David A. Sherman youngest ever to receive Jewish Federation’s highest honor

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David Sherman

For 49 years, the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago has presented its highest honor, the Julius Rosenwald Memorial Award, to a leader who has demonstrated a lifetime of outstanding dedication and service to the Jewish community.

This week, David A. Sherman became the youngest person ever to receive it.

Sherman, 52, of Glencoe, accepted the honor at the Sept. 24th Annual Meeting of the Federation, one of the nation's largest philanthropic and social service organizations.

At the presentation, Sherman expressed pride in how the Federation is committed to a broad, diverse mission that cares for 300,000 Chicagoans - Jews and non-Jews alike - and also serves 2 million Jews in Israel and around the world.

A business leader, family man, children's author and marathon runner (he's completed at least 20), Sherman is a true role model in Chicago's philanthropic community.

He has served on the Federation Board since he was 32, and was active in the Jewish United Fund's Young Leadership Division for several years before that.

In 2008, he became one of the youngest board chairmen in the Federation's now 112-year history - just weeks before the start of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Facing the prospect of sharp drops in revenue, and a simultaneous surge in requests for help - some from longtime contributors - Sherman helped design an initiative to redirect funds and provide new money for those hit hardest by the recession.

That effort, known as J-HELP, has allocated more than $23 million in extra funds for individuals and families seeking help with housing expenses, food, counseling, job assistance and other critical needs.

Responding to a different crisis, Sherman and Federation President Steven B. Nasatir traveled to Haiti in 2010 to assess the Jewish communal response to the devastating earthquake. JUF donors had contributed more than $750,000 to relief efforts.

Sherman and Nasatir rode through streets flanked by crumbling buildings, walked the sprawling tent cities that provided the only shelter to some 1 million Haitians, observed schools and community-building efforts JUF helped launch, and met with the nation's President to discuss long-range needs.

Since his term as board chairman ended in 2010, Sherman has served as founding chairman of North America's Israel Action Network, and chairman of JUF's Jewish Community Relations Council.

Sherman grew up in a philanthropically prominent family in Chicago, and a sense of responsibility to one's community was instilled in him from childhood. As a 5-year-old, he and his sister collected and sold stray golf balls they found in the woods, and gave half the proceeds to the Combined Jewish Appeal, precursor to today's JUF.

As a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, Sherman traveled to the Soviet Union to study abroad. He took supplies and clothing to the refuseniks, Soviet Jews who were persecuted and were refused visas to emigrate. That was an eye-opening moment, he told the prestigious Chronicle of Philanthropy in a 2008 profile. There in the land his grandparents emigrated from, he witnessed the meaning of anti-Semitism and recognized that "there but for the grace of God go I."

Since then, he has been involved with many Jewish organizations, including the Federation, the American Jewish Congress and CityPAC, where he served as board member. He also has led numerous missions to Israel on behalf of JUF.

The long family tradition of philanthropic and civic commitment reaches well beyond the Jewish community, however. With his wife, Susan, and their five children, Sherman is an avid supporter of the American Liver Foundation, which he served as Illinois Chapter President, and of liver research at the University of Chicago. They also support the World Wildlife Fund, Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo, and several other causes.

Sherman's leadership has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Distinguished Leadership Award of the American Liver Foundation, the Distinguished Leadership Award of the American Jewish Congress, JUF's Young Leadership Award, and CityPAC's Henry M. "Scoop" Jackson Pro-Israel Advocacy Award.

In his business life, Sherman is Chairman of Benj. E. Sherman & Sons Real Estate, a 90-year-old firm founded by his grandfather and headed for many years by his father, Leonard, who received the Rosenwald Award four years ago. Today, the company owns and manages thousands of apartments in communities across the United States.

A master at original, interactive bedtime stories, in 2009 Sherman wrote and published a children's book. Precious Penelope in the Kingdom of Very Large Castles is about a young girl who journeys throughout her realm and comes to appreciate her own life. Net proceeds are devoted to children's literacy programs.

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