Just after she graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a bachelor’s degree in history and Russian studies, Sharon Fried spent a year abroad.
“I went on a program called Sherut La’am, a kind-of Peace Corps in Israel,” she told NJ Jewish News in an Oct. 22 phone interview.
After studying Hebrew at an ulpan in Kiryat Shemona, she taught English to recent olim from the former Soviet Union in the city of Ashdod.
That trip would determine the career path she has been traveling ever since. After returning to her hometown of Philadelphia, Fried put her language skills to use again at the Jewish Employment and Vocational Services, helping another set of Russian immigrants find jobs and adjust to a new life. That position led to her directing acculturation services for the JCCs of Philadelphia, then joining the Philadelphia federation’s planning department — a stepping stone to senior Jewish communal positions in Rochester, NY, San Francisco, and Boston.
This month the journey that began in Kiryat Shemona continues in Whippany, where Fried has joined United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ as director of planning and allocations. She succeeds Arthur Sandman, who after eight years at MetroWest became executive vice president of external affairs and financial resources development at the Jewish Agency for Israel.
Fried arrives just as the MetroWest federation has begun to implement a new procedure for funding the five major agencies under its umbrella: Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service, Daughters of Israel nursing home, JCC MetroWest, and The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life.
As of the current fiscal year, 80 percent of their allocations will be earmarked for specific programs, rather than as unrestricted general support. Fried is studying the changes. “I look forward to examining in great depth the decision-making process,” she said.
In the meantime, she said, “My immediate agenda is getting to know people and getting to meet lay leaders and visiting the agencies and learning what their challenges are. One thing that is important to me is I really cherish when volunteers donate not only money but time. Committee members have to feel that their time is valued and they can contribute. That is a high priority.”
Fried said her long resume provides her with “a backpack of skills you carry with you. I developed wonderful learning experiences from agency directors, lay leadership, and federation staffs that I look forward to using in MetroWest.”
Her past positions include planning director and assistant director of the federation in Rochester, where she spent 12 years; director of planning and research for the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco; and director of international partnerships at the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston. There she oversaw the Boston federation’s sister city projects in Ukraine and Israel, linking communities on both sides of the Atlantic on health, education, social service, and acculturation projects.
When her husband secured a position as a public school administrator in northern California, Fried headed back to the West Coast. “I went along as the trailing spouse and served in a position as chief operating officer at the Addison-Penzak JCC in the city of Los Gatos.”
Having sat on both sides of the table as a federation and an agency professional, she said, “I hope I bring a perspective of making solid funding decisions and assuring donors that they are making solid investments in the Jewish community.
“Having managed agencies, I want to make sure that the federation understands where the agencies are coming from and that the federation can be supportive. Federation is also critical in convening community discussion that involves multiple agencies and organizations around community needs and service delivery systems.”
She and her husband, Thomas, raised a son, Ben, who is now a rabbi and teacher at the Ramaz School in New York, and a, daughter, Ora, a physician who lives in San Francisco.
“I have a doctor and a rabbi in the family,” she said. “What Jewish mother could wish for more?”
Her two off-duty preoccupations are classical music and the great outdoors.
Fried is a Sierra Club member and an avid hiker; she described herself as “a little rusty” as a viola player, “but I am hoping to brush up my playing and join a community orchestra in this area. Typically orchestras are always looking for viola players, because everybody wants to play the violin.”
Fried said she believes her experiences as a musician are also key to how she carries out her work.
“As a musician I was trained a long time ago to be a team player with ensembles and orchestras,” she said. “When you are part of an organization like a federation, you are really part of an ensemble. You help bring the strengths of people together for something greater than themselves. That is the beauty of Jewish communal work for me.”