Gratz College welcomes the new academic year, not only with new students and new programs, but also with many new faces on the Gratz College Board of Governors. In the last year alone, eight new people have joined the board, bringing the total number of members to 25. And this summer, board member Michelle Portnoff became only the second woman in Gratz College history to assume the role of board chair.
Portnoff is well positioned for this role because of her extensive leadership experience. Since 1989, she has run the busy law practice of Portnoff Law Associates, Ltd., which she cofounded with her father. The firm represents over 125 municipalities, school districts and other municipal authorities throughout Pennsylvania in the collection of delinquent taxes and municipal user fees.
Portnoff also has deep-rooted family ties to Gratz College that have traversed four generations. Her family’s lineage of Gratz students begins with her grandmother and her great aunt, followed by her uncle, by Portnoff (who not only graduated from Gratz Hebrew High School, but who also taught there) and her sister, and finally by Portnoff’s own children.
In 2012, Portnoff joined the Gratz College Board of Governors, eventually taking on the role of development chair. During her tenure in that position, the college hired an experienced development professional, who has successfully expanded the donor pool and increased total donations. As board chair, Portnoff will continue her involvement in development, which she describes as “important for our continued vitality.” Among other things, she would also like to see Gratz create more continuing legal education (CLE) programming. “In my opinion,” she says, “CLE and Jewish learning go hand in glove, and it is a niche we are well qualified to fill.”
David Weinstein, the former chair of the Gratz College Board of Governors, says, “Michelle has been involved with Gratz College on so many levels for such a long time. Because of her proven dedication to the college and its mission, as well as her many talents, she is going to be an outstanding chair of our board of governors.”
As board chair, Portnoff will have significant support from a talented and diverse group of board members, including the eight who joined this year: Dr. Sandra Lilienthal, Kathy Elias, David Gordon, Jonathan Wallace, Dr. Sharon Portnoff, Ben Stein, David Brawer and Carl Goldstein.
Dr. Sandra Lilienthal is a 2015 recipient of the Covenant Award, a prestigious honor granted by the Covenant Foundation to exceptional educators who distinguish themselves in the field of Jewish education. Lilienthal is an adjunct professor at Gratz College and a curriculum developer and instructor at the Orloff Central Agency for Jewish Education in Broward County, Florida. She was described by the Covenant Foundation as having “transformed the agency, its educational impact, and the face of adult Jewish education in South Florida.” A two-time Gratz graduate, she received both her master’s in Jewish studies and her doctorate in Jewish education from Gratz.
Kathy Elias comes to the Gratz College Board of Governors with 40 years of experience in the Jewish and secular nonprofit worlds. Her skills lie in the areas of strategic planning, board development, leadership training, project management and team-building. She has held leadership positions at The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Jewish Outreach Partnership (now called Jewish Learning Venture), and was responsible for organizing Chester County’s first “Jewish Community Center Without Walls.” Elias received her master’s in Jewish Studies from Gratz, and sent two children to the Gratz Jewish Community High School (JCHS).
David Gordon is the general manager of Roosevelt Memorial Park and a returning member to the Gratz College Board of Governors. He is described by Weinstein as an excellent choice for the board because he brings with him “not only his passion for furthering Jewish education, but also his wealth of business experience and his long-time involvement with the Jewish community.”
As a 2011 graduate from Brandeis University, Jonathan Wallace is the youngest member of the Gratz College Board of Governors. Wallace has worked in real estate and information technology and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in geology and environmental science at Temple University. Given his strong interest in Jewish history, he is a member of the Young Friends of the National Museum of American Jewish History. He is also involved in the Hillel Grad Network.
Dr. Sharon Portnoff, sister of board chair Michelle Portnoff, is the Elie Wiesel Professor of Judaic Studies at Connecticut College. She specializes in several areas, including Modern Jewish thought, Holocaust theology and Israel studies. She earned a master’s in education from Harvard University, as well as both a master’s and a doctorate from The Jewish Theological Seminary.
Ben Stein is a management accountant and financial consultant with an MBA, who runs a solo consulting practice, focusing on accounting, financial reporting, budgeting and financial management of small businesses, family businesses and family foundations. In addition to foundation work, Stein has had financial experience with nonprofits through his involvement at the former Akiba Hebrew Academy and through his role as past treasurer of Theatre Ariel, Philadelphia’s Jewish theatre. His children attended Solomon Schechter Day School, and his son is a graduate of JCHS.
A respected local architect, David Brawer has been a partner in the firm of Brawer & Hauptman, Architects, since 1986, and is also an adjunct professor of architecture at Drexel University. His firm has handled many design projects within the Philadelphia Jewish community, and has a long and ongoing relationship with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia (JFGP). Currently a member of the board of directors of Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, Brawer has been active in many local civic and religious organizations over the past 40 years, serving on boards and on building and long-range planning committees.
Carl Goldstein is a funeral director and part owner of his family’s business, the Goldsteins’ Rosenberg’s Raphael-Sacks Funeral Home. Goldstein has been a congregant of Ohev Shalom of Bucks County for 35 years and is a member of many Jewish and fraternal organizations. He is chair of the Bucks County Council of Israel Bonds, and has also served on the JFGP’s Coordinating Council for the Elderly.
Reflecting on these eight talented individuals and on other additions to the board in recent years, Gratz President Joy Goldstein says, “It’s gratifying to see how the Gratz board has diversified over the last several years. The breadth of experience and perspective on the board will strengthen Gratz as an institution.”