JFS Past Presidents Meet to Teach and Learn

An initiative from JFS Immediate Past President Wendy Born recently led to the inaugural meeting of the Jewish Family Service of the Lehigh Valley Past Presidents Advisory Council. The council was formed to give our present leadership an opportunity to learn from the wisdom and experiences of our past leaders and inform past leaders about our present activities, goals, plans and challenges.

At the first meeting, the five past presidents in attendance were encouraged to share memories of their time at JFS. Born, who was unable to come, shared this memory for HAKOL: “One memory was when I brought my 2.5-year-old grandson, Ben, to JFS to show him where Grammy volunteers and to meet Debbie. When Debbie was finished showing Ben around the office and the food pantry, she asked Ben what had been his favorite part of the day. Ben said without hesitation, ‘Being at JFS was the best part of my day!’ I often felt that way myself while I was JFS president!”

The other attendees included Alan and Roberta Penn, Ruth Meislin, Joseph Bernstein and Patty Glascom, who called in from her new home in Arizona. The past presidents enjoyed the meeting greatly and look forward to future involvement. “It’s always nice to get together with old friends. The amount of caring still shown by past presidents is remarkable and fortunate for the agency and the community as a whole. We are very proud and happy with the current president, Rabbi Juda, and the executive director, Debbie Zoller,” Bernstein said.

While we look forward to our growing programs and accomplishments, the past presidents in attendance have shared these memories:

Roberta Penn (president from 1976-79): The meeting was like finding a time capsule because it triggered memories from the late ‘70s when I was the 2nd president and JFS was a program under the Federation. The board was wonderful and my recollection was that everyone was a vital member of the board. We had many growing pains and difficult staffing challenges, but I most remember the bonding of the executive board and the laughter and fun we had, even in the midst of multiple serial executive director changes. I am very proud of JFS and the agency it has become and where it is today.

Alan Penn (1986-87): One of the things that I mentioned at the meeting was how far Jewish Family Service has come from a one-room office on the second floor of the JCC, which eventually expanded to a broom closet across the hall, to the beautiful facility now owned by JFS on Allen Street.

Ruth Meislin (1991-93): Despite ups and downs, JFS has turned into the magnificent agency it is today and emerged as an inclusive and important agency for the communities of Allentown, Bethlehem and Easton.

Joseph Bernstein (1999-2001): During my presidency, we were able to purchase and renovate the current building. We accomplished that task through excellent members of a caring and proactive board, and many members of the community who decided to step up to the plate and make it happen. The result was a newly renovated building without any mortgage due to a community fundraising effort. We also left the building at the completion of my presidency with a healthy endowment which has continued to grow through the able stewardship of the boards as well as Federation and other community members.

Rabbi Allen Juda (2017-present): In line with Jewish tradition, it is important to remember and appreciate the past which laid the foundation for the present and future. JFS stands on the shoulders of its past presidents and board members as it works to fulfill its mission and vision.

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