For almost three decades, Janis Rabin has graced the American Committee with her spirit, smarts, and Southern charm. As National Vice President and Executive Director of the American Committee’s Southern California Region, Janis is not only an outstanding advocate for Weizmann science in Los Angeles, but an inspiration to her colleagues across the country. Connections spoke to Janis about her “Big Easy” childhood, her journey from volunteer to professional fundraiser, and her life both inside and outside the office.
Connections: Your voice is very recognizable to your colleagues. Tell us a bit about your Southern roots.
Janis Rabin: OK, here we go! I was born and raised in New Orleans. My mother’s father came from Poland and he opened up a dry goods store in Bogalusa, Louisiana. On my father’s side, my grandfather was a peddler from Russia and he sold ladies garments, which became our family business in New Orleans. I grew up helping out in the store. I’d go to work with my father and by lunchtime, I’d get fired! We’d have lunch, come back to the store, and then I’d get fired again. The next day, we’d start all over. So, that’s my background in selling. I think it’s probably genetic.
C: How did you get your start in fundraising?
JR: After I got married and had my two children, we moved to Jackson, Mississippi. There was only one synagogue with about 125 families, and I became very active in the Jewish community. I was on the national young women’s leadership cabinet of the United Jewish Appeal, and they are responsible for my fundraising training. The first time I went to Israel was with a UJA women’s mission in 1981. It was a life-changing experience. To me, Israel represented the future—the country of my children and grandchildren. I began traveling to Israel once or twice a year. I would also travel throughout the South and speak on behalf of the UJA.
C: How did your volunteer work eventually lead you to the American Committee?
JR: In 1989, my friend introduced me to Edie Slotkin, who worked for the American Committee’s Michigan Region at the time. I was going to be in New York, so Edie arranged for me to meet Bernie Samers, who was then Executive Vice President of the American Committee. I met Bernie and he basically offered me a job on the spot! Initially, I worked three days a week fundraising in the South. Then, after about a year or so, they asked me if I would be interested in interviewing for the job in California.
C: That must have been a big change. How did you feel about moving to the West Coast?
JR: At the time, my daughter, Amy, was going to be a senior in high school and my son, Lee, was going to be a sophomore, so there was no way I was moving. But I decided to go out for the interview. [Former National Chair] Bram Goldsmith and [President’s Circle member] Mickey Weiss grilled me left and right. At some point, they said, “Why should we hire you?” I said, “Well, my gut feeling is that you aren’t going to hire me and you’ll probably hire a man. But this is why you should hire me: In six months, you won’t remember the men you interviewed, but you will remember me.” They ended up offering me the number-two position, but the timing just wasn’t right for me. A year later, the guy they hired didn’t work out and someone said, “What is Janis doing now?” My daughter was going to college and my son was willing to come with me, so we picked up and moved across the country. And here I am 25 years later.
C: What has kept you at the American Committee all these years?
JR: When I speak to groups before I introduce a Weizmann scientist, I often say that I am a very selfish person because I get to hang out with some of the brightest, most innovative people in the world. I also get to make a difference. We all want to make the world a better place and this is my way of doing it. That feeling has been with me since day one.
C: What would you say is the secret of your success as a fundraiser?
JR: It’s all about building relationships. I don’t make it so much about business, but what’s important to the donor. Here in Los Angeles, people trust me. If donors ask me if we can do something and we can’t do it, I tell them. I think it’s about carrying yourself with integrity and honesty, and then people will put their trust in you.
C: Can you describe some of your proudest accomplishments during your time here?
JR: I’m proud of the gifts from the Goldsmith and Shapell families. The Shapells gave a million-dollar first-time gift, then they gave us $4 million, and then $10 million. And now we’re working with the next generation—with their kids. But my proudest moment is called, “Right here, right now.” You know the saying, “Yesterday is history, tomorrow’s a mystery, and today is a gift. That is why we call it the present”? That’s the way I feel. If you’re looking backwards, you’re looking the wrong way.
C: Tell us about your life outside the American Committee.
JR: I’m very close with my family. My husband, Stan Alfred, is a retired dermatologist. My friend Edie, the same person who introduced me to Weizmann, also introduced me to Stan! Stan is from Flint, Michigan, and he moved to California to be with me 23 years ago. I have six grandchildren and he has nine, so together, we have 15 grandchildren who live in Utah, North Carolina, and Michigan. My mother still lives in New Orleans; we just celebrated her 90th birthday. So, between visiting her and seeing the grandkids, that’s really what we do. It’s a good thing I’m a high-energy person! I really believe we make our own happiness in life. I tell my children and grandchildren that if something can be repaired with money, it’s not important. Family, friends, and making a difference—that’s what’s important.
Caption: Janis Rabin with her husband, Stan Alfred, at “The Physics of Baseball,” an American Committee program at Dodgers Stadium.
Click here for more photos.