WASHINGTON – Next Monday, Mark Wilf will be ending his term as Jewish Federations of North America chairman after nearly four years. In a conversation with The Jerusalem Post, he reflected on his tenure, which included multiple challenges simultaneously.
“My first week on the job was the Tree of Life massacre, [which led] the community to come together around security, and then, of course, COVID, the Guardian of the Walls, the missiles in Israel, the Ukraine war,” Wilf said. “So there’s been no shortage of emergencies or crises. The silver lining was the ability to bring all our organizations together.”
“The Jewish federations have really undergone a massive transformation in these past few years, and we have reestablished our own crucial role, which is primarily supporting flourishing Jewish communities,” he said.
Before joining JFNA, Wilf served as United Jewish Communities national campaign chairman, United Jewish Appeal national young leadership cabinet chairman and as president of the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey. Most recently, he chaired JFNA’s national initiative that addresses the needs of impoverished Holocaust survivors living in the US. He is an attorney and partner in Garden Homes, a real-estate development firm.
“The Jewish federations have really undergone a massive transformation in these past few years, and we have reestablished our own crucial role, which is primarily supporting flourishing Jewish communities."Mark Wilf
“We’ve always been engaged in the security space, but the Tree of Life was a significant milestone, and then, of course, Poway and Monsey and all the other tragedies that occurred,” Wilf said.
“But for me, on a personal level, that Sunday after the shooting, I [had] the honor and privilege to represent the Federations at the memorial event,” he said. “And what struck me the most, there were [people] from every denomination, every walk of life. And I’ll never forget, I think one of the Muslim leaders saying, ‘If you want us to guard your synagogues and to guard your community, we will go there right now to help guard your community.’ And I think it was so powerful in that moment.”
“And, of course, it led to all the incredible efforts and responses to really ramp up our game,” Wilf said. “We’ve worked on our public advocacy area to increase funding for security – nearly $250 million in the last bill. Terrorists, and our enemies are not looking in any one town or one city. So we have to make sure every community, every institution has is hardened appropriately and has the right security and is protected as best it can be.”
“Certainly, we’re more aware today,” he said. “And I think the entire committee is certainly more conscious of all the threats, and we have to be on guard. I do believe we are making great progress on security, but we have to be ever vigilant. We can never guarantee full security, but we have to be ever vigilant.”
The challenge for JFNA moving forward is “to continue to build community, to try to continue to be as inclusive as possible,” Wilf said.
“We have to continue to work very hard on building Israel-Diaspora relations,” he said. “I think both sides of the pond need to understand each other better. But I’m very optimistic and hopeful. As long as we communicate with each other, as long as we build flourishing Jewish communities through the infrastructure of a Federation system and working with the State of Israel, I’m hopeful we can overcome any challenge.”
Wilf is also the co-owner of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings. Asked about the similarities and differences in both positions, he said: “There are a lot of analogies, and that’s part of what we love about the NFL and sports. Teamwork is very powerful, but you’re only as strong as your weakest link, your weakest community, or your weakest part of your community.
“And that’s what I think the Federation represents. And whether it’s someone elderly in the former Soviet Union [who] has nobody to look out for them but the organizational community, we have to take care of each other and be a strong team. And that means everybody,” Wilf said.