Not a day goes by that Jewish educator activist Alina Gerlovin Spaulding doesn’t remember that it was the agency she speaks for that, she said, “gave me this life.”
Spaulding, appearing on behalf of Jewish Federations of North America, will share that deep sense of gratitude with the local community on Wednesday, May 8, at the Main Event of Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federation of Monmouth County.
The annual dinner, to be held at Congregation Magen David in Ocean, will honor 19 women from throughout the county.
Born in Kharkov, Ukraine, in 1973, Spaulding was the oldest child of two engineers who could look forward to a reasonably comfortable existence. Things began to go wrong, however, when her father, a skier seemingly bound for an Olympic berth, broke his leg on the slopes.
Suddenly, his value plummeted. Instead of caring for his injuries, the government laid the financial burden on the family. As money became scarce, Spaulding’s mother sought help from a local bureau of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, a federation-supported agency that helps Jews around the world.
“From that point on, the people at JDC became our family,” Spaulding said. Within two years, the JDC helped the Gerlovins cross the border into Austria, where they lived in a rented apartment in Vienna and received food and care.
The agency also helped them obtain political asylum and, following six months in Ladispole, a large absorption center near Rome through which 30,000 Soviet Jews passed, they were on their way to New York.
At JFK Airport, they were greeted by a woman holding a sign with their name written in Russian. At first, Spaulding’s mother was afraid the KGB had found them. Instead, the woman identified herself as “Kitty from Passaic, NJ.”
Spaulding — just six years old at the time — recalled how Kitty Breslow and her husband, Charlie, practically “adopted” her family, not merely setting them up in a new home, but introducing them to an entire community of Soviet immigrants.
The Gerlovins also received regular visits from American-born Jewish women — many of them in pearls and fine clothes — who “got down on their hands and knees to help clean our apartment.” Spaulding later learned that these women were Lions of Judah, supporters of the local Jewish federation whose annual gift was at least $5,000.
After earning an undergraduate degree from Muhlenberg College with a double major in psychology and Russian studies and a master’s from Barry University in human resource development for nonprofit and religious organizations, Spaulding began in 1994 to address audiences on behalf of JFNA. Her message: the importance of building strong Jewish communities through engagement and philanthropy.
Spaulding has helped create and enlarge youth programs in a number of communities and has been involved in humanitarian aid in the United States and overseas. She was also instrumental in creating a Sister Cities partnership between Greensboro, NC, and Beltsy, Moldova.
“Everything I have, and everything I am able to contribute to others, is because of the federation,” Spaulding said in a 2004 interview for JFNA.
Spaulding is closing out her first year as head of school for Akiva, a Jewish day school in Nashville. Prior to that, she was the founding dean of admissions and director of communications and alumni relations at the American Hebrew Academy in Greensboro, an international Jewish college preparatory boarding school.