Fifty-one years after going door to door and soliciting funds to help the fledgling State of Israel get off the ground, Jake Farber is at it again. But instead of trudging along Highland Avenue and seeking contributions of any size, Farber today meets in boardrooms and living rooms with major donors, whose contributions tend to run in the four- to six-figure range.
"It's a little different today," said Farber, general chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' 1999 United Jewish Fund.
The major challenge for the UJF today is to raise the ante from the flat campaigns of the past few years, which have yielded about $40 million in annual contributions, Farber said.
"This is the second-largest Jewish community in the United States," Farber said. "We should be able to raise $50 million."
To achieve that end, Farber, who headed the UJF's Major Gifts Division last year, is urging more face-to-face solicitations -- to reach the many people who don't give at all and to encourage those who do, to increase their pledges.
"We have a lot of excellent volunteers who do this work, but it's a tough business," he said. "I'm not asking for myself. The need in this community and overseas is so great. Close to 50,000 people live below the poverty line in our [Jewish Los Angeles] population. Approximately 15,000 of those are confined to their homes. We give them social help, bring meals to them."
Farber himself knows about poverty firsthand. Raised by a single mother in Boyle Heights during the Depression, he said that his family had little money. His mother still put whatever she could into the blue-and-white tzedakah box.
"She was a widow and worked all the time," said Farber, who was 8 when his father died. "We had nothing and lived in a tiny house with two bedrooms."
His mother worked as a seamstress to support him, his brother and sister. As a teen-ager, he delivered newspapers and did other odd jobs. After attending Roosevelt High School and serving in World War II, he enrolled at the University of Southern California, where he graduated in 1950 with an accounting degree. Farber joined his father-in-law's metal recycling firm, Alpert and Alpert Iron and Metal, becoming president in 1980 and chairman of the board in 1996.
Both he and his wife, Janet, have become committed to communal work over the years. Farber chaired the UJF Machinery and Metals Division; serves as a Jewish Federation/Valley Alliance board member; and is a major contributor to the campaign to construct a new sports and youth complex at the Bernard Milken Campus in West Hills.
A board member and immediate past chair of Camp Ramah, Farber currently serves on the board and executive committee of the University of Judaism; he is also a board member of the Anti-Defamation League.
Farber and his family have been members of Temple Adat Ari El in North Hollywood since 1960. He was vice president and chair of the drive to build a day school at the synagogue. Janet has served as the Federation's Women's Conference president and chair of the Women's Valley Alliance campaign, among other posts.
The Farbers are parents of three grown children and live in Sherman Oaks.
Bill Bernstein, UJF campaign director and Federation associate executive vice president, praised Farber for bringing a "wealth of experience and knowledge" to the job of general campaign chair. "He truly believes in the principle of tzedakah, and that ever Jew should have an opportunity to live a decent life," Bernstein said.
Farber replaces 1998 general campaign chair Sandy Gage.