Years served: 10 years
Committee(s): Executive Committee, Grants Committee, Day School Sub-Committee, and Trusteeship Committee
Did you have a personal connection to Sam Israel before joining the board? What is your connection, if any?
No. I moved to Seattle when I was in high school, so I don’t have the familial connection. But I knew something about Sam because as an associate in my law firm, I represented somebody who negotiated to buy Sam’s Mercer Island property. I actually knew about Sam many, many, years before I ever thought about being on the Samis Board just because of his history in the community and his foresight in wanting to leave a legacy. He has had such an impact in the community! Of course, we all knew that he was an interesting guy too. The way he lived his life was a little differently than most of the rest of us, but his heart was in the right place with the Jewish people.
Please describe your most memorable interaction with Sam.
My favorite memory of Sam has absolutely nothing to do with Judaism. It’s the picture of him next to the bison on the wall in the Samis office. I think it’s a great photo and is really emblematic of his unique nature! I’ve heard a lot of stories about Sam and how Irwin Treiger and Eddie Hasson sat down with him to try and figure out what he should do with the Foundation and the type of legacy he wanted to leave. He didn’t have an immediate family, but he very much wanted to do something that would help the State of Israel and help our local community. He understood the value of Jewish day school education through his involvement with the Seattle Hebrew Academy and he wanted to make sure that there was support for Jewish day school education. That’s an incredible ongoing legacy he has left us with.
What was your path to joining the Samis Board?
Many years of active participation in the Jewish community led me to the Samis board. I’d been on the board of JDS and spent a long time on the board and serving as an officer of the Jewish Federation. No one from Samis actually approached me – I asked to be on the board. When people ask me about why I wanted to join the Samis board I always tell them it’s the same reason that Willie Sutton said he robbed banks, “It’s where the money is.” There was just an incredible opportunity at Samis to accomplish things that didn’t require fundraising, and frankly it was a new challenge for me. I approached Eddie with my pitch that I had all the Jewish communal leadership background that was appropriate (I also spent six years as a child in an Orthodox day school, I was a camp kid and my kids went to day school) and I happened to be a transactional attorney with experience in real estate. It worked. The bottom line is that I just have an incredible love for the Jewish community and that’s why I’m on the board.
What is the most meaningful story, event, or experience you can recall related to your service on the Samis Board?
There are two things that come to mind; the first is my interaction with my fellow trustees because there are so many bright and committed people on this board who have such a depth of experience, and this is both in regard to Judaism and to running our business. I’ve learned so much from everyone. The other thing that really is most memorable and moving for me, is when I get to see the kids that we fund in action. Whether that’s eighth graders talking about what their Judaism means to them, or seeing kids at camp in an immersive Jewish environment, enjoying themselves and really living Jewishly, or the teen Israel experience alumni event we had at Hillel a couple of years ago where teens came back from a semester or summer in Israel and they shared about their experiences and growth. That is the best thing because these kids are really what this work is all about for me – helping the next generation to find joy in their Judaism.
Which area of the Foundation’s philanthropy most resonates with you and why?
All the areas that we work in are important. Obviously, day school education provides such an incredible foundation for our kids. They learn to become intelligent, educated Jews and eventually leaders in our community. It’s absolutely a gift when their parents send them to day school. And the fact that we can help with grants to support them is amazing, but having said that, you know as other trustees have said, not every family is going to go that direction and it’s really important that we provide outlets for kids to have experiential Jewish educational opportunities as well. Camp, going to Israel, and other educational programs help build a healthier and more cohesive Jewish community. Experiential education is really giving these kids an important skill set, because you aren’t going to be comfortable being Jewish and you aren’t going to get joy out of it, if you don’t have some skills to navigate it. What we’re doing is we are giving all these kids in all of these outlets, the skills to navigate getting joy from being Jewish.
The projects we do in Israel are also incredibly exciting for me and they’re totally different than the kind of long-range issues we deal with here in Washington. Often, we award capital grants in Israel and we’ve done some incredible things through those grants, whether it’s helping build a women’s shelter in Beer Sheva or putting the research wing on the new aquarium in Jerusalem. In Israel we are making a real impact on the ground and leaving a contribution to the State that is there for everyone to benefit from. I will also tell you one other thing that has brought me joy over time is when I’ve been on trips to Israel with Samis and heard from students, some of them Ethiopians, who are first generation Israeli and are getting the chance to earn a technology degree and go on to do great things. Some of that’s been thanks to the Samis, and it’s very moving to know that our philanthropy is helping to build a better integrated Jewish nation.
How has serving on the Samis Board impacted your perspective on philanthropy and the Jewish community?
Serving on the Samis Board has made me understand that giving away money is not really all that easy. The fact that you don’t necessarily have to fundraise doesn’t make this work a walk in the park. There are a lot of challenges involved in making sure we’re being effective and there are challenges in grantmaking in trying to work in a way that doesn’t overburden our beneficiaries. It is more complex than I frankly ever could have imagined to be on this kind of board. Fortunately, we are blessed with good professionals who are helping us get to best practice so that we are most effective for the community.
Where do you envision the Seattle Jewish community ten or twenty years from now?
My vision for the Jewish community in Seattle is that we would be a more educated and cohesive community across geographic areas and denominations. We need to find ways to bring people together as a community in a constructive way. Part of that is having our kids do things together and ensuring that we have higher levels of Jewish literacy and skills. The other thing that I hope for, which is really just a basic principle, is that more and more people find joy from Jewish experiences and traditions such as spending Shabbat together and becoming a part of community. I believe building community does not necessarily happen through large grandiose endeavors. All it takes is bringing together even just a few people at a time. We can all do our part to make our Jewish community more beautiful and enriching for everyone.
From a Samis perspective I must say that being a trustee at Samis has been a great experience thus far, and I think we have a very exciting future ahead that’s going to involve more people. While I have so enjoyed working with all my fellow trustees, we know our board composition is inevitably going to change. I’m very excited about what those new trustees will bring to Samis and to the community.