With Chanukah less than a week away, CJP caught up with Harvey Lowell, President and CEO of Jewish Big Brothers Big Sisters, about the organizations’ joint holiday toy drive, Project Dreidel.
Read on to learn more about this program and to discover what Harvey believes is the “single biggest challenge” in the Jewish community.
Is there a belief that most Jewish families don’t need assistance?
Our single biggest challenge is that we, as a community, are not aware of how many of us are in strained circumstances, where incomes are low, needs are great, and connections to Jewish institutions are tenuous at best. It is assumed in the Jewish community that everybody except poor, older people have sufficient incomes, nice places to live, food and connections to Jewish institutions. In truth, almost two-thirds of the families JBBBS helps are not connected to synagogues, in part because they can’t afford it and in part because they’re too ashamed of their situations. Even the rabbis I’ve talked to don’t realize the kids JBBBS is helping are Jewish. JBBBS works with hundreds of young families whose situations are exacerbated by not just poverty but health concerns and disability concerns, and their kids can’t thrive in the way that they should.
How do you go about changing that view?
And the answer is: it’s a tough slog. And by that I mean you have to keep going to synagogues, to any place where Jewish families or children might go to say, “This will benefit you. This will help people you know.” The Jewish day schools know people who can benefit from our services; the socially-isolated kid, the kids on scholarship, whoever it might be. We’re also improving social media capabilities in order to educate our community that this problem exists.