When Leonard Barrack, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, and Ira M. Schwartz, its CEO, approached Mark Fishman during last month's Super Sunday phone-a-thon about taking on the role of Federation campaign chair, Fishman asked for some time to think about taking on this monumental new role.
First, he said, "I wanted to get some advice from my dad."
Bernard Fishman, an esteemed philanthropist and a respected leader of countless Jewish organizations, died in February 2006. However, the strong bonds that father and son shared in both their personal and business lives have survived the loss.
Fishman succeeded his father as president of Fishman & Tobin, a children's apparel company founded in 1914 by his grandfather and great-uncle.
"Dad's desk remains in the office we shared, and I speak with him often," said Fishman, adding that "he knew everything about me and I, him, and we always enjoyed talking things over."
The timing and the setting of their most recent conversation was particularly conducive to a discussion about Jewish leadership.
"It was my dad's yahrzeit, and I was at Har Zion Temple to say Kaddish," said Fishman. After services, he said that he reached out to his father for guidance.
"Dad told me that while he understood that the campaign chairmanship was a big job and knew that I was very busy taking care of our family's business, he also knew that the current economy was creating enormous challenges for Jews who depend on Federation-funded programs," explained Fishman. "I received a clear message that my father felt that it was time for me to step up to the plate and lead the Federation campaign."
Jewish leadership is clearly in Mark Fishman's DNA. His father was a former Federation vice president and past president of the Federation Endowment Corporation; a past president of Har Zion Temple; and a member of the boards of Akiba Hebrew Academy (now Barrack Hebrew Academy), the Philadelphia Geriatric Center (now the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life), Jewish Theological Seminary and Hahnemann University.
His mother, Annabelle Fishman, was recently honored at Federation's Lion of Judah luncheon for her longtime commitment to women's philanthropy. In 1978, she founded the Daughters of Rachel, forerunner to Lion of Judah.
"Both of my parents have been the very best role models that anyone could have, raising me to believe that those who are fortunate have an obligation to give back to their community," he said.
Already an Established Figure
Mark Fishman is already well-established as a leader in the Greater Philadelphia Jewish community. He currently serves as the convener of Federation's Institute for Advanced Jewish Leadership, a yearlong program for men and women poised to assume key leadership roles in Federation and other Jewish organizations.
He also serves on the Federation board and on the boards of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, the Center for Learning and Leadership, the Cancer and Blood Institute of Hahnemann Hospital, as well as on the Board of Visitors of the Duke University School of Law, where he earned his J.A.
Fishman said that he's been inspired by the "feel good" experiences he has had through his philanthropic involvement with Children's Hospital and Duke University to suggest changes in the way Federation professionals and lay volunteers communicate with and recognize campaign donors.
"During my 22 years on the board at CHOP, I've participated in several fundraising efforts; however, the campaign in support of the hospital's Abramson Research Center was particularly meaningful," said Fishman. "Every time I looked at the building, I realized that my gift may be responsible for saving lives."
At a Duke University donor luncheon, Fishman had the opportunity to talk at length with a young person who told him that his life had been "transformed" by a scholarship that he had helped fund.
"I want people to feel this good about their gifts to Federation, and I want them to know that Federation values their generosity," said Fishman.
His strategy for achieving this goal includes "sharing the Federation story about the great work we do with as many people as possible."
Fishman believes that the "personal touch" is the most effective way to convey this information, and he hopes to significantly increase the number of campaign volunteers who are willing to talk with their fellow Jews about "the many people whose lives they can touch in Philadelphia, in Israel and around the world through their gifts."
Fishman became convinced about the effectiveness of this one-on-one approach during a volunteer experience with his 14-year-old son, Josh, while packing and delivering food for the Jewish Relief Agency.
Hunger relief is a personal passion of Fishman: "I am terribly upset that there are hungry Jews in Philadelphia, he said, adding that he was gratified to learn that Federation, through its Mitzvah Food Project and its support of organizations like JRA, counts such relief among its chief funding priorities.
"We stopped by one small apartment, where seven people share two rooms. My son asked me, 'How do they all find room to sleep?' " Fishman said that he was happy that his son shared his concern and commitment to making a difference.
Fishman patterns his Jewish community involvement upon the example set by his parents, who taught him to "Do as we do." Similarly, Fishman wants Josh and his two older siblings, 20-year-old Eddie and 24-year-old Samantha, "to follow the example that my wife, Jill and I set for them — to learn by the way we live our lives. They could have no better role model than Jill, a woman who is open, accepting and extremely passionate about her Jewish heritage."
Fishman feels that many share his wife's "passion" for being Jewish and living Jewishly.
Going forward, he hopes to make Federation "mensch-ier" by presenting the campaign as a vehicle for Jews to make "a powerful, impactful difference" in the lives of their people.