As his tenure at JDC helm concludes, his impact is felt worldwide
By Jeremiah Jensen
Special to the TJP
On Thursday, Nov. 21, JDC, the global Jewish humanitarian organization, will host an event to honor its president and one of the men who has shepherded its mission toward ever more effective and efficient benevolence across the world: Stan Rabin. Rabin will conclude his four-year term as president of the organization.
JDC works in 70 countries to lift lives and strengthen communities, according to its mission statement. It rescues Jews in danger, provides aid to vulnerable Jews, develops innovative solutions to Israel’s most complex social challenges, cultivates a Jewish future and leads the Jewish community’s response to crises.
“Stan Rabin is one of the finest — a man whose high intellect, impeccable judgment, and broad experience have benefited so many — nationally, internationally, and here in our own community,” says Frank Risch, current board chair of the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum and Rabin’s close friend.
Over his career, Rabin served in the military, as an engineer at G.E. and finally as the CEO of multinational corporation Commercial Metals. He worked at Commercial Metals for 38 years and served as CEO for 28 of them.
Rabin has served on JDC’s board of directors since 2007. He served as its president since 2016. More than this, Rabin’s heart for service extends well beyond one organization, and he has brought his considerable leadership expertise to bear on the boards of United Way Foundation of Metropolitan Dallas, Texas Health Resources, the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Temple Emanu-El of Dallas, the Dallas Jewish Community Foundation, and the Dallas Holocaust Museum, as well as the Board of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Board of Governors of the American Jewish Committee.
Stan’s impact globally and locally is immeasurable,” says Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas President and CEO Mariam Shpeen Feist. “It’s quite possible that we won’t know his total impact for many years. He is a pillar of not just our Dallas Jewish community, but around the world.”
The early years
Rabin was born in the Bronx in 1938, the son of Jewish refugees. His father came to New York from Belarus at the age of nine in 1908, his mother from Ukraine at age six in 1914.
He grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, with an Italian neighborhood and an Irish neighborhood bookending the blocks and corners he called home.
Rabin and his family lived on the fourth story of an apartment building that housed 97 Jewish families. Though it was a humble upbringing, it was wholesome. His mother, father and family had little in the way of formal learning, but they understood its power and pushed young Rabin to pursue his education.
“I was very fortunate in my own life and the things I’ve done…reflect that,” Rabin says.
“My whole generation…so many of us graduated from college, and when I look back it was pretty remarkable. I didn’t think so necessarily at the time, but when I look back how remarkable that was and that we were pushed by our parents, my parents or aunts and uncles, to get a great education and then move on from there and be able to do things in that first generation.”
Rabin attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, a New York City public school that opened the year Rabin was born. There, he received an education a cut above the rest. He excelled and went on to gain admission to Columbia where he studied metallurgical engineering. He graduated in 1959 and worked for the military in the Oakridge nuclear program in Tennessee. Rabin and his friends would often travel down to Atlanta to fill their social calendars, and it was during one of these weekend excursions that Rabin met the woman who would help him meet the woman who would become his wife.
Rabin met his wife, then Barbara Benjamin, in California after finishing his stint with the military and moving there to begin his career with G.E. in 1964. Shortly after arriving in the Golden State he called the Atlanta woman to see if she knew anyone he should meet in California. Though she was expecting a call of a different nature, her kindness prevailed, and she told him about Barbara.
Barbara grew up in Borger, a small town in the Texas panhandle, and had a very different upbringing than her New York beau. Though the two shared a strong Jewish heritage, their childhoods were worlds apart. Whereas Rabin was immersed in Jewish culture with Jewish people everywhere he looked, she grew up in small-town Texas with only 10 other Jewish families around. She went to the University of Texas at Austin for two years before deciding there had to be more to the world than Texas, packing her bags, and transferring to the University of California at Berkeley.
“No comment about Stan can be made without citing the critically important role that his wonderful wife Barbara has played at every step of the way, in both his business life and his charitable good work around the world. She too is an ‘upstander’ in every way,” says Risch.
Rabin fell in love with the Texas belle and the two married in 1965. They opted to stay in California and had both their children there. Together, they have become pillars of the local, national and international Jewish community, epitomizing the concept of mensch and leaving everything they touch better than they found it.
“Barbara is Stan’s partner in everything that he does, he would admit his better half, and nothing happens without the quiet voice and strength of Barbara behind him,” says former Federation President Bradley Laye. “She herself is a tour de force and a real spitfire…she’s not a wallflower.”
Their children are now grown, 53 and 51, and have given Barbara and Rabin five grandchildren.
During his time in California, Rabin went to night class and earned his MBA from the University of California Santa Clara. Then, he began looking for his next step in the corporate world.
He stayed with G.E. until 1969; family ties and new opportunities called him to Texas. He joined Commercial Metals, a multinational steel manufacturing and scrap-metals processing corporation, and moved to Dallas in 1970.
A worldwide leader
Rabin worked at Commercial Metals for more than 38 years, serving as its CEO for 28 of those years. Throughout his career, he dedicated what time he could to Jewish and non-Jewish nonprofit work, but he always had a desire to give more. He was involved in the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas for years during his career. It was in his service there that he began to create ties with the JDC. Its mission was the work he longed to do, and as he approached retirement, he began to take more and more active roles in the JDC, garnering a board position in 2007 before retiring from Commercial Metals in 2008, eventually becoming the JDC’s president and tone-setter in 2016.
“I just can’t think of words to describe specifically how incredible he is,” says Laye. “What he’s done in his life, self-made, educated, hard-working, titan-of-industry as the CEO of Commercial Metals, professionally, to do all he’s done as a philanthropist and a volunteer leader…it is rare to have someone as incredible as Stan Rabin in your community.”
Under Rabin’s guidance, the JDC has accomplished incredible things.
As with any corporate entity — for-profit or not-for-profit — future-proofing and efficiency are at the forefront of any leadership team’s agenda.
The JDC’s mission is to preserve and build Jewish life. All of its work takes place overseas in places where Jews can still face many challenges including anti-Semitism, poverty, and a pressing need to find innovative ways to build Jewish life for the next generation — places like Argentina, Venezuela, and former Soviet Union countries like Ukraine and Moldova. The bulk of the ongoing work takes place in Eastern Europe where many Holocaust victims still live and where many Jews were so oppressed under the Communists that they have hidden or forgotten their Jewish heritage for survival’s sake.
Supporting the poor, Jewish elderly in the former Soviet Union is a gargantuan undertaking that represents roughly a third of the JDC’s annual budget. JDC CEO David Schizer says this year that sum was $130 million. Of that $130 million, $105 million of it comes from the German government via the Claims Conference as restitution for the country’s role in the Holocaust. The other $25 million is used to take care of the non-Holocaust-victim Jewish elderly population.
The youngest survivor is now 75 years old. Eventually, as the survivors pass away, the funding will dry up. On the surface, this does not appear to be a problem. But it actually poses a great challenge to the way JDC’s mission is carried out in that region. Rabin was among those who spotted the problem and was critical to finding a solution for it.
Schizer says Rabin’s experience running a multinational company was critical in the plans to right-size JDC’s care model in the former Soviet Union to ensure ongoing aid for the elderly poor in these areas long after German funding dries up.
To combat the suppression of Jewish identities in Eastern Europe, JDC built a summer camp, Szarvas, in Hungary outside of Budapest. This camp is where many young Jews in Central and Eastern Europe first learn about Judaism. The camp is designed to create leaders who are proud of their Jewish identity and heritage, then empower them to lead their communities back home. It has been so successful that if one were to ask any leader in an Eastern European Jewish community under 40 years old if they went to Szarvas, their answer is “yes” more often than not.
The event honoring Rabin Nov. 21 will serve as a fundraiser for the Szarvas as it seeks to fund a much-needed renovation.
“One of our large donors to that camp once said: ‘You know it’s more than a camp. It’s a concept. It’s a dream. It’s a vision. It’s a mission. It’s a bridge between past and present. It’s a portal to the future. It’s a sanctuary. It’s a place to smile. It’s a place to sing. It’s a place to pray. It’s a place to play. And it’s a place to hope,’” Rabin recalls. “Those aren’t my words; they’re someone else’s, but it’s just an indication of the kinds of things that you can do.”
As Rabin looks back on his life, he is astounded at the hand of God and encouraged to see the impact one person can make in one lifetime.
“If we look on any given day how many thousands of lives in the world we’re helping make much better, and I’m talking from a pretty fundamental level, that gives a lot of satisfaction in terms of the kinds of things that we do but [also] that an individual can do in terms of giving back within their own life,” Rabin says.
Laye sums up Rabin’s efforts and his impact perfectly.
“Stan is known around the country in Jewish philanthropic circles…he’s done so many things. Locally, there’s very few large organizations in the Jewish and general community that haven’t felt Stan’s touch and internationally, there’s no question his role as president of JDC is a legacy that’s a great source of pride, not just for Stan and his family, but for the city of Dallas.”