Its a family affair, as in-laws take reins in East Bay

They share a commitment to serving Jewish philanthropic causes, both their families are in the real estate business, they worship at Temple Sinai in Oakland, and they live in the East Bay.

One thing more this pair has in common: They share a last name.

Claudia Felson is president of  the Jewish Federation of the East Bay, and Joe Felson is president of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay. They are related, but only by marriage. Claudia is married to Joe’s brother Rick.

“Call it uncanny, coincidental or beshert [destiny], but Claudia and Joe are top leaders of their respective organizations at the same time,” said Lisa Tabak, executive director of the Jewish Community Foundation of the East Bay.  “They both took on greater leadership roles through the years, and they both arrived at this point this year.”

Claudia Felson

Both Felsons took time recently to talk about their new posts, which run for two years.

“I see myself as a connector of people, and my focus is to engage the community,” said Claudia, 54, who stepped into the new position in June. “That starts with engaging the board in a different way. I’m trying to make things more fun, help people know each other on a different level.”

Claudia also is developing new, smaller fundraising events to reach out to different groups. The first event, a Scotch tasting, was held in October. “I am trying to build events where people with different interests relate back to the federation,” Claudia said. “I am hoping to raise a lot of money, but I also want to bring in more people. Plus, I’ll be building new events to interest the people we already have.”

Claudia has been involved with the federation for 18 years. Twice, a decade apart, she served as president of the Women’s Philanthropy. While in that position, Claudia also served on the federation board, and she was a national board member for six years.

Until eight years ago, she worked as a professional party planner for 13 years. She lives in Castro Valley with her husband, Rick, who works with his brothers in a family real estate development business. They have two grown sons, five grandchildren and another on the way.

In her new role, Claudia sees herself as off to a quick start. “I’m trying to inspire other people to do the best they can,” she said. “I believe a strong Jewish community is what it’s all about.”

Joe Felson

Joe, 60, started his two-year term in September. He has been involved at the board level of the foundation for 30 years, serving most recently as treasurer. “I have always been on the foundation side,” Joe said. “I am an estate planning lawyer by trade, and I understand taxes, insurance and other estate planning issues.”

There is a personal connection, as well. Joe’s family has a foundation set up with the umbrella organization. “What has always appealed to me is that you have ownership of the use of the funds, and can direct where they go,” he said. “Of course, the predominant share of the gifts goes to local and community organizations.”

His primary goal for his term in office is to recoup losses experienced in 2008. “Like every foundation in the country, we saw a major drop. It takes a while to rebuild, and then we want to continue adding to our asset base,” Joe said. Increasing the number of custodial accounts is another goal. He also hopes to build up a permanent unrestricted community endowment.

Joe is a managing partner of his family’s real estate investment and development company, based in Hayward. He lives in Piedmont with his wife, Sherry. They have three grown children and a 15-month-old granddaughter. Joe serves on the board of the Northern California American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the national AIPAC council and the AIPAC Tomorrow cabinet.

“The bottom line for me is to help increase the critical mass of people who support the local Jewish community through the federation and the foundation,” Joe said. “In that regard, Claudia and I are 100 percent aligned on what we think needs to happen during our terms.”

Patricia Corrigan

Patricia Corrigan is a longtime newspaper reporter, book author and freelance writer based in San Francisco.