Individual Actions, Community Impact: A Message for the High Holidays

The high holidays are a time when we come together as a Jewish community in celebration and solemn observance; yet, when you consider the holidays, our observance is in fact very much focused on individual reflection, atonement, and giving. This time of year which holds great significance to our collective all begins with our individual choices and acts.

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we reflect on our individual actions – what could I have done differently – and review our choices – what am I proud of this year – in an attempt to honestly evaluate ourselves. We evaluate, we redeem, we give, and we set our own path for the year ahead and, while doing so, we create a more connected, supportive, compassionate community.

This theme felt incredibly poignant given all we have endured and continue to face because of the pandemic.

It has taken each of us making individual choices – helping a neighbor, giving a donation, wearing a mask, getting vaccinated – to bring our community to a better place, a more hopeful place, this fall compared to last fall.

Over the past year, JFCS has witnessed first-hand how the generous actions of one individual can have far reaching effects, like the mother-daughter efforts of Sujaya and Anushka Majumdar who hand-sewed masks to donate to JFCS and other local organizations to distribute to clients in need, and Samantha Burnside, a local teen who rallied family and friends to raise almost $1,000 for the JFCS food pantries. This July, the entire world witnessed how the voice of an individual, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, could raise awareness, and inspire others to prioritize their own mental health.

One person’s action can make all the difference to a neighbor, a community, a country, a world.

While we have come so far since last year, there are still many who need our help on the long road to healing. There are the seniors working through the impact of a year of isolation, there are the individuals struggling with mental and emotional turmoil, and there are families continuing to live in a state of financial uncertainty, unsure if they can afford their next meal.
We turn to you, to your power as an individual to act. In honor of the high holidays, we ask that you consider how you can make a small choice that can benefit the community.

A donation now means that when you reflect next year, you already know you have made a difference, an action to be proud of.

Michelle Napell, Executive Director
Jill Jaclin, Board President

September is Hunger Action Month! How Can You Help?

In 2008, Feeding America established Hunger Action Month, recognized during the month of September. As we continue to see the long-term impact of the pandemic, we know those who were already in vulnerable financial positions have been pushed even further.

In Mercer County, 1 in 10 individuals is estimated to be food insecure.

This September, how can you help during Hunger Action Month?

Taking Small Steps for a Big Impact

    • On your next trip to the grocery store, pick up a few extra items to donate to your local food pantry. The JFCS food pantry accepts Kosher food items and is always in need of healthy breakfast foods: hot & cold cereal, oatmeal, pancake/waffle mixes
    • Make a monetary donation to a local food pantry or food bank. If you want to support the JFCS food pantry and food distribution programs, make a gift on our donation page and include a Note: Hunger Action Month.
    • Plant-a-Row – harvest season is here! If you maintain a personal garden, consider donating excess produce to the JFCS pantry. All summer long our food pantry has benefited from donations from personal and community gardens that have allowed us to offer a variety of fresh produce to our clients. Want to know more about what to plant and how to donate? Connect with pantry coordinator Taryn Krietzman, RDN at TarynK@jfcsonline.org.
    • JFCS is the Stop & Shop Pennington Bloomin’ 4 Good Partner for September! All month long, for every Bloomin’ for Good bouquet (designated with red sticker) sold, the JFCS pantry receives $1. Support our pantry while spreading joy.

Group Efforts

    • Volunteer! You and your family or a small group can help pack bags at the JFCS pantry or provide support at a mobile pantry distribution. Connect with our volunteer coordinator, Eden Aaronson at EdenA@jfcsonline.org to learn more.
    • Organize a food drive! Whether you’re back to the office, back to school, or still connecting virtually, you can organize a food drive in your community. Learn about how to organize a drive for JFCS by connecting with Eden Aaronson at EdenA@jfcsonline.org.

Go the Extra *MILE*

    • Sign up to ride in the 1st Annual JFCS Wheels for Meals bike ride fundraiser on Sunday, October 3! This new fundraiser supports all JFCS food programs – the on-site and mobile food pantries and senior nutrition programs. This event is perfect for serious and not-so-serious riders with multiple route options. Learn more and register to ride at jfcswheels4meals.org!

Our Year in Review: Celebrating Community & Stories of Impact

JFCS was thrilled to host an almost “normal” Annual Meeting on June 1, welcoming staff, Board and community award winners and their families to an outdoor celebration held at JCC Abrams Camp.

We took the opportunity to recognize staff anniversaries, celebrate the winners of the Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Mensch Awards, and present our annual awards to community partners. We also reflected on the past year, sharing stories of impact across our programs, and what stories are coming in the next year.

View a short recap of the full event below:

2021 Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Mensch Awards

8th Grade Mensch-in-Training:

Zachary Miller

12th Grade Mensch Award Winners:

Jeremy Brandspiegel

Yoni Livstone

Mark Sheffield

2021 JFCS Community Award Winners

Tzedakah Award Winner:

Ilana Scheer

Kehillah Award Winner:

The Big Thinkers Group

Gemilut Chasadim Award Winner:

Hayley Aaronson

How do we heal?

Healing, one of our agency’s three core values, is derived from the Jewish value Tikkun Olam.

Tikkun Olam – Healing the World, the concept can seem overwhelming in the best of times, for as much as we try, there is always healing needed.

Where do we even begin?

First, we must be sure we heal from within. We must prioritize our own mental health and well-being before looking to give of ourselves to others. Remember, you cannot pour from an empty cup.

Then we look outward, we lend a helping hand – a mitzvah, a good deed. That act of kindness, gemilut hasadim, lends itself to another, then another. We all find inspiration in stories of “paying it forward,” continuing the good deeds.

When help is given…to an individual when kindness is shown to them during a personal crisis; to a family when neighbors rally together for them; to a community when we put the needs of our collective over our individual gains…there we find hope.

And when we have developed an emphasis on helping others, when we have sparked hope through united service for each other, that is where we start healing.

These small steps begin to heal, to repair our “world.” We then challenge ourselves to broaden who is considered our community, expanding the boundaries of our world, and together we will repair, restore, and heal.

End of Year Giving Options, Making an Impact with Your Gift

In Mercer County there is a clear dedication to supporting charitable efforts both locally and more broadly. At JFCS, we are humbled by the support we receive year after year from our donors.

In recent years, changes to tax law have impacted individual giving and caused some confusion for donors as to how to make the most significant impact with their valued contributions.

Our partners Lear & Pannepacker LLP spoke with us to help clarify the changes in tax law and alternative giving options including:

Donate Appreciated Securities: By donating appreciated stocks, bonds or other appreciated investments directly to a charity, the donor can avoid capital gains tax.

Set Up & Gift through a Donor Advised Fund:  A donor can make a larger gift up front to a donor advised fund, receive an immediate tax deduction, and then advise on annual grants to charities year after year. Donor advised funds can be set up at local organizations such as Princeton Area Community Foundation or Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Mercer as well as through your bank or financial advisor.

Make a Qualified Charitable Distribution from IRA: Make a transfer of funds directly from your IRA to a charity. These transfers count towards your required minimum distribution each year but are not reported to you as taxable income.

See our full conversation with Lear & Pannepacker LLP for even more information:

A Holiday Message from JFCS: Sharing Thanks, Giving Support

In honor of the holiday, JFCS wants to share our thanks…

To our staff, thank you for giving your compassion, your care, your creativity in the face of unprecedented challenges.

To our Board, thank you for giving your commitment and guidance to keep the agency on a steady course.

To our volunteers, thank you for giving your goodwill and your time. We have multiple programs entirely dependent on our corps of volunteer who have been unwavering in their service through this difficult time.

To our collaborators in the community, thank you for giving us your partnership and proving that we can accomplish more together and support our community through a strong network of resources.

To our clients, thank you for giving your trust to our team to provide you with counsel, with resources, with support in the face of many challenges this year.

To our donors, thank you for giving your support. From the start of the pandemic, you, our supporters, never hesitated in reaching out to see how you could contribute, which programs needed help, always asking “how can we help?”

…And give support.

We want to share a few notes of advice on how to manage the anxiety and stress that accompanies holidays “in the time of COVID-19.”

  • Try to be realistic, the holiday does not have to be perfect. Choose a few traditions to hold on to and be open about creating new ones. This could mean that you have a virtual get together, or, weather permitting, dinner could be held outdoors.
  • Practice self-care: taking 5 to 10 minutes out of your day to go for a walk outside, listening to calming music, lighting a scented candle, doing breathing exercises, and drinking water.
  • Focus on what you are grateful for. Sometimes we need be thankful for what happens to us, sometimes we need be thankful for what does not.

Wishing everyone a safe, healthy and peaceful Thanksgiving.

Reconnecting with Our Roots, A Message for Rosh Hashanah

We hope this note finds all our community members healthy and well. During times of uncertainty and disruption, we often find comfort by reconnecting with our roots. In the past months, many folks have literally returned to their hometowns and the security of their family home.

 As we approach this most-unusual High Holiday season, we hope you, too, find comfort in connecting with your roots – to the familiarity of Jewish traditions, rituals and values. There is stability and control to be found in marking this New Year, like we have so many times before, and defining a new beginning for ourselves and our community.

In these challenging times, JFCS remains firmly grounded in our guiding principles of Help, Hope and Healing. By remaining true to our principles, we have been able to adapt to the changing needs of our clients and grow in line with our mission. These concepts also work to help connect us with our Jewish roots.

HELP …a concept most often associated with mitzvot and Tzedakah (charitable giving). From a young age, we become familiar with the importance of performing acts of kindness and making charitable donations. Helping others, specifically those most in need, becomes an ingrained habit.

HOPEL’Dor V’Dor (from generation to generation) for Jewish families: this is the thread that connects us to those who came before and those who will come after us. There is hope that every time we share our values, traditions and history, the next generation will carry forward these lessons and build upon them. We constantly look forward with hope.

HEALINGTikkun Olam – repairing the world. In the Judaism, we learn that we have a responsibility to see beyond individual acts of kindness and to contribute to broader change to heal what is broken in our local, national and global communities.

In honor of the New Year, ask how can I help? How do I help others find hope? How can I help heal my community?

Help a neighbor by volunteering to make calls to a local, isolated senior, or donate $50, which can support one week of Kosher Meals on Wheels for a homebound older adult.

Give hope to those who are struggling emotionally by directing them to the JFCS Drop-In hours, or making a contribution of $500 which can support someone in need of ongoing counseling.

Be part of healing the increasing food insecurity in Mercer County by organizing a food drive for the JFCS pantries, or make a gift of $5,000 which can fund two Mobile Food Pantry distributions, reaching 100 families.

Reconnect with your roots and make a gift to JFCS that honors the values embodied in Help, Hope and Healing. Your generosity will aid those most in need – a gift marking a transition to a new start.

Wishing you the peace, prosperity, health and happiness rooted in our celebration of the New Year.

Michelle Napell, Executive Director 

Arlene Pedovitch, Board President

Celebrating the Jewish High Holidays during COVID-19

The Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (beginning September 18) and Yom Kippur (beginning September 27), will be celebrated in new ways this year.

The pandemic will dramatically impact how the Jewish community “gathers” and observes these important holidays. At JFCS, we understand it can be an overwhelming prospect and are providing a number of resources for you, your family, friends, neighbors and our entire Jewish community in Mercer County.

JFCS Resources

Holiness at Home: Observing the High Holidays Outside of the Synagogue, Webinar hosted by Andrea Gaynor, LCSW and Beverly Rubman, Chaplain that explored the many ways in which Elul, the month preceding Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, presents opportunities to prepare both spiritually and psychologically. The webinar also discussed how to make High Holiday virtual services more personally meaningful and relevant.

Bereavement and the Holidays During COVID-19

Readings & Articles

Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days: A Guided Journal, Kerry M. Olitsky and Rachel T. Sabath

Mahzor Lev Shalem for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

Beginning Anew: A Woman’s Companion to the High Holy Day Gail Twersky Reimer and Judith A. Kates

God is a Verb, Rabbi David Cooper (Modern Kabbalistic view of God and spirituality)

New prayers and poems https://www.ritualwell.org/

Diverse articles on the High Holidays https://www.myjewishlearning.com/

Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation https://www.schusterman.org/

  • Complete downloadable Rosh HaShanah Seder
  • Schusterman Family Foundation Haggadah

JFCS Reflects on Year of Service, Before and During a Pandemic

Each June, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) convenes an Annual Meeting open to the greater Mercer County community. In light of coronavirus pandemic, JFCS has chosen instead to share a prepared video with the community documenting the agency’s service over the past year.

Video highlights include:

  • Reflection on the launch of the JFCS Mobile Food Pantry including the pop-up pantries that helped pave the way for distribution partners, the planning process to retrofit a food truck into a mobile pantry, and the first months in service, including an increased distribution schedule seen as result of COVID-19.
  • Recognition of the Senior Service team for their consistent support of older adults and commitment to addressing immediate concerns during the pandemic.
  • Acknowledgment of the Clinical (Mental Health Counseling) department for the service to the community prior to COVID-19 and expanded services in light of the pandemic. Expanded support includes Drop-In hours and webinars, virtual events, and blogs to share advice to the broader community.
  • Highlighting teen programs for providing an outlet for youth to connect, share experiences, and engage in community service projects during a difficult time when distanced from peers.