January 12, 2024

Dear JFCS Family,

First, let me wish you a Happy and Healthy New Year! While 2023 was filled with significant trauma and difficulties for our community, we persevered and supported each other – helping those in need and providing support wherever necessary. When I look back on this past year, I see so much success and positive impact mixed in with the trauma.  The truth is that every year will have its share of trauma and difficulty, but the challenging times give us a greater appreciation of those good times and all our successes!  After all, how do we know something is sweet, if we don’t taste something sour?

As we begin 2024, I pray that we find peace for our families in Israel and here in America.  I am filled with hope that this year will bring success, clarity, and vision to our world.

JFCS is embarking on a new strategic plan, and it is an exciting opportunity for us to connect with one another as a community. We want to hear your voice and your vision for our agency to help our leadership craft a new path forward- one grounded in our mission and guided by our expertise.

For my first Shabbat Inspiration of the year, I reflect on an amazing experience I recently had with a small group of clients. In late December, I was honored to attend an informal graduation of our fall Soups and Sweets culinary training program for adults with intellectual disabilities.  This small class of five students was nothing short of a living inspiration. They participated in our program for the better part of five months. They cooked, cleaned, and learned the various safety and preparation skills necessary to pass the Servsafe Certification test, preparing them for jobs in the culinary industry. 

The experience that these five students shared was more than educational, it was life changing. Katie, Ned, Arthur, Howard, and Jackie* sat at the head table. They laughed, joked, and reminisced about their time with Soups and Sweets. They talked about their New Year’s celebrations, their time out of the program, their commute, and their experiences learning new skills. This group were more than just classmates.  It was very clear that they had become friends – and for some, family. Their bond extended beyond the kitchen skills they learned, and they grew into a close-knit group of friends that will be connected for a lifetime.  Each of these students overcame their own struggles to come to this class. They wrestled with their own challenges and overcame so many barriers. Their reward extended beyond the educational merits of the class. They found community – something so vital for each of us to thrive.

We sat together, eating the lunch the students had prepared for us and listened to their stories.  Nancy Lewis, our Soups and Sweets Manager, Kelly Krwawicz, our Employment Specialist, and her trusted volunteers Bonnie Block, Murray Shipon, Howard Jonas, Andrea Stommel, Judy Stein, and Janice Bates gathered around this extraordinary group of students, and sang their praises. We were joined by our new partners from Adath Emanuel, Shira Keet, Diane Singer, and Linda Fisher.  It was a wonderful moment to share with these phenomenal students – as they shined so brightly with pride and accomplishment.

It is hard for me not to shed tears of joy. There are plenty of times we cry over our clients’ challenges, so why not shed a tear for their successes? When the days are tough, I sit in this space – gaining inspiration and strength to move forward. Katie, Ned, Arthur, Howard, and Jackie* will never know the gift they gave me that day – allowing me to share their success and their excitement for all that is to come. But my gratitude is everlasting. 

What does this teach us for 2024? With the support and partnership of our entire community, JFCS gives hope, healing, and so much more to our clients. When times are difficult in your own life, I ask you to take a moment, slow down, and find those inspirational moments in your own life. Sit in that space and gather your energy – let your life changing experiences guide you and move you forward into a positive space – a space where you can find hope and healing for yourself and your community.  It may not take away the difficulty, but it just may help you cope and find a new perspective!

Wishing you peace and love on this Shabbat and the week to come.

Raechel Hammer


* Name changed to protect confidentiality