It took just these words from Joanie Schwarz, “Then we’ll juice,” for Debra Levenstein to know they were on the same wavelength. For health-conscious Levenstein, the invitation was further proof that her new job is a great fit.
Recently hired as a development officer for Women’s Philanthropy of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Levenstein has already met with a dozen women and found a way to make a special connection to each one. As she did with Schwarz, a Westfield photographer and federation activist, Levenstein has been exploring ways she can help them build community and put their philanthropic goals into action.
“Every year it gets more and more difficult to raise the funds that are needed,” Levenstein said. Already, however, she has been excited to see the kinds of projects women in the area have developed. “They have a lot of strengths, and they bring some unique qualities to the sandbox.”
Levenstein, who lives in Highland Park, will be based at the federation’s regional office on the Wilf Jewish Community Campus in Scotch Plains. It’s a shorter commute than her previous position in Trenton, working as director of prevention and support with Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County.
Levenstein was in that job for nine years. She enjoyed it, but last fall she heard about the federation job from Jeff Korbman, the assistant executive vice president of the federation’s United Jewish Appeal and a co-congregant of Levenstein’s at Congregation Ahavas Achim in Highland Park. “I knew right away this was what I wanted,” she said.
Levenstein grew up in Cherry Hill and Florida. She earned a master’s degree in Jewish education at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and lived in Minneapolis for a number of years. She and her second husband, Eli Levenstein, have four children between them and a few grandchildren, “a wonderfully blended family” by her description.
Her office on the Wilf campus is being refurbished, but as soon as that work is completed, she said, she plans to have a coffee-and-cookies get-together so she can invite more women from the community to meet with her. She wants to know their interests, the causes that inspire them, and the needs they see as most urgent.
First up are two events that were favorites in the Central community in Union County, and, with the merger of the former Central and MetroWest federations last year, are now being introduced to women active in Morris and Essex counties and beyond. The fifth annual Queen Esther Tea will be held on Sunday, Feb. 3, at the YM-YWHA of Union County, and the Supermarket Sweep Foodraiser will be held on Sunday, March 3.
Women’s Philanthropy president Maxine Murnick said they are thrilled to have Levenstein on board. “In the short time she has been with us she has shown what an asset she will be to our department,” Murnick said. “I look forward to a long and wonderful working relationship with Debra.”
Women’s Philanthropy director Sarabeth Wizen said, “From the day Debra joined us, she ‘hit the ground running.’ From Super Sunday, to meeting with women from former historic Central, to staffing the Queen Esther Tea and Supermarket Sweep, Debra has been very busy. We are fortunate to have her on staff.”