While talking to Sondra Fineberg Kraff, it becomes obvious that CJE is like oxygen to her. She has literally lived and breathed CJE’s mission for most of her adult life. For decades, she has proudly proclaimed that she is the “Baubie of CJE” and no one would dare to disagree.
Most of her large circle of friends, family and colleagues call her “Sashie,” a name acquired in childhood because her younger brother (now 83) could not pronounce Sondra. Though she proudly defines herself as a feminist, her role as a devoted mother of 5, grandmother of 11 and great-grandmother of 3 (with another on the way!) takes priority. Petite, with striking white hair, Sashie exudes passion and a zest for life that belies her biological age, 85. She is grateful for each day and affirms that she is young in heart, if not in years. Even her license plate displays her playful spirit: Aging 18. However, as her story unfolds, it is clear that her faith, love of family and devotion to hard work have all contributed to her positivity through life’s many twists and turns.
Sashie has been an active member of CJE’s Board of Directors since 1995, serving on several committees. Her astute questions and debate skills are legendary, the likely result of being a middle child. But she actually began volunteering for CJE almost two decades earlier when her synagogue’s sisterhood helped launch CJE’s Shabbat Luncheon program. As a young mom during this time period, she had 5 children within 7 years and was dedicated to raising her growing family. But following her divorce, and with a calling to “do more,” she went back to school in the mid-1980s and earned her Master’s in Social Work from Loyola University and later, her LCSW certification.
With her degree in hand, she made the transition to being an employee at CJE’s Park View Home and she recalls vividly the day in 1981 when she helped residents move to CJE’s new skilled nursing community in Skokie—Lieberman Geriatric Health Centre (now Lieberman Center for Health and Rehabilitation). Her connection with CJE deepened further when Sashie was appointed Lieberman’s first director of human services, overseeing social services and activities. Her formal career with CJE spanned almost a decade during which she was instrumental in launching the Home-Delivered Meals program and Alzheimer’s Support Groups.
After she decided to part ways as a CJE employee, Sashie went into private practice and once again became an active volunteer… at Weinberg Community in Deerfield. During this time, her father retired and years later, he became a Lieberman resident. According to Sashie, this stage of life was difficult for him. She realized more than ever that people need opportunities to stay engaged, intellectually curious and active throughout the aging process. Extremely creative and inquisitive herself, she started a discussion group for Gidwitz Place residents called “Topics of Jewish Interest.” This Monday-+morning gathering still exists, though it has been renamed “Try It, You’ll Like It!” which is really Sashie’s not-so-subtle way of encouraging people to attend. It is hard to say “no” to Sashie so it typically draws a crowd of 25-30 people. No topic is off limits—love, sex, politics, Torah—but participants need to be respectful and non-judgmental.
On Mondays, Sashie wakes up excited, knowing she will schmooze with the residents, have a provocative discussion and also learn from them. It’s her favorite day of the week. She emphasizes that she gets more than she gives. When she is not volunteering, she works out, does needlepoint, knits, cooks, participates in her synagogue’s Torah Study group, goes to a monthly movie group, meets friends, attends Hadassah meetings, prepares for next Monday’s group… no doubt, her days are full. She is also always advocating for people to utilize CJE’s services because she firmly believes that CJE can play a large role in helping people age “well.” She is never without a pocket guide that highlights CJE’s 35-plus programs, just in case she meets someone who could benefit from CJE’s expertise in eldercare.
Her dedication to Judaism, her heritage and her family have infused most of her personal and professional choices. Sashie’s father, Rabbi Shlomoh Z. Fineberg, of blessed memory, moved to the Austin area of Chicago from Flint, Michigan, to ensure a Jewish future for his three children. Her mother, Naomi, of blessed memory, carried out the duties of a devoted rebbitzim. Sashie beams when she talks about her parents and emphasizes her enduring commitment to honoring their memories. In 1998, she endowed The Rabbi Shlomoh Z. Fineberg & Naomi D. Wainger Fineberg Religious Observance Fund which has funded a lobby showcase at Gidwitz Place, Torah and Bimah covers, Siddurim, and Haggadot, as well as other Jewish programming. She is confident that her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will carry on the tradition of gemilut chasadim. With delight, she shares that they will also pass on her “famous” brisket recipe, the centerpiece of all holiday More than once, Sashie mentions that she is truly blessed to be able to support Jewish causes through philanthropy and volunteerism. She says she gets paid back in “nachas, and on holidays, double nachas.”
Does she have any unfilled wishes? She has already been to Israel ten times, so there are not many… though she would have loved to become a rabbi. While that may not be in her near future, we do know that Sashie has been committed to CJE for over 40 years… as a volunteer, employee, daughter of a client, Board member and donor. She defines herself by the following adjectives: Energetic, Feminist, Enthusiastic, All Things Jewish. From our perspective, we know that the Baubie of CJE will continue to enrich our lives merely by her presence and selfless practice of our Jewish values, for which we are truly grateful.