October 13, 2023

Dear JFCS Family,

As many of you know, last night was our JFCS Annual Celebration, where we gathered with over 200 people. While the tone of the evening was tempered by our sadness, it was still wonderful to pray together for Israel, recognize our incredible staff and volunteers, and thank our sponsors and community partners.

I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be surrounded by our JFCS family. This week has been incredibly difficult for all of us. The raw emotions we all feel surrounding the terrorist attacks on Israel combined with the anti-Semitism that is erupting in our local school districts, including my son’s school, sometimes is just too much to bear. I am so proud of our agency. Within hours of the terrorist attack, we received calls for therapy and support. We responded immediately. We are setting up support groups and individual counseling sessions both in the community and virtually. Should you know someone in need, please send them our way.

Whether it is on site or in the community, we will do our best to respond without hesitation and delay. There is limited guidance in how to respond in a time of crisis. At the end of the day, we are serving those in need, providing both hope and healing. However, this is no surprise because if I have learned anything over the last year, it is that JFCS leads with our heart and our soul, so no one falls through the cracks.

I would like to give a huge thank you to the lead staff who made last night happen so seamlessly. Thank you to all the staff, volunteers and board who worked on the event and specifically those that led it including Jill Hammel, Kelly Guiliano, Rachael Ovitz, and Tony Saura.

For those who were not able to attend, I would like to share excerpts from the speech I gave last night. I hope you will find some meaning and comfort in it. I have an included some excerpts of my comments last night.

Excerpts from Executive Director CommentsJFCS Annual CelebrationOctober 12, 2023

It has been less than a week since our homeland was viciously attacked; however, so much has changed. On Tuesday evening we gathered as a community – to mourn, to stand strong, and to provide support – for our brothers and sisters across the ocean and for those in our own community.

Hashomer Achi Anochi – Am I my brother’s keeper?

Jewish law and customs teach us that, yes, we are responsible for each other, our Jewish community, and the world around us. While these atrocities did not occur on our shores, we feel the pain and loss deeply. I am so proud of how our community sprang into action. Our Jewish Federation partners and colleagues began preparing a community response. JFCS immediately offered emotional support as we started receiving calls for therapy as early as Saturday evening.

We are scheduling in-person and virtual support groups at the Katz JCC and Lion’s Gate, as well as individual and family therapy sessions. Our counselors have had quiet conversations with those in need, amidst a flurry of hugs and tears. And all the while, our normal work continues.

The Talmud tell us, “We will never complete the task, but we are not free to desist from it.” Every day, we strive to reduce food insecurity, improve mental health, foster social connections, enable seniors to live independently, and provide opportunities for our clients with disabilities to realize their full potential. Our holistic approach allows our clients to receive multiple services simultaneously. From babies to bubbies, we serve the full gamut of our community. In partnership with Jewish Federation and its family of agencies, we serve their minds, bodies, and spirits. Our clients are not our burden, rather they are our privilege – an opportunity to support transformative and life-affirming change. Our clients are our blessings.

My heart is full…because we are answering the call to service. Our impact is great, as we serve thousands of clients each year. We don’t do it alone: we rely upon the amazing contributions of our volunteers, staff, and board members. It is inspiring – and we could all use a little more inspiration right now. Every member of our staff is special, from our receptionists to our program managers to our social workers to support staff. We are only successful because of their compassion, kindness, and expertise.

It has been a year of major transition for our staff. This was a pivotal time for JFCS, as we needed to determine the best path to move forward. With guidance from our Board, we created two new positions: the Senior Director of Advancement and the Senior Director of Programs.

We were so excited to promote Meredith Siegel Cohen to Senior Director of Programs, overseeing our five major service lines. With over 12 years of experience, Meredith has a long and distinguished history at JFCS, overseeing our accreditation process, developing, and implementing youth awareness and prevention programming, spearheading quality assurance, and providing strategic support to our development department. I know our services will grow and expand with her support.

We also hired a new Senior Director of Advancement, Jill Hammel. Jill will focus on funds development, community engagement, and relationship building to ensure JFCS can continue meeting the needs of our clients and community. Jill brings over 20 years of professional experience in education, Jewish communal engagement, fundraising, public relations, and nonprofit leadership to her role.

Of course, Melanie Stoopler, our Chief Financial Officer, has been a constant throughout this transition. Her wisdom and financial prowess keep us steady and secure, and we are so very lucky to have her. In addition to a fresh executive structure, we hired a new Director of Senior Services, Cara Galob, who brings many years of experience in medical social work and veterans’ services. We also welcomed Rebecca Rosenau to fully assume her role as Director of Clinical Services.

We move into this new year with a full management structure. We are strong and positioned to succeed. But we don’t do it alone. As I embark on my second year at JFCS, I am filled with gratitude for the collaboration, friendship, and support of all who work to sustain our community. We are so thankful to the Jewish Federation and our family of agencies for supporting the work we do every day. We are also blessed to have the visionary support of the Raymond and Gertrude R. Saltzman Foundation.

I would be remiss if I didn’t thank our lay leadership – our Board of Directors, Past Presidents, and Advisory Council. There is no question too small and no issue too big. They stand ready to lend a helping hand, troubleshoot, offer guidance and direction, or roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty! Their volunteerism, commitment, and dedication are an inspiration. I am especially grateful to our President, Stacy Asbell Levin, who has helped me grow and learn this first year. I know that my education is just beginning, and I have only just begun to understand the true miracles of JFCS.

As I close, I leave you all with one thought, one guiding principle. The Talmud says, “If you save one life, you save the world entire.” I want to thank all of you for helping us save this world and make it a better place.

Wishing you love and peace (and peace in Israel) on this Shabbat,