Talking Generations with Lynne and Steven Gellman
Why are the Dell Jewish Community Campus and the JCC important to you and your family?
Lynne: We believe in the community of the campus, in bringing so many different Jewish organizations together in one place. We supported the construction of the campus in the first pass and we feel it’s been a very cohesive addition to the Jewish community and the community at large.
Steven: We support the idea of having all of the congregations in one place to develop and enhance community. It started 16 years ago and Austin has grown exponentially and the population requires more in services, a better facility and we support that. Our kids don’t live in Texas, so it’s not the Generations Campaign for us in the way that it is for people who have kids here, but it doesn’t mean we don’t support the future of Judaism in Austin, which is what this is doing.
What is it that inspired you to make a major contribution to the Generations Campaign?
Lynne: We felt compelled to try to support it when it first began 16 years ago and our commitment is unwavering since that point. It is obvious that the need is there. If they just felt like spending people’s money to make it prettier or if there wasn’t really a compelling need to have more space and offer more programming and do different things than what they are already doing, we probably wouldn’t feel as committed to it. But if you were committed to it in the beginning and you see what’s happened with the growth, I don’t know how you could say no the second time around. The needs are different but they are just as important. In addition to that, Steven and I both come from philanthropic families. All of our parents, of blessed memory, in their two respective cities — Steven’s in Austin and mine from Omaha, Nebraska — believed in giving and particularly to the Jewish community and I think we got that from them.
Steven: And they were very involved in Jewish causes, involved in Jewish organizations from way back so it’s been in our DNA a long time. That’s really where we learned this. That’s hopefully where anybody will learn it.
What aspects of the Generations Campaign excite you the most?
Lynne: For me, from a totally selfish perspective, I’d say a theater. That’s just me. I know there are more important things than that, but you’re asking what’s exciting. The JCC in Omaha, which has been there for a good number of years, even had a theater when I lived there when I was a teenager and theater is something I love to be a part of, both on the stage and in the audience. I think to have a theater as part of the J here would be a fabulous draw not just for Jewish folks, but for the community at large. It would really add a lot to the facility.
Steven: I think, for me, the water park and the expansion of the pool, because that will appeal to younger families and get people involved at an early age. And I think if a 5-year-old starts coming to the J, then he or she will think of that as home and it will be natural for them to want to be involved as they grow up in Austin.
Where would you like to see the Jewish community a decade from now?
Lynne: We’re old enough to say we learned all of this from our parents and so it’s a no-brainer: if you are able to give time and talent and treasure as they say — whatever you can give, you should try to give it. But I think that one of the problems that Austin faced in recent years, at least this is the way it seems to me, is that some of the younger people may not have been raised with that sort of philosophy. It’s not that they don’t love being Jewish or that they don’t want their kids to be Jewish but I don’t know that they are as quick to say oh, in memory of Joe Smith who died, let’s make a donation, those kinds of things that we don’t even think twice about doing. I’d like to see giving be a bigger part of the philosophy of Jews at every age because then they model that for their kids and then they learn it too and it’s something that snowballs in a positive way. That isn’t really answering the question of where I want the Jewish community to be, but it’s one thing that I’d like to see a little bit different so that when you do ask people for money, large or small, you don’t feel so much like you are occasionally hitting a brick wall.
Steven: I’d like to see the community continue to flourish, but I hope that the rate of growth slows down a lot. I was born here so I’ve seen Austin develop from zero to where we are today, so it’s exciting but it’s also got its negatives. It’s overwhelming in many ways as well. You come to campus for High Holy Day services and you see where all the people are.
Lynne: It’s a sticky wicket, I think, to manage the growth in a congregation and to manage the growth in a community so that it’s still a cohesive and caring and warm community. You allow it to grow and not lose yourself in the process and maintain that feeling of oneness somehow even with the larger numbers.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Lynne: Don’t assume that it’s someone else’s responsibility to pick up the gauntlet and go with it. It’s everyone’s responsibility. If you get a call, make an attempt to visit with the person who is calling you for it or even better, read the article and decide I’m part of this community, I’m part of this Jewish community, it’s on me to do my part.
Steven: We’ve often said that it’s not necessarily the size of the gift that dictates the quality of the gift. It’s just participation in the campaign.
Lynne: And that comes back to you two-fold or five-fold anyway. If you’re a part of the campaign in whatever way is meaningful to you, you can take pride and take ownership when you walk through the doors and if you had nothing to do with it, I do think it makes a difference. I do think there is a different feeling when you know you helped create what you are a part of instead of just saying no. That’s someone else’s job.