In 1978, Sherrie Savett was in her 20s, a mother of a 1-year-old and just embarking on her career as a lawyer. She was asked to attend Federation's first Zachor Leadership Mission to Israel, which aimed to prepare participants to have a "Jewish conversation" about raising money to meet critical Jewish needs. Despite all the balls she was already juggling, Savett said "yes," unaware of the impact it would have on her — and the Jewish community.
"That mission changed my whole life," said Savett.
It marked Savett's first trip to Israel; it also marked her first gift to Federation. Mission participants were required to make a donation of $2,000. "I was just starting out and it was the first time I was even confronted with significant giving," she said, "but it was so easy to give once you absorbed the message and saw the sacrifices the Israelis were making."
Thirty years and many missions later, Savett's commitment to the Jewish community and Israel remains stronger than ever, evidenced by her recent acceptance of the role of ambassador in Federation's Philadelphia Initiative.
The newly launched venture, founded by Robert Schwartz and Judith Creed, allows participants to pursue their philanthropic passions through support of initiatives and programs that address Federation's priorities.
Each donor, or "ambassador," is committed to donating $150,000 over three years while also serving as a community leader and role model. The goal is to enlist 60 new ambassadors over three years.
Creed and Federation's Chief Community Development Officer Ande Adelman arranged a dinner with Savett where they explained the program and asked if she would join.
"I said 'yes' right away," said Savett. "I thought it was a wonderful idea.
"I decided to target most of my contribution for this year to provide scholarship assistance to enable more children to attend Jewish summer camps. These camps combine traditional camping activities with a strong Jewish orientation. Studies have shown that, after Jewish day schools, Jewish camping has the greatest impact on instilling a strong Jewish identity in children.
"These scholarships will be in the name of my recently deceased father, Nathan J. Raiken. He loved children, camping and Judaism, so this seemed like a perfect tribute," said Savett, adding, "He would be proud of me for doing this."
Philly at the Low End Savett was also compelled to participate because she knew that Philadelphia's level of giving compared to other major cities is one of the lowest. "I always felt there was a much greater capacity here," said Savett. "I think if we can get the ambassadors to speak about our community and create more excitement, it will make a big difference."
Savett thinks that the individuals who have already joined the Philadelphia Initiative as ambassadors "are all multifaceted, committed Jews who love our Philadelphia community and most have deep roots here." She believes that "they will generate a lot of excitement and interest in giving and participating."
"The group is so powerful," said Savett. "Every one of the ambassadors is an exceptional person who has already achieved a great deal in their lives. Now they want to use their influence in a very positive way to affect other people.
"The group is very diverse, but everyone shares a commitment to Jewish causes," she continued. "Most of them also give to other causes, but the Jewish world is their highest priority. They are committed to perpetuating and strengthening our community locally and around the world."
Savett believes that through her role as an ambassador she will be able to help Federation, the Jewish community and Jews around the world while at the same time inspiring others to do the same.
"This community needs leaders who will step up and stretch themselves," Savett said. "When you're fundraising for Federation, you can't be effective unless you've given at a certain level yourself. When you give at this [the Philadelphia Initiative] level, it shakes any sense of complacency you may have had about the Jewish community."
Savett feels that the Philadelphia Initiative's focus on leadership is "one of it's most important aspects — even more important than the giving."
"One of the early leaders who inspired me was fellow ambassador, Mark Solomon," said Savett. "He was a great leader, and I hope I can have as much of an impact on younger people as he's had on me. I have always tried to give not just money, but also my time and my voice to promote the interests of the Jewish people."
Savett definitely "walks the walk." In addition to her involvement in Federation's Philadelphia Initiative, Savett has served as a Federation trustee for decades and is a former member of the board of the Jewish Publishing Group, which publishes the Jewish Exponent. She is also on the board of the National Liberty Museum and is an avid art collector.
Along with her husband, Bob Rovner, Savett is co-chair of the State of Israel Bonds campaign for Southeastern Pennsylvania, and is also a member of the National Cabinet of State of Israel Bonds.
Savett has also helped shape the greater Philadelphia Jewish community by leading numerous missions to Israel similar to the one that changed the course of her life so many years earlier. "Missions are an extremely effective way of involving people in the Jewish world," she said.
This sentiment holds true for her family as well. Savett's three adult children — Stacy Savett Borer, Scott Savett and Lauren Savett — all experienced Israel in their youth when Savett took them on a family mission 16 years ago; two went on to participate in teen travel programs to Israel.
"I definitely saw changes in them after the family and teen missions," said Savett. "It solidified their Jewish identity and made them more passionate about Israel and Jewish causes. Though we're not traditionally religious, we're all very strongly identified as Jews."
Since her first mission, more than just Savett's philanthropic and civic leadership roles have evolved. Her career has skyrocketed. Savett is a shareholder at the law firm Berger & Montague, where she serves as chair of the Securities Litigation Department and a member of the firm's Management Committee.
Her credentials include selection as a "Pennsylvania Top 50 Female Super Lawyer" and "Pennsylvania Super Lawyer" by Philadelphia Magazine from 2004 through 2008. In 2007 and 2008, she was named one of the 500 leading litigators and leading plaintiffs' litigators in the United States by Lawdragon.
Despite the enormous demands placed on her by her career, family and philanthropic involvements, Savett feels that it is imperative for her to increase her commitment to the Jewish community through Federation's Philadelphia Initiative. "It gives me the opportunity to inspire others to perpetuate our Jewish community — just like I was first inspired to do 30 years ago."