Photo Credit: Marc Gronich
Poster of Danielle Ellman of Queens who received the Woman of Distinction Award, nominated by Queens Senator Toby Ann Stavisky. Ellman did not attend the ceremony in Albany due to a work-related scheduling conflict.

Last Wednesday the Senate sponsored the program “Women of Distinction, Honoring Women in New York.” Four out of 63 award recipients were Jewish. Three of the awardees were available for interviews after the ceremony but did not travel to Albany for the occasion.

Danielle Ellman, 45, a Shabbos-observant Jew, said she is “a huge fan” of her senator, Toby Ann Stavisky, who nominated Ellman for the award. “The honor is incredibly meaningful. It’s an incredibly kind accolade,” Ellman told The Jewish Press. Ellman is president and chief executive officer of Commonpoint Queens, a merger of two JCCs (YM-YWHA) with branches in Forest Hills, Elmhurst, Little Neck, Queens Village and Bayside. She is the mother of two teenage boys and a teenage girl.


“I stand on Senator Stavisky’s shoulders and I hope that I’m creating shoulders that are strong enough for someone to stand on mine,” Ellman said. “As women in community-based organizations and not-for-profits, while we resemble the majority of the workforce, we are still in the minority of the leadership of these agencies. If I can inspire another woman to take on a leadership role or if I can be a part of supporting a young woman to ascend into a leadership role, this is something that I aspire to do and would be meaningful to me.

“My daughter is a senior in high school and I very much work at breakneck speed because I have her eyes always watching me. She is very much the inspiration that propels me forward in my professional and personal life,” Ellman said proudly.

Balancing work and family prevented Ellman from attending the Albany ceremony. “I did not come up for the actual event because we had a scheduled board meeting,” Ellman said. “Our board calendar is set a year in advance.”

Poster of Fraidy Nachman of Brooklyn, who was nominated by Senator Simcha Felder. Nachman did not attend the ceremony in Albany due to a scheduling conflict.

Senator Simcha Felder sponsored the award accepted by Fraidy Nachman, 62, a Flatbush resident.

Nachman said it was a close call whether she would accept the award.

“It’s a tremendous honor,” she said. “I agreed to accept it because the way it was put to me is that it’s a lesson for the younger generation and women in particular in our community to see that they are capable of handling these kinds of careers. I found that intriguing. Otherwise, I say no to these things,” Nachman told The Jewish Press. “I like that concept of being considered a role model for the younger generation. I don’t like the ballyhoo part of it but I do like the idea that this is what they are appealing to.”

Nachman is a senior staff attorney in the elder law unit for Brooklyn Legal Services. She is also the manager of a grant from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, which ensures that Holocaust survivors receive the aid they rightfully deserve and rely upon. Nachman also serves as a vice president of COJO Flatbush.

“I enjoy what I do, and my work at Brooklyn Legal Services is an important free service for the community,” Nachman said. “We represent the indigent and it does give people the opportunity to get help when they wouldn’t ordinarily be able to. I’m actually eligible for my own services.”

Major issues facing the elderly include housing, consumer debt, government benefits, trusts, estates and wills.

Poster of Raisa Chernina of Brooklyn, who was nominated by Staten Island Senator Jessica Scarcella-Spanton. Chernina did not attend the ceremony in Albany due to health problems.

Raisa Chernina, another award recipient, is the founder and executive director of the Sheepshead Bay-based Be Proud, Inc. [BPI], a New York City-based not-for-profit organization that works primarily with Brooklyn’s Russian-speaking communities. She is an immigrant from Minsk, Russia, who came to America 43 years ago.

BPI hosts an annual event called “Yad B’Yad,” which is the Hebrew phrase for “hand in hand.” The event is designed to meet some of the basic needs of Brooklyn’s most distressed Jewish populations during Rosh Hashanah, including Holocaust survivors, World War II veterans and senior citizens. Last year, families in need were presented with 100 wholesome kosher food baskets.

“Wow. It’s such an honor to get this big, big award,” Chernina, 75, told The Jewish Press. “The award inspires me to help more people. I don’t want to call myself a role model. The role model was my mom, Bronislava, who helped me establish the organization and helped in many other ways. This award belongs not only to me. I cannot accept it personally. It belongs to our organization and to all the board members who are all highly professional.”

A fourth Jewish recipient was Rachel Timoner, spiritual leader of Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She was nominated for the award by Senator Zellnor Myrie (D – Crown Heights). Timoner serves on several boards, including the New York Jewish Agenda, the Brooklyn Community Foundation, the New York Board of Rabbis, the UJA-Federation of New York, Plaza Community Chapel, Community Help in Park Slope (CHiPS), and the International Council of the New Israel Fund. Timoner is the mother of two boys.

You would think a nice ceremony praising the efforts of women in the workplace would be non-controversial. This year was the exception. Senator Rob Rolison (R – Poughkeepsie, Dutchess County) nominated Sharon Toney-Finch, 43, an Army veteran from Orange County. The day after Toney-Finch received the award, it was revealed that she concocted a story that homeless veterans were being kicked out of hotel rooms in Orange County in favor of migrants coming over from the southern border and being bused to New York City and that New York City officials then shipped the migrants to Orange County for housing. None of that was true. It is unclear whether the state Senate rescinded her award. One list on the Senate website excludes her name from the list of honorees, but Rolison’s Senate web page still has her bio posted.

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Marc Gronich is the owner and news director of Statewide News Service. He has been covering government and politics for 44 years, since the administration of Hugh Carey. He is an award-winning journalist. His Albany Beat column appears monthly in The Jewish Press and his coverage about how Jewish life intersects with the happenings at the state Capitol appear weekly in the newspaper. You can reach Mr. Gronich at [email protected].