The Queens Jewish Community Council (QJCC) hosted their food pantry distribution on Sunday, September 18. I, alongside Yaakov Serle, joined staff, volunteers, and elected officials to ensure that needy Jewish families would have a joyous Rosh HaShanah. As we passed out parcels to clients, I was taken back by how many faces were familiar, representing our various Orthodox communities.
I am often asked how important the various food pantry distributions are to the Jewish community of Queens. Many times, passersby notice non-Jewish clientele and wonder of the necessity. As readers may be aware, for two years, I ran the Chazaq pantry, which assisted a wide range of clients, including a significant Jewish percentage. For a Jewish family to have an easier Yom Tov, it is all worth it.
When Benny Fishoff z”l passed on, I spoke to those he knew best. Rav Moshe Sokoloff, mara d’asra of Agudath Israel of KGH, offered Faith Amid The Flames, an autobiography of R’ Yossel Friedenson of Agudath Israel of America fame. On Rosh HaShanah I happened upon this book, and greatly understood the pains of food insecurity: “On Wednesday, Erev Rosh Hashanah, the foreboding feeling of war was everywhere. Food was scarce and Jewish mothers were worried about what they would serve families for Yom Tov.” Later, his son-in-law, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Golding, wrote in his name: “I will never forget Yom Kippur in the home of Reb Yosef Elia. Our final meal before the onset of the fast consisted of a little bit of rice that we found in a nearby, burnt-down building. This meager meal did not diminish the air of kedushah that permeated his home.” Reb Yossel related how in the Warsaw Ghetto, he witnessed his father pass on his own meager bread portion to other Jews to give them sustenance even as they themselves desperately needed to eat. As I scanned the shul, I saw the resurgence of the sheiras hapleitah amongst the membership. On the lines of our community’s food pantries there are often refugees from a war-torn USSR who never managed to make ends meet here in New York. We must embrace this community and give our all to ensure their tables are complete with nourishing meals.
A pantry’s success is based on the sweat and toil of staff and volunteers. In November 2021, the QJCC hired Rabbi Mayer Waxman as its Executive Director. Rabbi Waxman, of Jamaica Estates, has since brought his signature creativity, energy, and knowledge of social services programming into the agency. Together with his wife Estee and their son Barak, they led the way in organizing a beautiful distribution clad with holiday befitting holiday fixtures. The week prior, Rabbi Waxman had asked his son to inquire if any of his friends from SAR High School would participate in the volunteer efforts for the special Rosh HaShanah distribution. Barak gathered his friend Howie Shulkes (10th grade) and sister Vera (9th grade), also of Jamaica Estates, to join. Also present was Jonah Leiwand of Kew Gardens, a student at North Shore Hebrew Academy, and tenth graders Josh Aharonov of Kew Gardens Hills and Johnny Hutson of Fresh Meadows. Johnny has been active at communal social services at the Forest Hills Jewish Center and was guided to this opportunity by Jessica of their synagogue. Notably active in the bagging of items were Bella Kirschner, QJCC Board Member and elder advocate, and her devoted son Yechiel.
Thanks is extended to the group’s president, Michael Nussbaum; Corresponding Secretary, Jay Goldberg; Jan Fenster, Board Member; Fred Fleisher of QJCC’s staff; and Marina Litman, QJCC Case Worker. Elected officials were not shy to fill and carry bags, and included State Senator Joseph Addabbo; Council Member Linda Lee; Congressional Candidate Robert Zimmerman; Pinny Hikind, Jewish liaison to Comptroller Brad Lander; Pesach Osina, Jewish liaison to New York City Council Speaker Adrianne Adams; amongst others who arrived prior to my visit.
Next on Rabbi Waxman’s agenda is the completion of a Kew Gardens Hills building owned by the agency at Main Street near Jewel Avenue. The construction project will give QJCC a presence in the heart of Queens’ Jewish epicenter and serve as a central meeting place for communal leaders, as well as a hub for social services.
By Shabsie Saphirstein