BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Cynthia Zalisky has made it her mission to take on the big issues in life.
As executive director of the Forest Hills-based Queens Jewish Community Council, a position she has held for more than a decade, Zalisky works toward goals from combating hunger to empowering the working poor to supporting senior health and health care.
“We’re here in the trenches. We see it, we see the need,” Zalisky said.
In particular, she said, the QJCC’s Kosher food pantry program has tripled in the last two years. Other programs such as meals on wheels for seniors and case assistance remain integral to the QJCC’s work.
According to Zalisky, some of the Borough-specific needs of the Jewish community that the QJCC addresses include the large number of near-poor.
A 2011 United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York study found that a quarter of Jewish households in Queens are living close to the poverty line – information that Zalisky said the QJCC took to heart after seeing the report.
“We have a very big mission now to service that population,” Zalisky said. “We have to roll up our sleeves and make sure that they have job training.”
Under Zalisky’s watch, the QJCC also pursues the more macro efforts of advocating for the Jewish community at large and fighting prejudice, bias and anti-Semitism. As the child of Holocaust survivors, she said these goals have “shaped my life.”
One of the methods Zalisky cited as most effective in spreading tolerance was sparking dialogue between different groups.
“We [at QJCC] try very hard to be part of coalitions,” Zalisky said, adding that in an area as diverse as Queens, there are great opportunities for conversation and collaboration.
“We find out there are more things we find similar than divide us,” she added.
Upcoming programming at the QJCC includes participation in the Global Day of Learning on Nov. 16, a day of Torah study to bring Jewish faith education to people from all backgrounds.
Zalisky pointed to a number of accomplishments from her tenure as QJCC executive director that she is especially proud of, including expanding the organization’s programming and client roster, opening on-site food stamp facilitation and helping seniors sign up for Medicare.
When asked to define her role in the Queens community, Zalisky said, “I think it’s serving the people and helping them navigate the system.”
“They’re not alone,” Zalisky added. “The worst thing for me is that these people should feel that they’ve fallen through the cracks.”
Zalisky and the QJCC can be reached at 119-45 Union Turnpike in Forest Hills, or by calling (718) 544-9033.
“We service everyone who comes to our door,” Zalisky said.
Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, email@example.com or @JNStrawbridge.