Remarks Delivered by Marcie Zelikow at the Dedication and Naming of the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management

Monday, February 9, 2015

Thank you all for coming today. Howard and I are very honored and a bit overwhelmed to have all of you here to celebrate this dedication with us. It means the world to us.

Many people have asked us why we made this gift. Why here? Why now? I’d like to try to explain.

For those of you that don’t know me well, you need to know that my Judaism informs every part of my life. It’s who I am and what I believe. I was the kid who loved Sunday school and going to synagogue. The why is easy. All children are believers. Theology is pretty basic for a 7 year old. I loved temple because I was loved there. I had a great rabbi and a great cantor that loved me and valued me even as a young child. I knew even in elementary school that they saw Marcie as a person. It was a place where I was loved and nurtured.

A story – when I was about 11 I read the Nun’s Story. Impressionable child that I was, I wanted one of those transcendent moments she describes when she felt God in church. So, one morning in Sunday school I went alone into the sanctuary to pray. The rabbi came in and found me there. He asked what I was doing and I told him. Fortunately, he didn’t laugh at this child trying to be a Jewish nun. He took me seriously but explained in Judaism we could talk to God one on one anytime, anywhere. We didn’t need icons, holy water, priests, or anything to help us communicate with God. And then he told me something even more powerful. That the reason we did have a sanctuary is that in Judaism the community is also where we pray. In fact, some of our most important prayers and mitzvot can only be carried out within community. In Judaism the community and the individual are both sacred. It was an electric moment for me and a lesson I never forgot.

My family wasn’t prayers, but they were doers. As I got older I began to understand that the idea of community in Judaism meant we prayed together and we also took care of each other. Taking care of other Jews and Zionism was how Judaism was practiced in my family. Watching my parents and grandparents volunteer in the Jewish community was how I grew up and what I understood my obligation to be. My rabbi and my parents also taught me that the obligation to care for others and fight injustice went far beyond the Jewish community. The prophets were alive and well in the Reform world of Cleveland in the 1960’s.

Judaism is one of the foundations of my marriage to Howard. We’ve always been engaged in Jewish study throughout our marriage whether it was with our rabbi, in Israel at Hartman or auditing rabbinic courses with the students here on the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR. And we’ve also both been active volunteers on the boards of the synagogue, Federation and many of our fuagencies. When I retired from my professional sales and marketing career, Howard says I became a professional Jew. It is that nonprofit career that has given me an extraordinary life. I’ve been challenged and motivated, moved and inspired by the work I’ve done in the Jewish world. And every step of the way, in every organization I’ve been involved with, I’ve had the honor to work with wonderful professionals who have dedicated their lives to the Jewish people and to making the world a better place.

About 10 years ago my dear friend Jerry Bubis invited me to join the advisory board for what was then the HUC-JIR School of Jewish Communal Service. It was my first involvement at HUC-JIR and the beginning of my love affair with both this particular school and HUC-JIR as an institution. To many people HUC-JIR is in the business of making rabbis, cantors, educators and nonprofit professionals who staff the ranks and lead established organizations. Of course we do that.

But, I think we’re really in the business of Jewish leadership. Leadership that will create vision for the future while maintaining the Jewish values and tradition that we cherish—leadership that will have the courage and the knowhow to address challenges of a rapidly shifting landscape…..proactive leadership that will keep us in the forefront of innovative approaches and solutions, in short, igniting our communities’ evolution.

That’s why the School of Jewish Nonprofit Management is so important to the future of HUC-JIR and the future of all of Jewish institutions. Howard and I and the leadership of HUC-JIR have a vision. That this school, which has been in the forefront of training Jewish professionals for over 40 years can now make a great leap forward. It can become a national and international center of excellence for Jewish leadership capable of dealing with whatever the world presents. 

I’m extremely optimistic about the future of organized Jewish life. Do I think our organizations and institutions will look the same as they have in the past? Absolutely not. I’m not even sure which ones will be here in another 10 years. The nonprofit world is changing and changing fast. But here’s what I do know. Every year I have the opportunity to meet the SJNM students. I’m always blown away by how bright and dedicated they are.  By how much they want to make a difference in the world. They all have had many options and many opportunities in life, but this is the field they’ve chosen. How could I not be optimistic? And every year I see more rabbinic and education students on the LA campus get a certificate in nonprofit management. They understand that in order to lead a congregation or run a school they must also know how to read a balance sheet, how to deal with a board and how to inspire and yes…fundraise.

Finally, this gift is about legacy. We are so grateful that our daughter, Lori Florio, and our son, Dan Zelikow, came across country to be with us today. If you knew how busy their schedules are you’d understand what a tribute this is for them to be here with us. Of course, we’re also thrilled to have our other son, David Rosenblum and our wonderful daughter-in-law, Raina here with us. The fact that they live 10 minutes away from us in Los Angeles is one of the great joys of our lives. The smartest thing these children did was to give us 7 fabulous grandchildren. Because of school schedules it wasn’t possible for the 5 east coast grandchildren to be here, but we’re so happy that our local grandchildren, Caleb and Micah, are also here today. So if the rest of you will forgive me, I want to close these remarks by addressing Caleb and Micah directly:

So boys, in a few minutes you’ll get to see the new sign for the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management. At first Papa and I didn’t want them to name the school after us. We were a little shy about having our name on a building and just didn’t know if it felt comfortable. I was talking to your mom about that and she asked us to please name the school the Zelikow School for the 2 of you. She said she wanted you to grow up always knowing how important this school was to us, how important HUC-JIR was to us, and how important the Jewish community was to us. We thought that was a pretty good reason. So, it’s the Zelikow School for the 2 of you and for all your cousins. I hope you always do remember the things that are important to us. This is the legacy we’re passing on to you for you to pass on to your children like our parents passed their values on to us. L’Dor V’Dor. From generation to generation.

Thank you all for sharing this moment and our commitment. 

Founded in 1875, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is North America's leading institution of higher Jewish education and the academic, spiritual, and professional leadership development center of Reform Judaism. HUC-JIR educates men and women for service to North American and world Jewry as rabbis, cantors, educators, and nonprofit management professionals, and offers graduate programs to scholars and clergy of all faiths. With centers of learning in Cincinnati, Jerusalem, Los Angeles, and New York, HUC-JIR's scholarly resources comprise the renowned Klau Library, The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, research institutes and centers, and academic publications. In partnership with the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, HUC-JIR sustains the Reform Movement's congregations and professional and lay leaders. HUC-JIR's campuses invite the community to cultural and educational programs illuminating Jewish heritage and fostering interfaith and multiethnic understanding.