Jan 18, 2017

Lions Roar with Filmmaker and Philanthropist Nancy Spielberg at Annual Luncheon

The Lion’s pride roared loud with 430 compassionate, generous women at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County’s annual Lion of Judah Luncheon at the Polo Club on Wednesday, January 11. Inspiring and elegant, the celebration of their philanthropy and its impact was headlined by accomplished businesswoman, fundraiser, philanthropist and documentary filmmaker Nancy Spielberg, and chaired by Wendy Koolik and Carole Sue Lebbin-Spector.

Click here to enjoy more photos from this important event »

With Lion of Judah Co-Chairs Wendy Koolik and Carole Sue Lebbin-Spector, the luncheon honored the community’s 65 new Lions, who joined one of the country’s largest prides over the past year, as well 33 increased-level Lions. “This year’s luncheon celebrates more than 45 years of our Lion’s Pride,” said Lebbin-Spector. “Just look around this room… nearly 700 of the 17,500 Lions worldwide, the power and philanthropy we represent are incredible and life-changing.”

“Our Lions of Judah are passionate, dedicated women of all ages from throughout our community who contribute an annual gift of $5,000 or more to our Annual Campaign,” added Koolik. “They wear the international Lion pin with stones representing the level and continuity of their gifts.” Koolik also noted with pride that “South Palm Beach County has more Jewish communal professionals who are Lions of Judah than anywhere else in the country.”

“We here today are women who are committed to making a difference in our community and for our people through our time and resources,” said Jill Rose, Women’s Philanthropy Campaign Chair. “On behalf of all the recipients who benefit from your generous gifts, we thank you. Please know that your gift travels far and wide and makes a profound difference.”

Also recognized at the luncheon were the nine Lions forever who have endowed their annual gifts in the past year – bringing the total of local Lion of Judah Endowments to 283. South Palm Beach County has long led with largest number of LOJEs at any community in the country.

The endowed Lions lost over the past year were remembered with a moving candle lighting ceremony led by Dale Filhaber, Women’s Philanthropy Chair of Planned Giving and Endowments. Memorialized were dear friend and colleague Linda Berey Hurst, Dollsey Rappaport, Harriett Sands, and Ellen R. Sarnoff. A past Women’s Philanthropy and Federation Board Chair, Ellen also received a special tribute by video and remarks from Federation President & CEO, Matthew C. Levin.

Lisa Friedman Clark, the first guest speaker took the podium “as a proud, active Lion and LOJE from New York.” Her breathtaking story highlighted “the very fine line between being a donor to Federation and a recipient of such generosity.” Raised “in a privileged home surrounded by love, support comfort and fabulous role models who deeply valued giving back,” Clark “always felt fortunate to be in a position to support an organization like Federation. While I’ve hopefully helped many people I’ve never met, I can truly say I know how they feel, for I’ve walked in their shoes.”

Then, working as an engineer at age 23, Clark was diagnosed with a rare ovarian cancer. Undergoing groundbreaking treatment at Mt. Sinai Hospital, which she learned was a Federation beneficiary agency, her future husband, Andy, was by her side. “He was my rock during this devastating time,” she said. “I got healthy, we married, had successful careers, and were raising our miracle twin boys.”

Unfortunately, their “storybook life in the suburbs was short-lived,” Clark shared. “On September 11, 2001, Andy went to work on the 92nd floor at 1 World Trade Center and never came home. His office was the line of demarcation – all those on 91 lived, all on 92 died. I was 39 years old with two 11-year-old boys.

“Alone, facing the future without my rock, I wondered where I could get the strength to raise my children,” Clark continued. “Family and friends helped me get through day to day, and to those on the outside, we seemed to be functioning quite well. On the inside, however, I was devastated and putting on a good act for my kids. I knew I needed help but didn’t know where to turn, when friends suggested I call Federation.

“Three weeks after 9/11, the UJA agencies had mobilized their network of social workers and psychologists, with numerous support groups and private counseling experts. Federation was also there with financial assistance for those who needed it, and help at home for families that couldn’t get out of bed. Because of their involvement in Israel, they were uniquely able to understand the needs of families affected by terrorist attacks.

“Had it not been for the many people I met through Federation I’m not sure where I would be today,” continued Clark, who has happily remarried. “I am so grateful for Federation and its network of services that our entire community can depend on. Your dollars make a real difference to real people in our Jewish world. And we never know when tomorrow may be different than today for any of us.”

With introspection, inspiration and humor, Nancy Spielberg, the luncheon’s keynote speaker and another proud Lion of Judah, spoke warmly and openly about her highly creative family, and her Jewish and career journeys.

In 1957, when she was 6 months old, her father, a computer engineer, moved the family to Arizona, which she described as “basically, the desert with sand and no air conditioning, no Jewish people and nothing really to do, but with a mother who marched to her own drummer.”

But their mother fostered great creativity among her children, and the early 1960s found them occupying themselves at home showing and making movies. "Steven, the oldest, was in charge," Spielberg said. "He rented movies and showed them on a bed sheet over a clothesline. The kids sold tickets and popcorn to the neighbors. Steven had them donate much of the take to a children's charity, and with the rest he bought film equipment. Our mother gave us free rein for our projects, and we turned the entire house into a movie set. I made my acting debut at age six."

She also described an atypical Jewish upbringing. “We grew up in a very anti-Semitic community in Arizona,” she said. “Our family members were called ‘dirty Jews’ and people stole our toys.’ We were isolated from any Jewish community and observed only a few Jewish holidays.”

Yet, Spielberg went on to forge a strong Jewish identity. "When Phoenix Hebrew Academy opened, I finally felt a sense of belonging," she said. "I went home and told my mother I couldn't bring friends home until she made the house kosher — and she did.”

"Then at 18, I headed to UCLA and started to feel my Jewish roots take hold,” she continued. “One Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel Independence Day), my sister and I told our mother we wanted to go to Israel and live on a kibbutz for a year. Our mother had no qualms about my leaving college, and six months later there we were and the path was set. I went on to marry a man who shares my love for our homeland and, not wanting my children to feel rootless as I had for so many years, I made sure they got a full Jewish education. We have a home in Israel, and one of our children lives in Tel Aviv.”

“As my adult Jewish life developed, so did my career,” she said. “Though I grew up immersed in filmmaking, working with Steven as cast and crew, I’d always wanted to write. And I never wanted to ride on his coattails or have to live up to his reputation. If I engaged with film, it was in the shadows.” But in recent years, the accomplished businesswoman, fundraiser and philanthropist turned her energy and talents to producing documentary films — many with powerful Jewish themes.

Her recent film, “Above and Beyond,” is a riveting documentary about the American fighter pilots who founded the Israeli Air Force after World War II. Inspired by an email she received with an obituary about a former flight engineer titled, "Father of the Israeli Air Force Dies at 94," Spielberg ran with “the opportunity to tell such a positive story of Israel’s beginnings and honor the American airmen who had risked losing their citizenship and serving jail time if they were caught helping Israel fight for its existence in 1948.”

Now in post-production, another Spielberg documentary is "Who Will Write Our History?, which tells the little-known story of the 60-member secret Oyneg Shabes organization in Warsaw which gathered thousands of testimonies to create a documentary record of the wartime fate of Polish Jewry. "They wanted their stories to survive as confirmation of their lives even if they didn't," she said, "they hid diaries and documents, poetry and music, and early reports of concentration camp activities in buried milk cans that were dug up after the war."

And currently in film festivals is her "On the Map," the story of the Americans who joined the 1977 Maccabi basketball team in Israel and, against all odds, faced down the favored Russian team to win the European Championship at a time when Russia didn't even recognize Israel's right to exist.

At the reception before the luncheon, the Lions had the opportunity to view a fabulous exhibit by the renowned, innovative Israeli shoe designer, Kobi Levi - with special thanks to the Federation’s Immediate Past Chair of Women’s Philanthropy, Judi Schuman and her husband, Allan, for making the exhibit, hosted by the Levis JCC, possible.

Wells Fargo Private Bank is the generous sponsor of the Dorothy P. Seaman Department of Women’s Philanthropy. The Lion of Judah Luncheon was generously sponsored by the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation, Ivan & Co. Fine Jewelers, and The Boca Raton Observer is the exclusive magazine sponsor.

For more information about the Federation’s Lion of Judah program and other women’s activities and opportunities, visit jewishboca.org/womens.

Click here to enjoy more photos from this important event »