Over 80 years ago, Jack J. Spitzer was in his teens but already on his way to being an extraordinarily accomplished Jewish community leader and philanthropist. After graduating from UCLA at age 18, Jack served as Grand Aleph Gadol, the international president of the B’nai B’rith youth division.
That experience was the seed of leadership out of which Jack and his wife, Charlotte, established the Jack J. & Charlotte Spitzer Young Leadership Award for the Puget Sound Jewish community in the mid-1970s. Every year, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle has given up to two awards to up-and-coming leaders who have demonstrated exceptional commitment to service. The 2019 recipients are Cara Abrams-Simonton and Jonathan Feller.
Each award recipient receives a stipend toward attending the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly, or another Jewish communal conference or mission, and $500 to designate toward a local nonprofit Jewish organization.
“Both of my parents recognized the value of getting young people involved, giving them recognition and incentives to get involved in community,” says Rob Spitzer, Jack and Charlotte’s son, a past Federation board chair and chair of the award selection committee.
The award, Spitzer says, has demonstrated its value by spotlighting emerging leaders who have gone on to senior leadership roles in the community. There is no denying that “when you look at the list of people who’ve won the award, most of them have gone on to very high leadership roles in the community,” Spitzer notes.
Award recipients have served in senior lay and professional leadership positions at congregations and other local Jewish organizations, including the Federation, the Stroum Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service, the Samis Foundation, Hillel at the University of Washington, Herzl-Ner Tamid, Congregation Ezra Bessaroth, and others.
Albert Israel, who was a co-recipient of the award in 2006 along with now-Washington State Representative Tana Senn, says “winning the Spitzer Young Leadership Award was a real honor. The award symbolizes the passion we all have for maintaining a pipeline of leaders, insuring each generation offers men and women who will work for Jewish continuity.”
Jacquie Wiviott, who received the award in 2017, says a key part of the award’s value lies in building connections that are critical for leadership development. “There is a community of like-minded individuals for all of the recipients to learn from and continue to build upon our leadership skills for years to come,” Wiviott says.
As Spitzer says, the award “has been around long enough for a cadre of award recipients to become senior leaders” who can share the benefits of their experiences with the next generation of leaders. For this year’s Advanced Leadership Development Program (ALDP), Federation included a mentorship initiative that paired participants with previous Spitzer Award recipients and with Spitzer, who is keeping his parents’ legacy going. (See story on next page.)
“There is no handbook for a community leader,” says Spitzer. “The best way to learn is from someone who has been through it. I appreciate having been mentored myself by my parents, and to be in the process of recognizing and developing a person is passing on a gift that was given to me.”