Lifelong volunteer tapped to serve as JCF president

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Maybe for most. But not an 80-year-old like Adele Corvin. She laughed when asked the question. "I'm very fortunate, I have lots of energy. I've always been very, very busy, involved in the community."

Plus, she added, "I'm surrounded by so many young people who will be working together with me as a team."

Lest anyone have any doubt about her age, Corvin recently returned from a one-week JCF mission to Budapest and Prague.

Attending services and seeing the rebirth of Jewish life there was very moving, she said. "Parents are learning their religion through their children."

The group met with the principal of the Ronald Lauder-sponsored Jewish school in Prague. "There's a large school that is doing well and certainly needs more support, but the main thing is the children are learning Judaism and bringing it home. Many parents were never exposed to it at all."

Last month Corvin became the latest head of the JCF, succeeding John Goldman.

Ask anyone who knows her why she was asked to become president of the JCF, and they'll say it's her dedication.

"She is deeply admired and highly respected," said William J. Lowenberg, a past president of the JCF. "With things in her hands, everything will be handled with the utmost integrity, competence and dedication."

She is a native San Franciscan and a graduate of U.C. Berkeley, with a long record of community service. She and her late-husband, Bill, raised their children in San Francisco, and all three remain in the area.

Her current affiliations range from the San Francisco Adult Day Health Network to KQED to the Jewish Home. In the past, she has chaired the Bay Area chapters of both the American Red Cross and United Way. In addition, her resume lists 21 smaller organizations on whose boards she has served and has had 20 awards bestowed upon her.

"I became involved in the volunteer movement with Camp Fire Girls," said Corvin, who got involved because of her daughters. "That's where I was asked to serve on my first board."

In terms of the JCF, she first joined the Women's Division, "I can't remember when," she said.

That led to service on the board of directors and affiliation with the Jewish Community Endowment Fund.

Corvin's interests primarily focus on organizations that promote social services across lines of age and faith.

"If you live in a healthy community that is recognizing community needs, it's also going to be a very good place for Jewish leadership," she said.

Growing up in San Francisco, Corvin was always proud of the Jewish leadership displayed throughout the city's civic life, not just in the Jewish community. "It has always been important to me to serve not just in the Jewish community but in the general community as well."

Corvin knows she isn't beginning her tenure as JCF president at the easiest of times. The rash of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the Bay Area, especially those that have occurred in high schools, has her very concerned.

"Being an advocate of public education, I find it very disheartening and it must be addressed. I feel it can only be addressed with all the Jewish agencies working together with the schools."

The ongoing violence in Israel is another pressing concern. "I've always recognized the importance of having a Jewish homeland and recognized the tremendous dedication and struggle that brought it about."

Complimenting Israel's founders for their courage and vision, she said, "I recognize that in today's world, it's even more important."

It is critical that Israel remain at the top of the Jewish community's agenda, she maintains. "As a community we have the opportunity and responsibility to respond in any way we possibly can."

Outlining the importance of the Israel Emergency Campaign, Corvin said, "We must continue to be as supportive as possible in new ways, and be by their side at all times."

She emphasized that the JCF also needs resources to provide services to the entire community, "from birth to death," as she put it.

Another important mission for the federation is to "do its best to be there and be ready to act in emergencies as well as be the catalyst for planning for the future."

Just as Goldman made it a priority to diversify the JCF's board, Corvin hopes to continue what he started.

"We need to be inclusive for all ages and all backgrounds, whether you're born in San Francisco, Israel or Russia, or Reform, Conservative or Orthodox."

Corvin is a lifelong member of Reform Congregation Emanu-El in San Francisco.

Sam Salkin, chief executive officer of the JCF, said, "Adele cares deeply about our Jewish community both here and abroad. She has significant experience with agencies and institutions in transition, from the United Way and Red Cross in the general community to Mount Zion Hospital and the Jewish Home in the Jewish community. Her experience, comfort and insights into institutional change come at a perfect time."

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."