“The measure of a community is how it treats its most vulnerable: people who don’t have a voice or who have significant needs. If you treat them well, it’s a sign you’re living in a community of kindness. And if we don’t have that, what do we have?”
That’s Nancy Kriegel, the new executive director of Waltham’s Yad Chessed, which plays a crucial role in the Jewish community to alleviate poverty and provide ongoing support. Yad Chessed, which means “hand of loving kindness,” was founded in 1989 to help Jewish families and individuals in need. Their mission is to provide emergency financial assistance while working to preserve the dignity of each individual client. The money they provide for basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter and utilities, offers people security and allows them to get back on track.
Kriegel spent the last 12 years at Combined Jewish Philanthropies in senior roles overseeing efforts to strengthen area Jewish day schools. She was attracted to Yad Chessed because “the mission is so compelling,” she says.
“I developed awareness of wanting to have direct impact and make a difference right away, and this organization has the ability to do that. It is a very nimble organization that focuses on immediate responses to people who are struggling,” she tells JewishBoston.
The issue, she says, is that Jewish poverty often remains hidden. She hopes to raise the organization’s profile.
“People aren’t aware. They don’t realize, or it’s never come to their attention, or it doesn’t fit with the way we think about our community,” she says. “But the reality is there will always be Jewish poverty for different reasons and life circumstances.”
Others are afraid to come forward out of shame or a sense that they shouldn’t struggle. But in these fractured times, Kriegel says, there are plenty of people who rely on their social safety supports, from budget counseling to emergency financial assistance to supermarket gift cards.
They’ll spearhead an especially important effort during Purim, with a fundraising drive at synagogues throughout the Boston area. Yad Chessed partners with synagogues, minyanim, colleges and day schools across New England to collect and distribute matanot l’evyonim (gifts to the poor) to over 1,200 Jewish individuals in need.
Last year, Yad Chessed distributed $115,000 in grocery store gift cards on Purim. As with last year, 80% of donations will be distributed for Purim, and 20% will be allocated to a community emergency assistance fund to help Jewish individuals and families in need throughout the rest of the year. Donate at your synagogue or visit Yad Chessed online to contribute.
And remember to talk to your kids about the importance of contributing to the welfare of our community during Purim.
“I’d tell kids, ‘I’m glad I live in a community, a Jewish community, that worries about everyone and that values trying to make sure everyone has what they need. Especially when we enjoy good things ourselves, take a minute to appreciate what we have and then to give back,'” she says.
Yad Chessed is a critical partner in the Anti-Poverty Initiative, a collaboration between CJP and five Jewish social service organizations across Greater Boston to provide coordinated support and pathways to stability for members of the Jewish community in financial distress. If you’re in financial distress, we’re here to help. Call the CJP Warmline today at 1-800-CJP-9500.