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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:

TZEDEK TZEDEK TIRDOF
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.

TALMUD TORAH
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. 

KAVOD HA'BIROT
There is inherent dignity in all human beings
B'TZELEM ELOHIM
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

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.

2022 Opening Event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An evening of laughter and conversation ...

Meet our Members – Adrienne Lewin

Adrienne Lewin

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

Favorite place? The beach!

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

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

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

Advocacy Lately

Advocacy in Action in October

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

Get Out the Vote

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

Reproductive Rights

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

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

Menstrual Equity
Local and Statewide Accomplishments
Changes in Livingston

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

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

Reproductive Rights – Legislative Summit 2022

Abortion Access is a Winning Issue

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

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

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

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

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

Get Out the Vote – Elections 2022

The Power of a Team to Power Up the Vote

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

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

During the event, the hard-working volunteers wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

Mitzvah-in-a-Minute – Diaper Drive 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet our Members – Beth Randall Branigan

Beth Randall Branigan

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

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

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

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