Blank’s departure leaves hole in local leadership
By Deborah Moon
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Alan Blank, co-chair of both the 2008 Jewish Federation of Greater Portland Annual Campaign and Neveh Shalom’s Capital Campaign, left for Denver June 19.
Blank, a partner at Stoel Rives for the past 20 years, accepted a job as senior vice president of legal and external affairs at Newmont Mining Corporation. Founded in 1921, Newmont is one of the largest gold companies in the world with about 15,000 employees in the United States, Australia, Peru, Indonesian and Ghana.
“It was one of those dream jobs for me,” said Blank. “I’ve been practicing law for 27 years. I could ride that on out, but here is an opportunity to get into a business environment and go beyond being a lawyer.”
Lay and professional leaders with whom Blank has worked at federation and Neveh Shalom (where he also served as president in 2002-04), praised his accomplishments and lamented his loss to the community.
“What a loss for our community,” said Neveh Shalom Executive Director Fred Rothstein. “He’s one of the most spectacular lay leaders I’ve ever worked with. Some lay leaders have hearts that are fabulous and some have heads that are remarkable. Alan has both—a heart and a head that surpassed them all.”
“Alan is the ultimate mensch,” said JFGP Campaign Director Laurie Rogoway, noting this year’s campaign topped $4.3 million. “He approaches everything he does with compassion and humility and with no agenda other than what’s good for the community.”
Rogoway added that Blank is the kind of leader “who makes you want to do more because he gives so much of himself in every way.”
Merritt Yoelin, with whom Blank has co-chaired Neveh Shalom’s $9 million capital campaign, agreed with Rogoway on how inspirational Blank has been.
Noting that the capital campaign stood at $7.16 million on the day Blank drove out of town, Yoelin said, “It’s on our (campaign committee and synagogue staff’s) shoulders to finish what both of us started. It’s our obligation to complete the process so his work will be fully effective. He instills that type of commitment into people.”
“He’s articulate and very persuasive,” said Yoelin.
Sharon Weil, who co-chaired this year’s federation campaign with Blank, agreed: “He gets the whole picture and is able to communicate that to every donor.”
Weil, who suffered a random attack that resulted in a serious head injury last spring, called Blank an “excellent co-chair” who “got the job done.”
“When my accident happened, he just stepped in and took over,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry; I knew it was being handled.”
Blank said, “I feel for Sharon and I’d love to be there to see it through with her.”
But he said fund-raising is a team effort and he believes there are plenty of people in the community to “pick it up.”
“The federation campaign was great, not only from the generosity of donors who pledged $4.3 million,” he said. “In the context of a dicey economy, this community stepped up and was very charitable at a time they had many demands on their charitable dollars.”
Blank said he leaves Portland feeling optimistic for its future because, “People really care and want the Jewish community to succeed and are willing to put the resources in to make that happen.”
Blank said he is also encouraged by federation’s expanding dialogues with its agencies, other organizations in the community and individual donors. He said that hiring Dan Lepow (as JFGP community development director), collaborative philanthropy and engaging donors around their interests were other positive signs.
He praised the federation for awarding innovation grants, which he said “allow the creative juices that make a community more vibrant to go to work.”
Blank said he thinks the biggest challenge facing Portland’s Jewish community is finding ways to attract the people who don’t see the benefit of belonging to the community. Though Portland’s Jewish population has been estimated at 25,000-35,000, not nearly that many are involved in synagogues or Jewish organizations, which he said indicates needs are not being met.
“They are just as much part of our community as those at the center of the agencies, synagogues and federation,” said Blank. “How do we make an inviting enough community so they feel they can join?”
Blank said he will miss the people that he and his family have developed close relationships with. He said his wife Ellyn Sternfield, also an attorney, will remain in Portland until fall while she finishes some ongoing cases and looks for a job in Denver. Their son Michael, 24, and daughter Stephi, 20, are both students at Washington University in St. Louis.
“You get a much larger payback from your involvement than what you put in,” said Blank of the benefits of taking an active role in a community. “You get relationships, a support system and people who care about you all while you are doing good things.”
Blank said he will be traveling back to Portland several times during the summer while his wife is still here. And that may not be the last time he comes to Portland.
“I could see coming back here when I retire,” he said.