The central address of the Jewish community: A conversation with Harry Graber

by | May 9, 2024 | Other News

As United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s executive vice president/CEO, Harry Graber was involved with the development of the Sandler Family Campus, as well as with its various changes.

Jewish News: What was your role with the building/move-in for the Campus?

Harry Graber: I became United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s chief executive officer at the onset of the planning, fundraising, and construction of the Reba and Sam Sandler Family Campus. I had the honor to serve as the primary staff person assigned to the Sandler Family Campus Committee and worked collaboratively with Philip Rovner, then CEO of Tidewater Jewish Foundation and Commander Harold (Hal) Sacks, Sandler Family Campus fundraising consultant.

The committee was co-chaired by Bobby Copeland and Bob Josephberg and had such notable members as Paul Turok, the architect who designed the Campus, Gene Ross, who led the financial analytics team, and Marvin Simon, honorary chairman, who worked tirelessly to put together the original land acquisition(s) for the establishment of the Campus.

The committee was incredible and worked in complete conjunction with UJFT’s board of directors, chaired by Toni Sandler and later, Ron Kramer. It was all very remarkable and many intricate challenges potentially costing the community tens of thousands of dollars were handled by seasoned leaders who welcomed the responsibility. I remember that the contract of the national fundraising consultant was terminated, and the produced plan was cast aside. The committee thought that our community was being underestimated and decided to hire Hal Sacks to coordinate the professional and lay fundraising results. The result was a determined fundraising effort by those who knew our community best, and which exceeded the consultant’s projected total by about $12-15 million.

Another example of collaboration between the UJFT board and Sandler Family Campus committee was a decision led by Steve and Art Sandler and seconded by Bobby Copeland and Bob Josephberg to reject the bank’s offer of arbitrage and fluid interest rates related to the terms of our loan. This decision proved to be correct and saved our community hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Bobby Copeland, Hal Sacks, Philip Rovner and I met almost on a weekly basis for almost 12-18 months to review our fundraising strategies and assignments. The group considered individual, family, corporate, and foundation fundraising and we were incredibly successful in all the aforementioned areas.

JN: Please describe the excitement about moving into a new facility.

HG: The excitement was amazing as it was the culmination of years of discussion, investigation, planning, and fundraising on the part of so many leaders in our community. Everybody felt that it was a monumental effort to make sure that we took the necessary courageous steps to serve our changing community in the best possible manner. Each agency had tremendous input in creating what became an idealized but yet realized space for themselves.

JN: What about the challenges?

HG: The challenges were many but manageable because of the outstanding lay and professional talent that existed at the resident agencies. It is often very hard for organizations to give up what was comfortable, welcome change, and learn to live and solve problems together. However, the commitment was omnipresent to make the Campus the best possible communal home imaginable. The physical plant was beautiful, and all were awed by what was created. A governing body and UJFT subsidiary organization were created to manage the Campus. Walter Camp was the hired professional and Alan Frieden was the chairperson. Their collective efforts and dedication were matched by the participating agencies in reaching to make every problem solvable and every vision a reality.

JN: Once in, what were the growing pains?

HG: There were the usual growing pains of moving into a newly built home and work orders were submitted and acted upon. The major adjustments involved building up the Simon Family JCC membership and making sure that the Strelitz Pre-School and Konikoff Center for Learning achieved a net gain of students in the first years after the move. Lastly, we had to make sure that those Norfolk Jewish residents who may have felt abandoned by the move to the new Sandler Family Campus were the beneficiaries of an enhanced outreach and welcoming process.

JN: The Campus has a lot of art. Were you involved in any of its purchase and placement?

HG: The art of the Sandler Family Campus owes its existence to a selection committee chaired by Sheila Josephberg and Andrew Fink who were responsible for the acquisition of most of the art that hangs in the Cardo. Some years after the opening of the Campus, the committee dissolved and a large role in selecting art fell to me. I worked very closely with UJFT’s Holocaust Commission to establish the Holocaust Memorial Garden and then with Nolan Fine to secure the works of Holocaust survivor, Samuel Bak. Local artists like Arlene Kesser, Telsa Leon, and Lorraine Fink were approached and agreed to hang their work on the walls of the Campus. Ohef Sholom Temple contributed some beautiful pieces for our Kramer Board Room. I love art and enjoyed securing works for the Campus which ranged from representational to abstract pieces, but they were always either Jewish themed or by Jewish artists.

JN: Twenty years on, do you feel the mission was accomplished?

HG: It was definitely accomplished, and after 20 years the Campus, because of the hard work of Walter Camp and his long-term successor, Glenn Saucier, looks more beautiful than ever. The initial successful fundraising efforts allowed us to establish a fiscal reserve that has met the repair and replacement needs over time. I can also clearly see and understand from many that Betty Ann Levin, current UJFT executive vice president and CEO is doing a wonderful job in making sure that the operations and funding of resident agencies are well managed and provided.

I believe that the overwhelming majority consider the Reba and Sam Sandler Family Campus the central address of the Jewish community. I firmly believe that our community beams with pride with all that has been accomplished with and on the Campus.