Putting his own twist on a frequently invoked slogan, Lou Weiss, the newly elected president of Orange County's
Jewish Federation, intends to make inclusiveness a priority during his tenure.
Rather than "united we stand," Weiss is adopting the motto, "united we flourish." His other goals are to demonstrate solidarity with Israel, support a soon-to-break- ground Jewish campus in Irvine and better the organization's fund raising.
"I love being a Jew here in Orange County," says Weiss, 54, a marketing consultant and 18-year Federation board member who outlined his aims for the coming year recently from the ocean-view deck of his Laguna Beach home. Over two decades, he has played a role developing many of the county's Jewish organizations, including the Orthodox shul in a former bank branch that is walking distance from his own home. "Anyone who is a clear thinker can rise to where ever they want to here," he says. "You don't have to be rich."
While other regions have a more concentrated Jewish population and more established institutions, Weiss sees a benefit in the area's relative immaturity. "There is amazing growth potential. Where there is a large Jewish population, you can't stand out. This is the ideal critical mass."
Weiss assumes leadership of the county's highest-profile Jewish organization as its annual campaign, which supports Jewish schools and services, grew by 12 percent to a record $2.06 million, even as the community contributed another $457,000 to an Israel emergency fund. Any improvement runs counter to a national survey of annual giving released in June, which shows a 2.3 percent drop in charity last year, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. That marks the first time in seven years that contributions have dropped in inflation-adjusted terms and shows the affects of the recession and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
The campaign gains by the Costa Mesa-based Federation permit budget increases of 15 percent to the Bureau of Jewish Education and Jewish Family Services, a counseling agency, which both rely on Federation fundraising for a portion of their operations. Among the other Federation-supported groups, financial support of college and high school social clubs declined and support for a teen task force and community chaplain eliminated, according to the group's annual report.
"Our goal was to meet $2 million and we exceeded it," says Bunnie Mauldin, the executive director, describing the year as "unusual" due to the Sept. 11 attacks, a stock market downturn and increased financial needs by Israel.
Even so, the Federation set aside funds to recognize special needs in the local Jewish community, such as the national Hillel Foundation, for its Birthright Israel trips for college students; the Jeremiah Society, for people with developmental disabilities; the Jewish Educators' Association, for ongoing professional development of religious school teachers and principals, and the Community Scholar Program, for countywide Jewish adult education programs.
Weiss, a former member of the allocations committee that divvies up Federation funds, describes the process as "wrenching" decision-making. The results, though, reflect the organization's efforts to distribute funds equitably while closely examining the recipients' operations, he says.
While raising a dollar may take twice as much effort as it did when the economy was booming, Israel's crises opened hearts and wallets here more swiftly than experimenting with new approaches to appeals. "Five-hundred-dollar checks came from people who were small givers to the [Federation] campaign," points out former Federation President Charles Karp.
Karp, a retired businessman from Newport Beach who served three years as Federation president, concedes he fell short of his own fundraising goal. It took longer than anticipated, he says, to overcome hard feelings he encountered in people who previously responded to Federation appeals. "I thought we would get to $3 million. I'm glad we got as far as we did, but I'm sorry it didn't go further."
Weiss believes the success of his own aspirations - -- particularly at unifying the community -- will get a boost from the visibility of a spacious new campus for Jewish agencies on Irvine's outskirts adjacent to Tarbut V'Torah Day School. Construction is expected to start this fall. "I want it to be the blessing it should be," he says.