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

Back-to-School School Supply Drive 2021

NOW THROUGH AUGUST 13th!

Now more than ever, let’s continue to help children in need start the school year off right.

Our goal is to outfit 150+ children with the supplies they need to look forward to beginning a successful school year. Items donated benefit the children of JFCS pantry and partner agency clients in the Greater Mercer community.

Help us by donating:

  • Sturdy backpacks for middle-school and high-school students
  • Notebooks (spiral, wide rule and marble)
  • Pencil cases/pouches
  • Pocket folders
  • #2 Pencils
  • Pens
  • Scissors
  • Highlighters
  • Glue Sticks
  • Index Cards
  • Markers
  • Boxes of Tissues

2 Ways to Donate

  1. Order and ship supplies of your website of choice ship to 707 Alexander Rd, Suite 204 Princeton NJ 08540
  2. Drop off items in our donation bin outside of: 707 Alexander Road, Suite 102 AND Suite 204 Princeton NJ 08540

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

Shavout Reflection and Recipes

Shavuot/ May 16 (evening)-May 18 (evening), 2021

Passover begins the Jewish historical year cycle with our freedom from slavery in Egypt. Fifty days later Shavuot (the Feast of Weeks or Pentecost) celebrates God’s giving of the Ten Commandments (also seen as the entire Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew bible) to the Jewish people on Mount Sinai, At this time, we entered into a covenant, based on Divine law, that we observe and renew to this day, thus giving purpose to our freedom.

Shavuot began in the Bible as an agricultural pilgrimage festival (like Sukkot and Passover) but its significance is much greater.  Jewish tradition emphasizes the importance of everyone in every generation standing at Sinai, just as everyone of every generation relives the escape from slavery in Egypt at the Passover seder. One of the major traditions of Shavuot is that of all-night study (Tikkun Layl Shavuot), to provide each individual person direct access to Jewish from the Bible and other sources. We read the Biblical Book of Ruth at this time because Ruth, as a convert, entered into her own personal relationship with God and the Jewish people. In a similar way, many Liberal congregations hold Confirmation services for students who are approximately three years past their Bar/Bat Mitzvah,  reflecting ongoing commitment to Jewish learning.

Shavuot also is a time of great rejoicing, both in community in the synagogue and at home. Ashkenazi tradition includes the eating of dairy foods, such as blintzes and cheese cake, because the Torah is likened to milk and honey.  Sephardic communities have more elaborate Shavuot dishes many of which also involve cheese but in different forms such as special rice and cheese pies and Turkish-style rice pudding (sutlatch). 

 

A Blessing for Kindness on Shavuot, by Devon Spier 

Between those who have much and those who have little, let us sprinkle kindness like grain seeds.

And let our kindness burst forth like a bountiful harvest.

Growing, life-giving, and available to every single one who seeks nourishment from the field. 

And if we should find our self standing across from a stranger, or if we should happen to be a stranger in the company of one who is not, may we rise to meet the other with love in our hearts and the wholesomeness of good deeds.

And may our kindness sustain our selves and each other through this and every season of life.

Recipes:

Sutlach

Mediterranean Shavout Recipes

Traditional Shavout Foods

Beyond Blintz – A Culinary Tour of Shavout

MORE Shavout Recipes

 Please note that the JFCS offices will be closed in observance of the holiday on Monday, May 17 and Tuesday, May 18. 

JFCS Pantry Welcomes Donations from Individual & Community Gardens

May 11, 2021

Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) is asking the community to help keep the agency pantry stocked with fresh produce throughout the spring and summer by harvesting from their very own gardens.

In years past, the JFCS pantry has been able to accept limited donations of fresh produce but now with the mobile food pantry going out 3-5 times per week, there is significantly increased demand for a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. The on-site food pantry also continues to see high use, with 80-100 visits per month.

“We always appreciate the donations from local individuals or even community gardens as it provides variety to the produce we usually offer,” said Beth Englezos, JFCS Manager of Hunger Prevention. “While we are able to store and distribute fresh and frozen produce from our regular food providers, there is something extra special about being able to give out locally grown, fresh from the garden items to our clients.”

JFCS is tying into the national Plant-a-Row initiative which encourages individuals to plant items in their personal or communal gardens for the specific purpose of harvesting to donate to local food pantries.

In addition to encouraging local gardeners to contribute to the food pantry, JFCS is also working to provide clients the tools to grow their own produce as well. Recently, the agency was able to provide tomato plant seedlings to clients. JFCS agency has a relationship with Abe’s Acres Farm, located in Hightstown, where agency staff bring specific cardboard waste – collected through regular, large-scale food deliveries to the pantry – to the farm which is turned into composting material. In early May, when dropping off cardboard, Abe’s Acres provided 200 tomato plant seedlings for JFCS to share with pantry clients.

Taryn Krietzman, RDN, JFCS Pantry Coordinator created easy to follow care instructions to provide along with the plant to pantry clients.

“Clients coming to our food pantry are food insecure and low-income. Growing one’s own produce is a simple way to get more food into the refrigerator and to save money,” says Krietzman.

Through an ongoing partnership with ONEProject, a Robbinsville-based organization, JFCS received a donation of 250 painted planters and cilantro seeds to provide our clients with additional resources.

“Food pantries are at the end of human-food production chain, making it difficult to acquire perishable foods such as fresh produce. By providing these resources directly to our clients, we can circumvent many of those challenges allow the client to have the freshest source of produce, right in their home,” added Krietzman.

If you have questions about donating from your personal or community garden, reach out to Taryn Krietzman at TarynK@jfcsonline.org. For those outside of the Mercer County region, individuals can utilize the pantry finder on AmpleHarvest.com to locate a local food pantry accepting donations from personal or community gardens.

Spotlight on Volunteers: Making Connections in a Distanced World

Our new monthly feature – Volunteer Spotlight – will share testimonials direct from our incredible volunteers. JFCS Volunteers are critical to our delivery of core programs and services, providing everything from delivery of Kosher Meals on Wheels, to helping at Mobile Food Pantry distributions, and making friendly calls to isolated seniors.

Matt Erman 

I first reached out to JFCS to volunteer in October. After seeing how people throughout our community have been stepping up and helping each other through this trying time, I wanted to try to do my part in whichever way possible. 

Since starting to volunteer with JFCS, the greatest part has been the people I interact with through the Kosher Meals on Wheels and Senior Shopper programs. When you get to see the same people each and every week, you get to really know them, and a simple food drop off can often turn into a fifteen minute conversation.

I had been volunteering in the Mercer County area since middle school, but since coming back from college in March 2020, JFCS has been the only organization I have worked with.

I will be going to law school at the end of August, but until then I plan on working with JFCS and to continue delivering meals and groceries!

Each week, I deliver groceries to a senior in East Windsor. Whenever I talk to her, be it on the phone when she is giving me her list, or when I drop off the groceries at her house, our conversations are never short. Over the past months, we have become a fixture in each other’s lives – she asks about my sister or how my law school search has been going, and I ask about her grandkids and her friends. The people have been my favorite part of working with JFCS, and interacting with Iris is definitely something I look forward to each week. 

JFCS Annual Event Raises Almost $200K in Support of Food Relief, Mental Health Programs & Senior Services

On March 25, Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County (JFCS) held their annual fundraiser virtually via Zoom. The event, Cheers to the Volunteers, welcomed 370 guests to participate in a virtual wine and gourmet coffee tasting while honoring JFCS volunteers who supported the agency’s pandemic relief efforts over the past year.

“We never imagined the level of positive response to our first ever virtual fundraiser,” said Michelle Napell, JFCS Executive Director.

The event, JFCS’ single largest annual fundraiser and significant source of unrestricted funds, raised over $197,000 through sponsorships, tickets sales and a live Text-to-Give appeal during the event.

“We asked our guests to help us raise $10,000 through Text-to-Give by the end of the event, and in 10 minutes we had raised almost $15,000,” says Napell. “It is incredible to see the generosity of our community especially in the face of unprecedented challenges that have come during the pandemic.”

Guests were able to join from anywhere and participants tuned in from across New Jersey as well as across the country, from California, to Florida, to Massachusetts and more. Attendees had been able to select their choice of beverage in advance – either wine or coffee. Beverages were shipped directly to their homes in advance of the event and each guest received a personal delivery of a swag bag, with branded items courtesy of sponsor support.

“Despite the very real presence of ‘Zoom fatigue’ in all of us, it was clear that the community continues to be ready to support JFCS and was seeking an evening centered around connections and celebrations – something we have all been in need of over the past year,” added Jennifer Agran, JFCS Board Vice President and Event Chair.

Funds raised from the event will support all agency programs, several of which have grown with demand due to the pandemic. JFCS maintains several food relief programs including an on-site food pantry, available 5 days/week, two Mobile Food Pantry vehicles that bring the pantry directly into areas of greater Mercer County with the greatest obstacles to accessing available resources, as well as meal and grocery delivery to homebound seniors.

Additionally, JFCS maintains a counseling department which is seeing rising demand as everyone navigates the next stage of the pandemic. JFCS also boasts a senior service department which maintains an aging-in-place membership program as well as geriatric care management available to the broader community. Seniors have continued to rely on the support of the JFCS senior service team throughout the past year for resources, information, and the comfort and understanding of our staff.

“Our agency has successfully navigated the past year of challenges thanks to the generosity of individual and corporate supporters; however, we have learned that to be prepared for anything, our agency needs to remain adaptable to any challenge, and to do so, we will continue to rely on the incredible support of this community. The success of this event helps us step into the months ahead knowing we can continue to meet the demand for our services,” said Napell.

See a full recap on our event website!

JFCS thanks all event sponsors including Presenting Sponsor: Personal Home Care of New Jersey. Champion Sponsors Abrams Foundation/Nati Kushner, Crook & Marker, Pat & Ray Schlaefer and Troutman Pepper; Patron Sponsors Access Property Management, Homewatch Caregivers and Roundview Capital; Partner Sponsors Bristol Myers Squibb, Callaway Henderson Sotheby’s International Realty, Matt & Holli Elias, Lennar, and James E. Schwalbe; and Supporter Sponsors First Bank, Martha Friedman & Harold Heft, Joel Heymsfeld, Gershen Group LLC, Hill Wallack LLP, Carol & Bob Lerner, Lois & Jeff Miller, Orland’s Ewing Memorial Chapel, Elaine & Barry Sussman, Szaferman Lakind, Stacey Wasserman & Ian Zimmerman and Audrey & Marc Wisotsky.

Service Opportunities this Month for Youth & Families

J-Serve: Day of Jewish Youth Service  **VIRTUAL SERVICE EVENT**

Sunday, April 11 on Zoom!

Grades 6 – 9 | 1:00 PM & Grades 10 – 12 | 2:00 PM

Volunteer. Serve the community. Help others. Get involved.

Connect with personal and local heritage with Project Roots. Help yourself and others by learning self-care techniques. Learn about making a difference.

Register in advance.

 

Spring Into Action

Sunday, April 18 @ 10:30 AM

707 Alexander Rd, Princeton, NJ 08540

Learn about hunger in Mercer County and how YOU can help others in need. You’re invited to this service event…bring an old t-shirt, scissors and a rule to upcycle a shirt into a reusable grocery bag.

Participants also encouraged to bring donation of paper goods or personal hygiene products.

SPACE IS LIMITED. MASK WEARING REQUIRED DURING EVENT (outdoors)

Rain date Sunday, April 25

Register in advance.

Jewish Family & Children’s Service Announces Mensch Award 2021

JFCS of Greater Mercer County announces the Rose & Louis H. Linowitz Mensch Award.  This is a merit-based award for deserving Jewish eighth-grade and high school senior students living in Greater Mercer County.  Candidates should exemplify what it means to be a mensch – a person of integrity and honor, a doer of good deeds, and an all-around good person.  Students must be nominated by a member of the community such as a Rabbi, educator, youth group advisor, secular school guidance counselor, teacher, parent, etc.  Eighth-grade Mensch-In-Training award is $300 and high school senior Mensch Award winners will receive $1,500.  This is not a need-based scholarship.

Applications are due by April 30, 2021.

8th Grade Application

12th Grade Application

Photo Release (Required for all applicants)

W-9 (Required for all applicants)

For more information or to nominate a student, contact Joyce at 609-987-8100 / JoyceW@JFCSonline.org.

COVID-19 Anniversary: Why We Look Back, How We Move Forward

“Remember how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go. You are not where you want to be, but neither are you where you used to be.” – Rick Warren

 

Why is it important to mark an anniversary?

Anniversaries – whether marking a wedding, a union, a birthday, a new job, or other significant milestone – are most often days of celebration. These occasions give us reason to celebrate and reflect on the previous year and how the event being celebrated has added to our lives.

Anniversaries can also mark more somber occasions, this could be the loss of a loved one, or even a larger event in our community or in history. Why is it equally important to mark the passage of time in respect to loss, heartache, or tragedy?

It is important to acknowledge that all significant events make us who we are. A marriage marks a new beginning, a new path forward, as much as losing a loved one can also define a new stage in life. Each experience becomes a part of your story.

Where we may take a wedding anniversary to reflect with our partner on the past year, or years, and reminisce about how the partnership has grown, when we reflect on the anniversary of a tragic event, it is an opportunity to recognize growth as well. What have you learned in facing a loss? How have you shown resilience? How have you learned to cope with grief, or sadness, or struggle?

To the end, any anniversary that you acknowledge has worth, you assign its worth simple by recognizing the event or day as an anniversary. And if there is value to you in that day, then there is value in the emotions and reflection that come with it.

In the coming weeks, we will be reaching the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic taking hold of our lives. On March 4, 2020 New Jersey officials announced the first presumptive positive case of COVID-19 in New Jersey; two short weeks later, the state entered a near-total quarantine lockdown that brought our lives to a halt.

What do we find by looking back?

The coronavirus outbreak impacted major aspects of our lives: working remotely at home, online education, and religious services. We had to get creative entertaining outdoors with a minimum number of family and friends staying six feet apart, drive-by birthday greetings and Zoom parties. Suddenly we were wearing face masks and washing our hands so often our skin became red, sore, and dry. Families were not able to visit loved ones in nursing facilities or attend to funeral rituals due to the need for social distancing. And travel was not happening.

Although none of us could have prepared for such a tragic period during our lifetime, there is value in recognizing the anniversary and in reflecting on what we have experienced in the past year.

There has certainly been much lost in the past year…

The start of school, graduations, weddings, funerals, sitting Shiva are all time-honored rituals and traditions that COVID severely disrupted. The lack of physical expression (hugs, kisses) has left a void in the way we process grief. A challenge during this time has been creating new rituals so we can partake in these significant occasions. Connecting on Zoom, social distance get-togethers, lawn signs to express congratulations to a graduate or celebrate a birthday demonstrate how resourceful and creative we have been establishing meaning to special events.

It is important to acknowledge our losses. Feeling sad is a normal part of grieving and it’s important to give yourself permission to be sad and to acknowledge the other emotions you might be feeling. Remember to take care of yourself, this could be sitting with a cup of tea listening to your favorite music, eating healthy, or journaling your thoughts and feelings.

Where there was loss, there was also gain…

Reflect on personal accomplishments – did you start a new hobby? Secure a new job? Spend more quality time with family? Learn a new skill? Prioritize your mental health?

Now, not all of us will emerge from this quarantine with a healthy sourdough starter on the counter, fully reorganized closets, filled with newly crocheted blankets, and that’s ok too. Simply getting through each day, maintaining your health, being able to move forward during this challenging time, that is an accomplishment to be proud of as well.

Beyond our personal spheres, there are positive takeaways to be found from the last year in how communities banded together to help the most vulnerable during the pandemic. Around the world folks came together to support their family, friends, and community by providing emotional and financial support, food, protective gear, and social justice.

Food drives were organized, masks hand-sewn and delivered to seniors, neighbors shopped for each other to keep crowds out of stores, we stood on balconies to applaud the herculean efforts of frontline workers, grassroots efforts launched food pantries and meal distributions across heavily impacted communities.

Looking for more inspiration? We can look at the global scale and celebrate that in the past year…

How do we look forward with hope?

We may feel as our lives are indefinitely paused because we don’t know how life will look after the pandemic, but we can have hope. Hope is a belief that things will get better, it is linked to the power of our mind and plays a vital role in giving us the benefit of emerging from adversity. This is not an opinion, it is science.

Hope takes away the burden of the present moment making it less difficult to bear. It helps us to believe in a better tomorrow. I am hopeful that you can be hopeful and look for that better tomorrow.​