by MiriYam Judd, Shalom New Haven Writer
Amy Rashba first walked into the Jewish Family Service (JFS) offices almost three decades ago—a 27-year-old social work student two years into her master’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University. She was an intern, just there for her field placement. Now, over 35 years later, she is finally walking out.
Rashba’s commitment and dedication to the Jewish community of Greater New Haven cannot be understated. In her time at JFS, she has headed a number of initiatives, from the mental health program to the aging adult program. Rashba is best known for her work with adoptions, having run and transformed the infant adoption program during her years with the organization. “One of my favorite things I did here was start the Stars of David program,” Rashba said, referring to the social group for Jewish families brought together through adoption. “It’s a really incredible, beautiful thing to see, families who have adopted all coming together to celebrate each other. It means a lot for a child to look around the room and realize, ‘I’m not the only one with a family like this.”
Even though Rashba hasn’t run the adoption program since her appointment as CEO in 2018, she still receives cards, photographs and updates from families she worked with. But programs and initiatives pale in comparison to what some describe as Rashba’s most important contributions to JFS.
“When I think about Amy running JFS these past several years,” said Heni Schwartz, a social worker at JFS since 1986, “the thing that jumps out at me the most is the word, caring. Caring for the agency’s health and vibrancy, caring for the clients that we serve, caring for the staff, caring for the Jewish community, and caring for the community at large.”
Schwartz noted Rashba’s eagerness to expand programs to serve more people in need and her receptiveness to the needs of any given population among her most impressive accomplishments during her time at JFS. “We were lucky to have her,” Schwartz said. This was a common description of Rashba among her coworkers.
Sydney Perry, former CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, explained the difficult position one is in when they go from being someone’s coworker to their superior. Rashba worked at JFS for nearly 30 years before being named CEO in 2018, interrupted only by two short moves to Israel in the early 90’s. Rashba, Perry explained, handled this transition with grace and poise.
“It’s a tough situation to be in, the switch from being someone’s colleague to being their boss,” Perry said. “But it wasn’t tough for Amy, because people always knew they could trust her. She has so much humility and empathy, and she always wants to listen to what people have to say. She is a natural leader.” More than just a leader, Perry explained, Rashba has always been and will always be a social worker at heart.
“No matter her role at JFS, leader or not, Amy was always a social worker. She always cared, she was always so dedicated,” Perry explained. “She never let ego get in the way of her work. And she brought great people in to help her, because that’s what great leaders do. Even when she’s not there, they will be.”
Ilene Rosalimsky Bronen, who serves as president of JFS, explained the profound impact Rashba has had on the community and the legacy she leaves as she departs. “Amy identified the need for and started the Shalom Group in 1987. She was responsible for leading our Adoption Program. The positive and emotional impact on these families will continue,” Rosalimsky Bronen said. “Her leadership as CEO exemplifies integrity and a work ethic which we are all grateful for. She has been a passionate advocate for JFS clients and our programs, and we will miss her very much.”
As Rashba’s time at JFS comes to a close, her gratitude and impact on the Greater New Haven Jewish community only continues to grow. “My entire professional career has been spent at JFS,” Rashba explained. “I was 27 and unmarried. All sorts of amazing life events have occurred during my time here. When I think about the career I was able to have at JFS, I will be forever thankful, to both the people I worked with and the people who came to me for help. It’s been the privilege of a lifetime.”