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Jewish Social Service Agency Opens New Center in Bala Cynwyd

by Kristin E. Holmes, Staff Writer  @DailyK

High above the lobby of the new Barbara and Harvey Brodsky Enrichment Center in Bala Cynwyd, 18 faces peer down like watchful guardians over those who enter.

They are the images of  Holocaust survivors, in a black-and-white mural that is the centerpiece of facility’s reception area. Called Chai, the Debra Kapnek painting is a symbol not only of a never-forgotten past, but of the promise in the word’s translation from Hebrew, “life.”

On Monday, the $7.4 million social services center on Montgomery Avenue, a branch of Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Greater Philadelphia (JFCS), will set out on its mission to help improve the lives of people struggling through hard times.

“We want this building to be about community and enriching the lives of people who tend to be isolated and have challenging circumstances,” said Paula Goldstein, JFCS president and CEO. “We want this to be a home for them.”

The 18,000-square-foot center includes a kosher teaching kitchen, children’s playroom, art studio, library, financial empowerment center, counseling rooms, offices and larger meeting space.  JFCS will offer services including counseling, adoption, nutrition education, financial assistance, and aid for people with disabilities.

The Brodsky Enrichment Center is JFCS’s fifth location in the Philadelphia region. The 161-year-old agency also serves clients at sites in Center City, Elkins Park,  and Northeast and North Philadelphia.  JFCS formerly operated an office in Ardmore, but that branch has been closed for about 10 years.

The new center gives JFCS a home base in a thriving Jewish community.  In the past, the agency has had to rent space from area synagogues and other groups to offer the kind of programming that will be housed there:  life skills training for people in intellectual disabilities, a meeting  and cooking place for seniors facing “food insecurity,”  art therapy, and a food pantry,  as well as social events.

The building formerly housed a dental practice, a furrier, a production headquarters for TV personality Nancy Glass, and an institute for Jewish studies, after which it sat vacant for 10 years.

In March 2015, JFCS purchased the building from the family of Stanley Tuttleman, a businessman and philanthropist who died in 2011. Barbara “Bobbi” Brodsky, 79, of Haverford, donated the $2.2 million to buy the land, jump-starting JFCS’s fundraising efforts.

“It’s unbelievable,” Brodsky said Wednesday as she checked on the finishing touches to the modern two-story facility with pastel walls and vibrant pops of color.

Brodsky and her late husband, Harvey, founded B’SIDE: Brodsky Support for Independence, Development, and Enrichment for Adults With Special Needs, a program housed at JFCS that helps people with disabilities live independently and remain engaged in the community. The couple, longtime philanthropists, raised two daughters with intellectual disabilities.

Barbara Brodsky said she wanted a place where clients could “seek comfort and assistance” to “improve and enhance their quality of life.”

On Wednesday, Brodsky was joined at the center by 18 area rabbis, who took a tour and hung 26 mezuzahs at the doorways. Mezuzahs are often affixed to the doorjambs of Jewish homes, distinguishing the residence as Jewish and reminding those who live there of their connection to God and their heritage.

Rabbi David Ackerman of Beth Am Israel Congregation in Penn Valley, affixed the first just inside the lobby door and recited a blessing.

“This is a place of invitation, a place of outreach,”  said Ackerman, a JFCS board member. “It is very much our hope that this will be a gathering place for the whole community.”