Chevy Chase resident Shelly Kupfer, the former Jewish Federations of North America chair of National Women’s Philanthropy, spent eight summers of her childhood at Young Judaea camps, immersing herself in Jewish community.
The experience is at the core of the 55-year-old’s Jewish identity and what ultimately led her to get involved in The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington in 2003. Since then, she’s been looking to ways to support and give back to the community.
Kupfer was among the recipients of the 2022 Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award presented at the International Lion of Judah Conference, recognizing leaders who “embody the vision and spirit of Lions of Judah through a commitment to tzedakah, tikkun olam, and community service.”
“Our Jewish community is so special,” the Adas Israel Congregation member said. “And I just think it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of it and to be able to give back whenever I can.”
Kupfer lives with her husband, Jeff, and three children.
How would you describe how you embody the vision and spirit of Lions of Judah?
Jewish philanthropy is definitely a priority for myself and my family. One thing about being a Lion of Judah is knowing that Lions of Judah are a global — almost like a philanthropic — club that I’m proud to be a part of. When I meet other Lions of Judah, I know that they possess a lot of the same values that I do: wanting to help support and further Jewish people on a global scale.
There are places in the world where Jews live that they need financial support or social services support. I say all the time that my gift to Federation — no gift touches more lives. And I’ve been fortunate to travel on a lot of Jewish Federation missions, and internationally to see firsthand where the dollars from my gift go, whether it’s [to] people in the former Soviet Union or down in Argentina with the economic crisis, helping the Jewish community and places all over the world survive.
You’re the former JFNA chair of National Women’s Philanthropy. Do women still need their own philanthropy division?
Yes. In the world of philanthropy, studies show that the trend is that the wealth in this country is going to be held by women. In the next less than 10 years, they’re going to hold the majority of wealth, simply because women inherit twice — both from spouses and from parents.
Women tend to be the ones to decide the philanthropy of their families and where their money goes. So to the extent that women are the ones who are making those decisions, I think it’s really important that women are the ones who make the gift and have a voice and are the leaders in their philanthropic circles.
What does “building community” mean to you?
Community is such a huge part of why I do what I do. One of the things that has driven me throughout my entire Federation journey — or even what got me started on this path — was [that] I have a son with special needs. Being a part of a Jewish community that’s inclusive has honestly been such a blessing for our family and has given my son such opportunities and experiences and support. We’re just grateful to be living in a very inclusive community. That’s just one specific example.
There’s our local Jewish community, which again, I’m so grateful to be a part of, but there’s the worldwide Jewish community which, whether I’m traveling on a Federation mission or traveling with my family, we always make a point of seeking out Jewish community, no matter where we go.
One thing I love about being a part of the Jewish community is traveling to different places and always feeling a bond with the Jewish community, no matter where I am, and seeing what the traditions are there and getting a flavor and a taste of what that is.
You’re phenomenally involved. What do you attribute it to?
I was like the poster child for Jewish Federation because I went to my first event and then literally showed up the next morning, asking to get involved.
Just being a part of the Jewish community was motivation enough. One thing I always find so interesting is as I’ve been involved as I think I am and the Jewish community: There’s so much more out there that I don’t even know about — the different people who are involved in different things in the Jewish community, which just amazes me every time I learn more about what’s out there.
If you had one piece of advice to the community, what would it be?
If an opportunity presents itself to become more involved or to learn more about the community, I would say, take it with open arms and accept it. ■