- Meet Our Leaders
Michael Rolnick is putting his business expertise to work for JFCS along with his enthusiasm to spread the word about the impact the agency has in our community. As a well-respected and successful venture capital investor and entrepreneur, his career in media and technology has spanned nearly two decades. He and his family have been energetic JFCS community members for years and Michael recently joined the Board of Directors. He also sits on JFCS’ Program and Planning and Peninsula Major Gifts Committees, and he and his wife, Linda Himelstein, are this year’s North Peninsula Fammy Gala Co-Chairs. Michael says, “JFCS has demonstrated an ability to flex and modify the delivery of services to where the current needs are the greatest, and I find it really impressive.”
Tell us a bit about the community where you grew up and your background.
I was raised in Washington, D.C. and my family was active in the Jewish community both from a social services and a cultural perspective. I saw the impact lay leaders could have when my parents took on roles with the Hebrew Home of Greater Washington, a long-term care facility for seniors, the Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, for adults with disabilities, and with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
I went on to college and then graduate school. I met and married my wife, a journalist, and in 1996 we relocated to the Bay Area at the beginning of the first tech boom. We have been in the Bay Area ever since.
Have you always been involved in the Jewish community and philanthropy?
Yes, and it started when my wife and I had our children. We began to make a concerted effort to be more involved in our synagogue and in our local community. We moved from San Francisco to Hillsborough and began replicating for our family the close-knit social connections we had experienced growing up.
It was during this time that I took my first big philanthropic role as a fundraising chair for our school district’s foundation. I got the opportunity to connect and form great relationships with people I wouldn’t have ordinarily interacted with. I found that the more time I invested in a cause I believed in, the greater intangible rewards we derived as a family. Nothing is more rewarding than making positive contributions to the community you live in.
Has JFCS helped you or have you used the services in some way?
JFCS’ Parents Place was a terrific resource for us as parents when our kids were small. As they grew we started shopping for the JFCS Food Pantry in San Mateo. We are still very active Food Pantry stockers and we volunteer as a family unit to help ensure that JFCS clients do not go hungry.
My children, Jillian and Ben, have both taken part in JFCS’ YouthFirst internships where they gained valuable professional skills. My son was also on JFCS’ Teen Advisory Board and the leadership opportunity was a wonderful experience for him.
What motivated you to join the Board?
My family and I have been involved with JFCS for many years as volunteers, donors, and supporters. When my wife was researching her book on Pyotr Smirnov, The King of Vodka, Dr. Anita Friedman was very helpful and made connections for us when Linda traveled to Russia to complete her research.
I gave Anita a call over a year ago to seek out an expanded leadership role with JFCS. I wanted to invest my time and expertise into a cause that I felt passionate about. My role on the Board has been very meaningful—the degree the agency has been able to modulate its programming in the face of changing community needs is a testament to the talented leadership and staff. I’d say most organizations aren’t very good at changing course, but JFCS is always asking the important questions like how we measure impact and success.
I’m also amazed by the range of JFCS’ services that support the community. I haven’t seen another agency that has this broad an influence or the array of programs.
What is the most rewarding part of your involvement with JFCS?
No matter how healthy you are now, we all at some point will need some extra help. It’s very humbling to be involved in an organization that contributes to the well-being of so many.