Rancho Santa Fe resident named one of Jewish Family Service of San Diego’s ‘2014 Mitzvah Award Honorees’

By Karen Billing

Rancho Santa Fe’s Karen Foster Silberman is one of Jewish Family Service of San Diego’s (JFS) 2014 Mitzvah Award Honorees. Foster Silberman is credited with single-handedly creating the “Sell Your Soul…Consign for a Cause” fundraiser at My Sister’s Closet consignment shops. She encourages people to donate gently used apparel for consignment with the proceeds going to benefit JFS’ Project SARAH (Stop Abusive Relationships At Home).

Foster Silberman will be celebrated at the annual Heart and Soul Gala at the Hyatt Regency La Jolla on Sunday, March 9.

“She is a true champion of our cause. She is passionate about Project SARAH’s mission and works tirelessly to educate the community about domestic abuse and spread awareness about the services we provide,” said Cheryl Bruser, JFS community outreach coordinator for Project SARAH. “We are so honored to have Karen as one of our ambassadors in the community and were thrilled that Karen has been selected as one of this year’s Heart and Soul Gala Mitzvah honorees.”

Foster Silberman said she was extremely humbled to be recognized by JFS.

“It’s not a comfortable place for me to be honored in any way but to shine light on Project SARAH is so important,” Foster Silberman said.

Foster Silberman has been involved with Jewish Family Service of San Diego for over 15 years, originally starting with the Mental Health Services Committee, now known as the Behavioral Health Committee. The committee provides resources for coping and living with mental illness and seeks to eliminate the stigma by increasing community awareness.

She was drawn to the cause as a mother of a child with special needs and her late husband also dealt with mental health issues. Foster Silberman still serves on the committee but for the past three years has been a force for Project SARAH.

Domestic violence and violence against women have always been issues Foster Silberman has felt strongly about. Several years ago her sisters were involved in a carjacking incident and robbed at gunpoint. Additionally, her anti-violence stance comes naturally as her father, Stanley Foster, was a national trustee for Handgun Control Inc. and the founding chairman of San Diegans Against Handgun Violence.

Foster Silberman calls Project SARAH a “warm line,” providing a safe and confidential place where women who are being abused can call for help. They can offer emergency help, health counseling, support groups, financial and legal assistance, and assistance for people in shelters with observance or dietary needs.

Project SARAH’s posters provide a very confidential way for women to carry their number on them to call when they need help. Project SARAH’s posters for teens don’t have cards but instead include a number for them to program into their phones.

While they serve the entire community, Project SARAH does target abuse in Judaism as one in four Jewish women experience domestic abuse and will stay in an abusive relationship five to seven years longer than non-Jewish women.

Bruser said Foster Silberman’s creativity and generosity have enabled JFS to offer annual programming about dating abuse for teens, including a healthy relationships workshop for high school students and a special “teen screen” event at the San Diego Jewish Film Festival this year.

The film screened, “Brave Miss World,” tells the story of an Israeli beauty queen, Linor Abargil, who was stabbed and raped two months before being crowned Miss World. She didn’t talk about it for 12 years but now through the film and speaking engagements, she is encouraging others to speak out.

Foster Silberman said she was a little nervous because of the harsh subject matter, but the screening was very successful and more than 100 teens came to see it.

“Karen doesn’t just generate the ideas, she takes action. She single-handedly developed and now coordinates the My Sister’s Closet consignment shop project and spends countless hours speaking at women’s events, encouraging others to donate their clothing,” Bruser said. “Not only has this been a very successful fundraiser that directly benefits our clients, but a great way to raise awareness about Project SARAH.”

Foster Silberman calls Sell Your Soul her “baby” and she spends many of her days picking up and sorting clothing. While people can donate directly to My Sister’s Closet locations in Costa Verde and Encinitas, Foster Silberman will also do donation pick-ups and drop-offs herself — her children’s bedrooms of her now empty nest are often filled with clothing. Any clothes My Sister’s Closet cannot resell are donated back to JFS for other projects they serve.

Foster Silberman’s dream is for JFS to have its own consignment or thrift shop, to serve not just Project SARAH but all of the JFS community programs.

“I’m just so proud to be a part of Project SARAH. The committee is just the greatest committee I’ve ever been a part of, we’re a small but mighty committee and everybody shows up to every event and it’s the greatest group of women I’ve ever worked with,” Foster Silberman said. “This award is for all of us because everyone is Project SARAH. They’re all equally dedicated and devoted to this project as I am.”

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