Federation celebrates its philanthropic leaders; says goodbye to CEO Arnie Fielkow
By ALAN SMASON, Special to the CCJN
With his successor Robert French in the audience, Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans CEO Arnie Fielkow had his swansong on Wednesday, Dec. 7, to a packed crowd of more than 200 people assembled at the Audubon Tea Room in Audubon Park. Fielkow thanked his staff for their dedication and his wife and life partner Dr. Susan Fielkow for her unwavering support over the past five and a half years that he had assumed the position at Federation.
Fielkow acknowledged that difficult first year when he learned he had been diagnosed with a rare, incurable disease: amyloidosis. The couple traveled across the country seeking out medical help, eventually staying in Nashville at Vanderbilt University, where he received specialized treatment for the disease.
Fielkow read an open letter to French, welcoming him to “the most wonderful city and community in the world.”
French is the current executive director of Jewish El Paso and the Jewish Community Foundation. He will be starting work with Federation on February 1, 2023.
“You will soon be moving to a community with more friendliness, passion, warmth and resiliency than any I’ve ever encountered,” Fielkow began. “A community which had the strength to overcome Hurricane Katrina 17 years ago, get back on her feet and, ultimately, come back stronger than ever.”
Even though the Fielkows left New Orleans 11 years ago when he became the CEO of the NBA Retired Players Association, Fielkow acknowledged that he and his wife had always considered New Orleans their true home. So, when the opportunity to become Federation CEO was made known to him, he literally jumped at the chance. “New Orleans will always be our home and where our heart lies,” he continued.
“Robert, one solid piece of advice now: Buy as much black and gold apparel as you can,” Fielkow suggested, in noting the attachment of the community to the colors of the New Orleans Saints NFL franchise. “And always recite two words: “Who dat!”
Fielkow noted the past philanthropy and care exhibited by the New Orleans Jewish community through COVID, Hurricane Laura and its own Hurricane Katrina recovery efforts.
“Tonight I am happy to report that the New Orleans area Jewish population exceeds 12,000, 20% higher than the time of Katrina,” he stated.
Fielkow also acknowledged the current board chair Brian Katz, who presented him with a special piece of Judaic art, as well as his past board chair Joshua Force and Jewish Endowment Foundation executive director Bobby Garon for their support.
“You are three of the finest professionals with whom I have ever worked and I will dearly miss you,” Fielkow noted.
He added that incoming chair Jonny Lake will continue the tradition when he begins his term of office next year along with 2023 Campaign chairs Melinda Mintz and Dr. Marc Behar.
Fielkow admitted that one of the joys associated with being Federation CEO was the ability for him to reconnect to his Jewish faith, practice and traditions. Raised in Appleton, Wisconsin, Fielkow had a fairly observant upbringing, he acknowledged. “Yet during my sports career, I admittedly lost some of that connection and it has truly been wonderful to recapture my Judaism, be it through Shabbat and holiday observance, classes or just generally sharing all of Judaism’s beauty,” he added.
Before he left the podium, Fielkow again acknowledged the recent institution on his watch of the Goldring Family Foundation Center for Jewish-Multicultural Affairs and the Sherry and Alan Leventhal Family Foundation Center for Interfaith Families, two groundbreaking organizations within the Federation system.
Fielkow also noted the 75th anniversary of the State of Israel will be next year and that he knows Federation’s support will not waver on French’s term of office.
Earlier in the evening, Nancy Timm awarded the Roger and Alan Bissinger Memorial Award given to the person considered its top community leader, Julie Wise Oreck.
“She is a woman with a mission and I believe my father and my brother would agree she had made a true difference in the world,” Timm said.
Nancy and her husband Steve Timm received special tzedakah containers in the shape of streetcars for their roles as 2022 campaign chairs.
On behalf of the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust, Lisa Romano presented Shellye Farber with the Oscar J. Tolmas L’Dor V’Dor Award for her past philanthropic efforts.
Garon presented Julie Green with the Hebert and Margot Garon Young Leadership Award.
To see photos from the 2022 Campaign Celebration, click below: