By Charles Bernsen
It didn’t take Risa Klein Herzog long to name her most important achievement during the 22 years she worked at the Jewish Federation and Jewish Foundation of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.
It came in early March of this year when 13 of Nashville’s largest Jewish institutions and agencies – including all five congregations – signed up to participate in Life & Legacy, a nationwide initiative of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation that helps Jewish communities across North America secure endowments and build legacy giving into their philanthropic cultures.
For Herzog, the successful launch of Life & Legacy represented the culmination of her work as the Jewish Foundation’s director of development, and it came just a month before she stepped down from her position with Foundation to take a similar one with The Land Trust of Tennessee.
“I feel like I have helped tee up the community to focus on its long-term financial security,” she said during an April 6 reception in her honor at the Gordon Jewish Community Center.
Herzog was just 28 when she joined the Federation staff as the temporary annual campaign director in 1995. She was named to the job permanently a short time later and served for 10 years until being named to the newly created position of Foundation development director. Today, the Foundation is the repository of endowments funds totaling upwards of $30 million, more than twice the amount when Herzog became development director.
Herzog saw her job as not just raising money but also building and nurturing the value of Jewish philanthropy and voluntarism. She accomplished that through a number of initiatives – the Book of Life sculpture in the GJCC lobby that recognizes those who establish legacy funds to support the community, for example, and the B’nai Tzedek Program which, using matching gifts from the Feldman/ Hassenfeld fund, has encouraged more than 350 local Jewish teenagers to create their own endowments funds.
During the reception in her honor, Federation Executive Director Mark S. Freedman presented Herzog with a plaque commending her for her years of service to the Jewish community.
“Risa has been planting seeds that will flourish in a day, a week, a month, a year or longer,” Freedman said. “Her impact on this community will be felt for many years to come.”
Herzog also received a mezuzah, which was presented to her on behalf of the community by Naomi Limor Sedek, the Federation’s assistant executive director.
“By presenting you with this mezuzah, you will always be reminded of the Jewish community in your comings and goings,” said Sedek, who has been Herzog’s co-worker at the Federation for 21 years. “This is not a time for good-bye – shalom – but rather a time for ‘see you later’ – l’hitraot.”
At a lunch earlier in the day, Herzog’s Federation co-workers also gave her with her Kim Phillips papercut of the Hebrew words lech lecha in recognition that, like Abraham when he set out for the land of Canaan, Herzog is beginning a new chapter in her life.
For her part, Herzog told the 75 staff members and community volunteers at the reception that her decision to move on was “absolutely the right one – but that doesn’t mean it isn’t very, very hard … You have taken me into your confidence and the privacy of your families, and that is a gift that I do not take lightly. These relationships mean so much to me.”
With her husband, Drew Herzog; daughter, Vivian, and parents, Jerry and Mimi Klein, standing nearby, Herzog recalled how moved she was at the outpouring of support from the Jewish community in the wake of a fire that destroyed her family’s home in January.
“It’s when the wind blows the hardest that you need the deepest roots,” Herzog said, quoting Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain.
“The fire was our wind,” she added. “And you are our roots.” •