Working around limitations: Michalah Hoffman

Michalah Hoffman
Michalah Hoffman (Courtesy of Hoffman)

Michalah Hoffman, community social worker for the Jewish Federation of Howard County, provides support to struggling, isolated residents of the Howard County’s Jewish community.

Some of those she has worked with are Holocaust survivors, and she has been grateful to hear their stories. “They always have powerful stories,” said Hoffman, 52, who is originally from Washington, D.C. and now lives in Howard County. “I also work with many resident who light Shabbat candlesticks and they have other items from Europe they brought with their families, which have existed for generations.”

In addition, Hoffman evaluates requests for emergency funding and for the Jewish Emergency Network. She coordinates with the Howard County Board of Rabbis to determine community needs and provide resources. She also leads bereavement and support groups and started a volunteer program for the Federation, which has 40 regular volunteers.

“My favorite part of my job is sitting and visiting with the many residents I get to work with,” Hoffman said. “I really enjoy hearing their stories and histories.”

When Hoffman first saw this position advertised a few years ago, she knew it would be a good fit.

“She has the absolute right personality, the passion and commitment, really a human touch that is very unique,” Ralph Grunewald, the Federation’s executive director, told the JT in 2018. “Whoever she works with, any patient, any client, any clergy, sees that this is an individual who cares deeply.”

Before her current position, Hoffman had worked for more than 20 years in hospice social work. She also has experience with foster care and adoption work. She founded the Jewish Relief Center in Pennsylvania. “There were some Jewish people in need in a poorer neighborhood,” she explained. She created JRC to help them find grants, food and supplies.

Her career aligns with her Jewish values. “My Jewishness is very important to me,” Hoffman said. “I believe Hashem is real. I am loyal to the Torah and God’s way of living.”

Hoffman raised her two kids in a observant household. Her daughter, LeAnn, studies law at American University, while her son, Daniel, who works in Pennsylvania.

Looking to the future, Hoffman said her goals include having more one-on-one socialization and referrals with her clients.

“A lot of my job has to be by Zoom or email so I very much miss the one-on-one interactions,” she explained.

Moreover, a lot of the residents don’t know how to use the computer efficiently. Many do not have FaceTime, Wi-Fi or an iPhone. To cope with the emotional distance of a screen and incapabilities of the community, she finds new ways to meet the clients, such as outside at a park or parking lot.

“I really try to think outside the box,” she said.

Once, she visited a senior patient who had no shoes. Thinking quickly, Hoffman whipped out a piece of paper and traced the senior’s foot. She then took the outline to Target, where she bought shoes that fit the tracing.

“The community likes that I work around limitations,” she said.

Outside of work, Hoffman enjoys reading old-fashioned mystery novels, such as Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie’s books.

Carolyn Conte is a former staff writer of the Baltimore Jewish Times.

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