Madam Presidentby Brie Stimson January 2, 2019
Shari Friedman Schenk has an impressive resume. She is the director of business development for a prestigious local law firm, she has served as board chair for the San Diego Jewish Academy, she was the president of the Agency for Jewish Education and she was appointed by former Governor Gray Davis to serve on the California Commission for Economic Development – and that was all before she became president of the San Diego Jewish National Fund’s board of directors.
Schenk plans to make increasing visibility of the JNF a focal point of her two-year tenure as president, which began in October. “My priority is to expand the visibility of the organization. I think more people need to know about the good work that the Jewish National Fund does. We are not a political organization and we do great work in Israel and I just think that not enough people in San Diego know what our mission is,” Schenk tells me during our phone conversation from her Carmel Valley home on a rainy Wednesday in December. “I mean the bottom line is that we need to bring in as much money as we can and … to bring in more donors.”
Scheck also wants to focus on the next generation of JNF members. “We’re getting a JNFuture group off the ground,” she says of the youth leadership group, which is called the “gateway to the next generation of the Jewish National Fund.”
“I know the community,” Schenk said of her involvement with the various local Jewish organizations, “I have been involved with JNF for many years. My husband and I received the Tree of Life honor in 2006 and more recently we were in Israel with JNF to dedicate a music program at the Sderot Indoor Playground in memory of my brother-in-law who passed away five years ago.”
She says she had been on and off the board, but in that last trip to dedicate the music program in May 2017 she realized “I wanted to get more involved and what an amazing organization JNF is, and so on that mission was when I knew that I wanted to be more involved,” she explains.
She was also inspired by the national JNF president. “Our national president is from Rancho Santa Fe, Dr. Sol Lizerbram, who is a very good friend of mine, and part of the reason that I took this position was that I wanted to make JNF San Diego strong for him because JNF has never had a national president on the West Coast in their 100-plus-year history,” Schenk explained to me. “It’s a very exciting opportunity to have somebody from San Diego and to have a dear friend and mentor of mine as president of JNF USA. And so part of the reason that I was so exited to get involved was that I wanted to strengthen San Diego because of him in his honor.”
Of Schenk, Dr. Lizerbram has previously said, “Her expertise and hard work will be invaluable as we continue our efforts to connect to San Diego and Israel.”
“I’m excited to be president,” Schenk stated near the end of our conversation. “I am passionate about Israel, I’m a passionate Zionist, my three children attended the San Diego Jewish Academy in kindergarten through 12th grade and the whole family has a real passion for strengthening Israel to benefit Jews all over the world.”