Nearly 400 women gathered at the Scottsdale Hilton on March 4 for IGNITION! The event was co-chaired by Anita Gutkin and DeeDee Vecchione and featured Jane Weitzman, philanthropist and executive vice president of Stuart Weitzman.
Weitzman shared the history of Jews in America beginning with their arrival in the 1600’s to New Amsterdam and how they were shunned by the existing community. After lobbying the community’s leaders, the new arrivals were granted permission to stay under the stipulation that they take care of themselves. This has been the way, until the 20th century. She first noticed the shift when giving to the Federation began to decline and now she sees bar and bat mitzvah projects that save the whales or helps the local animal shelters.
“Don’t get me wrong, I want my grandchildren to see whales and elephants, but our rabbis and our parents need to recognize what is happening and begin to teach the value of kol yisrael aravim zeh, la’ zeh, taking care of each other, early in life so that it becomes a way of life,” said Weitzman.
Weitzman shared slides of her missions with the Federation’s overseas partner, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, including a visit with one of the last surviving Jews in Egypt—at the time of her visit, there were only 12. She shared the work she is funding in education with Ethiopian Jews who have made Aliya to Israel and the increased need to help Jews around the world, stating that with the collapse of the Former Soviet Union, we have displaced Jews for the first time since World War II.
Longtime Federation supporter Sandy Rife gave an impassioned plea for the work of the organization, comparing it to a symphony performing “concerts” throughout the Valley, in Israel and around the world. She reminded guests that “symphony membership and season tickets” are open to everyone, “Season tickets to all performances have many perks…but, more so, you come to realize the personal satisfaction of giving tzedakah (charity), performing mitzvah (good deeds) and meeting other orchestral followers with similar interests, creating long-lasting friendships.”
Women’s Philanthropy Chair Julee Landau Shahon was recognized for her new role on the on the national Women’s Philanthropy board of the Jewish Federations of North America. Landau Shahon then presented Gail Ober with the Rising Star Award leadership and involvement with Women’s Philanthropy and the Federation.
Sandy Belfer received the Gerda Weissmann Klein and Kurt Klein Award for her many years of involvement and dedication to the Jewish community through her generosity and leadership from Gerda, who moved the audience with a personal memory of a touching and heartfelt gift she received from her childhood friend during the dark days of her time in a death camp. She also spoke of how much the Federation meant to her and continues to mean to the community.
Afterwards, Weitzman stayed and signed copies of her book, Art & Sole, for guests.