In July, three dynamic women in the Jewish community will retire from their longtime jobs: Susan Levine, Hospice of the Valley; Sandy Reichsfeld, Jewish Family & Children’s Service; and Sharona Silverman, Deutsch Family Shalom Center at Temple Chai. All three have had exemplary careers and have inspired and helped others in countless ways. Jewish News caught up with all three to find out what their future plans are and give them an opportunity to reflect on their past accomplishments on the job.
24 years of working with seniors
As the site director for the Jewish Family & Children’s Service Center for Senior Enrichment at The Palazzo (formerly Chris Ridge), Sandy Reichsfeld spends many hours seeing to her clients’ needs. “I just want to make them happy,” she says. “Everybody becomes family.”
On July 8, Reichsfeld will retire after a combined 24 years working with JFCS and the former JCC senior center. She wavered a little bit on the decision to retire and moved the date several times, but now it’s set. “I turned my papers in, and it can’t be changed.”
Monica Zazkis, currently the program support specialist, will take over for Reichsfeld when she retires.
Reichsfeld, 69, has seen the program through many changes and different locations throughout her years of working with the seniors. “I’m proud of everything I’ve done and the friendships I’ve made,” she says. “I feel like I do mitzvahs every day.”
In addition to overseeing the program, Reichsfeld also runs the on-site gift shop and tries to stock items that the seniors need. Recently, she spotted a resident who had been walking around the hallways barefoot and because she is so kind, ran after the woman to give her a new pair of socks.
A favorite memory for Reichsfeld was celebrating one of the seniors’ 100th birthdays because growing up she never knew anyone who lived to be 100. “She had relatives come from all over the world. Ruth is 103 now.”
In retirement, Reichsfeld looks forward to sleeping in past 6 a.m. and traveling with her husband. “There are so many places in the state we haven’t seen. We want to go to Bisbee and Tombstone.” She also plans to spend more time with her children and nine grandchildren. In September, she’s going to New York to attend a reunion of friends, some of whom she knew in elementary school.
After July 8, Reichsfeld won’t completely disappear from the center. She promises to go back and do water aerobics with the seniors and join them for lunch once in a while. “I know it’s going to be hard for me,” she says.
When Reichsfeld announced her retirement, some of the seniors reacted with tears. “For all these years, I’ve loved what I do, and I think that’s the most important thing. Working with seniors has changed my whole way of thinking,” she says. “I love being with all of them. It’s just been wonderful.”
23 years at Hospice of the Valley
Since 1994, Susan Levine has served as executive director of Hospice of the Valley, the nation’s largest not-for-profit hospice. During her 23-year tenure, the organization has gone from serving 140 patients a day with a $5 million annual budget to serving 2,900 patients a day with a budget of $130 million.
But Levine is quick to point out that she didn’t accomplish that alone. “It’s been a real team effort,” she says. “But my proudest accomplishment is the ability to have worked together with the young women and men who report to me and to help them grow,” she says. “And they have grown.”
Levine gave notice a year ago in anticipation of her 76th birthday this July. “I absolutely adore my job and thought maybe it’s good to leave when you still adore it and not wait until something happens – like my mind or body failing. It seems like the right time.”
Mostly, Levine will miss the people she works with. “I have very close attachments and it will be hard not to see them every day,” she says. “I’ll miss the camaraderie of the people here.”
Just because she’s retiring doesn’t mean she’s moving away from the mission of Hospice of the Valley entirely. Levine will stay attached to the mission in some way, but she hasn’t determined yet what that will be. “But I’ll miss the daily opportunity to make a contribution.”
As for retirement, Levine says she doesn’t really have a plan. “I’ll read more. I’ll be outdoors more and do more creative projects without the daily routine of responsibilities. I will travel with my husband and spend as much time as I can with my family.”
Debbie Shumway, currently Hospice of the Valley’s senior vice president, will assume Levine’s position on July 1. Having worked alongside Levine for the past 23 years, Shumway brings a vast amount of experience to the job. “Deb possesses the heart of a servant leader and the brain and guts to go with it. We are extremely lucky to have her ready, willing and way more than able to assume the leadership role,” Levine said in a press release.
20 years at the Shalom Center
After 20 years of serving as director of the Deutsch Family Shalom Center at Temple Chai, Sharona Silverman is retiring. Under her leadership, the Shalom Center has gone from a fledgling caring committee to a thriving healing center for Temple Chai members and the community at large. “We’ve developed a very vibrant caring community here,” she says.
The rewards for Silverman and Temple Chai have been immense. “Those who are in the caring community have an opportunity to give back in ways that are meaningful to them,” she says. “The congregation really feels that their synagogue cares and will be there for them in difficult times as well as for simchas.” Another benefit – congregants’ needs don’t slip through the cracks because Silverman and her colleagues have developed an airtight communication system with the clergy and caring community members. “I’m very proud of that.”
Silverman has celebrated many accomplishments while at the Shalom Center’s helm, including the birth of JACS, a support group for Jewish alcoholics, addicts and their families and friends; and bringing speakers to Phoenix from throughout North America and Israel for workshops on caring for aging loved ones, addictions, creating life balance, dementia and death and dying.
For the past 15 years, Silverman has been a devotee of Mussar, a system of personal spiritual development that helps people balance their inner traits, or middot, through contemplative practices and exercises. She has headed up two groups at Temple Chai for years (they’re also open to the community) and will continue to do so after retirement. “Mussar is a way for you to bring the tools of Judaism into your life in very meaningful ways,” she says.
Silverman has been contemplating the future of the Shalom Center and how it will sustain itself after her retirement. As a different generation emerges, the programming and trajectory may change, but Silverman says that the underlying theme of caring will remain the same. “We built a strong foundation, and the Shalom Center is part of the fabric of Temple Chai.”
Temple Chai’s Rabbi Bonnie Koppell will take over when Silverman retires.
As she and her husband, Howard, both approach their 65th birthdays, Silverman says the timing just feels right to her. She’s looking forward to traveling throughout the United States and visiting family in Washington, D.C., and Israel, starting an exercise program, delving into some creative endeavors and baby-sitting her 5-month-old grandson.
Of her time at the Shalom Center, Silverman says, “It’s been an honor and a privilege.”