle was a contestant on Double Dare at age 10 – and she won!

Lunch and Learn Recap – Whose God Rules?

Uniting our Voices for Abortion Rights, Access and Equity

On a sunny Tuesday in February, about 100 members and friends reunited for NCJW/Essex’s first in-person Lunch and Learn – this time with lunch and conversation – in three years. A strong sense of community filled the room and served as a fitting backdrop to the discussion of the day.

So much has changed since we were last together. What should have been a celebration of the 50th anniversary of Roe v. Wade was derailed by the Dobbs decision last June when the U.S. Supreme Court stripped away the constitutional right to abortion. NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman reminded us that Dobbs has “set off a cascade of abortion bans and other laws that have restricted access to abortion across the country, with abortion-seekers who are poor, young, Black and brown being the most severely affected.”

Now we ask ourselves how do we, especially as members of faith communities, move forward and what is the role of religious freedom on abortion in America? Our outstanding speakers were ready to take on this question. Kimberly Mutcherson, Co-Dean of Rutgers Law School in Camden and a leading scholar on reproductive justice was joined by three local faith leaders – Rabbi Alexandra Klein of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange (and our host for the day), Reverend Eyesha Marable of the Mt. Zion AME Church in Millburn and the Reverend Dr. Robin Tanner from the Beacon Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Summit – for a thoughtful conversation around what is happening, what we are working for and why it all matters so much.

Rabbi Klein started things off by saying that it is vital not only to speak strongly with your own religious voice, but to lift up the multiplicity of religious voices and, as is Jewish tradition, to always treat everyone with dignity. She reminded us that we are obligated to “be more educated” about these issues and their effect on our community at large. Rev. Tanner added that her faith commands a “life-affirming ethic” which includes access to abortion and that the right to have or not have a child and to parent a child is a choice each individual should be able to make for themselves. Moral reasoning rather than demagoguery, according to Rev. Tanner, should always be our guide about abortion and all else. “We all just need to ask ourselves how we can be better humans together,” she said.

Rev. Marable said that from her pulpit she preaches “love thy neighbor as thyself,” which serves as a pathway to caring equally for our neighbors, especially women who have been silenced or judged. The arts which play a significant role in Rev. Marable’s work, give people opportunities to interact and tell stories in unconventional ways in conventional settings, she said. But, that neighborly connection is ever present – sharing can be difficult so Rev. Marable ensure social workers or other caregivers are nearby and available to surround participants with the support and services they need, especially during events that are likely to surface strong emotions.

The value of using our voices was a thread through virtually every question and every answer, starting with simply saying the word abortion. Every time we say it out loud lessens the shame and may inspire or empower others to share their stories. In fact, two of our speakers recounted how telling their own abortion stories led not only to personal catharsis, but to others in their communities opening up. Each of our faith leaders use their platforms to speak for abortion rights AND to speak for economic and social justice. They implore us that in all cases it is okay to be loud, and it is equally important to be organized. Like with all things, including abortion, it is more difficult to argue with one person’s experience than with talking points.

Rabbi Klein added that if Jews, as a small minority in a Christian majority world, don’t come together, we get swallowed up and our voice is buried. She went on to remind us that the historical narrative of the Jewish people is one of endurance, resilience, results, followed by “let’s eat!” In all seriousness, she added that our narrative continues to provide strength community and connections, and we are very grateful that on this day and in this time, so many people want to do more for social justice.

Finally, to the question of the day, “Whose God Rules?” Dean Mutcherson asked the speakers how they talk with people who claim that that bible prohibits abortion. As a group they answered, it’s about whose God, whose bible and whose interpretation of the text, all of which makes it even more vital for progressives to tell their stories boldly, confidently and with the same level of organization we are accustomed to from the right.

As the room emptied, the sense of community was fortified with each attendee having learned more about what they can do to restore abortion rights and to ensure access, equity and all that those issues encompass. Hopefully, they learned a little more about themselves, too.

Thank You to Our Co-Sponsors

The Abortion Justice Committee of New Jersey – Action Together New Jersey – ACLU-NJ – Ahavas Sholom – American Friends Service Committee Prison Watch – BlueWaveNJ – Diversity United – Jewish Family Service of MetroWest – NCJW Bergen – NCJW Jersey Hills – NCJW West Morris – New Jersey Affiliate of the American College of Nurse Midwives – New Jersey Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism – NJ 11th For Change – North Jersey Practical Support – Northern NJ NOW – Planned Parenthood Action Fund of New Jersey – Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan NJ – Rachel Coalition – The Reproductive Justice Team of the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood – S.O.F.I.A.-Start Out Fresh Intervention Advocates – South Jersey NOW Alice Paul Chapter – Stanton Strong- Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel- Unitarian Universalist Faith Action NJ – YWCA Northern New Jersey – The Women’s Centers

Recapping January at NCJW/Essex

A Busy and Meaningful Start to 2023

NCJW/Essex has been bustling since the beginning of 2023, with volunteers starting the year making a difference in our community.  We had a packed agenda in January, with much more planned for the remainder of the year. 

Fighting Hunger on College Campuses
Our First Mitzvah-in-a-Minute for 2023

Food insecurity affects approximately 40 percent of college students, and our January Mitzvah-in-a-Minute set out to address this need directly.  We hosted a collection for the Red Hawk Food Pantry on the campus of Montclair State University.  On January 24, a group of 20 volunteers sorted, counted and weighed donations before delivering them to the pantry on campus. Thanks to the generosity of NCJW/Essex members and friends, we were able to provide nearly 2000 individual food items and almost 800 personal care and household items. Together it was 800 pounds of donations!

“We don’t often think about hunger on college campuses, so this was an eye-opening experience for many,” said Audra Sapherstein, chair of this MIM . “Thank you to our volunteers and to everyone who donated to help fill this need in our backyard.”

Bigger Than Roe Rally

On Sunday, January 22, NCJW/Essex joined others in the community to mourn the loss of Roe and demand action. Reproductive Rights Co-Chair Phoebe Pollinger energized the crowd and urged action on the Reproductive Equity Act, now pending in the NJ Legislature.

Period.Project Offers Menstrual Products to Businesses

The Period.Project kicked off a pilot program in conjunction with Girls Helping Girls. Period. on a pilot program to provide free menstrual products to a limited number of small businesses in Essex County for both employees and guests/customers.  Read more about the Period.Project and read VP of Advocacy Laurie Kahn’s message on menstrual equity in New Jersey schools.  

CFW Director Patty Kremen Named an NJ-11 Hero

Congratulations to Patty Kremen , director of the Linda & Rudy Slucker NCJW/Essex Center for Women, who was named a 2022 NJ-11 Hero by Congresswoman Mikie Sherrill.

The 2022 Heroes program recognizes members of our community who made a difference in NJ-11 over the past year. Patty was nominated by NCJW/Essex Board Member Beth Randall Branigan who wrote: “[Patty’s] dedication and passion are beyond description. Patty assists with any aspect of her clients’ lives, from coaching on job search to connecting them with resources to help with housing and healthcare.”

We are proud to call Patty a colleague, friend and hero! You can read more about Patty and all the heroes here

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 fid 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.

Days of Light and Hope

Thank you to our partners, our volunteers, employees, executive committee and entire Board for shining so brightly in 2022, and for bringing hope into the new year.  We shared these messages from partners and volunteers during the 8 days and nights of Hanukkah across NCJW/Essex social media sites. Now, here they are together, in their own words… 

Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Holiday Toy Drive and Gift Wrap

It's a Wrap on 2022 Mitzvahs-in-a-Minute

Our annual Mitzvah-in-a-Minute dedicated to wrapping hundreds of gifts for kids at local community organizations took place on Wednesday, Dec. 14.  Nearly 40 volunteers gathered at our office to wrap and ready more than 350 gifts for kids at the FOCUS Hispanic Center for Community Development, Inc. and children of our own Center for Women clients.

We were also excited to fill gently-used pocketbooks donated by the Brighton store at the Mall at Short Hills with gifts, including hats, scarves, and personal care products from L’Occitane, to deliver holiday cheer for our CFW clients.

Led by Co-Chairs Dorie Eisenstein and Rachel Fink, plus Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Volunteer Coordinator Stacey Laken and VP of Volunteer Outreach Andrea Mintz, wrapping paper was cut, ribbons were curled, and holiday cheer was abundant!

Our long-time partners at the Coldwell Banker Livingston office and LTownCares, a community volunteer base where people can come together to show acts of kindness and compassion by providing monetary funds and/or item necessities to those who are less fortunate, collected toys from the community.  And, once again our friends at Nukk-Freeman & Cerra PC contributed to our Mitzvah-in-a-Minute.

Thanks to everyone who was part of our final Mitzvah-in-a-Minute in 2022.   See you in 2023 for more great opportunities to give back!

November at NCJW/Essex

Voting, Caring & Giving Back

November marked another busy month for NCJW/Essex and its volunteers.   We Got Out the Vote, provided care and comfort for abortion seekers in New Jersey and jumped right into the season of giving.

Get Out the Vote

Election Day was November 8, and when the votes were counted, one Senate race headed to a runoff.   We quickly gathered for a Power Hour of writing nonpartisan postcards and letters to voters in Georgia ahead of the Senate runoff scheduled for Dec. 6, 2022.  

Our Get Out the Vote efforts this year concluded with NCJW/Essex writing more than 4,000 postcards and letters this election season. Thanks to co-chairs Jordana Horn Gordon and Elisa Madorsky and all the volunteers who came to our events – rain or shine! – or took packets to complete at home.   Let’s All Vote, we did! 

After Abortion Care Kits

Our focus on abortion rights and abortion care never stops, and at a time when states across the country race to push reproductive health care out of reach, we can always do more.  Members generously donated the items for the kits during our “product raiser” in October, and on Nov. 15, about 30 volunteers met to pack the After Abortion Care Kits which will be given to abortion providers around the state to share with their clients.   We were excited to be joined by Leslie McNamara and Larisa Mendez Downes, representing Planned Parenthood in New Jersey who shared stories of the important and heroic work being done by their organization.   

Reproductive Rights Co-Chair Phoebe Pollinger once again gave an overview of our advocacy work in this area, and Sharon Falkin, Paula Green and Marlene Tuch led our volunteers as they packed hundreds of kits filled with pads, socks, teas and other comfort items.  The product raiser was so successful, we are going to repeat it in early 2023.  Look for more information soon.

Mitzvah-in-a-Minute: Fall Food Drive

And, just like that, the holiday season has arrived.   Thanksgiving week kicked off with a Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Food Drive, supporting both CFW clients and Christine’s Kitchen in West Orange. During this season of holiday gatherings, with food insecurity and persistent high prices at the grocery store, we were so pleased to once again get folks started with many of the ingredients for a festive meal.

We are so grateful to new friends from Nukk-Freeman & Cerra who came out in force to assemble the bags and to Horizon Therapeutics, who stopped by with a basket full of ShopRite gift cards that enable our clients to shop for family favorites and fresh food with dignity. Thank you to MIM Coordinator Stacey Laken and event chair Janet Berger for their work.