June 2020

June 5, 2020

We need each other

Most of us know how much our friends and loved ones mean to us, and welcome mutual affection, even if we are a little shy sometimes about receiving it. That being said, it’s true that relationships and meaningful connections help make our world go ‘round. Although this is important at all times, it is especially so as we continue to face the pandemic and now also protests for equality. We need each other.

During a few recent calls with Lechayim “regulars”, I listened to people talk about how much they miss their friends. “I wish we were still eating lunch together in Beth Israel’s big room with the beautiful windows.” Lonesome as they may be, these people still expressed gratitude for Betsy Haimson’s cheerful leadership of our now weekly “Yoga From A Chair” exercise group via Zoom, as well as for Paul Borowsky’s rolling out of events that can be joined in on from home.

It’s heartwarming to hear folks commending JSS for keeping its doors open during the pandemic. As a case manager remotely working from home, I find it amazing that some relationships are even flourishing, as we “stay in place”. Thankfully, physical distancing has not brought social relations to a screeching halt. This is to our benefit, particularly as we sort our feelings about things that are happening across our country today, and wonder where they’re leading.

Though we miss seeing you at JSS, we are fortunate to have sophisticated “smart” phones to help us with our work. As our lack of face-to-face contact drags on, telephone calls increasingly begin and end with people saying “thank you” for kindness, and for services received. Likewise, those who receive services also appreciatively give as they thoughtfully ask staff questions such as “how are you?” A gentle cycle of gratitude and giving has emerged that mirrors back to us our warm connections with one another. May this ground us as we move forward during our time of uncertainty.

What are some other ways that we can be there for ourselves and for each other?

Some young adults deepened their connections with each other and the community by volunteering in a creative way. My daughter is a student at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music. With most places still being closed, I thought she was joking when she invited me to attend a sixty-minute performance with her last month. It was real, though, and from the comfort of our living room, we watched “The Virtual Benefit Concert for The Second Harvest Food Bank of Southern Wisconsin”. The young performers raised $2,665 for the food bank, definitely exceeding their original goal of $500. Now, that is what I call identifying a serious issue and doing something about it!

Dave Isay is the founder of the independently funded nonprofit organization called StoryCorps. Have you heard NPR coverage of Dave Isay over the years, or read any of his books such as “Listening Is an Act of Love”?

Others have actively participated in StoryCorps, an organization with a mission “to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” Since 2003, more than 400,000 people have recorded interviews that are preserved as legacy for future generations in the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. I am proud that a close friend and I recorded an interview in 2008; please note that StoryCorps also provides personal copies of interviews to those who participate. We really benefited from this activity. If you want to learn more and even listen to some fascinating stories, please visit the website at www.storycorps.org.

In this day and age, we may inadvertently forget that some members of our community enjoy receiving “snail” mail through the postal service The joys of creatively putting pen to paper are not forever lost. Some consider handwriting letters and cards an art form, and there is still something romantic about poems, no matter your age, whether the subject is about love, or nature, or anything else. No matter our approach, let’s “stay in touch” as we “stay in place”. If you would like a local “pen pal”, please contact me.

During these difficult times, we all hope for good health and peace and the chance to be together again, soon. Until then, please recall the grounding nature of interpersonal connections, and of love. With regard to staying in touch, we all have stories and ideas, and I am so interested in hearing yours if you’d like to share them. I am easy to reach by phone  (608-424-4568) and by email (joni@jssmadision.org). I leave you with a quote:

“The quest for meaning is the key to mental health and human flourishing.” -Viktor Frankl

~Joni Pico

June 5, 2020

If Not Now, When?: JSS Confronts Systemic Racism

Rabbi Renee Bauer

“How long will this go on?… You feed your people tears as their daily bread, making them drink great measures of tears?” (Psalm 80:5-6). 

This has been quite a week in our city and country. Suddenly the streets that were emptied by a global pandemic have been filled with chants, righteous anger and indignation. Protests that began in response to the murder of George Floyd are about so much more. They are about a broken police system and systemic racism and about the despair of living through a pandemic that is disproportionately taking the lives of black Americans and leaving millions of people unemployed. The words of the psalmists ring true for me as I despair about the racial injustice that exists in our city and our country.  

Back in January, JSS began addressing diversity, equity and inclusion as part of our strategic planning. We are now working with the plan and finding opportunities to be effective in addressing the current unrest and systemic racism in the long term.

The JSS staff is keenly aware that there are also immediate needs. Our community is in crisis as the civil unrest occurs during a global pandemic that has upended our lives. These events affect each of us differently depending on our race and life experience. They have taken a significant emotional and spiritual toll on each of us. JSS is here to support you- to listen, to find resources, provide material support and case management services. Please do not hesitate to reach out.

June 17, 2020

Racial injustice is a problem deserving of everyone’s time and concern

By Rachael Wortzel, JSS Program Assistant and UW MSW Graduate Student

The mission of Jewish Social Services is to work “across generations and cultures to build community”. We continue to identify ways to succeed in this for our entire community. Why now is this our focus? Because we see how the killing of George Floyd was caused by a broken system that allows for violent actions specifically targeting the African American community. These actions go against building community. We stand with individuals from every US state who have demonstrated outrage over George Floyd’s murder as well as many others, and we are re-emphasizing that social justice, including racial justice must be part of our focus.

An internet search for African American and Jewish relations will quickly reveal that tension between African Americans and white Jews has existed for decades. At the same time, Jewish organizations all over the country continue to be allies and are building alliances with African American communities. Studies such as the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Race to Equity have shown Madison to be a city needing a radical amount of reform and social change before there can be racial justice and equity. I believe JSS can be part of this change, while in pursuit of our mission.

While the Jewish community in Madison is small, each of us can be significant in reforming the attitude we take toward other peoples’ oppression. Changes need to happen in the public sector, including government, health care, public education, higher education, and police departments, as well as within each of us as we struggle to understand our role in the travesty of white dominance and abuses of power, and the opportunity we have to change that narrative.

And so, our objective is two-fold; to impact change in the community and to change ourselves in order to impact the community. As JSS’ mission also states “with a strong commitment to the Jewish community and Jewish values,” and given Jewish history and values, how can we sit by and watch African Americans suffer hardships that most white Jews wouldn’t fathom being part of their daily lives? Jews have a history of enduring persecution and a religious tradition that calls us to stand up for those who are oppressed. Yes, it is difficult for us to face, but millions of black Americans are living under terrible conditions. And it is time for us to take action.

JSS is proud that we provide support to Jews as well as anyone who needs our help, whether it is for housing assistance or spiritual support. The JSS team is always working toward our vision: A community of people living with dignity and hope. This vision includes everyone. The killing of George Floyd highlights the devastating impacts of racism, hatred and discrimination that African Americans suffer from every day. It is time for whites to stand up against this oppression. At JSS I am grateful that we are actively making this part of our work, starting now.

I hope that you will also consider the impact that you could have. Please reach out to me if you want to volunteer to be a part of this important work.

June 26, 2020

My Ask For Help

When I was pregnant with my youngest, I flew back and forth to the east coast several times because my mother was dying. At the same time, my husband was travelling for work, I was working for the UW, as well as caring for a two-year-old, and running a household. Guess what? I was exhausted. And until I was 7½ months pregnant, I was pretty good about going out to mow the lawn. Finally, I realized that maybe waddling behind the lawn mower was a bad idea. So I gathered up the courage and asked a neighbor to do it for me. And surprise! She did not mind at all.

So now you’d think it would be easy for me to ask for help. Nope. This had taught me that it was o.k. to ask for help for a temporary need and only if it was for something that I could exactly replicate. “I have the flu, if you are going out anyway, can you pick up some milk for me? I can do the same for you next week.” Or, “we need to be in three places at once and we only have one car, can you drop my child off at daycare, just this one time? We can get your kid the next two times even though we still only have one car and need to go in different directions.”

I am now older and wiser. As Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18). Not that I am comparing myself to Moses, but I realize that I can’t possibly do everything for everyone at all times, and that is alright.

It is okay that we can’t do it all. Here in our community, there are many organizations like JSS that can provide support. And people want to help. Some you know. Some you don’t. But remember, it makes us feel good to help.

So now I have a personal ask of you. Many of you know that I am hearing impaired. I don’t keep it hidden, but I read lips really well, so it isn’t obvious. With COVID-19, everyone is now wearing masks and their mouths are covered. I realized that I want people around me to take off their masks so that I can see what they are saying. I suspect that many of our clients are in the exact same position. We are ready to put our own health at risk so we can hear. Let’s face it, (pun intended), it isn’t a good idea. So I would like masks with clear plastic for all thirteen team members at JSS. I was going to sew them myself. But I finally realized, I just can’t. So I am making an ask. If you would consider making these, we would be grateful. You can find a pattern at www.hsdc.org/accessible-deaf-friendly-face-mask/. If you need us to provide the material and drop it off, we would be glad to do so.

Remember, JSS is here to provide support to you. Please reach out at office@jssmadison.org or call our main number at (608) 442-4081.

Shabbat shalom,

Dawn Berney, Executive Director