Our Federation. Our Community. Our World. Our 2017 Annual Meeting.
Remarks by Matthew C. Levin, President & CEO
Delivered at the 2017 Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County Annual Meeting
April 25, 2017
Folks, in case you haven’t noticed, I have the greatest job in the world. And you, too, have the opportunity to look in the mirror every day and know that, with our Federation, you’re part of building this phenomenal Jewish community and helping countless people right here and across the world.
Here at the hub of one strong, proud, united Jewish community, tonight we come together to celebrate our year’s many accomplishments and our leaders. And tonight we’ll also take a very important look ahead – at how we’re going to take our community collaboration to a whole new level.
Our accomplishments rest on the strength of this community and its leaders. So let’s thank Margie and Ed Marlowe for chairing this great evening, and for their leadership every day.
Yes, part of having this greatest job is getting to work with extraordinary lay leaders. So I take this opportunity to thank my past, present and future board chair partners, whose leadership has brought us to this high point in our Federation’s history, and who will keep us soaring into the future.
All of you know the incredible rewards of working alongside our chair, my boss, Anne Jacobson, who brings to the head of the table such inspiration and warmth along with her wealth of knowledge, skills and diplomacy. I am thankful for her partnership every day.
And I’m deeply grateful, but unsurprised, that our Federation continues to count on our immediate past chair, Al Gortz, for so much – as we have for all the nearly 38 years our Federation has been in existence.
A special welcome to our past board chairs here tonight, whose continued engagement is so important to our Federation’s enduring strength and vitality.
Looking ahead, from our deep leadership bench, we’ve called up the outstanding Arthur Goldberg as our new chair designate. Arthur, I look forward to our work together and to all our community is sure to accomplish with you at the helm.
And my deepest thanks and admiration for our Campaign Chair, the one and only Larry Feldman, as he heads into a third year in this critical role, with his signature strategy, creativity, devotion and contagious passion.
While our leadership is strong, unfortunately this past year we were deeply saddened to lose four leaders and philanthropists whose memory will always inspire us:
- Our past board chair, Ellen R. Sarnoff, who held several leadership positions and led this federation through a challenging time.
- Our beloved colleague, Linda Hurst, whose legacy continues to brighten the days for so many. In her memory, the Linda Berey Hurst “Chai” fund for Jewish Life, established by her husband, Alan, who is with us tonight, is helping us to provide our youth with Jewish camping and organized trips to Israel.
- Betty Zinman, a pioneer of this Jewish community with her husband, also of blessed memory… their generosity named this very hall where we sit tonight.
- And another pioneer, Mickey Benamy, so dedicated to our Israel and overseas efforts… he and his wife Joan, who survives him, have long been vital donors to our federation.
We miss them dearly – as we do our other supporters who have left us.
Of course, we could never do what we do – and do it so well – without our remarkable staff.
Our COO Mel Lowell, my trusted partner, has also been the driving force in taking the Toby & Leon Cooperman Sinai Residences of Boca Raton from a vision to the beautiful new senior community that graces our campus today.
And Marla Weiss Egers, our executive vice president, seamlessly fulfills so many vital roles and responsibilities with her signature big picture, voice of reason and personal connection.
I must also acknowledge our full cadre of talented, devoted senior professional staff. And I couldn’t be more proud of our entire staff, whose dedication and support of our mission drives our success throughout all areas of the federation. We are so fortunate to have all of you on board!
Given the current climate and recent period of elevated threats to Jewish institutions, I must acknowledge our security leadership and the entire force. Every day, this group ensures that the safety, well-being and calm of our students, clients, staff and all who visit our campus remains our very highest priority.
I’m also proud that, in this climate, our Federation and JCRC issued a public statement standing against intolerance, citing our Jewish values, ethics and history. We continually stress the importance of being vigilant. And we are dedicated to educating ourselves and those around us to understand and apply the Jewish narrative, and to teach it to the next generation.
Getting back to my shout outs, a special greeting to all my professional colleagues and their lay leadership here from our agencies and schools. We’re glad to see Matt Baker, President of the Adolph & Rose Levis JCC named for his grandparents – along with his mom, the renowned community philanthropist who has been so generous to our Federation: Judy Levis Markhoff. And a special welcome to Genevieve Menaged, who has just completed her term as President of Donna Klein Jewish Academy, and Rick Paul, Chair of Hillel of Broward and Palm Beach.
We welcome an array of our local rabbis and synagogue leaders. We have no more important partners toward strengthening this vibrant, diverse Jewish community.
And, of course, our very deepest thanks to our division, committee and event chairs, and to all of you whose time, generosity and dedication have made this year one to celebrate.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t recognize the stellar work of our Dorothy P. Seaman Department of Women’s Philanthropy and its chair, April Leavy, and Campaign Chair, Jill Rose.
Folks, it’s hard to believe this is the fifth time I’ve had the honor to come before you at an annual meeting. And it’s my true privilege to speak about our Federation this year, as we move ahead on such an upward trajectory. Our Annual Campaign and Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation continue their positive trends. And there’s so much more. Yes, we deserve to celebrate tonight!
Yet, even as our high spirits soar… as your CEO, I must once again ask you, the leaders of this community, to view our accomplishments and look ahead fully cognizant of the major demographic shift advancing around us - and its impact for our ability to meet the growing needs of our large Jewish community and across our Jewish world.
Just going about our days, or even looking around this room, there can be no doubt: we’re no longer largely a snowbird community, but one where businesses are built. Where young people return after college. Where families are raising children, and where grandparents watch them grow.
We know it’s absolutely incumbent upon us to reach and engage all of them in our federation’s sacred work, with so many of our people near and far depending on us.
But it’s going to take more than engaging new donors. We also know that to address more needs amid our demographic challenges will require strategically adapting our allocations so our dollars are used in the best possible ways.
We simply must ensure that we’re filling important service gaps and fully leveraging existing Federation and community resources. And, folks, this is going to require more from us. For one, it will take the best information we can get our hands on.
So, soon, we’ll begin the first comprehensive demographic study of our Jewish community in twelve years. By better understanding who needs what services here, we’ll be far better able to accomplish what’s best for our entire community. We’ll be exploring areas such as senior services, special needs, Jewish education and more.
We are clearly blessed to live in a community that is extraordinary in the ways it comes together to care for those who need us. But, folks, looking into the future, it will take more.
Stepping forward to meet these challenges ahead will also require an unprecedented and exciting level of collaboration with our agencies.
So we’re going to build on our collaboration together. Tonight, I call on my agency colleagues and their boards to begin working with Federation to strategically define where your agencies need to be in three to five years. Only by looking together at our community as a whole and with solid information can we strategically plan to accomplish what’s needed. And those who invest in and depend on us deserve nothing less.
Concurrently, we continue to strive toward becoming a premier Jewish community for those with special needs and their families. We’re proud of the work our agencies are doing to be inclusive and welcoming, and to make special needs a priority. And we look forward to our Special Needs Task Forces beginning their work in the coming months.
Now, let’s talk about that crown jewel on our North Campus. We’re proud to share that, as designed, it’s proving to be a successful investment that will help our federation care for our community and our world for generations to come.
With independent living and memory care filled, assisted living on its way there, and highly sought skilled nursing care, the Toby and Leon Cooperman Sinai Residences of Boca Raton clearly provides the finest in Jewish senior living. Our new neighbors add immeasurably to the vibrancy and diversity of our campus and community. And we’re thrilled some of them have joined us tonight!
So here’s a huge shout out to our dedicated Board of Managers who have developed and oversee this superb project. Please join me in congratulating our current managers: Wesley E. Finch, David Galpern, Anne Jacobson, Matt Levin, Mel Lowell, Barry Podolsky and Gail Rubin Kwal. We also thank our past members: Al Gortz and Cindy Nimhauser, and, of blessed memory, Stewart Harris, James, Nobil and Ellen R. Sarnoff.
Over time, Sinai will provide Federation with increasing funds to help us meet challenges both today and tomorrow. With its current success, as Sinai starts to generate revenue, our governance bodies are working through the important process of ensuring that this revenue will have the optimal impact for our community.
But let me be very clear! The dollars we receive from Sinai will in no way lessen our obligation to build a successful Annual Campaign and other revenue streams.
Sinai’s impact took a huge leap a few months ago with Toby and Leon Cooperman’s transformative naming gift to our Federation. We are proud to have Sinai bear their name. And we’re deeply grateful for their vision and generosity that, over time, will greatly enhance all we can do for our people and our community.
Another key visionary investment in Federation this year came from Judi and Allan Schuman - who have created and named our new Center for Israel Engagement. This groundbreaking gift to bring our community to Israel and Israel to us will help support missions, study and volunteering, expanding local Israel programming and much more.
We are deeply grateful that the Schumans have acted so generously on their passion for Israel and our community. The Center will help enable us to move forward in fulfilling our longstanding dream of strengthening connections with our homeland.
Speaking of our missions, there’s nothing like them to build our community while educating and engaging folks about our vital work in Israel and around the world. Join us in November for our spirit of Israel community mission and an exciting pre-mission trip to Prague.
We’re also continuing to expand our Israel scholarships and subsidies for all ages and all sorts of programs. And our first community young adult “Onward Israel” cadre will head to Tel Aviv to engage in internships this summer.
So let’s talk a bit about some of the progress we’re making on adapting to our demographic challenges by stretching broader, deeper and more effectively to engage more donors. Beyond our campaign, we’ve embedded these efforts throughout all our financial resource development and programming areas. We keep studying, planning, implementing and evaluating, and we’re getting better as we go along.
We’ve been striving to actively welcome all of our Jewish neighbors - and involvement is on the rise across the board. Our Jewish Unity Day drew more than 2,000 people to the FAU auditorium. And Jewish Community in Action Day brought more than 500 people together at seven hands-on service projects.
We’re looking ahead with excitement to expanding our Deborah and Larry D. Silver Center for Jewish Engagement to connect more of our community with Federation and each other going forward.
And as our CJE engages community members, our Jewish Community Leadership Institute continues to prepare a new generation of local Jewish leaders - with intensive, expert-led programming.
As the campaign season pushed into high gear, under the leadership of Larry Feldman, we broke an attendance record at the Sandler Family Major Gifts Event. And we went on to see real growth in all our divisions and departments, from B&P cabinet members; to our numbers of Lions, Pomegranates and LOJEs, a growing Men’s Division and more.
Our departments and divisions branched out this year with considerably more social action, learning, leadership, philanthropic and social opportunities. And we made many more individual contacts through strategic outreach events and personal meetings. Our Young Adult Division expanded its YAD 365 Dollar a Day initiative, and we’ll soon be up to six members of the National Young Leadership Cabinet – chaired by our own Bryan Drowos.
Our new array of “Let’s Talk” marketing materials and advertisements are acquainting broad audiences with strategic Federation messaging. And “Let’s Talk” campus - because an unprecedented number of groups have been visiting nearly every week.
But friends, as much as we love our campus and celebrate its growth, our Federation and agencies have us bursting at the seams. So we’ll be considering an array of ways to expand our usable space right here on our campus.
Of course, with our growing population of younger adults and families, we continue to shift both how we build our community and how we can meet a growing set of community needs.
We support our diverse and remarkable day schools, including scholarship funding. But we must keep striving for the day when any local family that desires this critical investment in the Jewish future will know it is attainable.
Meanwhile, the phenomenal success of our Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation has brought its unrestricted assets to nearly 15 million dollars, with almost 84 million in total assets.
And ending their second year, the 15 local Jewish organizations and synagogues in our Create a Jewish Legacy program have so far committed over 57 million dollars in expectancies for the future of this community. In fact, we’re the most successful CJL community in the country!
We may call the JJCF our savings account, but it’s actually critical both today and in the future. As JJCF grows, it makes increasing allocations to the Annual Campaign. And JJCF is always there in times of emergency in our community and around the world. Just last month, our Foundation granted aid for our people in Venezuela experiencing severe economic distress and scarcities.
In closing - yes, across our Federation, we’re putting tremendous effort into adapting to our community’s shifting demographics through both our revenue and our allocations. So let’s just remember why we’re working so hard at it:
- Because tens of thousands of our seniors alone in this community are growing older and more frail, and outliving their resources. And there will be more as the baby boomer generation continues to age.
- Because there are always families in crisis around us who are unable to cope emotionally or pay their bills - and have nowhere else to turn.
- Because elderly Jews isolated in a war-torn Ukraine winter deserve to eat and have heat in their room…
- Because families in Venezuela cannot find enough food to sustain themselves… And we must be prepared for future international crises.
- Because our commitment to our brothers and sisters in Israel never wavers.
- And because – I know I’ve said this before - we just can’t meet all those needs the way we used to.
So, amid our momentum in Engagement, Campaign, Foundation, Sinai and beyond, it’s simply going to take more for us to continue to be there - when and where our people need us, in our community and around the world.
In fact, it’s going to take all of us - and others:
- To reach higher for more creative strategies…
- To reach farther to involve our family, friends and neighbors…
- To reach deeper to meet today’s greater needs…
- To reach ahead by investing in the future of this community and our people…
- And, for federation and our agencies, to reach out to each other and draw closer in planning strategically for our critical responsibilities and challenges ahead.
It has been my true privilege to speak with you tonight. May we continue together from strength to strength on behalf of our community and our world.
To all of you, my deepest thanks. I really do have the best job in the world.
President & CEO