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How the CEO of New York’s largest food bank is inspired by Jewish values



(New York Jewish Week) — At the Food Bank for New York City, one of the largest food banks in the country, the holiday season is crucial to ensuring New Yorkers have enough food to be able to live with dignity. 

Since its founding in 1983, the organization has provided over one billion meals to New Yorkers in need — as well as offering free SNAP assistance, tax preparation services and financial literacy programs to low-income residents. 

“Our central mission is that we feed people for today, but we have made significant investments in programming that truly helps to lift people out of poverty,” president and chief executive officer Leslie Gordon told the New York Jewish Week. “Because the reason why people are food insecure to begin with is a resource problem. It’s an inability to get connected to networks or resources, because of racist systems or policy issues.” 

Gordon, who is Jewish, has helmed the organization since 2020, and in some ways, rose to the role in a way that seemed inevitable. As a child, she loved to watch her grandfather sell meat, produce and other goods from the grocery store he owned in Tarrytown, New York, and deliver food donations to the needy. Her mother, who also grew up at the store, was the executive director at the Hunts Point Produce Market, the country’s largest wholesale produce market.

Prior to joining Food Bank for New York, Gordon held leadership roles at Feeding Westchester, a food bank network in Westchester County and City Harvest, which helps make fresh, nutritious food accessible around New York. Starting her job at the beginning of the pandemic, Gordon has overseen a doubling of the Food Bank for New York’s annual food distribution across the city from 70 million pounds to 150 million pounds. 

A fourth-generation Tarrytown resident, Gordon has been a member of the Conservative congregation Temple Beth Abraham her entire life. She lives in the same house that she, her grandfather and her mother grew up in, with her wife, two dogs and two cats.

The New York Jewish Week chatted with Gordon about her background, her favorite parts of the job and the Jewish family values that got her here. 

This interview has been lightly condensed and edited for length and clarity. 

After leadership roles at two other food banks, Gordon took over the top position at Food Bank for New York City in March 2020. She credits her Jewish family values for helping guide her. (Courtesy)

New York Jewish Week: How have your Jewish values guided you as the CEO of Food Bank for New York?

Leslie Gordon: The thing about my connection to Judaism at the Food Bank is really a personal responsibility around doing tikkun olam. It’s an ever-present, everyday commitment to making the world more just and equal through social action, which is what we do every day at Food Bank — helping New Yorkers across the five boroughs to have the resources they need to be able to have a stable, healthy life where they can thrive and look forward to working on achieving their dreams. 

Food is culture. Food is love. Food is history. Food has always been a big part of my personal Jewish experience — whether through holidays or through historical explorations. My grandfather was a butcher. He grew up in a small Jewish enclave in Rockland County called Pot Cheese Hollow [now Spring Valley], which is a sort of a European framing for all things cottage cheese.

You started this job right at the beginning of the pandemic. What was that like, and what was the path that led you to working at Food Bank?

I’ll never forget this: My first day was March 30, 2020. It was a little crazy to be the humble leader of one of the nation’s largest food banks at a time when the need was historically outsized and quickly escalated. It was a little bit of a challenge and, frankly, has been for most of my tenure.

Again, it goes back to my Jewish familial roots. I am carrying on a family legacy of feeding people: My grandfather, Norman Goldberg, was the son of European immigrants. When they came over [to America], and in his growing up years in that enclave in Rockland County, they were really, really poor. One of their biggest assets, believe it or not, was a dairy cow — no running water, no indoor plumbing. He would tell stories as kids that sometimes the only thing he ate in the course of a day was an apple that he picked off a neighboring farmer’s tree.

Fast forward many years into the future, he was a successful businessman, between a grocery store, a butcher store and a wine and liquor store, amongst other pursuits. He never forgot where he came from and he would talk to us about the importance of connecting people with food, and again doing tikkun olam. They would get phone calls from the rabbi at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown, where they lived, because food banks and food pantries didn’t exist back then — the World War II era all the way through the 1950s, ’60s, and even ’70s. They would get a list of people in the community who needed help and [my grandfather] would take my mother by the arm and they would go to the local grocery store and shop. Frequently, as my mom tells it now, they’d end up in a local fourth-floor walk-up apartment building, ring the bell, drop the groceries and go, because you wanted to preserve the dignity of those whom you are helping. 

That really made an impression on me. My grandfather was also an avid backyard gardener and was famous for leaving those little brown lunch bags full of excess produce from his backyard garden on people’s stoops. 

My mother became the head of the world’s largest wholesale produce terminal, which is based in the Hunts Point section of South Bronx. I caught the bug on logistics and operations in food and really the romanticism of the food system. I’m still of that generation where I feel very connected to my local food system and farmers. I had a very unique growing up experience, where I got to see train cars full of broccoli or potatoes or other amazing produce that traveled through small towns and cities across the United States to land up in the South Bronx. So, I’ve been in the arena of food banking for about 15 years. I couldn’t have predicted it, I call it a happy accident. Of the 10 food banks in New York State, I’ve had the pleasure and honor of leading three of them.

What type of outreach do you do to New York’s Jewish community?

We’re a city of about 8.4 million people, and 1.6 million of them, give or take, are people who just don’t know where their next meal is coming from or what it will be. Ask yourself: Have you ever been hungry for a long period of time during the day? How do you deal with that? Imagine if that was your every day. That is compounded, potentially, by other struggles that you have. People don’t live single-issue lives. So, typically, when you’re food insecure, there are a lot of other issues that you’re grappling with — could be housing issues, could be mental health issues, could be employment or underemployment issues. There’s just a lot going on in the mix. New York City is a particularly expensive place to live. It’s a tough environment.

We’re the heart of a network of about 800 on-the-ground partners across the five boroughs. On nearly every street in nearly every neighborhood, our partners are food pantries, community kitchens, senior centers, shelters, community-based organizations like New York City Housing Authority or a Boys and Girls Club. In the case of the Jewish community, we have relationships with more than 40 on-the-ground agencies that specifically serve observant Jews. Organizations like Masbia, Alexander Rapoport’s restaurant-style soup kitchen that he’s now famous for. 

We’re serving one of the nation’s largest kosher observant populations in the U.S. right here in New York City. We’re committed to making sure that kosher-observing communities in Williamsburg, Midwood, Crown Heights, Coney Island, Lower East Side, etc., have access to good kosher food that they can feel good about. The number of Jews in New York City who struggle is just astounding. We have a very large Jewish population, obviously. And so, you know, it’s something that’s on my mind a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to work with the Jewish community in New York now for over 15 years. Studies tell us that more than 10% of Jewish adults, and Jewish adults with kids in New York are food insecure. It’s serious. You’d be astounded, probably, to learn that more than 20% of adults in Jewish households in New York are at the poverty line.

What is your favorite part of the job?

A job as a food bank leader is very, very unique. In the course of a day, I can work on operations, I can work on marketing and communications, I can meet with donors, I can be on the phone with one of our agencies or food pantries on the ground, or I can be working on policy or advocacy. So it’s a really varied position. The most fun part about my job is the people and the stories. It’s the people who we serve who just have really big hearts and deep and interesting personal stories, and they’re just like you and me — moms and dads and families and kids who are trying to live their best life. We take the opportunity to be able to help them along the way pretty seriously.

For me, it starts internally with our Food Bank family. I take that really seriously. The culture in the organization is really important to me. I want people to feel supported and have all the resources they need to do their job, to be excited and energized about the ability and opportunity they have to impact people’s lives. At the end of the day, it’s always the people. 

I’m a bit of a builder, and a fixer. It’s just who I am. Why I’m that way, I have no idea. My mother tells me that I’m my grandfather’s granddaughter. I just have a particular affinity for how things work and systems and processes and making things better and more efficient. It’s just part of my DNA, I guess. That is a skill set that really fits well with what’s required to run a food bank.

The post How the CEO of New York’s largest food bank is inspired by Jewish values appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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