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Food for the soul
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Food for the soul

USY teens and Cantor Menachem Toren, third from right, make sandwiches for dinner guests to bring home. From left, Liora Finkel, Sara Schneiderman, Carly Goldsmith, Yuval Toren, and Max Weinstein.
USY teens and Cantor Menachem Toren, third from right, make sandwiches for dinner guests to bring home. From left, Liora Finkel, Sara Schneiderman, Carly Goldsmith, Yuval Toren, and Max Weinstein.

When you do good, you feel good. So was the case for 18 families of the Pine Brook Jewish Center (PBJC), members of the Homeless Outreach Committee, who provided a sit-down dinner to 20 previously homeless people, clients of the Mental Health Association (MHA) of Morris and Sussex Counties.

The motivation for members of the committee is simple: we who have so much have a responsibility to assist those who have so little. 

Our Feb. 28 dinner event was spearheaded by Mark Roffman, a volunteer with the mental health organization and former synagogue president. Roffman became aware of the fact that clients were being invited to several area churches for a hot meal and suggested to our committee that we do the same. We were all enthusiastic and shared our ideas about the event. 

Though a buffet dinner would have sufficed, Roffman was insistent that our guests be treated to a sit-down dinner and he and his wife, Ina, ordered the meal from Seasons kosher supermarket in Clifton. Members of the Homeless Outreach Committee covered the costs. The ShopRite of Parsippany donated a generous gift card, which was used to purchase salad ingredients, soda, and dessert. Many of us donated toiletry items for goody bags for our guests and several dentists donated sample-sized toothpaste, dental floss, and toothbrushes. 

Most exciting was that our USY teens became involved and came up with the idea that they would make deli sandwiches and distribute them as our guests left the building. “I enjoy doing this and making the people happy,” said Max Weinstein, who helped assemble the sandwiches. “It makes me feel great knowing we’re helping so many people.” The assembly line was directed by our cantor, Menachem Toren, and the young people had a ball. Sara Schneiderman commented, “Hopefully we’ll be able to do this again.” 

Because of my background as a career placement counselor, I was interested in learning about the employability of some of our guests and engaged in a conversation with one woman who told me that she had a degree in culinary arts and worked as a home health aide. She can only work part-time but derives great satisfaction from her work. Jonathan Cohen, PBJC president who sat at one of the tables, was also curious. He asked his group if any were working and though none were, many said that they would very much like to work. I was impressed with their interest in joining the workforce and hopeful that someday they’ll find employment. 

The most important outcome of the evening was the wonderful feedback heard from our guests and the 15 volunteers who set up, made the salad, greeted our visitors, and served the dinner. One of the MHA program coordinators, Tracy Klingener, quoted a client as saying “the nice folks at Pine Brook Jewish Center rolled out the red carpet for us.” She said people were so excited about the giant sandwiches they were given to take home. Someone told her that the gift bags were a classy touch from high-class people who provided a high-class function. “I felt like royalty,” another client said. One inquired about making arrangements for transportation so he could attend services.

Dale Greenfield, former PBJC president, said that the evening gave her a nice, warm feeling — “they were raving about how nice we were to them.” PBJC member Marlene Scheinthal stated, “I feel the satisfaction inside — we get more than we give.”

After our guests left, Roffman gathered our committee together to thank us. We were truly all on a natural high from the success of the evening, and he noted that one person can’t do this alone — it takes a village. It also takes a Mark Roffman. As Cohen told the group, “He is our moral compass.”

Synagogues interested in learning more about homeless outreach can contact Madine Despeine of the Mental Health Association of Morris County at 973-334-3496, ext. 111.

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