Couple receives ADL award for distinguished leadership

In 1998, Jeff and Barbara Farber were asked to co-chair the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s annual campaign.

Saying “yes” not only added to what would become more than a decade of volunteer and professional work in the Bay Area Jewish community, but also made the Farbers the first husband-and-wife team to organize the federation’s campaign.  

“Co-chairing was really something we believed in and could do together,” Barbara Farber said of their one-year stint. “We just decided to step up to the plate and do it.” 

This week, the Tiburon couple was to receive the 2009 Distinguished Community Leadership Award from the Anti-Defamation League during a gala at San Francisco’s Intercontinental Hotel.

Also at the Sept. 24 event, Jeffrey Bleich, the newly appointed U.S. Ambassador to Australia, was to receive this year’s Distinguished Jurisprudence Award. The Piedmont attorney has devoted his career to international justice and helping the disadvantaged with his legal expertise.

Jeff and Barbara Farber

Recipients of the leadership award “serve as role models through their dedication to community service, their commitment to finding solutions to societal challenges, and their continued efforts to improve people’s lives,” according to the ADL.

Or, as Jeff Farber likes to say, qualities “anybody can have.”

The Farbers have exhibited those qualities wherever they’ve lived, including Seattle and Chicago. “If you go into a new community and don’t engage in some type of communal work, then there’s a kind of void,” Jeff said.

“As far as Jewish causes are concerned, if you have a strong belief in the Jewish people and you truly believe in the contributions their culture, faith and ethics have made to humanity, it becomes a lot more desirous to help certain causes that are important to you.”

Jeff, 59, has served the Jewish and broader communities in a variety of leadership positions. He’s currently the CEO of the S.F.-based Koret Foundation, a position that constantly tests his ability to “leverage knowledge and resources to maximize benefits for others,” he said.

Apparently, that’s what more than 25 years in the banking industry will do.

“Because of my business background, I’ve always looked at philanthropy with the same diligence as any business,” he said. “Whether it’s fundraising or running a meeting, it’s all about the results.”

He added, “You hope when you’re a leader, you’ll get extraordinary results.”

Barbara, 54, has held leadership roles in the nonprofit world for nearly 25 years, serving on a number of local, regional and national boards. She is currently an endowment associate for the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services.

Name an organization, and Barbara’s most likely been involved. But chairing the program and planning committee while on the board of JFCS was one position that carried special significance for her.

“It was a really nice way to learn about the agency and make sure we offered the right programs for the community,” she said. “We were reaching out to people who had the most needs.”

The Farbers, who both grew up in Washington state, were catalyzed into stepping up their community involvement after attending a three-day young leadership conference in the mid-’80s. Barbara said it was “rewarding” to be in a room with 2,500 Jewish peers, listening to compelling speakers.

In 1987, the couple traveled to Poland and Israel. Noticing Jews in need wherever they visited, they decided to take up their cause.

They passed on the importance of helping others to their children, Josh Farber and Michelle Lackman, both in their 20s.

“At the end of the day, when you’re in that rocking chair and all the cars and jewelry, nice houses and vacations don’t mean anything, I want to leave the world a better place,” Jeff said. “It’s not always about the money. It’s about the contribution.”