By NICHOLAS HAMBURGER, Special to the CCJN
The Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana (JEF) lavishly honored its immediate past executive director, Saundra “Sandy” Levy, on Thursday evening March 28 at the Audubon Tea Room. Levy, who announced her retirement from the non-profit corporation last spring after serving as its executive director for 27 years, was at the center of much public admiration and respect at the gala, the first Annual Event administered by Robert “Bobby” Garon, a former trial lawyer who accepted the position Levy had vacated.
Under Levy’s leadership, JEF nearly sextupled its assets, with the foundation’s reserves growing from a total of $10 million at the beginning of her term to more than $59 million when she retired. Levy began numerous initiatives during her almost three-decade tenure, such as the Charitable Gift Annuity Program, the B’nai Maimonides Program, and Create a Jewish Legacy, but she may be best remembered for her allocation of funds of emergency aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
“Sandy was our guiding light during our darkest hour,” Joyce Pulitzer said on Thursday night.
Prior to JEF, Levy worked as a municipal employee coordinating the issuing of federal grants to New Orleans. A former president of Temple Sinai, she also headed the New Orleans Estate Planning Council and the New Orleans chapter of the National Committee of Planned Giving during her JEF tenure.
However, Levy suggested it was the 16 years she spent on the Historic Districts Landmarks Commission that prepared her to lead JEF. “It was all about legacy and permanence and preservation,” Levy said in an interview with the Crescent City Jewish News last year. “If you don’t remember — if you don’t save those things — you’re not going to know who you are.”
Levy has her sight trained on the future. “I know that the endowment’s best days are ahead,” she stated in an address to Garon. “With your determination and your dedication to our Jewish community, we can’t lose.”
After 33 years as an attorney, Garon, a former president of Federation and a volunteer long affiliated with a number of local Jewish community organizations, assumed the executive directorship of JEF on January 1.
“I’ve repeatedly been asked why would I want this job at this stage of my life; why would I leave a practice of law as a trial attorney? And I can tell you that this position is a dream job for me,” Garon said.
JEF, an affiliate agency of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, serves as a repository of funds from which planned donations, grants, and emergency assistance are dispersed throughout the Jewish community. At Thursday’s event, Larry M. Lehmann, president of JEF, described it as “the savings account” of the Jewish community in Louisiana, encouraging attendees to invest in the non-profit corporation and thereby ensure the community’s future financial health.
Meanwhile, Rabbi Edward P. Cohn pointed out in his invocation that JEF continues a legacy of philanthropy harking back to the Book of Leviticus. “The Torah describes free will offerings, which were completely at the discretion of the giver. And that, you see, very quickly brings us to tonight: the Jewish Endowment Foundation of Louisiana, established in 1967, the origins of which go all the way back to Torah times,” Cohn said.
“Free will offerings. ‘All whose hearts were willing, all whose spirits so moved them.’ That sounds like JEF to me.”