Let’s change the world together…

March 22, 2023

March is widely known as the month we celebrate social workers. For more than 100 years, our social work profession has worked to support our vulnerable community members. Heralding issues of social justice, raising awareness about community need and decreasing the stigma of accepting help for mental health issues are just some of the ways social workers have improved our society. In fact, social workers are, in part, responsible for much of the progress our community enjoys today.

Consider the fight for civil rights which protects everyone regardless of their gender, race, faith, or sexual orientation. Or think about the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, which provide access to vital health insurance. Ponder the importance of caring for our workforce through unemployment insurance, disability pay, worker’s compensation and Social Security. Contemplate the protections provided for our children, preventing child abuse and neglect. Many of these issues would not have been addressed if it weren’t for social workers advocating, serving, and supporting our community.

The Talmud says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” Here at Jewish Family & Children’s Service (JFCS), many of our counselors, case managers, and clinicians are social workers. I am proud to be a social worker, too! I launched my career as a foster care social work intern supporting children in need in North Philadelphia. This profound experience taught me about the opportunities and challenges of caring for those who cannot advocate or care for themselves.

What I love most about being a social worker is the versatility in service. Social workers promote social justice and social change through direct practice, community organizing, advocacy, social and political action, and policy development. Every day, we advocate for change to ensure that people have access to resources and opportunities to meet their basic needs and develop healthier, more self-sufficient lives.

Our upcoming holiday of Passover is rich in social justice themes—from hunger and homelessness to oppression and redemption. The holiday reminds us of a time when the Israelites lived in bondage and escaped to freedom, only to wander through the desert for forty years. This experience with hardship can inspire us to think about those who are suffering today.

Poverty, hunger, and homelessness experienced by the Israelites are known to so many today. And our ancestors fight for freedom, reminds us of contemporary refugee crises in Ukraine, Syria, and Venezuela, to name just a few. As the holiday approaches, we are commanded to remember and appreciate our freedoms. However, we all struggle with something and in some way, we all look for freedom from our issues. Gratitude and service are central themes in our traditions. As you look for ways to celebrate and remember, I encourage you to weave the theme of social justice into your Passover observance. Here are just a few ideas.

Help others celebrate. Whether it’s with JFCS or another wonderful organization, volunteer to deliver Passover meals to local seniors or homebound individuals. During the Seder, we are commanded to invite the stranger into our homes. This commandment can be a wonderful opportunity to think of someone who might otherwise be forgotten – a widow or widower, a single parent, and their children – and invite them to join you.

You can also help others to ensure that their own holiday tables are full by supporting the JFCS Passover Drop & Go Food Drive. If you are able, add a few extra holiday items—think Matzo meal, gefilte fish, cake mixes, dried fruit, and nuts—to your shopping cart and drop them off at our Betsy & Peter Fischer Food Pantry on Tuesday, March 28. All donations will be shared with local Jewish families in need.

Donate your chametz. The annual ritual of ridding our homes of chametz, or leavened food items, is the Jewish answer to Spring Cleaning. This month, many of us will undertake a thorough cleaning of the entire house in a search for even the smallest crumb of leavened products. This process can remind us of those who are forced to search for nutritious foods to sustain themselves and their families. In the coming weeks, consider donating your unopened chametz—pasta, cereal, oatmeal, pancake mix, and the like—to our Betsy & Peter Fischer Food Pantry.

Our pantry is located at 6 Miami East Avenue on the west side of Cherry Hill. We are staffed Monday through Wednesday from 9:00am until 3:00pm. There is also a 24/7 collection container for dry good and shelf stable items located outside the Feldman Carriage House, at the rear of our parking lot. Those who wish to make donations on the east side of Cherry Hill can do so on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9:00am until 2:00pm at our main office, located at 1301 Springdale Road.

Use the Seder as a springboard for conversation. Embrace the spirit of Passover by encouraging your family and guests to ask questions and engage in dialogue around topics that are relevant today. A few Seder table conversation starters, borrowed from American Jewish World Service, could include:

  • What are some of the plagues threatening our planet today?
  • What does freedom mean to you?
  • Dayenu means “enough.” What does it mean to you to have enough?

Questions like these will help everyone, from children to octogenarians, to connect our Jewish story of liberation at Passover with those who are fighting for their freedom around the world today.

Finally, as you think about any of these opportunities, I encourage you to reach out and join us as we make our community the best place to live, ensuring that no one person falls through the cracks. Should you want to volunteer or if you need support yourself, please reach out to me at rhammer@jfedsnj.org.