Simy, a 75-year-old woman who was "well off" financially until four years ago, found herself alone and virtually penniless when her husband of 50 years dumped her for their 20-year-old housekeeper.
"I couldn't believe he would throw away 50 years for a young kid," she says of her husband, a retired engineer. "And she had an infant. ... He's 85 years old!"
Kicked out of her Queens home, Simy found a room in a private home on Long Island. "My Social Security payment covers the rent," she says.
For 12 years, Diane Thurer of Dix Hills has been filling boxes with school supplies and holiday treats for a poor family in Mississippi she has never met but which expresses its gratitude through letters.
"It really is a commitment, but you do bring sunshine into that family's home," said Thurer of the national Box Project. "You really get back more than you give."
Now a Jewish group wants to replicate that effort in behalf of the Jewish poor in Suffolk County. If successful, there are plans to extend the project to Nassau.
With her 10-year-old son at her side, a disabled widow from Long Beach told a hushed group of 500 UJA-Federation lay and professional leaders that the local Jewish community center has "been there for us in the very darkest of times."
"I have an immune disease called fibromyalga," explained Harriet Cohen, 46, at the annual Long Island General Assembly in Roslyn, which provides UJA-Federation-funded organizations an opportunity to display their activities.
In a move to address its graying population, the city has for the first time teamed up with a non-profit agency to develop housing for middle-income seniors. The Jewish community's major anti-poverty group won the contract to build a 515-unit apartment building on Staten Island that includes an assisted-living component.
"I predict the demand will be enormous,"said William Rapfogel, executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. "We have many people who have expressed interest: in the city, Westchester and Long Island."
With government funding to Jewish organizations being slashed and Jewish federation campaigns running either flat or down, a new study has discovered that billions of dollars from the country's biggest Jewish philanthropists are going to universities, health and the arts. And the Jewish community wants to learn why.
The study, by the Institute for Jewish & Communal Research, found that only 6 percent of the $5.3 billion in mega-gifts Jews donated to individual institutions between 1995 and 2000 went to Jewish institutions. A mega-gift is $10 million or more.
"It has been a blessing," the 42-year-old Suffolk County mother of four says of her monthly package of food and sundries from an anonymous group of Jewish nursery school children, their parents and teachers.
Noting that she takes home only $579 a month working 30 hours a week as a data processing employee, she adds: "It's very difficult to make ends meet."
"The children are terrified when they see a person in uniform because they saw what the Serb police did," said Renate Brand of the Kosovar refugees being resettled with relatives here with the help of the Jewish community.
The refugees (39 have arrived in the last two weeks) are coming with horrific tales of Serbian atrocities they either witnessed or heard about, according to Brand, supervisor of the Kosovar resettlement program for NYANA, the New York Association for New Americans.
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.
For seven years Bertha Laufer, an intelligent, articulate, retired New York City English teacher, lived in a non-Jewish nursing home in the Bronx and would help some of her nurses with their high school equivalency courses. But none of her relatives lived in New York and as the years went by, she became lonelier and lonelier.
"She wanted someone to talk to her about books and ideas," recalled Laufer's niece, Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer of Philadelphia. "She could quote Milton and Shakespeare by heart and there was no one for her to talk to."
For Martin Bender of Commack, L.I., legally blind from diabetes for the past 15 years, books on tape have been a "life saver."
"For a year and a half I was stuck in bed with a bone infection," said Bender, 65. "I have a TV but I don't see colors, only shadows, so TV is a waste. I spent 16 hours a day listening to the tapes. I would have gone crazy without them."
The tapes, as well as large-print books and books in Braille, are available from the Jewish Braille Institute of America.