Trading in the couch for the classroom, the new executive director of the East Bay's Jewish Family and Children's Services believes Jews need to face difficult issues — such as stress — as a community.
That's why Ted Feldman is putting a new emphasis on seminars and workshops. He has many ideas for increasing his agency's visibility and service in the community.
"Basically, the Jewish community has changed. So we have to change how we serve it," Feldman said.
By bringing counseling methods and principles to groups through stress-management and self-esteem workshops, the agency could benefit a greater number of people and devote more energy to underserved populations like the disabled and the elderly, Feldman said.
Feldman, 49, has been serving the Jewish community for 27 years. He has dealt with uniquely Jewish concerns such as assimilation and intermarriage and inescapable societal issues like aging, welfare cuts and a changing health-insurance system.
Feldman's new position at JFCS seems the perfect venue for merging his secular and religious experiences as well as his spiritual and institutional ones.
After graduating in 1968 from Chicago's Roosevelt University with a bachelor of arts degree in psychology, Feldman entered the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He was ordained a Conservative rabbi in 1974.
Feldman served congregations in Columbus, Ga., and Boca Raton, Fla., until 1988. He then moved from religious to institutional Judaism and accepted a job as campaign director for the South Palm Beach County Jewish Federation.
"Congregational life for me was a limiting experience. I wanted a broader-spectrum attachment to Jewish life," Feldman said of his career switch.
In 1992, he left Florida to become executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento region. He moved to Berkeley in December 1995.
In his new position, Feld-man hopes to address a larger sector of the community — especially young parents, seniors and disabled and unaffiliated Jews. He hopes to form focus groups to better determine these Jews' needs.
"I want to know how we're perceived [and] what people want and need — and how to make certain we don't duplicate services," Feldman said. "The plan is to take the next six months to a year to re-look at this agency, its function and the market we're serving, and then find a new and reinvigorated place in community services."
Ultimately, "I want to serve the Jewish community in its broadest context, in an institution that translates Jewish values to the broadest range of Jewish people."
But Feldman is quick to add that he doesn't envision JFCS eliminating its one-on-one therapy program entirely.
"Counseling has been the linchpin of JFCS," Feldman explained. But because of changes in health-care funding, "it probably won't be in the future," he said.
JFCS' educational programs, group counseling and clinics "will help individuals cope with their personal situations while feeling the support of Jewish life," Feldman said.
As a rabbi, he says he "spent a lot of time counseling people, being with them during joys and crises. I miss the intimate involvement in people's lives."
Ultimately, Feldman says, "I hope the programs and services we can offer at JFCS can touch people's lives too."