The guest of honor at the Nov. 15 Main Event at the Kimmel Center isn’t necessarily a fan of the spotlight.
“This is not really about me. I’m sort of a means to an end,” quipped Bernard (Bud) Newman, the outgoing president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. “I’ve never wanted to be honored and never accepted until now. But I just felt my being recognized might further the Jewish Federation’s improvement in the eyes of the public.
“It gives us an opportunity to have a unified voice to say to the Jewish community, ‘We are here for you and are trying to do things better than we’ve done. Do things we haven’t done. And we greatly appreciate all you’re doing for us now.’”
That appreciation goes both ways.
“Bud came in at an important time,” Jewish Federation Chief Marketing Officer Steve Rosenberg said. “He brought great stability and continued leadership. In fact, if you look up leader in the dictionary you’ll probably see his picture.”
That commitment often came at the cost of his business, Newman & Co., Inc., a multi-faceted 98-year-old paperboard company, which employs more than 250 and has been located at the same Port Richmond/Bridesburg site since 1954.
“He wasn’t here a lot,” said his daughter, Jessica Solomon, who works in the family business along with her brother, David, in addition to being on the board of directors at Jewish Family and Children’s Service. “He took the job very seriously and devoted a huge amount of time effort and emotion to it.
“It was like he had another full-time job. But from what I can tell, he enjoyed his time doing it. It opened new doors for him, even at this stage of his life.”
Newman, who handed over the Jewish Federation presidency to Susanna Lachs Adler in September, admits he hasn’t quite been able to step away seamlessly from something that used to occupy about 70 percent of his waking hours. But he’s trying.
“It’s only been since September, so I’m still tethered,” he laughed. “I’ve got the ball and chain, but at least I have the key to the ball and chain. The baton is in Susanna Lachs Adler’s hands, and she’s a superb leader to the nth degree.”
In terms of his own accomplishments, Newman, who said he learned early in life the importance of giving back to the Jewish community, has no illusions.
“We’ve shown that we’re worthy of being recognized as the one place in Philadelphia that does more things for our people locally, worldwide and with Israel than any singular organization,” he said. “We are worthy of earning their respect because we have so many options for them. This clearly goes back to when my parents were alive. They made me aware.”
Decades later, that awareness and commitment remains firm.
“Bud embraced the message that every Jew is welcome no matter their political view, their giving level, their feeling of identity, how they practiced,” according to Jewish Federation CEO Naomi Adler, who said she appreciates how Newman helped ease her early transition on the job. “He really got it and understood why it was important to rebrand our Jewish Federation so that people heard that message even louder.”
Here are a few things you might not know about Newman.
- He’s been known as Buddy or Bud since an older cousin questioned the wisdom of calling a baby Bernard.
- He grew up originally in Upper Darby, near where his grandfather founded the West Philadelphia JCC, then later moved to Melrose Park and attended Cheltenham High School. He started working in the family paper mill, manufacturing cardboard at 14 years old and remained in the business 54 years. The only breaks came when he attended Rider University, then served in the Army before returning home.
- His office is adorned with framed original posters that date to World War I extolling the virtues of America and the military. He began collecting a few decades ago.
- He’s always loved gardening, going back to his childhood and time as a Boy Scout. That’s what prompted him and his wife, Judy, to move from Center City to New Hope, where they own a 40-acre farm and send the fruits and vegetables they grow to various food pantries. That farm-to-table mentality will be the theme of this year’s Main Event, which Newman said is more of a tribute to those who’ve worked with him than himself.
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