As June began, so did The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' new Hi-Tech Division. The Federation officially booted up its Web-surfing coalition by the surf, with a shindig at the Santa Monica Beach-combing Casa del Mar Hotel.
Co-chairs Sheryl Biesman of JOBTRAK.COM and Beth Ifcher of GO.com addressed a cocktail reception of several hundred young professionals involved in some aspect of the online, interactive, new media and technology fields. The Hi-Tech Division ultimately intends to involve the dot-com set in community-building causes sponsored by The Federation. Ifcher announced that the first community project by the Hi-Tech collective will be to equip senior citizens at Menorah Housing with the Internet and teach them online basics.
"We know that this group wants to do a lot of hands-on projects that make a difference," says director Karen Sternfeld, who was among the driven young professionals on the Hi-Tech Division's founding committee. "Helping seniors through the Menorah Housing project will be just the first of many to come."Ifcher told The Journal that the Hi-Tech Division will not only become a prime networking opportunity, but will serve as an effective tool in "educating people about where the money is going to. I never knew, until I got involved, what humanitarian services The Jewish Federation offers."
Indeed, interest in the division mirrors an increase in the union between the business world and philanthropy. Charitable contributions in the United States increased 9.1 percent (up to $190 billion) following a dry spell throughout the 1990s when contribution levels stagnated, despite dramatic economic growth, according to Newsweek.
As for Sternfeld, she couldn't be more pleased with the enthusiastic reaction to both the division and the launch event.
"A number of donors have recently become involved in this industry and expressed a desire to network with each other and give back to the community," says Sternfeld, who has also been an active component of Federation's Entertainment Division and noticed an overlap of people involved in the entertainment and hi-tech industries.
The Hi-Tech Division's steering committee includes top industry people, from creators of Internet startups to the online presence of major companies. Charles Chagnon of eToys; Brad Crystal of Disney Interactive; Lucy Goldenhersh of Universal Studios; Seth Greenberg of eHobbies.com; Michelle Kleinert of Shop2Give; David Landau of ZEFER; Steve Price of Mattel Interactive; Debbie Simon of Houlihan, Lokey, Howard & Zukin; and Martin Waschitz of Merrill Lynch, among others.
Reps from companies such as Business.com, Styleclick.com and Activision also mingled among the pasta-and-portobello-mushroom-partaking participants.
Derek Fromson, an editor for latimes.com, is new to Federation happenings, but told The Journal that he was attracted to the division because it looks like "a really good way to meet people" in his business.Maxine Morris, director of strategic development and alliances at Internet Wire, made it down to the reception right after work.
"I think it's an incredibly positive step for the Jewish community to stay in touch with the latest in the technology community," says Morris. "It's more fun to do business with people you have a personal connection with. The Internet business is all about relationships and this can only make us be more successful."
Mark Treitel, who works legal for www.com, brought a date down to the ocean-front gathering "to meet people and see what they're offering. Internet has become a hot sector, on the same level as the entertainment field. Its cache has risen."
According to Ifcher, this is not the first time The Federation has attempted to court the cyber community. A similar branch was introduced a few years back but the timing was not right. This time around though, Ifcher says that "response has been overwhelming," and judging from the packed inaugural networker, the Hi-Tech Division seems destined to become a vital bridge between The Federation's outreach agenda and the Jewish community's young and savvy set.
For more information on the Hi-Tech Division or to get on the mailing list for future events, call (323) 761-8214; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
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