Nearly 90 years ago, before King Harris' family moved to Chicago, before there was an Israel, before Harris was even born-the Jewish Federation was deeply rooted in his family's identity.
Harris, who has been named the Jewish United Fund's 2018 General Campaign Chairman, tells the tale of his grandfather, a self-made man who sold peacock feathers for women's hats when he was 13 and eventually started what became a prosperous woolen goods business in Minneapolis-St. Paul.
"But he never bragged about any of his accomplishments," Harris said, recalling what his own father, Neison, told him. "That is, until one night when he came home and told his sons and daughter that he now was the largest contributor to the Jewish Federation in the Twin Cities. That really meant something to him.
"I would like to think that my father and grandfather would both be proud to see me standing here, taking responsibility for our Jewish community" by leading the JUF Annual Campaign in Chicago.
The Annual Campaign is the largest source of funds supporting JUF's network of more than 70 vital programs and agencies that meet basic human needs, create Jewish experiences, and strengthen Jewish community connections locally and around the globe.
"King Harris has shaped and strengthened Chicago in immeasurable ways," said JUF President Steven B. Nasatir. "In business, philanthropy, and certainly in our own Jewish community, he has been a major force for good in this city and in the lives of countless residents-just as his family has done for generations."
Harris long has been one of Chicago's preeminent business and civic leaders. He worked at Pittway Corporation for 29 years, serving as President and CEO from 1987-2000. He also served as Board Chair of two Pittway spin-offs, AptarGroup, Inc., and Penton Media, and continues to be Chairman of Harris Holdings. In the not-for-profit world, he has served on the boards of the University of Chicago, the Rehabilitation Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Metropolitan Planning Council, Chicago Community Trust, the Francis Parker School, and World
A self-described community organizer and affordable housing advocate, Harris currently is a Senior Fellow at the Metropolitan Planning Council and Board Chair of the Illinois Housing Development Authority. Much earlier in his career, he was a neighborhood center director for the Office of Economic Opportunity in Massachusetts and, before that, spent two years in the Peace Corps as a community development worker in Chile.
Even among those many endeavors, JUF holds a special space for him.
"JUF serves over 500,000 people of all faiths in Chicago, and millions of Jews in Israel and worldwide," he said. "The scope and force of our impact is the most powerful example of collective action I have ever been fortunate to participate in. Every day, we help transform the lives of thousands of people at defining points in their lives.
"I have never seen an organization with the firepower, the commitment, that JUF has. JUF gets the job done."