"People are very open to talking about how much their apartment is worth," says Zoya Raynes, a JFN member and the Global Head of Marketing and Investor Relations at Amber Capital. "But when you start to talk about philanthropy and tzedakah, everyone's like, 'Oh, that's really personal.'"
Raynes is on a mission to change that. "People need to grow, philanthropically," she says. "People need to push themselves in philanthropy just like they do at the gym or at work."
Each step of her personal journey has informed Zoya Raynes's philanthropic practice. Born in the Soviet Union, Raynes immigrated to the United States as a young child and grew up in Baltimore. She witnessed the struggles of her parents' generation to acculturate in the United States, and to overcome the adversity from which they had come. "That helped me see that little things can make a big difference," she explains.
In college, Raynes became involved with Jewish Heritage Program, drawn in by a warm sense of community, curiosity about her roots, and the strong peer-to-peer approach the program took to recruitment. Today, Raynes brings the same approach to her philanthropy, challenging her peers to engage more philanthropically and challenging organizations to enable peer-to-peer engagement around fundraising, volunteerism, and programming.
Raynes cites the influence of many mentors, among them Jacob Birnbaum, founder of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. He helped her see that the realm of the possible is different than we might think. "The student struggle for Soviet Jewry started out with college kids who really made it happen," says Raynes. "What they did back then, to say, 'Let's get these people out of Russia,' that would be like us today saying, 'Let's get these people out of North Korea.' People would look at us like we're crazy. But he [Birnbaum] was really able to do it by bringing together the Jewish community and helping to create the Soviet Jewry movement that enabled my family and I, and many, many others, to leave the Soviet Union."
This year, Raynes became President of Jewish Communal Fund, the youngest president in that organization's history. She also sits on the boards of Jewish Community Relations Council, Council of Young Jewish Presidents, Jewish Heritage Program, UJA NY’s Investment Management Division and Hadassah’s National External Advisory Committee, among much other philanthropic involvement.
In all these roles Raynes strives to "connect the dots": people to people, people to causes, organizations to skills, communities to communities. "I strive to understand the concentric circles we all operate in and how to introduce new people, resources and opportunities into those circles and organizations" she says.
Raynes is animated in her philanthropy by concern about the world's future as she raises two children; by gratitude for the work that has come before by Jewish philanthropists of past generations; and by an inescapable habit of networking, mentorship, and engagement. "It's now become part of my nature," says Raynes. "I have to give."
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