Joanne Palmer
Joanne Palmer

There’s a new agency in town

It can be really hard to ask for help.

That’s not always true, of course. If what you need is easy — someone to pick up the other end of a bag you’re carrying or a sheet you’re folding, if you need directions or something off a high shelf or advice on cooking, say — it’s not so bad. You just ask.

But if you need something harder, and you are in a position of vulnerability, everything changes. To have to ask for grief counseling, or maybe for help overcoming substance abuse, means admitting to yourself that you can’t do it on your own. To have to ask for food could seem like a huge admission of failure.

Of course, none of these needs are the result of weakness or failure. They just can feel as if they are. That’s because when you lack the basics, or when you feel that you don’t have what everyone else has, you feel vulnerable. Wounded. Needy.

Jewish Family Service organizations exist to help people with those and other needs, in fact a whole range of other needs. They provide both individual counseling and support groups that work with all sorts of issues, and they don’t charge people who can’t pay. They offer services to Holocaust survivors, victims of domestic abuse, overstressed caregivers, and job seekers, as well as for the emotionally fragile.

And you don’t have to be Jewish to get help from the Jewish Family Service. All you have to do is ask for it.

Until now, though, local Jewish Family Service agencies seem to have been organized according to the New Jersey municipality model. Each town is its own principality, with a moat separating it from the next one over. Nothing can be shared. Fort Lee, Teaneck, Woodcliff Lake, Wayne — each is its own entirely independent entity. JFS has done the same thing.

But that really doesn’t make sense. The Jewish Family Service of North Jersey and the Jewish Family Service of Bergen and North Hudson have similar but not at all identical lists of resources and programs; what people need isn’t necessarily what the JFS into the catchment area they fall does best. There is a historical reason for the two agencies’ separate development; they each used to be a beneficiary of a different Jewish federation. But now, 13 years after the federation headquartered in Wayne and the one from Paramus came together to form a new entity, the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey, it’s time for the JFSs to do the same thing.

We welcome the creation of the new Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey. We know that it will be fueled by the collective brains, resources, and passion of lay and professional leaders from all over the region. We know that the same level of funding — a level to which the federation has committed itself to maintain for at least five years — will allow the new JFCS to expand and offer ever-more-excellent services. We know that the entire area will be better for it.

We also know that those people who need JFCS’s services — and remember, that could be any of us, at any time, because life plays tricks on each one of us — will be well served. They will be able to leave JFCS enriched, glad to have asked for help.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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