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.  


NCJW/Essex and NCJW's Abortion Access Week of Action

The blasts of the shofar have been used to call the Jewish people to action – whether in the spiritual or political realm. 

On Monday, Sept. 12, those sounds signaled the start of NCJW’s Abortion Access Week of Action, bringing  the Jewish community and our tradition’s wisdom and moral leadership, our thirst for justice and communal power to the fight for access to abortion for everyone. Our own Jennie Rothman, Caitlin Higgins Joy, Laurie Kahn and Stephanie Abrahams marked the day with a “sho-test” (Shofar + Protest) to kick off NCJW/Essex’s outreach. 

NCJW/Essex Sho-Test

Legislative issues dominated the middle of the week, with a call to action to reach out to legislators in New Jersey to pass the Reproductive Equity Act (S2918/A4350). New Jersey needs legislation that removes remaining cost barriers to abortion, especially for our most vulnerable communities. Visit our Reproductive Rights page to find your legislators and suggestions as to what to say when you call. 

Next, as reproductive health clinics are disappearing across the country, Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs), which spread misinformation about pregnancy and abortion, are thriving. The federal Stop Anti-Abortion Disinformation (SAD) Act would create a critical tool for ensuring patients’ rights to legitimate information by authorizing the Federal Trade Commission to regulate CPCs’ misleading advertising.

Thank you to our NJ representatives Mikie Sherrill, Bonnie Watson Coleman, Tom Malinowski and Josh Gottheimer who have signed on as co-sponsors in the House. And thank you to Senator Menendez for introducing the bill and Senator Booker for co-sponsoring in the Senate! There is still time to urge the House and the Senate to pass the SAD Act immediately!

Legislative Outreach
Thank You Abortion Providers

We can’t forget those on the front lines of this fight – abortion providers.  NCJW/Essex has sent more than 600 postcards to providers across our state thanking them for their work and pledging our ongoing support. 

There's More We Can Do

Now, as the NCJW Abortion Access Week of Action ends, there’s so much more we can do  NCJW/Essex is creating Abortion After Care Kits for people seeking abortion care in New Jersey.  Shop our Amazon Wishlist.  And, consider donating to the NJ Abortion Access Fund to help those who are not able to break through financial barriers to abortion care in NJ or the Jewish Fund for Abortion Access that serves and supports abortion providers. 

Meet our Members – Claudia Sandonato

Claudia Sandonato

Claudia grew up in a small town in Northern Minnesota called Virginia.  She spent most of her adult life in the Detroit suburbs and now calls Wanaque, NJ home.

Her favorite place?  The Jersey shore!  There were only lakes where Claudia grew up! 

Favorite book read recently?   Caste by Isabel Wilkerson.  

According to Claudia, “It’s a real eye-opener.” 

Life motto:  Live according to your values! 

Claudia started with NCJW/Essex teaching job search skills workshops, specifically resume writing for the Center for Women, then learned about the Back 2 School Store and the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee.  She now proudly serves as the co-chair of the Anti-Human Trafficking Committee. 

2022 Back 2 School Store – Another Huge Success

Empowering Essex County Children with Tools to Help Them Learn

On yet another 90-degree day, during yet another heatwave, visions of winter coats, hats and gloves rarely come to mind. That is, unless it is time for the annual NCJW/Essex Back 2 School Store (B2SS).  
For 14 consecutive years, the B2SS has served children in Essex County, empowering them with essential items to get ready to learn as they head back to class in a few weeks.  
“The Back 2 School Store is a massive undertaking that brings together every part of NCJW/Essex. We are so grateful to our Committee, the Board, our volunteers, our employees, our sponsors and donors, our partner agencies – and especially our families – for making the effort so fulfilling and fun,” said Rachel Khedouri, 2022 B2SS Co-Chair. “Back 2 School Store week is one of the best weeks of the year!”    

Assembling and distributing more than 1,000 customized bags and backpacks brimming with school supplies, along with making sure each child receives their individual package, is a feat worthy of the best planners around – and our whole team more than met the challenge. Armed with clipboards, color-coordinated neon stickers and eagle eyes focused on quality control, volunteers readied nearly all of the bags for pick-up by agency partners. With the help of buses provided by Essex County Transportation and an NCJW/Essex brigade of drivers, volunteers delivered the remaining bags to select agencies around the county. In total, 34 different agencies participated in the B2SS this year.

We were once again fortunate to work with the Bloomfield Health Department distributing bags at Bloomfield Fire Station #2. A parade of kids and their parents came by to choose a backpack – who knew turquoise would be such a popular color? – and collect their bags. We watched as the kids disappeared inside the oversized bag, which doubles as a laundry tote, diving in and checking out their new gear! 
“It has been a tough few years for many, and the feeling when you glimpse a bit of relief in a parent’s face and when you see the giant smiles on the kids’ faces as they show off their new treasures makes all our meetings, phone calls, work and sweat so, so worthwhile,” said Susie Botwinick, 2022 B2SS Co-Chair. “It’s nice to know that, even if for just a little while, we are helping to make the world a better place.” 
Our stellar B2SS Steering Committee works throughout the year, scouring stores and websites, seeking deals, and searching for just the right items. Then it is time for the Steering Committee to kick into high gear and set up the store in an empty retail space provided for the past two years by sponsor Eastman Management. Two Men and A Truck – and a determined group of NCJW/Essex volunteers – pushed, carried and unpacked hundreds of boxes filled with clothes according to size and gender, all to get ready for six very full days of sorting, packing, checking, re-checking and filling up a “Dream Big” bag with a brand-new winter coat, socks generously donated by Bombas, underwear, age-appropriate books, and personal care items. More than 150 volunteers, including teams from our sponsors, participated in the B2SS this year. We thank each of them for their time and dedication. 
This was the third year that the B2SS went “mobile” to adapt to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. While having the kids onsite for their shopping experience was greatly missed, the team was able to take requests for favorite colors, sizes and other special touches, to make the bag of items as unique as each child.   
The Gaelen Family Resource Center morphed into a Family Resource bag distributed to each family, including a Guide to community resources and other informational material, along with menstrual products generously donated by Girls Helping Girls.Period. Our agency partners also told us that mental health was a big concern this year, so the Committee brainstormed and compiled a kit filled with stress relief tools for each child, including colorful squeeze balls, fidget spinners, pop-it keychains and other ways to put their minds at ease. 
“Mental health is such a critical issue, and it speaks to our team’s flexibility that we are able to quickly address the changing needs of the children we serve,” said Lori Gelman, 2022 Back 2 School Co-Chair. “Building the stress relief tools allowed us to flex our creative muscles and add something really important to the Back 2 School Store that we’re hopeful will serve as a template for the future.” 

If you would like to learn more or get involved, the 2023 Co-Chairs would love to hear from you, or contact volunteers@ncjwessex.org for more information.  If you would like to support the 2023 Back 2 School Store, click here.

Advocacy in a Post-Roe World

The Fight for Reproductive Justice Continues


NCJW/Essex Reproductive Rights Committee Co-Chair Phoebe Pollinger was invited to join a group of New Jersey advocates and legislators who met with Vice President Kamala Harris in Atlantic City on July 18. The Vice President has been traveling across the country, holding roundtables with those who are fighting on the frontlines, including stops in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina and is looking at states such as New Jersey to be models for protecting reproductive rights and abortion access. 

In addition to NCJW/Essex, other participants in the roundtable included NJ Attorney General Matt Platkin, State legislators including Senate Majority Leader Teresa Ruiz and Assemblywoman Mila Jasey, representatives from Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and more

Vice President Harris reviewed the President’s Executive Orders and the HHS Task Force efforts while AG Platkin discussed the newly created Reproductive Rights Strike Force within the NJ Department of Law & Public Safety to enforce the right to abortion access for New Jersey residents and those who travel to New Jersey from other states to seek abortion care. Legislators and advocates spoke about both the work that has been done already and the work still needed to ensure that abortion care is accessible to everyone who requires it regardless of income, zip code or immigration status.

Earlier in July, Phoebe, VP of Advocacy Laurie Kahn and Director of Advocacy Stephanie Abrahams met with Rep. Mikie Sherrill in her Parsippany office. The group discussed ways NCJW/Essex and the federal government can partner to fight to protect women’s rights in the post-Roe era. NCJW/Essex thanks Rep. Sherrill for her leadership on these issues.

Learn more about our work on Reproductive Rights.

The Cathy Fund

The Cathy Fund

The Cathy Fund

Cathy Silverman’s leadership and passion helped create today’s NCJW/Essex – a powerful source of inspiration and help for every woman, child, and family who seeks our services. In her memory, we have created The Cathy Fund… keeping the doors open for all who need NCJW/Essex. This special fund is being created in cooperation with Cathy’s loving family. It will be an ongoing tribute to an incredible woman. Please join us in celebrating Cathy by making a gift to The Cathy Fund. While she is no longer with us, we can help ensure that Cathy’s spirit and vision will live forever.

Back 2 School Store Gifts

Opportunities Include:

PLATINUM STAR ($25,000 and above)
• Acknowledgement in press releases and promotional materials
• Acknowledgement in NCJW/Essex website and social media posts
• Top listing on event signage
• Invitation for hands-on volunteering in set-up, packing, or delivery during the week of the event
GOLD STAR ($10,000 — $24,999)
• Acknowledgement in press releases and promotional materials
• Acknowledgement in NCJW/Essex website and social media posts
• Prominent listing on event signage
• Invitation for hands-on volunteering in packing or delivery during the week of the event
SILVER STAR ($7,500 — $9,999)
• Acknowledgement in press releases and promotional materials
• Acknowledgement in NCJW/Essex website and social media posts
• Featured listing on event signage
• Invitation for hands-on volunteering in packing or delivery during the week of the event
BRONZE STAR ($5,000 — $7,499)
• Acknowledgement in press releases and promotional materials
• Acknowledgement in NCJW/Essex website and social media posts
• Featured listing on event signage
• Invitation for hands-on volunteering in packing or delivery during the week of the event
BLUE STAR ($2,500 — $4,999)
• Acknowledgement in NCJW/Essex website and social media posts
• Listing on event signage
• Invitation for hands-on volunteering in packing or delivery during the week of the event
GREEN STAR ($1,000 — $2,499)
• Acknowledgement in NCJW/Essex website
• Listing on event signage
• Invitation for hands-on volunteering in packing or delivery during the week of the event
HONOR ROLL ($100 to $999 – Including “Sponsor a Child” for $180)
• Invitation for hands-on volunteering in packing or delivery during the week of the event

We welcome your gift of any amount!