Years of Service: Lifetime Trustee
Committee (s): Experiential Jewish Education Grants Sub-Committee, Trusteeship Committee
Past Committee Service: Grants Committee
What did you know about Sam Israel prior to joining the board?
I knew Sam was a very wealthy man living in a very modest trailer on his property in Eastern Washington. His chosen life style became legendary. He was very unique in that way. He had chosen a very modest life rather than what he could have had, but apparently any luxury was not important to him. Today our community benefits from his life of frugality.
What’s your most memorable interaction with Sam?
Eddie Hasson’s wife Marguerite is a very good friend of mine and wanted to go visit Sam when he was in the nursing home in the International District. He was there for a while before he moved to Kline Galland. Marguerite was going to visit him, and she said well you’re one of his new trustees and I think you should come with me so I can introduce you. We walked into the room and Marguerite said “Hi Uncle Sam I’ve got Lucy Pruzan with me, who is one of your new trustees for the Foundation.” And he sat up in bed, and he said “Pruzan! you wouldn’t sell me that property on Washington Street!” I said “What?! No, it wasn’t me! That was probably our cousin Carl Pruzan who was an attorney.” Carl was a big investor in property and I think he probably was competing with Sam to purchase some property on Washington Street near Pioneer Square. Anyway, it was amazing because here he was, this man who was not in the greatest of shape and the name Pruzan just triggered this reaction. So I told him I’m so sorry but this must have been our cousin Carl and explained how we were related and then he sort of calmed down. We had a nice chat after that, but it was very funny how he just jumped up in bed like that. Really amazing!
What was your path to joining the Samis Board?
Back in the late 80s/early 90s Irwin Treiger was helping Sam to put together the Foundation with the bylaws and trustees. Everybody was pretty much hand-picked by him and I think most everyone beside the family were people who he’d had some business dealings with. They got to a certain point when Irwin took a look at the list and he said “Oops! We have no women on the board.” You have to remember this was almost 30 years ago, which was not so unusual at the time. I was very involved in the Community as President of the JCC for a few years, Board Chair of the Federation, involved with AIPAC and I was generally doing fundraising for various Jewish organizations forever. We had been friends with the Treigers for a long time, and I don’t know if he had any other women in mind, but I popped up in his head and the rest is history. I felt very honored to be invited.
What is the most meaningful story, event, or experience you can recall related to your service on the Samis Board?
Well, to begin with, I always called myself the triple minority; I am Ashkenazi, Reform and Female. And until we had other women, my role on the board was to bring those perspectives. I tried throughout the years to also remind everyone that there was a bigger world out there beyond day schools that needed our help. I supported widening the context in which we do our work and investing in experiential Jewish education and other community organizations. In the past I actually had a couple of arguments regarding funding other things that were not necessarily in our bailiwick, or explicit in our mission, but really very important to the well-being and overall health of the community.
An example of one of the things that really made me crazy was what happened during a grants meeting that I missed. The Grants Committee had a request from Jewish Family Service for a gift to the capital campaign. I read the minutes from the meeting and found that it said we were not going to participate in the campaign because it’s not part of our bailiwick and when I read that I went crazy! I was very upset and I think at the time, I must have talked to Rob Toren, former Samis Executive Director about it and said, you know, this is really not right. I said JFS serves the entire Community, and as a matter of fact, I know that it serves parents of our children in the day schools when they need that service and it’s all confidential, so we don’t know who they are, or what their requirements are, but I think as a community, we should always be supporting those types of organizations. So the board reconsidered its position and made a nice gift to the campaign.
I am also very proud and pleased to have identified and suggested to bring Connie Kanter and David Ellenhorn onto the board. Even after all these years, I still feel that I was very fortunate to be invited to serve on this board and I hope that I’ve made some contribution in the right direction.
Which area of the Foundation’s philanthropy most resonates with you and why?
Given my background, I think experiential education most resonates with me. That doesn’t mean that I’m not interested in day school education. I do agree that Jewish day schools are very important. But experiential education is important because I know what it did for me growing up to be able to participate in a youth group, like BBYO BBG. I also went to Temple de Hirsch and was very involved in that synagogue. My Judaism and connection to community, stems from those formative experiences.
I would also have to say I am very committed to our Israel philanthropy as well. I went on my first trip to Israel with my husband Herb in 1970 on a young leadership mission during Black September. I remember our parents were very upset with us for leaving because we had three kids at home. And this was when there were plane hijackings happening, but we had to go then and show our support, and we made many, many more trips to Israel over the years after that. I loved every minute of it. The Samis trustee trips to Israel have also been very inspiring because we get the opportunity to see the work of our beneficiaries firsthand. I’ve always been very committed to what we do in Israel and I think supporting the Israeli women’s domestic violence shelters in particular, has been the most meaningful to me personally.
How has serving on the Samis Board impacted your perspective on philanthropy and the Jewish community?
You know, the best thing about it is I have spent so many hours of my time over the last almost 40 years fundraising and trying to talk people into giving to the community. This was just wonderful to not have to ask people for money but, instead, be able to give it. My experience at Samis made me realize how important it is to give intelligently. It’s quite a responsibility to figure out what the best avenue for giving is and where investing will help solve the root of a problem.
Because of where I grew up and how I grew up – I emigrated from Uruguay to Seattle at the age of 15 with parents who had survived the war – I didn’t grow up with a religious education. We were just trying to survive. As a result, I can appreciate everything that I’ve been able to participate in and contribute to in this community. I’ve been eternally grateful to my family for moving to the United States, even though I still love Uruguay. We have visited every year for the last 25 years or so. But growing up I’d always longed for community and I knew how important it was to keep things well-funded and strong, so that’s how I got involved in philanthropy and I’ve been doing it ever since. I don’t think you could find too many more committed people to the Jewish community than myself.
I feel that my good fortune needs to be shared and I’ve been very lucky to have married someone who’s thinking is parallel to mine. We’ve been together for 63 years and both been very, very lucky, and we know that, so we try to be helpful and philanthropic to support the community wherever and whenever we can. We’ve done a lot of things that we are very proud of and I think contributing to the funding of the professorship of the Jewish Studies program at the University of Washington is certainly one of our greatest investments. I always remind people that funding infrastructure is important and not a waste of money. We felt that if there was an endowed professorship, whoever is chairing the Jewish Studies program would be able to be relieved of some of the teaching responsibilities so they could dedicate time to building the program, and that’s exactly what happened. It’s been so wonderful to see how the program has grown and I think that its impact on the whole community has been very positive way.
Where do you envision the Seattle Jewish community ten or twenty years from now?
I hope that Samis dollars combined with our commitment to the community and together with our local partners and agencies will keep the community vibrant and healthy. I am very concerned about not reinventing the wheel or throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is a big effort to be inclusive and to develop leadership, which is very difficult, but my hope is that between the leadership of Samis and its resources, in combination with organizations such as the Federation, JCC and Jewish Family Service, we can all work together on achieving common goals. Samis can’t do it all alone. The community needs to come together to make decisions and encourage everyone’s participation. If we are to thrive as a Jewish community, then everyone has to work together. We can’t forget that everyone individual in our community brings something very special to the table.