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March 17, 2021

On their minds: New ICRF leaders in intimate conversation

On their minds Q&A header graphic


David Abramson: Great to catch up with you, Beryl and welcome to ICRF! I’m sure people want to know why anyone would leave such a wonderful career in the middle of an epidemic?

Beryl Chernov: COVID has had a huge impact on my life and so I began looking for a new opportunity to give back, to feel a sense of passion and being more engaged. I knew that with a mortgage and kids, I couldn’t realistically join the Peace Corps, so when I heard about ICRF, it clicked off every checkbox for me! I couldn’t be more thrilled to come to ICRF and be a part of the great work of this organization.

D: Tell us about your 20-year career at Park Avenue Synagogue as Executive Director.

B: It’s has been a great place to work and the growth has been phenomenal. When I started, we had a $6 million budget and a 30-person staff. Today, we are at about 200 people with a $20 million budget.

D: What has impressed you so far about ICRF and what are your priorities as you come on board?

B: I’m learning the ropes and meeting the lay leaders and staff who are so committed to this organization. I am so impressed that such a small organization has managed to raise more than $77 million and fund more than 2,500 grants since it was founded.

D: What is your biggest priority as you transition into the job?

B: One of my first priorities is to build on ICRF’s brand recognition and get the word out to the broader community. I want people to think of ICRF the way they think about JNF or UJA. We have to figure out how to raise more funds to support the brilliant scientists and researchers in Israel. I want to look at all of our chapters and see how we can solidify our relationships so we can grow our funding capabilities. Outside of the Government of Israel, ICRF is the largest funder of cancer research in the State of Israel, and we have to capitalize on that and bring it to the next level. We are on the cusp of something great and the only thing stopping us from crossing the finish line is raising more money for research.

D: I recall being on a mission to Israel a few years ago and meeting Dr. Howard Cedar, the recipient of the first ICRF Research Professorship Grant. When I asked him what his goal was for the remainder of his career, he told me it was to turn cancer into a chronic disease. That really resonated with me. As I am not a scientist or a researcher, I would like to help raise money so that our Scientific Review Panelists can advise us where we should best direct our funding.

B: So, David, tell me a bit about yourself and your relationship with ICRF.

D: Many years ago, a friend of my dad’s asked me to join the board of ICRF Chicago. I couldn’t say no. After serving on the Chicago board for several years and as chair of the Chicago chapter for seven years, I recently became President of the organization.

It is hard for me to speak publicly about what I’ve gone through but it is an awful moment when a doctor sits across from you in the ER and puts her hand on yours and says, “This is not good. You have cancer.“ In my case they had answers about what would happen following the surgery and the next steps down the line. That’s what we are trying to do at ICRF – find those answers. We are working on something very important by enabling the scientists to do whatever they can to help other people. When the researchers have their successes, we can quietly pat ourselves on the back. Beryl, this is what will drive us day in and day out.

B: What was a seminal moment for you in your ICRF journey?

D: I think it was 2015, my wife and I went on our first ICRF mission to Israel. We met with several scientists and they kept thanking us for what we’re doing for them, which was simply raising money and sending it to them to find treatments and possible cures for cancer. What I can do as a business person is raise money so that these scientists can do their part for the world. 

B: You gave me some of the most important advice while I was considering job opportunities after Park Avenue. You said: “Beryl, these other job opportunities are noble, but they are not good enough for you. You need something bigger. You need to say in 20 years that you have been a part of this battle to cure cancer.” I like to say that being in the synagogue for 20 years, I’ve played a supportive role in saving souls. For the next 20 years I’ll play a supportive role in actually saving lives. 

D: To change the topic, it’s been crazy living in this remote world this past year. What would be your dream vacation be post-COVID?

B: I’ve been scuba diving for 30 years. So I was thinking if I didn’t take this job, I would just open up a small scuba shack on a Caribbean Island. But if not that, then a trip to the Maldives is my go-to place. How about you?

D: When I first got sick, now pushing on seven years ago, the surgeon told me that I wouldn’t be leaving for my trip to Morocco and the South of France, as planned. This past April, my wife and I were again scheduled to go to Morocco and the South of France but we had to postpone it! So Morocco and South of France is where we’ll go.

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