I met Emily Litman for the first time in the summer of 2018 at the Riverview Farmer’s Market. However, we have been Facebook friends since 2013. Normally, I do not become Facebook friends with someone unless I have met them; however, Litman was so active in the community and we shared so many friends in common, I took a chance. As a result, I have been following her extraordinary journey across the globe, her stories of her students, and the community work she does from soup swaps to working with Liberty Humane Society to choir practice. What I have learned from following her over the past few years and finally meeting her in person is that she has a huge heart, loves sharing and growing, and has an amazing network of friends.
Here is a recent story to show how amazing Litman is and the impact one person can have on others. As a teacher at the Port of Entry program (progressive ESL program) at Middle School #7 in the Heights, Litman put out a call on February 9 to help a family who just joined her class. The entire family just came to Jersey City with literally nothing. Initially, Litman requested donations for the children, but then many asked about the parents and how they could be helped. Within an hour, everything that was asked for was filled and within days, her porch had boxes of deliveries. One extremely generous individual told Litman to take the mother food shopping and she would cover the entire bill. Clothes for the entire family have been donated and she continues to get more donations. This is the power of Emily Litman and the amazing work she does here and in her travels.
In addition to working for the Port of Entry program and helping her students, Litman volunteers - “I am a volunteer at Liberty Humane Society (go adopt a pet!) and I teach English to adult immigrants with The Open Door, based in West New York.” She also celebrates her birthday every year at the Hoboken Shelter by getting her friends together, collecting money, and cooking a meatloaf dinner for the residents. “I believe that we all can really be the change we want to see in this world. As cliché as it sounds, it is true. When I am feeling frustrated by the world or politics, it makes me feel hopeful knowing I have done everything I can to improve the lives of others,” shared Litman.
She does take a break from all the amazing work she does and travels every chance she gets bringing her generous spirit wherever she goes. With the help of her generous friends she has donated crayons to a preschool in Ecuador, shoes for kids in Guatemala, and art supplies for an orphanage in Mexico. She has also been able to participate in programs geared towards teachers. “In 2015, I traveled to Fiji as part of Fund for Teachers, where I taught in a rural village school. I traveled to Morocco in 2016 as a part of the Teachers for Global Classrooms program, sponsored by the US State Department. And this past spring, I received an alumni grant from the State Department to travel to a small town in Mexico where I volunteered at a community center for children.” She also travels extensively with her family as showcased in the safari photo with her mother in South Africa.
Litman comes from a family of teachers and educators. Her parents founded the Mustard Seed School in 1979 after moving across the country from Southern California to Hoboken. After spending many hours at the school, “I convinced myself that I would never be a teacher and majored in Political Science at Drew University.” But after working with refugee youth from Kosovo, “I decided I did want to be a teacher after all! My first job teaching was at an alternative high school in Boston and then I was a 5th grade teacher in The Bronx. I worked for 10 years at The Learning Community Charter School in Jersey City and now I’m the teacher for the Port of Entry program at Middle School #7 in the Heights. Nineteen years of teaching in different places and capacities - I can’t believe it has been that long!”
She was raised in Hoboken, when “...the yoga studios and boutiques were mom and pop hardware stores and butchers. As a kid growing up in the 80s, I saw the city change into what it is today.” Before moving to Jersey City with her mother in 2000, she had only been to Jersey City a handful of times and only remembers going to Newport for the Newport Mall opening. She has now lived the same amount of time in both cities and actually moved up the road to North Bergen.
Litman is so active in the community and she knows a lot of people. “I would say the best thing about our city are the residents. I love meeting people who have lived here for decades to hear about what neighborhoods used to be like way back when.” Have you ever heard an old school Jersey City accent? “There is a certain grit to an old school JC accent; often imitated but never duplicated. It’s better than a Brooklyn accent in my opinion. I love the way people refer to the schools as ‘Number 6 School’ instead of PS 6. You can tell how long someone has lived here by the way they refer to the grammar schools. There are so many people in JC that work to make our city better and I’m glad to be considered one of them.”
Litman is so invested in the community and quite the example for all of us. I hope we can all take a page out of her book and volunteer a little more time, say hi to one more person, and join one more activity.