December Snapshot at NCJW/Essex

Wrapping Up 2023

It was another busy December at NCJW/Essex.  We connected.  We volunteered. We advocated.  And, we ended 2023 getting things done. 

Read more about our day at the United Nations, our first indoor pickleball event and our annual Holiday Toy Drive and Gift Wrap.  

Bearing Witness at the United Nations

NCJW/Essex joined advocates and witnesses and others from NCJW at the United Nations on Dec. 4 for “Hear our Voices: Sexual and gender-based violence in the October 7 Hamas terror attack.”

The gathering gave voice to the silenced, especially the women who were raped and murdered during the attack. Speakers including NCJW CEO Sheila Katz, elected officials, first responders who witnessed the aftermath of the attacks, and others implored the international community, which has largely been silent, to speak up against the horrors and atrocities.

NCJW/Essex members and other advocates with NCJW CEO Sheila Katz

Peace, Love and Pickleball

The courts at Center Court in Chatham were filled with NCJW/Essex members and friends on December 12 for our first indoor pickleball event.  Players – from beginners to experts – enjoyed lunch together before hitting the courts for an exciting round-robin session.  Congratulations to our prize winners: Corrine Siegel, Melissa Trachtman, Jodi Chisarick, and Elisa Madorsky.

That's a Wrap on 2023 Mitzvahs-in-a-Minute

On Friday, Dec. 15, close to 40 volunteers came together to wrap more than 300 gifts headed to the children at Focus Hispanic Center for Community Development in Newark and to the children of our Center for Women clients. 

This annual event is a wonderful way to cap off a year of exciting and meaningful Mitzvahs-in-a-Minute. We hope to see everyone at upcoming 2024 MIMs.

Kudos to co-chairs Dorie Eisenstein and Rachel Fink, Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Coordinator Penina Barr and VP, Volunteer Outreach Cindy Charney for all their work to make it happen.

Community Lunch & Act: The Act of Coming Together

The Act of Coming Together

Hands on hearts, and connected in a circle that filled the room, our Community Lunch & Act concluded the way it began: feeling the comfort and support that comes with being together as we stand in solidarity with Israel and against antisemitism.

It has been nearly two months since the vicious terrorist attack in Israel. In its aftermath, the war, the wait for more hostages to be released, and the frightening rise in antisemitism have filled our thoughts and our conversations.  Our Jewish community feels more important to us, and in fact, is more critical than ever.  As the Talmud teaches:  all of Israel is responsible for one another.

That’s why on November 29 we came together to act, doing what NCJW/Essex does best which is getting things done. Our Advocacy team, together with the REDI (Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Committee Chairs created an afternoon focused on action and reminding us of our mission.

We were joined by leaders from Hillel of Greater MetroWest, who shared the work they are doing on six college campuses in our area.  Hillel Director Rebekah Adelson talked about meeting with college presidents to help them understand and address the changing needs of Jewish students on campus.  She also reminded us that there is still joy to be found among these young people – a joy that will be uplifted with the delivery of the special Hanukkah gift bags, filled with sweets, holiday decorations and personal notes, the group assembled.

Like at many Shabbat dinners since October, none of our tables were completely full, each with an open seat, representing a hostage still held in captivity.  The message “bring them home” featured prominently in the hundreds of postcards written that afternoon addressed to elected officials along with our thanks for what has already been done.  

NCJW/Essex members who attended the March for Israel rally in Washington, DC earlier this month relayed their experiences, highlighted with a powerful video (below/audio begins about 35 seconds in).  The transformative experience of being surrounded by hundreds of thousands of people and listening to passionate remarks about Israel and what it means to be a Jew both inspires and motivates.

It felt good to be together and to do something.  One of the attendees sent this thank you note: “Today’s NCJW/Essex event was amazing! I was so inspired and moved. It was wonderful to be with such an amazing group of women and accomplish what we did. Ah, if only women ran the world!!!”

Perhaps the biggest takeaway was that in such a time of darkness and uncertainty, it is okay – in fact, it is necessary – to laugh and to find joy and light and love.  NCJW/Essex strives always to bring more light to the world as we do what we do best: help the most vulnerable members of our community by improving the lives of women, children, and families and safeguarding individual rights and freedoms. 

Thanks to VP of Advocacy Laurie Kahn, Lunch & Learn Chair Meryl Goodman, REDI Co-Chairs Debra Goldsmith, Paula Green and Myrna Wertheimer, Executive Vice President Andrea Mintz and Director of Advocacy and Community Engagement Stephanie Abrahams for making our first Community Lunch & Act so meaningful and memorable. 

March for Israel


Representatives from  NCJW/Essex joined hundreds of thousands of people from across the country who gathered in Washington, DC on November 14 to express our commitment to bringing the hostages home, our support of Israel and to  #StandUpToJewishHate.

Standing side by side, Jews and non-Jews united, and helped combat the fear, isolation and outrage experienced by Jews and our allies around the world.  We left the march feeling renewed as a community, ready to take action in support of our beliefs and recognizing that “Never Again” is Now.  

Mitzvah-in-a-Minute: Fall Food Drive

Putting a Dent in Food Insecurity

The number of people in our community facing food insecurity continues to grow.  This need is especially acute during the holiday season.

On November 14, nearly 20 volunteers gathered at the NCJW/Essex offices for a Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Fall Food Drive.  The goal:  packaging shelf-stable lunches for Christine’s Kitchen in West Orange and assembling holiday food bags for our Center for Women clients.

Christine’s Kitchen is a “soup kitchen” operated by Holy Trinity Church in West Orange that provides more than 200 takeaway lunches each week for its clients. Our volunteers donated, packed and delivered a week’s worth of lunch bags filled with shelf-stable food like peanut butter, granola bars, applesauce, saltine crackers and more!

“The feeling of giving back to the community is wonderful,” NCJW/Essex member and volunteer Ilene Stern shared. “Whatever you do, a little something goes a long way.”

Thanks in large part to our friends at Nukk-Freeman & Cerra, P.C., volunteers also assembled bags filled with Thanksgiving fare – stuffing, gravy, canned corn and green beans, cornbread mix – ready for our Center for Women clients.  As CFW Director Patty Kremen told the group, “This will go a long way to helping our clients at Thanksgiving, and they can direct the money they would have spent on food to other necessities.”

Thank you to Janet Berger who chaired this MIM,  Mitzvah-in-a-Minute Chair Penina Barr, VP of Volunteers Cindy Charney and all who donated and participated.  

Opening Event 2023 Recap

The Story of Opening Event 2023

Sarah Hurwitz, accomplished speechwriter and Opening Event speaker, advises that a compelling story is best when you "show, don't tell", so...

Dressed in a black sweaterdress on a day that began and ended with fall-like temperatures, with a hint of summer peeking out in the middle, Sarah Hurwitz took the stage at NCJW/Essex’s 2023 Opening Event ready to share her journey from a “bat-mitzvah and done” Jewish girl to speechwriter for some of the most compelling figures in recent Democratic politics including former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama to the gray armchair where she herself was the speaker talking about her Judaism and what it means to be a good person. 

Across from her sat Lesley Greenstein, radiant in red with a pile of notecards in her lap. In front of her sitting in gold-spindled ballroom chairs were nearly 200 NCJW/Essex members and friends who had come to hear her story. 

This chapter began with an introduction to Judaism class at a local JCC. Fresh from her desk in the White House and a few other life changes, Sarah rediscovered her Judaism in her own backyard, and she liked what she found. 

“It could have been karate. It could have been ceramics. But, it turned out to be an introduction to 4,000 years of wisdom on what it means to be a good person,” she shared. “It is about the love and the pride of being part of this tradition.” 

When asked about the rise in antisemitism happening across the United States, especially on college campuses, Sarah’s response was it is “disheartening, and frankly boring” to see that the same “neural grooves that have been drilled into the world’s psyche” for more than 2000 years are still at play. 

Her antidote: Be a Powerful Jew.

That means leaning into your Jewish identity in ways that matter. It is more than “I like kugel,” she quipped. It is more than saying “I remember the Holocaust, and yes, never again,” she reminded us. It is so much more. 

She talked about being created in G-d’s image – and how so much or the world sees G-d as a male figure somewhere up in the sky. Putting aside the gender-based assumptions inherent with that view, the Jewish approach is so far beyond what our brains can contain. 

While Christianity professes to be about love and Judaism about laws, perhaps, she said, the opposite is true. Judaism teaches us to see people as individuals and as equals. We see that in practice in our daily work with Center for Women clients and at the Back 2 School Store and with each Mitzvah-in-a-Minute and so much more. G-d is unknowable and ineffable, and in all of us. 

Throughout the conversation, Sarah offered glimpses of what it was like to spend each day working for the leader of the free world. One of her most terrifying – and memorable – days as a speechwriter for President Obama involved a college commencement address. 

A draft submitted more than a week prior with no feedback led Sarah to think, “all is good.” That was until a call from the Oval Office bolted her out of bed, straight to see the president, hair in a messy bun, laptop at the ready, and he said, “this isn’t the speech I want to give today.”  

A frantic re-write throughout the day while on Marine One (with an admonishment from President Obama to take in the view), on Air Force One and in various motorcades led to an exhausted speechwriter. On the plane home after the event, the president stopped by her seat with a compliment: “that was a good speech!”

The takeaways for Sarah were twofold and apply in so many of life’s stressful situations.

1)     When walking a tightrope between two buildings, look ahead, not down.

2)     Sometimes, you need to give yourself permission to surrender control.

The sighs and applause from all corners of the room meant she was definitely on to something! 

This conversation at Opening Event took place with the backdrop of the Hamas attacks on Israel earlier this month, desperate efforts to free the hostages, and the realization that the world has become a much more heartbreaking and frightening place for Jews near and far. In her remarks, NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman stood tall at the podium and was clear: we stand with Israel.

Jennie set the foundation for the evening by reminding us, as she often does, that our Jewish rituals (and the Jewish values that inspire NCJW/Essex’s mission) show the world what Jewish tradition compels us to do: recognize the divinity and dignity in each human being, seek understanding through education and seek justice through action. 

Opening Event was made possible thanks to the generous support of Ellen and Donald Legow. Susie Botwinick and Grace Sumka, co-chairs of this year’s Opening Event, mingled among attendees, all while making sure everyone had delicious food and drink in their hands and knew where to be. Vice President of Programming Robin Kollin led with her usual confidence and opened the meeting with words that summed up what we felt and that serve to close this story as well

Robin shared a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, a strong woman and leading voice at another time of great conflict: “It is better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” That is a fitting and apt description of NCJW/Essex. We come together to make change through policy. We come together to learn. We come together to transform lives and make this a better, more just world for women, children and families.

We come together to get things done.

Night Out with NCJW/Essex

Fun Conversations and Fabulous Art

Fun conversations and fabulous art were on the agenda on Thursday, October 5 as NJCW/Essex took over the J. Nunez Gallery in Millburn for a “membership mixer.”  Members and others interested in NCJW/Essex gathered to learn more about our organization, including advocacy, programs and our mission, over a glass of wine and delicious food.  It was also a chance to catch up with friends, old and new. 

The good news. There’s still time to support NCJW/Essex and a local business.  A portion of the proceeds from any piece sold in the Love Always collection during the month of October 2023 will be donated to NCJW/Essex.  You can add a vibrant and meaningful piece of art to your home or office and support NCJW/Essex at the same time.  Stop by the gallery or visit the website to see the whole collection. 

Get Out the Vote!

NCJW/Essex and National Voter Registration Day

National Voter Registration Day is a nonpartisan civic holiday celebrating our democracy. First held in 2012, National Voter Registration Day involves volunteers and organizations from all over the country hitting the streets in a single day of coordinated field, technology, and media efforts. 

NCJW/Essex teamed up with the League of Women Voters and fanned out across Essex County and beyond to encourage voter registration and provide information to potential voters.  Our volunteers spent the afternoon at libraries in Union, Maplewood, Millburn and Livingston and at Bloomfield College talking to voters and sharing what is at stake in the upcoming election.  

According to U.S. Census data from 2020, as many as 1 in 4 eligible Americans are not registered to vote. Every year, millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, don’t update their registration, or aren’t sure how to register. National Voter Registration Day efforts are designed to ensure every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote, creating broad awareness of voter registration opportunities to reach tens of thousands of voters who may not register otherwise.

National Voter Registration Day is just one of the many things NCJW/Essex does to help Get Out the Vote.  The deadline to register for this November’s election is October 17, 2023.  To learn more , visit our voting rights page.  

Happy 130th Anniversary NCJW

Celebrating 130 Years of Service and Advocacy

In 1893, Hannah G. Solomon was invited to join the World’s Parliament of Religions as part of the World’s Fair in Chicago. When Jewish women realized that the role others had intended for them was as hostesses pouring coffee, they decided to hold their own conference instead.

The Jewish Women’s Congress was hailed in the national news as an “epoch-making event.”  And on September 5, 1893, National Council of Jewish Women was born , and with it, the fight for a safer, more just world for everyone — especially women, children and families.

NCJW’s early work focused on supporting immigrants, and advocating for laws around social welfare issues like promoting public health and stopping child labor. Now, 130 years later, the organization is proud to celebrate a legacy of advocacy and action that has expanded to economic justice, reproductive freedom, voting rights, and much more.

NCJW/Essex, which was established in 1912, is proud to stand side-by-side with national and other local Sections as  we celebrate our founding, history, and vision for the future.

Gov. Murphy Signs Bill to Provide Access to Free Menstrual Products in NJ Schools


The National Council of Jewish Women/Essex County is a pioneer in the fight for menstrual equity and we were so proud to be with other fierce advocates on August 23 as Governor Murphy signed legislation more than six years in the making.
The bill, A1349, which passed unanimously in the legislature, now makes menstrual products available in New Jersey  schools and affords all students equal opportunities to learn and study without shame or stigma or lost chances for education.
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.

Laurie Kahn, NCJW/Essex VP of Advocacy, spoke to NJ Spotlight News about the importance of the bill and having free menstrual products in schools.  

Our thanks and gratitude to the bill’s sponsors, Assemblywomen Mosquera, McKnight and Murphy, and to Senators Ruiz and Gopal, as well as the many, many co-sponsors.

Now the real work begins!