NJJN is launching a new section called “Members of Our Tribe.” The content will feature profiles of community members doing interesting or notable work. Included in the mix of subject matter will be professionals in Jewish organizations as well as the back stories of familiar faces in our neighborhood, professional lives, or Jewish institutions.
Helen Jacobson has spent much of her life helping others.
The Randolph resident, a member of Hadassah and Reform synagogue Temple B’nai Or in Morristown, where she’s a former Social Action Committee chair, has aided people across the globe as a certified nurse-midwife.
Having served in Rwanda in 2010 with Jewish Helping Hands (JHH) and with the American Red Cross assisting victims of the 2018 Camp Fire wildfire, she decided to help the Jewish community with something she hasn’t done since 2001.
“Now that I have the time, and my children [daughters Holly and Jenny] are grown, I wanted to volunteer as a nurse for the European Maccabi Games,” Jacobson told NJJN in a telephone interview. The games, which will feature more than 2,000 Jewish athletes of all ages from 29 countries, will take place July 29-Aug. 7 in Budapest, Hungary.
Jacobson previously volunteered at the 2001 Maccabi Games in Jerusalem. “I’m really excited to be involved,” she said of the upcoming competition.
The draw of working again with the Maccabi Games and visiting Budapest were both strong, so Jacobson reached out to the Maccabi organization and was referred to the Team USA lead physician Dr. Marc Backal of Voorhees. She was screened and approved as the sole nurse, joining Backal and a second physician, plus four trainers, on the U.S. medical team.
She said that being the team nurse is a 24-hour job. “If there is an injury or other issue, [I] see if it is minor enough for [the trainers and I] to handle, or refer that athlete to a doctor … Say an athlete trips, or has an accident during the night, a nurse will evaluate that as well. One athlete [in Jerusalem] did fall down some steps at night.”
Jacobson’s career over the years included nurse-midwifery in hospitals — including Beth Israel Medical Center and Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, where she delivered babies and assisted in the early care of newborns. Other nursing jobs included two in Morristown, at the Regional Day School in Morristown and Planned Parenthood.
“I enjoy everything I do, whether with pediatrics or my work when the Red Cross calls me,” she said.
Jacobson said she will always remember her July 2010 experience in Rwanda, a nation still recovering from the Hutu and Tutsi conflict and genocide of 1994.
She participated in a mission to Kigali, Rwanda, led by JHH, a foundation created by Rabbi Joel Soffin, rabbi emeritus at Temple Shalom in Succasunna. The organization assists “vulnerable populations throughout the world,” she said. In Kigali she worked with genocide survivors associated with Rwanda’s Association of Genocide Widows, a group that receives financial support from JHH.
“My main task was to help them develop a women’s health curriculum for their school system,” she said. Much of the curriculum had to do with AIDS prevention and education.
Dedicated to social action, Jacobson volunteers when and where she’s needed.
Following the 2018 Camp Fire in California, Jacobson was a member of the Red Cross team that worked with Paradise, Calif., survivors who needed food, water, counseling, and other assistance after their town of 26,682 was destroyed by the wildfire.
“I set up and helped run some of the shelters and ran a medical unit to help the people,” she said. “They were left with really nothing.”
A native of Toledo, Ohio, Jacobson received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from The Ohio State University, a master’s from Hunter College, and her nurse-midwife certification from Georgetown University.
Her mother’s side of the family is from Budapest, and while in Hungary she plans on doing some Jewish-related sightseeing.
“I want to go to the old Dohány [Street Great] Synagogue and see some other spots that are important to the Jewish community in Budapest,” she said. “I want to enjoy all I can.”
To nominate a community member for a profile in NJJN, please send the person’s name and contact information, plus a brief description of why you believe the individual should be nominated, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Members of Our Tribe” in the subject line.