Gitel D., a college graduate, was living an upper-middle-class life in an apartment on Central Park West. Married to a professional with a doctorate, she did volunteer work for UJA-Federation, joining its Business and Professional Women’s Division and sitting on its government relations committee.
"Then my life took a detour," she said.
She became divorced and the illnesses that claimed the lives of her parents left her with mounting debts. The only surviving member of a family of five, she soon found herself virtually penniless and homeless, living in youth hostels.
At her wit’s end, she reached out to the group she had helped in the past: UJA-Federation. She called its Resource Line and was given several suggestions of where to turn for help, including local synagogues and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which directed her to the Metropolitan New York Coordinating Council on Jewish Poverty.
"They were incredible," she said of Met Council. "When they got my call, they said three words, ‘Come right over.’ And those were the words I needed to hear. When I got there, they did not ask if I was hungry. They just gave me bagels and cream cheese and milk: the things you would serve on Yom Kippur to break the fast. And they saw that my shoes were tattered from walking a lot, so they got me a pair of shoes."
Met Council, along with FEGS, which provided her with career counseling and training, developed a plan that helped her get back on her feet.
"I’m now a communications specialist at a major New York corporation," she said. "UJA helped me find the job. … I’m one grateful recipient who once raised a lot of money for UJA-Federation. Now I know firsthand that it does make a lot of difference."
The director of UJA-Federationís Resource Line, Jane Abraham, said the cry for help from Gitel D. is just one of about 17,000 calls the Resource Line receives each year.
"We’re not a crisis line or a hot line and we don’t do counseling on the phone," said Abraham. "But we do provide information and referral."
Around this time of year, many people call asking where they can go to attend a seder or to get Passover food packages.
"Last year, someone wanted a food package for a nephew in a suburb of Buffalo," said Abraham. "We contacted a Jewish agency there, which brought him a Passover package."
She said the Resource Line does an outreach each year to every synagogue, Jewish community center and kosher restaurant in the city, Westchester and Long Island to find out which ones are holding seders open to the community.
"So far, 50 places have told us they have seders that are open," she said. "We use that list to refer people to seders in their area."
Before the High Holy Days, the Resource Line surveys area synagogues to learn which ones will be open to non-members (more than 100 are open for a fee) and which ones will open their doors to the public during Yizkor; nearly all do at no charge. Callers are then given the names of accommodating synagogues in their area.
This is also the time of year when callers seek information on day camps and summer sleep-away camps, as well as residential camps for seniors, Abraham noted.
"We have an extensive listing and pamphlets that we can send them that list all UJA-Federation-supported camps, including those for people with special needs," she said. "In addition, we can make referrals to other camps" not affiliated with UJA-Federation.
There are 20 volunteers who man the center’s eight phone lines each weekday from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. A voice-mail system records calls at other times, which are returned immediately the next business day. The Resource Line is based in Manhattan, but there are tie-ins for those on Long Island and in Westchester.
Elaine Millner, a phone volunteer for the last eight years, said that before the center was computerized, "we had a directory [of resources] that was larger than the Manhattan phone directory."
The database contains the names and phone numbers of 2,800 agencies, Jewish and non-Jewish, and the 3,000 programs associated with them throughout the country. Included are agencies for seniors and every Jewish federation in the country. There is an extensive list on resources in Florida.
"I find it extremely rewarding," said Millner. "I enjoy helping people."
To contact UJA-Federation’s Resource Line, call (212) 753-2288, (516) 654-9339 or (914) 271-2121.