Sara Winer, president of the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in Marblehead, grew up in Everett, the youngest of three sisters. At times, her life was challenging. Her father died when she was 16. By that time, her sisters Carolyn and Linda already were married with children. Her family was large and they all lived within a 10-block area. They belonged to Congregation Tifereth Israel of Everett, where Sara was married 52 years ago, and where her oldest son celebrated his bar mitzvah.
After high school, Sara attended Salem State University, where she met her husband, Marc. She taught third grade in Everett for a number of years. Sara and Marc raised three sons, Jesse, Daniel, and David, and are now the proud grandparents of seven. Marc is president of Congregation Ahabat Sholom and is a frequent reader of Torah at Temple Sinai in Marblehead and Congregation Shirat Hayam in Swampscott.
You and your husband Marc spent time in your early married life in Israel. How is Israel part of your lives now?
In 1971, shortly after we were married, Marc and I spent six months in Israel at an ulpan in Haifa. At the time we considered making Aliyah, but were drawn back for other opportunities and to be with family. We made lifelong friends and have great memories of that time, when the country was still so young. The modern State of Israel and I are the same age. Currently, two of our three sons and four of our grandchildren live in Israel. Over the past 50 years, we have seen tremendous growth and progress each time we visit.
When did you move to Swampscott and why?
Our kids started classes at Cohen Hillel Academy (now Epstein Hillel School) in 1980 when Dr. Bennett Solomon was head of school. It was with his encouragement and enthusiasm for Jewish education that we sent Jesse, Daniel, and David there. The carpool commute from Everett, while a labor of love, was long, so in 1987 we decided to move to Swampscott. It was a great choice for us. I developed friendships with the most wonderful people, including our neighbors, other parents from Hillel and the JCCNS, and the Jewish community here.”
Tell us a bit about your professional life working with your sister Linda Lerner and family?
In 1982, I joined my sister Linda at her printing business, Lerner Graphics, and started my second career. Sales, I found out, was my calling. Part of what I loved in that role was making new friends with my clients. Working with my sister was a wonderful experience. She would be so proud that I am now president of the JCCNS and being featured as an “honorable menschion.” Linda was a great mentor to me in many ways. She served as president of the women’s division of the Jewish Federation of the North Shore and was the first woman president of its board. I worked with Linda and her family until 1994, when I moved to a sales role at a new company. I enjoyed being the printing liaison for many of the Jewish agencies on the North Shore. I retired from the printing business in 2013, after 30 years in the industry.
You have volunteered for many worthy organizations in our area such as Epstein Hillel School, ORT, and now as president of the JCCNS – why is your answer always ‘yes’?
I join organizations when I believe in the causes they espouse. Those who share my fervor and sense of tikkun olam become part of my life, and I become part of theirs. I’m an optimist, and I see the good in people. I believe that even the smallest act of kindness can make a profound difference. While living in Everett, I became involved for the first time with the charitable organization Women’s American ORT. I was also on the board of directors at Cohen Hillel Academy.
You’ve been involved with the JCC for over 30 years in a variety of capacities. Can you tell us a little how those roles have prepared you to take on the great responsibility of the presidency?
My initial involvement at the JCCNS was as a member of the Jewish Book Month Committee. For 10 years, I co-chaired that committee with my dear friend Joanie Finn, of blessed memory. I was asked to join the JCCNS board in 2004, by my great friend Diane Knopf who was then president. I also served on the board of two other presidents’ terms. I was one of the founding members of the Jewish Film Festival, and in 2018 took over the chair position for the next three years. I became president of the Jewish Community Center of the North Shore in 2021. The committee work has taught me that leading by example is the best way to get others involved and goals accomplished.
You are the go-to person in our community for delicious baked goods and holiday cooking. Why is this meaningful for you?
Baking is my passion! When I am in my kitchen, with the sugar and flour and all my ingredients in front of me, I’m in my happy place. I love to share what I bake. In the last several years, I’ve started a small cottage industry preparing food for the holidays. Passover and Rosh Hashanah are the busiest times, and I’ve developed popular offerings for those important holidays. As president of the JCC, I also enjoy bringing dessert to every meeting. My banana bread is always a hit.
Explain what you call your “mitzvah train.”
The phrase “mitzvah train” was introduced to me by my son Daniel. Every time I told him about having helped someone, he would say, “… and the mitzvah train rolls on.” All of my sons subscribe to that ethic. A mitzvah can be as simple as a telephone call, a ride to an appointment, or as involved as preparing and bringing food to someone in need.
How has being the president of the largest organization on the North Shore – the JCCNS – changed you, and what do you hope will be your legacy?
Being the president of the largest organization on the North Shore has been a true joy. Marty Schneer, the executive director, has been wonderful to work with. I’ve learned to speak up on matters that are crucial, and feel that I’ve already made important contributions. The members of the board are all dear to me, and have made my job meaningful. The staff at the JCCNS is so inspiring. The preschool program, the summer camp, the inclusion program, the after-school program, the aquatics, the group exercise, Dance Energy, are award winning and make the JCCNS shine, and these programs make me incredibly proud.
When the pandemic hit, our membership was deeply impacted. I am happy to say that it is almost back to pre-COVID levels. There are positive signs everywhere! My personal wish is to reach, and even surpass, our endowment goal, and we are super close. I would like my legacy to reflect a sense of personal connection with the members, the staff, and everyone who helps make the JCCNS the great institution that it is. As I always tell the board members, they are ambassadors for the JCCNS, and working together is paramount. Θ
Sara and I go back to infants, JCC pre school Hillel car pool and ORT, nearly 50 years. Sara is one of the kindest, sweetest, brightest, most intelligent and most gracious people in the world! I am so proud to call her my friend, and so in awe of everything she has accomplished, always with a smile and kind word. Yashir Koach!
Mazel Tov to my friend Sara! Well deserved