JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2012

ShabbatOn Friday evenings Jewish families around the world gather for Shabbat dinner. Tables are set with white tablecloths and good dishes. Candles are lit and dinner begins with Kiddush, a prayer over wine; a song; and Motzi, a blessing recited over two loaves of challah. It's a festive time when families can transition from their hectic lives to a more relaxed and spiritual place.

In honor of its Jewish traditions, JF&CS makes it possible for people with disabilities to enjoy this special meal and is looking for volunteers to help. The agency hosts two Shabbat dinners – a large community meal held at its Waltham Headquarters once a month and small, intimate gatherings at one of the seven JF&CS residential programs on the other Friday nights. The dinners are an important way for program consumers – adults living in a JF&CS residence or receiving staff support from JF&CS – to spend time together and enjoy this time honored tradition.

"Ritual has an important place in all our lives. Like having a cake with candles on your birthday or going to a parade on the 4th of July. Shabbat dinner is a place to tell your story and explore your traditions," said Sandy Slavet, Director of Jewish Life – Services for People with Disabilities.

CHAI (Community Housing for Adult Independence) is the only Jewish residential program in Greater Boston for adults with disabilities. "The parents who started CHAI wanted to have a place where their adult children could continue their Jewish identity. Each house is a Jewish home," said Sandy.

Jackie Weinstein, President of the JF&CS Board of Directors and the Chair of the Disabilities Advisory Committee, has volunteered at various disabilities-related events for several years.

"There is no replacement for directly volunteering if one wants to understand and appreciate the remarkable work of the JF&CS staff. When one is involved in a Shabbat dinner like this you realize how important and meaningful it is for our residents – whether or not they are Jewish – to feel that they are part of a community. The time commitment is quite minimal but the experience is extremely moving and gratifying," said Jackie.

Sandy Slavet brings "Shabbat-in-a-Box" – a tablecloth, flowers, challah, and grape juice – to one of the residential programs each Friday. Together she and two or three other diners welcome Shabbat together with candle lighting, singing, Kiddush, and Motzi. Often the houses don't have enough matching dishes or tableware to set the table properly, especially if they invite guests, which is encouraged. Sandy uses nice paper plates, Kiddush cups, and disposable utensils so the table looks pretty and it feels special "like a Shabbat table should feel." There is a sense that this is a holy, special time, separate from the rest of the week.

"It's very fulfilling for me because I can share Shabbat dinner with people who care so much about it. Now that my kids are grown I miss the hubbub of a big family Shabbat dinner. This is a way to recapture that," Sandy said.

At the monthly program-wide Shabbat dinner in Waltham, fifty people with disabilities, their caregivers, volunteers, and JF&CS staff gather to celebrate. Volunteers help set up the room, decorate the tables, plate and serve the kosher, catered food, and clean up. During the meal Sandy asks someone at each table to share good news, which she then shares with all the attendees.

Donna Magnasco, JF&CS Director of Human Resources, and her husband Sidney Davis have volunteered at the community-wide dinner.

"I like to help serve at Shabbat dinners because I am able to wait on staff who do the direct care for our clients. They do work that I couldn't do and I value it so much. The direct care providers are my heroes," said Donna. "I also feel a fondness for a lot of our clients that I have come to know over the years. I enjoy listening to their sharing time before dinner and love to see them come together as a group and celebrate the ‘breaking of bread,'" she added.

You're invited!
To find out how you can help at our next CHAI Shabbat Dinner or to make a donation to Shabbat-in-a-Box, please contact Sandy Slavet, Director of Jewish Life - Services for People with Disabilities, at sslavet@jfcsboston.org or 781-647–JFCS (5327) x5004.