As David Sufrin takes the reins as new board chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, he’s got a lot on his mind. Supporting and strengthening the skills of the agency’s volunteers, figuring out how to better engage young adults, widening the communal tent to be more inclusive.
But foremost in the thoughts of the lifelong Pittsburgher as he picks up the baton from outgoing board chair, Meryl Ainsman, is helping the Federation’s eight beneficiary agencies recover financially from losses related to the coronavirus crisis.
“As I begin, we are in the midst of a pandemic and all of the agencies have suffered financial losses and logistical challenges,” said Sufrin, who through the years has held several volunteer positions with the Federation, including chair of its Community Campaign. “My top priority for Federation is to help those agencies recover as best they can.”
To that end, he will be leading the Federation in a fundraising project to help the agencies make up some of the financial shortfalls they face as a result of COVID-19.
Separate from the Federation’s annual Community Campaign, the new fundraising effort is in its final planning stages, Sufrin said. The goal is to raise at least between $8 million and $10 million.
The funds will help the agencies provide assistance to their constituents who have been negatively impacted by the pandemic.
“We’ve already received some good, solid commitments, one of which was anchored by the Jewish Healthcare Foundation,” Sufrin said, referring to a JHF emergency grant of $2.5 million to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
Sufrin has been immersed in volunteerism since 2005, when he retired after selling his family’s business, Sufrin Supplies. He was inspired to get involved by his two daughters, Lianne and Becca, who became committed to Jewish causes through their experiences at religious school and youth groups. Lianne is currently Pittsburgh’s field manager of OneTable, an organization that helps young adults create and share Shabbat dinners. Becca formerly worked at 412 Food Rescue.
“I really admired their commitment,” Sufrin said.
His own volunteer work has included chairing the effort to find a new location for the Federation’s office, serving as the Federation’s development chair and chairing the board of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
In addition to focusing on the financial security of the Federation’s beneficiary agencies – the JCC, Jewish Family and Community Services, the Jewish Association on Aging, Jewish Residential Services, Hillel Jewish University Center, Community Day School, Hillel Academy and Yeshiva Schools – Sufrin will be working to bolster the skills of the Federation’s volunteers through coaching and constructive feedback, he said.
“We want to make sure we are taking the best advantage of our volunteers with the skills they have, and should they not have skills in certain areas that they want to leverage in their volunteer work, we want to help them learn how to do it in the best possible way,” said Sufrin.
“It might be how to best speak to a group or a committee or how to run a meeting or just how to focus on top priorities. I want to try to improve what we already have, which is already some pretty good, dedicated volunteers, and try to push them to the next level.”
Sufrin also will be focusing on enabling and promoting wider community inclusion and involvement – among the younger generations as well as “Jews and people of all types, colors and lifestyles,” he said.
Acknowledging that social distancing mandates during the pandemic make hosting in-person events difficult, he is hoping to find compelling online programming, even for the short term, that could have a wide appeal.
Beyond Pittsburgh’s Jewish community, Sufrin aims to advance outreach and collaboration with other minority communities.
“In the environment we’re in, the social injustice we see on the streets, I think this just is a great time to help our community mesh better and better with other communities in Pittsburgh and come up with a more unified front when we face challenges from the outside: bigotry, white supremacy, that type of thing,” Sufrin said.
Security remains a top concern for Jewish Pittsburgh, and the community has made great strides in preparedness, he said.
With a nod to the work of Brad Orisini and Shawn Brokos – former and current community security directors, respectively – Sufrin noted that the community’s physical structures have been strengthened and that Federation’s staff and volunteer leaders have been “emotionally strengthened.”
“I just want to keep that momentum going, not let our guard down,” he said.
Immediate past board chair Ainsman praised Sufrin’s talents and commitment.
“While it is bittersweet moving on as Federation board chair, I am delighted that Dave will be assuming that role,” she said. “Dave has a long history of leadership and involvement in both the Jewish and secular communities. I know that the Federation is in able and capable hands.”
Hoping to build on the work of senior volunteers who have provided him with mentorship, Sufrin said he would be taking “advantage of their knowledge and guidance and skills so that I can do the best job I can. I’m excited to take the reins here and I’m ready.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.