Dec 27, 2016

Federation Family Mourns Ellen R. Sarnoff, Past Board Chair and Philanthropist

With heavy hearts, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County family joins in mourning the loss of Ellen Rosenthal Sarnoff, longtime local leader and philanthropist who chaired our Board from 2011 to 2014. Ellen passed away at home following a long illness on December 23, 2016, at the age of 85.

Quickly becoming a local leader and philanthropist after moving to South Palm Beach County in 1993, Ellen served this community in many capacities with her whole heart, soul and “New York City drive.” The more she did and the more she learned, the more she was moved by the work undertaken every day by Federation and its partner agencies.

“I felt I had found a new family,” she said a few years ago, of both the people she helped and those who shared her work. “I still feel that way.”

With courage, vision and great wisdom gained through her years of experience, Ellen took the helm as Board Chair while the economy continued to reel from the downturn and the Federation was undergoing transitions in professional leadership.

By then, Ellen had acquired a wealth of preparation for the top lay role. Prior to chairing the Federation Board, she was Financial Resource Development Chair, and had led three annual campaigns. A past Women’s Philanthropy chair, she received our Federation’s inaugural Dorothy P. Seaman Leadership Award, was honored with the national Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award, and served on the JFNA National Women’s Philanthropy Board.

She had led Federation’s King David Society and Lion of Judah Endowment Committees, served on the Finance and the Planning and Allocations committees as well as boards of our beneficiary agencies, and had been honored for her work at Boca Grove. Ellen also served on the Board of the Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation and was a Founding Trustee of our Jewish Women’s Foundation.

As chair, Ellen was ready to hit the ground running to address the challenges facing the Federation. With her trademark perseverance, dignity and verve, she set a rigorous pace, reaching wide and deep, building strong bridges to connect committed, compassionate supporters and diverse community partners with opportunities to help people in need. Attending what seemed to be every meeting and event, she prided herself on the open door she felt was essential to bringing the community together, and on her positive attitude.

“It is very important to me that people feel good about being a part of this Jewish community because of what we can achieve together,” Ellen said. And during her tenure, the community connections, warmth and pride indeed became palpable. Her three-year term was notably marked by not only a return to stability but to thriving across the board – including a turnaround in the Annual Campaign; a successful increased emphasis on endowment giving including several large gifts; an expanded array of engagement and giving opportunities; beginning construction on what is now the Toby & Leon Cooperman Sinai Residences of Boca Raton for which she served on the Board of Managers; and the hiring of President & CEO, Matthew C. Levin.

“When Ellen set her mind to something, success was never far away,” said Levin. “Her quiet strength always belied the power of her leadership. She was absolutely instrumental in helping guide our Federation through that period. I, and so many others, will always be grateful to her.”

“With her signature style and grace, Ellen led our Federation with a steady hand through a challenging time in our history to revitalization and growth,” said Al Gortz, who followed her as Chair of the Board.

Yet Ellen was inclined to shrug off her efforts. “I get more out of this than what I give, there’s no question,” she said. “I just feel great every day thinking about the good that we do.” And that giving included her philanthropy as well as so much of her time. When lauded, she always credited the leaders and donors around her.

Generously increasing her own annual gift over the years, Ellen became a member of the Federation’s prestigious Ketubah Society that honors those whose cumulative gifts to the Federation total $1 million or higher. By endowing her annual gift through a Lion of Judah Endowment, she ensured that she would forever be able to make that difference that meant so much to her.

Always motivated by her empathy for those in difficult circumstances, during the economic downturn that began in 2008, she significantly increased her gift, driving a modest car and curtailing her travel because, she said, “I simply had to do what I could, knowing how devastating the situation was for so many around us. And, as a leader, I knew it was up to me to set an example for others who could also do more.”

For many years, Ellen co-sponsored the Thanksgiving Day banquet held on the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County campus for those in need, radiating joy at helping serve the hundreds of seniors and people with disabilities. And few knew that, for years, she had made visits to an elderly woman who lived alone and had no local family.

“Ellen resembled the Israeli cactus, the sabra, with a seemingly impregnable outer skin that actually protects a sweet and succulent inside,” said Anne Jacobson, current Chair of the Federation Board. “She gave of herself and her resources unconditionally, with an open hand a loving heart, and one could always depend on her. It was a privilege to be part of the Federation family she loved and cared for so well.”

Ellen is survived by her mother, Doris Rosenthal; sons Gary, Kenneth (Jeanette), and Douglas (Lori); grandchildren; brother, Peter Rosenthal, and sister, Pat Mann; and by all those fortunate to have known this remarkable woman. She was preceded in death by her father, Edward Rosenthal, a former Vice Chairman of Warner Communications, now Time Warner Inc., and her sister, Carol Maslow.

We will keep you apprised regarding funeral arrangements and shiva as we learn more.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Ellen’s family. May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem, and may her memory always be for blessing.