April 21, 2024
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Elizabeth, Hillside, Springfield Launch Tomchei Shabbos With JFS

Marking a groundbreaking development, Jewish Family Services of Union County announced recently that they have officially partnered with the new Tomchei Shabbos program that had already been quietly operating in the Elizabeth, Hillside and Springfield communities.

“To my knowledge, it is the first time in New Jersey anywhere, that a Jewish Family Service Agency is partnering with a Tomchei Shabbos,” reported Heidi Pikarsky, of JFS Central. She noted that there are about 10 other Jewish Family Service Agencies in New Jersey; that JFS in Union County already had an active food pantry, the Charlotte Shak Kosher Food Pantry, and began providing occasional Shabbos packages during the COVID crisis. So this partnership was natural, and it has been sensitively and carefully crafted to preserve dignity and keep the focus on the needs of the families.

Bracha Shechter, Ora Sheinson and Tara Speyer of Hillside had initiated a grassroots program, and then spearheaded the initiative to combine resources and efforts. “The program started very organically,” they said. “JFS was organizing food distributions throughout COVID. Within the community, volunteers were also connecting food donations to people who could use it. As things evolved, it made sense to try and join forces. It took a few iterations to get to where we are now, and we look forward to continued growth and collaboration.

“It is understood that people go through life challenges that can create financial stress in families. The intention of Tomchei Shabbos is to provide support that allows people to provide for their families with dignity. Confidentiality and anonymity are [respected and] protected.”

The community-wide program includes all of the JEC synagogues, Congregation Israel in Springfield, Chabad/Bris Avraham in Hillside, and Anshe Chesed in Linden. The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest has also added its support with donations of food and the participation of their amazing Volunteer Department. Additional donations were received from the Met Council in New York, specifically for the Pesach distribution.

Shabbos packages are distributed twice a month, with more extensive packages for the chagim.

The Tomchei Shabbos leadership team also explained that prior to the formation of an “official” organization, community volunteers had already been essential in obtaining, transporting, delivering and connecting food to people in the community. “Partnering and sharing resources with JFS has dramatically extended our ability to serve the community, providing significant support in all areas. As a result of our partnership with JFS we are also able to provide families with diapers, wipes and personal hygiene products,” they added.

In addition to the leadership team, the Tomchei Shabbos Committee in Formation includes: Rachel Beer, Jay Buchsbaum, Dr. David Hoffman, Aliza Feurerberg, Faith Fisch, Alysia Heller, Leah Kaminer, Daniel Kraus, Dr. Dovid Moradi and Jonathan Walzman.

According to Danielle McLeer, director of outreach and volunteers, Jewish Family Service of Central New Jersey, the Tomchei Shabbos committee and JFS serve approximately 50 families, providing a Shabbos box twice a month. “The collaboration between JFS and the committee has been amazing, and collectively we have created a process that we believe has streamlined the program and distribution for both parties,” she said. “The ultimate reward is seeing and hearing how thankful the families are to have meals for Shabbos.”

Tom Beck, executive director, commented: “Jewish Family Service of Central NJ is honored to be partnering in an unprecedented manner with Tomchei Shabbos of Elizabeth, Hillside and Springfield. During this time of high inflation, this wonderful group of volunteers is working so diligently to help families enjoy Shabbat and the holidays.”

Just in time for Pesach, over 40 community members from Elizabeth, Hillside and Springfield joined on Thursday evening, March 23, to pack Tomchei Shabbos Passover packages for about 50 local families in need.

Tomchei Shabbos of Elizabeth, Hillside and Springfield and Jewish Family Service of Central NJ are currently promoting a fundraising campaign to raise $200,000 to fund the program for the year. For services and further information about the program, email [email protected] or call 908-352-8375. Contact Kathy Fernandez, [email protected] to volunteer.

The Jewish Family Service of Central Halpern Building is located at 655 Westfield Avenue, Elizabeth, NJ. To donate you can visit their website: www.jfscentralnj.org/donate

By Ellie Wolf

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