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Randee Pollock

 
JEWISH FOSTER CARE: CHESED IN THE HOME

By Randee Pollock, September 2, 2010

I recently read a passage from the Book of Ruth, and the words “inclusiveness” and “chesed” (loving-kindness) came to mind. Although one of the messages of the book is acceptance of converts to Judaism by the Israelites, it also exemplifies acceptance in general, and the need to take care of others. These are not acts of kindness with an expectation of reciprocity; rather these are acts of kindness that go beyond measure and demonstrate the value of human nature.

As the Foster Care Coordinator at Jewish Child and Family Service, I am faced with the challenge of finding Jewish homes for Jewish children who can no longer live with their families of origin. This typically is not the choice of the children but rather the circumstances that lead up to their placements. The decision to place children in foster care is usually made by the agency in an effort to ensure their safety and improve their quality of life until stability and order can be achieved in their birth families. Sometimes that goal is never met and foster care becomes a permanent reality for these children. The basic goal of foster parenting is to nurture a child during a time of disruption and stress by providing a healthy, stable family home.

So how does this relate to the Book of Ruth? If we consider inclusiveness, the Book of Ruth propagates inclusion of all, even in the ancient world of the Israelites where separation between Israelites and non-Israelites was obvious. This inclusiveness transcends cultural and racial boundaries with the objective of uniting the human race. Ruth embraced Judaism as a way of life and was accepted under G-d. “Your people are my people and your G-d is my G-d”. (Ruth 1:16)

Acceptance and inclusion of children who are essentially strangers to your family is a mitzvah that goes beyond expectation. As Jews, we have a responsibility to one another, particularly children, to ensure a safe, comfortable living environment where not only basic needs can be met but emotional and social needs as well. Continuity, stability and security are essential components of healthy development and positive self esteem, and can help children grow into productive, well adjusted adults.

In the Book of Ruth, Boaz and Ruth are models of loving-kindness as they act in a way that promotes the well-being of others. Both of them demonstrate compassion and concern by rescuing others who are in need. Ruth chose to glean in the fields, even though it was considered a menial task, in order to provide for her mother-in-law and herself. Boaz was kind to Ruth and married her despite the cost to himself and the risks involved.  As Jews, we are taught the importance of chesed and required to engage in acts of loving-kindness even if it means making sacrifices along the way. When you choose to become a foster parent, you are fulfilling the mitzvah of loving a fellow human being the way you love yourself, the mitzvah of following the ways of G-d, and the mitzvah of reinforcing one’s Judaism. That is the ultimate expression of chesed.

Finally, the Book of Ruth highlights the virtue of maintaining integrity in one’s life. Boaz is considered a man of high stature not only based on his wealth but also on his benevolence. In order to uphold the integrity of the Jewish community, it is our responsibility to ensure the safety and well-being of children, particularly those living in unstable situations. Not unlike other communities, the Jewish community experiences its share of social problems such as domestic abuse, addictions, child abuse and neglect, poverty, mental illness, etc. We are not immune to these issues because we are Jewish. It is important for us to recognize our own shortcomings and lend support to those who are most vulnerable. This is one way of maintaining integrity and strength as a community.

The need for Jewish foster homes is urgent. Past recruitment efforts have led to numerous inquiries about foster care, but JCFS continues to have a shortage of homes. Two-parent families, couples with or without children, empty nesters, single adults, one-parent families and extended families are welcome to apply. Commitments range from short term or emergency placements to long term care. Homes are also needed for respite and occasional support to existing foster parents. Families are compensated for the care they provide and receive many supportive services to assist in meeting the needs of the foster children. There are currently 28 children in the care of JCFS and 7 licensed homes. Some of these children are placed in specialized foster homes licensed by other agencies as there are not enough licensed Jewish homes to meet their needs. Quite simply, it’s hard to develop a Jewish identity without a Jewish home.

The Book of Ruth shows us that G-d has always valued selflessness, compassion and generosity, even in times when there were few of those characteristics to be found on earth. Like Ruth and Boaz, you too can reach out to those in need and perform acts of loving-kindness. Inclusion, acceptance, understanding and love are essential components of a healthy foster home. Being a foster parent can be a very enriching and gratifying experience and a wonderful way to fulfill the mitzvah of chesed. Please help us maintain the integrity of our community by offering a Jewish upbringing to a Jewish child.

Shana Tovah U’Metukah.

For further information about Foster Care, please contact Randee Pollock, JCFS Foster Care Coordinator, at 477-7430 or [email protected]. .

Randee Pollock BSW, MSW, RSW has been employed with Jewish Child and Family Service for nearly thirteen years. She is the Agency’s Adoption and Foster Care Coordinator.

 
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