Kenneth R. Feinberg says people often ask him what he considers to be the toughest part of his job.
A Washington, D.C.-based attorney and mediation specialist, Feinberg, 72, has worked on numerous high-profile compensation cases, including those involving 9/11 victims, the BP oil spill and Vietnam veterans impacted by Agent Orange. He said it’s not the depths or complexities of the cases but the emotional toll that he finds to be the most formidable factor.
“Some of the people in this room can do what I do much better than I can. It’s not rocket science,” said Feinberg, who served as keynote speaker at the June 20 annual meeting of The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore. “The toughest part is the emotional, the stories you hear from innocent victims. It’s absolutely debilitating.”
Speaking to an audience of approximately 400 Associated supporters in the main auditorium of Pikesville’s Beth Tfiloh Congregation, Feinberg offered the example of a widow of a New York firefighter who perished on 9/11. He said the widow, a mother of two young children, informed him that she was dying of cancer and only had 10 weeks to live.
“She said, ‘I need that [financial compensation] right away,’ so we got her the money and then she died eight weeks later,” said Feinberg, author of the 2006 book “What is Life Worth? The Inside Story of the 9/11 Fund and its Effort to Compensate the Victims of September 11th” (PublicAffairs).
He recalled another 9/11 firefighter’s widow who also needed immediate compensation for her young family. But then, Feinberg said, he learned that the firefighter secretly had another family in a different section of New York that was filing claims for financial restitution.
“What do you do with that? Do you tell [the widow] that he was leading a double life?” Feinberg said, drawing nervous laughter from the audience. After consulting with his wife, Diane “Dede” Shaff, Feinberg said he and his team decided to cut checks for both families and never informed them of each other’s existences.
Feinberg said he frequently draws from Jewish tradition and practice to guide him in his professional life. “How Judaism approaches the end of life has helped me understand how a secular community can rally, as the nation has rallied when these tragedies take place,” he said. “My Jewish life and values have helped me a great deal in that respect.”
Still, Feinberg said he feels his professional endeavors pale in comparison to the hard work and sense of commitment required by individuals who volunteer regularly for The Associated and other Jewish federations and organizations.
“What I do gets a fair amount of national attention,” he said. “But it is limited in time and scope, and then they’re over and I get back to normal living. What you do, day in and day out, quietly and without fanfare, 24 hours a day, seven days week, to help those in need – now that’s a community. What The Associated does in this community and around the nation and world is a fabulous example of how we can exhibit the best in Jewish and secular values, and I salute all of you.”
Babies to Bubbies
In her remarks at the annual meeting, Linda A. Hurwitz, outgoing chair of the board, said The Associated raised $30.3 million so far in its fiscal year 2018 campaign. She said the federation was on course to raise another $300,000 by the campaign’s official conclusion on June 30.
“Our donors answered the call,” said Hurwitz, congratulating Robb Cohen, chair of this year’s annual campaign, and Wendy Miller, chair of the 2018 Women’s Campaign. “This year has been a remarkable year.”
Hurwitz noted that additional monies were raised by The Associated during FY 2018, bringing the grand total to more than $100 million, stemming from pledges and gifts for specific initiatives, targeted endowments, capital infrastructure support, project enhancements and The Associated’s Centennial Campaign slated for 2020.
This marks the first time that the Associated has raised more than $100 million in a single year.
“This shows how visionary Jewish Baltimore truly is,” she said, with funding for a variety of community services and programs that will benefit recipients “from babies to bubbies.”
Among the political dignitaries attending the annual meeting were Baltimore County Councilwoman Vicki L. Almond (D-2nd), Del. Shelly L. Hettleman (D-11th), Del. Samuel I. “Sandy” Rosenberg (D-41st), Baltimore City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer (D-5th) and Del. Dana M. Stein (D-11th). Also in attendance were Amy Blank, a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates in the 11th District, and Israel C. “Izzy” Patoka, a Democrat running for Baltimore County Council in the 2nd District.
Jmore was the media sponsor of the annual meeting.
Hurwitz called the two-hour gathering “a celebration of our community and each of you. Each of you are the building blocks of our community … to create a world of good. Tonight is the story of us. This is the story that we craft year after year, to ensure a vibrant Jewish future.”
Marc B. Terrill, president and CEO of The Associated, praised Hurwitz’s commitment, hard work and stewardship of the federation over the past two years, as well as other community leaders.
“Leadership can make a difference,” he said. “The key factor in success and failure is always leadership.”
At the conclusion of the meeting, Deborah S. “Debs” Weinberg, incoming chair of the board, praised Hurwitz’s accomplishments during her tenure. She also invoked the memory of her mentor, Shoshana S. Cardin, the Baltimore-based global Jewish community activist and philanthropist who died last month at age 91.
Of Hurwitz, Weinberg said, “It’s a hard act to follow. … We all work together to repair the world. I hope to inspire you about the work we do and the lives we touch. The future depends on our actions today. I am so proud to lead our community as one of many, many volunteers. One person can do good things, but together we can all do great things.”