June 23, 2005
Group Honors Jewish Professional Efforts
Think West Hollywood and you might conjure up the city's proudly gay image, its Russian immigrants or street after street of hip apartment-dwellers. But West Hollywood also is filled with lots of elderly residents. So is nearby Park La Brea.
These areas have so many seniors that they're now called Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs. And seniors living there need services just as much as folks in Sun City, Ariz.
One person who's been instrumental in securing funds for home visits by social workers and transportation to doctor appointments is Jessica Toledano, director of the Jewish Federation's advocacy arm. She's this year's winner of the Special Award from the Jewish Communal Professionals of Southern California, which held its 25th Annual Awards Dinner this month at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood.
Tolenado's efforts have helped seniors continue to live at home, which is good for them and also hugely less expensive than care at a resident nursing facility. Among her inspirations was tapping former Rep. Mel Levine -- now the chair of the Jewish Community Relations Committee -- to lobby senators and representatives to support the local NORC, which badly needed funding. Thanks to those efforts, the NORC program recently landed $750,000 in federal dollars for the 2005-2006 fiscal year, after receiving no money the year before.
Among other accomplishments, Toledano played a key role in persuading local, state and federal politicians to spare from budget cuts programs that train immigrants living on welfare to become certified nurse assistants.
"This has been the best job of my entire life," a choked-up Toledano told friends and colleagues, at the ceremony attended by some 250 Jewish social workers, fundraisers and other communal professionals. At the dinner, Toledano announced that she, her Israeli-born husband and their young son planned to make aliyah to Israel in late June.
"Her shoes are huge, and she will be hugely missed," said Tzivia Schwartz Getzug, of the Federation's Jewish Community Relations Committee.
The gala affair allowed those who work to help the poor, aged and other to receive well-deserved recognition, event chair Jeff Kaplan said.
Six awards went to a diverse group of Jewish professionals.
"What you do is what we pray about," said Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, of Temple Valley Beth Shalom, in opening remarks.
The prestigious Career Achievement Award went to Carol Koransky, the Federation's associate executive vice president.
Koransky also heads the Valley Alliance, the Federation's San Fernando Valley wing, which, under her direction, raised a record $1.9 million on Super Sunday, partly because of outreach to area synagogues. She also spearheaded Year of Shabbat, a monthly program that brought together members of six Valley shuls to deepen their understanding of the Sabbath and to build community.
Other community achievements include raising seed money for Pups for Peace, which sends bomb-sniffing dogs to Israel to prevent suicide attacks. Earlier, she helped establish a program called the Israel Experience, which subsidized Jewish teens' trips to Israel.
"She's a pro's pro," said Laura Kaplansky, chair of the awards committee and executive director of Hadassah of Southern California. "Everything she touches turns to gold."
Koransky was a stay-at-home mom until her daughter and son turned 9 and 13 respectively. Koransky then earned a master's degree in business administration at the University of Judaism, with the goal of working in the community.
"You gotta love Jewish people," Koransky said, with a laugh. "You've got to be doing it out of love."
Other award winners were:\n
• Eileen Aroseti, Professional Excellence in Fundraising. Aroseti serves as director of development and congregation relations at Valley Beth Shalom. "People always want to know, 'How you can ask people for money?'" she said. "I tell them that I'm not asking for myself. I'm asking for those who can't ask."\n
• Michelle Wolf, Mark Meltzer Innovative Programming award. Wolf, the Federation's assistant director of planning and allocations, put together an event that trained volunteers for the mitzvah of bikur cholim: visiting those in need of healing at hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions. The conference proved so successful that she has worked with six synagogues interested in starting or expanding similar programs.\n
• Susan Axelman, the Dora & Charles Mesnick Award for Achievement in Senior Adult Programming. Axelman, director of senior services at Jewish Family Service, developed programming for NORCs. She now oversees five Jewish Family Service senior centers, among other responsibilities.\n
• Eric Gordon, the Allan J. Kassin Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement. Gordon had headed the Workmen's Circle/Arbeter Ring, Southern California District, for the past decade. Under his auspices, membership has grown at the local Workmen's Circle, which advocates for preserving Yiddish culture, the continuity of the Jewish community and social justice.