Volunteers in Action

I’ve volunteered for CJE for over 40 years now. Every Monday I have a group called “Topics of Jewish Interest with Sashie.” I am also on the Board and on several Board committees. I like to say I get paid “nachas” and when I work weekends I get “double nachas!”

— Sashie Kraff, CJE Board Member and Volunteer



Fay Herbstman has been a volunteer at Lieberman Center for over 10 years, always in the Gift Shop.

She comes in once a week from 11:30 until 3:00 p.m. In her work, she’s made many friends and has many regular visitors. “You work here long enough, you get to know what people want. If they can’t come down, you bring it up to them.” Although it’s stocked with lots of things, Fay slyly points out that many of the people who come there don’t really need anything. But she understands why, saying “they need something a little different that takes them away from their confined world...somewhere else to go... other people to see. Because of this, mine is a ‘multipurpose’ job.”

Fay on volunteering: “It keeps me going. Spiritually, it means I’m doing a good deed.” She also thinks it makes you appreciate what you have. “I’m blessed because I can do this,  and others here cannot.” Fay says volunteering gives her something important to do and it keeps her on schedule. Fay believes “Nothing stands still, and if you don’t get up and do something, you’ll just dehydrate and fade away!” Working also keeps her in touch with the times: “It doesn’t keep you young, but you know where you fit in. You get out there and you get to see what’s going on.”

“You have to be prepared for change because things cannot stay the way they were, says Fay.” Things in the Gift Shop change constantly for Fay who always gets excited when something new comes in. Among other changes, she remembers the first television and the time when operators made phone calls. The world is very different place for her and she said she is just happy she can be a part of it. “I can’t complain,” she says.

Fay Herbstman turned 91 on May 24, 2013. Born in Romania where her parents were delayed after escaping the Russian pogroms, she was nine months old when they came to the U.S. She worked as bookkeeper at a leather goods store on the south side of Chicago until the first of her four children were born. Widowed, she was married over 61 years. She indulges in the love of nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She still “makes” Friday nights, but not for as many as the 22 that she used to host years ago.

Steve Berkowitz is an exuberant, jovial guy who has been volunteering at The Friend Center for Memory Care every Thursday for over eight years. He visits with residents there, schmoozing and telling jokes, and, according to him, they love it: “I’m like their own Henny Youngman or something. I always have jokes for them.” He produces his copy of a dog-eared and bookmarked Encyclopedia of Jokes and explains how he selects five jokes that he tells them every time he comes. He says he can’t tell all of them, saying, “appropriate is fine; but they also seem to like the kind of risqué ones.” Steve explains that he used to play “Wheel of Fortune,” and he was “like their talk show host; I’d joke with them while they played, they’d laugh, and they’d have a lot of fun. Steve says the residents“...really appreciate my visits, they’re so grateful. They also remember me. They really love to laugh and because I make them laugh, they look forward to seeing me.” Considering Friend  Center is for persons with early to mid-stage dementia and other cognitive issues, that says a lot.

For the last two years, Steve has been bringing his dog Benjie as his sidekick. Benjie, is an adorable Lhaso Apso-Shih Tzu mix. He got Benjie after another dog didn’t work out, and that false start turned out to be a blessing, “ because Benjie is the best dog ever, and I wanted a dog that I could bring to Friend Center,” says Steve. “All he does is wag his tail!” Apparently Benjie is almost more popular than Steve—the residents love him. Steve says when Benjie is brought to a group, the people just light up. He can be very therapeutic. Benjie has actually gotten some residents out of their rooms.

Steve Berkowitz first came as a volunteer to Weinberg Community eight years ago for a one-time stint for Israeli Solidarity Day. One of the reasons he got involved was very personal. He explains that his mother in Connecticut was dying at the time. Being far away in Chicago and feeling powerless about that, he decided to help out with older people as a way of honoring her and giving back to her. They assigned him to Weinberg Community. He was given a choice of helping out at Gidwitz Place or Friend Center, and he decided he’d like to be with persons with Alzheimer’s.

Steve Berkowitz is married with kids and lives near Weinberg Community. He is a merchandise rep for an apparel manufacturer. This allows him to work at home
and makes him flexible for time with his children, for volunteering and, of course, for Benjie.

Gina Simon graduated last year from John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. She started volunteering last summer at Lieberman Center while her grandmother was a resident there. Gina noticed how very friendly everyone was, and how well they treated her grandmother— with such respect and kindness. Staff also helped her grandmother, who was very stubborn and didn’t want to admit that she needed help. But staff helped her anyway, and her grandmother began to come to terms with the idea she needed assistance. That experience inspired Gina to volunteer.

When asked why she volunteers, Gina explains that the spirit of giving back was instilled in her at college. She continues, “It’s also something I like to do— to help older people who are less fortunate. Older people are not respected enough, and they deserve my time.” Lieberman Center is now very special to her. She has made many friends among the residents. She sees them in different activities, or walking in the hallways. Sometime she’ll pop her head into their rooms and say “hi.”

When she decided to volunteer for CJE, she researched it on the Internet and was directed to Volunteer Services. On her first day, Gina decided that she wanted to help in the Lieberman Library. Ever since, Gina spends her time there, helping move books, sorting, cleaning up stacks and much more.

Gina Simon is 23 and lives in Winnetka with her parents. She is a Communications major and she is currently considering her career options. While she does that, her volunteering is the perfectthing to do before, during and after a job!

Irv Domsky (left) and Jack Cooper (right) have worked together in the closed confines of a car for over eight years, volunteering for Home-Delivered Meals. After hearing this, you expect them to finish each other’s sentences. But they both sat silently while the other talked, waiting for their turns.

Irv: We weren’t delivering together at first. I started a little over 10 years ago. I had just retired, and my wife saw an ad for volunteers in the “Jewish News.” She said “You might enjoy doing this.” I took the hint. I said something to Jack about it, and he started driving with me. We’ve been delivering together ever since.

Jack: He drives, I run.

Irv: We don’t deliver every day. We’re “occasional” delivery people. They call when they need us, so it can be any day or route. It averages at least once a week, but it varies—like last week, we worked three times in eight days.

Jack: My two daughters-in-law signed on to deliver meals at no urging from me. They came on their own. I knew they were smart because they were wise enough to marry my sons.

Irv: I volunteer to get a free lunch once a year. (Irv refers, tongue-in-cheek, to the Volunteer Appreciation events.)

Jack: I do it to assuage my fears. As most people know, at Yom Kippur, the prayer says to do charity and good deeds to “avert the evil decree.” Well, I’m always a little short on prayer, so I have to make sure I do the good deeds.

Irv: Staying busy helps with longevity.

Jack: They give us a list of stops and we drive to them. We don’t have to do any brainwork.

Irv: We don’t need GPS; not after driving around in Skokie and other places for years.

Irv: Sometimes we are the only people that someone will see in days. If we see someone who doesn’t look too well, we call them in.

Jack: I was born in 1933. People often ask us why Irv always drives, and I say “because he’s 83 and I’m 80.”

Irv: We’re going to keep going as long as the car keeps running!

Jack: See you in a mile. Irv Domsky moved to Chicago from Racine, Wisconsin in 1960. He is now retired. With a Ph.D. in Chemistry, Irv ran a lab that tested for chemicals in buildings and soil. With seven grown children, Irv spends a lot of time playing chess with his grandchildren and enjoys playing bridge.

Jack Cooper, from Chicago, began as a teacher in the Chicago schools, then became a principal. After that he taught GED prep at Truman Community College. He has three children and seven grandchildren, all in the Chicago area. Jack began writing little stories for his grandchildren, and, after being urged to put them into a book, he published Who Knew? Unusual Stories of Jewish History. He is currently writing another one saying “It keeps me out of bars. So I read and write and I run with Irv.”

Terry Finkel, upon retirement, wanted more to do and, 10 years ago, he began volunteering for CJE. He has volunteered the last two years at Adult Day Services (ADS) in Evanston, coming in one day a week to help prepare and serve lunch. He also helps someone on the computer.

He got to CJE by googling “nonprofits.” Seeing CJE, he made a conscious decision to work with the elderly. He explains that both his parents died rather young, and, “I never had the fortunate (or unfortunate) experience of caring for older parents into their 80s and 90s, with all the trials and tribulations that come with that.” He was interested in seeing what it was like being a caregiver and assisting with the elderly, as well as helping an organization that provides services for people with Alzheimer’s and cognitive issues.

He recognizes how important it is for the elderly to spend time with stimulating and engaging people; how ADS takes them out of their sometimes passive home environment. Terry says he engages the participants and tries to make connections as part of his contribution, “If I can put a smile on their face—even get them to laugh—that’s the best. That sums up my thing.”

Volunteering also feeds Terry’s interest in getting deeper into elderly peoples’ lives, finding out what they’re feeling. He tells how he’s seen all the extremes on the spectrum of feelings among the elderly. He remembers a senior who “couldn’t stand to get up in the morning.” He compares this with a 90-year-old woman who’s “spry, spunky and articulate; who says she can’t wait to get up in the morning to embrace the day, because every day she’s got a little less time than the day before.” That 90-year-old made a big impression on Terry, and he tries to emulate her enthusiasm for life.

Terry was born in Brooklyn and moved to Toronto in 1974 to practice law. In 2002 after retiring, he came to Chicago. He lives in the DePaul area and he enjoys golf, fishing and working out. He goes to DePaul’s gym for its convenience and lack of vanity among the students.

Stewart Schram. As a businessman, Stewart Schram makes a promise to his clients that they can “count on his company for more than numbers.” With his volunteer work at CJE SeniorLife as evidence, we know that Stewart keeps his promises.

For the past 13 years, Stewart has logged in countless hours as a volunteer at CJE’s Robineau Residence in Skokie, a unique group home where 24 older adults live independently with support services, social activities and lots of undivided attention from staff and volunteers. He also contributes his creative ideas as a “community member” on the CJE Volunteer Services Committee.

Stewart’s volunteer commitment to CJE was ignited over a decade ago when his mother moved, with initial reluctance, from her Skokie apartment to Robineau where she lived a meaningful and engaged life until she passed away three years later. Before making the transition to Robineau, Stewart realized that his mom was getting old before her time by not having enough interaction with people. This all changed once she met friends at Robineau and attended many of the social opportunities, including “Fun with Stewart,” an hour-long program that Stewart has been leading monthly with the much-appreciated assistance of friends and associates from Temple Beth-El in Northbrook.

It is apparent that Stewart is delighted that his volunteer contribution can enrich the quality of life for Robineau residents who look forward to his visits. His eyes light up when he talks about the activities that comprise “Fun with Stewart,” like the ever-popular Jewish bingo or annual trip to a
local deli. He also does a knockoff of “Ask Amy” by asking the Robineau seniors to provide their answers to questions submitted to the newspaper advice columnist (needless to say, their answers are usually quite different than the ones that are published!). Overall, the “love and affection” that he feels after each encounter… whether it’s a heated discussion about world events or the annual Hanukkah party featuring dancing dogs… is “priceless.”

How does a busy businessman, devoted father, husband, grandfather, active synagogue member and homeowner’s association board member find the time to also volunteer for CJE? This is when Stewart Schram stops counting. His message is clear… “I volunteer out of gratitude, respect and honor… for my mother and other seniors like her. I am a CJE SeniorLife volunteer and I make a difference.”

Stewart Schram is president of Stewart Schram Financial Services, Inc.

Judy Smith takes her volunteer work at CJE very seriously. But when she talks about the Great Decisions program she runs at Gidwitz Place every other week, her face brightens with love and joy for the seniors who look forward to sharing this time with her. For over seven years, Judy has spent an average of five hours a week just planning this unique discussion group which is often based on the viewing of a DVD about an important moment in history. But Judy also scours newspapers and magazines for topical subjects, often with a Jewish theme, that can spur a heated debate among the 15 to 25 Gidwitz residents who regularly attend these sessions. Judy smiles when she adds, “The truth is, I learn just as much from them. I meet so many interesting people who have led incredible lives. It’s funny— they tell me how much they would miss me if I weren’t here. But I would miss them just as much.”

In addition to this commitment, Judy has been a CJE Board member for about ten years. She initially learned about CJE through her involvement with the JUF/Jewish Federation. Starting as a third-year law school student in 1979, she was very active in the JUF Young Leadership Division which is where she also first met fellow YLD participant, Mark Weiner (who went on to become CJE’s president and CEO in 2004). She then served in various leadership roles on the
Federation Board of Directors, including the Women’s Division Board, for more than 15 years before stepping down to explore new possibilities. Always holding a special place in her heart for older adults, it seemed like a perfect fit when she was asked in 2003 by CJE’s Nominating Committee to join its Board of Directors.

Judy brings a unique blend of experiences to her role as a CJE Board member where she has been elected several times as an off icer. With a law degree, highly developed leadership skills honed from her work at the Jewish Federation, hands-on volunteer work and an overarching devotion to the elderly, Judy really understands the challenges facing older adults. She readily admits that her experiences with Gidwitz residents contribute to a deeper appreciation
of the transitions that accompany aging. In turn, this makes her a very engaged and enlightened Board member.

“I am so honored to have the opportunity to volunteer for CJE as a Board member and at Gidwitz Place. My volunteer work enriches my life on so many levels; I definitely feel that I “get back” much more than I give. The Gidwitz residents kiss and hug me after the hour we spend together. They are a mirror to how I want to age…with equal measures of dignity and grace.”

“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”
—Abraham Joshua Heschel