What a year it’s been.
Jewish Family and Children’s Services of Northern New Jersey has been a lifeline to many of our neighbors in distress. The agency has seen a 400 percent increase in monthly food pantry appointments and emergency requests. I’ve heard about people showing up for help, often early or late, because they’re embarrassed to need help and they don’t want to be recognized. They have never needed assistance before, but they need it now.
Which made joining hundreds of bike riders and hikers this past Sunday especially important. Our Jewish Standard team raised more than $5,000 for the JFCS, and equally importantly, we were able to have a dialogue with contributors about the importance of giving.
So, about my journey.
I’m a casual rider but enjoy a good challenge. Fifty miles seemed out of the question, but I went with door #2, the 28-mile trek. For the past few days, I’ve felt weak and I’ve been fighting a cold, but there was no way I was disappointing the many friends who believed and backed me, and my fellow riders.
Off we go, on the most glorious day, and things are going surprisingly well. It’s funny how you forget about not feeling right when your surroundings change and you’re out of your house.
And then … the dreaded hills. I made it through them all, but at mile 27, I really struggled with the final climb. I thought I had met my match. Imagine passing Benzel Busch on Grand Avenue in Englewood and making a right, about to climb up Palisade Avenue.
Do I have your attention now?
I remember looking to my left and seeing a couple passing me by with ease, and asking how that was possible. My partner for the day, Jerry Szubin, is the Jewish Standard’s production manager and he’s a seasoned rider. He told me what I already knew — as with anything in life, training and repetition will make the difference.
Either way, I will remember that couple. I want to be them some day. These strangers inspired me.
And, more about life and our ride. We passed animals in three stages of existence. We saw a dead beaver, another that had recently been hit and still was struggling (Jerry called animal control and on our return we noticed it had been removed from the road, condition unknown though), and the smallest fawn I’ve ever seen, probably within weeks of its birth. It was running, desperately trying to find a break in a fence so it could rejoin its mother and security and live another day.
Three examples of existence. Not that I needed the lesson, but what I witnessed tied together the whole JFCS experience — the reason I made the trek. It’s that life is fragile. It can come to an end at any moment. Take chances. Push yourself. Do it today instead of tomorrow.
Most important, that there are those in our community who depend on us to make a difference so they too can be made whole again, especially after a year like we all have just experienced.
We live in a community that has an active and essential agency which is committed to helping me and you if we ever fall into hardship.
That’s beautiful indeed.
Jamie Janoff is the publisher of the Jewish Standard and the New Jersey Jewish News.