Cleveland Plain Dealer Fir Avenue Cemetery

The Cleveland Plain Dealer recently?featured efforts by a local community and its partners in the renovation of a dilapidated cemetery on Cleveland’s near west side.

Fir Street Cemetery on West Side of Cleveland renovated; open house is Saturday

CLEVELAND – Simon Zarumbowitz’s tombstone had been sitting cockeyed for God knows how long.

But on Wednesday, workers muscled old Simon’s marker plumb again, giving it the stately posture it had when gravediggers set it on his fresh grave 108 years ago.

The work is part of a two-year project by a neighborhood block club to fix up the Fir Street Cemetery, one of Cleveland’s oldest Jewish cemeteries — circa 1830s — on the city’s near West Side.

Through foundation grants and donations, the club raised $10,000 to remove old trees, repair broken tombstones and replace a battered fence gate.

Neighborhood volunteers, toiling among the hulking, Hebrew-lettered grave markers, planted trees, tulips and daffodils and removed trash and graffiti.

The Rev. Dean Van Farowe of Calvary Reformed Church on West 65th Street rolled up his sleeves. So did Yasir Hamdallah, a Muslim who lives on West 59th Street.

And now neighbors are inviting the public to an open house Saturday to display their handiwork and to celebrate the preservation of a piece of history tucked away on a side street.

“When we planted the bulbs, the whole neighborhood came out,” said block club member Jonathan Holody, a Methodist. “This project has been something positive and we’re all working on it.”
Neighbors planted 14 trees and 1,000 perennial bulbs. Holody ran five water hoses from his house across the street to the cemetery. Juanita Ortiz of West 61st Street served coffee.

“It got people involved and it shows that we care about this place,” said Holody. “It’s neat to think that some of Cleveland’s most prominent early settlers are buried here.”

The cemetery is on Fir Avenue, originally called Fir Street. Holody and retired autoworker Fred Valentine put up a post for a new sign “Fir Street Cemetery.”

“There’s a lot of history right in there,” said Valentine, 74, sitting on his front porch, pointing to the tombstones.

The neighborhood off West 65th Street, between Lorain and Bridge avenues, has never been Jewish. Cleveland’s early Jews settled on the city’s near East Side, but some crossed the Cuyahoga River to bury their dead.

Some of the earliest graves in the one-acre cemetery are Hungarian Orthodox Jews, according to Cleveland Municipal Housing Court Judge Ray Pianka, who grew up in the neighborhood and still lives there.

“We’re learning about each family,” said Pianka, who remembers walking by the graveyard as a little kid, wondering what the strange inscriptions in Hebrew and Yiddish meant. “Each of the 850 people buried here had contributed to our community.”

The deceased include Polish immigrant Harry “Czar” Bernstein (1856-1920), an East Side political boss who owned saloons and theaters; Russian immigrant Rabbi Gershon Ravinson (1848-1907) of East 40th Street who was of the 10th generation of rabbis in his family; and Hungarian immigrant Fannie Lichtig (1817-1899) of St. Clair Avenue, described in her obituary as a “pious Jewish woman.”

Biographies of about a dozen of the deceased will be placed on their tombstones for Saturday’s open house. Organizers will distribute rice paper and wax crayons to make rubbings of names and epitaphs. And a violinist will play traditional Jewish music.

Organizers have tracked down and invited some relatives of the deceased. And Ken Anthony, executive director of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights, which owns the cemetery and cuts the grass, will be there.

“This was a neighborhood thing,” said Anthony. “The people who live there said, ‘What can I do?’ And they’ve made it a very successful project.”

Donors for the project included the Cleveland Foundation and Beachwood resident Robert Klein, owner of Safeguard Properties, a nationwide company that maintains foreclosed properties for banks.

“This project honored the memories of the people buried in the cemetery,” said Klein, an Orthodox Jew. “So many people of different faiths and nationalities came together to make something very special happen.”

Earlier this week, sculptor Ted Stroie, who usually works on Christian art, fixed and straightened broken tombstones.

Stroie, a Romanian immigrant, is an Orthodox Christian. “And here I am,” he laughed, “working for the Orthodox Jews.”

“It’s one God for everybody,” he added. “Like the sun. We’re all under one sun. We all breathe the same air.”

To view the online article, please click here.



Alan Jaffa

Alan Jaffa is the chief executive officer for Safeguard, steering the company as the mortgage field services industry leader. He also serves on the board of advisors for SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Alan joined Safeguard in 1995, learning the business from the ground up. He was promoted to chief operating officer in 2002, and was named CEO in May 2010. His hands-on experience has given him unique insights as a leader to innovate, improve and strengthen Safeguard’s processes to assure that the company adheres to the highest standards of quality and customer service.

Under Alan’s leadership, Safeguard has grown significantly with strategies that have included new and expanded services, technology investments that deliver higher quality and greater efficiency to clients, and strategic acquisitions. He takes a team approach to process improvement, involving staff at all levels of the organization to address issues, brainstorm solutions, and identify new and better ways to serve clients.

In 2008, Alan was recognized by Crain’s Cleveland Business in its annual “40-Under-40” profile of young leaders. He also was named a NEO Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year® finalist in 2013.


Chief Operating Officer

Michael Greenbaum

Michael Greenbaum is the chief operating officer for Safeguard. Mike has been instrumental in aligning operations to become more efficient, effective, and compliant with our ever-changing industry requirements. Mike has a proven track record of excellence, partnership and collaboration at Safeguard. Under Mike’s leadership, all operational departments of Safeguard have reviewed, updated and enhanced their business processes to maximize efficiency and improve quality control.

Mike joined Safeguard in July 2010 as vice president of REO and has continued to take on additional duties and responsibilities within the organization, including the role of vice president of operations in 2013 and then COO in 2015.

Mike built his business career in supply-chain management, operations, finance and marketing. He has held senior management and executive positions with Erico, a manufacturing company in Solon, Ohio; Accel, Inc., a packaging company in Lewis Center, Ohio; and McMaster-Carr, an industrial supply company in Aurora, Ohio.

Before entering the business world, Mike served in the U.S. Army, Ordinance Branch, and specialized in supply chain management. He is a distinguished graduate of West Point (U.S. Military Academy), where he majored in quantitative economics.



George Mehok

George Mehok is the chief information officer for Safeguard. He is responsible for all strategic technology decisions, new systems deployments and data center operations supporting a national network of more than 10,000 mobile workers.

George has more than 20 years of leadership experience dedicated to high-growth companies in the mobile telecommunications and financial services industries, spanning startups to global industry leaders.

George played a senior role in the formation of Verizon Wireless, leading the IT product development and strategic planning team. He led the integration planning for the Verizon merger including: GTE, Vodafone-AirTouch, Bell Atlantic Mobile and PrimeCo.

As chief information officer at Revol Wireless, a VC-backed CDMA wireless communications network operator, George’s team implemented an integrated technology infrastructure and award-winning business intelligence platform.

George holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Eastern Michigan University and an M.B.A. from The Ohio State University. He is a board member of Akron University’s School of Business Center for Information Technology, in addition to an advisory board member for OHTec.

In 2013, George won the Crain’s Cleveland Business CIO of the Year award for his team’s work in completing a major acquisition and technology transformation at Safeguard. In 2015, George’s team was recognized by InformationWeek’s annual Elite 100 ranking of the most innovative U.S.-based users of business technology. The mobile inspection technology developed at Safeguard was selected as InformationWeek’s “One of the top 20 ideas to steal in 2015”.


General Counsel and Executive Vice President

Linda Erkkila, Esq.

Linda Erkkila is the general counsel and executive vice president for Safeguard, with oversight responsibilities for the legal, human resources, training, compliance and audit departments. Linda’s broad scope of oversight covers regulatory issues that impact Safeguard’s operations, pro-active risk mitigation, enterprise strategic planning, human capital and training initiatives, compliance and audit services, litigation and claims management, and counsel related to mergers, acquisition and joint ventures.

Linda’s oversight of the legal department along with multiple compliance and human capital focused departments assures that Safeguard’s strategic initiatives align with its resources, leverage opportunities across the company, and contemplate compliance mandates. Her practice spans almost 20 years, and Linda’s experience, both as outside and in-house counsel, covers a wide range of corporate matters, including regulatory disclosure, corporate governance compliance, risk assessment, executive compensation, litigation management, and merger and acquisition activity. Her experience at a former Fortune 500 financial institution during the subprime crisis helped develop Linda’s pro-active approach to change management during periods of heightened regulatory scrutiny.

Linda previously served as vice president and attorney for National City Corporation, as securities and corporate governance counsel for Agilysys Inc., and as an associate at Thompson Hine LLP. She earned her JD at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law. Linda holds a degree in economics from Miami University and an MBA. In 2017, Linda was named as both a “Woman of Influence” by HousingWire and as a “Leading Lady” by MReport.


Chief Financial Officer

Joe Iafigliola

Joe Iafigliola is the Chief Financial Officer for Safeguard. Joe is responsible for the Control, Quality Assurance, Business Development, Accounting & Information Security departments, and is a Managing Director of SCG Partners, a middle-market private equity fund focused on diversifying and expanding Safeguard Properties’ business model into complimentary markets.

Joe has been in a wide variety of roles in finance, supply chain management, information systems development, and sales and marketing. His career includes senior positions with McMaster-Carr Supply Company, Newell/Rubbermaid, and Procter and Gamble.

Joe has an MBA from The Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, is a Certified Management Accountant (CMA), and holds a bachelor’s degree from The Ohio State University’s Honors Accounting program.


AVP, Operations

Jennifer Jozity

Jennifer Jozity is the assistant vice president of operations, overseeing inspections, REO and property preservation for Safeguard. Jen ensures quality work is performed in the field and internally, to meet and exceed our clients’ expectations. Jen has demonstrated the ability to deliver consistent results in order audit and order management.  She will build upon these strengths in order to deliver this level of excellence in both REO and property preservation operations.

Jen joined Safeguard in 1997 and was promoted to director of inspections operations in 2009 and assistant vice president of inspections operations in 2012.

She graduated from Cleveland State University with a degree in business.


AVP, Finance

Jennifer Anspach

Jennifer Anspach is the assistant vice president of finance for Safeguard. She is responsible for the company’s national workforce of approximately 1,000 employees. She manages recruitment strategies, employee relations, training, personnel policies, retention, payroll and benefits programs. Additionally, Jennifer has oversight of the accounts receivable and loss functions formerly within the accounting department.

Jennifer joined the company in April 2009 as a manager of accounting and finance and a year later was promoted to director. She was named AVP of human capital in 2014. Prior to joining Safeguard, she held several management positions at OfficeMax and InkStop in both operations and finance.

Jennifer is a graduate of Youngstown State University. She was named a Crain’s Cleveland Business Archer Award finalist for HR Executive of the Year in 2017.


AVP, Application Architecture

Rick Moran

Rick Moran is the assistant vice president of application architecture for Safeguard. Rick is responsible for evolving the Safeguard IT systems. He leads the design of Safeguard’s enterprise application architecture. This includes Safeguard’s real-time integration with other systems, vendors and clients; the future upgrade roadmap for systems; and standards designed to meet availability, security, performance and goals.

Rick has been with Safeguard since 2011. During that time, he has led the system upgrades necessary to support Safeguard’s growth. In addition, Rick’s team has designed and implemented several innovative systems.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Rick was director of enterprise architecture at Revol Wireless, a privately held CDMA Wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana, and operated his own consulting firm providing services to the manufacturing, telecommunications, and energy sectors.


AVP, Technology Infrastructure and Cloud Services

Steve Machovina

Steve Machovina is the assistant vice president of technology infrastructure and cloud services for Safeguard. He is responsible for the overall management and design of Safeguard’s hybrid cloud infrastructure. He manages all technology engineering staff who support data centers, telecommunications, network, servers, storage, service monitoring, and disaster recovery.

Steve joined Safeguard in November 2013 as director of information technology operations.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was vice president of information technology at Revol Wireless, a privately held wireless provider in Ohio and Indiana. He also held management positions with Northcoast PCS and Corecomm Communications, and spent nine years as a Coast Guard officer and pilot.

Steve holds a BBA in management information systems from Kent State University in Ohio and an MBA from Wayne State University in Michigan.


AVP, Business Development

Tim Rath

Tim Rath is the AVP of business development for Safeguard. He is responsible for developing innovative growth strategies for Safeguard and developing and overseeing potential partnerships, mergers and acquisitions.

Tim joined Safeguard in 2011 as project director and has filled numerous roles within Vendor Management, most recently serving as director of vendor management, a role he assumed in 2011.

Prior to Safeguard, Tim worked as director of supply chain at PartsSource Inc. in Aurora, Ohio, a provider of medical replacement parts, procurement solutions and healthcare supply chain management technology services. He also has held sales positions with Rexel, ComDoc, and Pier Associates, all based in Ohio.

Tim holds a degree in marketing and sales from The University of Akron in Akron, Ohio. He also earned his FAA Certified Commercial UAS (Drone) Pilot license in 2017.


Assistant Vice president of Application Development

Steve Goberish

Steve Goberish, is the assistant vice president of application development for Safeguard. He is responsible for the maintenance and evolution of Safeguard’s vendor systems ensuring high-availability, security and scalability while advancing the vendor products’ capabilities and enhancing the vendor experience.

Prior to joining Safeguard, Steve was a senior technical architect and development manager at First American Title Insurance, a publicly held title insurance provider based in southern California, in addition to managing and developing applications in multiple sectors from insurance to VOIP.

Steve has a bachelor’s degree from Kent State University in Ohio.