The Center for Jewish Care: Serving, Supporting, and Engaging San Diego’s Jewish Community
December 21, 2022
Going behind-the-scenes with Carole Yellen, Senior Director, Center for Jewish Care
Jewish Family Service has been dedicated to serving San Diego’s Jewish community for more than a century. Recognizing our unique cultural expertise and commitment, and in response to a growing need for support during the pandemic, the Center for Jewish Care, housed within Jewish Family Service, became a more visible pathway to support the Jewish community in 2020. In this Q&A with Carole Yellen, Senior Director of the Center for Jewish Care, you will discover an inside look at the Center’s work and learn what’s on the horizon for the year ahead.
Did you know?: The Center for Jewish Care employs 25 full-time culturally-competent and dedicated staff members in San Diego and Orange County to assist Jewish community members in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian, in addition to a full-time Rabbi.
Q: What is the Center for Jewish Care?
Carole: The Center for Jewish Care meets people where they are in their journey by connecting Jewish community members to the compassionate support and dignified resources they need to achieve stability, build resiliency, and, ultimately, break the cycle of poverty.
We accomplish this important work through four areas of service, or as we like to say, the Four Chambers of Our Lev (Heart):
Q: Who does the Center for Jewish Care serve?
Carole: At the Center, we embrace an inclusive definition of our Jewish community. In recognizing that our community is both diverse and intersectional, we support our neighbors who identify as Jewish, live with someone who is Jewish, or work for a Jewish organization. We also assist Jewish students who are eligible to apply for the JFS-David Rubenstein Memorial Scholarship for college or vocational training.
Our dedicated professionals offer culturally competent services to support local Jewish community members in multiple languages including Hebrew, Yiddish, Russian, and Ukrainian. In the past year, the impact of inflation and an increase in requests for basic needs assistance including nutrition and affordable housing has led us to hire six more full-time staff, including a Rabbi, for a current total of 25 staff members in San Diego and Orange County.
MYTHBUSTING! The Jewish community is not exempt from poverty. According to recent studies, 20% of Jewish households are struggling to make ends meet, including older adults on a fixed income. Here in San Diego, that translates to more than 10,000 Jewish households. The Center for Jewish Care aims to remove barriers and compassionately connect Jewish community members to culturally-sensitive services and support that keeps them moving forward.
Q: What does having a full-time Rabbi mean for the Center for Jewish Care?
Carole: We are so excited to welcome Rabbi Susan Freeman to the Center’s team. As our Rabbi, she supports the spiritual and pastoral needs of the people we serve and strengthens our Jewish voice in the community—both for the Center for Jewish Care and JFS. Externally, Rabbi Susan offers learning opportunities and represents the Center at the San Diego Rabbinic Association (SDRA) and at community events like Shabbat San Diego and Tapestry. Internally, Rabbi Susan leads Jewish learning initiatives for Team JFS such as the Rebbe’s Tisch, an ongoing staff learning series, as well as Jewish holidays, commemorations, and more.
Q: How does the Center for Jewish Care partner within the community to provide a greater network of support?
Carole: As the Senior Director for the Center for Jewish Care, my job is to be a bridge builder and connect our Jewish community members to the services and support that works best for them.
There are many ways in which the Center strategically partners with our Jewish neighbors and organizations to form a greater network of support for our community—whether that’s connecting members to Hebrew Free Loan San Diego or coordinating support for referrals from the Kindness Initiative, and more.
We are able to care for more than 400 Holocaust Survivors in San Diego and Orange County in partnership with Claims Conference, Jewish Federation of San Diego County, and Jewish Federation of Orange County.
One of our newer partnerships with Hillel San Diego provides nutrition assistance to college students. Twice a week we provide reclaimed Starbucks meals, which offer SDSU students nutritional support without the associated stigma of visiting a “food pantry”. So far, it’s proven to be an immensely popular and much-needed partnership.
The last study on San Diego’s Jewish community was completed in 2003. To ensure that we have updated and accurate data, and to inform the work of the Center for Jewish Care moving forward, JFS is one of the lead organizations guiding and funding a new San Diego Jewish Community Study. We look forward to sharing these results in the coming year.
Each month I am also honored to meet with local colleagues as part of the Working Group on Jewish Poverty and Stability where we examine trends, share resources, and identify opportunities to work together on the most pressing issues facing our Jewish community.
I also want to recognize the Center for Jewish Care Taskforce which was formed to guide the Center’s launch as a leader and advocate for the health and well-being of our Jewish community. My thanks to Chair Mitch Siegler, and our Taskforce members, Julie Bronstein, Theresa Dupuis, Len Gregory, Marcia Hazan, Iris Hirsch, Jerri-Ann Jacobs, Emily Jennewein, Jenny Meiselman, Gabrielle Oratz, Marie Raftery, and Tammy Vener.
Q: What is the Center for Jewish Care’s role beyond providing critical services?
Carole: As the neshamah, soul, of JFS and a home for Tikkun Olam, repairing the world, the Center offers year-round opportunities for turning our Jewish values into positive actions. You can Embrace-A-Family during the holidays, help deliver care packages, become a Jewish Big Pal or Bikkur Holim friendly visitor, participate in a b’nai mitzvah project, and more!
One of the ways our community comes together is through our annual High Holy Days Food Drive. We rely on our Jewish community to replenish our food supply, especially kosher food in the Hand Up Food Pantry, which supplies the Corner Market at JFS and community food distributions throughout San Diego. This year, our Jewish community donated over 17,000 pounds of food through local synagogues and Jewish organizations.
Volunteers are crucial to the work we do at the Center. If you would like to learn more about getting involved, visit www.CenterforJewishCare.org.
Q: What’s on the horizon for the Center for Jewish Care?
Carole: All of us at the Center are really excited about our new space that’s currently under construction at the Joan & Irwin Jacobs Campus. Once completed, our multipurpose room will welcome our community through workshops, support groups, and volunteer activities. We can’t wait to welcome you in the new year!
As most of us know, affordable housing is one of the most significant challenges in San Diego. That’s why we’re working towards adding housing resource navigation to our Center for Jewish Care services in 2023 to assist Jewish families in securing more stable housing.
In 2023 we also look forward to learning the results of our San Diego Jewish Community Study which will guide our future program offerings and offer insight into how we can best support our Jewish neighbors going forward.
From our Family to yours, Happy Hannukah!
We look forward to seeing you in 2023!