Though Ira Saligman has been involved in the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia for less than a decade, he has had a significant impact on the Jewish community, especially in Israel, through his philanthropy and his involvement in Federation boards.
Saligman established his first connections with the Jewish state in grade school when his family traveled there. Through subsequent trips to Israel, and thanks to the time he spent in Israel during his six years serving as a U.S. Naval Aviator, his bond with the Jewish homeland has grown stronger and stronger.
"Israel means hope to me," said Saligman. "Though Israel began as a dream in the desert, it is physical proof that anything is possible. Despite all of the opposition she has faced, Israel has grown to be a world power that is home to the leading scientists, artists and musicians."
Saligman said that he supports Israel through Federation and encourages others to as well since "the dream of Israel is a reality only because of donors helping to keep it vibrant and safe."
For those who are wondering how to invest in Israel, Saligman says Federation is the answer. "You can't just send a check directly to Israel. Federation is the perfect conduit. They understand the needs and put a lot of effort into due diligence on the best way to make an impact. As a member of the community and a donor, I can see where the dollars go. As a volunteer, I actually have a say in where they go — regardless of the size of my gift."
In partnership with Federation, the Robert Saligman Charitable Foundation established the Robert Saligman Early Childhood Development Center in Federation's partnership region of Sedot Negev, a struggling area of Israel that Federation supports through funding and reciprocal travel. The center provides vital assistance to hundreds of children ages 3 to 12 who are facing developmental issues and learning disabilities.
Saligman understands that "if these issues are not addressed at an early age, they lead to bigger issues in the next generation. Israel has enough external troubles to deal with, she needs internal strength."
In 2003, Saligman traveled to Israel for the opening of the center. "When I met the families and children who were going to benefit from the center, I got a much better understanding of what these families were going through, and why it's so important for us to help them. It's hard to comprehend the dire needs in our international Jewish community because most of us haven't experienced similar needs firsthand. I challenge everyone to open their eyes to see these issues, then open their hearts, calendars and wallets to help."
Saligman serves on the board of Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas, which supports Israel-advocacy efforts and provides aid and relief services for vulnerable Jews in Israel and throughout the world. He feels the center makes it simpler for Greater Philadelphia Jews to invest in and effectively address Israel's most pressing issues. "Federation's Center for Israel and Overseas is an efficient conduit between the local community and causes and services in Israel."
'Trip Was Worth It'
Nearly a year ago, immediately after Israel's war with Hezbollah ended, Saligman traveled to Israel with Federation president and CEO Ira M. Schwartz, to assess how the Center for Israel and Overseas' Israel Emergency Fund could best aid the people of Israel on an ongoing basis.
According to Saligman, he personally wanted to visit to see firsthand what was going on there and to become a more effective ambassador for Israel. "When I took this trip with Ira, I was amazed at how effectively my dollars already were being invested there through the center," said Saligman. "If I was able to raise even one more dollar for Israel by sharing with others what I saw, the trip was more than worth it."
In addition to having a significant impact overseas, Saligman has also played an integral role in supporting Federation's local efforts and business strategy. He serves on the Federation Endowments Corporation Board and Federation's Investment Committee, and is a member of Federation's Real Estate Division. Saligman credits his father with influencing his deep involvement with Federation and the community. "I always saw my dad invest with the Jewish Federation. Federation is the central organization that makes your philanthropic investment effective and efficient."
Saligman supports this sentiment by pointing out that without Federation, he never would have known of the need in the partnership region for the Robert Saligman Early Childhood Development Center. "Federation has a deep understanding of the issues and has done the research. With a large gift, the donor has 100 percent of the choice and Federation ensures the efficiency of the gift. With group gifts and allocations, donors can be part of a governance process that decides where the dollars go.
"Involvement of time, money or expertise at any level is very important. Living in our own, comfortable world, it is difficult for us to understand all the troubles the Jewish people go through — hunger, poverty, and so much else. We don't realize the real needs on our own. Federation enables us to find out about and address the needs facing our people."
"Here in the U.S., we are fortunate to have a free and open society," said Saligman.
"Jews can now do what they want without facing impediments because of their religion. We can rise to our highest ability," he continued. "Look at the greatest American achievements — many were made by Jews. That is simply not possible in countries where Jews are oppressed. It makes me appreciate what we have in the U.S. and want to improve other parts of the world where Jews are still treated as third-class citizens. By living generously and supporting Jews in other parts of the world, we can help our Jewish brothers and sisters to some day enjoy the same freedoms that we do here."
Saligman feels that the plight of Jews in other countries will change only if Jews in the United States support them through organizations such as Federation.
"I sincerely hope that everyone who is Jewish will take the responsibility of being Jewish very seriously and donate their time or money to help repair the world and to help each other.
"Look back at your own roots. It is very likely that, as an immigrant, your own family received help from those already here with something to give. Philanthropy is my way of continuing the circle and a way of showing my appreciation.
"Giving back is critical because if we don't, who else will? If all of the Jews stopped giving, none of the Jewish causes would get any money. You may never meet the people face to face who you are helping, but this is the highest form of tzedakah."