Philanthropy is a family affair

“I don’t see myself as a leader,” reflects long-time Mercer Island resident Barbara Sulman. So when she was asked to chair the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle’s annual community celebration, how could she say yes?

After speaking with her family — husband, Stuart; grown children, Scott Sulman and Carin Jacobson, and son-in-law, Scott Jacobson — she realized, how could she say no?

“When something is important to you, you have to act. If you don’t, who will?” said Sulman. That was the crux of the family conversation. It was then and there that the whole Mercer Island family jumped aboard as volunteer chairs of the event.

Right out of the starting gate, it was clear they were not just going to lend their names. Reminiscent of earlier National Charity League days, Sulman and her daughter, Jacobson, a former Mercer Island elementary school teacher, took a leadership role in making this celebration different.

“Who wants to go to yet another fundraising dinner?” they both posed to the Jewish Federation staff. “With all that is going on in the world, we need a chance to come together around something light and have fun.”

Laugh Your Way to Giving was born. The community celebration and campaign kick-off for the Jewish Federation on Sept. 16 at Benaroya Hall will feature World of Jewtopia, a hilarious, multi-media comedy duo — and no dinner. The 1,300 already registered for the event will have a chance to schmooze at a lavish dessert reception after the show.

The event not only brings members of the Jewish community together, it also raises money for the Jewish Federation’s Community Campaign. Last year, the event raised $1 million of the nearly $6 million raised. Funds are then allocated to Jewish social service and educational organizations locally and worldwide, including $329,600 to the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island.

The low ticket price of $36 was a reflection of the state of the economy and Jacobson’s leadership in pushing for an event that was affordable for young adults, too.

“Once you throw in babysitting costs, a night out can get really expensive. If we want a younger generation to understand and grow passionate about the Jewish Federation, we have to make sure they can be and want to be there,” explained Jacobson.

As the Jewish community ages and other worthy philanthropic causes compete, involving the next generation is more important than ever. Spreading passion for a cause from one person to the next, from one generation to the next, is critical. The hope is that the Jewish Federation’s community celebration Laugh Your Way to Giving does that. And, the Sulmans are optimistic.

“After all, laughter is contagious.”

Tonight’s event begins with registration at 7 p.m., at Benaroya Hall in Seattle. For ticket information go to

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