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Yana Vishnitsky, 1946-2022

The subtitle of Yana Vishnitsky’s autobiography Yana! reads: “A story of courage, resilience, survival and success.”

To those noble attributes, one could easily add: “intelligence, warmth, grace and inspiration.”

Yana’s story is more than rags-to-riches. It is a shining example of how an immigrant to this country can not just succeed but lead her new community.

Yana Vishnitsky emigrated from the former Soviet Union, fleeing an oppressive regime that persecuted Jews, landing in Denver in 1977 with her first husband, four-year-old son and $150.

Vishnitsky gave up a promising career as a mechanical engineer and left her homeland for the opportunity of a better life and a brighter future for her beloved son Vitaly. Ultimately, she brought 15 of her relatives to Denver for their freedom and security.

Fluent in English, she was able to find work in Denver as an interpreter at Jewish Family Service, hired by Joyce Foster, who was JFS’ employment services director.

Foster’s wisdom in hiring Vishnitsky and mentoring her as she discovered her passion for helping other new immigrants assimilate into America turned out to be a gift not only to Vishnitsky, but to the entire Denver community. With Foster’s encouragement, as well as that of volunteer resettlement leader Charlene Loup, Vishnitsky pursued a degree in social work degree from CSU and a master’s from Smith College. She worked her way up to president and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Colorado, the very agency that resettled her as a refugee.

Under Vishnitsky’s leadership, JFS, already a respected social services agency, dramatically grew its programs and the number of people it served.

Vishnitsky raised money for two major capital campaigns: the acquisition of the JFS Tamarac headquarters and the SHALOM Denver facility. Vishnitsky had a rare combination of charm, expertise, confidence and a no-nonsense personality that made it hard for people to say no.

“I saw her raise a lot of money — seven figures — during one lunch with a potential donor,” observed the late JFS marketing director John Kayser.

Vishnitsky always retained her appreciation for Russian culture, ballet, art and the Russian language. A part of her was always Russian, but she was equally American.She adapted beautifully to her new home and embraced her new American identity with all her being.

Vishnitsky powered through the devastating effects of Parkinson’s disease as long as she could until she felt she could no longer serve as JFS CEO.

Yana Vishnitsky may have fled the FSU with only her small family, few possessions and $150 to her name, but it was all overlaid with her sharp intelligence, grit, warmth and effective people skills. She was able to build a beautiful life for herself, her family and the countless recipients of her caring: the people of Colorado — Jewish and non-Jewish — the beneficiaries of her beloved JFS’ many vital services.

Copyright © 2022 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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