Volunteerism has made life richer for JCF award winner

At 8:30 p.m. every night, after a full day of work, Howard Brown and his wife put their 3-year-old daughter to bed. Then he goes to work.

That’s when Brown toils into the night in his volunteer positions within the Jewish community.

Brown, 38, the co-founder of www.PlanitJewish.com, is this year’s recipient of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Young Leadership.

“I’ve dedicated my life professionally to the Jewish community and using PlanitJewish to connect people,” said Brown, who will be presented with the award at the JCF’s annual meeting Thursday, June 10, at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco.

“It feels good, it’s the right thing to do. Making the world a better place for the Jewish community as well as the overall community is very important to my wife and I.”

Brown’s wife, Lisa Naftaly-Brown, also is active in the Jewish community, working alongside him at nights on their separate phone lines.

The Dinkelspiel isn’t the first prize Brown has received for his volunteer efforts — he met Lisa back in 1992 during his volunteer work with the young adult division of the Los Angeles federation.

Brown moved to the Bay Area seven years ago at the height of what he laughingly recalls as the “dot-com go-go,” riding out the tumultuous economic era with a couple of companies before starting his own, PlanitJewish.com, a nonprofit Web site listing Jewish-related things to do and places to go for the Bay Area, Baltimore and Minneapolis.

Even with the hectic schedule of a dot-com executive and, for the past three years, a dad, Brown has maintained a heavy involvement in Jewish leadership. He followed his wife into the JCF’s Young Adults Division, eventually taking over and augmenting its campaign drive.

He joined the federation’s South Peninsula Council, chairing its regional $4 million fund-raising campaign and serving as the council’s president as well as a federation board member and in the United Jewish Community’s national young leadership cabinet.

But the Jewish involvement he’s most proud of is his 11 years as a Jewish “Big Brother” for Ian Ellis, who grew up with his dad out of the picture.

When Brown first met the 10-year-old Ellis, they first bonded over games of chess on the beach. Over the years, their relationship grew, and Brown often flew down to L.A. or flew Ellis up to the South Bay after moving to the Bay Area.

Thanks in part to a Jewish Big Brothers scholarship, Ellis graduates this month from U.C. Santa Cruz, and will attend a master’s program in bioethics at Florida State University.

“He’s a great kid,” said Brown, who beat long odds and survived lymphoma in the 1980s, and remains active in bone marrow drives. “He’s actually done a couple of bone marrow drives down there [in Santa Cruz] and organized concerts for charity there.

“We’re family now. We’ll stay big brother and little brother for life.”

Other honorees at the JCF annual meeting include Volunteer of the Year Barbara Farber; Agency Staff People of the Year Yitzhak Santis and Steve Berley of the Jewish Community Relations Council; JCF Staff Person of the Year Wendy Rothenberg, a farewell to departing Israel Consul General Yossi Amrani, and the passing of the torch from outgoing JCF President Adele Corvin to David Steirman.

The 94th annual meeting of the JCF takes place on Thursday, June 10, at 4:30 p.m. at the JCC of SF’s Kanbar Hall, 3200 California St. Admission is free, but attendees must RSVP by Friday, June 4, at (415) 777-4545.

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.