“At any point during all of my volunteering, if someone asked me, ‘what’s the most important thing to you other than your family,’ my answer always is the Jewish community,” said incoming Jewish Federation of Cincinnati President Debbie Brant. “That’s how my parents raised me and hopefully that’s how my husband and I are raising our two daughters.”
Brant was introduced as the new president to the incoming and outgoing Jewish Federation board members during a video call that served as the organization’s 124th annual meeting on May 21.
Normally the annual meeting is a major event, but it, along with a number of other community events, was scaled back in response to COVID-19. “Much of this crisis is beyond our control, but we can plan,” said Brant. “We are planning for several scenarios from the most optimistic to the most pessimistic so we can be prepared. We’ve made sacrifices and will continue to do so to ensure our future. We’ve reprioritized. We’ve cut beloved programs, signature events like Super Sunday and chose not to fill five positions on our staff so we can redirect those dollars to fund immediate needs.”
Brant said that when Gary Greenberg and Tedd Friedman approached her to be the next president a year ago, she asked them what major community issues they expected her to face. “They had a few suggestions including working with the results from the Community Study and perhaps some real estate opportunities. But Tedd very wisely added, ‘That’s just the thing, Debbie. You don’t know exactly what issues will be facing the community under your tenure, so you have to be sure that you have the resolve and passion for the work so you can lead in any situation.’ He had no idea!”
Throughout her remarks to the board Brant’s enthusiasm and excitement were hard to miss. She acknowledged this is a trying time for our community, but her commitment and resolve were unflappable. “I feel like this moment is the real test—how we treat each other and those in need when they need us most.”
“The last months have been challenging. Organizations and leaders are tested when plunged into an unprecedented crisis for which no one had a plan. Our board and staff has had to reorganize how we work and reprioritize what we work on. I’m proud the Federation was successful--we have and are responding quickly, flexibly. We’ve been compassionate and courageous in our choices.”
The Federation’s Planning & Allocations Committee is currently working with its partner agencies to respond to both immediate and long-term needs. Shared Business Services is providing trusted business counsel to 22 Jewish organizations so they can focus on advancing their missions, and the Federation continues to advocate for state and federal relief for the Jewish community and nonprofits in general.
“I’m extremely grateful that we have a Cincinnati Jewish community that doesn’t just exist but that is thriving,” said Brant.
Brant has been a volunteer in the Jewish community since she and her husband Jody moved here from New York City in 1998. “I started by stuffing envelopes at JFS [Jewish Family Service], then joined the YAD [Young Adult Division] Board and then found myself on the [Mayerson] JCC Board at a critical time when our community was looking for a new home for the JCC. I’ve been the very fortunate recipient of a great deal of investment from our Jewish community and I’ve tried to give back tenfold. I’ve been a member of the National Young Leadership Cabinet, the chair of Women’s Philanthropy, the Annual Campaign Chair and a Wexner Foundation Fellow.”
During her time volunteering in the community Brant was also running a fundraising consulting firm, volunteering in the arts, and taking care of her family. She said moving to Cincinnati was always the right choice for her family because of the opportunities the community provided.
“The connections that my family has made and the way that we have been welcomed and embraced in Cincinnati is everything to us. I’ve had so many amazing mentors on the journey here and I am truly grateful. There have been many times that I have looked around our Federation boardroom and been so thankful for the amazing group of volunteers in our community.”
Brant also had some words for outgoing president Gary Greenberg: “I’ve really enjoyed working with you and watching your amazing leadership over the last couple of years, and I look forward to all we will continue to accomplish together. You’ve left me some big shoes to fill.”
Normally the new board would begin work in August, but Brant said, “We can’t afford to take the summer off. I met with members in small groups just to get to know them, then we began our work in July.”
Brant is already off and running to support the community: “Even though we are currently apart, we are still working to take care of each other. We have begun to create a community vision for 2030. We’re working with lay leaders, community partners and program providers to meet the ever-changing needs and goals of our community.”