This was presented by Richard Licht at the June 8 Alliance annual meeting. It has been edited slightly for publication.
Six years ago our community took a risk and embarked on a new voyage. Three venerable institutions – each with a storied history of serving the Rhode Island Jewish community – combined to form the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island. While the new Alliance had dedicated lay leadership and a talented and committed staff, it lacked a professional leader. So we doubled down on our bet and engaged a man who lacked the typical credentials and curriculum vitae for a CEO of a major Jewish nonprofit organization.
But he had the mind of a lawyer, the heart of a social worker and a lifetime of involvement in Jewish social causes. Six years later, we all know that we cashed in handsomely on that bet.
Jeffrey Savit is one-of-a-kind. With a broad smile, big heart, and wrap-around hugs, his leadership and vision changed this agency… and this community. And he became a valued citizen of Jewish Rhode Island. He reached out to all our secular and religious Jewish institutions – met their leaders and attended their events.
As the first chair of the Alliance I witnessed firsthand how he arrived at this nascent organization and how his “think big, act big attitude” encouraged others to find a way to get there with him.
Compassionate, empathetic – Jeffrey is an optimist. To him, the glass is not half full … it is overflowing. Jeffrey believes that in doing things with grit and hard work – nothing is impossible. Jeffrey knows that in order to achieve greatness, he had to create a culture of optimism. While there were many ups and downs, the prevalence of positivity kept this agency going. Some might see this as fearlessness – but Jeffrey truly believes in making the impossible possible.
And he did just that. When others doubted that we could increase our fundraising to encompass new projects, Jeffrey produced results. That is why we are here in the beautiful Victor and Gussie Baxt Social Hall as part of the remarkable renovated Dwares JCC. That is why Jeffrey told us there were Jews in need in our very midst and he launched the Living on the Edge Initiative. That is why we in Rhode Island will never forget because Jeffrey brought to life the dream of our Holocaust survivors and all Rhode Island now can experience the downtown Holocaust Memorial. Jeffrey would be the first to say these accomplishments were the result of the efforts of others – generous donors, dedicated lay leaders and hard-working staff. But it was Jeffrey’s clear vision, strong work ethic and steadfast focus that assured the success.
Leo Rosten, author of the “Joys of Yiddish,” says that a mensch is “someone to admire and emulate, someone of noble character. The key to being ‘a real mensch’ is nothing less than character, rectitude, dignity, a sense of what is right, responsible, decorous.”
Jeffrey displays all these characteristics. Whether meeting a major donor or an impoverished client of the Alliance, he listens with compassion and concern. Whether speaking to a member of his senior staff or a teacher’s aide at the early childhood center, he treats each with respect and dignity. Over the past six years I have observed Jeffrey in so many settings – presiding over meetings, talking through Alliance issues on our many rides home, wowing and befriending many non-Jewish leaders of our state on our mission to Israel, kvelling over the accomplishments of Chloe or Mollie, and of course expressing his devotion to Lori. So I can bear witness to the fact Jeffrey is someone to admire and emulate and is of noble character. I can assure you that if they ever create a mensch hall of fame, Jeffrey will be a first ballot inductee.
This community and I will miss your leadership, but we will always have your friendship.
RICHARD LICHT served as chair of the Alliance from 2011-2013.