New Orleans Federation honors “public servant” Fielkow on retirement

“We must keep meeting like this,” said Touro Rabbi Katie Bauman, in opening the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans’ 2022 annual celebration, a nod to the continuing return to normal after Covid.

The Dec. 7 event was to celebrate the tenure of Arnie Fielkow as Federation CEO, as he is retiring at the end of the year (For our interview, click here.). Robert French, his successor, attended the event.

In her invocation, Bauman quoted Ben Zoma in Pirkei Avot, where it is written “Who is wise? The one who learns from everyone. Who is strong? The one who disciplines himself. Who is rich? The one who rejoices in his portion. Who is honored? The one who honors all creation.” She then discussed how Fielkow models each of those, calling him “a gracious individual, seeing the best in people.”

During his presentation as part of the awards ceremony, Bobby Garon said Fielkow likely had another venture up his sleeve, and “we all know he is not done applying his unique, brilliant leadership skills and vision quite yet.”

Board chair Brian Katz spoke of Fielkow’s commitment to kehilla, to community. “Not only have you brought it to the Jewish community, and engaged the entire Jewish community, you have done it to the greater New Orleans community, which is truly amazing and one of the greatest accomplishments you’ve had over the last five years.”

He presented Fielkow with an artwork with verses from Psalms and Proverbs, which was selected “because the Packers gift shop was closed.”

Video Tribute

A video tribute was screened and is also available online.

William Goldring, chairman of the Sazerac Company, said Fielkow “is the true definition of a public servant,” having played numerous roles in the community, in the Jewish community and city-wide. “He’s just touched so many lives.”

U.S. Rep. Troy Carter from Louisiana’s second House district addressed his “dear, dear friend,” saying it is hard to put his name and “retirement” in the same sentence, but easy to use words like “humanitarian,” “philanthropic leader” or “sports enthusiast.” “You have been one incredible leader,” he said.

Carter said he knows this is really “not a retirement, but a passing of the next chapter,” and he wants to be part of every upcoming chapter “because you’re that kind of leader.”

Aaron Ahlquist, director of policy for the ADL Southern division, said “your leadership has enriched and supported not just the Jewish community, but all of New Orleans,” and that Fielkow was a committed partner for the ADL, “fundamentally committed to ensuring the safety of the Jewish community.”

Jefferson Parish President Cynthia Lee-Sheng praised Fielkow for “helping what is the most diverse parish in the state.”

Joshua Force, Federation board chair from 2019 to 2021, noted the challenging times Fielkow had to deal with, from “hurricanes, a worldwide pandemic, and maybe the most challenging of all, Zoom meetings.” He spoke of the increasing priority of community security, and the establishment of the two centers, for Jewish-multicultural affairs, and for interfaith families.

Fielkow “broadened the reach of Jewish Federation in both the Jewish and non-Jewish communities here in New Orleans,” Force said.

Goldring also commented on the centers, as the Goldring Family Foundation helped establish the Center for Jewish-Multicultural Affairs. He said when Fielkow approached him, “It was kind of tough to put all the pieces together… but Arnie had a plan to do it and made it happen, and it has been very effective over the past few years.”

In the video, he told Fielkow, “You’ve been a real mensch in the city of New Orleans. Everybody loves you, and we really hate to see you give up this position, because you created something that wasn’t there before.”

Additional tributes were from Willian Hines, New Orleans corporate managing partner for Jones Walker, who has worked with Fielkow for over 20 years in various capacities; Joseph Giarrusso, who represents District A on the New Orleans City Council; and David Saginaw, Jewish philanthropic consultant.

“I am so humbled and so appreciative,” Fielkow responded after the video.

He started by recognizing the evening’s honorees. “Thank you each for all that you do.”

At his sendoff 11 years ago at the Jewish Community Center, when he moved to Chicago to become the CEO of the NBA Retired Players Association, “I knew that night that at some point we would return to the city we love, and thanks to Federation, you made that happen.”

He noted that his first year back included a “frightening and shocking” diagnosis of amyloidosis, a rare and incurable disease that leads to buildups of abnormal proteins in organs. “With Federation support,” the Fielkows traveled to specialists around the country, winding up at Vanderbilt for treatment.

He adapted a tradition by Rabbi David Goldstein at Touro Synagogue, who does an open letter to a public figure each year on the High Holy Days, by offering such a letter to his successor, welcoming him to “the most wonderful city and community in the world.

“You will soon be moving to a community with more friendliness, passion, warmth and resiliency than any I’ve ever encountered,” Fielkow continued. “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.”

Given his sports career, the call he received 22 years ago inviting him to a position with the Saints “could have come from any city in America, but thank God it came from New Orleans.”

His biggest bit of advice for French — “Buy as much black and gold apparel as you can, and always recite two words: ‘Who Dat!’.”

He told French about the spirit of New Orleanians, during and after Katrina, working through Covid and more recent hurricanes, opening synagogues to congregations needing a home, “gladly raised money to help rebuild, cooked over 30,000 meals for health care workers, and each and every day volunteer to help others in need. This is who we are.”

After talking about watching the Jewish community’s post-Katrina rebuilding efforts from his vantage point on the City Council, he said “I am happy to report that the New Orleans area’s Jewish population exceeds 12,000, 20 percent higher than at the time of Katrina.”

He thanked the Federation staff for their talent and dedication, “making me look good this past five and a half years. I love each of you.”

He told French that “we all look forward to your new leadership and all the great things you will be bringing to the table at Federation. I very much hope I left you with a solid foundation.”

Fielkow referenced the recent strategic plan and thanked those who helped reshape Federation, looked forward to celebrating Israel’s 75th anniversary as part of the Federation’s continued commitment to Israel, and the priority of community security.

He also prayed for an end to the war in Ukraine and urged community members to attend the community-wide Chanukah events, which would include elements about supporting Ukraine.

He concluded by saying that leading Federation “has truly been the honor of my life.”

Annual Awards

The evening also included presentations of the Federation’s annual recognitions.

Nancy Timm presented the Roger and Allan Bissinger Memorial Award to Julie Wise Oreck.

Timm noted that Oreck travels to Israel more each year than most people do in their whole lives. She is a past Federation president and annual campaign co-chair, has served on many local boards, and is an alumna of the National Young Leadership Cabinet and board member of the Jewish Federations of North America, Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

“She is a woman with a mission, and I believe my father and my brother would agree she has in fact made a true difference in the world,” Timm said.

In her brief acceptance, Oreck cited the legacy of Roger and Allan Bissinger, saying “I can’t tell you how much of an honor it is to receive this award” that is named in their memory.

Lisa Romano of the Oscar J. Tolmas Charitable Trust presented the Oscar J. Tolmas L’Dor V’Dor Award to Shellye Farber. “This award celebrates the unsung heroes of the Greater New Orleans Jewish community who quietly and consistently aid in repairing the world around them,” Romano said.

“Every Super Sunday, you’ll find Shellye setting up her adding machines,” she said. She is also a long-time volunteer for WYES’ membership drive, and a past president of the New Orleans Section of the National Council of Jewish Women.

Farber has served on many Federation committees, including chairing the PR and allocations committees, and served several terms on the board.

Romano said her service is what the award embodies, “volunteers who give of themselves without expectation of recognition. We’re thrilled to recognize her.”

The custom award was created by Lee Michaels Fine Jewelers.

Farber said she was “surprised and so honored” when she found out about the award. “I’ve always said, if there were a gene for volunteerism, I don’t ever remember a time when my parents weren’t giving of themselves to a non-profit that was dear to them. That gene has been passed on to me.”

Bobby Garon presented the Herbert and Margot Garon Young Leadership Award to Julie Green. He noted the passage of time, as exemplified by how the child of one of his peers is now receiving this award.

“Julie eyewitnessed early her parents’ commitment to our Jewish community and beyond,” he said. Her grandfather, who relocated from town to town, would arrive in a new place, turn on the lights at the new home, enroll the kids in school “and go to the local shul to volunteer,” Garon said. “I love that story.”

After graduating from Emory, Garon said, Green returned to New Orleans. She became co-chair of JNOLA, then participated in Katz-Phillips Young Leadership, and was recently asked to be an advisor to the program. “That’s the best gig Federation can offer,” he said.

During her time leading JNOLA, she established bylaws for the group, solidifying its position at Federation. She is now financial secretary at Gates of Prayer.

Nancy and Steve Timm were recognized for their efforts in leading the annual campaign, which raised $2.64 million from 1,154 households, a 4 percent card-for-card increase. Melinda Mintz and Marc Behar will lead the 2023 campaign.