JESPY cofounder Cynthia Plishtin dies at 79

JESPY cofounder Cynthia Plishtin dies at 79

Federation leader was often tapped to head new area initiatives

Cynthia Plishtin
Cynthia Plishtin

Cynthia Harkavy Plishtin, 79, of East Hanover, who as a leader of the Greater MetroWest Jewish community championed services for those with special needs and fought for respect among Jews from varied backgrounds, died Feb. 3 following an extended battle with cancer. 

In 1974 she founded, with her friend Horace Bier, JESPY House, a residence for adults with developmental disabilities, of which she was also a past president. Today, the agency employs 70 skilled staff and serves more than 150 clients. 

She was a board member and 2007 honoree of the Jewish Service for the Developmentally Disabled, which coordinates special needs services throughout the local Jewish community.

Among her many roles in what became the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, she chaired Pathways, a groundbreaking program for interfaith families, and in 1998 became the first chair of the federation’s Committee on Religious Pluralism. 

She was a longtime member of the board of the federation and Jewish Community Foundation of Greater MetroWest.

“Cynthia was a builder, an innovator, and a role model. Everything she did, she did with drive and excellence,” said federation president Leslie Dannin Rosenthal. “Her efforts with JESPY House and Greater MetroWest’s Religious Pluralism committee were ground breaking and helped make us national leaders. Her devotion to the UJA Annual Campaign and Women’s Philanthropy were inspirational to me; her elegance and eloquence will stay with me always.”

Plishtin began her long lay leadership career with what was then called the Jewish Community Council of Essex County in 1955. She served as campaign chair of the Women’s Division (now Women’s Philanthropy) of United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and president and lifetime member of the Women’s Division of UJA. She served on the National Women’s Division Board of UJA and initiated and chaired the National Consultation Program in which she advised and acted as a resource person to over 115 fund-raising campaigns of $1 million or more. She also served as secretary of federation from 1998 to 2000.

Plishtin chaired the MetroWest Demographic Study in 1986 and was involved with federation’s Cash Redemption Committee.

She was a lifetime member of National Council of Jewish Women and a member of the Miriam Sisterhood of Oheb Shalom Congregation, South Orange. Over the years, she held key positions in federation’s partner agencies, including JEA (now the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life), Daughters of Israel, Women’s Auxiliary, JCSA (now Jewish Family Service of MetroWest), and the Jewish Historical Society of New Jersey. In addition, she was active in Hadassah, ORT, and B’nai B’rith Women.

She won numerous honors for her service, including the Julius & Bessie Cohn Young Leadership Award in 1969 and the Jewish Historical Society’s Lasting Impressions Award twice. She was honored by JHS in 2012 as one of “Three Women of Valor” for her many years of outstanding community service and leadership. 

Cynthia Harkavy was born in Newark to Ida and Bernard Harkavy. She graduated from Columbia High School in Maplewood and enrolled at Connecticut College in 1954, transferring after two years to Temple University (where her husband Murray was in dental school at the time). She graduated from Temple in 1958. 

For many years, she worked as an arbitrator for the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), and prior to that, as an arbitrator for the NASDAQ and NY stock exchanges. She was also a mediator for the NJ Superior Courts.

UJA Campaign Chair Maxine Murnick said, “Knowing Cynthia from Women’s Philanthropy, which she still called Women’s Division, and Oheb Shalom created a strong bond between us. I looked forward to seeing her sitting at the end of our pew at High Holy Day services. She was a very special person who will be missed by so many in our community.”

“For more than 50 years, Cynthia was a leader par excellence of our community,” said past federation president Murray Laulicht. “In addition to her lengthy service on behalf of the United Jewish Appeal and the federation’s board of trustees and executive committee, Cynthia was almost always chosen to lead new initiatives….Cynthia brought her unique passion and creativity to all of these activities and more. She will be sorely missed by all who knew her.”

“Her knowledge and understanding of federation was invaluable,” said Sarabeth Margolis Wizen, Women’s Philanthropy director. “Greater MetroWest has lost a great leader and a great friend. I will miss her dearly.”

She is survived by her husband of 60 years, Murray, known as “Murph”; her son, Bernie (Maria); her daughter, Amy; a brother, Jack Harkavy, and his wife, Barbara; and two grandchildren, Hannah and Sam.

Services were held Feb. 5 at Oheb Shalom with arrangements by Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel, Livingston. Memorial contributions may be made to JESPY House.

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