Crises, emergencies are no problem for JAF

Crises, emergencies are no problem for JAF

For local Jews in need, a Pittsburgh organization promises to help. The Jewish Assistance Fund offers immediate financial assistance, without expectation of repayment, to Jewish people in Western Pennsylvania.

 “It’s an amazing organization that has been doing such good work, and we’re looking forward to helping even more people in the community [with] the emergency financial assistance that we have available,” said Cindy Goodman-Leib, who recently became JAF’s executive director.

“It’s a very unique resource for people who are in crisis,” added Louise Silk, JAF’s board president. “We offer cash assistance. We are the only ones in the country that does this, and it’s really special.”Certain criteria exist for receiving financial aid, said Goodman-Leib. The person must be Jewish, have limited resources and be in need of emergency support for food, clothing, housing, utilities, transportation or medical and dental expenses.

“Our main focus is to help people facing an emergency situation in their lives,” said Goodman-Leib. “And this money should help them get over that hurdle.”

In 2015, the organization provided more than $170,000 and met with 234 families. Each of the meetings was handled discreetly and with the utmost respect for privacy.

“We see people and nothing goes outside of the room in that situation,” said Silk. “Nobody knows about their situation and need.”

The process is relatively simple, said Goodman-Leib. “People will call, leave a message, and someone will call them back to find out [if their situation] fits the criteria.”

If the requirements are met, a meeting is scheduled for the upcoming Friday. “In general, there [are] very few Fridays that we don’t see clients,” Goodman-Leib added.

At the meeting, the client presents his or her situation to a rotating panel of three of the organization’s nine board members.

“The grantors listen in a very caring way. They listen to the challenges the person is facing,” said Goodman-Leib. “Nobody is rushed, and people have the time they need.”

“We’re really respectful of people in their situations; we honor their privacy,” said Silk.

“It’s a very personal experience, everyone has their own story and history and needs,” added Goodman-Leib. “The grants to at-risk individuals and families range from $450 to $1,500.”

 While the disbursement is a one-time gift, often the JAF will connect clients with other organizations such as the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry to address longer-term issues.

“Many of the people we see at the Squirrel Hill Community Food Pantry are food-insecure because they have other problems associated with poverty,” said Matthew Bolton, pantry director in an email to The Chronicle. “The Jewish Assistance Fund has helped so many of them weather a crisis and get back on their feet. We’re grateful to have a partner like JAF.”

Apart from the food pantry, Goodman-Leib cited the Jewish Family & Children’s Service, the Squirrel Hill Health Center, the Career Development Center and the National Council of Jewish Women’s Thrift Shop as local partners.

The JAF has a “strong tradition of community support and volunteer leadership,” said Goodman-Leib. Those involved with JAF are “passionate and dedicated” supporters.

Collectively, those involved enable the organization to provide a straightforward community service.

“When you’re in crisis and don’t have any place to turn, it’s pretty scary. We understand and we want to help,” said Silk. “We try to be respectful of people and the delicacy of their lives.”

Added Goodman-Leib, “It’s empowering for people to know that there is someone who cares.’”

>> For more information about the JAF, contact Cindy Goodman-Leib at 412-521-3237 or

Adam Reinherz can be reached at

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