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Fundraiser

They could’ve done one more ho-hum Monte Carlo night, or something involving costumes. Instead, for its annual fundraiser, Jewish Family and Children’s Services of the East Bay held its second annual Art of Living last September, which was more about ideas than glitz. The event featured two speakers, acclaimed chefs (and East Bay residents) Molly Katzen and Michael Wild, who spoke of food, Judaism, and the work of JFCS. “It was one of those events where you look around and you feel people are making connections,” says JFCS spokeswoman Holly White.

If you throw a fundraiser for an agency that helps people find work, it makes sense to spotlight, some of those workers. That’s the idea behind “Strictly Business,” the annual fundraiser staged by Jewish Vocational Service. The event honored four individuals who found training and job search support at JVS, then went on to thriving careers. Says JVS executive director Abby Snay, “In this midst of this economic crisis, for people to celebrate the success of individuals with severe challenges, was inspiring.”

How many rubber duckies does it take to save the world? Apparently 15,000, which was the number of ducks sailing down a Vasona Lake Park stream in June at the Silicon Valley Duck Race. The event, which featured multiple corporate sponsors, kosher hot dogs and 3,500 attendees, raised more than $105,000, and Jewish Family Services was one of nearly 30 charities to benefit. “It was lovely in this year of economic crisis,” says Mindy Berkowitz, executive director of JFS. “It was free, it was a great day to come out to the park, and all in the names of silliness.”

In second place were San Francisco’s Jewish Community High School of the Bay Annual Celebration, the Oakland Hebrew Day School Gala and the AIPAC Annual Dinner in the South Bay.

First Place

San Francisco

Strictly Business

Jewish Vocational Service

(415) 782-6265

www.jvs.org/strictly_business.shtml

East Bay

Art of Living

Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay

(510) 704-7475

www.jfcs-eastbay.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Silicon Valley Duck Race

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley

(408) 556-0600

www.siliconvalleyduckrace.org

Second Place

San Francisco

Jewish Community High School of the Bay Annual Celebration

(415) 345-9777

www.jchsofthebay.org

East Bay

Oakland Hebrew Day School Gala

(510) 531-8600

www.ohds.org

South Bay/Peninsula

AIPAC Annual Dinner

(415) 989-4140

www.aipac.org

 

JCC

The JCC of San Francisco won favorite JCC in the city this year, just like it has the last four years.

Nathaniel Bergson-Michaelson, director of marketing for the JCC, says the crowds showed up for several new thematic programs this past year, such as the deliriously fun Purim Unmasked, which was as fun for adults as it was for kids. But as always, the lectures, preschool and after-school programs — and fitness center — continue to make the JCCSF a hub of community life in San Francisco. “We have a commitment to make sure we’re delivering quality programming to every part of the community,” says Bergson-Michaelson. “It’s nice to know we’re still on people’s radar.”

The JCC of the East Bay in Berkeley endured some financial wind shear last year, but the JCC has since stabilized, as management focused on core programs: preschool, after-school, summer camps and senior services. “People are appreciative of those programs,” says executive director Sally Flinchbaugh. “At the end of the day, people want to be with their community.”

In addition to those core programs, Flinchbaugh says the JCC is expanding its cultural programming with its Books & Bagels series, and recent screenings of thought-provoking documentaries. And watch for some expanded Jewish holiday programming coming later this year.

At Foster City’s Peninsula JCC, executive director Deborah Pinsky chalks up her facility’s success to the whole mind-body-spirit thing. “We continue to expand on the wellness concept,” Pinsky says. “We offer more than any other club.”

Not only does the PJCC boast one of the most impressive fitness centers in the region, the facility tries to bring a culture of health to members. Programs like Kaiser’s 10,000 Steps and Vibrant Brain series prove the PJCC offers more than just a fleet of elliptical machines.

Even if you’re the only game in town, you can still be the best game in town. That’s how j. readers feel about the Osher Marin JCC in San Rafael. With year-round concerts, lectures, Jewish holiday programs and valuable services for all ages, the JCC is still the place to be north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

“Our major focus is to be a deeply Jewish institution that’s also a magnet for families and a hub for adult life and learning,” says executive director Judy Wolff-Bolton. She and her team do that by sponsoring what they call “signature events,” such as the Chanukah and Purim festivals, as well as the recent health and wellness fair.

The Contra Costa JCC in Walnut Creek, Addison-Penzak JCC in Los Gatos and the JCC, Sonoma County in Santa Rosa came in second.

First Place

San Francisco

JCC of San Francisco

(415) 292-1200

www.jccsf.org

East Bay

JCC of the East Bay

Berkeley

(510) 848-0237

www.jcceastbay.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Peninsula JCC

Foster City

(650) 212-PJCC

www.pjcc.org

North Bay

Osher Marin JCC

San Rafael

(415) 444-8000

www.marinjcc.org

Second Place

East Bay

Contra Costa JCC

Walnut Creek

(925) 938-7800

www.ccjcc.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Addison-Penzak JCC

Los Gatos

(408) 358-3636

www.svjcc.org

North Bay

JCC, Sonoma County

Santa Rosa

(707) 528-4222

www.jccsoco.org

 

Local agency

When Palo Alto–based Friendship Circle marked its fifth anniversary earlier this year with a bash, staffers, funders and volunteers had good reason to celebrate. The organization, which helps Jewish special needs children by pairing them with Jewish teen volunteers, has made a huge impact on the local Jewish community.

Friendship Circle, says cofounder Ezzy Schusterman, gets “the whole community involved: the synagogues and the schools. We take everyone regardless of background and say ‘Do you want to make a difference?’ ” Apparently they do, as Friendship Circle prepares later this year to expand to serve the North Peninsula as well as the greater Palo Alto region.

With California unemployment skyrocketing, it’s no surprise Jewish Vocational Service scored with j. readers. Helping people find work is what JVS does best, and now their clients need that help more than ever. Demand for JVS services has doubled in recent months — but despite the gloomy economic forecasts, JVS has helped nearly 900 people find jobs in the past year.

Winning a Reader’s Choice award is “especially meaningful this year,” says executive director Abby Snay. “It reflects the role JVS has played in helping people deal with job loss, and with long and frustrating job searches.”

Even in Marin — the land of hot tubs and recession-proof home values — the economic downturn has hurt. That’s where the regional branch of Jewish Family and Children’s Services comes in, helping seniors, kids and families in need.

“This past year we’ve seen a doubling of requests from people struggling,” says JFCS regional director Nancy Masters. “People lost their jobs, or on the verge of losing their homes. So we have really tried to figure out how to respond.” That means adding new staff, expanding the food pantry, even programming workshops on stress and sleep loss.

At the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay, support for schools, midrashas and other community institutions has always been paramount. But the recession has kicked the federation into full gear — and j. readers are applauding.

“When the economic challenges hit, we very quickly responded by immediately reorganizing,” says CEO James Brandt, “cutting our budget significantly so we could continue our core mission. People saw this and felt we are being responsive, not only to the times but to the needs of the community.”

San Francisco’s Friendship Circle, Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay and Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley came in second.

First Place

San Francisco

Jewish Vocational Service

(415) 782-6265

www.jvs.org

East Bay

Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay

Oakland

(510) 839-2900

www.jfed.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Friendship Circle

Palo Alto

(650) 858-6990

www.bayareafc.org

North Bay

Jewish Family and Children’s Services

San Rafael

(415) 491-7960

www.jfcs.org

Second Place

San Francisco

Friendship Circle

(415) 624-7192

www.friendshipcirclesf.com

East Bay

Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay

Various locations

(510) 704-7475

www.jfcs-eastbay.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley

Los Gatos

(408) 556-0600

www.jfssv.org

 

Place to volunteer

It’s not quite herding cats, but Rachel Kesselman does have her hands full. At Jewish Family & Children’s Services, she keeps tabs on the agency’s 1,800 volunteers, each one eager to make the world a better place. “We take our volunteers very seriously,” she says. “They have extremely positive experiences.”

Those experiences include everything from in-home senior support to tutoring kids after school; from helping Holocaust survivors fill out restitution forms to delivering hot meals to AIDS patients. “We usually ask for a 6-to-12 month commitment,” Kesselman says. “But some stay for 10, 15, 20 years. We recently honored a 30-year volunteer.”

On either side of the Caldecott Tunnel, civic-minded folks know where to go if they want to lend a helping hand: Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay. Whether it’s teaching new immigrants the life skills needed to make it in America, delivering hot meals to Jewish seniors during the High Holy Days or simply helping kids with their homework, JFCS volunteers make a difference. “We see our volunteers as extensions of what our staff can do,” says marketing and communications manager Holly Taines White.

At Friendship Circle in Palo Alto, volunteers sign up to change the lives of Jewish special needs kids. But, says cofounder Ezzy Schusterman, it’s often the volunteers who find their lives have changed forever. Now in its fifth year, Friendship Circle pairs teenage volunteers with younger kids who may face a spectrum of physical, emotional or mental development challenges. “It creates community for special needs kids, their families and teen volunteers,” Schusterman says. “For volunteers this gives an environment to meet other Jewish teens and have fun. It keeps their Jewish identity alive.”

Like its sister agency in San Francisco, Jewish Family and Children’s Services in Marin drew the most votes in the North Bay. “A lot of people come to us [wanting to] integrate into their lives a way of doing a mitzvah for someone else,” says Nancy Masters, the director of JFCS in Marin. “Our mission is one of staff and volunteers working together.”

For potential volunteers, the menu of options includes providing transportation for housebound or frail elderly, delivering holiday gift bags to Jewish seniors and working with the homeless. “I’m continually moved by the compassion and commitment of our community,” Masters says.

In second place were the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, Oakland Hebrew Day School, Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley in Los Gatos and Hadassah’s Central Pacific Coast Region in the North Bay.

First Place

San Francisco

Jewish Family and Children’s Services

(415) 449-1288

www.jfcs.org

East Bay

Jewish Family & Children’s Services of the East Bay

Various locations

(510) 704-7475

www.jfcs-eastbay.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Friendship Circle

Palo Alto

(650) 858-6990

www.bayareafc.org

North Bay

Jewish Family and Children’s Services

San Rafael

(415) 491-7960

www.jfcs.org

Second Place

San Francisco

Contemporary Jewish Museum

(415) 655-7800

www.thecjm.org

East Bay

Oakland Hebrew Day School

(510) 531-8600

www.ohds.org

South Bay/Peninsula

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley

Los Gatos

(408) 556-0600

www.jfssv.org

North Bay

Hadassah–Central Pacific Coast Region

(415) 771-5900

www.cpcr.hadassah.org

 

Womens’ organization

Think women, think Jewish, and you’ll think Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. Hadassah routinely wins the Reader’s Choice award for favorite women’s organization and for good reason: Since 1912, Hadassah has done more to build up Israel and international Jewish solidarity then any similar organization.

“Obviously we are a fundraising organization, but we’re more than that,” says Liz Alpert, president of Hadassah’s Central Pacific Coast Region. “We try to establish a community where we care about each other, as well as everything else. I can’t say enough about how comforting it is to be with a group of intelligent, caring, professional women.”

Collectively, those women do a lot for Israel and the Zionist cause. Hadassah built one of the premiere hospitals in Jerusalem, as well as a top college. The organization’s youth aliyah programs bring teens and young adults closer to Israel, while Hadassah’s many education programs lock in a solid Jewish education for kids. And with 20 chapters across Northern California, Bay Area Jewish women have ample opportunities to contribute.


First Place

Bay Area

Hadassah–Central Pacific Coast Region

(415) 771-5900

www.cpcr.hadassah.org

 

Men’s organization

Coming off back-to-back wins in our Readers’ Choice poll, B’nai B’rith once again came in first for favorite Jewish men’s organization. Only one thing: It’s not just a men’s organization.

B’nai B’rith has worked for Jewish unity, security, continuity and tolerance for the past 165 years. But as any member will tell you, B’nai B’rith isn’t just for men anymore. Women are in leadership positions throughout the organization. In the Bay Area, B’nai B’rith sponsors activities to help seniors, including the recent Aging in Place seminars. It also sponsors Jewish cultural programs and the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration in Lincoln Park. “B’nai B’rith plays a crucial role in defending Israel at the United Nations,” says Golden Pacific Region co-president Stanley Goldman.

First Place

Bay Area

B’nai B’rith–Golden Pacific Region

(888) 274-8418

www.bnaibrith.org

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.