How Aaron Martin Gives Back with Jewish Volunteer Connection

Monday, April 16, 2018

April 23-27 is National Volunteer Week, and we have a host of volunteers to celebrate! Meet Aaron, a member of Jewish Volunteer Connection’s board who conquered the Casserole Challenge and strongly values tzedakah in his everyday life.

You’re on the JVC board. Why did you decide to join? I became active in JVC through [a] VolunTeam [volunteer groups with flexible scheduling for projects]. I saw how JVC successfully engaged with the community’s existing desire to volunteer and help others … I am also very drawn to how JVC fosters Jewish community as it brings people together – across the spectrum of Judaism – with a common goal to do good.

How would you describe the impact that JVC makes in our community? On the recipient side, JVC’s impact is almost immeasurable. JVC is truly involved in hundreds of direct and indirect service projects every year that impact individuals from all over Greater Baltimore.

Yet, the impact on volunteers is greater than the thousands of acts of kindness they generate. JVC fosters a community culture of giving that is a Jewish value held in high esteem. JVC is also an outlet and tool for parents who value giving to teach and show their children the value hands on. Giving monetarily is great, but not an easy thing to involve children in a way that they learn it.

Tell me about an experience you’ve had volunteering with JVC that has moved you.About 2 months ago in a meeting with the JVC leadership, I remarked that I wish I could get my son’s school involved in JVC. I thought that, if my son sees his Rebbe engaged in giving, it will have a strong impact on him. Karen Singer, chair of the board, challenged me to listen to the passion in my voice and go for it despite any uncertainty that I had. I’m so happy she did! Right before Pesach, the Kosher Meals on Wheels program included almost 100 grape juice bottles and cards drawn and personalized by the school’s first graders in its deliveries. [The program] generated a lot of discussion about who the recipients are, which is such an important part of being a giver – being able to see who are the people out there and their needs.

I hear you participated in JVC’s recent Casserole Challenge. How was that? When I first heard of the Casserole Challenge, I thought it was not for me; however, I signed up to collect casseroles for an hour, thinking, sure, I can spare that hour. As the collection date came closer, I started to feel funny that I would be showing up empty-handed. I had this moment of, Oh, a lasagna is a casserole. I can do that! I proceeded to make two cheese lasagnas to bring with me. I shared my epiphany moment at the next board meeting and now I’ve jokingly become the lasagna man. It’s great how just being involved with JVC allows me to continually challenge myself to go out of my comfort zone.

Why do you choose to give back? I can’t say I’ve ever made the decision to give back – it’s something I always assumed. In Yeshiva, I learned the value and obligation of tzedakah and had strong role models around me who meticulously gave ten percent of their earnings to charity. Growing up, I watched my mother, who was a teacher, have neighbors’ kids over who needed help with homework. She also would spend hours and hours on the phone before each summer as the volunteer administrator of a local camp scholarship fund. A few years ago, I made the decision that giving money was not enough and to focus on more active giving. I believe we are obligated to give because there are needs to be met but also because, through giving, we grow spiritually. For me, volunteering is a more potent growth tool and I’m fortunate to be able to do both.

Finding a Chance to Live with Purpose

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

By Melissa Rosenblatt

As you are reading this, you are probably also thinking about the millions of things that you need to do. You are tired and stressed out and may feel like you just don’t have time to do a project. Yet, here are some reasons why it is so important and meaningful. It really doesn’t take a long time to complete, but has a ton of impact on the community and your family.

In December, my family lost our Uncle David suddenly. My daughters, ages 5, 6 and 7, had to deal with this type of loss for the very first time.

Uncle David was like an extra grandfather to them. My husband and I decided to focus on our fond memories of him with our daughters.

David Rosenblatt was more than just a beloved uncle. He was a retired surgeon who volunteered throughout his community. He not only fixed countless objects around his synagogue, he also built things for the congregation. He created carnival games that he lent out to countless schools to use for absolutely no cost. He built sets for local theatre programs. He was the type of person that was always there to help, no matter what.

In order to honor this special person, we knew we had to do something that he would have done if he were still here. I contacted the Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) for some ideas and of course they had plenty!

What could be better than to have the opportunity every month to honor our uncle? JVC’s Live with a Purpose program is more than just a one-time thing. It is a way to teach our children that it is always the right time to help. It is a way to teach our children that we are very fortunate and we have an obligation to help others who are going through a rough time.

That is why the Live with a Purpose program is so meaningful. It is ongoing, because life is ongoing. Our family wants to honor those who we have lost while making sure that we fulfill our obligation to help others.

For the January project, we made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for the Weinberg Housing and Resource Center, a low barrier emergency shelter that provides homeless services to over 275 adult men and women each night in the City of Baltimore.

It was something that was easy for us to do on a Sunday afternoon together. My daughters were very happy to not only make the sandwiches but they also got to decorate the paper bags. As a mother, it was inspiring to watch them work so intently on this project.

I am always telling my daughters to appreciate all that they have, because other people do not have toys, games, a house or even enough food to eat. This was a very concrete example of what I am always telling them. It was such an amazing opportunity and we look forward to many more monthly projects.

Meet Dr. Joanne Block Rief

Posted: September 9, 2016

Joanne Block

Practices: General and Cosmetic Dentistry. Originally from: Annapolis. Moved to Baltimore:to attend Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, University of Maryland. Mother of: Erika, 25, and Austin, 22. Lives in: Owings Mills with her husband, Marshall. Participated in: Chapter Two, a 10-month, high-level engagement program for women.

What surprised you about Jewish Baltimore? When our Chapter Two group visited CHANA I was so surprised at the magnitude of domestic violence in the Jewish community. I had no idea beforehand how much we needed a place to help abused women move on and heal.

So now you are involved in a volunteer project, through The Associated’s Jewish Volunteer Connection (JVC) that incorporates your professional skills. Yes. I was inspired to do something else from Chapter Two and really wanted to incorporate my professional skills in a project that helped the community. Erica Bloom (from JVC) matched me with Sarah’s Hope, which has locations at Hannah Moore in Reisterstown and downtown. My staff and I split the two locations and we talked about dental hygiene, tooth decay and healthy snacks. It’s really important for children to have good oral health for long-term health benefits.

You mentioned enjoying the Jewish Museum. I understand your family has history preserved there. I loved the Jewish Museum and learning about how to research family history. In fact, when my daughter interned at the Jewish Museum, she saw scissors in their collection from my grandfather who was a custom tailor in Baltimore. She also saw a cash register from my relative’s jewelry store in Bel Air. It’s amazing – the history of Baltimore that is preserved there.

Was Chapter Two your first Associated experience? Actually, my kids have been involved in a number of Associated programs for a while. Both did Maccabi. My daughter went to Odessa when she was a teen – it’s amazing how much I understand Odessa has changed. When she went it was really grassroots work in the Jewish community there. From what I hear now, Odessa has a thriving Jewish community.

Anything else? Yes, she went on Birthright and is involved in Moishe House. My son did Teen Giving Initiative and Onward Israel, where he held an internship at Tel Aviv University.

Have you been to Israel? Twice. I remember the first time I saw Independence Hall in Tel Aviv. Watching them sign (for the hearing impaired) Hatikvah and learning how Israel became a state. I couldn’t hold back the tears.

What else did you enjoy in Israel? We went to the underground bullet factory which was interesting. And I loved everyone we met. The Israelis are such great people. And who can forget the food. The hummus and pita. And the fresh fish!

On another note, we’re almost at the High Holidays. I love the High Holidays, walking to synagogue from where we park the car. You see people in synagogue you haven’t seen in a while. We see families who have sat next to us for years. I love watching the kids grow up – one moment they are two and now they’re in college. And I love to cook for the holidays!

What do you cook? I make great matzoh balls. And I make baked gefilte fish in loaves. It’s a family tradition from my husband’s family. It’s served cold over lettuce with cucumber and a cherry tomato, stuck with a toothpick, on top. My daughter loves helping me make it.

GFS Celebrates Festival of Sukkot with Campus Sukkah Build

Posted: September 25, 2015

As part of the celebration of the Jewish Festival of Sukkot, students and faculty at Garrison Forest School built a sukkah, a temporary hut constructed for use during the week-long festival, outside of Alumnae Hall on Thursday.

The Jewish Student Alliance (JSA) of GFS sponsored the sukkah build to help bring awareness of the holiday celebrated by Jewish people worldwide to both the GFS community and other area schools. The JSA also gave presentations about the Festival of Sukkot to Lower, Middle and Upper School students.

The Jewish Volunteer Connection, the volunteer branch of the Associated Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, provided the materials for the sukkah and led the students and faculty in building it. The on-campus sukkah replicates traditional sukkahs which are often topped with branches and decorated with autumnal, harvest or Judaic themes. All students and faculty were invited to help build the sukkah, and are welcome to eat meals inside of it while it is standing for the next two weeks.

GFS will also host dessert in the sukkah for students from GFS and area independent schools on Monday, September 28 from 7 p.m. – 8 p.m. All Baltimore independent school students are invited. Please register here.