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March 28, 2014

Posted by Caitlin Bohara

Path in the woodsThe Family Circle Newsletter, created by JF&CS and funded by the HALO Foundation, provides a wealth of up-to-date information about services, benefits, support groups, workshops, and other resources that help families meet the challenges of raising a child with disabilities.

Whether you are looking for something educational or fun, the most recent issue of the Family Circle Newsletter offers families and their children with special needs the opportunity to explore wonderful events in Greater Boston. From campfires to workshops, there is something for everyone!

The Family Circle Newsletter includes the following information:

  • Special Needs Dance Program
  • Family Campfire Event
  • Perkins Annual Early Connections Conference
  • AAC Language and Conversations
  • Cotting Open Houses and Information Sessions
  • Resources

The organizations and websites are listed as a public service and are not endorsed, recommended, or validated by the H.A.L.O. Foundation or JF&CS.

To sign up for the newsletter or for more information, contact Caitlin Bohara at or 781-647-JFCS (5327).

Caitlin BoharaCaitlin Bohara has been in the field of developmental disabilities and mental health for five years. Before coming to JF&CS, Caitlin worked in Connecticut with young adults with mental illness in a residential setting, assisting them with daily living skills, employment, social activities, and individualized goals. Prior to working in Connecticut, Caitlin attended the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where she studied psychology. Currently she works for Services for People with Disabilities and Mental Illness as the Community Programs Manager, overseeing the Family Support program as well as some residential programs.

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March 27, 2014

Posted by the JF&CS Events Team

An Evening to InspireTuesday night’s JF&CS Journey to Safety fundraiser, An Evening to Inspire, was an enormous success! More than 150 friends of Journey to Safety (JTS) gathered together at the Arsenal Center for the Arts in Watertown for a moving and inspirational evening that included music, monologue, and spoken word performances by celebrated artists and performers. JTS raised more than $133,000 to continue to prevent domestic abuse in the Jewish community and help those who have been abused find a path to safety, regardless of their background or beliefs.

The evening was hosted by Diane Hessan, President and CEO of Communispace. Artistic director Kate Clarke brought the diverse group of performers together to create a cohesive and seamless presentation. This poignant and emotional evening reminded us that domestic abuse affects the entire community and that education and empowerment are vital to the prevention of domestic abuse.

Journey to Safety is extremely grateful for all who contributed to making this event a success – from the performers who volunteered their time and energy to the donors and audience members who made the evening such a success. A special thank you to the event committee for their help in making Tuesday night a memorable evening for all involved.

View a photo montage made possible by Allegro Photography.

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March 21, 2014

Posted by Deb Shrier

Shalom BabyParenting a newborn or young child runs the gamut of emotions and experiences: excitement, exhaustion, joy. This early time can also present new challenges such as being home full-time, perhaps without a network of family or friends to lend support or stop by for a visit. For men or women who are new to parenting, living in a new community or away from extended family can also be somewhat isolating.

Shalom Baby, a program offered in Central MA by JF&CS and available through a grant from the Jewish Federation of Central MA, has been developed to connect with new parents. Shalom Baby is offered to families with children from newborn to six months (through birth or adoption) with at least one Jewish parent. Our Coordinator welcomes families to the Jewish community with a home visit, gift package, and resource guides to local Jewish programs and events. The family does not have to be affiliated with a congregation to receive a Shalom Baby visit.

The work we do in our Center for Early Relationship Support® gives us a strong foundation for Shalom Baby. Our goal is to assist families who may not be fully aware of what the community has to offer Jewish or interfaith families. The Shalom Baby Coordinator brings useful gifts for parent and child - and sometimes even a little something for a new big brother or sister. We share a variety of information about Jewish resources in the area, such as synagogues that offer Tot Shabbat, family services, or other programming geared towards families with young children. 

The response from area synagogues has been quite positive. Most of the referrals received by the Shalom Baby program have been through rabbis of local synagogues and other area Jewish resources and groups such as the Jewish Federation of Central MA.

Know a new family in Central MA who would benefit from a visit?  Email us at or visit our website to register today.

Debra ShrierDeb Shrier, LICSW, is the Director of Community & Program Development of JF&CS Central MA. Deb enjoys writing and has contributed to various adoption publications as well as the JF&CS blog. She has lived and raised her family in Central MA for nearly 20 years.

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March 18, 2014

Posted by Noah Schectman

White Ribbon CampaignI had the privilege of growing up in a non-violent home. I have never experienced domestic violence first-hand. For those in the world who have been as lucky as I have, the horrors of domestic and dating violence that affect nearly one in four women in the United States can easily be underestimated and overlooked. Until recently, I had not seen myself as a potential advocate against domestic violence.

There are many issues that deserve our attention and support—homelessness, hunger, and education inequality, among others. There are two reasons I have not paid as much attention to domestic violence as I have to these other issues. The first and more superficial reason is that we are exposed on a daily basis in our communities and in the media to homelessness and hunger, whereas domestic violence happens behind closed doors. Although domestic violence is damaging and pervasive, because it happens outside our sightlines, it is easy to ignore. The second reason is that, unlike hunger, an experience I could imagine, I knew I could never fully understand a hurt as profound as domestic violence and what it would be like to walk in the shoes of a victim.

This disconnect between a victim’s experience and what I could imagine for myself drove me away from taking any action to address domestic violence in my community. However, this issue is too big for any one of us to distance ourselves from simply because we don’t experience it. I may not know how to counsel victims, but I can be knowledgeable about resources like Journey to Safety. I may not know how to stop violence in people’s homes, but I can listen unassumingly and non-judgmentally to family and friends who are in potentially dangerous situations. Individually we won’t be able to end the problem of domestic violence, but I hope you will all join me in doing the things we can do— like standing up to show support for victims on White Ribbon Day—to help those who need it most.

Noah SchectmanNoah joined JF&CS in 2011 as the Data Strategist for the newly formed Performance and Quality Management Department. Before then, he received his BA in economics from McGill University and worked for Partners In Health in Lima, Peru. Most recently, Noah has been raising the profile of JF&CS in the nonprofit evaluation community by consulting for other nonprofits around their ETO use and by giving the keynote address at the Boston ETO Users Conference in March of 2014.

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March 14, 2014

Posted by Marjie Sokoll

Joyous Holiday of PurimThis year I was invited to teach about the holiday of Purim and sing holiday songs together with participants of Café Hakalah, a monthly gathering for Holocaust survivors sponsored by JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services. Twenty elder Holocaust survivors braved the cold winter chill to gather with others who intuitively understand their experience in our Brookline VNA office. Even though the survivors come from different countries and speak many different languages including Hebrew, Russian, Yiddish, and Polish, in the room there seemed to be no language barriers as everyone effortlessly translated for one another.

When I spoke about the Purim story and the struggles of the Jewish people living in Persia facing annihilation by the wicked Haman more than 2,000 years ago, the survivors nodded their heads in understanding; they know that feeling of vulnerability.

After nearly an hour of singing and stories, I asked if anyone wished to share any last thoughts with the group. Murmurings began in the crowd; apparently there was a singer among us. After a bit of coaxing, Manya,* the woman in the picture, slowly approached the front of the room. She looked at me and in halting English said, “I play the guitar, too.” I promptly handed her mine. Another survivor came forward to join in song with her while another came forward to translate from Russian to English - which I then translated into Hebrew!

Manya shared that she wished to sing Eli, Eli (My God, My God). She explained that she chose this moving song as it was written by the poet, Hannah Senesh, a young paratrooper trained to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. Sadly, Hannah was captured and killed by the Nazis at the age of 23. She is considered a national hero in Israel, where many streets are named after her and her poetry is very popular.

We then listened in awe to the hauntingly beautiful words of the song: "Oh Lord, my God, I pray that these things never end: the sand and the sea, the rush of the waters, the crash of the heavens, the prayer of the heart. “As we celebrated the heroism of Hannah Senesh and a song filled with gratitude, we were reminded of the Purim story and the heroism of Queen Esther in saving the Jewish community of Persia. We were filled with gratitude.

After Manya finished singing, another survivor, Zalman,* asked if he might speak too. He spoke in Russian and Yiddish of his gratitude to Schechter Holocaust Services for organizing these gatherings and the joy he felt being with other survivors celebrating Purim. He added that the holiday is a time to be joyful.

Purim begins this year at sunset on Saturday, March 15. May it be, for you, one filled with gratitude and joy.

* Name changed to protect privacy.

Marjie SokollMarjorie U. Sokoll, MEd, is the founder and director of JF&CS Jewish Healing Connections (JHC), which began in 1998. JHC helps people feel a sense of connection when facing the challenges of illness, loss, or isolation by offering spiritual and communal supports to foster hope, comfort, and wholeness guided by Jewish tradition. “It is not good for people to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18). For more than five years, Marjie has also provided spiritual support for the JF&CS Parkinson’s Family Support Program. She received degrees from Boston University, Tel Aviv University School of Social Work, Northeastern University, holds a certificate of thanatology from the National Center for Death Education, is a partner at the Kalsman Institute for Judaism and Health, and integrates music into her work.

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March 12, 2014

Posted by Beth Soltzberg

Memory CafeIt’s hard to keep relationships strong when you or your spouse has dementia. Friends and family may stay away because they don’t know how to interact with someone who has a progressive neurological disease. For many people with dementia due to Alzheimer’s, vascular disease, Parkinson’s, frontotemporal degeneration, or another related condition, loneliness becomes the second affliction they must confront.

To help families living with dementia stay connected, JF&CS has joined nearly 100 other pioneering organizations around the country to launch its Memory Café, which opened on Friday, March 7.

The Café does not focus on the disease. Guests are welcome to talk about it or not. Rather, the Café is carefully structured to promote the comfort and involvement of guests at all levels of disease progression – and then the focus is on having fun and being together.

The JF&CS Café also helps people connect across generations. The Waltham Student Group at Brandeis collaborated in the Café’s development, and students will co-host the Café each month. On Friday, a continuous flow of conversation eclipsed the swing jazz playing in the background as guests shared their stories and life experiences with students. One of the guests remarked that it’s so refreshing to interact with young people. And the students? They emailed Café organizers that, “It was magical. Our volunteers left with the BIGGEST smiles on their faces.”

One guest, who attended with her husband who has Alzheimer’s, put words to the feeling of joy in the room. She said, “There is definitely a role for adult day health and other more formal programs. But my husband has so much life in him and those programs can be very passive. This, for us, is so much more invigorating and hopeful. This Café is really the best news I’ve had since he was diagnosed.”

The JF&CS Memory Café meets on the first Friday of the month from 10:00 a.m. to noon at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham. It is free of charge; donations are welcome. The next Café will be held on April 4. For more information, please contact Beth Soltzberg at or 781-693-5628.

JF&CS is grateful to The Lebovitz Family Charitable Trust for its generous support for the Alzheimer’s/Related Disorders Family Support Program.

Beth SoltzbergBeth Soltzberg, LCSW, MBA, coordinates Living with Chronic Illness, a program of Jewish Family & Children’s Service encompassing support, education, and the arts. Beth’s work includes facilitating caregiver support and education groups, and designing new offerings for families affected by Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. Beth earned her MSW and MBA from the University of Chicago and a certificate in end-of-life care from the Smith College School of Social Work. She holds an advanced credential in hospice and palliative care social work.

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March 7, 2014

Posted by Aaron Agulnek

White Ribbon CampaignOn March 6, I proudly took the Massachusetts White Ribbon Day pledge with my own little twist, that “From this day forward, I promise to be part of the solution in ending violence against women (and all victims of domestic and dating abuse).” I am grateful to work as the Director of Government Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council in Greater Boston (JCRC) and will use this platform and visibility to lift up my voice.
Many people instinctively feel that domestic violence is only a women’s issue: Women are the victims and women are the advocates. But it is more nuanced than that. This is everybody’s issue. We all have a stake in the safety and security of our community and we all have an obligation to be advocates.
There is also a sense of otherness that is associated with domestic violence. Only “those people” are impacted by domestic violence, not people like me, not people in my community, not my friends. This fiction surrounding the typical domestic violence victim, perpetrator, and scenario is a myth that needs to be busted.
Domestic violence does not discriminate. It is undeniable that women are overwhelmingly more likely to be the victim. In 2007, the rate for rape/sexual assault for persons age 12 or older was 1.8 per 1,000 for females and 0.1 per 1,000 for males. Victims come from all races, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexualities, socio-economic backgrounds, educational attainment levels, ages, and any other categorical metric. Nobody is immune.
Domestic and dating violence is not only about acts of physical violence. It can take the form of emotional, verbal, sexual, financial, or spiritual abuse and stems from the threat, exertion, or existence of a controlling relationship. The perpetrator will use his/her position of power to prey on any vulnerability, often resulting in an untenable situation for the victim. These vulnerabilities and the resultant fear are a clear rebuttal to the popular refrain, “Why didn’t she just leave?”
At the JCRC, we stand with our partners and advocate for increased funding for the RISE line-item. RISE funding supports advocates who work specifically with immigrant and refugee survivors of domestic and sexual violence in locations around Massachusetts. These RISE advocates, including JF&CS, provide linguistically and culturally appropriate services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, and human trafficking. The immigrant and refugee community face particularly heightened barriers, including exploitation of immigration status, lower levels of educational attainment, higher rates of poverty, and a lack of housing options were they to leave their abuser. This perfect storm of vulnerability can feel suffocating and impossible to overcome. For this community, like every community, it takes an incredibly strong support system for somebody to risk his/her safety, livelihood, and stability to speak out and seek help. It takes a village.

That is why I will speak up on White Ribbon Day. I will speak up so that my friends, neighbors, and colleagues know that my door is open and that I am an ally in their own personal journey. I will speak up so that my son knows that violence, threats, and intimidation in any form are unacceptable. If we all speak up, our collective voices can help create an atmosphere where shame and fear is banished and support and dignity conquer. All it takes is one person, for as it says in the Talmud, “Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” Join with me, speak up, and save the world.

Aaron AgulnekAaron Agulnek is the Director of Government Affairs at the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the Director of the Massachusetts Association of Jewish Federations (MAJF) where he advocates to the federal and state government on behalf of the Jewish community. Prior to joining JCRC, Aaron served as Legal Counsel to Senator Marian Walsh, where he worked on major issues such as marriage equality and child abuse prevention legislation. Aaron helped organize and lead HeadCount, a non-partisan voter registration organization focusing on concerts and music festivals across the country. He served as the New England Regional Director prior to becoming General Counsel. Aaron was selected in 2007 by the Boston Bar Association as a fellow in its Public Interest Leadership Program, designed to develop the next generation of leaders in the legal profession. He gives lectures on public policy, networking, and advocacy. Aaron currently serves on the Camp Avoda Alumni Association’s Board of Directors.

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February 28, 2014

Posted by Melissa Demir

Path in WoodsThe first time I accompanied a client who had Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (I/DD) to a counseling session I was 18 years old, working as a direct care staff. In our 15-minute session, the majority of questions were directed to me. As we exited that office I wondered: why weren’t the therapist’s questions directed towards the person receiving treatment? Why was the session so short? Did the client feel respected and listened to during the session?

A shift has taken place in the world of mental health for clients with I/DD. Treatment manuals and workbooks for clients with I/DD are published in greater frequency and I receive emails on a weekly basis about webinars regarding mental health services for clients with I/DD. Despite this, there continues to be a very small number of clinicians who provide individual therapy to clients with I/DD.

When a client with I/DD or their parent reaches out to me, we discuss the reasons for seeking treatment and the client’s methods of communication and information processing. For example: How does your son or daughter communicate – how does he or she verbally and non-verbally convey when an experience arises that causes discomfort, happiness, confusion, etc.? How does he or she best process information? What level of involvement by family, friends, and/or staff has been most effective in comprehensively meeting the needs of the client? I then consider how conversation and materials can be modified based on individual needs and abilities: whether it may be helpful to include pictorial representations, allow for writing or typing on assistance devices, and include technology such as audio-recorders to capture key points to be reviewed at home.

When Joel* transitioned out of high school and into a competitive job, his parents asked if treatment might be effective for his symptoms of depression and anxiety. Joel, who is 24-years-old, wished to feel better, which for him meant having fewer stomachaches due to worry and feeling more confident about his life post-high school. Together we came up with treatment interventions that included writing one story per session so Joel could reflect on previous experiences, integrate language about coping techniques, and plan for how he would like to handle future situations. Joel also wished to include meditation (for self-soothing) into his sessions; we first practiced the foundation of deep breathing, and worked towards Joel leading us both in a three-minute guided breathing practice. By taking on a directive role, Joel was able to feel comfortable practicing independently at home.
Through my experience at JF&CS, I have come to appreciate the depth, complexity, and sensitivity of the client-clinician relationship. Working with individuals with I/DD and their families has allowed me to truly understand what is meant by ‘participation.’ It is essential for a person with I/DD seeking treatment to choose his or her own treatment goals, develop meaningful means of monitoring those goals, feel comfortable and listened to via communicating with me, and be provided with tools to use in everyday life.

* Name changed to protect privacy.

Melissa DemirMelissa is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker providing counseling to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) at Jewish Family & Children’s Service Mental Health Clinic. Melissa also serves as the Interventionist for Project TEAM, a NIDRR-funded study run by Dr. Kramer at Boston University. In this role, she co-leads a self-advocacy group for teens and young adults with disabilities in accordance with research protocol. In 2013, Melissa completed a one-year LEND (Leadership and Education in Neuro-Developmental Disabilities) fellowship with Boston Children’s Hospital. Melissa also has former direct care and managerial experience supporting individuals who have I/DD.

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February 26, 2014

Posted by Becca Schoen

SoJust 2014On February 10, I had the opportunity to represent JF&CS at Brandeis University’s third annual SoJust Leadership Forum, the capstone event for their weeklong “festival of social justice.”

The forum brought together alums and employees from more than 45 local and national organizations with social justice missions. An eloquent panel of alums spoke about their experiences as undergraduates, their careers, and their passions for this field of work. As a table host I spoke with groups of students about JF&CS, the social justice field, and my experience. The other table hosts ranged from executive directors and recruitment directors to founders of organizations.

At first I wondered if the students would be interested in talking to me about my career as the Administrative Assistant for Basic Needs. Prior to coming to JF&CS, I worked as a case manager. I was on the front lines, working with children and families in crisis. I was able to see the impact that I was having on a day to day basis. What advice did I have to offer from my position at JF&CS? How was I helping the community in my role? In my work with Basic Needs, often “behind the scenes,” I support direct service and program staff. While I do not work directly with clients in the same way that I used to, my role is an important piece of the puzzle and contributes to the agency and its mission.

My suggestion to the students was to find an organization with a mission that they believe in and to get involved. I am grateful to be a member of the JF&CS community, supporting a mission that I strongly believe in.

Becca SchoenBecca joined JF&CS in the summer of 2012 as the Administrative Assistant for Basic Needs. She graduated from UMass Amherst with a degree in sociology and education and previously worked as a case manager in western Massachusetts. Outside of work, Becca volunteers as a Big Sister with Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters and enjoys crafting and the outdoors. She lives in the largest town in America, Framingham, with her fiancé.

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February 21, 2014

Posted by Bernice Behar

Family Table deliveriesOne of the most innovative developments at Family Table in the past year has been the growth of the Family Table “Marketplace.” The Marketplace offers clients the opportunity to pack their own groceries, choosing products as they wish. Our clients tell us how much they appreciate the opportunity to make their own choices of item, brand, and hechsher. Imagine this scene:
The sun is setting and Family Table Marketplace is winding down after a busy afternoon. As she does each month, Susan* arrives and begins working her way around the room. She works deliberately, examining each label and consulting on the phone before she adds each item to her bag. I approach her to inquire if there are special things that she is looking for. Susan explains that she’s shopping for her mother, who has diabetes, and that she must be very careful about her choices. Knowing that, we work together to find exactly what she wants. As she leaves with bags of fresh produce and a new recipe to try, Susan squeezes my hand and tells me how much it means to her and her mother that she can choose exactly what she needs.

At Family Table Marketplace, every family brings their own “story.” It is gratifying to know that with the Marketplace we have a new way to meet the unique needs of everyone who comes through our door. 

*Name changed to protect privacy.

bernice beharBernice Behar is the Program Manager for Family Table, the largest kosher food pantry serving Greater Boston and the North Shore. She joined JF&CS in 2010 having spent many years working in the financial industry as a chartered financial analyst and investment manager. Bernice brings to Family Table a passion for helping people access nutritious food and a dedication to working in the Jewish community. She is an active board member at her synagogue and holds a BA from the University of California Berkeley.

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