Twenty-five years ago, Carole Solomon flew to Israel for a trip that would forever change her life. “We flew in at night and Lod Airport [now Ben-Gurion] was completely blacked out,” recalled Solomon, the new national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal. “We arrived immediately after the cease-fire [in the Yom Kippur War].”
She said that she, her then husband, Mark, and about 10 other leaders of the Jewish federation of Philadelphia with whom she traveled spent three days in Israel. They visited wounded soldiers in hospitals, carefully avoided landmines in the Sinai, and assessed conditions in the beleaguered Jewish state.
“There weren’t any men on the streets, except old men, because they were all in the army,” said Solomon. “I had thought that I loved Israel and was a good citizen to my people, but that trip was a profound experience that changed my life and made a serious connection [to the Jewish people] unbreakable.”
Until she moved to the Upper East Side four years ago, Solomon, who is in her early 50s, spent her life in Philadelphia. She decided to move here after her divorce because this was the national home of the three Jewish organizations for which she had become a full-time volunteer — the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, the United Israel Appeal and the United Jewish Appeal.
“I was on all of their boards and I thought that if I had an opportunity to walk down a different road, it would make sense to be in the center of it,” said Solomon. “With my two children grown, I felt it was time I should move.”
Two years after her arrival, she found herself a member of the board of UJA-Federation of New York and later chair of its Partnership 2000 program, in which Jews from New York and Jerusalem develop joint projects to better understand each other.
“I feel very strongly that it is important to be a contributing citizen of the local [Jewish] community, and I was pleased I was given that opportunity.”
Her experience in Jewish communal life has been marked by tremendous personal growth, said Solomon.
“I think that in many ways I’ve gone to graduate school because I’ve learned finance, marketing, strategic planning and sales — and psychology. … My work here is beyond full time.”
Moments later she quipped, “I don’t know who could afford me.”
Solomon became national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal in May, at a time of major organizational changes in the Jewish communal world. The United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations, and the United Israel Appeal are in the process of merging. She said the move would eliminate duplication and draw upon the strengths of each group.
“We’re all in this together,” she said. “There are cultural differences, but if the new entity is to succeed, it will be because it will be able to bridge the differences.”
Solomon is the first woman to serve as national chairman of the United Jewish Appeal, a fact she said she is proud of but one she likes to believe she earned “because of my ability to make a contribution Jewishly — as opposed to my gender.”
Asked about the tug of war between those who wish to concentrate on overseas needs and those with a domestic priority, Solomon said she believes the conflict is “highly overrated. There are differences … but I’m hoping people have enough good will and confidence in one another that we cannot fail.”
She noted that the federation system has never been monolithic, “but we’ve come together in one voice whenever we have had to. There will be disagreements in the family; that’s only natural. But if the majority of federations agree on something, the others will have to decide whether to support it. They have always had the option to opt out.”
She said it was a “personal disappointment” that not all of the federations agreed to contribute money to the JDC’s hunger initiative in the former Soviet Union that last year fed 140,000 Jews.
“If they don’t respond, I can’t enforce my view,” she said. “If one community wants to define its own priorities, it has a right to do that…. I can’t compel it. But I’d hope the compelling mechanism would be thousands of years of Jewish history and what it has told us. I think back to the covenant at Mt. Sinai. That’s what made us the Jewish people and a Jewish nation.”
Shoshana Cardin, past chair of the United Israel Appeal, describes Solomon as “competent, intelligent, curious and very open to recommendations. She’s an inclusive leader and hard worker who gives her life to it. She lays out a game plan and develops a team around her to implement it.”
Susan Stern, vice chair of UJA-Federation of New York’s 1999 campaign and chair of its Woman’s Campaign, said Solomon “has been one of my mentors in terms of broadening my horizons in the world of UJA, particularly overseas issues. She is also a tremendous visionary. I have never met anyone who does her homework as thoroughly as Carole, and it shows.” Judith Peck, chair of the board of UJA-Federation of New York, said she was impressed with the work Solomon did as chair of the first-ever International Lion of Judah Conference in Jerusalem.
“When she takes on a job, she thinks of how she going to approach it and always has in mind the good of the community,” said Peck.
Solomon sees one as bringing more Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and dealing with the long-term absorption problems that will follow. “We have to determine the human and financial implications,” whatever the issue, she says, “and take responsibility for meeting them.” It could be Jewish education in the U.S. or immigration and absorption in Israel. “That still leaves individual communities a chance to do what motivates them locally, but we stand for more than that.”