Apr 11, 2014

A New Era of Possibilities: Remarks from Al Gortz on Taking the Gavel as Federation Chair

Delivered at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County Annual Meeting, “Come Together,” on April 8, 2014

Matthew C. Levin, Federation President & CEO: It is my honor to introduce our new Federation Chair, Al Gortz. I’m sure many of you know his long list of achievements as Al has been intimately involved with our Federation since its inception. Among his many accomplishments here, Al has been honored numerous times, including having received both the James and Marjorie Baer Outstanding Young Leadership Award and the James H. Nobil Community Leadership Award. He has also been the Mitzvah Society honoree for our Foundation’s Professional Advisory Committee. Please join me in welcoming our new Chair of the Board: Al Gortz.

Al Gortz: Thank you, Matt, and good evening, everyone.

I am Al Gortz and I’m honored to be your new Chair. I would like to thank the Board of Directors for your confidence. Rest assured I will do my best to justify that confidence.

First, I would like to acknowledge the efforts of my good friend Ellen Sarnoff, our Chair for the past three years. Ellen – you led our Federation with a steady hand through a challenging period in our history – and you did it with your signature style and grace. You will be a tough act to follow and I know I can count on your aid and advice.

I would also like to thank my friends Annie and Norm Jacobson for chairing tonight’s Annual Meeting. I have great admiration for your longstanding commitment to our Jewish community - and for your leadership which I know I can count on in the year ahead.

And, of course, our CEO, Matt Levin. Matt, you are a major reason I am standing here this evening. Thank you for your vision and boundless energy. I look forward to our partnership as we look to the future.

And thanks in advance to my wife, Jane, for giving up some precious time together. Whatever I have or hope to achieve is only because of her string support and encouragement and I will need to count on that support as it is my guess that there will be some Hard Day’s Nights spent serving the community which has been our home for the past 37 years. And thanks also to my daughter, Alison, and my granddaughters, Danielle and Jessica, who are here with us tonight. And thanks, Jane, for these John Lennon eyeglasses.

It seems like it was just Yesterday when I joined a small group of local community leaders 35 years ago seeking to break away from the Palm Beach Federation. We felt we could better serve the needs of the local Jewish community if we formed our own Federation. We negotiated a mutually amicable parting which got us a few dollars to run our business and pay our employees only on the condition that we not use the words “Palm Beach” in our name. And so in October 1979, around a conference table in my office, a few of us signed the legal documents forming what was then known as the South County Jewish Federation.

It is hard for me to convey to you what this community was like 35 years ago with a Jewish population of 15,000, and the excitement we felt as our founders embarked on this journey and committed ourselves to this mission.

And I feel that sense of excitement once again or, as the Beatles would say, I’ve Got that Feeling Again.

That’s because after five economically challenging years, the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County is once again on solid fiscal ground with an Annual Campaign on the rise and our Foundation’s pledge of “Promises Kept” resonating in every corner of this community. We have a new cadre of young leaders working at all levels of governance – giving of their time and resources. Community partners are connecting with Federation as never before. And we are doing something we haven’t done in a long time – we are building again – with Sinai Residences of Boca Raton – adding to our diverse portfolio of community services.

Thanks to our lay and professional leadership, I believe we have reached a new day… my call to action to all of you tonight is simple – let’s join together and embark on a NEW ERA of possibilities – one that takes forward in further reaching and engaging the 130,000 Jews who reside in Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Highland Beach.

Let’s continue to strengthen a financial foundation that will enable us to not just meet the ever-increasing needs of our Jewish family – locally, in Israel and everywhere in the world – but that will put us in a position to respond to any crisis that may confront us anytime, anywhere – even on a moment’s notice – for if our Jewish history has taught us anything it has taught us to be prepared for the unexpected – be it a barrage of rocket attacks on our homeland Israel… or an escalating political crisis like the one gripping the Ukraine, where tens of thousands of Jews reside and desperately depend on the Federation system… or a hurricane that takes aim at our campus.

Let’s continue to foster Federation and community leadership, particularly among the younger generations so they have a place at the table – something like when I was that young attorney in my early 30s back in 1979 – and it wasn’t Mother Mary but pioneering leaders like Jim Baer and Jim Nobil who were whispering words of wisdom to the next generation of leaders at that time in our history.

Let’s continue to promote the countless ways to get involved – what I would call the portals of entry – with our organization and our agencies. It doesn’t matter what age you are, where you are from or your capacity to give. There’s a place for you.

Let’s continue to build our endowment through the Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation – an organization I helped establish not long after the founding of our Federation and have been intimately involved with ever since. Planned gifts and endowments will help ensure that there will be a Jewish future for generations to come and I urge everyone to create a meaningful and lasting Jewish legacy.

These are just a few of the pathways toward building an even greater Jewish community and extending our caring hand to the every-increasing numbers of those in need. All we have to do is what Matt urged us to do earlier this evening – Imagine – imagine the kind of Jewish community we want for all generations and all walks of life.

Now who will it take to get us there?

We need the help of our established lay leaders, the next generation of lay leaders, our dedicated professionals and those who are able to be significant benefactors. Established leaders like Wes Finch, who chose to invest his business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit into this Jewish community. By the way, Wes and I grew up in the same neighborhood. Wes, there must have been something in the water.

We need the help of up and coming leaders like Bryan Drowos, who journeyed across the desert and embraced a child and his family and his own.

We need the help of dedicated professionals like Shanna, who says in her bio, “It’s my ultimate goal to utilize my graphic design and art as a visual voice for those who may not be heard otherwise.”

And we need the help of benefactors like Jack Pechter, who along with is wife, Marilyn, made sure through a generous gift that a safety net would always be there for anyone in need of vital local services.

And it will take all of you – continuing the work that you do – and encouraging others to make Federation a regular stop on their Jewish journey. Whatever your pathway, passion or purpose, our community needs you. It has certainly taken me down a path of tremendous personal satisfaction.

To conclude, I would like to share a story from my Jewish journey – an enlightening stop along the way that reminded Jane and me of the essence of Federation’s mission. It wasn’t in an office, a board room or committee meeting. We participated in a video about the local food pantry and delivered much needed food to a homebound elderly woman by the name of Eva. I had a chance to ask Eva some questions, and you can click here to see for yourself what came back in return.

Jane and I not only felt tremendous satisfaction in seeing the impact of a Federation gift so vividly in the eyes and words of Eva; We were also moved when we later learned that our video helped secure the gift from Jack Pechter that established The Sarah and Max Pechter Center for Local Safety Net Services.

It is that kind of experience that drives me to serve this great organization. I look forward to putting my Jewish heart into my role as your Chair – and I hope you will join me in doing the same as we embark on this journey together to what I hope will be a new era for our Federation – and our Jewish community.

Thank you.