In an effort to reach out to the haredi and Orthodox communities, Jewish Family & Child (JF&CS) participated in a Shabbaton event that aimed to inform the community about the services available to them and encourage them to get involved.
In November, members of three Toronto congregations – Clanton Park Synagogue, Rabbi Yaakov Kerzner’s Mizrachi Bayit and the Or Chaim minyan – took part in a Shabbaton to learn about the work of JF&CS by welcoming staff, volunteers and recipients of its services.
Rabbi Leo Davids, a retired York University sociology professor, who spoke to The CJN on behalf of the other organizers of the program – University of Waterloo professor emeritus Paul Socken, Eli Magder and Josh Levi – said he’s been involved with the social service agency since he joined the JF&CS board in the 1970s.
“But I felt that a lot of our guys [members of the Orthodox community] didn’t know what JF&CS was, what it stood for, what it did, who needed it – and I felt it was important that we get volunteers with kippahs on, who would be doing things within the larger Jewish community, rather than only within the Bathurst Street bird’s nest,” Rabbi Davids said.
He said there are many Orthodox Jews who don’t even know what JF&CS is “unless they suddenly fall into big trouble and someone sends them there to receive service.”
Rabbi Davids added that when it comes to JF&CS volunteers, the Orthodox community is not well represented.
“The Reform Jew doesn’t go to shul every day… so his Jewish hours are available for community and committee work. The Orthodox householder may put more time into Jewish stuff, but it is used up in the synagogue and study activities, and he doesn’t find time for the other stuff. I felt that we had to bridge that gap.”
One of the guest speakers was Rabbi Ronald Weiss, the director of chaplaincy services at JF&CS.
Rabbi Weiss said in an interview after the event that the Shabbaton program focused on three JF&CS services: chaplaincy, abuse against women and foster care. He said foster parents were brought in to share their experiences.
“The whole program was meant to educate and heighten awareness. A related goal was that if people were to get inspired enough to get involved as volunteers, then the agency and volunteers would benefit from that involvement.”
Rabbi Weiss said there have been misconceptions and misunderstandings about what the agency does in the community.
“With respect to the haredi community, because JF&CS is the only Jewish child welfare agency mandated by the government in North America, JF&CS is legally responsible to go into homes, and if a child is deemed to be in danger, the law says the agency must remove that child in the interest of the safety and the welfare of the child,” he explained.
Working with families to keep them intact
“The haredi community is not always on board with assessments or decisions. There has been some stress and strain between the haredi community and the agency over the years over this issue… The haredi community will sometimes feel that allowances need to be made in order to keep families together.”
He said one of the things he emphasized was that the number of Jewish children in foster care has dropped dramatically.
“Last year, the number was in the 70s – Jewish kids who had suffered significant trauma living at home and needed to be removed from parents’ homes and placed into care. As of the event on Nov. 14, there were 37 children in care,” he said.
“That is a reflection of the fact that we, as an agency, are doing a better job, working with families to keep the families intact.”
He said the haredi community tends to prefer to deal with social issues internally, and consult their rabbis, rather than social service professionals.
“What was also emphasized was that the agency works together with the rabbanim as much as possible… we work co-operatively and collegially with everybody.”
He said having more Orthodox representation at JF&CS is a “win-win situation in terms of congregational education, heightening the awareness of what the agency is and what the agency does and does not do, and stimulating interest among the congregations to have their people become more involved. I’ve already gotten several calls from people who are interested in learning more about the programs and some who have already committed to volunteering.”