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

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.”   

BANNED: A Recap and Resources

Did you know that in 2022, the American Library Association recorded nearly 1,300 attempts to ban or restrict library material, nearly double the previous year and a 10-fold increase since 2020?  More than 2,500 unique book titles were targeted, most of which told stories about race, sex and gender. 

Those stunning numbers created the backdrop for NCJW/Essex’s Lunch and Learn on April 18.  BANNED:  The War on Books, Curriculum & Our Nation’s Schools drew more than 135 attendees to hear from the people on the front lines about what is happening in New Jersey and across the country, and more importantly, what members of our community can do to stem the tide and make our voices heard. 

Former Congressman Tom Malinowski served as our keynote speaker and set the stage with a stark reminder.  These issues are part of a systematic effort by some to remove longstanding institutions of learning, law enforcement, and even government from our lives.  However, when asked where do these people find the biggest threat and the biggest opportunity, he answered. “Schools.”

“We all see what’s happening,” he said. “Put in context, this debate is about what’s going on in our democracy.” 

Malinowski has embarked on a new project, Districts for Democracy, whose mission is to recruit and support candidates, including for local school boards, who are committed to freedom of inquiry, thought and speech for everyone.  It will take work – and money – to raise awareness of each candidate’s positions, and to ensure everyone participates in our democracy by voting.

A common theme surfaced among all the speakers:  public sentiment and polls show people overwhelmingly oppose banning books in schools. And, once again, a small and vocal minority dominates the discourse.  Recent events in Florida, where any resident is allowed to challenge books available in school libraries, have flooded our screens with pictures of empty shelves, frustrated teachers, and angry parents. 

Similar crises are happening close to home, where there are currently book challenges in 11 of New Jersey’s 21 counties, often on the basis of being “pornographic and obscene.”  Martha Hickson, a high school librarian from Hunterdon County, recounted her experience when several parents wanted to ban books that featured LGBTQ characters and themes. 

She fought back by engaging her community and ultimately the local school board voted to keep the books on the shelves.  It was not without personal cost, as Hickson received hate mail, was trolled online and endured attacks by people interested in defaming educators and ruining careers. 

But, she persisted.  “I’m dangerous, I’m going to open a book!” she said defiantly.  She encouraged everyone to get involved by exploring, an organization that vows not to let other parents tell you what your child can read. 

Working with local elected officials, teachers and school boards is also the path two of our speakers chose. Tazmine Weisgerber, a sex ed trainer at Answer, a non-profit based at Rutgers University, reminded us that sex ed should not – and is not – considered controversial and there is bi-partisan support for teaching it in our schools.  She outlined the standards teachers in New Jersey must follow for elementary and middle-school-aged children, noting that while the language has changed, the basic information kids should know has not. 

Citing a recent study about the reasons and the importance of this information, Weisgerber shared, “Educating young people about the names of their sexual anatomy at an early age normalizes talking about their bodies and reduces their risk for sexual abuse.”  

Compelled to come out of retirement to establish the New Jersey Public Education Coalition, founder Mike Gottesman has vowed to engage, educate and collaborate to protect public schools in New Jersey.

He reminded us that our Lunch and Learn coincided with Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance, connecting what we commemorate on that day to some of the broader themes that opened our discussion:  the idea that an existential threat to public education is fomenting in our state and in our country, and the idea that a group of people who want to teach what they want, where they want, and to whom they want is a movement we need to acknowledge and fight. Taking action takes many forms:

Thank you to our Lunch & Learn Chair, Meryl Goodman, who brought the idea for this topic to our committee, to the full committee for their work getting ready for the Lunch & Learn and executing a flawless event, our Q&A moderator and Get Out the Vote co-chair Jordana Horn Gordon, and to VP Advocacy Laurie Kahn and Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement Stephanie Abrahams for all their work.  Special thanks to Temple B’nai Abraham for hosting us.  

March 30! Take Action! Free Period Products in Schools

Add Your Name to the Email Campaign on March 30 at 4:30 p.m.

Senate Bill S1221, which established a program in the Department of Education to reimburse school districts for providing menstrual products in public school grades 6-12, passed in December 2022. Yet this bill is still not law because it has yet to pass the Assembly.

Let’s make our voices heard by sending an email to the entire NJ Assembly telling them that it is NOW TIME TO PASS A1349  and finally make free period products in public schools the law in NJ, joining the other 21 states around the country that have already passed similar legislation.

How Do I Participate?

We would like to send the emails at the same time to make as big of an impact as possible. Please set your calendars for Thursday, March 30th @ 4:30 p.m. 


Please DOWNLOAD the flyer or copy the picture below, then paste it into the body of your email for both Gmail and Outlook (please do not send as an attachment). Use the  email addresses below to send your message to the entire Assembly:

Thank you for your support. With your help we can pass A1349 and make sure every student has access to period products in school bathrooms!

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