Meet Elissa Ness

When Elissa Ness talks about her Jewish identity, she points to her early years growing up as a young girl in Pikesville. Her father, an immigrant from Poland who arrived in Baltimore when he was five, shared his love of religion, Jewish tradition and Jewish values with his family.

Elissa recalls many Shabbats and holidays attending services with her family at Beth Jacob Synagogue, where she also attended Hebrew school. Seders and their annual Rosh Hashanah lunches were always huge celebrations filled with family and friends and lots of laugher and song.

That identity would stay with her when she went to the University of Maryland, College Park, married and returned to Baltimore to raise her son. Her commitment to a strong Jewish community never wavered and she could always be found volunteering for many organizations throughout Jewish Baltimore. This fall, she received the prestigious Carole Sibel Outstanding Fundraising Achievement Award which recognized her work as a dedicated fundraiser for The Associated.

Here are eight things to know about Elissa.

Who said studying at the library doesn’t have long-term benefits?

In fact, the library was where Elissa first met her husband, Bob. Well, actually, Elissa was introduced to him at the University of Maryland, College Park bookstore. But when her friend made the introductions, she wasn’t really paying attention. Fast forward several hours later when she stopped by the card catalogue at the university library to look for a book. Standing next to her was Bob, doing his research too. The two talked, went out that evening and have been together ever since, celebrating their 50th anniversary this year.

She’s held numerous volunteering positions throughout Jewish Baltimore.

Elissa’s first involvement with The Associated began when she was in her early 30s, joining the Young Women’s Leadership Council – a place where she first met her friend, Linda A. Hurwitz. Since then, she’s served on the board of The Associated and the Macks Center for Jewish Education (CJE). Elissa is a past Levindale Auxiliary President, a past president of the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland, and current deputy chair of Women’s Division, Israel Bonds. And since last year she’s also asked women to endow their Lion of Judah gifts because she believes that the future of Baltimore’s Jewish communities lies with the work of The Associated.

Winning the Carole Sibel Outstanding Fundraising Achievement Award was a humbling experience.

“To be identified with Carole Sibel means so much. I had met her over the years and although I didn’t know her well, I worked with her on several occasions. I even remember, when I was president of the Levindale Auxiliary, she did a wonderful skit for our 100th anniversary. She was a remarkable woman, so dedicated to the community, and to be talked about in the same breath is an honor I’ll always remember.”

The award comes with money to earmark for a favorite cause. Elissa chose disability services.

A retiree from the Social Security Administration, where she worked for years in disability policy, Elissa has always been committed to this cause. As a result, she earmarked her award to CJE and its disability programing, and specifically to fund an inclusive, accessible community event. “CJE provides so many services from Gesher La Torah, a religious school program so children with disabilities can have a Jewish education, to disability workshops for educators to advocacy services for Jewish children with learning differences. It’s so important that every Jewish child has a chance to participate in Jewish life.”

The future of Jewish Baltimore is a priority for her.

“When I was growing up, we all lived in a Jewish neighborhood. In fact, I never met anyone not Jewish until I went to the University of Maryland. The synagogue was one of the most important institutions and the place where we learned about our Judaism. Today, the Jewish community is spread out. I believe The Associated is the organization that holds the Jewish community together… an organization that will ensure our Jewish future. They are investing in new ways to reach young Jews and new programs like the CJE connectors and the shinshinim (Israeli emissaries) that will inspire the younger generation to become engaged, become inspired and understand what it means to be Jewish.”

She would have loved to have lunch (or dinner) with Shoshana Cardin.

“We were involved in many of the same causes, from The Associated, to the Federation of Jewish Women’s Organizations of Maryland to Levindale. But more importantly, she was an amazing woman. She accomplished so much in a time when it was hard for women to be taken seriously and be leaders.”

The best advice she ever got was from her father.’

“Do your best. Try your hardest. And that’s how I run my life and all that I do. And that is what I tell my son.”

She admits she’s not a great cook, but there is one thing she makes that is a big hit.

“My kugel. I make it for Break the Fast and it is delicious.”

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