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 to Return to Work Post-Pandemic

As restrictions start to ease, more and more employees are returning to the workplace, no doubt with anxious feelings, questions, and possible concerns. Feeling dread and uncertainty is perfectly normal…

Will my co-workers be wearing masks?

Will we maintain social distancing?

How will we readjust to being away from home where it has been safe while quarantining for the past year?

First and foremost, it is important to acknowledge that it is normal to feel anxious right now, we went from working remotely to avoid groups of people to an accelerated reopening of the state. It is going to take time to adjust and be comfortable in this re-entry process; the following strategies may help managing back to work anxiety:

Take time to visit the workplace prior to returning to work. This may help reduce the anticipatory anxiety and stress you are feeling. Often the more we avoid a situation, the harder it can be to return to it.

Recognize what makes you feel safe and comfortable at home and try to translate that into your work environment.

Practice mindfulness – do a body scan from head to toe; mentally scanning yourself, you bring awareness to every single part of your body, noticing any aches, pains, tension, or general discomfort.

Visualization – form peaceful and inspiring pictures in your mind; imagine yourself succeeding in feeling calm and relaxed in your work environment.

Progressive muscle relaxation – practicing progressively tightening and then relaxing the muscles of your body can help you learn to better control the tension.

Challenge anxious thoughts – ask yourself if you are being realistic, are you thinking the worst-case scenario? Challenge these thoughts with more realistic ones to calm your feelings of anxiety.

Take one day at a time; do what needs to get done today and take care of tomorrow when it comes, tomorrow.

If you continue to worry about returning to the workplace, contact JFCS during daily drop-in hours to discuss other techniques that may be helpful. 609-987-8100.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

Re-entering Society after COVID-19: Understanding Our Thoughts & Emotions

Almost one year ago, I had to face the challenges of returning to work from family medical leave. At the time I was facing a range of emotions while not only dealing with that reality, but the return to a “new normal” of working remotely.

We have all made significant adjustments to our lives in the past year. Adapting to life during a global pandemic was difficult; now that vaccines are widely available, we are still facing challenges about our personal comfort levels being in the community and returning to work.

Thoughts you may be having, emotions you may be feeling, and answers you may be searching for…

Should I feel safe because I am not sure I do?

 I feel safe but the people around me don’t.

What is the right decision for my family and I?

My friends are comfortable, why aren’t I?

I am not comfortable being around friends and family who are not vaccinated how do I handle the stress?

My thoughts are going a mile a minute!

The truth is there is no right or wrong answer. This decision is an individualized choice. No one can tell you how you should feel or act. Everyone has different comfort levels and that is okay. It is important to not compare our self to others.

What can we do?

Establish and be consistent with your boundaries. Be kind and have compassion toward yourself. Go at your own pace. Take some therapeutic deep breaths. Stay hydrated and maintain balance with your nutrition and physical activity. If you are having trouble sleeping due to the many thoughts you are having listen to a guided sleep meditation – there are options available on Headspace and Calm sites/apps.

If your anxiety seems to be too challenging to manage on your own, please contact JFCS Clinical Department to have a licensed professional assist you at 609-987-8100.

Mara Myerson, LCSW, LCADC

Moving Past the Pandemic: A New Anxiety

One year ago, the World Health Organization reported the COVID 19 virus as a global pandemic and the world changed. Requirements for social distancing, wearing a mask and staying at home, for most, resulted in anxiety. Most of us experienced fear and worry about contacting or spreading the virus; gradually, routines developed, and we cautiously adjusted, still with a good amount of stress.

One year later, as the vaccine rollout quickens, and more and more people are getting vaccinated many folks are having conversations about different fears. A survey released last month by the American Psychological Association found that 49% of adults feel uneasy about returning to in-person interactions once the pandemic is over. Vaccination status did not affect the responses – 48% of those who have already been vaccinated say they, too, feel uncomfortable with in-person interactions.

​These concerns are understandable. In the past year, we have heard over and over that home is the safest place, so feeling anxious about the prospect of being with people outside our “pod” or in larger gatherings is perfectly normal.

Returning to in person interactions while the pandemic is still ongoing is yet another transition.  For those who struggled with anxiety before the pandemic, the anticipation of an impending return to something like normalcy is cause for apprehension. For most, this adjustment will not be easy. Coping skills can help you tolerate, minimize, and deal with stressful situations and managing your stress will help you feel better physically and psychologically.

Coping Skills & Strategies

Review this list to see what might work best for you. It is good practice to implement skills in preparation of confronting changes as you re-engage with social activities.

  • Acknowledge feeling symptoms of stress – anxiety; feeling concerned, irritated, angry; having trouble sleeping or concentrating
  • Gradually resume activities – set small goals, for example, meet a friend for coffee at an outdoor cafe
  • Practice communicating boundaries – saying no if you are not comfortable with an activity
  • Plan and think ahead – is there anything that could make you feel uncertain in this situation?
  • Buddy up – get together with a friend and support each other through the process
  • Stay focused on what is within your control
  • Practice mindfulness techniques
  • Develop daily encouraging mantras – they will keep you mentally strong
  • Exercise/keep active
  • Good sleep hygiene

Anxiety can become a problem that interferes with your daily life.

If you need additional support, please reach out to JFCS at 609-987-8100.

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC

Reducing Social Anxiety & Promoting Re-Engagement in Children (Pandemic Re-Entry)

For many children, who may have struggled with feeling comfortable when interacting with others pre-pandemic, having had a year of significantly reduced social interactions may have felt like a relief.  However, currently with schools, businesses, and public places re-opening many children are dealing with increased social difficulties as the pandemic eliminated any outside contact with others other than their immediate family members.  The five tips below may help to support your child with increased reengagement skills and reduced social anxiety.  

Talk openly about what social anxiety is with your child.

Explain to your child that children struggling with social anxiety may fear social situations that involve interacting with others (i.e. peers, teachers, adults) when in school, public or when attending gatherings. Children with social anxiety may experience negative thoughts and/or fears that others are judging or having negative beliefs about them. Talking to your child and normalizing their feelings of anxiety after being in quarantine, and expressing that their feelings are normal, is vital. To normalize their feelings, talk to your child about your own experiences with anxiety and how you overcame them.

Schedule time for your child to interact others.

Schedule time with friends and close family members via Facetime or Zoom – making sure to encourage your child’s use of the camera when on video calls to promote face-to-face interaction with others. (Should your child struggle with not feeling comfortable with using the camera, you may allow the use of audio only calls initially). However, efforts should be made to successfully achieve video face-to-face interaction with use of the camera feature, in order to work on strengthening social connections and reduce social anxiety.

Provide encouragement and support to your child

Provide encouragement and support to your child with attention on acceptance and sensitivity, making sure to avoid use of judgment, being critical, or showing frustration with your child. Help your child to identify, label, and express their emotions. Children will at times not be successful in achieving their socialization goals. It is difficult for children to face their fears, be sure to validate their feelings, talking to your child at their eye level and validating their emotions is critical for their successful reintegration with others. Utilize language such as, “I see this is hard for you, we can work on this together,” rather than “Why can’t you do it?” or “Why can you be like your sister/cousin they can interact with other kids?”

Encourage outdoor experiences and activities.

Encourage and support your child to increase his/her time engaging in outside experiences and activities. You may support your child by being available to visit a local park, leaving the house for some ice cream, playing a sport with your child on the driveway or front street, and/or visiting the grocery store will allow your child to have gradual exposures to being around others, while still practicing social distancing and wearing their mask.

Support your child with coping skills.

Support your child with the development and implementation of social anxiety coping skills. Skills that can help in reducing your child’s social anxiety include the following strategies: timed breathing skills such as, square breathing which involves creating a mental image of a square box, inhaling from your nose for a count of four, holding air in your lungs for a count of four, exhaling from your mouth for a count of four and holding your breathe for a count of four, (see a guided video here). The square breathing sequence can be repeated three times to receive the best results with reduced anxiety. Another skill to reduce anxiety is the use of a grounding skill using your five senses, where you can have your child locate and explore – 5 things they can see, 4 things they can touch, 3 things they can hear, 2 things they can smell and 1 thing they can taste. This exercise intercepts anxiety producing thoughts and helps your child to be present in their space. (see guided video here).

Arlene Munoz, LSW

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.​

Jewish Bereavement Virtual Support Group

Free, Six Week Group

Thursdays, March 4 – April 8 | 2:00 – 3:15 PM | Via Zoom

Following the death of a loved one, each of us moves in our own time and in our own way, through a process of grief, mourning and adjustment. But we do not have to grieve alone…

This is a weekly group in which members converse openly and support one another through the grief process. Open to any Jewish adult, regardless of affiliation, who has lost a loved one within the past 12 months.

Facilitated by Chaplain Beverly Rubman, MA

No fee to attend, registration required. To register, contact Beverly Rubman at beverlyr@jfcsonline.org / 609-987-8100 Ext 139.

Have you hit the wall? Feeling exhausted by uncertainty, isolation, fear?

We are all dealing with the ongoing impact of the pandemic, some of us more than others. Even as the vaccine brings hope, we now face the frustrating process of registering for the vaccine – scouring websites, making phones calls, seeking new resources and information. After wave after wave of challenges, many of us are at the breaking point.

To combat the potential spiral into frustration and anxiety, first, recognize there is only so much we can control – this makes us human, but not powerless. What can we control? We can acknowledge our feelings, we can show ourselves kindness and compassion. Compassion for oneself is no different than compassion for others. Instead of pushing aside pain, concerns, anxieties, pause and tell yourself ‘this is really difficult right now.’ Then ask, ‘how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?’

Let’s walk through a simple Self-Compassion Practice that can help build mental and emotional resilience…

The following exercise is from resilience expert Linda Graham for shifting our awareness and bringing acceptance to the experience of the moment. It helps to practice this self-compassion break when any emotional distress is still reasonably manageable, through practice, you can create and strengthen the neural circuits that can do this shifting and re-conditioning when things are really tough.

When you notice a surge of difficult emotion – boredom, anger, stress – pause. Put your hand over your heart (this activates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of safety & trust)

Empathize with your experience. Say to yourself “this is upsetting” or “this is hard!” or “this is scary” or even, “ouch, this hurts!”

Repeat one or more of these phrases, or try a variation that works for you…

May I be kind to myself in this moment.

May I accept this moment exactly as it is.

May I accept myself exactly as I am in this moment.

May I give myself all the compassion I need.

These simple mantras break the negative thought loops.

Continue repeating the phrases until you can feel the internal shift – the compassion and kindness and care for yourself becoming stronger than the original negative emotion.

Uncertain times mean navigating changes in your life that you cannot control.

They may mean doing things differently, even reaching out for help — that’s part of being resilient, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

If you need additional support, reach out to JFCS at 609-987-8100.

An Introduction to Meditation

Meditation has gained a lot of attention as we all continue to see methods of relaxation and self care in the midst of these challenging times. Linda Kanner, one of our licensed clinical social workers, takes us through an Introduction to Meditation and the most common methods of meditation including Mindfulness Meditation, Movement Meditation, Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Visualization Meditation and Guided Meditation. Also included are tips and resources for how to get started.

Are you feeling quarantine depression? How to combat fatigue, stress, and other signs of depression

Quarantine depression is part of our new daily vocabulary along with masks, social distancing, and hand sanitizer. This quarantine depression and fatigue is different from clinical depression because the feelings are brought on by the circumstances of the pandemic, whereas clinical depression can happen for a variety of reasons and does not have an external cause, can be chronic and persistent. 

What can quarantine depression look like?

  • Feeling fatigued even when you haven’t engaged in physical activity or upon waking
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Significant weight gain or loss
  • Feeling “on edge” or having difficulty dealing with normal life stressors
  • Lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities
  • Lack of interest in maintaining relationships, even over virtual methods, such as text, email, and video calling

Tips and Strategies to Manage Quarantine Depression:

  • Do something each day, it doesn’t have to be a lofty goal, anything is better than nothing and you will find pleasure in checking something off your list.
  • Exercise. Go outdoors for a walk, ride your bike, or sit on the porch; the benefits of the fresh air and Vitamin D from the sun can help to boost your mood.
  • Meditation. The psychological benefits of meditation are wide ranging: heightened creativity, decreased stress and anxiety, decreased irritability, improved memory and even increased happiness and emotional stability.
  • Listen to music. It has been proven scientifically that listening to your favorite music improves your mood. 
  • Practice self-compassion. Turn off that critical dialogue, what we say to ourselves influences everything; start using supportive, encouraging words.
  • Focus on what you can do and accept the things you cannot change.
  • Keep a daily gratitude journal; this will help you appreciate the positives which can help reduce stress.
  • Stay connected. Even though we cannot be physically together, make that phone call, write an email or letter, send a text to check in with your friends and family.

A licensed therapist can help you identify the causes of your depression and provide the necessary support to help improve your quality of life. Reach out to JFCS

  • During our Drop-in Hours (Mon, Wed, Fri 10 AM – 12 PM or Tues, Thurs 5 – 7 PM) call 609-987-8100 Dial 0
  • Connect with our intake coordinator for ongoing counseling at 609-987-8100 Ext 102, we are currently providing therapy via phone and video calls

Shirley Bellardo, LCSW, LCADC (Director of Clinical Services)