Living with T2D:
Life as a Mitzvah-Maker

Meet Rabbi Joel Soffin, a patient at the Berrie Center—although the last thing he’s worried about right now is his type 2 diabetes. Ten years ago Rabbi Soffin, started a foundation called Jewish Helping Hands—and today the Rabbi spends his days thinking about mothers near the Gaza strip who need formula for their babies. 

Jewish Helping Hands is committed to the work of “tzedakah” (the Hebrew word for justice and righteousness) around the world, and the group’s next mission is a pilot program to deliver weekly formula to three different communities in Israel. “It is not just for Jewish mothers but for Arab and immigrant women too,” said the Rabbi. “These are people who are the poorest of the poor.”

Rabbi Soffin’s foundation is also helping orphans in Cambodia and widows in Rwanda—and has issued dozens of grants for social action programs not only in this country (the New York Area, where he grew up, in particular) but globally. You can spend hours on the website www.jewishhelpinghands.org to learn about the inspiring work of Rabbi Soffin.

“As a rabbi, I helped work miracles in someone’s life for 27 years, and then the phone stopped ringing when I retired,” he said. “Now, through my foundation, I feel like I am helping to mend the world one miracle at a time.”

The Rabbi says he owes the success of his foundation to volunteers and donors. “The amount of money it takes to make a difference is so tiny, people get inspired to give. For example, you can adopt an abandoned child in Cambodia for $165 for a year. That will get him a family, a bicycle, and a uniform so he can get to school. Before that, he lived on the street.”

As far as his own success at managing his type 2 diabetes (T2D) he credits his type A personality—and the care of a good doctor. “Dr. Lauren Golden is the finest doctor I have ever met,” he said of his Berrie Center endocrinologist. “It’s not even close with other doctors. She notices everything. That has helped me immensely and given me peace of mind. She is who I trust with my life.”

As well, his worldwide calls to action keep Rabbi Soffin super active and equally engrossed in his work—which helps in the management of his T2D. “I’m so busy,” he smiled, “I’m running around and on my feet all day.” Of course, loving what you do, helps in life—especially if you have a chronic illness.

“Every person has a mitzvah tattooed on the forehead,” he said. “It’s up to you to find out what it is.”

Joel Soffin was ordained as a rabbi in 1976. His life as a mitzvah maker began in earnest at Temple Shalom in Succasunna, NJ, where he was the head rabbi for nearly three decades.  While there, he developed a long series of social action programs including the International Committee to Rescue the Mendeleev Family. He organized community-wide efforts to resettle a Vietnamese boat family (as well as six Soviet Jewish families) and to house and feed the homeless.

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