It is heartbreaking to write about another incredible colleague who passed away.
On Wednesday morning, Julie Diamond (z”l), CEO Emeritus of the Oregon Jewish Community Foundation (OJCF), passed away after battling cancer. She was far too young, vibrant, and talented.
Julie, who retired from the OJCF in June, provided 14 years of incredible leadership and service to the organization. Julie worked to grow the foundation’s managed assets from $43 million to over $110 million, helped bring PJ Library and the Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation (OJCYF) to our community, guided the incredible Life and Legacy program to increase endowment giving, enhanced partnerships with professional advisors, and was an incredible colleague and partner to so many in our community.
Julie was not only a leader in our Jewish community, she was recognized for her skills and talents across the planned giving community. She also never lost sight of her role as a community member and volunteered for multiple organizations, always giving of herself and time. More than anything, and everyone will say this, she was a a true "shining light" with a warm smile, optimistic approach, and caring manner.
Participating in her memorial service yesterday reminded me of conversations Julie and I would have. You see, in our professional roles we would attend many Jewish community events. Instead of talking about work, our conversations always drifted to our children and their activities. We would commiserate about the shlepping to/from training and lessons, specialized equipment needs, and various travel adventures/misadventures along the way.
This week's Torah portion, Shoftim, is most fitting for Julie. In Deuteronomy 16:20 it reads, “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof -- Justice, Justice shall you pursue." This personifies Julie and her overriding sense of purpose and true desire to help others change the world for the better. She worked with and inspired donors, who were more like her partners, in helping make charitable contributions where needed most. She was always outwardly focused -- never about herself -- wanting to see charitable needs in the community being met and donors feeling joyful about the difference they made. Most of all, she was always thinking about the future and the type of Jewish community our children and grandchildren (many not even born yet) would inherit.
April Springer, a teenager from Chapel Hill, NC, two years ago won the NFTY (Reform movement national teen organization) Blickstein D’var Torah Competition, writing about our responsibility to the future. I think her words are apropos during this time.
There is a story you may know in the Talmud about a man named Choni the Circle Maker. One day, Choni was walking along his path, when he saw a man planting a carob tree. Curious, Choni asked the man, “This tree, how long will it take for it to bear fruit?” And the man responded dutifully and honestly, “70 years.” Choni was appalled. 70 years? That’s a really long time for a tree to grow. Why would anyone plant a tree that wasn’t even going to bear fruit in their lifetime? When Choni asked the planter this question, the man simply responded, “My grandparents planted a carob tree so that I would be able to reap its fruit. Now I shall do the same for my grandchildren.” Choni, perplexed by the man’s perspective on the future, did what anyone would do after such a confusing conversation: He sat down for a nice meal and then settled in for a quick nap. But little did Choni know, his “quick nap” morphed into a 70-year deep sleep. When he woke up, he saw a young man plucking the fruit from a fully-grown carob tree. He rubbed his eyes and sauntered over to the man. “Hey,” he said. “Did you plant this tree?” And the man shook his head. He said, “My grandfather planted this tree for me, knowing that seventy years later, it would grow into something that I could cherish and use.”
Choni’s story teaches us that we not only have the responsibility to make the world as good a place as we can while we are alive, but it is our responsibility to plant carob trees: to grow it and take care of it for the generations to come. We are reminded of the responsibility that we carry, not only to ourselves and the world we live in today, but to the world that follows us. It instills in the Jewish people the importance of having respect and compassion for the people that make up the future.
That was Julie! Passionate about future generations – her own daughters, participants in the OJCYF program, children at day schools and summer camps, students in college, and so much more. Julie did her work not just for the results of today, but for the greater impact of tomorrow.
As I think about Julie and with the Jewish New Year approaching, April may have said it best at the end of her d'var Torah. “It is time to make our difference, to think about how we will take this world that we have been given, this carob tree that has been left for us, and how we will plant the seeds for our descendants. Because we are powerful, and we are strong, and we have the gift of being able to change the future of our story.”
Julie positively changed and truly strengthened the future of our Jewish community through her work and with her deeds. We should all follow her example.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the entire Diamond and Lewitt Families, including her husband, Tom, daughters, Rachael and Melissa, her parents, Mimi and Leonard Lewitt, and her brother, Howard Lewitt.
Baruch Dayan HaEmet. May Julie’s memory be for a blessing and may her family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.