Federation campaign combo striking a harmonious chord

Continuing a winning formula, a tag team will once again head the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay's annual fund-raising campaign.

Eileen Ruby of Piedmont, a member of Oakland's Temple Sinai, has returned to the helm for the second straight year. She shares the volunteer position with Berkeley's Donald Brody, a member of Congregation Netivot Shalom

The East Bay federation has honored both for their past service with Lesser Awards.

"They both have a good overview of what's going on in the entire community," said Jerry Yanowitz, board president of the East Bay federation. "By knowing the needs of the community, they can transmit that to donors."

Appointing co-chairs with overlapping terms during the last few years seems to provide a smooth transition between campaigns, according to Yanowitz.

In 1997-98, Ruby, who was paired with second-year veteran Ruth Reffkin, raised $2,847,000. That's 5 percent higher than the previous year.

The current campaign, which began July 1, runs through June 30, 1999.

Each year, the tradition has been to exceed the total of the previous campaign. And while the new duo has not yet set a monetary goal, both agree that having a co-leader helps take the pressure off.

"We're not letting raising money get to us," Brody said. "Eileen is very organized, committed, competent and works with a sense of humor. I'm learning a lot from her about what our federation does. She has a way of keeping the end result in sight."

Ruby's federation activism began several years ago. At the time, she was a successful sales rep of designer jewelry. She and her attorney husband, Rob, were preparing their taxes.

Something didn't jibe.

"We were doing well," she said. "But I saw how little we gave philanthropically."

She remembers asking her husband rhetorically, "What kind of people are we?"

Determined to increase her level of commitment, she became active in the federation. Today, Ruby, 44, compares her federation involvement to a part-time job.

Two years ago, Ruby, who grew up in Detroit, ended her 17-year traveling sales road trip.

"Now, I just buy jewelry," she joked.

She wanted to spend more time with her family, including 9-year-old son, Michael.

Her decision freed her up to take more step classes at the gym. "I'm an aerobics fiend," she said.

It also enabled her to devote more time to Jewish causes.

Becoming involved in the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, an international humanitarian relief organization funded by UJA Federations of North America, gave Ruby a deeper understanding of where campaign dollars go.

Last year she visited Ukraine on a mission for federation activists.

The UJA Federations' Hunger Initiative, a drive to aid elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union through the Joint, particularly hit her on a personal level, partly because her ancestors came from Eastern Europe.

"Even before I went to the Ukraine last year, I thought it was our responsibility to take care of those people," she said. "Not just to help the ones getting out, but the ones who are staying. It's awful to think that people who survived the Holocaust could be starving."

Brody, who also has worked on the Hunger Initiative, agreed. "This is as much of an emergency as anything."

As campaign co-chair, Brody, 49, may have a new role, but he's far from a rookie to Jewish community volunteerism.

He was the federation's family of funds committee chair the past two years and is a longtime Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center board member and past president.

The New Jersey-born Brody has also been a Wexner Fellow, a prestigious national Jewish educational and leadership training program.

In the early '80s, Brody and his wife, Toby Mickelson, increased their involvement in the Jewish community because of their three sons, Harris, Evan and Alex, now 18, 15 and 11, respectively.

His wife had joined the BRJCC's preschool co-op and Brody, an attorney with his own practice at the time, offered the board some legal advice.

"And the rest is history," he said.

To see what federation money does in his own community especially gratifies Brody. For example, he was impressed with last year's Havdallah Under the Stars event at the Lawrence Hall of Science, which drew more than 1,000 people. "That had a huge impact on the community," he said. "A gathering would not have occurred without federation funds."

Brody is also a board member of the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America.

Apart from his volunteerism, Brody co-owns a high-end audio equipment company in Berkeley, and plays keyboards in a rock band called I Seen Elvis. Both gigs are subject to unmerciful teasing from his sons.

They accuse dad of having a job in which he gets to listen to CDs on state-of-the-art sound systems all day.

"I've always loved gear and gadgets," said Brody, half-heartedly defending himself. "And I've always loved music."

The boys have seen their father perform at local clubs and private parties with the loud, danceable '60s and '70s band, of which he is by far the oldest member. "They watch in puzzlement and wonderment," Brody said.

A typical comment from the boys is, "Oh, Dad."

Brody quickly reminds them, "Mick Jagger is older than me."