Former State Treasurer, UJFT director, and Jody’s Popcorn president brings a full bag of rich and relevant experience to new leadership role as Tidewater Jewish Foundation chair

September 4, 2020

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Saying thank you during a pandemic was Jody Wagner’s first order of business as the new chair of the Tidewater Jewish Foundation. In a short video on Facebook, she said: “Thank you to our donors for making sure our community has the resources it needs, and to our community partners for working with us to meet these new challenges. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

With more than 30 years of experience in leadership roles throughout Tidewater and the Commonwealth of Virginia, Wagner has plenty of experience building bridges and working with partners—especially during times of crisis. She was the head of the Fund Distribution process for United Way during the 1990 recession, which saw her make tough decisions about resource allocation and the viability of many of their programs. As the new chair of TJF, Wagner sees the parallels between the 1990 recession and the current COVID-19 pandemic.

“My primary goal, as chair of the board, is to ensure that our Jewish community has the financial resources needed to get through this crisis and develop long-term resilience,” says Wagner. “We should also use this as an opportunity to assess Jewish life in the 757 and, with a clear eye, evaluate whether we should be leveraging our communal assets differently to more successfully engage and serve Jews throughout the area.”

As an entrepreneur, lawyer, politician, professional volunteer, community champion, wife, and mother of four children, Wagner is more than qualified for the leadership position. In fact, in addition to her new role in the Jewish community, she’s working to take on an even greater challenge. Wagner is running to be the next mayor of Virginia Beach.

Wagner’s rich background has already made a mark at Foundation—it’s one of the reasons why new president and CEO Naomi Limor Sedek joined TJF.

“One of the reason’s I chose to join the Tidewater Jewish community was Jody’s reputation as an accomplished leader; one who will get the job done,” says Sedek, who took on the role of TJF’s president and CEO in July 2020.

“It is my honor to work with her, as together, we lead the Tidewater Jewish Foundation as a model for collaboration and community building. Dreaming of a secure future with a strongly endowed Jewish community is key to the longevity of this community,” says Sedek. “Jody and I have spoken about working with our community members to make the process simple and tangible. The Tidewater Jewish Foundation is a partner with our donors, helping them fulfill their philanthropic legacy. Do not hesitate to reach out.”

Additionally, Wagner’s wealth of leadership and experience has instilled confidence in the TJF staff.
“I am thrilled to be working with Jody Wagner as our board chair,” says Kaitlyn Oelsner, TJF’s director of Philanthropy. “Now more than ever, our community needs qualified, and forward-thinking leaders like Jody. Her ‘get it done’ mentality and commitment to the future of our Jewish community will help see us through this difficult chapter. It has never been more important to have exceptional, strong leadership.”

Despite being chair for only two months, Wagner has been busy. In addition to welcoming a new president and CEO, 2020 marks the fourth year of Life and Legacy at Foundation. Wagner’s agenda consists of formalizing donor commitments and making sure that the Jewish organizations they cherish are positioned to maximize the program’s potential. This includes a plan for future growth and greater collaboration with local Jewish agencies and synagogues. In addition, the Foundation plans to expand its professional advisor network in the community to ensure donors have access to top legal and tax resources.

“Now, like in times before, we must prioritize collaboration and coordinated strategic planning between our community organizations,” says Wagner. “Naomi and I want to be sure that our donors have the best possible resources available to them and we know that professional advisors play a crucial role in any philanthropic process.”

Thanks to some forward-thinking community members decades ago, those same donors and community members have been able to directly address financial challenges caused by the current pandemic.

“Forward-thinking leaders founded TJF back in 1984 to ensure that our local Jewish agencies had the safety nets needed for a secure future,” says Wagner. “I doubt they imagined that in 2020 there would be a global pandemic that would close the doors of our synagogues and agencies, but they knew that our Jewish community needed strong endowments to help them weather tough times and ensure our community’s existence from generation to generation.”
In a non-COVID world, Wagner acknowledges that her goals as chair would have been different. However, the mission of TJF has, and always will, remain the same.

“My goals today are very different than they would have been pre-COVID,” says Wagner. “This is not to say that the Foundation is unprepared. Our staff and lay leadership understand that this is the crisis that in many ways, we have been preparing for, for over 35 years. The continuation of Jewish life in Tidewater is a charge that is core to the Foundation’s existence and we have a duty to fulfill this obligation to our community.”

- Lisa Richmon

Letter to the Editor