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The Passing of the Torch
Ira M. Schwartz assumed the role of president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia this week, as Harold S. Goldman retired from that position, which he'd held for the last six years. They shared their thoughts during a recent conversation.
Ira M. Schwartz
What had you personally experienced and heard about Federation that made its executive office the place you wanted to be?
In the 15 years that I've been in this community, I've been in contact with Federation in various capacities and well aware of its work and importance in the Jewish community. I know the work that has been done to bring about a new, cutting edge direction to Federation under Harold's leadership that has put Philadelphia at the forefront of federations in this country. In addition, other organizations are very interested in what's being done here.
How do you see Federation's place in the Jewish community?
Federation is the hub of the Jewish community and has a leadership role in identifying the needs to be met, raising the resources and supporting the efforts of partner agencies.
What about the general community?
Federation is a leader among social agencies in Greater Philadelphia. That is evident in United Way having the confidence in us to be our single largest donor. So many of our agencies serve non-Jewish clients. What we do is truly tikkun olam, 'repairing the world' - a concept to be proud of, one to preserve.
What are some of the challenges you see ahead?
There are tremendous unmet needs. We must reach out to those not at the table to accomplish our mission of mobilizing human and financial resources, connect them to the community, enlist their support and expand our pool of volunteers. In addition, there is an increased need for accountability. Donors want to know what they are getting for their money and see what has been achieved.
Describe your leadership style. What are your expectations?
I see myself as a team builder and want bright, self-starters with me. I have an open-door policy, and my hope is that the people who work with me will feel free to tell me what's on their minds. I expect high standards, a high energy level, integrity and being goal-directed. I don't like to pay for effort. It's important, but I'm a bottom-line guy. My background in social work has given me the desire to deal with the empirical side. I believe in incentives and awards for jobs done well.
Tell us about your family. What is important to them?
Fifteen years ago, at the same time I became provost at Temple, my wife Elaine was recruited by Perelman Jewish Day School to teach kindergarten. She'll be retiring this year. We're partners in everything we do. She understands and believes strongly in Federation and the Jewish community. As a day school teacher, she has seen the importance of both.
We have two married children. Our son David, 33, is president and CEO of Qlinx Software Co. He and his wife Emma have a son, 2-year-old Liam. Our daughter Amy, 30, was a program associate at the Jewish Outreach Partnership and is married to Avner Lahat, an attorney. They are awaiting the birth of their first child in July. Both kids chose Jewish partners because they were raised in a Jewish home filled with customs and traditions. Both of them studied in Israel. And along the lines of, 'it's never too early to start learning,' Liam will go to a Jewish camp this summer.
What are your hopes and aspirations for yourself and for Federation in the years ahead?
Federation is a work in progress - work that will find it doing more and more for the Jewish community. I want to be its leader, advocate and spokesperson locally, nationally and in Israel.
My dreams for the organization are similar to Harold's when he came here. It's my privilege and honor to sit in his seat. I am so impressed with Federation's volunteer leadership and appreciative of the warm and welcoming way Elaine and I and our children have been greeted. It has been heartwarming.
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Harold S. Goldman
What are some of the experiences that you've had that made you say: "This is what Federation is about. This is what we're working for"?
One of the many experiences I've had was seeing how food we help supply makes the difference between life and death. Federations's five Mitzvah Food Pantries give a bag of grocery staples anonymously to anyone who asks for food. These pantries feed approximately 2,300 people every month, families with children, individuals down on their luck, and the elderly.
The Jewish Relief Agency brings together young families, singles, mid-lifers and seniors to pack and help deliver bags of groceries in the Northeast mostly to elderly Jews from the former Soviet Union. I've delivered packages and met people who have so very little in their lives.
In the former Soviet Union, we partner with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee to feed and shelter close to 250,000 elderly Jews who would otherwise literally starve to death in the streets. We also help maintain a program that provides medical support for some 16,000 Ethiopians.
What is the biggest challenges Federation faces?
It's leadership. Federation must prepare the next generation for stewardship to move the community forward. We must inspire and touch the lives of young adults so that they can become stakeholders in the community and step forward to take on leadership roles.
What learning opportunities have you had as Federation president?
When I took the job, I already had a good understanding of the local community because of being the former president of Jewish Family and Children's Service. However, learning about the global Jewish community was a huge growth experience, such as visit- ing our Partnership 2000 communities and, in particular, seeing the powerful vision of Netivot's mayor, Yechiel Zohar. His leadership transformed this settlement town in the Negev, that at first was populated by olim from North Africa and then from the FSU and Ethiopia, into a 21st century community by investing in schools, recreational and cultural opportunities for children and youth. It's wonderful for this community to be our partner.
What will you miss the most?
I have found Philadelphia to be a big city with a small town, intimate feeling. I will miss the many wonderful friends I have. The lay leadership has inspired me and I have such warm regard for my colleagues. I have had the good fortune in this job of visiting dozens of synagogues, organizations and grass roots programs here and in Israel. I've seen how the funds we raise help build klal Yisroel and, at the same time, have seen the great diversity there is among us.
What kind of leadership can the community expect from Ira Schwartz?
Federation is so lucky and so fortunate to have Ira Schwartz. He'll be a terrific leader. He has a big view of the Jewish world. Ira has done consulting work in Israel and is on the board of Haifa University. He has sophisticated views about running an organization, outstanding managerial skills, and top-notch fundraising abilities.
What does the future hold for you?
I think living in New York will be exciting. I look forward to partaking of the many cultural opportunities and the general atmosphere. I intend to just take it easy during the summer, and then in September, I will look for something new to do in the Jewish world. I will always be grateful and mindful of all the learning and understanding I take with me from my years in Philadelphia.