Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh’s incoming board chair was given a gift.
It’s not a watch or a plaque; the gift, Jan Levinson said, is Federation’s strategic plan.
“It’s a fabulous plan,” he said. “It has every good idea that anybody could ever think of for either the Jewish community or the general community.”
When Levinson is installed as board chair at Federation’s Sept. 6 annual meeting, his goal will be “actualizing” a strategy started in 2020.
Complete with Federation’s mission (cultivate resources, connect people and collaborate across the community to live and fulfill Jewish values) and vision (a flourishing Jewish community where everyone feels included, supported and inspired), the plan reflects the dedication of current board chair David Sufrin and consultants who helped the umbrella organization identify necessary goals and objectives, Levinson said.
Speaking by phone from his office downtown, Levinson noted several aspects of the plan.
The first goal, he said, is to “establish that the Federation is the leading convener and driver of initiatives that inspire every member of our diverse Jewish community to feel included, engaged, safe and supported.”
Doing so won’t be easy, but Levinson is up to the task, he said.
Since becoming active in Jewish communal life decades ago, there have been several sizable changes, he said: “The Jewish community is not really what it was like 20 to 30 years ago. It’s not just Squirrel Hill — it’s so much more.”
The strategic plan will meet these new “geographic positions and interests,” he continued: “We’re sort of branching into the way the world is today.”
For instance, Federation is positioning itself to address the rising costs of formal Jewish engagement, he explained.
Whether it’s sending a child to a Jewish day school or summer camp, or belonging to a synagogue, “it’s very expensive to lead a Jewish life,” he said.
Levinson’s understanding stems from years of communal involvement. Well before heading Federation’s board, he was active at Community Day School, the former Jewish Educational Institute of Greater Pittsburgh and the former Agency for Jewish Learning.
Levinson said he’s sensitive to the realities of increasing educational expenses at Pittsburgh’s three Jewish day schools: “The [Federation’s annual] campaign only raises so much, and the campaign does so much for so many different things, so, the EITC (Educational Improvement Tax Credits) is really the big place to get the money for the schools.”
Operated by the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, EITC enables eligible businesses to receive state tax credits for contributions to qualified organizations, including the Pittsburgh Jewish Educational Improvement Foundation — a foundation whose aim, according to Charity Navigator, is to support Federation’s “educational mission.”
Decades of communal involvement have evidenced the primacy of Jewish education, Levinson said: “A lot of the leaders in the community — and there are a lot of them — are coming from either the influence of Jewish education in the schools, or the camps or the synagogue.”
EITC’s role in supporting Jewish education is clear, Levinson continued: “We know where money is. And we know how to get the money. We just have to get people who are willing to participate in the program, and businesses that are willing to participate in the program.”
Federation’s investment in youth is critical, but it’s also necessary to recognize young people’s interests, he explained.
In recent years there’s been a generational shift in attitude regarding Israel. Among U.S. adults ages 18-29, 56% have an unfavorable opinion of the Jewish state, according to Pew Research Center. Additionally, nearly the same number of U.S. adults under age 30 “rate the Palestinian government as favorably (35%) as the Israeli government (34%).”
Grappling with those numbers is “part of recognizing that it’s a completely different world right now,” Levinson said. “Federation can only do its part. It can’t do everything, but we’re trying to bring more people into working with the Federation. We’re trying to let people know what we’re doing. And we’re trying to get more people to get involved. I don’t know that the Federation’s strategic plan is going to change the whole world, but we’re going to try to do our part.”
Challenges will always exist, but Levinson is optimistic about the future: “We’re doing everything we can to make it a much better, both Jewish community and general community.”
Levinson said his hopefulness stems from not only observing Federation’s efforts but from his work as an attorney and real estate broker.
“That’s the way I live my life,” he said.
For more than 25 years, Levinson has served as president and chair of Union Real Estate, a Pittsburgh-based property management company.
Sufrin, who will complete his role as Federation board chair at the upcoming annual meeting, credited Levinson’s considerable professional and volunteer experiences in the community.
“I know that he’ll hit the ground running in his new role, and I’m looking forward to working with him in the years ahead,” Sufrin said.
Federation President and CEO Jeffrey Finkelstein offered similar praise and called Levinson “an experienced, collaborative and adaptable leader with extensive volunteer experience in all of the areas of our mission: cultivating resources, connecting people and collaborating across the community.”
Levinson said there’s much for Pittsburghers to get excited about.
“Our new strategic plan has all the really good ideas that anybody could ever think of,” he said. “Once we put it in place, it’s going to have a major positive impact on the whole community.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.