2017 Annual Report2018-11-29T00:39:46+00:00


Letter from the Board Chair and CEO

Harvey Kotler
Board Chair

Susan L. Bichsel, PhD
President and CEO

Dear Friends,

JFSA is dedicated to helping individuals and families face life’s challenges with confidence. All of our programs, services, and supports are designed with this single goal in mind. It is our promise to each individual and family and the community we serve. We remain committed to delivering these services, despite the increasing demand for them and the financial challenges we face from uncertain public funding and persistently rising health care costs.

This year’s annual report celebrates just some of the partnerships that help us bring great care to you. These partnerships with individuals, schools, universities, and medical institutions allow us to broaden the scope of what we can do, and allow us to do it more cost-effectively. Our partners work together to form a network of support and education that helps those we serve. From empowering teens to strengthening families to caring for loved ones in their homes, everything we do is focused on helping individuals find solutions to the barriers they face.

We thank our partners and our many donors for helping us to create a community of strength.



July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2017. All financial data is audited. Audit is available for inspection at the agency. 


Aging in Place

KNOW Abuse™

Dental Van

Forward Focus

Adult Day Support


Connecting medical students with older adults through Aging in Place.

Steven Smilowitz

Stephen Smilowitz is a 3rd-year medical student at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, pursuing his career in geriatric medicine. “I always liked being around older people. That’s probably because I had wonderful grandparents,” he explains. “But after participating in the Aging in Place program, I know now that this is what I want to do with my career.”

Aging in Place provides students the opportunity to work as a team (consisting of a medical student, nursing student, and physician assistant student) and together, meet with JFSA older adult clients who are living independently at home. Dr. Elizabeth O’Toole, professor of medicine and bioethics at CWRU and director of geriatrics and palliative medicine at MetroHealth, explains this is a unique program and fills two important gaps in current medical education.

“Students don’t always get to work directly with older adults. This program allows them to actually see these individuals in their own home environment, not in an institutional setting where time is limited and the concerns of the patient can get lost,” she says.

Dr. David Rosenberg, a JFSA Board Member, agrees. He and Dr. O’Toole, along with members of the medical school faculty at CWRU, developed the curriculum for Aging in Place. “Students can better understand the social determinants affecting successful healthcare outcomes. 

For example, they see first-hand whether or not a patient is able to manage his/her prescriptions in their home, or whether or not they can afford their medications,” he says.

Stephen adds another benefit of visiting clients in their home. “We meet with clients over the course of several months. You get to build a special relationship with them. They don’t want to burden their families with what’s bothering them or tell their doctor something that might adversely impact a medical decision. We’re seen as an in-between. And it brings our education to a higher level,

Dr. Elizabeth O’Toole

Equally important is the inter-professional education that occurs within Aging in Place. “Communication will always be critical among health care providers,” says Dr. O’Toole. “Integrating students from different schools together gives them the opportunity to sharpen their communication skills with each other early in their education. Plus, it is a skill they can transfer to any discipline.”

The result is an extraordinary partnership with JFSA. According to Dr. O’Toole, “JFSA has taught us better ways to develop this program between our students and their clients. Collaborations like this can be really complicated. You have different schools, programs, regulations, and standards. There are a lot of moving parts. But everyone involved wants it to come out right and so far, it has. That energy is infectious.”

Lessons from Danny

Danny Seiger

“I never mentored anybody in my life,” says Danny Seiger, 85, of Cleveland Heights. So, when his JFSA case manager asked if he’d like to help mentor a few medical students through the Aging in Place program, Danny was a bit apprehensive. A friendly outgoing person, Danny was told to “just be natural”.

“They asked me lots of questions,” he says. “I spoke to them about my personal experiences.” He told them how the lack of strength in his hands makes it impossible for him to change a light bulb. He showed them how he can’t sit in certain chairs in his home because they are either too low or don’t have arms to assist him in standing up om a seated position.

“I told them at their age, everything is easy. At my age, the things you took for granted no longer exist.”

Danny is very glad he participated in the program. “I found this experience very invigorating. We exchanged ideas and viewpoints. Plus, it was great for the ego!” he shared. He says the time he spent with the students were the most enjoyable afternoons he’d ever had. When his sessions ended, one of the students told him he was leaning towards specializing in geriatrics. “They wrote the most beautiful thank-you letters,” he says. 


Empowering teens and young adults to strengthen their role in the community,

Phil and Lynne Cohen

For over 150 years, the Hawken School has prided itself on preparing its students for the real world through the development of character and intellect. That mission inspired Phil Cohen, former JFSA Board Chair, and Lynne Cohen, former president of the Hawken Parents’ Association, to bring JFSA’s KNOW Abuse™ teen dating violence prevention curriculum to Hawken. The unique program uses a peer to peer model to teach students about healthy relationships and how to recognize the warning signs of abuse in relationships. Hawken is one of 17 schools that has brought KNOW Abuse™ to its student body. 

“We wanted our kids to have exposure to this program,” says Phil. “I knew how powerful the program is om the feedback we received om other schools.” Still, the Cohens knew that Hawken would not initiate a new program unless it had financial backing long enough to measure its impact. So, they decided to underwrite the cost of the program over a five-year period. 

“The development of student character was something we wanted to explore further,” explains Jim Newman, assistant director of student life in the Upper School. KNOW Abuse™ provided the perfect platform to make that happen. Students in their senior year were trained by JFSA professional staff to serve as peer leaders to freshman students. Peer leaders help freshmen understand the different types of abuse, how to identify the warning signs, and how to help a friend. 

Selena Gillespie, a peer leader, remembers how she initially reacted to the program. “I was really nervous because these are really difficult conversations to have, even with the freshman class,” she says. “But, I knew that if we confronted these issues as a community, it would help us bond more and grow as a healthier community.” Jane Wiertel, another peer leader, agrees. “It’s good to be aware of what can happen in a relationship and where to get help. My sister is a freshman. She said it was very helpful for her and her friends.”

The program doesn’t just focus on dating abuse. It explores all types of abuse that affect healthy relationships: physical, emotional, financial, verbal and sexual.  Charlie Ross, a peer leader, points out that students also learn that abuse isn’t always perpetrated by males. “It’s helpful to understand this,” he says. “Now we (guys) don’t feel targeted all the time.” 

Jim Newman, assistant director of Student Life, Upper School, works with Leah Weiss Caruso, JFSA KNOW Abuse™ program coordinator.

“Over the past five years, we’ve really developed the program. It’s now a part of the fabric of our school,” says Jim. “Today we are more willing to talk about what’s happening with our kids in terms of dating and relationship abuse. It has enabled us to take the conversation further into other subjects, like transitioning to college.”

Lynne Cohen believes KNOW Abuse™ is a great match for Hawken. “The students feel comfortable going to the teachers and talking to them about situations that might otherwise be uncomfortable,” she says. Another outcome she has observed is the relationship building that occurs between the faculty and students.  Students really learn how to advocate for themselves.” 

According to Jim, the Hawken and JFSA partnership has been very positive. “JFSA has always been willing to adjust their program to fit our school’s needs. That depth of willingness to work together and collaborate has been a huge success and our kids are better because of that collaboration.”


Bringing confidence to older adults 

Raisa Goldberg (left) works closely with her
JFSA case manager Luba Khachaturova.

Raisa Goldberg is an 81-year-old Holocaust Survivor who experienced very harsh conditions in Siberia when she was only five years old during the Second World War. She suffered malnutrition and endured the brutal cold with little clothing. She believes that period in her life is the reason she now has problems with her teeth.

“I had several teeth in my mouth, but a few years ago I lost them. I could not speak or eat. It was not good,” she recalls. When she was examined by dentists, they told her she needed to have implants surgically fitted but there was no guarantee they would hold because of problems with her gums.

Her JFSA case manager scheduled an appointment with CWRU’s School of Dental Medicine’s Dental Van, which comes to JFSA every month. Dr. Suparna Mahalaha, director of the geriatric program at the dental school, says Raisa is like many other older patients she sees as JFSA.

“A lot of our patients have had inconsistent dental services or services that were delivered outside of the U.S. Once they come here and keep coming here, we are able to provide consistent care,” she says.

The dental van serves adults 65 years and older. Since many in this population do not always have access to their own transportation, the van is a great resource. A key feature of the dental van is the opportunity for dental students to have direct contact with JFSA clients. “One of the biggest advantages is for our dental students to have the opportunity to be exposed to a population that they might feel nervous about or not so sure,” says Dr. Mahalaha. 

Dr. Mahalaha is pleased to work with JFSA to bring dental care to its older adult clients. “The collaboration in our school, among our faculty, with JFSA and with their clients is an inspired environment,” she says. In addition, she emphasizes the impact that having good dental health has on someone’s confidence. “No matter your age in life, confidence is such an important part of your wellbeing. If you cannot smile, if you cannot eat, if you have to keep your mouth closed, these are things that will affect you all your life. Our patients and students get to learn this together.” 

Today Raisa smiles with lots of confidence. She has received new dentures and is able to enjoy eating and speaking again. “The doctor did a very good job,” she says. “I’m very happy now.” “We are very proud and happy to partner with JFSA,” Dr. Mahalaha says, adding, “With the types of organizations JFSA partners with, that shows leadership. It shows stewardship, not just in our local community but in the broader community as well.” 

Dr. Suparna Mahalaha sees first-hand the increased confidence older adults have when their dental health improves.


Achieving self-sufficiency in the face of financial crisis and the threat of homelessness

When the Jewish Federation of Cleveland’s 2011 Population Survey revealed that close to 20% of Jewish families were living at or below Federal poverty level guidelines, a community task force was established to better understand this alarming statistic and other troubling economic trends. As a result, two programs were created with the support of the Federation: JFSA’s Forward Focus and the Cleveland Chesed Center. Working together for five years now, both programs have been successful in helping families get back on track.

Rabbi Avrohom Adler, executive director of the Cleveland Chesed Center, leads the organization’s efforts to provide immediate relief to families, in the form of food, clothing, household supplies and furniture. “Children were going to school hungry, they weren’t eating breakfast or anything before dinner. Our first priority was to address this by making nutritious kosher food available to them,” says Rabbi Adler. Donations from the Jewish community and the Cleveland Food Bank help keep the shelves stocked. Still, the Center’s work doesn’t stop there.

Rabbi Adler and his staff work closely with JFSA staff. Together they help families create a household budget, find employment opportunities and affordable housing – all of which support the goal of long-term financial self-sufficiency. “The families we work with can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” says Rabbi Adler. “Forward Focus gives them the tools to budget properly, so they can enjoy today and tomorrow.”

Boosting Self-Sufficiency With Legal Expertise

Julie Rabin is a bankruptcy attorney who helps Forward Focus clients in a variety of ways. “I work with a lot of families who are affected by divorce, sudden unemployment or catastrophic illness. Before, their family life was secure and predictable; now, they have to find ways to get back on track and don’t know where to turn,” says Julie. “Sometimes it involves declaring bankruptcy, other times it is just a matter of relieving certain debts.”

 “Clients are happy to connect with Forward Focus because the staff takes the time to carefully review the issues affecting their financial situation. I am just one component of the program. JFSA staff help prepare a client so they feel confident when they meet with me to discuss their options,” she says. Julie is happy to partner with Forward Focus. “It makes you feel good when a client says to you, ‘I’m glad we did this.’ Sometimes they’ll even call you months later and say they appreciate what you did.”


Achieving greater independence and inclusivity 

Ahuva Taub calls the Adult Day Support at B’nai Jeshurun her “happy place”.

Ahuva Taub enjoys participating in JFSA’s Adult Day Support program at B’nai Jeshurun Congregation so much, that she is known by her peers as the “junior director” of the program. She makes sure everyone is happy. She calls it “a very happy place”.

Designed to provide person-centered support, community integration and meaningful and enjoyable daily activities, the program offers a variety of activities for adults with developmental disabilities, including classes in art, computers, exercise, and social outings like trips to restaurants. 

Now in its seventh year, JFSA and B’nai Jeshurun Congregation in Pepper Pike partnered together this year to move the program location to the synagogue. Not only do participants have much more space in which to enjoy their activities, the congregation was able to address its objective of becoming more inclusive.

Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria enjoys seeing his congregants engage with JFSA clients.

“Right now we’re looking at how we can lower the barriers for people who feel they are not able to connect to the synagogue and trying to address all different types of needs,” says Rabbi Hal Rudin-Luria. “JFSA has really opened our eyes to some of the barriers we have to break down so we can involve everyone.” 

One of the features of Adult Day Support is the weekly story time, conducted by synagogue librarian Dr. Raphael Simon. A former high school teacher who worked with special needs students, Raphael works with JFSA clients to help them develop their communication skills and to encourage them to enjoy reading.

“Reading is such a fun mental part of our lives. Finding new books, new words, and even finding new friends in books, I hope this activity will encourage them to want to use libraries more and more,” he says. Raphael, who likes to read the classics to them, also wants the community to know that people with special needs like books just like anyone else and have a right to enjoy what a library has to offer.

Rabbi Hal says the new occupants are a welcome addition to the synagogue. “We are so excited to open our doors and welcome JFSA’s Adult Day Support program into our building and into our hearts. There is a pure joy in our building when the JFSA clients are here,” he says. He is especially gratified to see his congregants directly engaging with the JFSA clients. “I love seeing it. It gives me energy and excitement to continue my day and it reminds me what a great community we have.” 

Learn how JFSA Cleveland helps individuals and families face life’s challenges with confidence. Read the complete 2017 Annual Report.