This article is the first in a new series featuring the often unsung heroes of the J. The staff working tirelessly behind the scenes to create and facilitate programs that help our community learn, grow, and celebrate Jewish life and culture together—even if we’re apart.
When the SJCC temporarily closed its doors in March 2020 due to COVID-19, the staff quickly pivoted to a remote work environment. Some staff members—including Welcome Desk and J Café Manager Amanda Penland and Account Services Manager Beth Rosen—found themselves missing the hustle and bustle of the J. “I’m just not cut out for work-from-home life,” said Beth.
As the J began a phased re-opening in the summer of 2020, both Beth and Amanda were eager to return to the building in any capacity the J needed—and to take on every new challenge thrown their way. As we’ve continued to navigate the twists and turns of the “new normal,” these two, along with their extended Finance and Welcome Desk teams, have eagerly stepped up to the front lines of the J’s shift into the world of hybrid programming.
In the early days of the pandemic, Amanda logged about three miles a day walking the roughly 12 feet between the Welcome Desk and the front doors conducting health screenings and answering questions—always accompanied by a warm smile you can feel even behind her mask. “I love being a friendly, familiar face welcoming everyone back to a little bit of normalcy,” she said.
As vaccines became readily available, Welcome Desk staffer Elena Alberstone was thrilled to see more people returning to the J. “It makes me happy to see the members—especially the older members—coming back. Even if it’s not the same as it used to be, they’re happy to be here and we’re happy to see them.”
The Welcome Desk staff stays on top of the latest COVID policies, ensures everyone can access the building smoothly, and works to protect the community’s health and safety. It’s not an easy job, says Amanda, but she’s grateful for her staff’s dedication. “Without their help, we couldn’t do it,” she said. “They’re vital to the functioning of the J.”
Beth Rosen has also been a vital member of the J staff for almost 35 years. In that time, she’s touched almost every department – a trend she continued throughout the pandemic. As the J’s Account Services Manager, she helps with registration and billing; during COVID she’s added traffic directing, health screening, and teaching in our Early Childhood School to her repertoire. Having so many essential tasks really helped Beth get through the past couple years. “The J needed me, and I need the J,” she said. “It sounds silly, but I survived because they needed me to help them survive.”
Beth and the Finance team are such a crucial part of what keeps the J running—the behind-the-scenes magic that ensures our community can register for programs, keeps the lights on, and helps plan for our future.
Director of Accounting and Finance Richard Openshaw and Accountant Sharon Shaked have taken this opportunity to put a critical eye to “business as usual” and make impactful improvements. “In many ways, the pandemic forced us to streamline and modernize how we do business,” said Richard.
All of these staff members speak with pride about the J’s ability to adapt to serve our community’s changing needs through this challenging time – creating virtual learning spaces for kids, re-opening the fitness facilities, re-imagining holiday programming, building online communities, and more. “That’s why the J is such a great community,” Beth said. “We really helped each other through this.”
Hear more from our Welcome Desk and Finance Teams
“I’m passionate about working at a Jewish nonprofit—it helps me feel more connected to my community. Since we moved to Seattle 12 years ago, the J has always been there for me, so it’s been a natural transition to work here.”
– Sharon Shaked
“Since each department at the J runs a little differently, has different needs and revenue streams, uses different systems, it feels like multiple entities under one roof—in a good way! It keeps things interesting.”
– Richard Openshaw
“It’s been so nice to see everyone come back, and to meet lots of new members too. They’re all so happy to be here. I’m glad to play a role in making sure the J continues to feel welcoming, and everyone feels comfortable and safe.”
– Marion Schwartz
“I remember walking out of the J for the last time on March 16, 2020, and locking the doors behind us. It felt like such a loss, even though, intellectually, I knew we’d open back up at some point. Once we finally did reopen, it felt so good to be back together. We’re like a J family, especially our Welcome Desk group. We know all about each other’s lives and kids. We’re all working toward a shared goal of supporting our community.”
– Elena Alberstone
– Charlotte Hudson
– Crystal Petlig