Four Questions for
UJA President
Amy A. B. Bressman

Amy A. B. Bressman began her three-year tenure as UJA president on July 1, 2019. Before becoming UJA’s president, Amy served in a number of positions at UJA. Most recently, she focused on Jewish identity and next-generation engagement, and was chair of the Jewish Life Department. We chatted with Amy about her Midwestern upbringing and why being called Savta (Hebrew for grandmother) might be the best title of all.

 

(Q) You grew up in Wichita, Kansas. What was that Jewish community like there and how did it shape your worldview?
(A) In my high school class of 840, there were only three Jews. The Jewish community was very small and very tight, and we grew up defined by our sense of being the “other.” I saw how critical it was to maintain a Jewish life. Anytime a Jewish speaker came to town my parents took me to hear him. We kept kosher and our food came in by plane. To give you a sense of how close-knit we were, when I was married in Wichita,  I invited our entire synagogue to my wedding!

(Q) What draws you to UJA?
(A) I strongly believe it’s the address for Jews to come together to help those in need in the Jewish community. I so respect the thought and discipline that goes into allocating every dollar raised. In each generation, UJA is responsive to new challenges it faces. I remember at the height of the Soviet Jewry movement, I invited friends to my apartment and that night we raised money for an entire planeload of people to leave the Soviet Union and fly to Israel and freedom. Today, we’re able to continue to galvanize the community in response to a changing landscape because the elements are all in place and strong. 

(Q) What advice would you give people who want to become Jewish communal leaders? 
(A) Before you get to be in charge of anything, you have to gain exposure to lots of things — learning, reading, and just showing up are all critical. There’s a lot of work along the way. I started out on the fundraising side, and then decided I wanted to get more involved with how the money is allocated. UJA has some of the best and brightest Jewish leaders and most outstanding professionals, and I’ve learned so much from them. 

(Q) What makes you feel gratitude?
(A) I’m so grateful for my beautiful grandchildren who call me Savta, and to sit at all my children’s Shabbat tables, knowing they’ve embraced a Jewish life. And fundamentally, I’m grateful to be alive as a Jew right now, when we’ve actualized our dream for a Jewish homeland after thousands of years of praying for it. I truly feel so fortunate and privileged to have this job for the next three years.