Jacqueline Bodin has been dedicated to Mercer County children for decades. Since her arrival at Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor in 1965, Bodin has been a religious school teacher and a founder of the Hebrew High School. In the 1990s she started volunteering at the Better Beginnings Child Development Center in Hightstown, a preschool that provides high-quality, affordable early learning and childcare services to children from low-income working families.
“She represents the Jewish person who is able to support her own community but has the vision and commitment to the wider community,” wrote Linda Meisel, recently retired director of the Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Greater Mercer County (JFCS), in an email to NJJN. Bodin has volunteered with JFCS over the years, including planning programs for the senior café that meets monthly at Beth El.
Bodin will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award at Better Beginnings’ annual Mayor’s “Shining Star” Gala on Saturday, May 20. She was nominated for the award by Rabbi Jay Kornsgold of Beth El Synagogue.
Suggesting that “lifetime achievement” is a function of how much difference a person can make in the lives of others, Kornsgold told NJJN that Bodin impacts many lives but without expecting any recognition. “She does it because she has a good heart,” he said. “She wants to make a difference and inspires many people to want to make a difference.”
Bodin, who grew up in a kosher home in Chicago and attended religious school at Emanuel Congregation, a Reform synagogue, talked about an associate rabbi who at the end of each school year asked his students to vote on where to contribute the school’s tzedakah money. The rabbi, Bodin said, recognized the students “as being young people with minds of our own, opinions of our own, and desires to do things.”
The rabbi’s approach to young people followed Bodin to Beth El in New Jersey. Although she started teaching third graders, she quickly moved to middle school. “I like teaching older kids. They don’t take what you say verbatim; they are always going to challenge you,” she said. Along those lines, she dares her students to prove her wrong if they say, “I don’t believe that” or “That’s wrong.”
“They are at an important part of their lives where they are changing from being non-responsible to the point where they have to start thinking about who they are, what they are doing, and what they think,” she said. “I insisted that kids think about what they say and face the responsibility of proving what they are saying and have the pleasure of someone listening to them seriously.
Kornsgold noted Bodin’s creativity in figuring out “ways to really get the kids involved.” One example was having students create living scenes to express the content of readings during the Yom HaShoah programs that she has worked on for the last three years. Emphasizing that Jews must remember their past, Bodin expressed strong disagreement with parents who “think their children will be damaged if they hear bad things…. I think it makes them better people to know how their own forebears fought to exist.”
Her lifelong interest in education, as well as her husband’s good example (he was an early board member), drew her to Better Beginnings, which was founded in 1967 by Betty Witherspoon because she couldn’t afford to send her own children to nursery school.
At first Bodin helped out the school wherever she could, then she joined the board, focusing on educational issues, community support, and grant-writing.
Talking about the young students at Better Beginnings as “these little bouncy things [who] come by with big smiles; it is the thing that warms your heart,” she is most proud of what they gain at the child development center. “They walk out with a love of education,” Bodin said. “They want to learn, want to do things, want to be something. It is a good feeling to know their formative educations are good.”
Referencing the iconic Jewish National Fund tzedakah boxes, Bodin said she was brought up with “a blue box in the house, and when I remembered I put something in from my allowance.” She has spent her life engaged in her community, particularly in activities that involve kids. After she moved to Northern Virginia with her husband Jerome — a pharmaceutical, analytical, and physical chemist — she volunteered to organize programming in her Hadassah chapter and later for the region to raise funds for youth aliyah and rescue programs to aid young people from damaged homes.
The family moved to New Jersey in 1965 and joined Beth El, where Bodin’s volunteerism ranged from twice heading the sisterhood to holding “every board position except for membership and fundraising.”
Bodin also loves the arts, including theatre, opera, and, she adds, heavy metal music. “That’s my basic love,” she said. “I just got tickets for Metallica.”
Judaism, however, has been the backdrop of Bodin’s life. “It is something you woke up with in the morning and went to sleep with at night, shul, tzedakah. It taught me to be a mensch.”
For more information about the “Shining Star” gala, contact Luz Horta, Better Beginnings executive director, at 609-448-6226, or firstname.lastname@example.org.