Carole Solomon declined when asked if she and her husband would join a Jewish federation "leadership" trip to Israel during a cease-fire in the Yom Kippur War.
"I said no because I had two little kids," Solomon, a self-described "very assimilated" fifth-generation German Jew, recalled of the 1973 invitation. "But this person said this was an opportunity to witness history. If you go, he said, you will never forget it, and if you don’t go, you won’t remember what you stayed home for."
Since then Solomon can’t count how many times she has been back to Israel.
"I feel so at home there that I bought a home," she said.
For the Manhattan resident, that home will come in handy. In February, Solomon was elected to a four-year term as chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a post she assumes at the end of June.
The Jewish Agency, Solomon said, is the "connective tissue between world Jewry and the state and the people of Israel." For instance, it handles all aliyah and immigrant absorption for that nation.
"We function as the enabler for Russian, Ethiopian and European Jews," Solomon said. "We facilitate their immigration with funding" from world Jewry.
In becoming the first woman elected the Jewish Agency’s chairman (she does not use the title chairwoman and consistently downplays her pioneering role as a woman leader) Solomon beat out Robert Goldberg, chairman of the executive of the United Jewish Communities of North America, and Richard Pearlstone, a board member of the Jewish Agency.
"They both [spoke of their] extensive business experience," she said of their campaign speeches to the 121-member Jewish Agency Board of Governors. "I spoke of the fact that my business has been the Jewish community since 1973."
Solomon currently serves as chairman of the UJC’s financial resource development pillar. She is a former national chairman of the UJC and of the UJA National Women’s Campaign. In 1996 she chaired the International Lion of Judah Conference in Jerusalem.
Solomon, who acknowledged being in her 50s, grew up in Philadelphia and majored in English literature and political science at the University of Pennsylvania.
She said her former husband, Mark, was "much more traditional and comfortable with his Jewishness, and it had a positive effect on me. … I didn’t have a seder until I was married."
The 1973 trip to Israel "tied everything together for me: I found a country and a people. I made the leap to the concept of peoplehood, and it fascinates me to this day."
She explained that as she travels to countries around the world, she meets Jews and finds a "connection to them in a minute."
"It’s an extraordinary experience," Solomon said. "It’s one I never tire of."
She recalled visiting Cuba six years ago and meeting with Jews who were "just finding their way back to Judaism and reconnecting to the Jewish people. In the shortest amount of time there was so much warmth and a sense of an extended Jewish family.
"When you have so many of these experiences in so many places (being there for them and making sure they are seen on the radar screen of the Jewish community) is very important to me."
Solomon said that as UJC chairman, she tried to make a connection between donors and the projects their money supported. That is the same challenge the Jewish Agency faces, she said.
"If I could connect the dots on the road I started down in 1973, this [job] is the logical conclusion for me," she said. "It brings together all of the issues and concerns that brought me into the Jewish communal world to start with: it brings it all together."