New JCF director will focus on tzedakah, community building


Tracy Salkowitz, the new executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona (Phyllis Braun/AJP)

It’s a given that the new executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona would be smart and dedicated, with a long, impressive resume. Tracy Salkowitz is also funny.

Phrases like “delightfully witty and warm,” “levity, humility, and humor” and “with laughter and a clear vision” jump out of the website testimonials for her consulting business in San Francisco, which she’s operated for the past 10 years.

Humor is a wonderful tool, Salkowitz told the AJP last week from her new office at the Foundation, where she’ll officially take the helm on June 29. Jewish community volunteers give of themselves in terms of both time and financial support, she says. Their work “should not only be about doing good things and making the world a better place, it should also be about having a fabulous time.” It should be enriching, but also “good old-fashioned fun.”

Successful as a consultant, Salkowitz, 56, ­wasn’t looking for a job. But when she ran into Foundation board member Brenna Lacey at a Bat Mitzvah celebration in California last year and heard about the opening, “all my synapses started popping,” she says.

Her husband of 10 years, Rick Edwards, himself retired, said if this is her dream job, “let’s do it,” despite having to leave family members behind in California.

Salkowitz has a background in social service, civil rights and interfaith work, including serving as the executive director of the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the planning director of the Social Services Agency of Alameda County and the executive director of the American Jewish Congress Northern Pacific Region. She’s also been a field instructor/adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley and director of planning and allocations for the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin and Sonoma Counties. Among her many volunteer roles, she was founding chair of the Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights of California and co-chair of FAITHS, the Interfaith Leadership Group of the San Francisco Foundation.

“All of my work has stemmed from my Jewish heritage and my commitment to tzedakah (justice),” she states. “Having experience working with diverse groups of people and working in the general community as well as the Jewish community, respecting each others’ differences and celebrating each others’ successes” will be critical, she says, in her position at the Jewish Community Foundation.

“I am very much about community building within the Jewish community, strengthening the Jewish community, and outside the Jewish community, our role within that community,” including the national and international realms.

Salkowitz plans to build on the Foundation’s success under Carol Karsch, who is retiring after 23 years as executive director.

“Carol Karsch has done an amazing job. I have incredible respect for her passion and her success,” she says, noting that there are opportunities for further expansion in the worlds of social networking and marketing. “I want to look at our grants program, enhance our efforts as increased dollars flow into the Foundation,” she adds.

Salkowitz confesses to mixed feelings about following Karsch, who is “so beloved and so successful.”

“On one hand I would love her to move in next door. And on the other hand, I’m happy she’s moving 8,000 miles away [to Israel],” she jokes.

For Salkowitz, Karsch’s support has been invaluable. “Carol is one of the most gracious executive directors I have ever met” when it comes to effecting a transition, she says. “She not only has taken the time to share her knowledge with me, but she has also given me her commitment that she will continue to be available, and she has become my biggest cheerleader.”

But Karsch is not her only fan. Keri Silvyn, president of the Foundation, says, “We’re really excited to have Tracy here as part of the overall community and the Jewish community, not only because of her understanding of Jewish philanthropy and foundation work, but also her tremendous personality and awesome sense of humor.”

The entire Foundation board has been extraordinarily supportive, says Salkowitz, along with Stuart Mellan, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona, and the directors of all the Jewish agencies. “I have been more warmly welcomed in Tucson,” she affirms, than in 23 years in San Francisco.

Salkowitz is not a California native. Born in Glen Cove, N.Y., she lays claim to the title of New Yorker, although her family moved when she was 3 and she grew up in Los Angeles. She also spent eight years living in the Washington, D.C., area.

Along with her diverse professional experience, one aspect of her resume that stands out is her educational background, which includes a bachelor’s degree from Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles and a master’s degree in social work from Yeshiva University in New York.

She explains that she began studying dance therapy at San Jose State University, but after a year on an Israeli kibbutz, she didn’t want to return to a big university. Immaculate Heart also had a dance therapy program, but by the time she graduated, she decided there wasn’t enough emphasis on therapy. “While I was in Israel I realized I wanted to work in the Jewish community,” she says, so her degree from Yeshiva University was a logical step along that path.

Now she has the job she always wanted — even if she didn’t know it herself until recently. “My life,” she says, “has always been about making a difference. That has always been my passion.”