- Who We Are
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About 200 people crowded the Temple Beth El auditorium Sunday, Jan. 8, 2017, for a public forum organized by NCJW on How to Protect Civil Liberties and Equal Justice in Maine. Attendees picked up information and signed up to volunteer at tables set up by NCJW and co-sponsors Bet Ha’am, Etz Chaim, Jewish Community Alliance, Temple Beth El; the organizations represented on the speakers’ panel; and Welcoming the Stranger.
Audience anxiety about the future was eased at the outset by Martin Steingesser and Judy Tierney, who read poems by Father Daniel Berrigan and Jonathan Cohen. NCJW Board Member Barbara Peisner welcomed the crowd and reminded them that “an informed and active citizenry is critical to protecting our rights and compelling our elected representatives to hear us.” She then passed the mic to moderator Barbara Shaw. Shaw, NCJW member and JCA Community Relations Council Chair, explained the concept of tikkun olam, perfecting or repairing the world, which calls on each person to be an active agent for change for the good of all. Then she introduced the panel of officers from four local non-profit agencies which serve vulnerable populations.
Kate Brogan, Vice President for Public Affairs, Maine Family Planning, kicked off the discussion by explaining that, as part of its mission to provide Maine women with access to reproductive healthcare, MFP is one of three abortion providers in Maine. Brogan pointed to threats to reproductive healthcare on the national level – freedom of religion bills that would allow anyone to opt out of providing services – and locally – budget proposals to eliminate state funding for family planning. She urged advocates to email their members of Congress. Better yet, to telephone. And she encouraged participation in the women’s marches (in D.C. and Augusta) on Jan. 21.
Robyn Merrill, Executive Director, Maine Equal Justice Partners, described how her organization advocates on behalf of Maine residents, looking for solutions to poverty. She noted thousands of people in our state have lost access to health care and food benefits in the past eight years, while child poverty has soared. MEJP opposes block grants for Medicaid and SNAP benefits, which would eliminate clients entitlement to those benefits, and supports a voter referendum to expand access to health care for 70,000 people in Maine.
Susan Roche, Executive Director, Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project, outlined ILAP’s work with 2,000 clients a year who are new to Maine. Volunteer attorneys help people meet legal residency requirements, and usher their asylum requests through the thicket of the courts. Her biggest concern is expedited deportation if the new administration adopts more aggressive enforcement policies.
Finally, Zachary Heiden, Legal Director, ACLU of Maine, brought some levity to the event by referencing an optimistic song from the musical “Hamilton.” He also took comfort in Martin Luther King Jr.’s observation that: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” Meanwhile, he urged three concrete steps for attendees to take.
After the panel presentations, the crowd broke for refreshments, then resumed for a brief question and answer session. Panelists pointed to the power of social media to move people. Contributions to Planned Parenthood are distributed nationally, but SafeMaine funds abortions for women in need in Maine only. Several attendees recommended Indivisible as a practical guide to influencing lawmakers.
The remarkable attendance at this event — men, women, and children of all faiths – proved the accuracy of NCJW’s assessment of the need for people to come together. What we didn’t appreciate is their appetites; for the first time, we ran out of refreshments!
WCSH6 covered the forum and ran this report on the News Center 6 News at 6.
Thanks to everyone who helped make this event a resounding success!
Denise Mancall, co-chair of the Family Crisis Services committee, reports on the success of our Adopt a Family project:
I just wanted to share a photo of the holiday gifts for our adopted family from the shelter. I am overwhelmed by your generosity, and can only imagine how touched our adoptees will be. As you may or may not know, we had a modest budget that the board approved. However, through the last minute appeal to the NCJW membership and generous response of donated items and monetary contributions, we raised a substantial additional sum to spend on the family. I am happy to say that every item on the list — including a Samsung tablet for the eight-year-old — was purchased, as well as a wide range of kitchen items needed to set up a new home, and gift cards to Walmart, Target, Olive Garden and IHOP.
I think you’ll agree we’ve helped to provide this woman and her children, who are in a very difficult situation, a spot of happiness as they make their way forward. I can’t thank you all enough for your help with this.
Throughout the year we provide personal items for shelter residents who have had to abandon everything. An advocate on the Family Crisis Shelter staff writes: “On behalf of Family Crisis Services, and people who use our services, I would like to thank you for your ongoing donation of welcome bags for our emergency shelter. As you may know, many people fleeing abuse leave everything behind when they come to us. Your support helps us provide them with the basic necessities, and to make the shelter feeel that much safer and more like a home.”
Congratulations to Patty Weber, our State Policy Chair, for her recent letter which was published by the Portland Press Herald September 29, 2016. Patty wrote in support of the Equal Access to Abortion Coverage in Health Insurance (EACH Woman) Act. This legislation would end federal bans on abortion coverage. For the past 40 years, the Hyde Amendment has denied abortion coverage to individuals enrolled in most federal health plans and programs. The Hyde Amendment is particularly harmful to low-income women, women of color, young people and immigrants who disproportionately rely on Medicaid for their health care coverage.
NCJW is joining the campaign to promote civic engagement in the upcoming election. In an effort to push voter registration and thoughtful voting, NCJW CA created a brief video that focuses on the hopes of children. Vote Like It Matters – Your Voice, Your Vote includes a link to online voter registration which is valid for all states. Please share this video with your social network. Let these children inspire all of us to get out the vote.
Fall brings us together for one of the most fun projects of the year – backpacks!
On Sunday, Aug. 28, 2016, Ginny Squires-Eklund hosted 10 volunteers who efficiently assembled 250 backpacks loaded with school supplies for kindergarteners at the three Portland public schools with the most need. It can be dizzying sometimes, circling through the room, collecting pencils, erasers, crayons, markers, and child-friendly scissors. After stuffing, each backpack is checked to make sure it is fully loaded, and then they are strung together for delivery. The work took barely two hours before volunteers dug into the tasty food and drink that Ginny always provides.
After dropping off the backpacks at three schools, our involvement doesn’t end. Reiche School always invites us to open house. This year, on Sept. 1, Lynn Goldfarb, Eydie Pryzant, and Peggy Shapiro helped each child select their personal backpack. Rarely do we get the chance to see the good that we do in such a direct and delightful way. Smiles all around!
Thanks to all the volunteers who provided hands-on help this year. And thanks to all members who responded to our appeal for funds to support this project and all the other good we do.
This year has been a busy and successful one for our Section, thanks to the hard work of our energetic and supportive Board and you, our members. Your generosity and sustained effort for over 90 years allows NCJW to exert a local, national and international impact on issues involving women, children and families.
Our first event of the past 12 months was a Silent Auction held at the new Press Hotel at the end of August at which we raised over $7,000.
At about the same time, on a very hot August night we filled 250 backpacks with supplies needed by children entering kindergarten in three Portland schools.
This was followed by our sponsorship of the opening of an exhibit at the Jewish Museum, “Welcoming the Stranger,” which highlighted the kosher meals provided by NCJW members to new arrivals entering the United States via House Island nearly a century ago. Working with artist Jo Israelson, who conceived this installation, we made contact with the special collections librarian at the University of Southern Maine. She enthusiastically agreed to accept and archive all of NCJW’s records for the Jean Sampson Collection on Diversity, while we maintain ownership. The transfer of all of records was completed this fall.
Both the auction and the opening of the exhibit were featured in articles in the Maine Sunday Telegram. It was wonderful to see the excellent coverage concerning NCJW and its many programs.
As I noted last year, we formed an investment committee to oversee the handling of our scholarship funds. This year the Board approved an investment and distribution policy which protects the funds and also increases the amount of money available for distribution.
When Shaw’s Supermarket offered stamps for every $10 spent in their stores, our members generously participated by collecting the stamps and sending them to Susan Isenman, who pasted them in booklets. With these stamps we were able to “purchase” four, 20-piece sets of flatware which were delivered to the Family Crisis Center to be given to women leaving the shelter to set up new households. Meanwhile, we continued our project of providing toiletries and personal care items to women and children entering the shelter.
In December we asked our members to donate gently-used blankets for families at Reiche School and were pleased to deliver approximately 25 blankets which were distributed at the Reiche Holiday Party.
In keeping with the holiday spirit, we provided Christmas gifts for a mother and her two daughters who were living at the shelter. Their requests were all within our budget, with the exception of an American Girl Doll. Thanks to the generosity of the grown daughter of one of our shelter chairs, who donated one of the dolls from her collection, we were able to meet this request.
We continued to read and assist with math at Reiche School with our members volunteering over 100 hours. The school would welcome any members who would like to volunteer by contacting our NCJW co-ordinator Eydie Pryzant.
In February we presented a “Discussion of the Opioid Epidemic: Where Are We Going” featuring a panel including Portland Chief of Police, Michael Sauschuck, Oliver Bradeen, Substance Abuse Disorder Liaison, and Reverend Alice Hildebrand, Chaplain for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and the Family Birth Center.
We are also selling our new tribute cards. They are a wonderful way to extend congratulations for happy events or sympathy for losses. We sell a set of five cards and envelopes for $30. If you need cards during the year, Susan Steinkeler is in charge and will be happy to supply them. They will also be available at all of our meetings.
Finally, if you are downsizing or just cleaning closets, attics, or basements, please save any gently-used children’s snow pants and snow jackets for the students at Reiche School. These can be dropped off on my porch at any time.
Our entire board has worked tirelessly this year to accomplish all the activities I have mentioned. However, there is one board member who has gone above and beyond this year: Eileen Arsenault, our Treasurer. At our fundraiser last August, Eileen broke her ankle walking down the hotel stairs, but insisted on staying for the entire evening because she was the only one who knew how to use our credit card device. As treasurer, Eileen has developed our budgets, provided monthly reports and brought our bank accounts up to date regarding authorized signators. If that were not enough, Eileen volunteered to Chair our nominating committee this spring, and has presented us with an outstanding slate of officers. Eileen, thank you so much.
Tonight we celebrate our Annual Meeting, award scholarships to deserving Jewish students from Southern Maine, and install our new Board. I want to give special thanks to Barbara Peisner, our scholarship chair who has served on this committee for more years than she can remember, as well as to the entire committee for their commitment to our scholarship program. It is gratifying to present so many scholarships in these days of steeply rising costs for post high school education.
It has been my privilege and pleasure to serve as your President for the past two years. Thanks to the entire Board and membership for your support.
Social Policy Advocacy chair Patty Weber and Dauna Binder represented the Southern Maine Section at the NCJW Washington Institute March 13-15, 2016. They report it was an exciting few days which they put to good use listening to dynamic speakers and networking with like-minded people from across the country. The stakes are high this election year for all the public policy issues NCJW cares about.
One of the highlights of the Institute, which is held every three years, was a silent protest by 400 advocates who walked from the Supreme Court to the Capitol. Participants carried copies of the U.S. Constitution which they delivered to Senate Judiciary Chair Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. The message to Senator Grassley: do your job and give Supreme Court nominee Judge Merrick Garland a fair hearing. Weber and Binder urged Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, to meet with Judge Garland and hope she continues to lead the way so that the Senate can meet its responsibilities and vote on the Garland nomination.
In addition to issue workshops and meetings with legislators, NCJW honored plaintiff Edith Windsor and attorney Robbie Kaplan for winning a historic case which paved the way for legalization of same sex marriage in the United States. Matt Nosanchuk, the Associate Director of Public Engagement serving as liason to the Jewish Community for the President of the United States, spoke about protecting voting rights and read a note from President Obama. Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was among the legislators addressing attendees.
Weber said, “We loved the energy and were inspired by the new young women who have joined our organization across the country.”
With the rise in drug overdose deaths in Maine gaining national attention (in the Washington Post), we hosted a forum on the issue. Our panelists included Portland’s Chief of Police Michael Sauschuck, Oliver Bradeen, Portland Police Department Substance Abuse Disorder Liason, and Rev. Alice Hildebrand, Chaplain for the Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital and Family Birth Center.
Every day, an average of more than 80 Americans die from overdoses of opioid drugs which include heroin, oxycodone, and hydrocodone. The number of Maine residents seeking treatment for opiate abuse has tripled since 2010, and the number of babies born affected by prenatal exposure to drugs or alcohol has increased by 68 percent.
The public forum drew 45 attendees to the Falmouth Library February 23, 2016. Light refreshments were served as the experts discussed how to deal with the epidemic of drug abuse in our community. We encouraged members of the audience to write their legislators and our governor advocating more funding for education and rehabilitation to address the problem.
Before Reiche school students took their holiday break, the school and Wayside Community Meals hosted a free dinner at the school. Families were able to take home food provided by Good Shepard Food Bank, and warm blankets donated by our members. This was in response to a special request from Reiche, a Portland school where we’ve developed a close relationship with students and staff. NCJW has provided backpacks filled with school supplies to entering kindergarteners, and volunteers have helped students with reading and math throughout the year. About 20 blankets were handed out on December 21, just in time for the cold weather that arrived with the new year.
The National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) is a grassroots organization of volunteers and advocates who turn progressive ideals into action. Inspired by Jewish values, NCJW strives for social justice by improving the quality of life for women, children, and families and by safeguarding individual rights and freedoms.