A former client of Jewish Vocational Service who immigrated to the United States from Russia as a child was recently named to head the organization that assisted her and her parents when, in her words, “We had nothing.”
Kira Khazatsky, the new president and chief executive officer of JVS – one of New England’s largest providers of adult education and workforce development – worked her way through the ranks of the agency, gaining invaluable insights. She succeeds David Fleischman, who held the position for less than a year. The former superintendent of Newton schools said he would be returning to public education leadership.
A 16-year veteran of JVS, Khazatsky started as an English teacher to immigrants, eventually becoming the chief program officer and vice president of academic and workplace training, and more recently chief operating officer of the $26 million nonprofit that employs 250 and assists 15,000 adults every year.
The Moscow native came to the United States with her parents in 1979 when she was 10 years old. Every time her mother spoke about the family’s immigrant experience, JVS was central to it, said Khazatsky. Her parents “made the excruciating decision to leave Russia” due to the rise of antisemitism and unwritten policies that “left Jews feeling physically unsafe, not unlike what’s happening now,” she said. “Both my parents used JVS for their first jobs in the U.S. So, to now help steward this organization – not just professionally, but personally as well – is the great privilege of my life.”
JVS is entering a critical moment in its 85th year as it expands its workforce development programs and its mission. It won a $1.3 million Mass. Skills Capital grant to support its partnership with Quincy College to transform its building at 122 Arlington St. in Boston into the ArLab, which will become a facility to train people for in-demand jobs. It will include a mock hospital with a maternity wing; a bio-technology teaching lab; a sterile processing lab; and a mock pharmacy and phlebotomy lab. The new center will be focused on serving unemployed and underemployed adults, primarily immigrants.
“We used to prepare students and then send them out,” said Khazatsky. “No longer.”
“I worry about systemic issues that JVS can’t impact directly that have huge consequence to our clients, such as affordable housing and child care. Some clients are living in shelters. How do you find them a job?” asked Khazatsky. “When people are housing insecure and in poverty, they now have a third issue. You can say they have a mental disability as well. There is data that highlights what living in poverty does.”
Khazatsky and her leadership teams are confronting problems with a positive mindset. She is excited about a new initiative, a Barrier Removal Team that works on addressing clients’ obstacles to reaching their goals. Another new program will provide stipends for clients while they are enrolled in all-day training programs.
Khazatsky’s colleagues say there is no one better suited for the top job at JVS.
“Kira cares so deeply about this agency. She is 110 percent committed to our success,” said Amy Nishman, senior vice president of strategy. “Because Kira started as a teacher, and then worked her way up, she has so much knowledge about the agency, not only from a program perspective but also from a staff perspective.”
Former Board Chair Joe Zeff said, “Kira brings a deep understanding of JVS’s programs and operations, along with strong relationships with our donors and partners. She has an ambitious vision for the future of JVS.”
Mary Jane Ryan, senior director of workforce development and economic opportunity at Mass General Brigham, has worked closely with Khazatsky for the past 16 years.
“We have grown together and partnered on countless initiatives, both trusting that we had each other’s backs,” said Ryan. “When we were experiencing a participation lull in English classes at one of our hospitals, and I was having trouble with funding, she quickly thought of a fee-for-service approach, which was quite different from the previous model. This helped us to lower risk and ensure future funding.”
Typical of Jews coming from the former Soviet Union, Khazatsky said her Jewish involvement is “more about my ties to the community, to the Jewish values of repairing the world and the importance of the dignity of work, than the practice of rituals. I feel deeply Jewish, and I live life from that identity. I feel it in the work that we do every day. I love this job. I couldn’t have imagined it when I was thinking of my career. I’m so fortunate.”