a middle-aged woman with short white hair stands smiling next to a tall pile of toys and other packages
Susan Frazer, the new CEO of JFS Silicon Valley, with a stack of donations to the organization's holiday toy drive.

New JFS Silicon Valley CEO oversees growing organization

Jewish Family Services of Silicon Valley welcomed a new chief executive on the first day of the new year. She didn’t have far to go to get settled in her office.

Susan Frazer, who until recently was the chief operating officer of the Los Gatos-based social-services nonprofit, became CEO effective Jan. 1. She succeeds Mindy Berkowitz, who had held the position since 2003.

“This is a new chapter in the legacy of JFS,” Frazer told J.

Founded in 1978, JFS Silicon Valley offers services such as support for the needs of aging; career counseling; social work for Holocaust survivors; and mental health counseling for families, according to the organization. Its services are available to people of all religions. In the fiscal year ending in June 2021, it reported about $2.5 million in annual revenue.

JFS announced in November a plan to establish a center for aging and caregiver services, which would augment its existing senior services.

Historically, JFS has offered social services to Silicon Valley residents in need. Since the start of the pandemic, that population has grown, JFS board chair Ruth Bareket said. In 2021, JFS helped to resettle an influx of Afghan refugees fleeing the Taliban takeover. Combined with a rapidly aging group of Holocaust survivors and those seeking aid after the economic fallout of the pandemic, JFS’ caseload has increased exponentially. The organization’s budget has tripled in just two years, Bareket said. In 2022, the organization resettled over 450 refugees, more than six times as many as were resettled in 2019, Frazer said. The budget, too, has nearly quadrupled, from $1.8 million in 2019 to $7 million in 2022. 

“We’re responding to the need, and the need is huge,” she said.

In her capacity as board chair, Bareket was on the CEO search community after Berkowitz announced her retirement. JFS “lucked out” in hiring Frazer, she said, who had been with the organization only since 2020. Though Frazer was originally slated to start as CEO in June of this year, that timeline was moved up after a three-month transition period that went so well, Berkowitz felt comfortable retiring six months earlier than planned.

“She is so good. She’s impressed us so much in just the short time she’s been with us,” Bareket said.

A native of the South Bay, Frazer began her career in social work at the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services as a “friendly visitor,” a program that connects volunteers with older adults in need. Her interest in the field came from caring for her grandparents through dementia and Parkinson’s disease. She went on to work as a JFCS case manager for eight years. After 20 years in other positions, returning to a Jewish organization felt like “coming home,” she said.

Frazer, while not Jewish herself, is dedicated to the Jewish values that guide JFS. The tenets of repairing the world, welcoming the stranger and treating everyone with dignity and respect are core to her work, she said. On her first morning as CEO on Tuesday, Frazer held a “staff celebration” to talk about the organization’s values and reinforce how they influence JFS’ work.

As a new year begins, Frazer is focusing on “kesher,” or connection: building on JFS’ existing relationships with the Jewish community in Silicon Valley, fostering partnerships to support the organization’s work, bolstering its refugee resettlement program and expanding JFS’ mental health services.

“Our intention really is to develop an even more meaningful relationship with the Jewish community and the broader community in Santa Clara County,” Frazer said.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene is a J. Staff Writer. Originally from Vermont, she has a BA in political science and an MA in journalism from Boston University. Follow her on Twitter at @lilsleygreene.