“Many Israelis in the Bay Area are newly arrived, working in tech, economically stable, and raising young children. But what happens to those who are aging, facing hardship, or coping with illness? They can be left aside, with no family nearby to help.”
—Oded Hermoni, JFCS Board of Directors and chair of the Bayit Ba’valley Israeli Committee
JFCS’ Israeli Department Thrives, Thanks to Dedicated Volunteers
Over the past ten years, the number of Israeli families moving to the Bay Area, particularly the South Peninsula, has been increasing. Recognizing the gap in culturally competent parenting and family support services in Hebrew, JFCS sought input from leaders in the community and, in 2020, launched a dedicated program: the Bayit Ba’valley Israeli Department.
Bayit Ba’valley offers Hebrew-language counseling for children, teens, and adults; parent consultations; workshops and support groups; and other family assistance. The program offers Israeli families confidential, expert support that is difficult to find anywhere else.
Another goal of Bayit Ba’valley’s work is to engage the local Israeli community in meaningful volunteer opportunities that use their strengths and skills while creating a bridge to the wider Bay Area Jewish community. Through Bayit Ba’valley, dozens of Israeli volunteers provide vital assistance every day for Holocaust survivors, seniors, families, and adults with special needs.
One special group of volunteers, the Bayit Ba’valley Israeli Committee, help to guide the department’s vision, strategy, and services. By lifting up emerging community needs, making informed recommendations, and increasing awareness in the community about services and volunteer opportunities, members have nurtured the department’s growth and capacity to improve the lives of local Israeli families and Holocaust survivors.
“I’m proud that we are now serving hundreds of Israeli individuals, supporting them with Hebrew-speaking therapists, for example, and making them part of the larger Jewish community,” Oded says. “But more than that, I’m proud to see the Israeli community giving back and taking responsibilities as part of the larger Jewish community.”
Meet two of the caring volunteer leaders of Bayit Ba’valley.
Eight years ago, Avivit Steinhart’s son shared with her what he had learned about JFCS’ Café by the Bay program for Holocaust survivors during his BBYO chapter gathering. Her interest piqued, Avivit contacted JFCS and became a volunteer driver, transporting Holocaust survivors on the Peninsula to the monthly gatherings. Her son went on to join JFCS’ YouthFirst leadership development and service-learning program.
In spring 2020, Avivit saw JFCS’ Facebook post requesting volunteers to help pack and deliver food to isolated seniors on the Peninsula and immediately signed up. When she learned about the need to expand support for Holocaust survivors, she enthusiastically joined the cohort of volunteers helping to plan and deliver weekly virtual gatherings. Avivit was among the committed group whose caring efforts allowed several local survivors to become b’nai mitzvahs decades after World War II halted their plans.
These gatherings have been a lifeline for seniors during lonely months. As one Survivor recently expressed: “Every week there were people. There was life. There were souls, and there was food. And there were handwritten notes and letters!”
Today, Avivit serves on the Bayit Ba’valley Israeli Committee, works closely with Naama to plan and coordinate Café by the Bay activities, provides administrative support for Bayit Ba’valley, and helps in JFCS’ Peninsula Food Bank. As monthly donors to the Food Bank, Avivit and her family provide meaningful, consistent support that ensures those in great need receive critical food and household essentials.
“I believe in this organization,” Avivit says. “I think JFCS is doing great and important work for the community.”
Michal Miasnik and her family first became involved with JFCS when her son enrolled in the summer internship program offered by YouthFirst seven years ago.
Michal, the co-founder of Bontify, a program that nurtures connections between grandparents and grandchildren, was inspired to sign up as a volunteer. With her deep interest in improving the lives of seniors, she was matched with Rachel, a local Holocaust survivor, for friendly visits.
“My weekly meeting with Rachel became the highlight of my week! I found a wonderful lady, smart and friendly,” Michal says.
Invited to join the Israeli Committee, Michal, who was raised in Israel, became part of the leadership group providing guidance on the department’s direction and working to increase awareness of the services among local families.
At the onset of the COVID pandemic, Michal immediately understood the challenges that isolated seniors like Rachel would face. After consulting with Naama, she launched a weekly online reading group to bring together Holocaust survivors. “I feel fortunate to have meaningful weekly interaction with incredible people,” she says.
“After years of volunteering with JFCS, I am as energized and enthusiastic as I was on day one,” Michal says. “I appreciate the platform it gave me to both make an impact on our community and gain a strong sense of purpose and fulfillment.”
Reflecting on the future of Bayit Ba’valley, Oded says, “On one hand, we will need to grow the program staff as, unfortunately, the specific needs of the Israeli community are growing. We will need more Hebrew-speaking therapists who can support, for example, freshly relocated Israeli kids, who are still suffering from the impact of the Pandemic.”
Continuing to build and strengthen the volunteer program also is a priority. “For me, as an Israeli who has been trying to bridge between the two Jewish ‘Tribes,’ it is a moment of pride where the Israelis can show how they give back and support the local community.”