Apr 18, 2016
Possibilities Fulfilled: Remarks from Al Gortz on Passing the Gavel
Delivered at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County Annual Meeting, “Ain’t No Mountain Chai Enough,” on April 6, 2016. Click here to watch Al’s speech.
Matthew C. Levin, Federation President & CEO: Al, I think it is no secret just how much we appreciate and admire you. You were committed to our Federation before our founding and have been steadfast in your leadership and support ever since. So it is truly a privilege to present to you this token of our appreciation for your two years of hard work as the chair of the Federation Board. It is a gavel, of course! And the inscription reads, “With heartfelt appreciation for your dedication and steadfast leadership as a Federation founder and Chair of the Board.”
On behalf of the Federation Board of Directors – and our entire Jewish community – thank you, A, for your extraordinary commitment for helping to make South Palm Beach County a shining example of what a caring committed Jewish community should look like.
Note: You’ll have to imagine the musical punctuation in the parentheses…
Al Gortz: Good evening. Matt, thank you for that wonderful tribute. You will never know how much it means to me.
Tonight, I speak to you for the last time as your chair. I want you to know that it has been my honor and privilege to serve as your chair and to contribute in some small way to making the mission of our Federation a reality.
In keeping with tonight’s Motown theme, you will hear excerpts from what I hope will be some of your favorites throughout my remarks. So without further ado in the words of Marvin Gaye (Let’s Get It On).
As I was watching the montage and some of the nostalgic photos from our Federation’s founding, I was reminded that I have chosen to devote a good part of the last 37 years, more than half of my life (of course, with the permission of my wife, Jane) to serving our Federation. It has been a labor of love. And Jane, in the words of Stevie Wonder (You Are the Sunshine of My Life, and Isn’t She Lovely?)
I remember the very day that I knew we were ready to break away from the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County.
It was December 1978 on what would be declared “Soviet Human Rights Day in Boca Raton” by then Mayor Byrd Marshall. I had organized a rally on the steps of city hall as the Chair of the Palm Beach Federation’s Community Relations Council. As we observed a moment of silence in honor and memory of Golda Meir, who had just passed away, and as I looked out on the crowd of 400, I knew we were a distinct and separate community and that we could better serve the needs of the Jewish community if we split off from Palm Beach and formed our own Federation.
Or as Yogi Berra would have said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” So we signed the deal with the Palm Beach Federation and as Stevie Wonder would say, the deal was (Signed, Sealed, Delivered).
Today, I still have the same sense of excitement that our founders felt 37 years ago when we embarked on this journey and committed ourselves to the mission of caring for the vulnerable and building a community for generations to come.
Two years ago when I stood before you as your new chair, I talked about “a new era of possibilities” for our community. Now that my term is ending, I am proud to report that we have made progress toward an “era of possibilities fulfilled.” Our success has been based on what I will call five pillars – leadership, generosity, investment, partnership and unity.
First and foremost, our success is rooted in our strong leadership. I am proud that our community has so many dynamic and dedicated leaders. Just look around the room tonight.
I am also particularly proud that we have engaged a new cadre of young leaders. All of us share an emotional commitment to the shared and sacred purpose of our founders.
What we do insures nothing less than Jewish survival and there is truly great nobility in the work that we do.
Led by our President and CEO, Matt Levin, my partner for the past two years, we have a professional leadership team that is second to none. Matt, it is no accident that our Federation has experienced great success during your tenure as our CEO.
Second, our success takes generosity. (Barrett Strong/ Money – That’s What I Want) Last year our Annual Campaign grew for the third year in a row with increased numbers of donors at all levels, and this year we are working diligently to meet our goal despite demographic challenges. This has meant more people fed, comforted, educated and protected. (The Four Tops/ Reach Out - I Will Be There).
And our Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation continues to grow with total assets of more than $80 million. The Foundation’s Create a Jewish Legacy program has enjoyed tremendous success, far surpassing its initial goals.
Third, our success takes investment. This year, Federation expanded its financial portfolio with three leadership gifts that will help strengthen our ability to serve the community at large and expand our reach. These include:
<li>The largest unrestricted bequest ever made to the Jacobson Jewish Community Foundation of approximately $4.5 million by the late Irving Eckhardt;</li>
<li>The naming of the Ted and Barbara Wolk Spa and Fitness Center at the Sinai Residences; and</li>
<li>The launch of the Deborah and Larry D. Silver Center for Jewish Engagement</li>
We are grateful to these generous donors for investing in our Federation.
Federation itself has invested in our “crown jewel” of a campus, the largest of its kind in the country. After eight long years of planning and hard work, we saw the opening of the Sinai Residences this past January.
Sinai is the largest capital project since the opening of our south campus in 1991 and will provide a significant income stream for the vital programs and services of our organization and its beneficiary agencies for years to come.
Our campus will also soon be home to the new yeshiva high school scheduled to open its doors in January 2017. We will become the first community in the country to have two K through 12 Jewish day schools on the same campus.
Fourth, our success takes partnership. We continue to engage more local, national and international agency partners, working together like never before for the common good of the community. Between Federation and Foundation, we are now partnering with more than 50 institutions and we continue to expand our relationship with more than 20 local synagogues, fostering synergies that are the envy of Federations nationwide.
We have expanded what I have called our “portals of entry” from our Jewish community leadership institute and Emerging Jewish Philanthropists to our growing Business and Professional and Young Adult Divisions to Chapter Two and Business Basual groups for women and more.
We are fortunate to have what I will call the “pied piper of portals” – our own Rabbi Josh Broide – who is opening new portals of engagement through innovative events and activities like “A Night of Inspiration” and Jewish Unity Day.
Fifth and finally, our success takes unity. Under Federation’s leadership and through Federation’s facilitation and with a laser-like focus on what is best for the community, we are becoming a mature unified Jewish community. Those of you who have been here for some number of years know how far we have come and for those of you who are new, you have something truly precious to build upon.
While we can celebrate our past success (Rare Earth/ I Just Want to Celebrate), if our history has taught us anything, it has taught us that there is always more work to be done and inevitable challenges ahead.
We all look forward to continuing our involvement and I know you will join me in supporting our new chair, the one and only Anne Jacobson. I can’t think of anyone better able to take our Federation and community to the next level with her unparalleled energy, talent and community focus. She is an example of what true selfless community service is all about, and I am confident that under her leadership our future is bright.
So Annie, in the words of the Temptations – (Get ready), and in the words of Martha and the Vandellas, you have (Nowhere to Run to, Nowhere to Hide).
Lastly and perhaps most important, thanks to my wife, Jane, my daughter, Alison, son-in-law, Michael, and my grandchildren, Danielle and Jessica, all of whom are here with us tonight. Whatever I have or hope to achieve is only because of Jane’s strong support and encouragement (if not her cooking).
Thank you once again for the opportunity to have served as your chair during these exciting times. May we go from strength to strength.