The Art Committee Bringing Life and Warmth to the JFS Gunther-Hirsh Family Center

While on a trip to Israel with other members of the Jewish Family Service LA Board of Directors several years ago, Irene Ribner visited the Benny & Lotty Reich Community Center for Senior Citizens in Tel Aviv. Touring the facility, Irene was moved by its vibrant and warm environment. “There was art on the walls and a great sculpture right when you waked in,” Irene remembered. “I turned to Paul Castro, who was the CEO of JFS at the time, and said ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a building this inspiring for our community?’ I didn’t realize that one day we’d be able to do it.” Years later, when Jewish Family Service LA was building the JFS Gunther-Hirsh Family Center, its new flagship service center and headquarters on Fairfax Avenue, Irene found herself on the interior design committee. There were several large walls that were empty slates, and Irene saw this as an opportunity for the agency to utilize art to create a warm and lively environment for clients, staff, and volunteers in the new building. Irene and Jenny Lavey, who was the JFS Director of Donor Relations, brought the idea to JFS Executive Vice President Susie Forer-Dehrey, who in turn asked Irene to chair an Art Committee for the JFS Gunther-Hirsh Family Center, the first of its kind for the agency. Besides her visit to Tel Aviv, Irene was also inspired by Cedars-Sinai’s art collection, which is intended to inspire imagination, reduce stress, and trigger healing. The new Art Committee would seek to build a collection of therapeutic art specific to JFS’s mission of nurturing and healing, knowing that clients and staff alike would benefit from creative surroundings.

Irene’s first step was to build the committee, and she immediately thought of Nancy Berman. Nancy is the President and Executive Director of the Philip and Muriel Berman Foundation and the Director Emerita of the Skirball Museum at the Skirball Cultural Center (in 1972, Nancy became the Founding Curator and then Director of the Skirball Museum). “Nancy is probably the most knowledgeable person about artists in Los Angeles,” Irene said. Nancy then recommended Barbara Gilbert, a former Senior Curator at the Skirball Museum, as an art consultant. The Committee also added JFS Board Member Roz Goldstine, an avid art collector, for the committee, as well as Sara Cannon, an active volunteer and supporter of JFS. Jenny Lavey brought in Laura Bergman, Senior Major Gifts Officer at LACMA.

The newly formed Art Committee embarked on a search for artists. Their criteria were simple: the artists had to be local, and they had to understand JFS and its mission. “Barbara Gilbert brought us a PowerPoint presentation of 30 LA-based artists that she and Nancy Berman had put together. We whittled it down to 15 people and visited the studios of at least 12,” Irene said.

After much consideration, the Art Committee chose Eamon Ore-Giron to create a mural in Anita & Stanley’s Café, JFS’s new senior meal site named for Anita and Stanley Hirsh, of blessed memory. Eamon Ore-Giron is a prolific Latino visual artist who has exhibited at many international venues, including the Whitney Biennial and LACMA. “His incredible graphic design was inspired by his Latin American roots, as well as Israeli and Armenian ceramic art,” Irene said. “Most of all, he wanted the room to be bright and lively for the seniors who would be there. Installing that work at the height of the pandemic was a major feat, and the result is just stunning.” The Committee also chose Fran Siegel for The Todd Morgan & Rosanna Arquette Lobby on the building’s third floor. Fran Siegel’s works depict time, movement, and cultural impact. “Fran loved the history of JFS,” Irene said. “The diversity of our staff, volunteers, and clients gave her an idea: she used trees that represent the many countries of origin of the people in our community. Their trunks represent the strength of these backgrounds and identities and the leaves represent the fragility and importance of the ties that bind us all.” For The Roz and Abner Goldstine Lobby on the second floor, the committee chose two paintings from artist Bruce Cohen, who is greatly admired by the Goldstines. Cohen, a Santa Monica native, engages his viewers with a distinct, crisp, realist style influenced by still-life and Surrealist painting.

With these major installations completed, the Art Committee is now meeting again, with some new members, to consider new projects. The Committee has added two new members: Monique Maas Gibbons, a former JFS Board Member and former museum registrar and private collections management consultant, and Gina Posalski, a member and past Board Member of Fellows of Contemporary Art. With many of the walls of the JFS Gunther-Hirsh Family Center still empty, the Art Committee is looking to place existing and donated art throughout the rest of the building and considering ways to use art throughout the space in the future. The Art Committee was recently approached by Stephen Sass, President of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California, who had the idea of using the new building to create an exhibition about the 167-year history of Jewish Family Service LA. The possibility of using the space to create interactive exhibits and experiences is an exciting one for the Committee and just a taste of the possibilities ahead.

For more information about the JFS therapeutic art collection, or to donate art, please contact