Leadership and Legacy: Women’s Philanthropy Chairs Celebrate Power of Community

August 16, 2019 — The Jewish Federation of Greater Houston celebrated its dedicated leaders with a luncheon honoring 26 past Women’s Philanthropy Chairs at Raquel Goldberg’s home in June.

Goldberg welcomed the “Women of Valor” who represent more than 60 years of history and read the names of Women’s Philanthropy chairs who have passed on. Each of the women took turns sharing stories of what they accomplished on behalf of the community.

“You use your talents and passion to make the world better. Look around and think of the impact this room has had on the Jewish community,” Goldberg told the women.

She also shared what the Federation has meant to her personally.

“Federation has brought me back to my roots and given me the tools to give back the legacy my family gave to me. And it has given me an opportunity for my children to grow up Jewish in this community,” Goldberg said.

The Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy Division is a place for female leaders in the community to make a difference through their support of the Federation. Each of the women who attended the luncheon have dedicated their time and talents to build a thriving Jewish community in Houston and support Jewish people around the world.

Suzanne Jacobson, Federation Senior Vice President of Legacy and Major Gifts, who has worked with each of the women in various capacities during her more than 40-year tenure, said “it really has been about relationships and experiences—the Jewish experiences we shared together are how we built relationships and created a stronger community.”

Elyse Kalmans, who will take the reins from Goldberg as the next Women’s Philanthropy Chair, said she is looking forward to the future of Women’s Philanthropy and the Federation.

“As we try to engage the next generation of women, while at the same time trying to engage our longtime supporters, to be successful and strengthen relationships across the community—great experiences with Federation are key to doing that,” Kalmans said.

Over the course of the luncheon, the history of Women’s Philanthropy in Houston unfolded through the women’s personal stories. From its beginning in 1947, this group created an opportunity for women to participate in and lead the community. It evolved from early parlor meetings, to Women’s Day, which was the predecessor to Collage, the current Women’s Philanthropy luncheon.

Memories Shared

Sandra Finkelman, Chair from 2009-2012, said one of her most poignant memories was from the visit to a Jewish summer camp in Hungary during a leadership mission.

“Jewish children came together to experience Jewish camp. Some arrived and never even knew they were Jewish until they got to this camp. It was the most amazing thing to see them and talk to them,” Finkelman said.

Frances Friedman, Chair from 2003-2005, also said the leadership missions made a strong impression on her, particularly because she is a first generation American whose parents are from the former Soviet Union.

She remembered visiting a mother and daughter in Tiblisi, Georgia, in the FSU, who lived in a condemned apartment building, and they had to share a bathroom and kitchen with everyone on their hall. The mother had been a champion chess player and the daughter managed a computer office, but she couldn’t afford her own computer.

“When asked what she would do if she had more money, the mother said, without hesitation, ‘I would buy fruit.’ When I think of the fruit I buy and overbuy and it goes rotten, it was a powerful thing,” Friedman said. “As a first generation American I thought I could be one of these people, I could be the visitee instead of the visitor.”

Lila Rauch, Chair in 1963, remembered traveling to Israel and attending the national convention in Washington, D.C.

“It was entirely different in those days than what you have today—an entirely different way of thinking and doing,” Rauch said. “For the first time in our history we raised $100,000. At that time that was a lot of money.”

“Thank you to each and every one of you,” Rauch said to the other women present. “To see you young people, it just makes my heart burst. We have a history and tradition that people look up to and it’s because of all of you.”

Bitsy Proler, Chair in 1970, said the Federation gave her leadership training and confidence.

“The greatest thing this organization helped me with was to prepare me to chair other organizations in the community. It made me aware I could stand up and talk, organize and structure myself where I could stand up and lead. As Jewish women we are responsible for our community,” she said.

Lois Frankel, Chair from 1959-1960, shared how during her time it was expected that the Chair would go around speaking to different groups across the greater Houston area to raise awareness. Frankel became a sought-after speaker that other communities reached out to and she traveled to places such as Birmingham, Alabama.

“They never let me speak to men’s divisions, only women,” she said. “One time a man who was supposed to speak in Birmingham got ill and they asked me to stay and speak to the men. It went really well. They got up and clapped, which made me feel really good.”

During her time, Frankel said, “I got to know the Jewish community and it’s been a wonderful, uplifting part of my life. Congratulations to all of you. Keep going until you’re as old as I am, standing here talking to people.”

Each year, the Federation hosts Collage, which connects hundreds of women from across the community and raises money for Jewish people here in Houston and around the world. In early 2020, the Federation and its Women’s Philanthropy Division will celebrate its 25th Collage luncheon.

For more information on Women’s Philanthropy, contact Suzanne Jacobson at sjacobson@houstonjewish.org or 713-729-7000.