The Passover saga we read in our Haggadah is both historic and eternal. Through symbols and stories, we recount our ancestors’ Exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom in the land of Israel. Yet, we are admonished that this exodus is incomplete until every Jewish man, woman and child is liberated from the bonds of poverty, homelessness, hunger and despair.
JEVS Human Services takes this message to heart. Through its myriad of programs, people of all ages are helped to develop job skills and secure meaningful employment; overcome addictions; access public assistance and economic support; live full and independent lives despite developmental, intellectual or physical disabilities and so much more.
Sixty JEVS clients participated in the agency’s eighth annual Women’s Seder held on March 12 in the Jewish Community Services Building. A capacity crowd of 150 women filled the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia’s board room — made all the more festive by the floral centerpieces, fine linens and china and the traditional holiday meal prepared by Betty the Caterer.
Why is this seder different from other Passover celebrations? JEVS Women’s Seder Chair Nancy Astor Fox maintains that “the Passover story is a metaphor for the struggle that many women confront today,” adding that “our seder connects the message of Passover to a theme that is relevant: One can be free to define her own goals, achieve her own dreams, and find a path toward self-sufficiency.”
Marjorie and Karen are two of the many female clients who have benefited from the one-on-one consulting, workshops, assessments and job search and placement assistance offered by JEVS Career Strategies. Their stories are real, but their last names have been omitted to protect their privacy.
These last couple of years have been challenging for Marjorie, who is striving to make a new life for herself and her young son after separating from her husband. “In just a few short months, I went from living in a comfortable suburban home supported by a combined six figure income, to qualifying for food stamps,” she says, expressing deep gratitude to several agencies in the Jewish community for helping her begin to turn her life around.
Marjorie reached out to Rabbi Andrea Merow of Beth Sholom Congregation, who encouraged her to speak with the counseling staff of Jewish Family and Children’s Service. They, in turn, referred her to JEVS Career Strategies, where she received help in revising her resume, researching job opportunities and engaging in mock interviews to help ensure career success.
“Samara Fritzsche, my career counselor, has helped me in so many ways above and beyond securing employment,” she says, explaining that, “thanks to Samara and her colleagues, I received a grant to help me with housing expenses and another to offset the costs of child care.”
The Midwest native is far from family and friends, but feels at home here in the Philadelphia Jewish community thanks to the outpouring of support she has received from JEVS and other communal organizations.
She is confident that she will be able to pursue her passion in life — “being a good mom to her son” — by securing employment that brings her satisfaction and provides her with the means to sustain her family.
Karen has been a single parent to her two young adult sons since they were 3 and 6 respectively. Like Marjorie, she would like her legacy to be “ that I was a good person and a great mom.”
Highly educated and business-savvy, Karen has been employed at Fortune 500 companies since she was in her early 20s. Yet, due to the downturn in the economy, she has held five jobs in the last five years.
She feels confident that she will be back at work soon, thanks largely to the guidance and support she and her sons have received from JEVS and other Jewish community organizations. “When you are a single parent, there is no time to be a victim. You must move forward,” she maintains.
Karen first learned about the wide range of services offered by JEVS through the rabbi at her synagogue. “He knew about my older son’s struggles with Asperger’s Syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder, and thought that the agency might be able to help him.
“He also encouraged me to investigate the Lasko College Prep Program for my younger son — a life-transforming program that is funded by JEVS,” she explains.
Karen relates that the rabbi was right on both counts. JEVS helped her older son secure scholarship assistance to a Pennsylvania state college where he is now a junior, studying psychology. He hopes ultimately to work with children with social challenges such as Asperger’s Syndrome and Attention Deficit Disorder.
JEVS also connected him with the Franklin C. Ash Summer Internship program that will expose him to career exploration workshops and hands-on professional work experiences with Jewish nonprofit organizations.
Karen says that her older son plans to work with the Judith Creed Homes for Adult Independence (JCHAI) this summer as an Ash intern. JCHAI is a nonprofit organization that provides support to Philadelphia area adults with special needs.
Karen credits the Lasko College Prep Program with “making a mensch out of my younger son.” She explains that the program staff “brought Jewish issues front and center for him, deepening his personal involvement in the Jewish community.”
She extends high praise to his mentor, Matan, who also helped him to secure an internship at the Anti-Defamation League.
“Now he listens to CNN, instead of playing video games,” she marvels. Matan also worked one on one with Karen’s son, helping him to significantly boost his college preparatory exam test scores and qualify for scholarship assistance to help with college costs.
Karen has agreed to share her story in the hope that members of the Jewish community who are facing challenges will “move beyond the stigma and reach out for help.” She views asking for financial, emotional and/or spiritual assistance as
“a sign of strength, not weakness.”
She emphasizes that “weakness is continuing down the same path and expecting different results” and encourages all who are in need to embrace the many resources that are available to them.
For more information about JEVS Human Services, call 215-854-1874 or visit: www.jevshumanservices.org .