Yad Yehuda: A Safety Net for the Greater Washington Jewish Community

Written by Malka Goldberg on . Posted in Community News

Canned tuna, cooking oil, pasta sauce, ketchup, and grape juice are the most popular items at Yad Yehuda’s Capital Kosher Pantry in Silver Spring, Maryland, according to volunteer Joyce Dworsky-Srour. Honey Nut Cheerios also fly off the shelves, she said.

By sharing these small details with members of the Beltway Vaad during their visit to the pantry on Tuesday, April 11, Yad Yehuda demonstrated its familiarity with the everyday needs of the community.

Yad Yehuda (previously known as the Yehuda Mond Foundation) was created in 2006 to serve as a financial safety net for the Greater Washington Jewish community. With over 650 recipients in the last year, it is the only organization of its kind catering to the entire Greater Washington region. The Capital Kosher Pantry, one of many services the organization provides, opened six years ago. Last year, the pantry moved to its current, larger space, which is located adjacent to and was donated by Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring. A volunteer-based organization, Yad Yehuda has expanded as well, with about 60 volunteers now supporting its many services.

“We know that when you take the time to visit, and see the holy work of Yad Yehuda with your own eyes, it is easier to convey the impact and to inspire others to get involved,” said Rabbi Uri Topolosky of Kehilat Pardes – The Rock Creek Synagogue in Aspen Hill, Maryland.

“Our Vaad wanted to focus this year on supporting some of the organizations that are doing incredible work to help some of the most vulnerable members in our communities. Yad Yehuda has been an incredible resource to all of our communities, and we wanted to visit the food pantry to see with our own eyes the chesed [acts of kindness] in action,” he said.

Beltway Vaad members Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld and Maharat Ruth Friedman of Ohev Sholom – The National Synagogue in DC; Rabbi Nissan Antine and Rabbanit Dasi Fruchter of Beth Sholom Congregation in Potomac, Maryland; Rabbi Topolosky; and George Silberman, chair of the Beltway Vaad Lay Advisory Council, helped unpack boxes of donated food to stock the pantry.

Then, the group sat down to learn more about the range of programs Yad Yehuda provides to the community with Nechemia Mond, Yad Yehuda's founder and president; Mordechai Hyatt, co-founder and board member; and David Klugman, operations coordinator.

Mond explained the organization’s philosophy, that “nobody asks to be in a difficult financial situation,” and that Yad Yehuda provides confidential, judgment-free support.

Yad Yehuda now offers financial services, including Tomchei Shabbos, cash grants, and utility assistance; direct services, through case workers who can help navigate applying for government services; and managed programs, such as the pantry, the gemach exchange, and burial assistance. (“Gemach” is an acronym for the Hebrew words “gemilut chasadim,” which means “acts of loving kindness.” Gemachim collect and loan out donated items, such as clothing, baby equipment, or medical equipment.)

Currently, over 300 individuals receive assistance from the Tomchei Shabbos program, which provides food assistance in the form of gift cards to Shalom Kosher market in Silver Spring. The cards are the same as those that parents purchase from local schools as part of the script program. They function like debit cards, which helps preserve confidentiality and enables recipients to purchase perishables and other items not available from the pantry.

Mond explained that Yad Yehuda initially provided packages of food for Tomchei Shabbos, but chose to switch to gift cards because people have different food preferences and dietary needs, food may spoil if it is left out when the recipient is not home when the food is delivered, and leaving a package of food by the door is an obvious sign of receiving charity. This exemplifies one of the key takeaways from the presentation — Yad Yehuda’s clear dedication to sensitivity and confidentiality.

“Yad Yehuda didn’t exist when I was growing up [locally]. It’s so inspiring to see — I was really moved by [Yad Yehuda’s] mission statement. I was also moved by their infrastructure and their ability to reach so many people in such a sensitive way,” Rabbanit Fruchter said.

While Yad Yehuda supports the community, it also needs support from the community. As a donor-funded organization, Yad Yehuda relies on the generosity of community members to support its operations, and every little bit helps. Small donations comprise nearly 20 percent of the budget, and recurring monthly donations provide an added boost. Ninety-eight percent of the budget goes directly to services, with the remaining two percent covering operating costs.

Volunteering is another way to support the organization. “Yad Yehuda provides an opportunity to do chesed within our community. Some people think chesed is outside the community, but there’s so much to do right here, and Yad Yehuda provides a beautiful framework,” Rabbanit Fruchter said.

Rabbi Topolosky has already arranged for members of Kehilat Pardes to volunteer to restock shelves at the pantry on Sunday, April 29.

“We hope to bring several dozen people, staggered in different shifts, to volunteer on Good Deeds Day, which is a community-wide initiative of the Jewish Federation,” he said. “Obviously, the food pantry is only one part of the work Yad Yehuda does, but hopefully, by visiting there, our community members will be inspired to get more involved in other ways to support the various projects of the organization.”

To donate or to find out more information about Yad Yehuda, go to  https://www.yadyehuda.org/.

 By Malka Goldberg

 Malka Goldberg is the Community News editor of Kol HaBirah.