Two young East Bay leaders earn Lesser Award for doing more

That Daniel Haut is receiving a young leadership award from the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay can only be classified as fate.

It wouldn’t even be happening if the 31-year-old hadn’t driven past the federation building after a long day at work and, on a total whim, decided to go inside.

“It was really fortuitous,” he recalled. “I was visiting a client on Grand Avenue [in Oakland] and I drove past the federation and thought: It’s been a while since I’ve been involved. So I just stopped by.”

Three years later, Haut has become an active member of the federation’s Young Leadership Division. He’s served on the board, started a mentorship program called L’Dor v’Dor (Generation to Generation) and volunteered for numerous fundraising campaigns.

“It is the best random experience of my young adult life,” he said. “I’ve gained so much.”

On Wednesday, May 21, he and Michele Levine, another YLD volunteer, will be honored for their commitment to and enthusiasm for Jewish communal work as recipients of the Lesser Young Leadership Award.

Lesser Award winners are selected for outstanding participation in Jewish organizational life, broad community involvement and Jewish community fundraising efforts. Since 1967, when the awards were established in memory of Moses and Celia Lesser, 63 men and women have been honored.

“Leaders are only as good as the people they get to lead with,” said Levine, president of the YLD board. “I honestly wouldn’t be where I am without having such a great team of people who sit by me every month at our meetings.”

Levine grew up in St. Paul, Minn.; Haut grew up in San Jose. Both attended occasional synagogue services and had a b’nai mitzvah, but neither was very involved in a Jewish community as a child or as a teenager.

Both began looking for more Judaism in their 20s and 30s, when they found themselves in careers that had little contact with a Jewish community. Haut works as a financial adviser for Merrill Lynch in Napa; Levine works for the Oakland Unified School District, where she trains teachers to better use technology.

“I had been so focused on repairing the world and public education that I lost my own personal perspective,” Levine said. “I didn’t even think about my own community until I started looking for one and realized I didn’t have one.”

Since she began volunteering with the federation, Levine has been most struck by the contrast between an urban school district’s resources (financial and human) and that of Jewish organizations. After 15 years in urban public education (in Washington, the Bronx and Oakland), she’s considering a career change.

“When I came to the federation, [CEO] Loren Basch said: ‘We’re here to support you in whatever you need,'” Levine recalled.

She had never heard those words before, she said. She was hooked.

The Lesser award comes with a $1,500 prize. Haut, who has never been to Israel, hopes to use the money to make his first pilgrimage; Levine plans to use it to support her attendance at upcoming conferences, such as the General Assembly in Jerusalem or AIPAC in Washington.

The Moses and Celia Lesser Young Leadership Awards will be presented during the annual meeting of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 21 at Congregation Beth El, 1301 Oxford St., Berkeley. For more information, contact Sam Strauss at (510) 839-2900 ext. 233 or [email protected].

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.