Never think you have all the answers because you don’t. I have learned over the years to listen to those around me and I try to keep an open ear and an open mind to any and all ideas posited by my staff and others. I may not always agree with them but it is still incumbent upon me to listen to them and try to understand where they’re coming from and why they feel the way they do. Many times, I was convinced to see a situation differently than I had originally intended. My answer is never the end all and be all in the decision-making process. My wife will even suggest that mine should be the last opinion considered but that’s a whole different topic.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Scott M. Feltman, executive vice president of American philanthropy, One Israel Fund. One Israel Fund is the premier agency in North America which raises funds and provides humanitarian grants for the Jewish communities located in Judea, Samaria, and those impacted by the disengagement from Gaza. The projects range from preventive security and emergency medical equipment to building libraries, youth and senior centers, synagogues, and schools to educational scholarships to poverty relief. Feltman has worked as their executive vice president since 2007. Earlier in his career, he was their director of development from August 2001-April 2004.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Scott! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
When I was in high school, I belonged to a youth organization called NCSY, which had a very positive impact on my life. When I went to college, I accepted an official position in the same organization as director of their newly formed junior high school division. I learned very quickly that in order to present better programming for the kids, I would have to raise additional funds. Hence, my entrée into fundraising began. Following college, I went to study for three years in Israel. The time I spent there inspired me and inculcated within me a love for the land, the people and its culture. When I returned to the states, I was hired by NCSY’s Long Island regional director and became their executive director, whose primary role was to build and develop a fundraising platform for the entire organization. This put me on track for a life working in the Jewish not-for-profit world — one in which I would remain until the present day — and specifically in the role of fundraising.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your organization?
There are so many stories that have occurred throughout the years it is impossible to choose one. However, I think the most gratifying aspect of my work has been the incredible people I have met throughout the years — both donors and recipients. In my current role as executive vice president of One Israel Fund, I am uniquely situated to deal intimately with both ends of the fundraising process. Our donors have inspired me in their commitment to help those in greater need than themselves. Likewise, the recipients of the funds have been equally impactful from their sheer desire to build a brighter future for the Jewish people in our ancestral homeland.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
When I began my career in fundraising, the World Wide Web, while created, was not something people utilized in their everyday lives. All the more so, emails had not yet become the mode of communication. I remember in the early days of emails, I forwarded one to a colleague without deleting a long string of a preceding correspondence pertaining to something I would have preferred they not see. I learned right then and there to double-check everything before it ever goes out in my name. This is a lesson I’ve applied throughout my life.
Can you describe how your organization is making a significant social impact?
Since One Israel Fund’s creation it has been supporting the Jewish communities throughout Israel with a primary focus on those in Judea, Samaria the Jordan Valley as well as those impacted by the disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Over the past 27 years we have supported all aspects of their lives and development, specifically as it pertains to education, security, healthcare, recreation and all areas of social welfare. We have watched proudly as these areas have flourished and as their numbers have grown from 115,000 when we were founded to close to half a million today. These citizens of Israel have become leaders in agriculture, hi-tech, bio-medical and other industries. We have built schools, medical centers, playgrounds, religious and cultural centers, provided ambulances and emergency medical equipment and more to enhance and save lives. However, the primary work of our organization has been providing lifesaving, cutting edge, security equipment. There isn’t a week that goes by that I don’t receive a note directly from a community leader or from our Director of Security Projects, Marc Provisor, thanking us for the equipment and training we provided that was essential in thwarting a terrorist attack. There is no greater feeling.
Wow! Can you tell me a story about a particular individual who has impacted this cause?
I never met Dr. Harry Feld, who passed away in 2001 while only in his 40’s. He was a cardiologist and the only child of Holocaust survivors. Upon his death he left One Israel Fund more than two million dollars in his will. His vision to build the communities in our Biblical Heartland became a reality as One Israel Fund created an endowment fund in his name. Due to the funds he left, One Israel Fund was able to undertake projects that would never have been possible otherwise. For example, during the extremely violent years of 2000–2004, known as the Intifada, One Israel Fund was asked to participate in a project to provide armored vans to transport special needs children to and from school. In those days, shootings on the roads were not merely a possibility but the norm. Most communities did not have specialized schools to educate this particular population and transportation was a necessity. It was also fraught with danger. One Israel Fund undertook this project in partnership with the Ministry of Defense and provided over 60 armored vans, a number of which came under intense gunfire from terrorists and thankfully, saw no injuries suffered by these children. This project was only possible because of the Harry S. Feld Endowment Fund, and in the memory of Harry and his parents, countless lives have been saved. Today, the final lasting gift which will be built bearing the Feld name will be the cardiology center of the soon-to- be-built Binyamin Medical Center, a state-of-the-art, full-service medical center in an area to over 100,000 residents where, currently, no quality medical care exists. Moreover, the center will not only benefit the Jewish residents in this area but all those who live in the area, bettering the lives of all people.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Our organization’s primary mission is to save Jewish lives and build a better future for those living in the very same towns that our ancestors have called home for millennia.
Firstly, politicians can help us by strengthening the ties between Israel and the United States because a strong and safe Israel also benefits our country. Israel is one of our strongest allies, and politicians, more than nearly anyone else, are privy to the myriad ways that the US-Israel alliance benefits the United States. This needs to be discussed more by those in the know.
Secondly, media bias and double-standards when it comes to Israel is totally unacceptable. The media is the most powerful voice and know that words matter. I believe the media should take a more honest approach to cover topics related to Israel. Most in the media don’t know the history of the area. In less than a century of existence, Israel has become a worldwide leader in advancements in medicine, technology and culture. It is the only country in the Middle East that is a democracy and respects the rights of all people including women, other cultures, religions and minorities. Israel is one of the first nations to respond to global emergencies — even offering help to those officially in a state of war against it. The media has a tremendous responsibility in the rise of anti-Semitism as it continually pushes a negative narrative which is used not only against Israel but the entirety of the Jewish people.
Finally — the average person hears a lot of negative things about the communities we strive to help. I ask people not to listen to others that may have their own agenda. Education is the best tool in fighting against any bias. I urge people to come and visit the vibrant communities of Judea and Samaria and see the land and its people with their own eyes. Attend one of our 20 annual day trips led by our incredible Director of Tourism, Eve Harow or work with us to put together a mission through your community, house of worship or with family and friends. Come and walk the same land which is the cradle of civilization for the Jewish people as well as an integral component of many other religions and societies. Visit www.oneisraelfund.org/daytrips to learn more.
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
I remember reading an article years ago by Peter Economy, affectionately known as “The Leadership Guy” and for good reason. He has literally written the book on leadership. He breaks down leadership into nine categories: Decisiveness, Awareness, Focus, Accountability, Empathy, Confidence, Optimism, Honesty and Inspiration. While I believe they’re all crucial points to being an effective leader, I wish to focus on three — Empathy, Optimism and Honesty.
While I’m far from perfect, I believe my entire staff will agree we have a pretty good working environment and I’ve always tried to be fair to everyone. While our work is vital, I also know that it is work. My staff know that I’ve always prioritized their lives outside the work day and understand that each family situation is unique and therefore much be managed differently. Having empathy for each and every person goes a long way to creating an enjoyable but productive working environment. As I speak with you right now in the midst of a global pandemic when everyone is trying their best to work from home while monitoring their children’s “Zoom School”, I know it’s incredibly difficult. Having empathy for each team member is paramount to being an effective leader and maintaining productivity for now and well into the future.
An effective leader must be an optimist. Yes, we have an important task at One Israel Fund. After all, lives are on the line and we have proven to be the difference maker in saving them. However, with that important role, there are times when we’re not successful. Sometimes, even if we have the intelligence showing where an attack might take place, as was the case back in 2011 when the Fogel family was murdered in their sleep in the town of Itamar, without the necessary funding, we can’t purchase that additional security camera. It can get very depressing the morning after a successful terror attack. As the leader, it is my role to always be the optimistic voice and remind everyone of all the good they’ve accomplished and all the incredible work which lies ahead. I can’t believe I’m about to quote Sylvester Stallone in a section about leadership, but I’ll always remember the motivational speech he gave to his son in the movie Rocky Balboa (2006) when he said, “You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward. How much you can take, and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done.” I always think about that quote whenever life hits back hard and in our line of work, life does hit hard at times. It’s my job to keep moving everyone forward so we can win the future battles.
Finally, as someone who prides himself on being a very religious and spiritual person, there is no greater character trait than being honest. I instill this in my staff but equally important, in my own children. You are only as good as your word. If you lose that honesty, you’ve lost all respect. Once that is lost, it’s never possible to gain it back entirely.
These are some of the ideas I’ve worked on for myself in striving to create an effective and productive environment within each organization I have merited to lead.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- A $5.00 donation from one person can be more meaningful than a $1,000.00 from another. There was an elderly lady who lived not far from my parents’ house. She would make an annual $18.00 contribution. She lived alone and I figured she was probably lonely so I would call her on my drive out to my parents and ask if I could come over. She would always turn me down but we had great conversations each time. When she passed away a few years ago she left One Israel Fund over $100,000. I can’t say that my phone calls were the only factor in her decision to leave us part of her estate but I can tell you that I never underestimated any donation in the future. Every gift is meaningful to the person making it. Additionally, any small act of kindness can have tremendous value, so long as it’s sincere.
- Whenever you make a decision, be firm in that decision. No one ever wants to see a leader waffle. A staff needs to have confidence in you as their leader and decisiveness (actually the first item from Mr. Economy’s list) is paramount. Often times I have had to make decisions for the organization based upon factors that others were not privy to. I know it didn’t make them happy nor did they agree but the key is to be clear and decisive when making decisions. They understand that sometimes I have information that they do not. As long as you’ve earned their trust, they will follow the path you take, even when they don’t fully understand or agree.
- You will learn more from those who work for you than those you work for. This is something I first learned in the Talmudic Tractate of Ta’anit 7a:12: “And this is what Rabbi Ḥanina said: I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students I have learned more than from all of them.” It is something I relearn every day. I’ve been very fortunate to surround myself with fantastic staff. I guess the one area I’ve excelled at is hiring good people because they make me look good every day. And I learn more from them than anyone else.
- Always have at least one person in your industry who you can call for advice. It is good to have a sounding board and someone who has had to deal with the same issues you deal with. I have a few “go-to” individuals who have a great deal of experience in running organizations and fundraising and whenever I’m stuck or need guidance in how to handle a specific situation, I know I can call upon them to discuss the issue and work things out.
- This is a continuation of the previous point. Never think you have all the answers because you don’t. I have learned over the years to listen to those around me and I try to keep an open ear and an open mind to any and all ideas posited by my staff and others. I may not always agree with them but it is still incumbent upon me to listen to them and try to understand where they’re coming from and why they feel the way they do. Many times, I was convinced to see a situation differently than I had originally intended. My answer is never the end all and be all in the decision-making process. My wife will even suggest that mine should be the last opinion considered but that’s a whole different topic.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Sadly, I believe that the world is suffering today due to a lack of spirituality and belief in a higher power. I feel that this basic belief is what grounds a person and a society. I know people will argue that so many wars were fought over religious beliefs throughout the generations but I truly believe the destruction we’ve witnessed over the past 100 years due to movements such as communism, fascism, socialism and other ism’s have been far more destructive to the fabric of society and I don’t believe it is coincidental that they are all built upon a foundation which negates religion and a belief in God. If I could inspire a movement it would be based around a return to our spiritual roots and, especially in America, our Judeo-Christian foundation envisioned by our founding fathers.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Don’t just keep the faith, pass it around.” I have always tried to stay true to my Jewish values. When I decided to become more observant in my own Judaism, I understood that this would present me as an example in all walks of life. As someone who dons a yarmulke on my head, I know that people are always watching to see what I will do and how I will act. I do not proselytize since Judaism is not a religion based upon converting the masses. However, in my own way, I believe that my actions have the ability to make another person look positively or negatively upon the Jewish people and Judaism itself. Act like a good and moral person and it can inspire others to do the same.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US, whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I hope it’s ok but I have two. Ambassador Nikki Haley and former Prime Minister Stephen Harper. I’ve actually admired them for similar reasons. First, in the case of Ambassador Haley, I have truly admired her from afar. To me, she is like the forefather Abraham. She stood in the most hostile environment at the United Nations and stood up for her values and beliefs in a way that very few have ever done — certainly as a representative of the United States. Just as Abraham stood up against the entire world and proposed a mono-theistic belief, Ambassador Haley defended all forms of democratic values in a chamber which, often times, endorses anything but. Her steadfast support for Israel is of particular concern to me as it was presented sincerely. In every speech she delivers, one clearly walks away believing that they are truly her own beliefs. I find her entire life story to be fascinating and would love to learn more about how it has shaped her values.
For a similar reason, I find former Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper to be equally impressive. While Canada has a very significant Jewish Population, it was never viewed as a major voice on behalf of Israel over the 58 years prior to PM Harper’s inauguration. That all changed in 2006 when Stephen Harper became Canada’s 22nd Prime Minister. During what many will recall was one of Israel’s most difficult years in the international arena, PM Harper was a steady voice of reason and support for Israel and he suffered greatly around the world for his genuine friendship with Israel. It was also a very prosperous time for Canada as well until the Great Recession of 2008. But even then, he continued to guide, with a steady hand, Canada’s re-emergence from that bleak time and, when he left office in 2015, Canada, once again, boasted a budget surplus.
Good for their countries, good for Israel and good for the world are what link Ambassador Haley and PM Harper to me. It would be an incredible honor to meet either of them but especially both.
How can readers follow you on social media?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Scott M. Feltman of One Israel Fund: “Never think you have all the answers because you don’t” was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.