In the tapestry of personal, volunteer and professional experiences that define her life, Nancy Astor Fox, the newly appointed vice chair of Federation's annual campaign, is influenced by author Gordon Zacks in his book, Defining Moments. His definition of fulfillment mirrors her own "philanthropic philosophy." Zacks writes that "fulfillment is about participating in something that's greater than you … in seizing the moment to serve the greater purpose … It is not enough to live life in the mind, it has to be lived in the heart. Lived with tears, Lived with joy. Lived with risk. Above all, lived with passion … ."
Nancy's passion for family is the guiding force behind everything she does for the Jewish community here and in Israel. "As Jews we are all responsible for one another … it is as if one member of one family is taking care of another," she says.
Nancy's deep love for Eretz Yisrael is influenced by the efforts of her late grandfather, Samuel Astor, who fought against the Ottoman Turks in what was then Palestine to further the movement for a re-created Jewish homeland. He served in the 39th Battalion, one of five battalions of Jewish volunteers sponsored by the Royal Fusiliers of the British Army.
Nancy felt as if she was walking in her grandfathers' footsteps during a recent trip to Israel with husband, Robb, and their fellow members of Federation's Institute for Advanced Jewish Leadership. During a visit to the Israel Defense Force officers' training course in the Negev, she dressed in uniform and participated in physical and leadership training with cadets.
"As Hatikvah, Israel's national anthem, played and our group saluted the Israeli flag, I felt enormous pride in my grandfather's efforts to help create a homeland for all Jews," she recalls.
Her passion for older adults can also be traced to strong family ties. During her early years of involvement with Federation, she attended a program sponsored by the Young Women's Division. She learned for the first time that members of her family directly benefitted from Federation-funded services.
"My grandmother was a resident of the former Philadelphia Geriatric Center, now the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, and my great-aunt attended programs at the JCCs David G. Neuman Senior Center in Northeast Philadelphia," she says, adding, "I was thrilled to discover that Federation provided funding for both of these programs, which so greatly enriched the lives of my loved ones."
This knowledge inspired her decision some 20 years ago to become involved in Federation and work on behalf of her "extended family" — the Jewish community. She joined Young Women's Division and quickly rose through the ranks of Division leadership to become co-chair. As Nancy matured, she moved up to Women's Division, serving as major gifts chair, as president and as campaign chair.
When Women's Division changed its name to Women's Philanthropy to more accurately reflect its mission and vision, Nancy continued her involvement, both locally and nationally.
She served as Development co-chair for Federation's Women's Philanthropy group, and recently completed a six-year term on the National Women's Philanthropy Board of United Jewish Communities and served as chair of UJC's "Reach for the Rubies" initiative. Nancy currently serves on the Advisory Board for UJC's National Women's Philanthropy group and conducts training for the organization across the country.
While maintaining her involvement with Women's Philanthropy, she has diversified her Federation family album to include service as vice president and chairwoman of Federation's Center for Social Responsibility. She has found that she connects with the center's focus on identifying and helping address the needs of the low-income elderly, the poor and persons with disabilities.
As testament to her passion for tzedakah, the Hebrew word for "justice," Nancy co-founded Miriam's Project, a Jewish communal response to domestic violence, and helped launch to Camp Shalom, a weekend program for domestic-violence survivors.
Nancy received the 1997 Mrs. Isidore Kohn Young Leadership Award, one of Federation's highest honors, for her many efforts on behalf of the Jewish community. She has also held leadership roles within Temple Beth Hillel/Beth El in Wynnewood, where the couple and their daughters, Emily and Rebecca, and the newest addition to the family — Rebecca's husband, Kenny Starr — participate.
She likens her varied experiences to the many squares on a colorful quilt. Each individual square is connected to the other by a commitment to "Jewish values, passions and ideals."
Her quilt now incorporates a challenging new design. She has agreed to work with her friend, Mark Fishman, Federation's campaign chair. In her new role as campaign vice chair, she plans to add "many more mispocha" to the Federation family. Her goal is ambitious — 100 percent participation in Federation's annual campaign.
"We have to raise more money, so that we can do more for our people," insists Nancy.
Shared Interests and Experiences
To achieve results, she plans to create more opportunities for people to connect to Federation through shared interests and life experiences.
"Women's Philanthropy, Jewish Federation Real Estate and Renaissance — a group for young individuals and families — have paved the way by creating dynamic points of entry into Federation involvement," she says. She is working with Fishman to expand these groups — now called affinities — to include Medical Arts and Professional Services.
Nancy says she is optimistic that by nurturing the growth of affinities, "we will have more people at the table and be able to accomplish so much more."
Her professional life is intrinsically connected to her volunteering. Nancy, who serves as associate director of the Gerda and Kurt Klein Foundation, a nonprofit foundation in Narberth that makes the lessons of the Holocaust a living-history project. The foundation works with educators and students around the world to teach tolerance and respect for others, and to encourage community service.
It produces two comprehensive educational programs, created in cooperation with such prestigious organizations as the Southern Poverty Law Center and TIME Classroom. Materials are distributed free to schools and other organizations — materials, she explains, that "have been requested by the United Nations, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, state Holocaust museums and commissions, as well as thousands of educators around the world."
Nancy first met the Kleins and learned about their foundation through her friendship with Beth Reisboard, the organization's director. "I consider Beth one of my mentors in Federation and am honored to work with her professionally in an organization that does such amazing work in challenging today's youth to assume responsibility and make a difference."