Bradley A. Sherman said he knew becoming the chair of the 2021 and 2022 Jewish Federation of Cleveland Campaigns for Jewish Needs would pose challenges – but when he learned of the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic, he became overwhelmed.
“I was like a deer in the headlights,” Sherman told the CJN, recalling the economy’s crash as people became ill and agencies rushed to respond to growing needs. “For the first two weeks of it, I was scared, all kinds of scared.”
Then he had a pivotal conversation with Michael Siegal, who was campaign chair in 2008 and 2009 during the Great Recession. Siegal gave Sherman a bit of advice.
“‘Your job isn’t to worry about everything else,’” Siegal told Sherman. “‘Your job is to worry about the mission of the organization. Focus on the people, and everything else will happen.’”
Sherman then met with leaders of each of the Federation’s partner agencies. That helped, too.
“Within a couple weeks … I was more energized, more committed, more sure that I was the right person in the right place,” he said Aug. 13. “And not only that, I have this unbelievable community behind me … that had made me the person that I am.”
The Federation will kick off the campaign with a drive-thru launch and campaign video Aug. 27, in the parking lot of The Temple-Tifereth Israel in Beachwood.
Faith in community
Two weeks prior to launch, Sherman said he was confident the campaign will be a success. Its slogan this year, “Here for Good,” he said recognizes the dual purpose of a campaign during a time of uncertainty.
“Preparing for (the) campaign has been a blessing,” he said. “It has been the most incredible experience, and with that being said, I realize we have these unbelievable needs even before COVID.”
He listed the rise in anti-Semitism and the related need for increased security, and the need to develop partnerships with other communities to “ensure our place in the world.”Additionally, there are social needs, such as an aging population, an increasing number of Jews living below the poverty line, people that need food assistance and rising homeless rates. “And all that stuff was there. And then, you add COVID,” he said.
Sherman said he thinks of the annual campaign as providing a safety net.
“If I don’t do my job and the community doesn’t do its job, then we risk losing all this investment we have had in the past and this wonderful community we have,” he said. “For me it’s not an if, it’s a will. We will.”
Sherman recognizes that some who want to give won’t be able to do so, and that many won’t be able to give as much as they have in the past.
“But for those of us who can, this is the time for us to step up even more,” he said.
Meaning of a match
Sherman said he is appreciative of the matching grant awarded by the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Foundation of Cleveland.
Under the “Mandel Match,” every new or increased gift to the Federation’s annual campaign will garner a matching donation from the Mandel Foundation toward the Federation’s Coronavirus Emergency Relief Fund.
“That speaks exactly to what we want as a community,” Sherman said.
Sherman’s involvement with Jewish philanthropy started with an invitation to a Young Leadership Division event. He later led that division and served on the Jewish Federations of North America’s Young Leadership Cabinet, where he was campaign chair. He then became human resource development chair at Federation.
In order to get a better understanding of Federation’s role within Cleveland, he served in leadership roles at Montefiore and at Cleveland Hillel.
“That gave me the ability to see the importance of the umbrella – to kind of see Federation from the other side and to understand Federation as a stakeholder, but also the importance that our agencies play,” he said.
Sherman was named strategic planning chair, and finally was asked by Federation board chair J. David Heller to assume his current role.
In reflecting on his past, Sherman speaks of what he calls the “three miracles” of his life.
He was born to an 18-year-old who was kicked out of her home because she was pregnant. She turned to Bellefaire JCB for help, and he was adopted by Lois and Lawrence Sherman. That, he said, was the first miracle.
“And it happened through a Jewish agency – a Federation agency,” he said.
The couple were active members of Park Synagogue in Cleveland Heights and Pepper Pike, and strong supporters of the Federation and Menorah Park. He remembers picking up pledge cards during Super Sunday when he was a child and said tzedakah was important to his family.
“And then I met my wife on a teen trip to Israel when I was 16 – and that was part of a Federation mission,” he said.
About two years later, when he was 18 and in college at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., his mother came to visit. In the middle of the night, he got a call from police that his mother had been struck and killed by a drunken driver.
“I had a bad spiraling outward as a result of that, and a friend of mine came to me and said, ‘You should come with me and go to minyan and say Kaddish for your mom every day.’ And it was Hillel that helped me gather a minyan and say Kaddish every day for my mother,” Sherman said. That experience helped him deal with his grief.
Sherman attributes all three of his personal miracles to the actions of the Jewish community.
“So when I talk about miracles, I talk about divine intervention,” he said. “And divine intervention is the Jewish community.”