This evening we will come together to not only welcome Shabbat but also to celebrate Cantor Hamstra as she departs TSTI and begins her tenure at Washington Hebrew Congregation in Washington D.C. We have been truly blessed to have Cantor Hamstra as part of the TSTI community. She has raised our spirits through beautiful music, guided countless students through the journey to become Bnai Mitzvah, and has helped us deepen our understanding of, and connection to, our Jewish tradition. And while we are sad to see her leave, we are excited to see what this next stage in her cantorial work brings.
We look forward to seeing you as we give Cantor Hamstra the send off she truly deserves.
One of the shows Raina and I watched when we were in the initial “stay at home” phase of COVID was New Amsterdam. The latest in a long line of hospital-based medical dramas, the main character is a caring, sensitive, kind and somewhat quirky physician named Max Goodwin. The series begins with Dr. Goodwin taking over as the head of the hospital. He quickly begins trying to transform it into a more compassionate institution for patients and staffers alike. His catchphrase, “How can I help?” and his desire to immediately go into action when someone answers that question, become the engine driving the dramatic series.
“How can I help?”
We’ve all asked that question at some point. We may have been speaking to a friend who recently suffered a loss.
We may have been reading the local paper and seeing some of the deficits in our own community.
Or we may have watched the news and seen the sad state of affairs in our world today.
“How can I help?” is a question that comes from a place of concern and love, and I don’t know about you, but I find myself asking that question with increasing frequency these days. Unfortunately, too often, the issues we face are so large that there is no simple answer. And yet, there is something healing, for ourselves as much as for others, when we are able to answer that question and take action.
This week I want to share two practical answers to the question “How can I help?” that can be acted upon this coming week.
This past Tuesday was World Blood Donor Day. It coincided with a report from the American Red Cross that our state’s blood supply was down to just three days. And that was three days ago! The apparent reason for the shortage is that, out of concern over COVID, fewer people are donating than ever. (In April and May 2022, one center collected roughly 13,000 fewer blood donations than they did in April and May 2021.) This, combined with people once again opting to have elective surgeries, has brought the supply down to critical levels.
As Sharon Zetts, the manager of volunteer services and donor relations associates at New Jersey Blood Services, a division of New York Blood Center notes, “We had announced an emergency in May because the drop in donations was really alarming. We didn’t really get the bump that we usually do.”
The rabbis of old taught, one who saves a single life has saved the entire world. So…
“How can I help?”
If you are able to donate blood please consider doing so this week. The need is great and the solution is in our hands or, more accurately, in our veins.
The Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges
Two weeks ago Raina and I had the privilege of attending the IFPO’s Food Truck Celebration and Fundraiser. The food trucks were great but it was the community-wide support and the palpable enthusiasm for the work done by the IFPO week after week that was truly inspiring.
As you likely know, the Interfaith Food Pantry of the Oranges (IFPO) is an all-volunteer, supplemental food pantry helping to meet essential human needs of food-insecure residents of Orange, East Orange and West Orange, NJ with dignity and respect. It is a collaboration among four faith-based congregations in Essex County — including TSTI. They provide food, fresh produce, menstrual care products, diapers, toiletries, cleaning supplies and other necessities. In addition, the IFPO offers other resources, including: a diabetes program (education, and twice monthly diabetes-friendly food, complete with extra produce), on-site Covid vaccinations and testing, and the monthly presence of various groups which help clients understand available benefits including SNAP, WIC and healthcare.
The work the IFPO does is impactful but, sadly, the need for its impact is greater than ever. You see, between 2019 and 2021, the number of neighbors who visited the IFPO in an average week grew by almost 50%. In May there were 579 clients who were helped by the IFPO.
The IFPO needs volunteers to help them continue to offer the wide range of services a growing number of neighbors require.
The rabbis of old taught that it is not up to us to complete the task but neither are we free to do nothing. We can’t end food insecurity in our nation but that doesn’t mean we are free to stand by and do nothing.
“How can I help?”
If you are able to volunteer with the IFPO please email [email protected] to get the link to sign up to help.
(Note: Volunteer opportunities at the IFPO are open to adults and high school students. All volunteers are required to be fully vaccinated, wear a mask and sign up in advance.)
These are just two ways to have impact in the coming week. When we each do our part to answer the question we help make our corner of the world a bit more whole. And isn’t that one of the beautiful cornerstones of Jewish life?
Rabbi Daniel Cohen