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May 12, 2014

Posted by Ira Schor

AJFCAHaving recently returned from the annual AJFCA (Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies) conference, I have a renewed awareness of the value of gathering with one’s colleagues from other agencies. In the short space of several days, we became a community of professionals learning from one another and sharing our strikingly similar challenges in our efforts to make our world a better place. With our differing logos and acronyms, our varying sizes and geographic locations, it was the commonality of our purpose and the good intent of our missions and services that was most inspiring.

Montreal, bi-lingual, cosmopolitan, and charming, was a terrific setting in which to meet. Stunningly beautiful, bordered by Mont Royal to the north and the St. Lawrence to the south, Montreal is populated by grand, impressive, and intricate 19th century public buildings. This walkable city provided the occasional break from the rich assortment of plenaries and workshops.

I was accompanied by our CEO, Rimma Zelfand and Marjie Sokoll, Director of Jewish Healing Connections. For Rimma, it was a return to a beloved city to which she emigrated from St. Petersburg, Russia. For Marjie, it was the opportunity to share her expertise and her gift in bringing spirituality to the workplace and to her work with older adults. Marjie’s workshop, titled “Standing on Sacred Ground: Cultivating Spirituality in our Agencies,” was hugely well received, prompting many to seek her guidance on bringing healing circles to their agencies.

Personally, I had the opportunity to present on our Talent Management program, sharing a panel on “Developing Agency Leadership” with several colleagues from JF&CS Atlanta. The essence of our workshop was this: (1) each agency is only as good and only as successful as its staff, (2) it is the responsibility of management to find, train, nourish, and appreciate those individuals who we engage to serve our clients, and (3) to thrive, any organization must truly be a “learning organization,” one with the courage to reflect, be curious, ask why, and learn from our successes, failures, and each other.

Two special moments remain with me. The first occurred when approached by a colleague from JFS Seattle who said: “I must tell you how pleased and thankful my family is with the geriatric care management services my grandmother has received from the Your Elder Experts program. The services are excellent and a tremendous comfort to us.” A second memorable moment came as Marjie Sokoll and I walked in the lovely Old Montreal section of the city on a break from the workshops. Pausing only briefly to look at our map, an elderly Asian gentleman stopped and asked “Are you lost. May I help?” As I reflected on his kindness I realized that this was, in fact, what all of our agencies are about: to help people find our way when lost, recognizing that lost is a place we will all find ourselves at times.

Ira SchorIra Schor, now in his twenty-fifth year with JF&CS, is currently the Senior VP of Operations. A licensed clinical social worker, Ira earned his MSW from Syracuse University. Prior to JF&CS, he was the director of out-patient and emergency services at a community mental health center in central Massachusetts. When not at work, Ira enjoys reading history and non-fiction, travel, and outdoor activities.


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May 9, 2014

Posted by Samantha Bullock

CHAi Works AwardOn April 10, JF&CS CHAI Works was recognized at the Newton-Wellesley Hospital (NWH) Volunteer Recognition Dinner for all of the hard work CHAI Works participants have done at the hospital over the past year. The CHAI Works program was awarded the Outstanding Group Volunteer Award, which hasn’t been given out since 2006. This year more than 21 CHAI Works volunteers have assisted NWH in putting together more than 8,000 maternity and postpartum packets as well as adult GI packets and various mailings for different departments throughout the hospital. In addition, there is a CHAI Works participant who volunteers in food service and another who restocks the flu booklets around the hospital and collects and recycles the hospital’s batteries each week.

The relationship between NWH and CHAI Works began in 2005 and has flourished to what it is today, with CHAI Works volunteer groups enthusiastically volunteering three days a week and taking ownership of the projects they complete. NWH greatly appreciates the CHAI Works participants’ work, stating “We simply could not provide this service without their presence and hard work!”

At the Volunteer Recognition Dinner, NWH also took time to acknowledge the amazing JF&CS staff who accompany the CHAI Works volunteers each day. “Their dedication, care, and patience are enviable.” We are grateful for their innovation, motivation, and flexibility!”

The evening consisted of an awards ceremony followed by a dinner complete with live music and appreciation gifts. It was a great evening for the CHAI Works volunteers, staff, and their families to celebrate the success they have had over the past year!

Samantha BullockSamantha Bullock joined the CHAI Works team in November 2013 as the CHAI Works Program Manager. Samantha is currently working towards her Master’s in Special Education and Behavior Analysis at Arcadia University and will be graduating in 2014. Samantha has been in the field of developmental disabilities for almost 10 years and has worked in a variety of settings including residential and classroom environments.


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May 5, 2014

Posted by Elyse Rast

SHS Yom HoshoahOn Tuesday, April 29, the day after Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), more than 100 people, 80 of whom were Holocaust survivors, attended a special luncheon hosted by JF&CS Schechter Holocaust Services (SHS) and supported by CJP and Generations After at Kehillath Israel Synagogue in Brookline. Rabbi Hamilton began the program and was later joined by two active duty Israeli Defense Force soldiers who poignantly spoke about their grandparents who survived the Holocaust and imbued them with life-affirming messages of hope, strength, and love.

I was honored to have the opportunity to speak on behalf of the SHS staff and share my feelings of victory: victory that the Jewish people survived under great odds and victory that they chose to live with compassion and empathy. Many survivors raised respectful, successful children who are now themselves raising children who are proud of their grandparents’ histories. One great-grandchild in the room, Hannah Hiam, currently an intern for SHS and a student at Gann Academy, does not take things for granted as a result of what her relatives faced. “I seek ways to challenge myself and give back in part to honor my grandmother and great-grandmother’s perseverance.”

This is a group who survived the worst humanity had to offer and never gave up. As they age, they continue fighting and their offspring reap the rewards of having such tenacious parents and grandparents. Being with survivors and three subsequent generations was a beautiful and life-affirming experience.

One attendee, Janet Markman, who survived ghettos, camps, and the death march, proudly invited me to her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah since “we’re family now.” Another attendee, Tania Lefman, who survived years of living in the forest, told me how happy she was to see so many survivors attend such a “wonderful event” and that it was “nice to celebrate while remembering our fallen brothers, the six million.”

One of the highlights for me was Kehillath Israel’s preschool children who very bravely lined up in front of the sizable crowd and sang their favorite Jewish songs. There were few dry eyes in the room, and the thunderous applause could certainly be heard down the street!

Tuesday’s event was just one more life-affirming moment.

Elyse RastElyse Rast is the Manager of Outreach and Education for Schechter Holocaust Services. For the past 20 years Elyse has taught children ranging in ages from 3-18 and specializes in Holocaust education. Currently, Elyse runs Jewish teenage empowerment classes at Prozdor Hebrew High School and is working on her PhD in Education at Lesley University. Elyse has two kids and two cats and lives in Westwood.


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May 1, 2014

Posted by the JF&CS Events Team

North Shore Community HeroesLast night’s North Shore Community Heroes Event at Swampscott’s Congregation Shirat Hayam was a moving evening of tributes to four honorees who were recognized for their many selfless acts of tikkun olam (human kindness).

More than 160 people came to see North Shore residents Shari Cashman, Alan Pierce, Austin Sagan, and Sandy Sheckman receive their North Shore Community Hero awards. The four honorees were selected for their unwavering dedication to the Jewish and North Shore communities, as well as for improving the lives of countless people.

Additionally, the Derek M. Sheckman Teen Leadership award was presented by the North Shore Teen Initiative to Swampscott’s Olivia Forman for her demonstrated commitment to the North Shore Jewish community, working to improve the quality of life for others, and serving as a role model for her peers.

JF&CS is extremely grateful to honorary co-chairs Barry and Linda Klickstein, JF&CS Board President Robin Neiterman, as well as the event committee and all who attended and supported the event for making Wednesday evening such a memorable experience.


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April 28, 2014

JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014

One hundred fifty years ago, Boston businessman Nathan Strauss gathered a group of “26 responsible men” to help needy and indigent Boston Jews, calling themselves the United Hebrew Benevolent Society (the UHBA), and the predecessor to modern day JF&CS was formed. These men gave freely of their time and effort in distributing food, money, and clothing to the needy. Guided by Talmudic law, which compels acts of charitable kindness to others who are less fortunate, the UHBA was completely run by volunteers.

Throughout the first decades of our predecessor agencies, volunteers ran the show. Groups of Jewish women volunteers taught recent immigrants how to sew, as well as how to earn wages and become self-sufficient, at the Hebrew Ladies Sewing Circle and at the Hebrew Industrial School. Women volunteers also organized and sponsored country summer outings and activities for disadvantaged urban mothers and children.

Volunteers were instrumental in opening medical clinics such as the Jewish Dispensary for Women and Children, which offered free medical care to the poor. They organized everything from Passover distributions to a Prisoner’s Aid Society, orphanages and old age homes to a Hebrew Free Loan Society. Many of the programs we have at JF&CS today originated in the early years of the UHBA and were entirely established, staffed, and run by volunteers - who have remained an important feature of JF&CS throughout our 150-year history.

Currently, JF&CS has more than 2,600 active volunteers who exemplify what the Talmud says about providing deeds of kindness to others in need. More than 75% of our JF&CS workforce is made up of volunteers! And some of them have been with us for more than 30 years.

Our volunteers allow programs like Family Table to function and thrive. Last year volunteers donated their Sundays to pack and deliver 19,500 bags of food to more than 400 families who might otherwise not have had enough food on their tables.

Our award-winning Lauren and Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program depends almost entirely on caring, empathetic volunteers to provide support and guidance to new mothers who feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come with a new baby. Our Friendly Visitor program matches kindhearted volunteers with isolated elders to provide companionship and a cherished connection to the Jewish community. Without volunteers, these programs simply could not exist.

But it’s not just our programs and our clients that benefit. Our volunteers say that the experience is so intrinsically meaningful and fulfilling that they get as much as they give. “Deeds of loving kindness” to others can often be unanticipated deeds of kindness to ourselves. Our volunteers have helped so many people in need for the last 150 years. We hope to provide our clients with compassionate volunteers – and our volunteers with fulfilling journeys - for another 150 years.

Learn more about our 150th anniversary.

Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014.

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April 25, 2014

JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014

Temple Emunah Family Table Site CoordinatorsSometimes good things come in threes. That is the case at Temple Emunah in Lexington. JF&CS has the good fortune to have not one, not two, but three site coordinators from this synagogue for JF&CS Family Table, New England’s largest kosher food pantry. Volunteers Nancy Lefkowitz and Michelle & Mark Abramson have teamed up to ensure Temple donations of healthy food each month and to support the mission of this important program that helps many families in need.

“Site coordinators are our ambassadors. They rally the troops, educate the community, and make sure the collection happens,” said Bernice Behar, Program Manager of Family Table. “Nancy, Michelle, and Mark take it to a whole new level and lead efforts to keep Family Table’s mission in front of the community. They have been very consistent and committed for a long time.”

Family Table depends on a dedicated network of volunteers to gather, pack, and deliver groceries to almost 400 families in Greater Boston and on the North Shore. Each month, Family Table clients receive fresh and frozen produce along with wholesome groceries, protein-rich foods, dairy, personal hygiene products, and Jewish holiday items. The program currently gathers donations at 69 collection sites including temples, Jewish day schools, and community centers.

Nancy was the first member of the trio at Temple Emunah. She began volunteering about 12 years ago, packing and delivering food when Family Table was housed at Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline. When the prior coordinator stepped down, she agreed to serve.

“I immediately experienced the importance and value of Family Table to the community and was so impressed by the response of JF&CS to meet the needs of those who required additional support to make ends meet,” said Nancy.

Nancy reached out to Michelle and Mark, a married couple who are long-time members of Temple Emunah, to get involved. With two small children, they saw Family Table as an opportunity for family tzedakah and they began making donations and packing groceries. Then, almost ten years ago, they also became site coordinators.

“There is so much wrong with the world, so much need and injustice. You can’t solve everything but you can take on something local and manageable,” said Michelle. “Making sure people have enough to eat is local and it speaks to me. It’s my way of doing tikkum olam.”

Every month, they call on Temple members to donate 110 boxes of whole grain crackers and 110 two-pound bags of rice. This specific request ensures that, when combined with donations from other sites, all families’ needs can be met.

“Volunteering for Family Table enables me to see my efforts translate to an immediate benefit to families in need, regarding an aspect of life — eating — that is central to all of our existence,” said Mark. 

The team has also taken on a larger role of raising their community’s awareness of Family Table in a multitude of ways including a monthly column in the Temple's bulletin and working with the Hebrew School to raise awareness. The Temple has responded generously to their efforts. Young children are seen dropping off food on their way to Hebrew School. Many families help pack and deliver food throughout the year.

One of the many special things that Mark and Michelle coordinate is the preparation of more than 200 mishloach manot bags for Purim. On the Temple’s Mitzvah Day, sixth graders pack these small traditional gift bags with raisins, nuts, dried fruit, and applesauce purchased by the Temple especially for Family Table.

“This is an extraordinary thing that Temple Emunah does. It shows the extra initiative that these site coordinators take. It’s really wonderful,” said Bernice.

The work of JF&CS depends on the leadership of volunteers like Nancy, Michelle, and Mark. We are thankful for all our site coordinators. With their effort, congregations throughout Greater Boston and the North Shore come together to share the mission of Family Table and help fight hunger by providing nutritious food to those in need.

Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014.


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April 24, 2014

JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014

Betsy CohenWhen Betsy Cohen began volunteering for the Lauren & Mark Rubin Visiting Moms® program almost nine years ago, she never expected that she would learn as much from the moms she visits each week as they do from her. Over the years, Betsy has helped 11 women become more confident mothers, and they have given her a new perspective on mothering.

“Being a Visiting Mom is a learning experience for me. To be part of someone’s life for a year, to listen without judgment, to accept someone else’s reality that’s not my own, has opened me up to being more accepting,” said Betsy.  “I love Visiting Moms. It’s an incredible program. It appeals to so much of who I am.”

Now in its 25th year, Visiting Moms is a nationally acclaimed program, offered by the JF&CS Center for Early Relationship Support© (CERS), for pregnant women and mothers of newborns who are adjusting to a growing family. The caring volunteers who visit  moms’ homes each week to offer support and encouragement are the heart of the program.

Betsy is a therapist who specializes in health education, nutrition, and lifestyle balance. She met Peggy Kaufman, Director of CERS, almost 15 years ago when she attended the agency’s annual Women’s Breakfast. “I could tell right away that JF&CS was a great organization with great people,” she said.

In addition to Visiting Moms, Betsy is also a member of the CERS advisory committee and serves as co-chair of the agency’s Hunger and Nutrition committee. She has found her time with Visiting Moms especially rewarding, helping mothers from different cultures, others who were new to the area without family or friends nearby, and some with postpartum depression and extreme sleep deprivation.

Even though she helped each mom face her own unique challenges, Betsy noted that one thing stays the same.  “To watch someone blossom from being nervous, apprehensive, and sleep-deprived into a confident, competent, loving mother is a very positive experience.”

She recalled one new mother who was struggling. “Mom and baby didn’t have a strong connection at first,” said Betsy.  “I supported, encouraged and modeled for her. By the end she and the baby did bond. To see her love her baby – that was incredible. That’s how we know the program worked.”

The caring and respect that develops over the year is mutual, and Betsy has a collection of baby pictures to prove it. “To be a constant presence in their life means so much to them,” she said.

This year’s Women’s Breakfast celebrates the 25th anniversary of Visiting Moms and honors all our Visiting Mom volunteers – past and present. Learn more about the event.

Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014.


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April 23, 2014

JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014

Memory CafeWhat’s better than having a cup of coffee and enjoying some music with a friend? It may seem like a simple pleasure, but for people living with dementia it can be a rare one. Now there’s a new way for people living with memory changes and their partners to come together at the JF&CS Memory Café.

“With memory change, life becomes about what you can’t do. For a person who doesn’t have dementia to see their partner laughing can recharge that relationship,” said Beth Soltzberg, MSW, MBA, Program Coordinator, Living with Chronic Illness. “We don’t focus on disease. We focus on life and helping people connect.”

Held on the first Friday of each month at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham, Memory Café offers a welcoming place for people living with memory changes due to Alzheimer’s, vascular disease, Parkinson’s, frontotemporal degeneration, or other related conditions. These intergenerational events feature a guest artist, musician, poet, or author who shares his or her work and leads the group in a related activity.

“Creativity is a function that tends to endure or get stronger with dementia. As inhibitions decrease, people can feel freer to express themselves,” said Beth. “The arts can improve quality of life and help people feel challenged and alive.”

The Memory Café is an innovative concept that began spreading across the country in the 1990s. There are now around 100 sites in the US. The JF&CS Café is one of only two in Massachusetts and is the only one in the state that is community based. The first JF&CS Café kicked off on March 7 as 15 guests gathered to enjoy each other’s company, nibble on pastries, and sing some of their favorite Pete Seeger songs led by Marjorie Sokoll, JF&CS Director of Jewish Life and Healing, on the guitar.

JF&CS staff and ten college students from the Waltham Group at Brandeis University joined Café guests. The students help set up the room and, more importantly, greeted and mingled with everyone gathered at the Café. “There was a mix of students and elders at the tables and everyone was so engaged. It was very energizing,” said Beth. “We watched a video of Seeger performing ‘If I Had a Hammer’ from 1956. It was especially fun to listen and sing these songs with the students and talk about how things have changed.”

Before launching Memory Café, Beth talked to people running similar events around the country. She was inspired by a memory arts café in Brooklyn that features collaborations with artists and one at Dartmouth College that partnered with a sorority. “The arts and student involvement were the two pieces that were foremost in the development of this Café,” said Beth. “I reached out to Brandeis and was very excited that they had an interest. It is a joy to work with them.”

One guest, who attended with her husband who has Alzheimer’s, put words to the feeling of joy in the room. She said, “There is definitely a role for adult day health and other more formal programs. But my husband has so much life in him and those programs can be very passive. This, for us, is so much more invigorating and hopeful. This Café is really the best news I’ve had since he was diagnosed.”

The JF&CS Memory Café meets on the first Friday of the month from 10:00 a.m. to noon at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham. It is free of charge; donations are welcome. The next Café will be held on May 2. For more information, please contact Beth Soltzberg at bsoltzberg@jfcsboston.org or 781-693-5628.

Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014.

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April 18, 2014

JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014

Hannah NersasianHannah Nersasian has a passion for helping those in need and a gift for inspiring others to help as well. The new manager of JF&CS Volunteer Services has coordinated programs for children and refugees, for immigrants and business people, for small nonprofits and large multi-national companies. She has also helped dig a watering hole and taken down a tiger house at a safari park.

“There were ostriches and wildebeests watching us work but the tigers were of course in a cage!” recalled Hannah.
 
Through it all, Hannah has supported and coordinated efforts to create the most meaningful and rewarding opportunities for volunteers. Now Hannah will be applying this expertise at JF&CS. In this role she is both the first point of contact for anyone wishing to volunteer and a manager thinking strategically about how the agency can best use and support its volunteers.

“Volunteering offers a unique perspective. When someone volunteers their time, the recipient knows that person doesn’t have to be there with them. That makes a massive difference to them,” said Hannah. “And it matters to the agency to have extra support from people who have different perspectives and skill sets.”

A British citizen married to an American, she brings a worldly perspective and a wealth of practical experience. Hannah grew up in Somerset, a rural county in southwest England and came to the States to pursue a Master’s degree in international relations at Boston University. After graduation, she returned to the UK and began working for a refugee mentoring program that matched London residents with refugees, primarily from Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Somalia.

Hannah then worked as project manager at an innovative organization called TimeBank, which helps individuals and businesses find rewarding volunteer opportunities. On behalf of Sony UK and T-Mobile, she organized promotional events and established partnerships with local nonprofits. This involved a wide range of activities, some of them a bit surprising.
 
In addition to their time at the safari park, Sony staff served meals to families of children in hospice care, rounded up cattle on a hillside in Surrey, produced a promotional video for a horseback-riding school for children with disabilities, cleared scrub from countless fields, and painted a mural for a local youth group. Within 18 months, 12 percent of Sony UK staff had volunteered, giving many hours to their community.

“Volunteerism has the potential to make a massive difference in building community and changing people’s perspective. It’s a unique role that can’t be filled by someone who’s paid,” said Hannah.

Before Hannah joined JF&CS she worked as director of the Greater Boston Playspace Program at Horizons for Homeless Children. There she managed 53 shelter partnerships and a network of more than 600 volunteers who led playtime activities for children living in shelters. It was through her work at Horizons that she learned about JF&CS.
 
Hannah has begun her time at the agency by meeting with program managers to identify how volunteers could help meet their needs as well as the support and training volunteers would require. “I’m excited about the breadth of services offered. It’s incredible to be talking about Parkinson’s one day and disabilities the next. Our mission of improving people’s lives is wonderful,” she said.

She’s also trying on a number of volunteer roles herself. So far she’s participated in a Nutrition Services workshop, helped with a Family Table distribution, and attended the Friendly Visitor Passover Seder.

“This gives me a birds-eye view of all the moving parts. Volunteers all have such a part to play in supporting us and supporting families,” said Hannah. “I’m looking forward to expanding the ways we use volunteers and making sure they know how much we appreciate them.”

For more information, call 781-647-JFCS (5327) or email your questions via our contact us page.

Read more articles from JF&CS Volunteer News Spring 2014.


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April 17, 2014

Posted by Bernice Behar
Originally published in the Jewish Journal

Seder TableHow does New England’s largest kosher food pantry prepare for Passover?

One of the busiest times of year in a Jewish household is just before Passover/Pesach when everyone works to prepare their house for the upcoming holiday, clearing out the chametz (leavened foods forbidden during Passover) and stocking up on kosher for Passover foods. Recently JF&CS Family Table prepared in a similar fashion for the holiday so that we would be “Pesach-ready.”

Last year Family Table provided more than 19,000 bags of nutritious food valued at over $300,000 for people living on very low incomes. Family Table provides groceries once a month to recipients and additional food items for the holidays. This Passover we distributed food to nearly 400 families. This number has grown dramatically since our launch in 1993.

Our Passover preparations began in the depths of winter, when we asked our clients whether they would like kosher chicken, gefilte fish, matzah, macaroons, and much more. We turned to our 69 Family Table collection sites (local synagogues and day schools) to collect the food. The kosher chickens were purchased with the support of a generous donor. This year we provided more than 700 boxes of matzah to Jewish families!

Family Table is a grassroots effort with a great deal of community involvement that is essential. A group of volunteers from Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley joined JF&CS to help pack the Passover bags. Hundreds more volunteers assisted during Family Table distribution days at JF&CS Headquarters in Waltham and at our North Shore location, Temple Sinai in Marblehead.

Our Passover preparations also extended to our physical pantry space. In keeping with Jewish tradition, we observe the prohibition against chametz in both pantry locations. We “sold” our chametz with the help of a Rabbinic agent, who completed the process on our behalf. And just before Passover began we sealed our pantries, closing access for the duration of the holiday. What happens if someone needs emergency food during that time? We set aside several packages of groceries that we may distribute in emergency situations.

As we help families in need observe Passover, JF&CS Family Table remains true to its roots as an essential resource in the Jewish community and a place where volunteers and clients alike can feel a caring Jewish connection.

bernice beharBernice Behar is the Program Manager for Family Table, the largest kosher food pantry serving Greater Boston and the North Shore. She joined JF&CS in 2010 having spent many years working in the financial industry as a chartered financial analyst and investment manager. Bernice brings to Family Table a passion for helping people access nutritious food and a dedication to working in the Jewish community. She is an active board member at her synagogue and holds a BA from the University of California Berkeley.


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