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ONE ON ONE WITH YAFFA NACHMANI

By: Ellen Geller Kamaras



“There is no one like her. Yaffa is a beautiful jewel. She gives her heart and soul to every project and treats the kids like her own.”

Shifra Hanon, Board Member of the Sephardic Community Center

Please meet Yaffa Nachmani, a huge-hearted, gentle, modest, compassionate, and dedicated member of our community.  As her many friends, family members, and colleagues will corroborate, Yaffa is a “go-to” person for all kinds of support, and is a source of great comfort and wisdom. Yaffa is a woman you can depend on and can seek out when you need a helping hand or someone to truly listen.  She is an eyshet chayal, always smiling whenever she is approached. Yaffa gives people the benefit of the doubt, encouraging many to “let it go” and move on.

Yaffa’s Roots and Education

To understand what influenced Yaffa to become the strong, spiritual, loving, and benevolent woman she is today, let’s travel back to the mid-1950s.  Yaffa was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to Seti Shami and Joseph Dayan.  Her mother, a Yerushalmi, was born when Palestine was under Turkish rule. She moved as a young girl to Egypt with her parents.  Her father was born in Egypt. His father was Rabbi Shlomo Dayan.  Both Seti and Joseph were of Syrian descent, from Aleppo.

Yaffa, the youngest of five children, had two sisters and two brothers. Her oldest brother, Solomon, A”H, 16 years her senior, left Egypt in 1958 at 19, to study at the Mirrer (“Mir”) Yeshiva in Brooklyn.  He was one of the fortunate teens rescued by Rabbi Avraham Kalmanowitz, the yeshiva’s founder. The rabbi was determined to help Jewish youth in Egypt, Morocco, and Syria who were suffering from persecution and pogroms. Rabbi Kalmanowitz successfully lobbied for the passage of a bill granting "endangered refugee status" to these emigrants.[1]  He acquired emergency visas for them to the U.S., enrolled these boys in yeshivas, and stepped into the role of their parents until their families could follow. 

A year after Solomon’s rescue, after spending ten months in Paris, Yaffa’s family immigrated to New York. Yaffa was four years old, her brother Eli was nine, her sister Aviva was ten, and her sister Frieda was eighteen. The Dayan’s settled in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and Yaffa’s father Joseph, A”H, secured work as a bookkeeper in a Japanese import/export business to support his wife and children.  Yaffa’s mother, A”H, was a stay-at-home mom and dedicated homemaker. 

Yaffa’s parents signed her up at Magen David Yeshiva Elementary School.  She recalls with fondness the memories from her grade school days. “I remember very clearly that the school was very small and we all knew each other, the teachers, principals, and children…it was a great school…the teachers were phenomenal.”  Yaffa explains that her education was so valuable because she learned for the sake of learning, and was not just taught for the purpose of achieving a good grade on a test.

Yaffa continued her education at Flatbush Yeshiva High School.  Flatbush Yeshiva was at first a challenge for Yaffa, both socially and academically, but she held her own.  With five large classes per grade, compared to one small class at Magen David, Yaffa went from being one of the brightest students in a small school to being a small fish in a big pond.  Looking back, Yaffa is very grateful for her robust education at Flatbush Yeshiva and for her Ashkenazic and Sephardic friends. When it came time to choose a yeshiva for her own children, Yaffa and her husband David selected Flatbush Yeshiva for the diversity it offered and for its high academic standards.

Career, Marriage, Family, and Work-Life Balance

Yaffa’s next educational step was Beth Israel Nursing School.  I asked Yaffa what inspired her to pursue a nursing career.  In her senior year at Flatbush Yeshiva, a recruiter from the nursing school spoke at the yeshiva.  Yaffa recalls, “I wasn’t sure what to do with my life. Nursing sounded right based on my personality and my joy in giving to others… my mother was against it, she thought it would be too difficult a profession for me.”  Yaffa selected the Track B program, studying nursing for three years (1977-1980) and taking classes at Hunter and Marymount Colleges towards her bachelor’s degree (which she completed in 1983).

Yaffa took her first job as a registered nurse in 1976, at Beth Israel Hospital.  She loved nursing and taking care of her patients. However, she felt that there was too much paperwork and not enough time with her patients.  After a year, Yaffa transferred to private duty nursing (PDN) and enjoyed her new role. During her PDN years Yaffa met David Nachmani, and they married in March of 1983.  David, born in Israel, came to the U.S. in 1982. Hewas working in Ocean City, Maryland in Yaffa’s brother’s resort business, where she was introduced to him. Yaffa remained in PDN until the summer of 1984 when she became pregnant with their first child, Arielle.

Yaffa took time off from nursing to take care of Arielle, and gave birth to two more children, Seti and Joey.  She adored raising her kids, and took a camp nurse position in the summers at the SCC starting in 1989.  Yaffa is still the camp nurse to this day!

In September 1991, Yaffa was offered a part-time job as school nurse in Flatbush Yeshiva.  She worked there until the spring of 1996 and delighted in the boys and girls who came to see her in the nurse’s office. Some of the students were the children of her Flatbush Yeshiva classmates!

In 1997, a full-time job as SCC Registrar was presented to Yaffa.  This is a key position, as classes and programs are continually developed and added for the entire family, including children, teens, adults, and seniors.  As described in its Mission Statement, the Center is a social service agency dedicated to serving the intellectual, cultural, social, and recreational needs of the Sephardic community. “Open to all, the Center works to ensure cooperation and collaboration with others outside the Sephardic community, while building pride in its Sephardic heritage within its own community.” Yaffa will soon be celebrating her 21st anniversary at SCC!

Yaffa frequently had to work on Sundays at the Center, a formidable challenge when her children were very young.  She was able to maintain a reasonable work-life balance for a number of reasons.  Firstly, her friends and husband stepped in and helped her kids get to their various activities and parties on Sundays.  Secondly, as her children grew older, they demonstrated great maturity and assisted with domestic and other family responsibilities, which Yaffa was so appreciative and proud of.

Passions and Hobbies

To know Yaffa is to know that she is impassioned about family. Her children are her proudest accomplishment.  She refers to her two daughters and her son as “the wind beneath my wings - my heroes.”  Yaffa carves out hours several times a week to enjoy and spend quality time with her adorable grandchildren.

Family has always been a priority for Yaffa.  Her oldest siblings, Solomon and Frieda, were like a second dad and mom for her.  Her brother Solomon, A”H, passed away in 1995. Yaffa took care of him when he became very ill. Yaffa believes that Hashem steered her to nursing and that it was hashgaha pratit, so that she would have the privilege of helping her brother in his last days.  “Solomon was grateful that he got to know me then, given the 16-year age difference. And he was grateful that I was able to help him.”

Yaffa’s nursing skills also enabled her to assist with her father’s care before he died, just months before Solomon. Yaffa checked in often on her mother after her father died. Yaffa’s mother came to live with her a little over two years after her father died.  Yaffa and her husband David ensured that Seti Dayan received the best care for over four years.  Yaffa credits David with having tremendous derech eretz towards her mother.

In the last ten years, Yaffa has been keen on the symphony and ballet. She tries to find some precious time to attend an occasional event at Lincoln Center.  She also enjoys reading historical fiction.  Yaffa laughs about this because history was not her strong suit in high school.

Yaffa’s Advice to Aspiring Nurses

Be the best nurse you can be by pursuing your advanced education, e.g. a master’s degree or a nurse practitioner program.

If you are interested in working for a community organization, chose one whose mission inspires you. It’s been so rewarding for Yaffa to facilitate the process which creates such a varied and meaningful range of services.

Yaffa can be reached at yaffa@scclive.org.

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach.  Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching.   Ellen can be contacted at ellen@lifecoachellen.com(www.lifecoachellen.com).



[1]This was the same Rabbi Kalmanowitz who brought over the rabbis and students of the entire Mir Yeshiva from Lithuania in 1941, whom he rescued and supported in Shanghai for five years.