Presented by: Rimma Zelfand
2013 CERS Women’s Breakfast
Many of you know that I grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. Not many of you know that for the first 10 years of my life my family and I lived in a four room apartment that we shared with three other families. Many people live in similar conditions in Russia: four rooms shared by 14 people. One kitchen with four tables, one sink, and one stove with four burners – one per family and a schedule to use the oven. One bathroom, one toilet – this detail alone created some interesting dynamics.
And now, for our room – everything we owned was there. There was the coat hanger, the refrigerator, the piano. I slept in the reclining armchair next to the television, which was next to a large wall unit where we kept our dishes and our linens. My parents’ bed was next to it, and maybe that is why I am an only child. In the middle of the room there was a big round table. When I slept in my reclined arm chair, my legs were under the table. We took our meals at that table, I did my homework there, and my mother, a teacher, corrected students’ papers.
Let’s face it. I grew up in a less than perfect place. Our living arrangement created many stressful situations: 14 people with different personalities in one apartment, lack of privacy, a cramped room, and one bathroom – you get the picture. And yet when I look back, I remember a happy childhood. I remember being loved and cherished by my parents. I remember feeling safe and nurtured, both intellectually and emotionally. I remember feeling happy.
It is so important to me that JF&CS teaches our professionals and volunteers to be aware of their judgment of the living environments and circumstances of people with whom we work. We encourage them to concentrate on human connections. To think less about the size of the room, and the furniture in it – that is not what creates resilience and strength. Support, understanding, intellectual and emotional nurturing, and love create stronger, more capable, resilient, happier individuals, not furniture and square footage.
I am very proud that the concept of human connection is at the center of our philosophy at JF&CS.
Rimma Zelfand is the CEO of Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Her first involvement with JF&CS began with her joining the JF&CS Board of Directors and the Strategic Planning Committee in 2003. In 2004 Rimma joined JF&CS as Director of Senior Services. She came to her role with 15 years of a very successful track record in leading and managing home care, home health, disease management, and elder care programs. Under Rimma’s leadership Senior Services grew and gained recognition. Her accomplishments included: launching the first NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities) project in Massachusetts, creating the Parkinson’s Family Support Program, and establishing the Geriatric Institute. From 2008 – 2011, Rimma served as the Senior Vice President for Programs.