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Keeping His Eye on the Prize: the Finish Line

September 1, 2005 By:
Zara Myers, JE Feature
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Philip M. Shiekman
Long before the challenges of adult life, Philip M. Shiekman was an athlete, sprinting for the goal.

"As a kid growing up in Wynnefield, I played sandlot baseball and football," said Shiekman, who has practiced law for more than 50 years.

The life-long running enthusiast has headed the Jewish Community Centers, the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's annual campaign and the Federation Endowments Corporation, and is a member of Har Zion Temple.

On Sept. 9, Shiekman will be the very first recipient of the Edward N. Polisher Award at the Federation Endowments Corporation's Solomon and Sylvia Bronstein Seminar for Professionals. The annual seminar features estate-planning speakers, and is attended by hundreds of estate-planning professionals.

The award was established through a bequest from Edward Polisher, and is presented to an estate-planning professional in the Philadelphia community in recognition of distinguished service to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia's endowment programs.

"It's an honor," he said. "Ed Polisher was my law partner and friend for 30 years."

While at Overbrook High School, Shiekman served as captain of the track and football teams, and was encouraged in "everything I did" by his mother and his older brother, Mort.

Drafted into the army in 1943 after his first semester at the University of Pennsylvania, he described his college years as "checkered." While at Penn, he was a sprinter on the varsity track team.

"After courses in engineering at Texas A&M while in the Army Specialized Training Program, I was sent to fight in France, and soon after was asked if I wanted to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. "Since I had been in a fox hole, it wasn't a hard decision."

But the Navy was not his desired career path, and after a year, Shiekman returned to Penn for his undergraduate degree, and then went on to get his law degree at Harvard in 1951.

He met his late wife, Judy Gruberg, to whom he was married for 54 years, when they were both counselors at summer camp. They married in 1949 and have three children - Stephen Shiekman, Carol Slosberg and Sally Miller - and seven grandchildren.

Specializing in tax law, estate planning, and mergers and acquisitions, Shiekman was a partner in the firm of Cohen, Shapiro, Polisher, Shiekman & Cohen until it dissolved in 1995. Since then, he's been senior counsel at the law firm of Fox Rothschild LLP.

"When I began, Sylvan Cohen, the senior partner, urged us to affiliate with and give to Federation's annual campaign. It was part of the firm's culture," he said, "and I wanted to be involved.

"From my earliest connections to this day, I give my support and time because I care deeply about the survival of our people, and about my grandchildren living in a world where they can be observant Jews," explained Shiekman.

His volunteer career with Federation began with its young leadership group, and as an observer on the board of what was then the Young Men-Young Women's Hebrew Association, which merged to become the Jewish Community Centers. A past president of both, he still serves on the national level as chairman of the investment committee of the Jewish Community Centers Association.

At Federation, he applied his drive for the finish line to chairing campaign and professional divisions of the annual campaign, and served as general chair in 1991.

That year, "the community really responded," he said, raising $30 million for the annual campaign and $35 million for Operation Exodus to help bring nearly 1 million Jews out of the Soviet Union.

Seeing the critical necessity of the annual campaign, Shiekman said he also saw the need to continue support beyond a person's lifetime through endowments. He is a member of Federation's Legacy Society at the Golden Gate level. When he was president of the Federation Endowments Corporation from 1993 to 1996, funds rose from $70 million to $100 million.

Self-described as "once a marathon runner, a jogger and now a slogger," he still runs about four miles, three days days per week, and is active on the boards of several organizations.

Shiekman was married this June to the former Irene Wattenberg.

Some 80 years young, he described his work ethic as: "Get the work done well and timely," which seems to be an attitude he's applied to his communal commitment and so much of his life.

 

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