Heart of the Matter April 2023

Serving as the Executive Director of Jewish Family Service lets me see over and over how our amazingly special Jewish community comes together so often to support one another, in good times and in bad.

Last year, for the first time in my 18 years living in Nashville and 13 years heading JFS, I found myself on the receiving end of the community’s embrace in my moment of need, especially from JFS. My father, of blessed memory, had been diagnosed with cancer. He lived 900 miles away.

I am fortunate to work in an agency whose board and professionals prioritize taking care of oneself and one’s family. After all, our name is JEWISH. FAMILY. SERVICE.

From the get-go, my board and my staff recognized how important it was for me to go up to New Jersey to care for my father as he started the chemotherapy treatments. They were fully supportive. Anyone who knows me knows that I am an optimist and always look for the silver linings. The silver lining of the COVID lockdowns was that the JFS workflow was set up to accommodate remote work. I was able to fly up to New Jersey and, over the course of several weeks, do the majority of my work from there. Had this happened prior to COVID we simply would not have had the infrastructure to work remotely. I would have had to choose between doing my job and caring for my dad.

I did not have to choose. But it wasn’t just the technology that made this possible. It was also the people--JFS’s officers and board members, and all my co-workers. I especially want to thank my dear colleague, Toni Jacobsen, who among other things runs JFS’s Caring for the Caregiver Support Group. When I was balancing work and parental care in New Jersey, Toni would call me every few days to check in, to ask how I was doing, and to see if she could help me think through decisions or process difficult emotions.

If you found yourself far from home, caring for a sick parent halfway across the country, who would you call for help? You may not realize this, but any city of a certain size will have a Jewish Family Service. When my dad was going to be discharged to rehab, I got in touch with the local JFS and asked them, “What are the best rehab facilities in the area.? If this was your dad, where would you go?” They gave me exactly the information I needed—just like our Nashville JFS does, answering over 500 Information and Referral calls every year, helping with questions just like this one.

I thank my staff and board from the bottom of my heart for enabling me to be there for my father during his illness. Because you enabled me to carry my office in my laptop and to be there by my father’s side, I have no regrets. I was able to give my father the support and love just like he had given me for the first 53 years of my life. Gerald Ely was an incredible man, who filled the role of both my dad and mom for most of my life, as my mom passed away when I was 9 years old.

You will probably be reading this column close to the one-year mark of my beloved dad’s English yahrzeit, April 4th. Although every day since his passing is hard, OUR Nashville Jewish community has made it easier for me to bear. And for that, I thank you.


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