Last Sunday, the Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey had its annual gala, where representatives talked about the work they do.
It’s such important work.
It’s not exciting work. It’s not sexy at all. That much is absolutely clear. As exciting as it sounds, in the abstract, to save the world, a person at a time, dropping into someone’s life to clean it up, cut out the rot, add sunlight, first to disinfect, then to decorate, it doesn’t really work that way.
Helping people improve their lives needs social workers, not interior designers.
It needs people with the patience to listen to people, to really listen to them, and to hear them. It needs people with the patience to help their clients through bureaucracies’ necessary but soul-deadening mazes, wall-papered with documents and disclaimers and demands and disqualifiers.
It needs people who understand that love is in the details.
It needs social workers.
JFCS clients often are the people who are invisible in this community — they might have lost their jobs, or they might be underemployed, and therefore not able to keep up with the financial demands imposed simply by living here. They might be stuck in abusive relationships, or prisoner to depression, or be caregiving to so many people — elderly parents, young children, relatives with overwhelming needs — that they are in desperate need of care themselves. They might not have enough food, or they might worry that they can feed their children today but might not be able to do it next week. They might worry about the black hole of poverty, need, and dementia that will consume them when they retire and the latter as they age. They might worry about having to choose between food and medication.
It often is socially awkward to admit to any of these needs. It’s far better to seem self-sufficient, even if inside you’re waving every red flag that exists. Even if you grind your teeth in your sleep every single night.
We’ve written a great deal in these pages about the stigma that parents of children with disabilities or substance abuse — or people who themselves are suffering from substance abuse — have to overcome. The JFCS deals with those issues as well.
We understand why people feel the need to hide their weaknesses. It’s entirely normal. But that means that when they finally admit that they need help, they need that help badly.
And that is where JFCS comes in.
It’s expensive to do that work. Social workers cannot live on air and kisses. They need to be paid. So do administrators, and so do the people who provide the infrastructure that is if anything even less sexy than the social work.
At the JFCS dinner, we heard the story of an elderly woman who had lived through the Holocaust, survived the camps, came here, raised a family, and eventually was widowed. She was doing fine until the attacks in Pittsburgh, when the fear that she’d had to push through as a young woman was reawakened. As a result of the monster who murdered 11 Jews at prayer, this woman, who has survived so much horror, might have to end her life reliving that horror.
But luckily she had a relationship with JFCS, which is able to provide therapy, we were told.
Therapy isn’t magic. It can’t make the truth of her adolescent experiences go away. It can’t remove the truth of what happened in Pittsburgh, or that hatred exists. It can make the world safer, but it can’t make the world safe.
But making the world safer is an extraordinarily good thing to do. And the JFCS does that.
We urge you to support the Jewish Children and Family Services of Northern New Jersey.