JFS honors retiree Yana Vishnitsky
On Feb. 3, 1978, 31-yearold Yana Vishnitsky stepped off of an airplane and onto American soil, accompanied by her thenhusband and their 4-yearold son, Vitaly.
The family had left St. Petersburg, Russia, where she had been a patent attorney and mechanical engineer, to build a better life and be free to practice their Jewish faith.
They had landed at Denver’s Stapleton International Airport on a Friday night, and the Jewish Family Service volunteers who greeted them not only escorted the new arrivals to an apartment stocked with furniture, food and household essentials but also directed them to Temple Emanuel to attend their first Shabbat service.
The service marked the first time that Vishnitsky had been inside a synagogue, and the first time that she had met a rabbi.
The rabbi was Steven Foster who, with his wife, Joyce, established a lasting friendship that would change the direction of Vishnitsky’s life.
Joyce Foster was working at Jewish Family Service at the time and because Vishnitsky was fluent in English, Foster helped her get a job there, serving as a translator and case manager for the hundreds of Russian emigres trying to adapt to life in Colorado.
That job was the beginning of a 38-year career with JFS. After serving as director of the Russian resettlement department, she was promoted to associate executive director. In 2000, she was named president and chief executive officer, and on Dec. 5 she turned over the keys to the corner office to her successor, Shepard Nevel.
Her retirement party on Dec. 10 brought 570 friends to the Hyatt Regency Convention Center for a Russian-themed celebration that raised a record $1 million.
It was chaired by three of her biggest fans: Andy Miller and Geri and Meyer Saltzman. Jane E. Rosenbaum, chair of the JFS board, was mistress of ceremonies.
“The people whose lives she has touched will never forget her,” Rosenbaum said, adding that the most fitting tribute the JFS board could think of to commemorate her numerous contributions was to name the agency’s administrative center in her honor. Gov. John Hickenlooper did his part by designating Dec. 10 as Yana Vishnitsky Day in Colorado. He also arranged for Miller to present her with the flag that had flown over the capitol building that day.
In her farewell remarks, Vishnitsky recalled that when she arrived in Denver, “I felt incompetent and scared. Coming to America was the most important and best decision of my life, but immigration can be very painful. (At first), nothing clicked for me here but JFS. It’s where I met 95 percent of my friends — and my (current) husband.”
Her husband, Jim Wolfe; son Vitaly Vishnitsky, daughter-in-law Jill Vishnitsky and granddaughters Zoe and Lexi were among the evening’s well-wishers, joining a crowd that also included Elaine and Max Appel; Micky and Louann Miller; Charlie Gwirtsman and Nancy Reichman; Steve and Elizabeth Kris; Norm and Sunny Brownstein; Essie Perlmutter; Dr. Dean Prina; Gary and Terri Yourtz; Barry and Arlene Hirschfeld; Gareth and Betsy Heyman; Carol and Dr. Harvey Karsh; David Engleberg; Eddie Robinson; Doug and Sue Seserman; and Henry and Joan Strauss.
Henry Strauss told me that in 1939, JFS helped to resettle his family in Denver after it fled Nazi Germany. Interestingly, the JFS representative who met them at the train station was Jack A. Weil, the founder of Rockmount Ranch Wear. Weil died in 2008.
James Wolfe and Yana Vishnitsky.
George Lupiba, Cindy Friedland, Rabbi Joe Black and Diana Zeff Anderson.
Arlene and Barry Hirschfeld.
Anna and Shepard Nevel.