Center Construction Moves Ahead Despite Shortfall

Though Irvine’s Samueli Jewish Campus is $2 million short of $20 million required to finish a community building, the project’s supporters are moving ahead to avoid the potential costs of delay.

Permits for the 123,000-square-foot building adjacent to Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School were issued in March.

"We’re moving ahead as originally scheduled," said Ralph Stern, of Tustin, who is leading fundraising. In a communitywide appeal in May 2002, he promised a fiscally conservative stance: construction would start when financial goals were met.

"If it weren’t for potentially inflationary pressure, we wouldn’t have started," he said last month.

Waiting for the till to fill would incur extra costs from disbanding the building’s construction team, an expected hike in steel prices and bid escalation due to a predicted surge of postwar construction, Stern said. Known costs alone amounted to $500,000, said Irving M. Chase, of Irvine, a member of the capital campaign committee.

"This is one way to protect the bids we had," Stern said.

Adequate funds have been pledged for the $6.5 million first phase, which includes grading, utilities, a foundation and steel-support structure. Stern hopes to raise the remainder by July, as the initial construction nears completion.

An anonymous donor and Broadcom Corp. co-founder Henry Samueli provided two-thirds of the project’s total $60 million cost. Jewish agencies now in Costa Mesa anticipate relocating next spring.

Personal Touch

Michal Amir prefers "a Jewish conversation."

Entering her second year as co-chair of a donor support program called Face-to-Face, Amir believes the phrase is a more accurate description of the Super Sunday tradition aimed at strengthening ties between big donors ($1,000 or more) and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

This year, Amir and freshman co-chair Renee Katz will oversee a group of about 20 interviewers who will conduct the one-on-one sessions on the second floor of the Federation’s 6505 Wilshire building. Working with them will be Scott Minkow, assistant director of the Federation’s Metropolitan and Western regions. Last year, he supervised the Sawtelle location’s successful Super Sunday drive.

The interviewers meet in person with the donors, answer questions about the Federation, its agencies, its staff, fundraising and allocation practices — whatever is on their minds. The by-appointment-only Jewish conversations last anywhere from five minutes to an hour. Interviewers will conduct as many as 20 personal discussions throughout Super Sunday.

"For me, Face-to-Face is the best part," said Minkow, 29, who first conducted the Valley Alliance version two years ago while completing his masters program at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

Minkow anticipates that this year’s Face-to-Face will be very successful thanks to Amir and Katz, both successful 30-something professionals. Amir is a doctor specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, while Katz is a clinical psychologist with a Beverly Hills practice. But both are equally accomplished on the community level.

Amir is the daughter of Holocaust survivors from the Hungarian part of Czechoslovakia and a self-described "goal-oriented Virgo doctor." She was raised in Beverly Hills, where she still resides, and attended Cornell and Columbia universities. An active Federation participant, Amir is a staff volunteer for Jewish Family Service and a member of the Federation’s Medical Division Cabinet and its executive committee. On the national level, she is a member of the Young Leadership National Cabinet, composed of adults in their 30’s and 40’s.

"My favorite part of Face-to-Face," Amir said, "is that you actually get to make the connections with people. Everybody likes to feel that they are a member of the community. In a big city like L.A. it’s so easy to feel lost. I get to meet people I wouldn’t otherwise get to know. I love to meet strangers and develop a bond with them. It helps to bond me closer to the community."

Katz had attended a few Federation functions in the past, but nothing really sparked her fancy until she attended the United Jewish Communities’ Washington 11 Conference. That drew her in.

"I met some of the most incredible people who inspired me," Katz recalled. "Now I feel like I can’t do enough."

Katz now spends several hours each week volunteering at Beit T’Shuvah, an experience she confirms is "a completely different feeling doing it as a volunteer as opposed to professionally."

Katz, a Brentwood resident who grew up in Beverlywood, studied at Scripps in Claremont, got her master’s at Harvard and completed her studies at California Graduate Institute. In her nearly two years of active Federation involvement, Katz, chair of the Ben-Gurion Society for young adults, has attracted many to the outreach organization’s fold. Her positive experiences already include a recent Federation mission to Lithuania.

"It actually keeps getting better," Katz said of her Federation participation. "I feel a sense of purpose and connection."

Katz finds a good fit between her professional training and Face-to-Face.

"There’s such an emphasis on money instead of an emotional or spiritual connection," Katz told The Journal. "I pride myself on being vulnerable and open. What’s key as a psychologist is to listen to them, acknowledge their feelings, make them feel validated."

For his part, Minkow finds his face-to-face interaction with Katz and Amir among Super Sunday’s greatest rewards. "They are the future of this Federation," he said.