Marilyn Waldman: In her own words

My involvement in the Jewish community has evolved naturally and because of my background. I grew up in Cleveland, which has a strong Jewish community. I went to NFTY camp, and later was the vice president of Hillel at the University of Michigan. When I moved to the Bay Area, Phyllis Cook lured me into the Federation’s Women's Division. As a young married woman on the Peninsula, I was anxious to make friends and the Women's Division volunteers were smart and dedicated – I felt at home immediately.

I like to create new projects. In the ‘70s, when Rosella Elkind asked Sally Gradinger and me to duplicate a Thirteen Thursday's women's educational program, we did so with a remarkable group of women who are all leaders today. That led to being asked to serve on the board of the Federation, where I chaired the Family, Childcare and Health budget committee. That, in turn, led me to the Mt. Zion Hospital board. Reading budgets and serving on the finance and investment committees were critical skills to learn as I was widowed around that time. When my kids and I eventually moved back to San Francisco, I ran into Naomi Lauter in the checkout line at Cal-Mart one day, and she told me she needed help running the Northern California AIPAC office. I applied and became her associate director. Naomi then fixed me up with my husband, Murry!

Later, when doing a job search, I spoke with Anita Friedman and told her I wanted to teach civics to Russian emigre high school kids. She replied, "What we need is jobs!" She introduced me to Abby Snay at Jewish Vocational Service, and I created the Emigre Jobs Project. We placed 1,000 emigres annually. That was the most satisfying professional work I've done.

In recent years, I've turned from social service to culture. I served on the National Foundation for Jewish Culture board, loving the travel and meeting writers and artists such as Theodore Bikel. When Joyce Linker became board chair of the Contemporary Jewish Museum, she drafted me. The creation of the CJM was not without challenges, and there was a point when fundraising had stalled. Watching Cissie Swig and others surmount the obstacles was both remarkable and instructive. The CJM board is now filled with young, enthusiastic members, and I love the welcoming atmosphere and stimulating programs the museum offers. I'm currently chairing the CJM’s Legacy Giving Society to help ensure a vibrant future for this awesome place.

I am most grateful for the friendships I have made throughout the years of my involvement in the community, and for the general satisfaction of creating a project and watching it succeed. My wish for the Jewish community is that it will remain welcoming, vibrant and flexible, meeting new needs as they arise.

We are thrilled that Marilyn Waldman is the 2016 recipient of the Judith Chapman Memorial Women’s Leadership Award. Please join us at Day of Philanthropy, on September 22, when we present her with the award and celebrate her accomplishments and contributions to the community.


May 24, 2016


Marilyn Yolles Waldman