Commitment and Passion: The Makings of A Jewish Communal Professional

I first met Bob Hiller in the summer of 1971 when I was a student at the School of Jewish Communal Service of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles (now the Jewish School of Nonprofit Management). Although I had worked as a group worker part-time Jewish community centers, I was just in the infancy of my career as a Jewish professional and I remember being in awe of such a Jewish communal veteran as Bob, particularly for his ability to articulate both the guiding values and critical issues facing the North American Jewish Federation system.

Now we all have the opportunity to glean from Bob’s lifelong commitment to the organized Jewish community and the passion he brought to each of his professional assignments. In Getting Results: Fifty Years of Opportunities and Decisions, Bob shares the many stories and vignettes that encompass his professional and volunteer career for fifty years. The book is an inspiration to both those who are active in the Jewish community and those who aspire to make a personal contribution to the Jewish world.

Bob wrote the book as he neared his 90th birthday and in looking back over his long and fruitful career, he takes stock of his many accomplishments and meaningful personal connections. Throughout his career he was committed to making every situation the best it could be. Never satisfied with doing just the minimal requirements, he made sure to go above and beyond for all of the positions he held both within the Jewish community and in the greater community, as well. If the reader takes away one thing from this memoir it is that Bob was never content to leave a position in the same state in which he found it.

His professional career officially began after he graduated from the University of Michigan’s School of Social Work in 1948 and immediately began to work for the local Community Chest (now known as the United Way). Two and a half years later Bob began working with Hank Zucker who was then the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, Ohio. It proved to be a tremendous opportunity that enabled Bob at the very beginning of his career to learn how community wide fundraising and allocation system worked from one of the premier Federations in North America.

The book not only traces Bob’s career but also shows how one Jewish communal professional was able to fulfill his passion for meeting the needs of his fellow Jews. He also shares how he was able to establish meaningful relationships with volunteer leaders. He understood instinctively that volunteer leaders are the basis for not only successful fundraising but also for the building and strengthening the community and its organizations and institutions.

In 1964 when he moved to Baltimore, Bob proceeded to establish himself as a fixture in the general community where he forged strong alliances with the general United Way campaigns as well as with local sectarian services, such as Catholic Charities. He remained committed to improving the lives of those in need, a passion that was exemplified by his leadership role following the riots in Baltimore in the late 1960’s. Responding to a call from a community leader, he immersed himself in the efforts to quell the residents and he worked directly with local leadership to ensure that calm would be maintained throughout the neighborhoods. In addition, he acted as a liaison with the local Jewish community by bringing the Hebrew Free Loan Association into the mix to offer financial assistance to the victims of the social unrest.

But for Bob, working in the dual arenas of the general and Jewish communities was not enough. He also took it upon himself to create the paradigms that would change the nature of professional and voluntary leadership. He supported the creation of the Baltimore Institute of Jewish Communal Service as a way to bring about a stronger and committed pool of professionals working in the field.

He was concerned about the paucity of women in leading volunteer communal positions. During his tenure with the Associated Jewish Council and Welfare Fund in Baltimore, Bob worked hard to identify women who had the potential to make a difference in the community. To his credit he mentored people like Shoshana Cardin and Barbara Himmelrich who have made significant contributions on both the local and national level.

Although Bob tried to retire at the age of 57, he was drafted to head the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, known as CJF, (now part of the Jewish Federations of North America) in 1978. During the years he was with this national organization he did not play a “caretaker” role and instead positioned the CJF as the organization representing the Federations at the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). Thanks to his involvement and vision, the CJF’s role was redefined and a number of Balimore volunteer leaders went on to assume key leadership positions on JAFI’s Board of Governors.

In spite of Bob’s efforts to really retire in 1980, he assisted the Krieger family in establishing the Zanvyl and Isabelle Krieger Fund, that played a major role in both the general and Jewish community. It was most fitting that Bob’s contribution to the philanthropic world was developing a family foundation and assisting the family in learning about identifying and meeting needs of the community. This final chapter in Bob’s professional career is really about “Getting Results” as he counseled the family as they made major contributions to both health care and culture.

Anyone who is interested in becoming involved in the voluntary sector and the Jewish community can learn a great deal from reading this book. The combination of Bob’s commitment to professional values and ethics and his undying passion for improving peoples’ lives makes for meaningful reading. Bob’s memoir can serve as an example for anyone interested in becoming involved and succeeding in Jewish communal life.

Getting Results: Fifty Years of Opportunities and Decisions by Robert I. Hiller (2011: Poplar Press, $30)

Stephen G. Donshik, D.S.W., is a lecturer at Hebrew University’s International Leadership and Philanthropy Program and has a consulting firm focused on strengthening non-profit organizations and their leadership for tomorrow. Stephen is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.