The Elayne and James Schoke Jewish Family Service (JFS) located in Stamford, Connecticut, will hold its annual gala, “An Evening with Schoke JFS,” on Sunday, May 19, at 6 p.m. Combining an over four-decade legacy of honoring supporters with a celebration of the agency’s work across Fairfield County, this year’s celebration will add a new award to acknowledge the agency’s dedicated volunteers.
Schoke JFS of Fairfield County serves Stamford, Westport, Bridgeport and Upper Fairfield County. Its mission is “to sustain families and individuals through all of life’s challenges and build strong, healthy communities. Schoke JFS is a presence in the community that continuously responds to challenges with the highest degree of professionalism, so that those in need can benefit from its services.”
This year’s celebration will welcome the performance of the juggling artistry of Greg Kennedy, a featured artist with Cirque du Soleil, and an innovator who creatively incorporates the principles of physics and geometry to produce astounding juggling feats. Those in attendance will, no doubt, be astonished and amazed by this exciting artist. Stamford’s own Alan Kalter will serve as the master of ceremonies, co-chaired by Liz Kitay and Ronnie Sichel. Sandy Speter will serve as the auction chair.
Schoke JFS will bestow the 40th Annual Mitzvah Award to Meryl Japha, the 13th Annual Young Leadership Award to Lauren and Joe Zalis and the 1st Annual Volunteer Award to Marina Sapir.
Meryl Japha’s volunteer work with Schoke JFS is manifold. She currently serves as vice president of development and previously as board secretary. She has co-chaired the Schoke JFS coat drive for the past three years, co-chaired “An Evening with Schoke JFS” for five years, and currently participates in the strategic planning committee, while also chairing the legacy planning task force. A member of Temple Sinai of Stamford, Japha has served as president, vice president, board member and on numerous committees. She established the synagogue’s Amidah Leadership Initiative to train future volunteer leaders of the synagogue. Meryl and Ron Japha have two grown children and one grandchild.
Lauren (Rosenthal) Zalis is a graduate of Bi-Cultural Day School and Stamford High School. She previously served on the Schoke JFS board of directors and is a founding and current board member of the Friendship Circle of Fairfield County. In 2007 she founded Little Hands Pediatric Therapy Services in Washington, D.C., providing quality school based therapy to public charter schools. Returning to Stamford, Zalis and two business partners founded the Waverly Group in Greenwich, Connecticut, a comprehensive pediatric multidisciplinary center.
Joe Zalis grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington and attended the Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School. He has served on shul and Federation boards and received the UJF’s Harvey A. Peltz Young Leadership Award in 2013. His large extended family is committed to Jewish communities, both domestic and abroad, as well as “to those of any other backgrounds in need of a louder voice.” He and Lauren are grateful they “have the opportunity (to) spread the light.”
A Stamford resident for almost 20 years before immigrating to the United States from Russia, Marina Sapir, along with her husband and two sons, has been working to improve the community almost from the day they arrived in Connecticut. Sapir volunteered at UConn Stamford while earning her certificate in Judaic and Middle Eastern Studies and became a board member at the Center of Judaic Studies. She is a sought-after speaker at Lina’s Adult Care, providing insight on various topics in culture, literature and religion. In 2014, Sapir began volunteering for Schoke JFS helping with Passover deliveries and soon began running the food pantry. When Schoke JFS started its Fresh Produce events, she helped establish a separate day with Russian speaking assistance. There are currently over 60 Russian-speaking families that receive vital help because of Sapir’s innovative work.
By Yvette Finkelstein