David Adelman Leads Both Jewish, Philadelphia Communities

David and Hallee Adelman. Courtesy of David Adelman

David Adelman’s name might already be familiar to you.

Maybe you know it from his role as co-chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.

Perhaps you heard it in 2020 when then-Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson shared antisemitic comments on social media. Adelman, the chair of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, spoke with Jackson and took him on a tour of the Horwitz-Wasserman Holocaust Memorial Plaza as a learning experience.

Or maybe you heard it earlier this year when the Philadelphia 76ers announced a much-publicized development plan for a new arena in Center City. Adelman, an entrepreneur and private investor in the real estate market, is tasked with overseeing the project, which is expected to last a decade.

Whatever the case, Adelman, 50, has emerged as a leader in both the Jewish and general community in Greater Philadelphia.

“I’m fortunate that I have a unique mix of OCD and ADHD, so I’m good at doing a lot of things for a short period of time,” he joked.

Like it does for many Jews, the Holocaust helped shape Adelman.

His grandfather, Sam Wasserman, was a Holocaust survivor, captured in 1942 by the Nazis and taken to the Sobibor concentration camp in Poland. There his wife and two small children were immediately executed, while Wasserman became a daily laborer.

During an organized revolt, Wasserman escaped, then joined the resistance movement. Wounded during a battle, he was cared for by a woman, Sophie, who became his second wife. They lived for a time in a displaced persons camp before moving to Israel and, later, the United States.

“I feel a deep connection to him and what he went through,” Adelman said. “It’s more like a sense of duty to honor him.”

Part of that duty comes via his service as vice chair (and former chair) of the Philadelphia Holocaust Remembrance Foundation, which oversees the Holocaust plaza named after his grandfather. Another part comes from sitting on the board of the USC Shoah Foundation.

But while Adelman honors the past, he’s also involved with the present-day and future Jewish community.

“I probably spend 15-20% of my time on Jewish philanthropy,” he said.

He helped found the Jewish Federation Real Estate, or JFRE, group a decade ago and has served as its chair and as an executive committee member. And in 2020, he was elected to a three-year term as co-chair, along with Gail Norry, of Jewish Federation itself.
“I enjoy it,” he said. ”It’s engaging, but it’s definitely a bit challenging.”

Those challenges have included hiring a new CEO, dealing with a pandemic that literally changed everything and even Hurricane Ida in 2021, which flooded the Jewish Community Services Building in Center City.

Challenges aside, Adelman’s optimistic about Jewish Federation’s future.

“I was pleasantly surprised with the engaged lay leadership,” he said. “It’s a very volunteer-led place. We’re fortunate that so many care about it.”

One of Adelman’s goals is to have the community recognize that Jewish Federation serves as a central financial depository for the Philadelphia area’s Jewish organizations, rather than having donors contribute to individual outlets. He said transparency is crucial to achieving that goal.

“Everything we do now is with transparency in mind,” he said, adding that he hopes to educate people on the organization’s role. “You have to do that by telling your story and getting your message out. Sharing your wins is important.”

Spreading that message can be tricky at times, especially when Adelman’s approached by people with other charitable causes, both inside and outside the Jewish world.

“I do believe that charities should be run like a business and, when I am acting as a donor, I want to make sure my money is being spent wisely,” Adelman said. “I’ve also gotten better at saying ‘no’ to a lot of well-intended charities to remain focused on my core causes.”

When Adelman’s Jewish Federation co-chair term expires next year, he’s likely to take a step back from leadership, while remaining engaged with the organization.

“I will always be connected to the Federation, but it’s good to have new leadership from time to time,” he said.

There’s still plenty left on the plate for Adelman, who lives with author wife Hallee Adelman and two daughters in Haverford. He attends Har Zion Temple.

Along with leading 76 DevCorp, the organization pursuing 76 Place, a privately funded sports and entertainment arena in Center City, Adelman remains the CEO of Campus Apartments, a housing company catering to students.

Campus Apartments was founded by fellow 76ers fanatic Alan Horwitz — the animated guy often seen sitting in the front row at 76ers games. Their relationship dates to the 1980s, when Adelman gave his mentor $2,000 in bar mitzvah money to invest in real estate.
Then there are, among other things, his titles as vice chairman at FS Investments, lead director of aviation company Wheels Up and founder of Darco Capital, a venture capital firm.

Throw in roles with organizations as diverse as the University City District and the Penn Medicine Board of Trustees, and Adelman said he sometimes wishes each day had 30 hours.

“I have a really great team around me,” he said. ”I’m highly scheduled.”

Expect the high-profile role to continue.

“I’m not shy about the fact that I want to make a difference in my community and the Jewish community,” Adelman said, “I hope my legacy is that I helped the community.”

David and Hallee Adelman. Courtesy of David Adelman


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