By PHYLLIS WANG
Board Chairwoman of the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York
I have been involved with and volunteering for the Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York (JFNENY) for more than 15 years. But, for me, the real “Aha!” moment first came back in 2012 and I think that I can trace a direct line from that moment until the moment earlier this summer when I was installed as the board chairwoman at JFNENY.
Communication Is Key
In 2012, I had the privilege of co-chairing Federation’s Strategic Planning process with my friend Louis-Jack Pozner. During that process, we looked at a nu key issues, including: “How was Federation perceived in the broader community?” What we knew anecdotally and discovered empirically was that we were seen narrowly as a fund-raising organization rather than a community service organization. The community, in general, seemed to know little, if anything, about why and what happened with the funds raised. That, for some, was a serious cause of resentment… so that Federation became just another organization looking for them to contribute their money.
I realized then that we needed to do a better job communicating our mission and the impact that the Federation’s efforts make in our community and in Israel. During our strategic plan discussions, we focused on several key areas of engagement. Those included focusing on our community’s young children, young adults, and seniors. We have emphasized leadership training for the current and next generation of leaders in our — and the world’s— Jewish communities. We have deepened our relationship with Israel and our partnership family in Eshkol. We have supported or introduced a broad swath of adult education and cultural experiences and we have expanded our commitment to welcoming newcomers to our community.
Boston Federation’s long-time executive, Barry Shrage, was known to say, “Our mission is not to fund-raise; we fund-raise to fulfill our mission.” For JFNENY, we needed to first explain to our stakeholders in the community what our mission is and then work to develop support for it.
It’s a long process…and I’ve only got two years in my position as chairwoman of the Federation but, since 2012, we have already accomplished so much in terms of focusing on and communicating our mission. Just as importantly, though, are the Federation’s efforts to convene partnerships in our community to focus on solving problems and accomplishing our mission.
When we went into lockdown last year, many in our community were struggling, mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. Working cooperatively with a number of agencies including Jewish Family Services, the Federation with its many volunteers and staff reached out one-on-one to talk with people in our community, to see what they needed and what they wanted, to make sure food and other needs were provided. Our community stepped up to support the Federation’s efforts and provided additional and significant funds to service the needs of the most vulnerable in our community.
For many years, I served as the president of the New York State Association of Health Care Providers. A statewide association representing home care in New York State. I know from that experience how powerful it can be to see a friendly face who shows compassion and wants to help. As our volunteers and staff went out and began knocking on doors last spring and summer, I know that as much as the offer to help was appreciated and essential, the simple connection that we were able to make was even more important.
In my 30 plus years in the Capital Region, I have had the opportunity to serve as the president of the board of trustees of my synagogue, Temple Sinai in Saratoga Springs, and have served on several other boards in our community and nationally. I’ve helped to develop the Saratoga Jewish Cultural Festival and Saratoga Jewish Community Arts, working with the Federation grants to provide community cultural and educational events with Saratoga Jewish organizations including the Skidmore Office of Jewish Student Life. Through all these experiences, I have learned the value of making personal connections and building relationships.
I hope that I can bring those lessons to my leadership of the board at JFNENY. I want to continue to increase our efforts to ensure that our community — and the entire Capital Region —understands the mission of Federation. And, at the same time, I want to expand our efforts to be welcoming and inclusive while also working to help educate our community about their need to support that mission for now and for generations to come.
Rabbi Joshua Ladon recently said, “Engaging with the system of mitzvot which draw us into community has been practice for moments like these, when we need community the most.” The Jewish Federation of Northeastern New York is here for our community —for our people — at this precise moment, when we need it most. I am honored to help lead our organization.