It was bashert that Robert Schwartz and Barbara and Jay Satz would become the closest of friends. Their relationship was predestined by a number of fluky family and business connections that they often laugh about during their frequent dinner dates.
Barbara Satz recalls growing up in South Philadelphia where she would often encounter Schwartz's great-grandfather walking to shul. "He had vision problems so I would walk along with him to make sure that he arrived safely," said Barbara Satz.
Barbara's grandmother married into the Schwartz family and her father worked for Schwartz's grandfather, Albert, in the family's manufacturing business. "I got to know the entire family by attending many social events through the years," she said.
Jay Satz, who serves as vice president of scientific affairs, program and product development for Nutri-Systems, first met Robert Schwartz in the late 1970s when the firm, then known as Shape-Up, was looking for food manufacturers to work with. Satz connected with Robard Corporation, a division of Food Sciences Corporation. The company, founded and run by the Schwartz family, delivers comprehensive weight management programs and nutrition products to physicians, hospitals, corporations, weight-loss clinics and fitness centers nationwide.
What began as a mutually beneficial business relationship evolved over time into "a brother-like bond," Satz commented. The two have shared many meaningful conversations through their three decades of friendship and often discussed their mutual concerns for several unmet needs in the Jewish community.
Satz recalls talking with Schwartz about the lack of funding for programs educating Jewish children, a major priority of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. "For as long as I have known him, Robert has been passionate about investing in kids and education," Satz emphasized. Schwartz shared with Satz his hope to create a vehicle, which would allow men and women to pursue their philanthropic passions through support of initiatives and programs that address Federation's priorities. He also shared with Satz the news that he would have a full partner in his efforts to make this long-standing dream a reality — Judith Creed.
The two did extensive research and met with Jewish community leaders in Detroit, Chicago and Toronto who had implemented similar programs. The result was the Philadelphia Initiative, a revolutionary strategic philanthropy venture that launched on Sept. 9.
Barbara and Jay Satz demonstrated their love for Schwartz and their commitment to ensuring the success of the initiative he and Creed created by signing on as ambassadors.
Each ambassador contributes at a leadership level over a three-year period and targets their charitable dollars directly to programs and initiatives that align with such Federation focus areas as Jewish education, human services, family and economic needs, support for Israel and for Jews at risk around the world. Ambassadors are expected to share their enthusiasm with three others, towards the goal of creating a group of 60 new Federation contributors over the next three years.
"When Robert asked Barbara and me to sign on, we said yes immediately," said Jay Satz, adding "up until quite recently we never had the financial resources to get involved in philanthropy on such a major level." He expressed his confidence in the Philadelphia Initiative "as a vehicle for people to see exactly where their money goes and achieve measurable results on their investments."
The Satzs share Schwartz's passion for Jewish education and hope that their support of the Philadelphia Initiative will make both Jewish day schools and supplemental Hebrew school programs more affordable and more accessible to all Jewish children.
A close relative wanted a Jewish day school environment for her son with developmental disabilities. OROT, an organization which supports special needs education in Jewish day schools, made this possible. OROT teachers designed a curriculum that met the academic needs of every individual student and afforded ample time for social interaction with mainstream students.
The Satzs were so impressed by the program's success in enabling special needs students to learn and live their Jewish heritage that they asked friends and relatives attending their recent 50th anniversary celebration to make gifts in their honor to OROT.
They are devoted parents and involved grandparents with five grandsons and one granddaughter, ranging in age from 8 to 25. Barbara Satz helped raise several of her grandchildren after her daughter's divorce, enabling the then-single parent to work full-time.
"My mother always told me that friends may come and go but family is everything in life," said Barbara Satz, who follows in her mother's footsteps by hosting Shabbat and holiday dinners for her immediate and extended family. Her matzah ball soup is legendary as are her fascinating stories about her Russian heritage and her widowed grandmother's struggles to raise four children on her own in a new nation, the United States of America.
She and her husband are committed to the Jewish concept of L'dor Va'Dor — transmitting Jewish values and traditions to the next generation of Jews. They hope that their involvement in the Philadelphia Initiative will inspire others to commit to ensuring that Federation will be able to meet critical Jewish needs now and in the future.