Peggy Cherkasky & Sally Constine


•  Name: Peggy Cherkasky
•  Family: Late husbands Paul Cherkasky and George Adler; children Scott,
Allyson, and Evan (deceased); grandson Jacob.
• Occupation: Retired special education teacher

 

•  Name: Sally Constine
•  Family: Husband Sandy, children Alysia and Josh
•  Occupation: Retired pediatric nurse

This Q&A discusses Sally and Peggy’s joint focus at Federation: Rochester Jewish

Coalition for Literacy.

 

What does being Jewish mean to you?

 

Sally: “I was raised in the Church of England but as a teenager gave up Christianity as I didn’t believe what the religion was based on. I didn’t know anyone who was Jewish until I moved to London when I was 18. I met my future husband a few years later when I was working as a pediatric nurse at Guys Hospital and he was spending a summer of his Johns Hopkins Medical School training, in England in the same pediatric department. He had had a reform Jewish upbringing in San Francisco. Before we married he talked about how important it was to him for us to raise our children Jewish. When our daughter was 5 we joined a temple and I started taking classes. The next year, 1981, we moved from CA to Rochester and joined Temple Sinai. I converted 6 years later. I think one thing that held me up from taking that step, was that I didn’t feel worthy to be Jewish without the hereditary. But now being Jewish is a core part of me. I don’t feel I am particularly religious but identify strongly with the values of kindness, caring for others, social equality and education. I feel at home at Temple Sinai."

 

Peggy: “My parents were immigrants from Russia who came from Orthodox homes. As
a youngster I went to an Orthodox shul on Joseph Avenue during its prime. I remember
the kosher butchers, the bakers, the big and little shuls. Later we joined Temple Beth El
on Meigs Street. I went to Hebrew school three days a week and the J-Y on Andrews
Street; my upbringing was quite Jewish. For me, Judaism is a way of life and who I am.
From my parents I learned tikkun olam, repairing the world, giving to the less fortunate,
and kindness—which the Talmud says is the highest form of wisdom.”

 

Can you discuss your involvement with the Literacy program?

 

Sally: "Learning how to read is so important, it is the gateway to knowledge and opens a world of possibilities. I started volunteering at School 45, when the Federation first started the Rochester Jewish Coalition for Literacy in the late 90’s. Their program started with a few schools and has now grown to placing literacy volunteers in 14 city schools.  We mainly work 1 to 1 with children in grades K - 4, who are below grade level with their reading and need extra help. It’s so much fun to see their improvement and the boost in their self-esteem. Most of the children at School 45 live in poverty, and don’t get reading help at home like suburban kids do. Ten years later when Temple Sinai adopted School 45, things really changed as I then felt part of a group and we were more able to make the changes needed to improve the communication between the Federation, School and Volunteers. I began to Co-Chair the Temple Sinai Literacy Team at 45 with Peggy and we became instant friends and delight in working on this program together. We have built a strong connection with the school, the parent liaison and the teachers and work to make our volunteers comfortable, help orient them and resolve any issues that may arise. With the help of the Temple we collect new and gently used books all year, and have an annual event ‘Choose a Book, Choose to Read” where every child in the school chooses a book to keep. 
I really enjoy this volunteer opportunity and its connection to Sinai".

 

Peggy: “No anti-poverty program can work without literacy. We say ‘Rochester is a great place to live.’ But where they live, it’s not. It’s all the more reason we need to be there. Sally had been at the Coalition for 10 years, and her experience was invaluable. We are making a difference and I always feel uplifted when I walk out. The school’s test scores have improved over the years. We’ve developed a relationship with the school’s staff and parent liaisons. Little by little, the program has mushroomed. We have a hat,
mitten and coat drive that grew to include underwear, socks and clothing. Then we launched the book drive to give every student in the school a book to keep. One child told me: ‘I’m going to remember this for the rest of my life.’ This year, our Social Action Committee and religious school donated 20 new backpacks with school supplies as a Mitzvah Day project. Nothing could have been done without the support of our congregants at Temple Sinai, Rabbi Katz and Rabbi Till.”

 

Can you share some interesting things about yourselves?

 

Sally: “I chair the Garden Team at Sinai. You can see the natural, soft look of the
‘English garden’ as my influence.”

 

Peggy: “The literacy program brought me and my husband George together. He called
me to volunteer at School 45 and we ended up getting married!”

 

-Melissa Pheterson