Amie and Byron Harrell: Hineni Fellows develop connections and commitment

August 20, 2021

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When Byron Harrell walked into his first Hineni leadership fellowship event in 2017, he was a rising star financial advisor at Davenport & Co. He was familiar with United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, having gifted money, knowing that it was dispersed to various causes.

“My wife (Amie, a 20-year insurance industry veteran) and I gave a little here and there, but didn’t realize the impact of our donations, really,” Harrell says. He began giving to various charitable causes right out of college.

It wasn’t until his Hineni fellowship that the couple planted their feet firmly in Federation happenings. Not only were they rewarded with the knowledge of exactly where and how those donations were allocated, Harrell now chairs the investment committee.

The road began in the early meetings during the couple’s Hineni fellowship, where exactly how deep the Federation’s ability to positively influence change became apparent.

“We had a session at someone’s house where we played ‘Federation Jeopardy.’ We learned the different organizations that the Federation works with, funds, and more about those relationships,” he says. “After that, my wife became a YAD chair for Super Sunday. We had the desire to help more.”

Things took on new meaning following the end-of-session visit to Israel that Hineni cohorts embark upon.

“Seeing the actual children who were receiving funding from our fundraising back in the relatively small region of Tidewater, Virginia,” says Harrell, “that was just amazing to see. I have to admit, I originally questioned why we gave so much oversees. But to see that firsthand— and the impact on the communities in Israel—was truly eye-opening.”

A completely unexpected result of the Israel trip for Harrell was the sense of belonging he felt.

“You look at all the politics here, and the nationalism, and I think: ‘Here is this place I had never been before, which right now would welcome me. It’s like, having this option for a second home. That really resonated with me—it stuck. I can always go ‘home’ to Israel. And it made me want to deepen that connection.”

The Harrells are active members of Ohef Sholom Temple where their seven- and 11-year-old children attend Religious School and Byron Harrell is a member of the temple’s board of directors.

“What’s great about Hineni is that Fellows enter with diverse experience, Jewish background, education, and personalities,” says Barb Gelb, former UJFT development director. “As they learn from the different speakers and leaders, they also learn from each other. They build community as a cohort, and those relationships carry over into their roles as leaders, helping them appreciate the different perspectives in the community. With the Federation at the center of their Fellowship journey, they come to appreciate the role it plays in the Tidewater and greater Jewish community.”

“Hineni is a really worthwhile program for so many reasons,” adds Harrell, noting the leadership mentoring. “The friendships formed, in addition to the deeper connection to the Federation and Jewish life…it’s something our kids physically see and are also now connecting with. It’s been great for us.”

To support the Hineni leadership program—and other initiatives like it—visit federation.jewishva.org/home-page/ways-to-give/annual-campaign. Gifts will fund programs like this, and more, to insure a strong Jewish leadership presence within the community.

-Brian Berusch
Letter to the Editor