While only 36 years old, Sarah Solomon has spent more than a third of her life working at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
Promoted to chief development officer from annual campaign director at the end of September, Solomon oversees how the Jewish Federation raises money to support its programs.
“Each year, we raise money to support the most vulnerable members of our Jewish community and enrich Jewish lives. So we have programs that we support to feed, clothe and shelter Jews that are in need here in Greater Philadelphia, as well as in Israel and around the world. And then also to ensure that our community is thriving for generations to come,” Solomon said. “We support identity- and continuity-building programs that create a deep sense of Jewish community and identity in many different ways.”
Today, living in Center City with her husband and two children, preparing to join Congregation Rodeph Shalom so her oldest son can begin his Hebrew school education, Solomon knows firsthand the importance of wanting to secure the future of Jewish institutions for the next generation.
Young donors want to secure the physical safety of Jewish institutions and engage in challenging conversations about antisemitism, she said. For a generation that doesn’t flock to synagogues the same way its parents did, engaging them in Jewish community requires relationship building.
“Twenty-first century Jewry requires inspired thinking and an awareness of the elements that make Jewish living fun and joyful, rather than obligatory, and strengthening connections to the Jewish community,” Solomon said.
Since Solomon became involved at the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia 14 years ago, she’s noticed development approaches go from “transactional to transformational.” Instead of approaching Jews for donations on an annual basis, the organization has learned to connect with donors on a program that is personal to them. Young donors want to be sure their money is going to projects that come to fruition and reflect their Jewish identity.
When Solomon became a volunteer with Next Gen, a Jewish Federation affinity group for 20- and 30-somethings, she had the same hope in mind.
A Lower Merion native, Solomon grew up attending Main Line Reform Temple and attending URJ Camp Harlam. But after getting a communications degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and joining the corporate ranks at Live Nation Entertainment, she lost connections to her Jewish roots.
Solomon spent a year as a volunteer at Next Gen before becoming a Jewish Federation donor and took a job as development associate at Next Gen before taking positions within Women’s Philanthropy, Major Gifts and the Sharon and Joseph Kestenbaum’s Legacy Philanthropy Program. Not only did she make friends within the Jewish Federation, but she reconnected with the same community that she fell in love with as a child.
As chief development officer, Solomon has ensured other kids get the same summer camp experience she did by growing the Jewish Federation’s summer camp scholarship funds.
“My summers at Camp Harlam were, by far, the most impactful on my life to develop a sense of identity and Jewish values,” she said. “And I think if we can make this possible for all families who want to do the same, that is certainly our goal.”
Solomon also organized last year’s Legacy Philanthropy Program, where 35 donors and their families, spanning four generations, gathered to discuss the Jewish Federation’s philanthropic goals.
“I really don’t know if anything like this has ever taken place anywhere, in terms of having all generations together to talk about the importance of meeting each other and the future of our philanthropy,” Solomon said.
“It was inspiring to have four generations together in one room who have the shared commitment to change the world through their philanthropy,” she said.
On a recent Jewish Federation mission trip to Israel, Solomon saw the impact of the organization’s fundraising work. She met with a mother from Ukraine, who, within hours of war breaking out, was extracted with her son by the Jewish Federation using emergency funds raised by the community. The woman now has a job in Israel, and her son goes to school there.
“The light we have provided to those during their darkest days is certainly something I am most proud of,” she said.