Years of Service: 8
Did you have a personal connection to Sam Israel before joining the board?
I did not have a personal connection with Sam a”h prior to joining Samis. That said, as rabbi of Ezra Bessaroth, I happily found myself in the company of longtime Samis trustees who were either related to or knew Sam very well. Sometime before his Aliyah in 2013, then-Samis rabbinic trustee Rabbi David Twersky asked me to take over his position. The first rabbinic Samis trustee was Rabbi William Greenberg a”h, rabbi of EB. As a tribute to both Sam and Rabbi Greenberg, and after consulting with other members of our community, I was honored to take on the position.
I don’t remember particular stories as much as I recall one of the retreats back in 2013. Amy Amiel put together a display of Sam’s memorabilia and personal belongings, items that reflected different parts of his personality and interests. What struck me the most was a series of letters that Sam had exchanged with individuals in Israel regarding philanthropical projects in Israel. I was impressed how Sam, a Jew who spent his life in Seattle and Soap Lake, would, from such a physical distance, maintain such an intense love for the land of Israel and the people of Israel.
What is the most meaningful story, event, or experience you can recall related to your service on the Samis Board?
Every board meeting has been highly meaningful. One of the things that we’ve talked about openly at the board level is the altruistic nature of the board, and how, despite our diversity, we work seamlessly towards our shared purpose. The Samis meetings are very animated, chocked full of goodwill, a board that knows how to respectfully debate the myriad of issues with which it deals.
Obviously over the last few years, and even starting in 2017 when I joined a Samis board trip in Israel, everything that I’ve been involved with here in Israel has been just so meaningful to me. The initiative and innovative spirit of Israelis, both natives and immigrants, in devoting their energies for Israelis, is truly inspiring. The Samis partnership in these initiatives has really helped me appreciate the diversity and the goodness of Israeli society, as well as the interdependence between Israeli and Diaspora communities.
Which area of the Foundation’s philanthropy most resonates with you and why?
As a Jewish educator, and as someone who taught extensively in Seattle’s Jewish schools, the future of Jewish education in the Seattle area most resonates with me. One of the things I began to appreciate more since the onset of Covid-19 was the need to explore online resources as a component of local Jewish day school education. Access to the finest materials and innovations from outside Washington state can certainly enhance the local Jewish educational experience. The applications are endless. One idea may be to invite guest speakers, live on Zoom, into our classes so that our students can appreciate the richness of Jewish learning around the world. Technology is also certainly of great relevance as the Samis strategic vision guides us to reach out to families whose kids, for whatever reason, are not attending our local day schools.
How has serving on the Samis Board impacted your perspective on philanthropy and the Jewish community?
Prior to becoming the Samis rabbinic trustee, as a Jewish educator, I was more a beneficiary of philanthropy with little appreciation of what’s going on behind the scenes. Over the past eight and a half years with Samis, I have begun to appreciate the pure scale of what’s going on: People invest massive amounts of time and personal resources into Jewish causes; foundations and philanthropic individuals combine forces and challenge each other to match each other’s gifts. Samis has obviously learned a lot from other foundations and has much to teach others about altruism and selflessness. Each trustee has much on his or her plate, and yet each trustee, over a period of many years, dedicates endless work and leisure time to the Samis cause. It all comes from the heart. The trustees’ inspiration is contagious and beautifully complements the tireless work of our professional staff.
Over the last few years, the formulation of our strategic plan has brought out a renewed sense of the necessity to be bold and proactive as we face the future.
Where do you envision the Seattle Jewish community ten or twenty years from now?
The Seattle Jewish population has grown significantly over the past decade and a half, despite recent departures of a number of veteran families from the city. In terms of pure numbers, I have no doubt that the city will continue to be attractive to many Jewish families. The question, from the Samis perspective, is the nature of the Jewish identity of the local Jewish population: How can Samis help cultivate, design and implement a comprehensive, collaborative, Jewish educational plan that accounts for the various perspectives of “communities” within the broader community ? At the most basic level, it seems to me that this is going to involve financial and administrative cooperation alongside a possible sharing of educational resources. I think that’s the best hope for fostering the growth of a more Jewishly literate and cohesive community.