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.  

Get Out the Vote! Read More »

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.

Happy 130th Anniversary NCJW Read More »

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! 

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

2023 Back 2 School Store Recap

Look at those smiles!

A simple observation that resonated throughout the day at our 2023 Back 2 School Store. The rounders and racks came out again, and NCJW/Essex volunteers smiled brightly as they welcomed nearly 500 children on July 30 to our in-person, “pop-up” Store location at Congregation B’nai Israel in Millburn. 

Our welcome ambassadors greeted the children and their parents and caregivers, managing the flow of people from each agency, and looking the other way as a few peeked inside to see what awaited them. Personal shoppers (also known as our wonderful volunteers) stood ready, clipboards and tote in hand, to guide the children – who ranged in age from 5 to 11 – through the Store.

Hellos were exchanged, many in English and some in Spanish, hands grasped, and off they went. A few children appeared a bit apprehensive, but that melted away and their eyes widened as they surveyed the sheer volume and variety of pants, shirts and other gear. Many broke out into giant smiles as they chose the outfits just for them. Other children ran excitedly to the tables and stood on tippy toes as they reached into baskets for the perfect package of underwear. One girl skipped down the hall toward a table piled high with backpacks stuffed with school supplies – all for her! 

The Back 2 School Store works with more than 40 different agencies across Essex County who register their clients to participate. The goal, as always, is to empower children and to support them as they head back to school. According to the National Retail Federation, the average cost of getting a child ready for school is almost $900. Thanks to generous sponsors and donors, each child left the Back 2 School Store with a brand-new winter coat, a new outfit, hats, gloves, socks, underwear, dental and other personal care items, a full backpack, and age-appropriate books – all chosen for and by the child. 

“I am writing to express my deepest gratitude and heartfelt appreciation for the wonderful donations our family received at the Back to [sic] School Store event. Your generosity and support have made an incredible impact on our lives, and we cannot thank you enough.”
Parent of B2SS Participant

While the children shopped, parents, caregivers and agency representatives visited the Gaelen Family Resource Center, learning about available services, health screenings gun safety and picking up two months’ worth of period products courtesy of Girls Helping Girls.Period., a long-time NCJW/Essex partner. 

The Store marked its 15th anniversary in 2023 and it was the first in-person shopping experience since 2019. In a nod to lessons learned over the past pandemic years, a mobile component was incorporated into this year’s Store. Our shoppers shopped, selecting items based on input from an additional 500 children, and large laundry bags filled with all the items were given to multiple agencies for distribution. 

For our 2023 Co-Chairs, Susie Botwinick, Elizabeth Brandwein Cohen and Danielle Kurlander, and a 30-member strong Steering Committee, months of planning culminated in a two-week sprint that kicked off with unloading the Back 2 School Store storage to setting up the Store, to executing a flawless event, to taking inventory of the few items that headed back to storage and closing the door on this year’s Store.  

The Back 2 School Store is one of NCJW/Essex’s signature programs, and the one that brings together so many people and partners who care about making the world a little bit better than they found it. The powerful act of community that is the Back 2 School Store would not be possible without the passion displayed on Sunday, leading to the most satisfying ending of sending the children home with a smile, a wave and a “thanks for shopping, have a great school year!” 

Thank You to Our Amazing Grantors, Sponsors, Donors and Volunteers

2023 Back 2 School Store Recap Read More »

Kearny Bank Foundation Supports
2023 Back 2 School Store

NCJW/Essex staging 15th annual Back 2 School Store

300 volunteers helping 1000+ students in need

Through its charitable foundation,
Kearny Bank contributes $18,000

ESSEX COUNTY, NJ (July 12, 2023) – For the 15th consecutive year, the National Council of Jewish Women – Essex County section (NCJW/Essex) will be holding its Back 2 School Store, providing essential, school-related items to students in need across Essex County. This year’s Store will be held on July 30.

 The approximately 1,000 students who benefit – each of whom must be registered in advance through any of about 40 supporting charitable or municipal agencies – may “shop” for a range of clothing, school supplies, personal care items, and various accessories. Available attire includes coats, underwear, socks, pants, tops, hats, and gloves. All items are new, and children have choices of current, popular styles.

“Obviously, making sure children are warm, comfortable, and have the supplies they need is vital, but the Back 2 School Store is also intended to be empowering,” says Caitlin Higgins Joy, NCJW/Essex Executive Director. “We regularly hear children say they have never before had an opportunity to shop for and choose their own things. With this initiative, if a child wants – for example – a purple coat, they can pick a purple coat.”

Kearny Bank has supported the Back 2 School Store since 2012. This year, through its charitable foundation, it has donated $18,000.

Learn more about the Kearny Bank Foundation 

Learn more about the Back 2 School Store 

“Our company is committed to helping those communities where we conduct business, and the Back 2 School Store is precisely the type of program we’re proud to support,” says Kearny Bank President and CEO Craig Montanaro. “When you realize just how many children don’t have access to what most of us consider the most basic necessities, you get a little hitch in the back of your throat. At the same time, it’s inspiring – it’s heartwarming – to see what the NCJW/Essex folks are able to achieve each year.”

The Back 2 School Store is a huge, collective undertaking, which requires an ongoing, year-round effort. And that’s why NJCW/Essex sets approximately 300 volunteers to the task. Of note, agencies with clients who aren’t able to shop in person will pick up specially packed bags during the week following the July 30 Store event.

“What our volunteers accomplish is amazing – maybe even miraculous,” explains 2023 Back 2 School Store Co-Chair Susie Botwinick. “The logistics are daunting, but the biggest and most creative challenge is making the funds we have go as far as possible. Our volunteers are constantly tracking down all kinds of sales and discount opportunities. Even a small amount of money saved means being able to purchase another coat, more notebooks, or some other essentials.”

When the children visit the Store on July 30 to shop, volunteers there in Millburn will serve as personal shoppers to help them determine what fits and what looks great. At the same time, parents and other adults who transported the children to the event are able to participate in health screenings and access a range of information from local agencies on topics that include social services, mentoring, and managing personal finances.

Marcina Fox, Executive Director at the Valley Settlement House child-care center in West Orange – which has taken part in the Back 2 School Store since it began – notes: “Our parents are working parents, and we provide childcare and support, including participating in the Back 2 School Store. To see the look on the kids’ faces after they have shopped is amazing, and the items they receive are often enough to last throughout the year.  Not to mention, adding so many resources for the parents to explore while their kids are shopping was wonderful.”  

About NCJW/Essex

The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. 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. NCJW/Essex members and volunteers give back to our community, advocate for issues and form forever friendships. The National Council of Jewish Women was founded in 1893, in Chicago, and the Essex County section was established in 1912.  For more information about our mission and our programs, visit

About Kearny Bank

Combining the finest traditions of community banking with the industry’s latest, most effective financial products and services, Kearny Bank provides business and personal clients with the tools for success. Established back in 1884, and now operating from corporate offices in Fairfield, NJ, Kearny Bank’s footprint covers most of New Jersey, along with Brooklyn and Staten Island. Additional information is available at or by visiting Kearny Bank’s social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

# # #

Media Contacts:  

Kurt Praschak / 973.992-7800, x.289 /

Debra Lewis / 973-740-0588, x120 /


Kearny Bank Foundation Supports
2023 Back 2 School Store
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2023 Installation & Awards Luncheon Recap

Recap of a Wonderful Day

The scene is set: a room buzzing with warm greetings, big hugs and wide smiles as we came together to thank NCJW/Essex’s incoming and outgoing officers, honor our remarkable award recipients, and welcome friends, new and old, to our celebration. 

Planned beautifully by Co-Chairs Leslie Lavinthal and Sharon Spindel, the 2023 Installation & Awards Luncheon at Cedar Hill Country Club on Tuesday, June 13 reminded us once again why NCJW/Essex is a special place. 

Grounded in our Jewish values, articulated so well in moving words from two Rabbis Cohen, our annual gathering illuminated the impact we have on our community, our fierce advocacy for individual rights and freedoms and the respect and admiration we have for each other, and others have for NCJW/Essex.

This event brings one year to a close and fills us with the hope and promise of another brimming with more volunteers, more advocacy and more connections. Read below for some highlights of a wonderful day.  

Thank You to Outgoing Board and Officers and Installing the New Slate

The business of Installation was handled with grace by outgoing Immediate Past President Penina Barr.  She thanked Nominations Chair Shari Harrison and Nominations Vice Chair Marjie Zucker for their excellent work then led the group through the steps required to pass the responsibility and the excitement of the new year ahead.  The new slate of officer

Penina also shared a few words about her friend NCJW/Essex President Jennie Goldsmith Rothman, who is entering the second year of her term. Though known for their different approaches – Penina shared she writes her speeches with minutes to spare, and Jennie writes her remarks weeks in advance; Penina captures notes quickly, and Jennie is a fan of binders – the two have become close friends, colleagues and each other’s advisor, all of which will continue well into the future.  

2023 – 2024 Slate of Officers


Jennie Goldsmith Rothman 

Executive Vice President 

Andrea Mintz 

VP, Administration 

Beth Randall-Branigan

VP, Advocacy

Laurie Kahn 

VP, Center for Women

Lauren Tabak Fass

VP, Communications 

Lori Gelman 

VP, Fund Development 

Lisa Santola

VP, Membership 

Adrienne Lewin 

VP, Programming 

Robin Kollin 

VP, Volunteer Outreach 

Cindy Charney


Laurie Schuftan 

Assistant Treasurer 

Sara Goetz

Recording Secretary 

Elisa Madorsky

Corresponding Secretary 

Susie Botwinick

Financial Secretary 

Debra Goldsmith 

Nominations Chair 

Paula Green 

Nominations Vice Chair 

Lauren Scher 

President's Remarks:
Asking the Right Questions

Driven by an innate curiosity and eagerness to learn, Jennie led the organization in the first year of her presidency as we tackled and considered some of the bigger issues of our time: What does the world look like in a post-Roe environment? How do we confront rising antisemitism and hatred of any kind? How do we continue to provide services to increasingly food- and housing-insecure clients at the Center for Women?  

The answers to these and other questions are never simple. However, Jennie reminded us of the importance of asking those questions and more directly, emphasized the importance of taking action.

“While asking questions is definitely a Jewish value,” she said, ” our tradition doesn’t stop there. Jewish tradition requires that we act; we must do our part to make the world more whole and just by engaging in Tikkun Olam.”

That manifests at NCJW/Essex in ways big and small – the way we encourage fostering connections with each other and with our community; the way we act, not always with a perfect outcome, but with the knowledge that we did not shy from the task; and the way we treat everyone with respect and dignity. 

Jennie concluded her remarks where Rabbi Simeon Cohen of Temple Beth Shalom began. They both highlighted the teachings and guidance from the Pirke Avot which says, “we are not required to complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it.” 

Hannah G. Solomon Award:
Smiles All Around

Known around NCJW/Essex for her fabulous work on the Back 2 School Store, for organizing programs and events and for serving as a member of the Board and Executive Committee, Lori Gelman’s impact in our community has made a massive impact on so many people, especially those who are facing some of life’s toughest challenges. 

As her friend and fellow NCJW/Essex Executive Committee member Cindy Charney said in her introduction, Lori is a woman with many superpowers, the brightest of which might be the ability to find joy and optimism in any situation. That was evident when she co-founded the Comfort Cart at Cooperman Barnabas Hospital’s Cancer Center and when she and her family established the Duke Brain Aneurysm Fund to educate and support doctors, caregivers and other families dealing with this situation.

Lori said she volunteers because it “fuels her spirit and passion and is a constant reminder that no matter how bad my worst day may be, there are others who are dealing with life’s challenges… It reminds me to be appreciate of all the gifts I have and to not take for granted life’s blessings.” 

She also reminded us that “…a warm smile is priceless. Never underestimate its power.”  

Henrietta Weiser Emerging Leader Award: From Generation to Generation

NCJW/Essex is lucky to have many mother-daughter (and even granddaughter) members, but this was the first time a mother and daughter received the same award – 23 years apart!

L’dor va dor — the Jewish concept of ensuring traditions are passed from generation to generation —  was in full effect as Lauren Tabak Fass received this year’s Emerging Leader Award from her mother, Judy Wais Tabak.  Judy introduced Lauren not only to NCJW/Essex, but to the importance of Tikkun Olam and the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected. 

Lauren has long been a leader at NCJW/Essex. From chairing the Back 2 School Store at the height of the pandemic, to serving on the Board and most recently as VP of Communications, she has put her drive, passion, intelligence, and ability to bring others together to further the organization’s mission.

As mother and daughter stood together at the podium, Lauren’s daughter, Skylar, watched from the room. Judy said, “I hope that Skylar, like her mother and me, will come to understand and embrace the qualities contributions and promise this award represents and feel the pull and power of NCJW/Essex to keep us all forever young.” L’dor va dor indeed.  

Helen D. Schwartz Memorial Crystal Award: Girls Helping Girls. Period. and the Fight to End Period Poverty

The Crystal Award is given to an organization that has made an impact in Essex County and exemplifies the goals of NCJW/Essex through an outstanding vision and contributions to the community in education, social action and/or service. This year’s recipient, Girls Helping Girls. Period. and its Executive Director Elise Joy, became a natural choice.

Introduced by NCJW/Essex Executive Director Caitlin Higgins Joy (the familial connection is strong!), Elise shared the history of Girls Helping Girls. Period., which began when her daughters, Emma and Quinn, were bat-mitzvah-aged. GHGP believes that menstrual health leads to overall health and human dignity and their focus is on wiping out period poverty. 

One of the Joy sisters’ first meetings was with NCJW/Essex, long a champion of improving the quality of women’s lives. Over the years the two groups have teamed to educate the community about how students often miss school and women often miss work because of their lack of access to period products. Girls Helping Girls. Period. has generously provided menstrual products to the Back 2 School Store and expects this year to donate two months’ worth of product for each recipient. 

Elise and Girls Helping Girls. Period. have been fierce and frequent advocates for the bill currently in front of the State Assembly that would provide period products in all school bathrooms, at the state’s expense. 

That won’t be the end for GHGP; there is always a new beginning. They have many more people to educate, more product to collect and distribute, and more lives to impact with their work.  


2023 Installation & Awards Luncheon Recap Read More »

Golf & Pickleball Invitational 2023

It was a fabulous day at Mountain Ridge Country Club on Monday, May 22 at our Golf & Pickleball Invitational. The course was filled with laughter, a few good shots (and a few that were conveniently forgotten), our first Pickleball round robin, and overall a great time had by all. It was wonderful to see so many return participants and to welcome new friends. Most importantly, the event raised funds to support our work on programs including the Back 2 School Store, advocacy and outreach and more.

Great thanks to our Co-chairs, Penina Barr and Nancy Eskow, to ShopRite, our title sponsor, and to everyone who played, attended, volunteered and donated. Can’t wait to see you next year!

Golf & Pickleball Invitational 2023 Read More »

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. 

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

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. 

Card Party Returns! Read More »

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.”   

NCJW CEO Sheila Katz Speaks in Livingston Read More »