- Meet Our Leaders
Miriam Sparrow brings the natural charm of a southerner to her many roles at JFCS, along with her commitment and drive. A JFCS Board member for two years, she is also the Sonoma County Co-Chair of JFCS’ Public Issues Committee and a member of the Sonoma County Leadership Team. She also serves on the JFCS-wide Program and Planning Committee, the Public Issues Committee, and the By-Laws Review Committee. In her relatively short time on the JFCS Board Miriam is already known for her expertise, dedication, and role as an effective and respected ambassador on behalf of JFCS and those who depend on us. “My husband and I retired to Sonoma County eight years ago and are very appreciative of the warm welcome we have received from JFCS, as well as the Jewish community in Sonoma County.”
Tell us a bit about the community where you grew up and your background.
My story is atypical. I’m a “southerner,” having grown up in Maryland, Virginia and North Carolina. When my family settled in North Carolina I was in junior high school. In order to bring together the small, scattered “community” of Jewish youth, I founded a Young Judaea chapter. We became a very active group, including our participation in activities at Camp Tel Yehudah, Young Judaea’s national leadership camp.
As a teenager I wanted to explore Israel on the Young Judaea Year Course, so I decided to graduate early from high school and live in Israel for a year before going to college. With the year course, I spent time in Jerusalem, worked in the vineyards at Kibbutz Naot Mordechai, lived with a family on a moshav, and taught Hebrew to immigrant children in Kiryat Gat. For me, coming from an area of the U.S. where few shared my heritage, being absorbed in Jewish history and culture in Israel was a life-changing experience.
My husband and I spent over thirty years in Manhattan and the New York City area, working and raising two children. Professionally, I worked as a lawyer at a NYC law firm and as General Counsel of a large healthcare corporation. My husband was a Professor of Management and Public Policy at New York University. After retiring, we combined our interests and expertise by teaching for several years in Tel Aviv University’s Sofaer International MBA Program. Living and working in Israel was a wonderful experience for us, both professionally and personally.
How did you first get involved with JFCS?
When my husband and I considered the possibility of retiring to Sonoma County, we worked with a real estate agent in Santa Rosa, whom my husband identified because of her service in local Jewish and nonprofit activities. At that time she served on the JFCS Board of Directors. She not only sold us our home, she sold us on the good works of JFCS! Since moving to Santa Rosa, our involvement with JFCS and the Jewish community has grown by the year.
What is the most rewarding part of your involvement with JFCS?
There are many, but highlights include the JFCS Holocaust Center’s Legacy Tour I took part in, led by JFCS’ Executive Director, Dr. Anita Friedman. The trip celebrated the opening in Warsaw of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews. We toured the museum, explored its excellent exhibits, and traveled to historical sites throughout the region. Traveling with JFCS provides a rich and deep experience, because of JFCS’ access to scholars who provided us with an education and context at each of the sites we visited.
I also find my work as a Chair of JFCS’ Sonoma County Public Issues Committee very rewarding. Through JFCS and its participation in JPAC (Jewish Public Affairs Committee) we have the opportunity to meet with local and state-wide elected officials each year. When we walk into legislators’ offices their eyes light up, and they appear very grateful to meet with us. JFCS is very well-respected for caring for those whose voices are often not otherwise represented. For JFCS’participants, it is important to be there educating our elected officials about the issues affecting our communities.
How do you encourage others to become involved with JFCS?
I love that JFCS has resources that meet people’s needs throughout their lives, from pre-birth and adoption to helping people die with dignity. Whenever and wherever I am, when I encounter a family in difficulty or wondering what to do with a child or an aging parent, I talk about JFCS and the many services that are offered.
I’m a big fan of the Futures Program, especially for people who don’t have children living nearby. I also appreciate the many opportunities to volunteer through JFCS, such as holiday bag assembly and delivery events several times a year. These events provide a good introduction to volunteering with JFCS and to its programs. Personally I have met some wonderful women whom I now consider extended family through these activities. In addition, I have recommended the Palliative Care Program to friends and relatives who have suffered from illness or accidents.
I also invite those new to the community to the Fammy Gala because it is a great showcase for the incredible work the agency does.
Anything else you would like to add?
JFCS is really an unusual and incredible organization, and I feel very proud to be a part of it.