Jewish Family Services in Washtenaw County has been helping thousands since 1993.
Let’s say you are an immigrant to America or a senior or someone who needs a bit of mental health support or some help with transportation. Where do you turn? Well, if you live in Washtenaw County, you go to Jewish Family Services, where, since 1993, the JFS has helped thousands of people, both immigrants and native born.
The origins of the Washtenaw County JFS date from the 1970s, when there was a growing need to help immigrants from the Soviet Union. A group of concerned Jews in Washtenaw County came together to consider the issue (I am proud to say that two friends of mine were in this group — Helen Aminoff and Rabbi Rob Dobrusin). The result was the Soviet Jewish Absorption Committee of Washtenaw County in 1978, predecessor of the JFS.
In 1993, the JFS was officially formed and began steady growth toward becoming a full-service agency. Today, 27 years later, the JFS boasts many additional services, but is still the only resettlement program in the area.
I ran across some good stories about the JFS of Washtenaw County in the Davidson Digital Archive of Jewish Detroit History. I was impressed with the articles about two women who, for over two decades, have provided and still provide extraordinary leadership for JFS: Susan Sefansky and Anya Abramzon.
Sefansky was the first employee of JFS of Washtenaw County. She was hired as a part-time coordinator in 1993 and, today, chairs the JFS Board. Beyond the JFS, Sefansky has had a long and successful career in social work, including positions at the University of Michigan.
Two very interesting articles featuring Sefansky caught my eye. The Jan 13, 1995, issue of the JN has an article about Sefansky’s innovative LINCS program, which connected young, single Jews in Washtenaw County. I would also recommend an article that Sefansky wrote in the Dec. 20, 2002, JN titled “Fiscal Meltdown” that describes the problems and needs of Jews in Argentina at that time.
Abramzon, a graduate of the Jewish Communal Leadership Program at U-M, held an internship at the JFS, then returned to become the organization’s first executive director in 1997. She still holds that position.
Before immigrating to Michigan, Abramzon was part of the “refusenik” movement in the Soviet Union in the 1980s. She was also a leader in St. Petersburg in creating services for Jewish seniors. You’ll find an excellent article about Abramzon’s adventures in the Dec. 12, 2003, issue of the JN, in which she states that she experienced “first-hand how tough it is to be an immigrant … It is one thing to be a tourist and another to know that tomorrow you have to get up and go to work and support yourself.”
Still a rather young organization, the JFS of Washtenaw County has an enviable record of growth and success. Abramzon and Sefansky, as well as the group of founders, deserve a lot of credit for their efforts and dedication to helping Jews in need.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives, available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.