Former To Life! exec now a director for fundraising arm of major Israeli hospital

When she was the coordinator of Palo Alto’s “To Life!” Jewish street festival, Stephanie Brown got a crash course in the organizations that make up the Bay Area’s Jewish community.

Now, in her new position, “to life” takes on a whole new meaning, as she will be helping, in a way, to save thousands of lives.

Brown, who lives in Berkeley, has been named a regional director for the American Committee of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

She’ll head the fundraising organization’s San Francisco office, which serves the Pacific Northwest Regional.

Brown openly admitted she didn’t know much about the Shaare Zedek Medical Center before applying for the job.

Stephanie Brown photo/lea delson

“I had traveled to Israel numerous times and I had been in Jerusalem a lot, but luckily I had never needed to go to the hospital,” said Brown, who also served as director of the Young Adults Division of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

“When I began educating myself about it, I was blown away by what they’re doing there, how much they’re accomplishing.”

Shaare Zedek, located in the heart of Jerusalem, opened its doors in 1902 as a 20-bed facility. Today, it’s a comprehensive medical center that treats almost 250,000 patients per year. The hospital has gained international recognition for cutting-edge research and treatment.

But beyond that, it was the deep-rooted sense of dedication and principles at the hospital that most impressed Brown. The center welcomes patients of all backgrounds, religions and ethnicities, and seeks to function as a treatment center free from political tension.

“It’s nondiscriminatory, and they’ve never turned away Arabs or anyone else,” Brown said. “At one point, there was a suicide bomber, and they had both the victims and the perpetrator, who survived, in the hospital at the same time.

“And you think, ‘Why did they even treat [the terrorist] in the first place?’ Well, because they live and practice medicine according to very strict Jewish principles — that is, all life is sacred. That’s what our heritage teaches us, and that had a huge impact on me.”

A native of Knoxville, Tenn., Brown grew up in a tight-knit Jewish community and was involved with Young Judea and BBYO from a young age; her mother was “a great role model” for illustrating the importance of getting involved and volunteering wherever possible.

After graduating with a degree in business management from the University of Tennessee, Brown lived in Washington, D.C., and worked as an independent consultant and fundraiser. She managed events for the Smithsonian Art Museum, the Congressional Club and the Jewish Folk Arts Festival (at which she served as director). She also ran her own event planning business out of Virginia Beach, Va.

Through an organization called the Jewish Outreach Institute, Brown met an organizer from the Palo Alto JCC’s “To Life! A Jewish Cultural Street Festival.” Not long after, she found herself moving out West to help direct it.

“That was a wonderful introduction to the whole Jewish community in the Bay Area,” Brown said. “I got to work with organizations from all over.”

While she has an extensive background in fundraising and event managing, Brown said she’s excited about raising awareness for an organization that doesn’t get much recognition in the Bay Area. She’s particularly thrilled to be able to spread positive news about Israel.

“It’s not just supporting a medical center. It’s supporting Israel,” said Brown, who expects her work to take her all over the Bay Area and beyond, even though the ACSZ regional office is in San Francisco. “There’s a great opportunity to bring to the forefront what’s happening there. And when it comes to Israel, what makes the news is not the great stuff that’s happening there — what makes the news is often the pain and the conflict. It behooves all of us to bring that good news forward.”

For more information on the American Committee of the Shaare Zedek Medical Center, visit

Emma Silvers

Emma Silvers is a former J. staff writer.