Last Word: Jewish Federation Co-Chair Gail Norry Leads Jewishly, Inside and Outside the Home

Gail Norry is a white woman with long, wavy blonde hair wearing a grey suit and standing smiling on front of a yellow background.
Gail Norry | Photo by Mark Berman

Though she spends her days at work committed to Jewish community growth, the love of Judaism doesn’t stop at Gail Norry’s doorstep.

The co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia board balances her job with hosting Shabbat and holiday dinners at her family’s Center City home, welcoming guests and colleagues. The South Philadelphia Shtiebel member abides by the principle of “Kol yisrael arevim zeh bazeh,” that each of us is responsible for one another.

“It’s building stronger Jewish community because we have that sense of responsibility of taking care of one another,” she said.

Over the past two-and-a-half years of Norry’s term as co-chair, which wraps up later this year, building a stronger community has been her priority. Norry, 58, helmed the organization through its hiring of CEO and President Michael Balaban and the restructuring of its leadership, such as the hiring of Livvy DiCaro as chief financial officer.

The Jewish Federation has worked to be more transparent about finances with its board and strengthen its fundraising campaign. The organization is finalizing the sale of its building at 2100 Arch St., resulting in savings of $500,000 a year, which can be reinvested in community interests.

Other parts of the job have had a profound personal impact on Norry, such as a March 2022 trip with Balaban to the Polish border to visit Ukrainian refugee families aided by the Jewish Federation’s emergency campaign fund.

“It’s just been a tremendous opportunity for me to not only see Jewish communities around the world, but to see the impact of the dollars that we raise,” Norry said.

Norry was once on the other side of the Jewish Federation’s campaigns, giving dollars before getting to see firsthand the impact. Her Conservative Jewish upbringing in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, instilled in her a love of Judaism, which stayed with her through college.

At the end of 1984 during Operation Moses, in which the Israel Defense Forces airlifted 8,000 Ethiopian Jews from Sudan to Israel, Norry dropped off her first check to the Jewish Federation to assist in the mission. It was an auspicious moment in Norry’s life: Not only was it the beginning of her involvement in the Jewish Federation, but it was the moment she met her husband Elliot, the man who collected that first check.

The couple moved to Philadelphia when Norry was pregnant with their first child. She immediately joined what was then the Jewish Federation’s Young Women’s Division, now part of Women’s Philanthropy. She became involved in the women’s campaign and joined the National Young Leadership Cabinet.

The role of women in Jewish Federation’s fundraising projects remains crucial, according to Norry, not only in raising dollars for the organization, but in creating a network of friendship and mentorship.

“It definitely helped establish the power of women,” she said. “And I just feel like it has provided me with a lot of leadership development.”

Women’s Philanthropy also expands the impact of Jewish women beyond the home, where they set the tone for fostering Jewish practices and values in their families.

When Norry’s son was diagnosed with autism at age 3, Norry had to step up and lead both her family and the greater community.

The Norry family had enrolled all of their children at Perelman Jewish Day School, but her son needed accommodations, sometimes additional one-on-one time with teachers and sometimes a teaching aide to guide him in social interactions. 

Norry, who was asked to be on the board of the school, met with new Headmaster Jay Leberman, who came from a school in Chicago with a special needs program. They spoke with other board members and Jewish Federation leaders who agreed to partner with the school to create OROT, a special needs program that would help provide accommodations to students with disabilities. The Jewish Federation was the backbone of the program, and Norry served as founder and co-chair.

“If Federation had not been there, I don’t think we would have been able to get the program started,” Norry said. “It really shows the importance of having a community convener, which I think is an essential role in a strong Jewish Federation.”

Though she heavily credits the Jewish Federation, Norry’s work at OROT has been a valuable lesson to her and is one she hopes can teach others in the Jewish community looking to get involved.

“This is just an example for people to see the impact that any one person can have,” she said.


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