Dr. Sydney Fleischer has been a fixture at JFS for more than thirty years. “Everybody likes to call me the historian,” she said with a wry smile, but she is much more. Lately she’s been trying to pare down her files. Years of accreditation documents, grant applications, and JFS Annual Reports from the early 1900s line Dr. Fleischer’s bookshelf. “It’s showing me the interesting progression that I’ve had here.”
Dr. Fleischer and her husband, Dr. Mike Camp, left the D.C. area to raise their children in quieter, greener Richmond after Dr. Camp retired from the military. “I was looking for a clinical director job,” Dr. Fleischer said. “I knew pretty much nothing about JFS – I had it confused with some other agency.” Several organizations offered her positions, but “because I drove to so many tennis practices, I wanted to take the closer job, and I never regretted that move.”
A reflection on her career serves as the most recent chapter of JFS’ long history. “Right after I got here, suddenly the resettlement effort exploded, and it was quite an explosion. They’d named a few smaller agencies to host Jewish families from the former Soviet Union, and JFS Richmond was one of them. All of a sudden, we were resettling 50 new Americans and didn’t have a program yet. Our counseling program did a lot of that work at first. It took over JFS for a while.”
She continued, “During all of this time with my three kids, and my breast cancer, I was also getting my PhD. I wrote papers about the world of nonprofits, and how early nonprofits provided services that the government couldn’t, like how nonprofits used to be responsible for roads. I’ve watched JFS meet the needs of the times and move more quickly than most organizations could.
“When I came, we were a $1 million agency. And, of course I’m on my fourth CEO” – which seems remarkable, given how long it’s been – “at one point, I even served as the interim CEO for 9 months.” Dr. Fleischer shook her head and adopted her signature grin. “I didn’t actually want to be the CEO.”
Once Dr. Fleischer starts talking about JFS, she has a hard time stopping. “I think our agency is responsive to the needs of our clients, but also to the needs of the employees. Like for me, after working so many hours for so many years, the ability be flexible is something I’m a strong supporter of, and you can’t find that everywhere. The fact that I could move away from the admin side of JFS but still stay with the clinical side, serving clients directly, has been something so important to me and something JFS has allowed me to do.”
When the conversation turned to her and Dr. Camp’s Life & Legacy commitment, she has just as much to say. “Folks started talking about the Life & Legacy program, and Mike and I started looking at our will. We have legacy gifts planned at JFS, MCV, and Beth Ahabah. Mike likes how Life & Legacy keeps you much more connected to the agency. And, especially for staff, this is a great opportunity to make a gift if you can.
“JFS has been here for an eternity, and it’ll be here for much longer after us. I’ve always liked when funds aren’t restricted and go straight to the agency. I know some people have their favorite projects, but it’s also nice to let the agency decide depending on their needs of the moment.”
Dr. Fleischer flashed her wry smile again when asked about her own legacy. “It’s really important when you’re our age to feel like you’re relevant – not just that you have work, because that’s not good enough – but that you’re relevant and connected. Even when I’m telecommuting from Los Angeles, I am grateful to be able to serve my clients. They’re dealing with so much isolation, and we’re an important lifeline to them, and we need to keep that going.”