When a new local charity, with no staff, hits the one-and-a-quarter-year mark since its founding, most observers would expect that it’s still getting the word out and slowly building a roster of donors.
The Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley, however, is not your average grassroots tzedaka.
Established in August 2021, Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley has attracted over 114 families and already donated over $41,000 to causes in Middlesex County. The founders hope to increase that number and contribute over $55,000 in the coming year.
Currently, the Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley’s beneficiaries include the rabbi’s discretionary fund at seven local shuls, all five area yeshivot, the Park Mikvah, the East Brunswick Mikvah, Hatzolah of Middlesex County, Chabad House at Rutgers, Tomchei Shabbos of Middlesex County, Rutgers Hillel, Bikur Cholim of Middlesex County, Mesorah NJ, New Jersey NCSY, Jewish Family Services, and Rutgers Jewish eXperience.
As one measure of the stature the tzedaka has earned in the area, the family of community member Denise Hametz of Edison, who passed away unexpectedly in March, decided to rename the Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley in honor of their wife and mother. The group is now known as the Denise Hametz Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley.
Denise Hametz and her husband, Irwin, moved to Edison in 1981 and were very involved in many Jewish communal institutions. Denise was particularly active in the Rabbi Pesach Raymon Yeshiva, where she served on the board of directors, and Congregation Ohr Torah. They were proud contributors to the Jewish Federation and Jewish Family Service. Denise also helped conduct outreach activities for Yeshiva University for a number of years.
Denise and Irwin have three children—a daughter, living in Israel, who runs an interactive art studio and has an 18-year-old daughter; a son living in Pikesville, Maryland, who works as a landscape architect and is married and has two daughters; a son, living in Silver Spring, Maryland, who is the STEM innovation director at the Berman Academy and is married with a son and daughter.
Denise initially worked for the Gesher Foundation (based in Israel), then worked for a Judaica store on the Lower East Side, before opening the Adir Gallery 15 years ago. The Adir Gallery produced creative custom designed awards for a wide range of Jewish and communal groups and served a national, and occasionally international, clientele.
Explaining to The Jewish Link how the family decided to lend Denise’s name to the Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley initiative, Irwin stated: “Denise always preferred to work in the background and never wanted to be honored. After she passed away, my neighbor and good friend Paul Bloom approached me and said that renaming the Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley after Denise would really help advance that tzedaka initiative. I thought that Denise would have liked her name to be connected with a cause that serves all corners of the community. So I felt that this would be a suitable legacy for her.”
Judging from the comments of a few fans of the Denise Hametz Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley, the organization is poised for continued growth and impact in the area.
“Notwithstanding having been a founding member and in my second year of supporting Dollar-a-Day, I found myself trying to find a way to meaningfully increase both my personal donations and those coming from others within the local Jewish Community,” said David Katzenstein of Highland Park. “Perhaps moved by the events leading to the renaming of the organization in memory of Denise Hametz, the idea ‘clicked’ for me this year during one of the Yizkor sessions that I attended, having lost my father almost seven years ago this month. The answer was really there all along.
“In Yizkor, the participants promise (b’li neder) to give tzedaka in memory of the niftar with the hope that they will somehow enjoy an associated or resulting benefit. Why not—I thought—give an annual donation to DaDRv in memory of my father so that, using its infrastructure of daily donations, my father could be the beneficiary of giving a dollar every day. Dov ben Yosef HaCohen is participating every day this year, hopefully into the future. To a degree it’s like having a little of him back every time I think about it. He would have approved.”
“One of the best investments anyone can make is to be part of the Dollar-a-Day initiative,” said Rabbi Eliyahu Kaufman, spiritual leader of Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park. “Your dollar combines with the other dollars a day to provide significant help to our most worthy tzedaka institutions.”
“Denise Hametz Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley enables its donors to participate in the mitzvah of tzedaka every day,” said Paul Bloom, one of the founders of the group. “These funds are distributed to local charities of Raritan Valley on a daily basis. Our long-term goal is to have 750 donors to participate in this great mitzvah. We are also working with receiving charities to reinforce this important mitzvah to their membership.”
“The Denise Hametz Dollar-a-Day program is making an appreciable difference to our school,” said Rivky Ross, head of school of Yeshivat Netivot Montessori in East Brunswick—a beneficiary of the Dollar-a-Day program. “The donations truly add up and enable us to make purchases of materials for our classrooms that we would otherwise have to put on the back burner.”
“The Denise Hametz Dollar-a-Day program offers much appreciated support to Rutgers Hillel,” said Interim Executive Director Rabbi Esther Reed. “Donations like these help fund our high-caliber weekly learning programs, Shabbat dinner every Friday night, Center for Israel Engagement and more. The fact that the organization was recently renamed in memory of Denise Hametz is especially meaningful to us, since we worked with her each year on elements of our Annual Gala dinner. May her memory be a blessing.”
“Tomchei Shabbos of Middlesex County is incredibly grateful to the Denise Hametz Dollar-a-Day program for its generous contributions,” said a member of the Tomchei Shabbos Team. “At Tomchei Shabbos, every dollar raised goes directly to help families in need in our community. We thank the supporters of the Dollar-a-Day Program whose donations are helping Tomchei Shabbos and other worthy organizations to continue in their important missions.”
“Denise Hametz, a”h, was a strong advocate for and supporter of so many important tzedakot in the Highland Park/Edison/East Brunswick community,” said Rabbi Michael Ribalt, head of school at RPRY. “Her passion for a strong Jewish education in our community and her active leadership in many local institutions was legendary. The naming of Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley in her memory is a tribute to her and Irwin’s community leadership and influence.”
For more information on the Denise Hametz Dollar-a-Day of Raritan Valley, please see: https://www.dadrv.org/
By Harry Glazer