Rabbi Roberto Graetz (center), formerly of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, at the recent ordination of Latin American Reform rabbis.
Rabbi Roberto Graetz (center), formerly of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, at the recent ordination of Latin American Reform rabbis.

Honors, happenings, comings & goings — Jan. 2023


Happenings

Members of the United Nations’ refugee agency UNHCR paid a visit to a Mediterranean halal restaurant in South San Francisco on Nov. 4 to recognize the work that Jewish Family & Community Services East Bay is doing on refugee resettlement in the Bay Area.

The team from UNHCR, which was led by U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, met with refugees who have resettled in the Bay Area and listened to their stories — in the process learning about the available programs that connect newly arrived families with the resources they need.

Among the refugees who met with Grandi were members of the Alshaar family, some of whom work at Dahab Restaurant and Cafe (where the meeting was held). The Alshaars are clients of JFCS East Bay refugee services who fled from Syria in 2013 to escape the war, then underwent a long and complicated journey before arriving in the U.S. in 2020.

JFCS connected the family to services such as Medi-Cal, food stamps, Social Security, English-language classes and job training. Their daughter enrolled in a dental assistant training program and is now working as a dental assistant. One son now works as a JFCS East Bay case manager, giving other new arrivals the same opportunities he appreciated receiving when he first arrived.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi congratulates Robin Mencher, CEO of JFCS East Bay.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi congratulates Robin Mencher, CEO of JFCS East Bay.

JFCS East Bay has been resettling refugees for 145 years, and as of last month, it had helped resettle more than 1,000 Afghan refugees since the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan began in April 2021, plus more than 200 from Ukraine since the Russian invasion nearly a year ago. The agency’s clients also come from Central and South America, and many are LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.

The resettlement services JFCS East Bay provides include finding housing and home furnishings, enrolling clients in English classes, getting them vocational support, enrolling children in schools, matching clients with volunteers and tutors, accessing medical and mental health services, and providing ongoing assistance to help the families thrive as they pursue their goals.

New arrivals receive toiletry kits, gift cards, assistance with food and grocery delivery, English tutoring, transportation, translation services, school supplies, blankets and other resources that will help them adjust and become self-sufficient.

In a short video that can be seen on YouTube, a beaming Grandi congratulates Robin Mencher, CEO of JFCS East Bay, and heaps some grand praise on the agency. Speaking about what the agency is doing for refugees, and commending a Jewish organization for supporting Muslim refugees, he said, “This is the United Nations for real.”

At a ceremony held at the Mishkán synagogue in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on Dec. 15, Rabbi Roberto Graetz, formerly of Temple Isaiah in Lafayette, blessed the first class of rabbis ordained by the Instituto Iberoamericano de Formación Rabínica Reformista. IIFRR is an educational institute that supports Reform Judaism in Latin America. Graetz has been organizing and teaching there since his retirement from Temple Isaiah 5½ years ago. The five new ordinees from Argentina, Brazil and Chile aim to make an impact in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking Jewish world.

Shlomi Kofman
Shlomi Kofman

Shlomi Kofman has been appointed vice president of the International Collaborations Division at the Israel Innovation Authority. A 25-year Israeli diplomat who was based in San Francisco (2017-2022) when he was Israel’s consul general for the Pacific Northwest, Kofman will aim “to promote the Innovation Authority’s international collaborations with companies that wish to conduct joint R&D ventures with Israeli companies, with international foreign entities, research facilities, hospitals and universities while promoting and assisting the Israeli tech industry,” according to a Facebook post.

David Israel Katz
David Israel Katz

A project by S.F.-based multimedia artist David Israel Katz is being featured at the Neve Schechter Institute’s Center for Contemporary Jewish Culture and Art in Tel Aviv. The project, titled “foreignfire,” (online at foreignfire.com) creates aesthetically powerful events in the overlapping areas of art and Jewish ritual. For example, it illustrates Jewish Biblical and various liturgical narratives by combining text, voice, movement, installation and video. One of its pieces is a weekly Torah reading in a digital space with contributions from singers, composers, video artists, sound artists and poets from the U.S, Israel, Europe and Latin America.


Honors

Sarita Bronstein
Sarita Bronstein

Sarita Bronstein will be honored for her 10 years of service as executive director of Hillel of Silicon Valley at the organization’s annual L’Dor V’Dor event on Feb. 26. “Hillel is blessed to have an outstanding leader in Sarita Bronstein, as our Executive Director, to lead our great, hardworking staff to address the ever-changing environment,” said Hillel of Silicon Valley board president Alex Drukarev in a press release. The event, which will take place virtually, features the theme “Celebrating the Biggest Miracle: The Jewish People.” The keynote speaker will be Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens. 

Gabi Kuhn
Gabi Kuhn

Gabi Kuhn, senior program officer at the Bay Area–based Jews of Color Initiative, has been selected to be part of the Wexner Foundation Field Fellowship, a program in which young Jewish community professionals receive guidance on development, education, leadership and Jewish learning. Kuhn is one of 15 professionals selected from a competitive pool of applicants for this three-year intensive program. 


Comings & goings

Rabbi Shalom Bochner is the new rabbi of B’nai Israel Jewish Center in Petaluma, taking over from Rabbi Ted Feldman, who retired last year after serving the congregation since 2005. Bochner comes to Petaluma from Congregation Beth Shalom of Modesto. He has also served as director of Santa Cruz Hillel. 

Photo of Rabbi Shalom Bochner and recent bat mitzvah Andrea Jimenez.
Rabbi Shalom Bochner and Modesto congregant Andrea Jimenez. (Photos/Joanna Lemus-www.SweetJojoPhoto.com)

Sue Bojdak is stepping down as director of education at Congregation Sha’ar Zahav in San Francisco and joining Congregation B’nai Tikvah in Walnut Creek as the director of congregational learning, beginning in February. Liz Jaroslow will serve as interim educator at Sha’ar Zahav for the remainder of this school year.

As of December, Rebecca Hausammann is the new associate director of the Jewish Family and Children’s Services Holocaust Center in San Francisco. A graduate of UC Berkeley who holds a master’s of education from Stanford University, she previously worked for more than 20 years as an English teacher and school administrator, and most recently served in the nonprofit sector. The Holocaust Center sets up talks for students and educators, has a library of more than 13,000 volumes and 2,000 oral histories, and does myriad other things in its dedication to the remembrance, research, documentation and education about the Holocaust.

Amy Fischer-Smith
Amy Fischer-Smith

Lisa Finkelstein has stepped down as part-time administrator of the Northern California Board of Rabbis, where she has worked since 2016. She is replaced by Amy Fischer Smith. She lives with her husband and three boys in Lafayette, where they are members of Temple Isaiah.

Daniel Klein
Daniel Klein

Daniel Klein is the new chief philanthropy officer of Jewish Silicon Valley. He was most recently executive director of Israel Bonds for the Pacific Northwest and a Bay Area director of AIPAC.


Philanthropy

Jewish Studio Project of Berkeley, JIMENA: Jews Indigenous to Middle East and North Africa of San Rafael and Wilderness Torah of Berkeley are among several Jewish organizations around the country to receive “Signature Grants” from the Covenant Foundation this month. Jewish Studio Project will receive $135,000 over three years to support arts programs for Jewish educators, JIMENA will receive $50,000 over one year to create materials to help Jewish educators better teach about Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews and Wilderness Torah will receive $147,000 over three years for a teen outdoors leadership program.

Lea Loeb
Lea Loeb

Lea Loeb is J.'s editorial assistant.