Jacob Strumwasser, 24
Young hedge funder who grants micro-loans to Jewish Argentineans
For Jacob Strumwasser, it all began with a Taglit-Birthright Israel trip when he was studying at the University of Michigan. The trip helped him connect with his Jewish past and inspired him to take an active role in building the Jewish future in Argentina.
As a result of Birthright, Strumwasser participated in Michigan’s Hillel Alternative Spring Break trip to Argentina during his senior year of college. He helped rebuild a Jewish elementary school there, fell in love with the country and felt a strong desire to give back. So in 2007, Strumwasser leveraged his business savvy (he works in hedge funds) and launched Friends of Acceder, the Free Loan Society of Argentina (acceder.org.ar/index_eng.htm) with the help of a grant from the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.
Acceder, a nonprofit started by Jewish Argentinean brothers in response to the 2001 economic crisis, loans money interest-free to members of Argentina’s Jewish community, to help them build businesses and participate in life cycle events (read the “success stories” blog: http://accederfreeloan.blogspot.com). “Otherwise, they’d have to go to a loan shark charging an exorbitant amount of interest,” says Strumwasser.
“Acceder helps to provide the confidence and opportunities needed to maintain ‘stickiness’ in terms of our applicants’ Jewish identities,” he says. And with a 99.9 percent repayment rate, the small loans are self-sustaining, and can be re-loaned out.
“In business, we are taught to invest in well-managed companies,” Strumwasser says. “Jewish communal work is no different. As young entrepreneurs, it is up to us to translate ideas into action.”
Motivations: His parents, who inspired him to combine integrity and hard work with a sense of humor. And Baba Lu, who always said, “You have to do it alone — but you can never do it alone.” In his spare time: Assists Fulbright scholar Tom O’Donnel, a former professor at Michigan University, in researching Venezuela’s oil economy. Claim to fame: Finished at the final table for the past two years at the Hillel Hedge Fund Charity Poker Event, winning a hot-air balloon ride and two passes to the Las Vegas Film Festival.
Zoya Raynes Friedman, 32
Philanthropist and finance executive who’s empowering young leaders
Ask Zoya Raynes Friedman to whip out her BlackBerry and show you her calendar on any given week, and you’ll see an average of four nonprofit meetings, three dinners and several smaller strategy meetings.
An active philanthropist, Friedman is an executive committee member of the Jewish Community Relations Council, a board member of the Jewish Communal Fund and UJA-Federation’s Commission on Jewish Identity and Renewal, and a young leadership board member of AIPAC and Friends of the Israeli Defense Forces. Most recently, she co-founded the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, an umbrella organization empowering the next generation of leaders to address issues affecting the Jewish and pro-Israel community — especially those that mainstream organizations seem to ignore, such as the eight kidnapped Israeli soldiers.
A senior member of the Capitol Introduction Team at Bear Stearns (she’ll be moving to JP Morgan Chase this summer), Friedman brings to the table the matchmaking skills she’s honed in her day job. Only instead of connecting institutional investors with hedge funds, she introduces philanthropists to non-profits. At the Jewish Heritage Program, yet another pet cause, she not only mentors college students, but is also helping structure the organization, form an executive board, attract donors, and institute an official alumni networking platform.
Her activism is rooted in her heritage. Friedman was born in Kiev and moved to Baltimore when she was 3. “I was personally a beneficiary of the ‘Let my people go’ campaign and other efforts that helped bring Soviet Jewry to freedom, and feel I have to do something in return,” she says, adding that the Jewish value of tikkun olam is another motivator.
Speaking of matchmaking: David Borowich, co-founder of the Council of Young Jewish Presidents and a mutual friend, introduced Zoya to her husband, Robert Friedman, an investment banker with shared communal interests and host of MidEast Mix (www.mideastmix.com). Lucky move: In 2001, Enron aggressively tried to recruit Friedman as a trader. Fortunately, she turned them down.
— Tamar Snyder
Caroline Arfa Massel, 35
Businesswoman and philanthropist active in Holocaust remembrance
A grandchild of Holocaust survivors, Caroline Arfa Massel has made it her mission to keep the memory of the Holocaust — and its 21st century lessons — alive.
In 1997, Massel co-founded the Young Leadership Associates of the American Society for Yad Vashem, and currently serves as chairperson. Massel organizes annual fundraisers and educational events for young adults.
“Soon there will be no eyewitnesses left. Both of my grandparents had passed away, and I felt that I needed to pass along the message,” she says. “I’m going to tell my children, but who will tell their children?”
When the British left Israel in 1949, Massel’s grandfather, Salo Gutfreund, bought a factory manufacturing parachutes and rainwear. “He was the first exporter of more than $1 million in merchandise out of Israel,” says Massel, who serves as vice president of the family company, Gruner & Co., which manufactures men’s rainwear and overcoats under the Joseph Abboud and Kenneth Cole labels.
Massel is proudest of implementing Yad Vashem’s annual teacher’s conference, which provides free lesson plans and training to more than 1,500 educators on how to teach the Holocaust in a meaningful way. “The Holocaust is not about what happened in the gas chambers,” she says. “It’s about Jewish life beforehand and the events that led up to it, and ensuring that it never happens again.”
Inspirations: Her grandparents, Holocaust survivors. “They were happy people who loved Judaism and lived a full life,” Massel says. “If you can come through that and still have a positive outlook, you can get through anything.” And Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who told her that, “If you believe in a cause, make it happen.” Rabbi Lookstein provided space for the first Yad Vashem teacher’s conference. Favorite coat: Though she has more than 30 coats in her closet, her favorite was an old sample she received years ago on a factory visit in Asia. It was a simple black trench coat. But she lost it — at last year’s Yad Vashem luncheon.
Joseph Weilgus, 30
Giving sick kids a reason to smile
Back when he was in college, Joseph Weilgus clowned around. No, not the way you’re thinking. Weilgus would put on a polka-dotted clown costume and spend his free time cheering up sick children at local hospitals. (“I used to be shy,” he confesses. “But when you put on a clown costume, you can be whoever you want to be.”)
Weilgus isn’t the sort of person who’s satisfied with the status quo. While hanging out at hospitals, he noticed many other needs that weren’t met — and began recruiting friends and classmates to the cause. He even got colleagues at Price Waterhouse Coopers, where he was interning, involved.
And so in 1998, his dorm room at Yeshiva University became the headquarters for Project Sunshine, a nonprofit that matches up local hospitals with college students and young professionals looking to volunteer with arts and crafts, tutoring, and reading stories to sick children. “It’s not a clown organization,” he stresses. “Regular people like you and me bring their talents and skills to work with children and their families.”
Project Sunshine currently boasts more than 10,000 volunteers and 250 chapters in 75 cities — including the U.S., Israel, China, Kenya, and Puerto Rico. “I’ve run it like a business from day one,” he says. And, as CEO of the New Legacy Group, he should know.
Though Weilgus no longer oversees Project Sunshine’s day-to-day operations (the organization is run by Amy Saperstein and a staff of 14), he checks in every day and still tries to schedule time for volunteering at hospitals. “It’s made me into an open, happy person,” Weilgus says.
All lit up: If you happened to look up at the Empire State Building on May 5, you would have seen it glow yellow in honor of Project Sunshine Week. A sunny office: Oprah Magazine gave the Project Sunshine office in N.Y. a colorful makeover in 2005. Honors & Awards: Weilgus received the 2002 Nonprofit Entrepreneur Award from Harvard Business School Club of New York and was named “New Yorker of the Week” in 2004 by NY1. He was also an undefeated NCAA tennis player.
— Tamar Snyder