Katie Couric and Laura Lauder at the Jewish Community Federation's Day of Philanthropy, Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo/Courtesy JCF)
Katie Couric and Laura Lauder at the Jewish Community Federation's Day of Philanthropy, Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo/Courtesy JCF)

Katie Couric is one proud Jew at Federation’s Day of Philanthropy

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For much of her life, Katie Couric didn’t know she was Jewish. At the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation’s annual Day of Philanthropy on Feb. 15, Couric told the crowd of 500 that she is proud to be a Jew.

“I feel very lucky to be a part of a community that has such important progressive values and cares deeply about philanthropy,” Couric said, speaking to Laura Lauder.  

Lauder, who with husband Gary runs the Laura and Gary Lauder Family Venture Philanthropy Fund and serves on half a dozen nonprofit boards, is this year’s winner of Federations’s Robert Sinton Award for Distinguished Leadership. The immediate past chair of the Federation’s endowment fund, she currently serves on the fund’s executive committee. 

Couric and Lauder’s half-hour conversation was the main event at the Federation’s first in-person Day of Philanthropy in three years. Though pared down from previous years, the event included speeches by outgoing Federation chair Arthur Slepian and CEO Joy Sisisky as well as by Lauder.

The day kicked off with a reception honoring Adam Swig, who was feted with the Lloyd W. Dinkelspiel Award for Young Leadership. Also the recipient of the 2021 Dinkelspiel award, Swig founded Value Culture, a nonprofit that aims to engage young people with philanthropy. 

Cissie Swig (left) and grandson Adam Swig at Day of Philanthropy, Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo/JCF)
Cissie Swig (left) and grandson Adam Swig at Day of Philanthropy, Feb. 15, 2023. (Photo/S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation)

Value Culture’s most recent event, held on Feb. 14 in Union Square, was Goat My Valentine, a fashion show featuring goats in custom clothes. The show was designed to bring life back to an area of the city neglected since the Covid-19 pandemic. 

Swig credited his award to his grandmother, noted San Francisco philanthropist and former president of the Federation Roselyne “Cissie” Swig, whom he calls “Nana.”

“Am I a hero? I’m just a Jewish guy with values and a big heart who loves his grandmothers so much,” Swig said.

Joy Sisisky
Joy Sisisky

At the luncheon following the reception, Sisisky announced the appointment of former East Bay Federation president Eileen Ruby as the Federation’s new board chair. Ruby, who will take over from Slepian, comes to the position nearly four years after the East Bay and S.F.-based Federations merged in 2019.

Sisisky also unveiled a new million-dollar matching grant for the Federation’s community security program, which provides community organizations with additional security resources and training. The Jewish Federations of North America will match every donation made to the program, Sisisky said.

“Moving forward, we will focus on a more narrow impactful portfolio of work, like community safety and security, Israel and global Jewish peoplehood and providing meaningful Jewish experiences to young adults and families,” she added.

Phyllis Cook, Lauder’s predecessor as chair of the endowment fund and a friend of Robert Sinton, presented Lauder with her award. Sinton, the endowment fund’s first chair and a giant in the Bay Area Jewish community, died in 1997. Sinton would “be smiling” to know Lauder was winning his award, Cook said.

Lauder summed up her personal philosophy toward giving with a quote from Helen Keller: “I cannot do everything, but still I can do something … I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

The day ended on a high note with the conversation between Lauder and Couric, both trustees of the educational nonprofit the Aspen Institute. Their “fireside” chat included a discussion of Couric’s Jewish ancestry — which her 2021 memoir reveals her discovering — her work in cancer research and both women’s family life.

In traditional Jewish mother fashion, the two gushed over the accomplishments of their children: Couric’s eldest is a TV writer in L.A., and Lauder’s daughter is off to Oxford University in the fall.

To top off the day, Couric played matchmaker for her single, Bay Area-based niece. 

“If anyone knows a nice Jewish boy, call me,” Couric told the crowd.

Lillian Ilsley-Greene
Lillian Ilsley-Greene

Lillian Ilsley-Greene was a staff writer at J. from 2022-2023.