For Hilary Smith Kapner, 61, Judaism is a commitment in both her private and public lives. She’s a member of Congregation Beth El of Montgomery County and her business, HSK Consulting, has advised many Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
But no Jewish cause animates her more than Israel.
Why is it important to you to use your talents and skills to help both the Jewish community and Jewish organizations?
I grew up assimilated. I was involved in my youth group. Then I got a Federation scholarship when I was 17 to go on a six-week trip to Israel. And that really changed my life. It was the first time I felt a really big connection to the Jewish community.
Israel is really what spearheaded all of my commitment to Judaism, the world Jewish community and Israel. I think that Israel is the embodiment of the Jewish people.
What was it about that trip that really spoke to you?
It was the first time that I saw that Jews were in every profession in every walk of life, which you don’t get to see in suburban New Jersey. It broke the stereotypes. I don’t think I ever met anybody [until then] who wore a kippah. I was on a kibbutz for two weeks. I saw people in the agricultural world. And the connection to the history of the Jewish people. My family came to the United States in the 1800s. In Israel, you met Ethiopian Jews; you met African Jews; you met Mizrachi Jews; Jews from all over the world. I hadn’t known about that. I had this commitment to Israel after that. I swore I would go junior year abroad. So I went to Tel Aviv University. I decided, why don’t I immerse myself in the Jewish community?
Where did it go from there?
Spring break senior year. I came back. One of my mother’s friends was involved in Hadassah. She asked my mother to host the meeting. I was sitting on the stairs, watching these women talk about how to raise money. I said that’s something I’d want to do. So I said I’m going to apply to Jewish organizations. UJA Federation, I got a call from them. They asked if I wanted to take a job as an assistant fundraiser. So I worked at UJA in New York for four years. It was a lot of young people. They wanted to keep the young people in the Jewish communal world. So they sent [me] to get a master’s in social work at Yeshiva University. A summer block program. A two-year program, and then you had to give two years back to the Federation.
How did the commitment to Israel continue to manifest itself during those years?
I worked at Georgetown University. I was working and raising a family. But I was still going to Israel. And after 9/11 there was the [Second] Intifada. I said, “I want to get involved in the most impactful organization.” So I got involved in AIPAC. They leverage whatever money you give or raise.
I attended different AIPAC events and became the chair of the Greater Washington Leadership Council. Then I went on to the national council and eventually to the board of directors. I just thought that I could have the greatest impact through this organization. On making sure that Israel was safe and secure.
How did AIPAC have that impact?
I could see firsthand how politics impacts pro-Israel policies. And building bridges between the U.S. and Israel is the way to make sure the Jewish state is secure. If Israel is not able to deal with the missiles coming in from Gaza and the threats from Iran, then other organizations are going to suffer. ■