A few months back, my husband Sam and I decided to become involved with UJA-Federation of New York and more specifically Tov B’Yachad, the division focused on engaging Modern Orthodox Jews.  Through my work at Yeshiva University as the Director of Student Life and Jewish Service Learning, I’ve created winter missions focused on Jewish community and communal work, and have always emphasized to our students the impact Federation made in our communities without them realizing it.  I felt that now was the opportunity to take that message to our community in Washington Heights.

On Friday night March 4th, Sam and I hosted a Shabbat dinner in our home as part of the Tov B’Yachad Young Professionals CommUnity Shabbat.  The goal of the Shabbat was to harness the power of Shabbat Shekalim and Parshat Vayakel to draw attention to the theme of collective responsibility.  About 1,000 people participated in Shabbat meals across NYC that weekend.  An added element to the meal was that each host was given the opportunity to choose a theme and UJA provided them with educational content to enhance the conversation.  Sam and I chose to discuss poverty in the Jewish community, and in particular in Washington Heights.  A crowd-funding campaign beyond our wildest dreams and 35 food packages later, we now have an on-going communal commitment.  Here is how it unfolded.

Over the course of that week, our meal grew to a diverse group of 14 people, the menu came together nicely and we were excited about the materials we received.  Sam and I had discussed with the team at UJA about creating a follow-up project after our Shabbat meal.  We wanted to work with the JCC of Washington Heights-Inwood to raise money to provide elderly home bound community members with prepared food for Passover.  In the past, families and individuals in need received raw food packages before Passover, but the JCC found that it was challenging for the elderly community members to prepare the food, hence we came up with the idea to purchase and deliver prepared foods to them.

After our Shabbat meal, which included meaningful conversation and great food (all homemade I might add!) Sam and I launched our fundraising campaign with the JCC of Washington Heights-Inwood called Pesach Prep Program.  We used Jewcer.com and set out a goal of raising $1500 over 15 days.  We sent an email to about 100 people and posted our campaign on Facebook.  Much to our surprise, within 72 hours we raised $5,000!  This far surpassed our expectations and goals.  We were amazed by everyone who contributed, and felt truly blessed to be able to provide this service to our neighbors.

The next step of the project was purchasing the right foods for the elderly community members, arranging its delivery and finding volunteers to drop off the food packages.  We worked with Grand and Essex in Teaneck, NJ to create a menu of healthy and delicious foods.  Once they learned about our project they offered to waive the delivery fee.  We worked with Anat Coleman at the JCC to find all of the volunteers who so graciously dropped off the food boxes.

Anat and her colleagues identified community members in need and with the funds we collected we sent out 35 food packages.  We used the remaining funds to purchase gifts cards to the local supermarket and distributed them to other families in need to prepare for Passover.

As someone who benefited from similar programs as a child, it truly meant a lot to my husband and I to provide this service to our community.  We look forward to making this an annual program and continuing to shape and make an impact on our community.

Aliza Abrams Konig, Wexner Field Fellow (Class 26), is the Director of Student Life and Jewish Service Learning on the Yeshiva University Beren Campus.  She holds a BA in Judaic Studies from Stern College for Women and an MSW from the Wurzweiler School of Social Work.  Aliza’s career began at the Center for the Jewish Future (CJF) as the Presidential Fellow in the Department of Community Initiatives.  Through the CJF, Aliza has worked with thousands of college students, led over 20 different service missions around the world and has sent over 3,000 students on Torah Tours, a program which enhances synagogues across North America over a variety of Jewish holidays. She can be reached at alizaabrams@gmail.com.