3.1.13 Issue

by Ozzie Nogg

The Four Questions are a familiar part of the Passover narrative. In this, and upcoming editions of the Jewish Press, we’ll reframe the questions asked at our seder tables to reflect current issues in our community — specifically those relating to Jewish Family Service — as well as our responses to those questions. During this season that celebrates freedom, we’ll speak of JFS and describe the ways it helps clients break with a negative past and gain the freedom to create a new reality in their lives. We’ll also explore the need to show Compassion, Caring, Connection and Commitment — the four pillars on which Jewish Family Service stands. And just as with the Haggadah, in the telling we will learn.

At the Seder, the wise son asks the first question: “What is the meaning of the testimonies, statutes and laws that God has commanded?” According to commentaries on the Haggadah, the wise son already knows the answer, but wants to learn more in order to fully understand what is expected of him. He is ready to listen and fully prepared to take appropriate action.

Now, let’s pretend the Wise Son represents all of us. And let’s reframe the question in terms closer to home. “Why does our community have a Jewish Family Service? What is its purpose, mission and goal?” Like the Wise Son in the Haggadah, let’s assume that all of us already know the answer. And that we, too, want to learn more in order to better understand our responsibility to this community and the actions we can take, if we choose.

Here’s the broad answer to the First Question: The mission of Jewish Family Service is to strengthen and preserve life in the Omaha Jewish community and the community at large. Guided by traditional Jewish values of communal responsibility and social justice, JFS is committed to enhancing each individual’s ability to thrive, free from negative influences. This goal is accomplished through programs such as these:

• Financial Assistance. JFS understands that those in financial distress are slaves to a cruel taskmaster. And so, the agency provides temporary aid to individuals and families who find themselves unable to meet their financial obligations. Today — with lost jobs, foreclosures, rising insurance and medication costs — more and more families are struggling to make ends meet. In all cases, Jewish Family Service aims to promote financial self-sufficiency and independence. Our professional staff provides dignified, effective solutions — all with confidentiality.

• Counseling. Some in our community are enslaved by circumstances that hold them back. At JFS, experienced therapists are available to those who are struggling with life’s challenges — divorce, drug use, gambling, stressful economic conditions. The people served by the agency are as diverse and varied as is our community. They represent all age groups and all walks of life. The JFS counseling staff offers a continuum of services to help clients work through their problems and enjoy a more fulfilling life.

• Yachad. The Hebrew word, yachad, means togetherness. The Yachad program offers those in our community with developmental disabilities a place to belong, and gives participants the freedom to break through boundaries. Yachad provides advocacy and referral services plus social, cultural and religious activities to all who choose to participate. Activities include strength training at the JCC, art programs, attendance at sporting events, the celebration of Jewish Holidays at local synagogues and other monthly get-togethers. Through their freedom to choose these enhanced life opportunities, Yachad members maintain or improve their independence and social skills, and become better equipped to reach their full potential.

According to a Midrash, God created just one man, Adam, and one woman, Eve, to remind us that we are all descended from the same ancestors and part of the same human family; so that no person can say to another, “I am better than you, for my ancestors are better than yours.” The Yachad  program reflects this philosophy.

• Parenting. Raising children today is often more challenging than it was in the less complicated past. Parents and kids can become slaves to over-programmed schedules, peer pressure, aggression, competing to win and show superiority over others, plus the constant barrage of information overload. To strengthen families, Jewish Family Service offers classes and consultation to help moms and dads establish healthy relationships with their kids and have fun parenting while, at the same time, teaching their children to be responsible for their actions.

And therein lies the answer to the question, “Why does our community have a Jewish Family Service?” To provide assistance to our neighbors in need so they will gain financial, emotional and psychological freedom. There’s a temptation to say dayenu — it would have been sufficient for us — after each program within JFS is mentioned. But compassionate, caring people know that in the doing of good deeds, there is never enough. We who feel a connection and commitment to this community remember our obligations to others and to Judaism. Among those obligations is a responsibility to learn all we can about our past, and not leave the future work to others.

In his book, The Kingdom of Memory, Elie Wiesel writes, “To be Jewish is to take up the burden of the past and include it in our concerns, our projects, and our obligations in the present. I love Passover because it remains for me a cry against insensitivity. For me, Passover is an ongoing commitment to others and to compassion.”

At our Seder tables, as we tell the story of our liberation from slavery to freedom, let us remember those in our community who remain burdened. As we say, “Let all who are hungry come and eat. Let all  who are in need, let them come celebrate Pesach,” let us remember the mission of Jewish Family Service. To learn how you can support the agency’s work by becoming a Friend of JFS, call 402.330.2024.