With one eye to retirement and the other to community involvement, Dan Lepow and his wife, Susie, arrived in Tucson last April from St. Paul, Minnesota. They had frequented Tucson over the years, as his sister Rebecca Crow relocated to the Old Pueblo in 1968 and his late mother spent her last years here. One of the couple’s three sons said, “Dad, you can’t retire!” He was correct.
“My motto is ‘community.’ If you feel a part of something, you will contribute,” says Lepow. He immediately looped into the local Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona network and in a heartbeat, stepped up to chair the Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership Committee. In this volunteer role, Lepow will help guide the Weintraub Israel Center’s Partnership2Gether program, which includes links and projects with Tucson’s partnership regions in Kiryat Malachi and Hof Ashkelon, Israel. Among these are the shinshinim (Israeli teen emissaries) program that brings two high school graduates to Tucson for a year, and the school-twinning program that connects Israeli and Tucson schoolchildren and teachers.
“This is a challenge as I am still learning about the partnership and the people, and want to find how we can do this better with the platform we have,” he says. He brings along a hefty toolkit from a long career spanning federations, fund-raising, service and education, across the breadth of the nation and beyond.
Lepow was born and raised in a Zionist home in Philadelphia, where Susie was “a girl in the neighborhood.” He spent a two-year stint with the Peace Corps in Peru organizing agricultural cooperatives. With a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Penn State and a MBA from Averett University, Virginia, Lepow started out in banking in Philadelphia where he ran an inner-city tax incentive program. He found it was harder to give away money than to ask for it.
“You leave too many needs on the table and it’s not sustainable unless you have the resources to address those needs, too,” he explains. When the bank became corporate, “I was done,” he recalls. He headed to Miami, became active in the federation and community there, and was mentored by a nationally renowned campaign fund director.
Over the course of his long career, Lepow was involved in campaign direction and strategic planning for foundations and agencies in Portland, Oregon; San Antonio, Texas; Vineland, New Jersey; Norfolk, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and St. Paul. Susie followed his nomadic career, finding positions as a synagogue educational director and teacher at every stop.
Lepow was the director of the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, training people in diversity and tolerance in a very intolerant area with very little diversity. He raised funds regionally for the Jewish Agency for Israel. He calls that a challenge, since community campaign funds are channeled into the Jewish Agency anyway.
He sums it up as being “all about making sure someone is better off at the end of the day.”
“I’ve always considered myself working for the Jewish community. The federations usually just paid my salary,” he says. “The best job I ever had was as the director of the Chevrah Kadisha (the Jewish burial society) in Vineland, while I served as the foundation executive. They paid me a mere $20 a month to help people at the worst time of their lives. It was amazing.
“I loved what I did my whole career, impacting people’s lives. The highlight was the people I met, the most amazing people. They drive you to the next level,” he says. “I want a Jewish community in the future for everyone’s grandchild.” The Lepows have one grandson, “the most wonderful kid in the world” and another one on the way.
“I am honored that leadership asked me to do this and accepted because I have faith in them. I never took it lightly when I worked with volunteers and I won’t take this volunteer role lightly. We need more people involved at every level to touch more lives.” He looks to engage a broader section of social workers, business people and medical professionals in the local community with passion and concern. For the self-described “schmoozemeister,” getting to know people and his way around won’t be a problem.