Arrivals: No spare time

Susan Wilner devotes what little time she has to helping children through her non-profit organization.

Susan Wilner 390 (photo credit: GLORIA DEUTSCH)
Susan Wilner 390
(photo credit: 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 wife.
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.
Born in 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.”
It was 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 asked herself.
“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 lived.”
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.
“They offered 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.”
After 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 finished.
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 was born.
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 children.
“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.”
If 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.