A Ukraine-based orphanage solidified its already strong ties with New Jersey by naming Rebecca Silverstein of Caldwell as its director of development.
In her new role, Silverstein, 30, a social worker, will aim to diversify the donor base and increase the visibility of Tikva Children’s Home of Odessa. A network of homes and schools founded in 1993, Tikva is a beneficiary agency of the UJA MetroWest Campaign, thanks in large part to the support of former North Caldwell philanthropists Ed and Leah Frankel.
Ed, founder of Vitaquest, a maker of nutritional supplements, is Tikva’s board chair; its girls’ home is named for Leah.
Earlier this year, the Frankels, now residents of Jupiter, Fla., established a permanent endowment with the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest NJ.
Silverstein’s goal will be to build on that base. One of the biggest challenges, she said, is generating interest and “buzz” in an organization so far away.
“I want to try to give people the feel, the taste, the touch of the orphanage in Odessa,” she said.
Among her first tests will be a fund-raising dinner to be held Wednesday, Dec. 7, at Manhattan’s Chelsea Piers. The gala, celebrating a partnership between Tikva and the fashion giant Marc Ecko Enterprises, will honor Ecko founder Seth Gerszberg of Highland Park.
With several weeks to go, she hopes the dinner will bring in over $1 million; Tikva’s annual campaign runs between $7 million and $11 million, Silverstein said.
Silverstein, the daughter of Rabbi Alan and Rita Silverstein of Congregation Agudath Israel in Caldwell, earned a bachelor’s degree at Boston University and a master’s in social work from the University of Southern California.
She has used her social work degree in clinical and therapeutic settings as well as on behalf of organizations. Most recently she had a private practice combining yoga and talk therapy for adolescents with eating disorders. She also worked as a case manager for a multi-purpose senior program through Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles.
She said she is also able to use her social work background in her current position. She visited the orphanage shortly before accepting the job, which began in September.
“When I visit the orphanage, there are needs I am able to notice as a social worker. For example, there are many children with oppositional defiant disorder or post-traumatic stress syndrome,” she said. “As a social worker, I can bring in programs I think the kids can benefit from through my conversations with donors.”
She also has a personal stake in the position.
“Obviously, growing up the daughter of a rabbi, I am passionate about Jewish causes,” she said. “I’m the grandchildren of Holocaust survivors. My maternal grandmother was from the Carpathian Mountains. To work with Jewish children in that part of the world is really interesting for me.”
She has set three goals for her tenure at Tikva: to create greater cohesion among Tikva’s board members, who are spread around the country; to reach a younger generation of donors; and to reach the children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors.
‘So much more to do’
For a Jewish-run orphanage in the former Soviet Union, Tikva has already attracted an unusual amount of buzz, thanks in part to Gerszberg and his partners.
Gerszberg is president of Marc Ecko Enterprises, a company he, Marc Ecko, and Ecko’s sister Marci Tapper launched in 1993 in a Lakewood garage. The company’s clothing line was a hit among rap stars and their fans, and it has since diversified into sportswear, watches, luggage, and accessories.
Ten years ago, when the company was mired in debt, Gerszberg and Ecko took a trip to Odessa and pledged that if the company turned a profit, its first $100,00 would go toward the orphanage.
As the company has grown, so has its investment in Tikva. Until 2009, Ecko Enterprises picked up all American expenses, from salary to supplies to rent. Executives and employees were encouraged to travel to Odessa and support the organization financially.
From that initial $100,000 contribution, Mark Ecko Enterprises and its shareholders have donated $18 million to Tikva in the last 10 years, according to press liaison Rose Gerszberg, who is also Seth’s mother. MEE continues to cover basic expenses, with the exception of American salaries, now paid by Tikva.
“To be able to have a sustained, dramatic impact on these children and their environment drives us,” Seth Gerszberg told NJJN. “It’s incredible to get to see such a tactile relationship between the work you do and the outcomes. We bring in children who don’t have a future and give them an outcome so different from what they otherwise would have,” he said.
Gerszberg and his wife, Emily, have seven children — one of whom they adopted from Odessa five years ago.
There are 300 children in the Tikva home now and 1,000 in its schools.
Silverstein said she appreciates the contributions of the fellow Jerseyans who have helped the youngsters find a haven at Tikva.
“It’s amazing to see what Leah and Ed have built,” she said of the Frankels, “and there is so much more to do. I knew I wanted to come on board.”
“Our goal is to put ourselves out of business,” said Ed Frankel, in a statement prepared for the dinner.
“We believe the best we can do for these children who’ve had a traumatic childhood is to get them to mental and emotional soundness so that they can raise families in a healthy, functional way,” he said. “We are also dedicated to training social workers, teachers, IT professionals, and other skilled workers to service Odessa and surrounding areas.”
Looking forward to the next decade of partnership with Tikva, Gerszberg has a specific benchmark in mind: for the children in the orphanage to become what he calls “responsible recipients” of care. The idea is that as they gain resources, both financial and otherwise, “they will take ownership of the future of Tikva and Ukrainian Jewry and will be responsible for the next generation to become more self-sustaining,” he said. The current vision is a departure from the original goal of aliya, which, Gerszberg said, he and his partners now consider “naive” and out of step with reality. “What is really happening is the rebirth of the Jewish community in Ukraine. While some still go to Israel, many stay in Odessa, and we want them to be active members of the Jewish community there.”
Sponsors of the dinner include United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ; Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland, Perretti, LLP; Macy’s; TJX Corporation; Iconix; Forman Mills; CMS Corporation; and dozens of local families, businesses, and foundations.
Ethan Keiser of Teaneck, an equities trader and Tikva supporter, will also be honored at the dinner.