Celebrating 75 Years of JVS and Families that Work
By Vivian Henoch, Editor myJewishDetroit
January 1, 2017
This is a story that that keeps on going . . . embracing four generations connected by JVS for more than four decades of service to the Jewish Detroit.
It begins back in the 70’s with a client of JVS by the name of Anna Morof. Given the thousands of people who have passed through the doors of the agency since then, Anna must have made a lasting impression; Leah Rosenbaum – President and CEO of JVS with a 37-year history with the agency – still recalls her smile, her kindness and compassion.
“I remember Anna as this incredibly giving and caring woman,” says Leah. “We had a small workshop for older adults who wanted to earn some money to supplement their benefit check. Anna was a worker there, then became a volunteer in our Senior Service Corps. She was one of those women who just took care of others.”
Nine years ago, when a U of M senior named Melissa Morof joined JVS as an intern in HR, Leah stopped by to ask her if by chance she was related to Anna Morof. As Leah recalls that moment, “Melissa got this look in her eyes like she had just seen the ghost of her great grandmother standing in her footsteps at JVS three generations later.”
“My great grandmother Anna died when I was still in pre-school, but I’ve made a keepsake of her wallet and driver’s license and still carry vivid memories of her. It was incredible to suddenly find myself sharing stories about her with co-workers who remembered her from so many years ago.”
Anna was born in 1906 in a town “somewhere along the border of Russia and Poland.” As the family story goes, she was 23 when she left Russia, a new bride in an arranged marriage most likely to have taken place aboard an ocean liner headed to Mexico.
Long story. . . short. Anna’s husband met with tragedy on a farm in Mexico, leaving her a widow with two young children. With the help of family connections, she eventually made her way to Detroit, remarried and raised five children with her second husband, David Morof. The Morofs owned a paint and wallpaper store in Detroit, and together put each of their children through college and some on to graduate school.
The story skips a generation and continues with Melissa’s parents, Diane and Howard Morof of Farmington Hills. Like Anna, the Morofs always have been active volunteers in the community. Howard, Chief Financial Officer at Altair Engineering, is a member of the boards of the United Jewish Foundation and Temple Shir Shalom and a past board member of Federation and Tamarack Camps. “Anna was Howard’s grandmother – and the perfect Bubbie and role model,” Diane explains. “She spoke five or six languages, volunteered on a daily schedule that took her all over town, from JVS to Sinai Hospital to the gift shop at the JCC where she worked well into her 80s.”
Finishing each other’s sentences in an easy patter that mothers and daughters often have, Diane and Melissa fall into a sweet reminiscence.
Diane: I remember our Monday night dates with Anna: we’d pick up Melissa from daycare and go for pizza at Shields.
Melissa I remember visits to Bubbie at the JCC gift shop, where she always kept a stash of these wonderful orange flavored tea cookies.
Diane: Melissa’s relationship with her great grandmother was very special . . .
Following Anna’s footsteps back to JVS, Melissa would return in 2010, having gained experience in the corporate world as a Clinical Research Recruiter with Kelly Services. In her six years of service to JVS – and with a recent promotion from Senior HR Specialist to HR Coordinator – Melissa has built an impressive resume: earning her Master’s from Wayne State University in Industrial Organizational Psychology and gaining a track record in community service on the Board of Tamarack Camps and as Co-President on the Advisory Board of Science in Technical and Professional Communication at Lawrence Technology University. Nominated this year by her peers at JVS, Melissa is listed in The Detroit Jewish News among the Thirty-Six Under 36 Millennials making an impact in Metro Detroit.
A mother daughter team: from volunteers to professionals at JVS
“I always loved working for JVS,” says Melissa. “Even as an intern, I had it in mind to come back, so when the position opened in HR, I jumped in. And I have no plans to leave. . . ever!” With Melissa recruiting staff and finding excellent candidates for JVS, it was only a matter of time before she identified a perfect opportunity for her mother. “Two years ago, we had a need for help on the professional side in the Senior Service Corps. I called mom, who was looking for meaningful work after years of volunteer service in the community. The job was a perfect fit.”
“And here we are today,” Melissa observed, “Mother and daughter, best friends forever and now colleagues as well.”
“Helping people succeed in meaningful work is our mission,” says Leah. “But what also resonates for me in Anna Morof’s family story is the way it speaks to her legacy, her service to the community and to the deep connections JVS continues to make, from generation to generation.”
Coming full circle
Married in 2013, Melissa Morof is now Melissa Sherman, married to Aubby. Their daughter, Leah Ann Sherman, born in October 2015, now carries the Morof family tradition of visiting her grandmother at work at JVS, in the very same program where their story all began. And yes, according to “big Leah,” there are cookies and smiles all around the Senior Service Corps and Brown Center whenever little Leah Ann is in the house.