Community Update 5: Behind Closed Doors, Jews are Suffering in HoCo

From the Desk of Ralph Grunewald, Executive Director

Howard County is a great place to live. But there are too many Jewish residents living behind closed doors who need our help. Here are just a few such examples that recently came to my attention:

  • An elderly man whose apartment is condemned, has no place to live, and has had no running water for more than a year
  • A woman whose $16.00 in monthly food stamps runs out within the first week of the month
  • A man who has not had a hot shower in months and is infested with fleas
  • A frail woman who slipped and fell, and lay on the floor for hours until a neighbor heard her yelling for help
  • Several men and women whose spouses passed away recently, whose children live far away or rarely visit, and have no one to grieve with
  • An elderly man, originally from Russia, who can't figure out how to fill out needed insurance and other paperwork
  •  A middle-aged mom in Howard County General Hospital who didn't belong to a synagogue but reached out for Jewish pastoral counseling prior to life-threatening surgery
  • A family whose elderly relative was in hospice care and wanted comforting words from a rabbi during the last days of life
  • A woman who has no money to buy toilet paper 
  • Another woman who has no money to buy new shoes 
  • A couple who haven’t washed their laundry in months
  • A Holocaust survivor who wants company during the day
  • A couple who have no way to get to the pharmacy to pick up necessary medicine
  • A woman who needs someone to install a coat rack and fix a leaky faucet

This is happening now – right here in our affluent community. These people are all Jewish, victims of mental health issues, severe economic circumstances, or both.
These recent vignettes, and so many more, are reported by the three compassionate professionals who comprise the Jewish Federation’s social service delivery system: Michalah Hoffman, our Jewish Community Social Worker; Rabbi Amy Scheinerman, our Hospice Rabbi; and Rabbi Hillel Baron, our Jewish Community Chaplain. We are very fortunate to have these three dedicated professionals serve in their critical roles. Their salaries are funded through your contribution to the Federation’s Annual Campaign, for which we and those in need are deeply grateful.

Yet, we are also finding that there is much more that is needed than the direct services these three professionals are able to provide in their part-time roles. While the Federation-supported Jewish Emergency Network (JEN) provides cash assistance up to $750 for acute emergency needs, our professionals report that, too often, their clients need more than JEN funds to help pay water and utility bills, or rent, as is often the case.

These Jewish residents have other kinds of needs: They need food, they need sweaters for the winter, they need space heaters, they need rubberized mats, they need to winterize their homes, they need batteries for their fire alarms, they need working flashlights, they need leaky faucets fixed, they need curtains hung, they need a shower, they need toilet paper, they need to wash their dirty laundry, they need to pick up their medications from the pharmacy, they need grief counseling, they need to fill out insurance claim forms, they need help figuring out how to use a computer to access information and services online—they just need so much more.

While there are many robust social services in the county, too many of our needy residents do not have the skills to navigate the system or simply cannot afford those services. This is happening now – right here in Howard County.

It is simply unconscionable that Jewish residents who live among us are hurting and suffering.

The fundamental teaching of our rabbis, that kol yisrael arevim zeh b’zeh – that all Jewish people are responsible one for another – is how our people have survived through the millennia. If there are Jews suffering anywhere, here in Howard County or elsewhere, it’s our duty and obligation to help them.

I am happy to report that the Jewish Federation of Howard County is stepping up to the plate for those who need goods and services. In early 2019, we will roll-out “TOV: Tikkun Olam Volunteers,” a program funded and administered by the Federation. Under the supervision of Michalah Hoffman, we will match volunteers with the goods and services that Jewish residents need. A number of volunteers have already stepped forward and we will need volunteers to implement this program that is true to its name: tikkun olam, to repair the world.

The need is great and we have the solution – but we need your time, talent, and treasure. Please watch your inbox in 2019 for more information about volunteering for this program.

But we also need your financial support to implement and maintain our new program. Please donate to our Annual Campaign today by clicking here. As you consider your charitable donations for 2018, please remember there are Jews suffering in our county behind closed doors. They are there, but not seen, and are struggling every day.

If you’ve not had a chance to see what a day-in-the-life of our Jewish Community Social Worker looks like, please click here. I also hope you’ll also view this new video of Rabbi Hillel Baron, our Jewish Community Chaplain, at work with elderly Jewish residents this Chanukah.

We are fortunate to be able to help Jews in need living here in Howard County. Please do so today.