Woman of Valor
- Published: Thursday, 08 September 2016 10:06
- Written by Tina Smithers Peckham, Special to The Chronicle
Fingersh to be honored at International Lion of Judah Conference
The epitome of strength, fortitude and generosity, Pella Fingersh has long served as a beacon of hope and perseverance for the Jewish community in Kansas City.
In honor of her years of service to the community, Women’s Philanthropy and the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City, the Prairie Village resident will be presented with the Kipnis-Wilson/Friedland Award at this year’s biennial International Lion of Judah Conference.
More than 1,200 women will gather in Washington, D.C., Sept. 11–13 for a celebratory weekend of inspiration, empowerment, sisterhood and education on local and global Jewish issues. The KWF Award is presented to extraordinary “women of valor” — ladies who have shown a lifetime of commitment to Jewish philanthropy and volunteerism — and Fingersh, who has attended the ILOJC in years’ past, was both humbled and surprised to learn she will to be receiving the honor.
“There you are, in a hotel with hundreds of women, and they’re all there for the same reason, just like you, with a sense of strength, purpose and inspiration,” Fingersh says. “There is such a sense of connection, as if we are one. As Jews, it is crucial that we continue to thrive, survive and help one another.”
A native of Haifa, Israel, Fingersh spent her childhood on a kibbutz and served in the intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces. At the age of 20, she found herself visiting Kansas City with loved ones, where she met her husband, Jack, and soon got married.
“For me to end up in the United States, it was very hard and totally unplanned for,” Fingersh admits. “I didn’t feel at home for many years. When you come in at a young age, and it’s not your country, it’s not your language, it’s not your family, it’s not your culture — it’s tough.”
Fingersh later would spend summers in Israel with her children, Paul, Julie and Dan, where one trip in particular served as motivation to get more involved in the Kansas City Jewish community: Fingersh and her son, Paul, were involved in the 1989 Jerusalem-Tel Aviv 405 bus attack where they sustained injuries.
“It was very traumatic; the bus burst into flames and half the people died,” Fingersh says about the terrorist attack. “Coming back to Kansas City, I never expected the outpouring of love and concern from the Jewish community. That’s when I started to get more involved in the Federation.”
Throughout the next several years, Fingersh found herself heavily immersed in the Jewish Federation, serving as president of the Women’s Division and chair or co-chair of numerous events including the annual Harry S. Truman Library dinner, the HBHA Civic Service Award gala at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the 100-Year Anniversary of Village Shalom. Fingersh is a past recipient of the HBHA Civic Service Award and also served as campaign chairperson and ultimately president of the Jewish Federation board. Throughout her tenure, Kansas City won the prestigious Sapir Award for Campaign Excellence twice due to fundraising efforts.
When it came time for Fingersh to truly dive in to philanthropy and giving back, there was no question, as she says, “It’s who I am. I grew up in Israel; it’s my history.”
Fingersh and her husband, Jack, also established the Dan Fingersh Hebrew Academy Scholarship Fund and Young Leadership Award in memory of their son who passed away in 1996, to honor and inspire a new generation of leaders.
“[Dan’s passing] was the unthinkable,” she confesses. “Being Jewish was at his core, and it was very important to him. We wanted to keep his memory alive, as his time at the Hebrew Academy were very happy years for him. I always thought he would have been involved, and we wanted to honor young people who help strengthen our community. It gives me a sense that he is part of the future, even though he is no longer here.”
Fingersh credits following her heart and her passions for being a motivator in both leadership and philanthropy. “I didn’t follow any rulebooks,” she says. “I just followed my heart, tried to do my very best and connected to people with stories and passion.”