by Emily Minton
The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington is getting ready to say farewell and thank you to its outgoing president, Stuart Kurlander, and hello and welcome to new President Liza Levy.
A retired teacher and mother of three, Levy, 52, attended her first Federation event in the late ’80s and has been involved ever since. The self-proclaimed “professional volunteer” has held multiple leadership roles within The Federation and is the co-founder of both the Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) and the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation.
WJW spoke with Levy, who will begin her two-year term as president on June 30, to learn more about her work in the community and her goals as the new president of The Federation.
What event initially lead to your involvement with The Federation in the late 1980s and what kept you coming back?
We had moved from South Africa to the area in 1984 and had been here for about two to three years. I was teaching preschool and one of the mothers invited me to a women’s philanthropy education program. It was my first exposure to organized Jewish community, and I ended up making friends and wanted to go back to Federation events and programs so that I could maintain those friendships and most importantly maintain my Jewish identity. By becoming involved with The Federation, I knew that I would never lose my Jewish identity, which is something that I feared would happen after leaving my community in South Africa.
Tell us about your various leadership roles that you have held within the community.
Over the years, I have worked very closely with Federation and was the president of women’s philanthropy and have chaired a number of things including a division of planning allocations and financial resource development. Outside of The Federation, I co-founded JCADA and the Tikkun Olam Women’s Foundation.
How do you feel about becoming president?
I think when you’ve worked hard at something for so many years, Federation has been a huge part of my life, it’s an enormous honor to be recognized. I have a passion for the Jewish community and what it brings to others and how people can be engaged and have their lives enriched just has my life has been enriched through The Federation. To me, becoming president is really the culmination of all these years of commitment, involvement, engagement, and it’s just such an unbelievable honor.
What will your responsibilities be as president?
As president you’re the face of The Federation and you have to be able to articulate the vision and mission of the organization and be able to move the agenda forward. My role is to make Federation’s name a positive, collaborative and go-to place in the community. Marketing is a huge piece of it so people can understand what The Federation is, why we exist and why we are necessary. Part of what I hope to do is to help people understand why Federation is relevant and how it’s a catalyst in the community for change and communication.
What are some of your goals for the next two years?
I think right now at Federation we have a great foundation that I would like to expand on in terms of engagement and developing close relationships with partner agencies and with synagogues and other Jewish organizations in the community. I really want to create opportunities for collaboration and for being a community together and working as one. I also want to listen and hear what others have to say about how the community could be better and be that catalyst for change. Change is happening and people are embracing it and the new face of The Federation. I want to continue to shake things up and continue to ask difficult questions and hear what people have to say and just be available to the community. Together with all of it, I want to raise funds so that our agencies can continue to do their important work to save lives, give people dignity and develop new initiatives in education, with seniors, those with special needs and the entire community. I want Federation to be that central presence.
How do you feel about following in the footsteps of Stuart Kurlander?
Stuart is a great leader and has been a great mentor to me. I really think that Stuart was instrumental in picking up with where Susie Gelman had left off and pushing the change agenda. He, together with Steve Rakitt, Federation CEO and executive vice president, really took the idea for change and innovation and ran with it. My hope is that we can keep building on the momentum that they have created. Stuart is a great friend, I’ve known him for many years and it’s really been and honor and a pleasure to work with him because he’s always so available and prepared to listen and has been a great guide for me.
What are you most looking forward to as the new president?
I’m most looking forward to the relationships in the community that can be developed for myself and for Federation as a whole and to strengthen those connections and build a trust that the community needs to see. I’m looking forward to taking the ideas that we have and seeing them flourish, and I’m excited to see how people respond to them, and how we take their feedback, evaluate it and put it back into the community so that people can feel the value of the work that we’re doing every single day.
Why is an organization like The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington so critical to the community?
Having an organization that can see the entire community from a 30,000-foot view and has connections and relationships across the community is really important. No other organization is so in touch and connected with the community and only Federation can have that overarching view of what’s happening on the ground. Being the fundraiser for the community is also critical as the funds that we raise help push [initiatives] even further and help create conversations so that everyone can work together in the community. I don’t think any other organization can be a catalyst in the same way.