Traits any organization would love to have in a leader-especially in times of crisis.
These are among the many qualities Pam Friend Szokol brings as incoming Board Chair of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Chicago.
When she takes the gavel later this month, Szokol becomes the third woman to guide an organization that has served the needs and neediest of Chicago's Jewish community for more than 120 years-and that has been a central part of her family's civic involvement for most of that time.
"Pam becomes Board Chair in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have known," JUF President Lonnie Nasatir said, "and few others could be as prepared. Her knowledge and understanding of all that JUF does is unmatched, and her devotion to innovation will be essential as we navigate the unknown."
As the most recent chair of JUF's Overall Planning and Allocations Committee, Szokol cultivated an in-depth understanding of the breadth and depth of JUF's impact, inspired by how JUF touches every facet of Jewish life. JUF's response to the pandemic, working hand-in-hand with its partner agencies to meet the incredible needs, is just the latest example.
"We are certainly in unprecedented times," Szokol said. "A woman Board Chair and a woman Campaign Chair (Kim Shwachman) at the same time! I'm very excited to be part of that. It's a tremendous opportunity to help our community, make critical differences in people's lives, and represent the strength of women here. I feel very proud and passionate about that."
"I'm fortunate to follow outgoing Chairman Andy Hochberg, who has been a remarkable leader during this difficult time," she said. "He's done a masterful job of setting the stage for me to move seamlessly into this role in a position of strength."
Szokol's family has long been engaged with JUF. Her grandfather, Neison Harris, and his brother, Irving, were major philanthropists who carried on their father's proud legacy of Federation support. Her uncle, King Harris, chaired JUF's 2018 Annual Campaign.
But for Szokol, it was her eldest daughter's bat mitzvah in 2005, and the trip to Israel then with her children Kimberly, Elizabeth, and William, that "really began my personal connection with JUF."
A friend at JUF helped her plan the trip, which included visits to JUF-supported programs there. The impact those efforts had on people's lives resonated with the whole family.
"We were exposed to the beauty and diversity of the land and the people, and to the many programs JUF supports," Szokol said. "Seeing those first-hand created a special understanding of the work JUF does there."
One effort she found particularly moving was the Israel Children's Zone initiative in JUF's Partnership Together region of Kiryat Gat-Lachish-Shafir, which improved the lives of 6,500 local schoolchildren.
In the years since that first trip, Szokol has been extremely active on JUF's Board, serving on more than two dozen different commissions and committees, chairing OPAC and the Breakthrough Fund Committee and co-chairing the Health & Human Services Commission.
Her philanthropic and civic involvement has not been limited to JUF. She heads the Harris Family Foundation, serves on the Executive Committee of the Family Institute at Northwestern University, and is heavily involved with Northwestern and the University of Chicago, as well as with the board of the Chicago Botanic Garden and the Marketing Committee of the Lyric Opera.
As her term begins, Szokol said she's eager to work with Nasatir to articulate a new vision of what the community will look like in the future.
"I have a strong commitment to use and leverage data to continue our understanding of our community," she said. That data will include results from the JUF Population Study now underway, which will identify needs, trends, and new directions and "inform many decisions that will help us reimagine our work."
"I'm also looking forward to engaging the next generation of leaders in the incredible work of JUF in new, innovative ways."