Arrivals: No spare time
Susan Wilner devotes what little time she has to helping children through her non-profit organization.
Susan Wilner Photo: GLORIA DEUTSCH
Susan Wilner has her dream job, as the personal assistant to an English
businessman. She takes care of all his personal affairs, his correspondence, his
calendar, making travel arrangements, looking for deals for the UK company
office, traveling to trade shows – and occasionally sending flowers to his
In her 11 years in Israel she’s had other dream jobs as well – the
one she recalls most happily was as residence manager at the United States
Embassy – and a couple of nightmare ones she prefers to forget.
New Jersey, she made aliya in 2001 from New York where she was living at the
time. She had lived here as a child in the ’70s, and her mother and sister were
both settled here. She went back to the States to study but when the time came
for army service she came back because all her school friends in Israel were
being called up.
“I had a wonderful army service in Mitzpe Ramon at the
officers’ candidate school,” she recalls. “It was a great experience to be with
one’s peers and meet people you would otherwise never have met.”
the early ’80s and the job consisted of looking after the interests of the
officer candidates, making sure they had phone lines, received their mail and
got as many – “tchuparim” (perks) as possible.
She returned to New York
and studied hotel management at Fairleigh Dickinson University. After working in
hotels for 10 years and later in recruiting for hotels for eight, and having
lectured in the subject as an adjunct in hotel management at New York
University, she had no clear idea of what she would do in Israel but felt she
must come back.
The first intifada had broken out and she felt it was
wrong not to be near her family. “How could I stay in New York living this
lovely hedonistic life when my mother, sister and her children were here?” she
“My mother became ill with kidney disease and was on
dialysis for a while,” she says. “I wanted to spend quality time with her and my
sister rented me a room in Rishon Lezion where they both
Eventually her mother’s life was saved by an Australian kidney
donor from “Jesus Christians,” a group who believe they should donate a kidney
to a stranger. Apparently as many as 20 members of this controversial sect have
given a kidney.
At some time in the first few days of her return to Tel
Aviv, Wilner went to sign up at a well-known sports club.
me a job as corporate marketing manager,” she recalls with some amusement, as
she had no sales experience.
“After six months and not one sale, they let
me go,” she says, laughing.
“We’ve stayed in touch, though.”
two years in a global recruiting company she saw an ad for the American embassy
job. She and Sheila Kurtzer, the ambassador’s wife, met and found themselves
well-suited. She got the position and moved to Herzliya. She stayed with the
Kurtzers for two years, mainly supervising a small house staff and organizing
the events of which there are about 20 a month, until their tour of duty
The Fourth of July bash is the biggest – “so much work and so
much fun,” she says now.
She was tempted away by an offer from another
wealthy businessman, which turned out to have been a mistake – as was her next
job. “Live and learn,” she says.
“And then I found Martin,” she says of
her present employer. She loves her work, even if it is very demanding and she
often comes into the office even on her day off.
She needs all the spare
time she can get to devote herself to the non-profit “Jeremy’s Circle,” of which
she is a founding member.
Jeremy Coleman was a young man who was dying of
cancer and Pam, his wife, was one of Susan’s friends. Their six-year-old kept
asking if she could play with another child whose father had cancer and, after
much searching, her request was fulfilled. Pam and Jeremy realized there was a
need to take care of the children of terminally ill parents and Jeremy’s Circle
Although Jeremy died in 2008, the organization is still going
strong and Wilner devotes as much time as she can to it.
“We plan events
and fun days for the children, three or four days in the summer vacation and
always something for the festivals,” she says.
When we met she had just
returned from an event in which 20 teenagers were taken for an overnight camp,
which included some exhausting physical activity for the adults as well as the
“The parents send their kids to us and it’s a beautiful
expression of their trust in us,” she says.
“It’s very hard for these
children to see a parent very sick and we help them be in a place where everyone
has a sick parent; As you can imagine we have a lot of black humor.”
she has any spare time after all these activities, she is very into yoga and
attends a retreat regularly.
“It gives such peace of mind,” she says.