L’Chai –yim to Working in the Jewish Community

L'chaim!by Lisa Tabak

Being a professional Jew was certainly not something I ever considered especially while eating pizza at Haystack’s in San Francisco’s Noe Valley with my feathered haired high school posse. This summer marks my 18th year of working in the Jewish community, more specifically for the Jewish Federations of North America.

Graduating Cal in the early 90s meant no good entry level jobs so living in Israel became my and many other’s amnesty. It was an opportunity to learn some conversational Hebrew, live in a development town, experience what aliyah might be like, and as fate would have it, ironically befriend Rabbi Jim Brandt, the current CEO of the East Bay Jewish Federation & Foundation and his wife (my then roommate). Jim and I now work across the hall from one another. Another unsuspecting but grateful outcome was that I fell madly in love with Israel. Every Jewish holiday and much of what exists on my iPad connects me to that very special year in Eretz Yisrael.

Upon leaving Israel I was graduate school bound and pursued two masters degrees at Brandeis University, one of them in Jewish Communal Service. I was fortunate to be a FEREP (Federation Executive Recruitment and Education Program) Fellow from an organization called The Council of Jewish Federations which co-existed with the United Jewish Appeal. I had never heard of them but growing up on Star Trek I was open to this enterprise called Federation. Moreover the scholarship was handsome and the three years that I would need to work for them upon graduation at the very least would provide job security. After 24 months of classes, assignments, a thesis and a final intern project, I was a newly minted Jewish communal professional with credentials. To my good fortune, the San Francisco Federation was seeking a Young Adult Division (YAD) Director to engage Jews “under forty” (mind the quotes).

The Federation had me at my first event, ‘Jews on Canoes’, on the Russian River. In the late 90s I assisted the YAD board in creating the first Latke Ball which over the years has connected thousands of young Jewish adults, even if just for the night, on or around Christmas eve. I was hooked on this Federation community building endeavor. I made some amazing, lifelong friends. A month ago, I attended a simcha of one of them in Portland. It was at a YAD event that I fixed up my cousin and her husband who are married to this day with two beautiful daughters. In fact, just recently, I was sheepishly questioned in line at a Walgreens with “Didn’t you used to organize YAD Blue Mondays?” Following a nod and an eye roll, the person replied “I met my husband at one of those.”

It’s nachas personified.

Today, I work with donors and volunteers of various ages, all are young at heart and strong advocates of building Jewish community. I’m still matchmaking in the form of finding meaningful, valuable Jewish programs and organizations to suit donors’ philanthropic dollars. Our East Bay Federation and Jewish Community Foundation is convening community partners such as organizations, families and individuals who have a common mission as well as philanthropic intent to make our community a great place to be Jewish. It is deeply gratifying work. Of course there are the times when I let out a silent scream, but I think all professions have these moments. For 18 years, the Jewish community professional milieu has been a nourishing environment of which I feel blessed to be a part.

These days I am fortunate to participate more fully in community as a wife and mother. This perspective has made me even more vigilant in my professional pursuit. I am humbled to be in a position to ensure that our community continues to thrive for generations to come. As we enter the new year of 5774, let’s raise our glasses and toast L’Chai-yim to that.

Lisa Tabak is the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay based in Oakland. If you or someone you know is interested in working in the Jewish community, please contact her at lisa@jfed.org.