Local Jewish leaders mourned California philanthropist Helen Diller, who created an international leadership program for Jewish teens that remains hugely popular in Greater MetroWest and communities around the country.
Diller, who died Jan. 9 at age 85, was an active philanthropist in the San Francisco area who supported The Hebrew University, Weizmann Institute of Science, the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation, and numerous arts and health-care institutions.
Through the Diller Teen Fellows, young people in 20 communities train as activists and philanthropists through educational workshops, weekend retreats, social service projects, and peer exchanges in both Israel and their home communities.
Now hosting its eighth cohort, the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ said that 320 fellows from the region and its partnered community of Rishon Letzion have participated in the “MetroLetzion” Diller Teen Fellows program.
“My children are alumni of the Diller 2 and Diller 3 GMW cohorts; looking back over the past five and six years I am able to see the tremendous impact that the program has had on both Sydney and Nathan,” said Stephanie Sherman, chair of the federation’s Legow Family Israel Program Center. “They are both involved in their respective college campus’s Jewish life and remain connected to their Diller cohorts both here and in Israel.
“In addition,” said Sherman, “as a family, we forged a very strong bond with the Gur family in Rishon Letzion through our Diller experience, and it has informed my personal commitment to Israel and my current role” at the IPC.
Amir Shacham, associate executive vice president of the federation, said he learned about the program a decade ago from Nicole Miller, then Diller Teens’ national director. She told him about Diller’s vision to recruit more communities to participate in what was then a local program in San Francisco.
“I fell in love with the concept and the opportunity. I saw then and still believe that Diller Teens is the best teen leadership program,” said Shacham. “There is nothing like it in the world of peoplehood and reciprocal Israel-Diaspora relations. The fact that the partnership communities, on both sides of the ocean, are equal stake holders in operating and funding the program is so unique and appreciated.
“Helen Diller created through her vision a new worldwide community of dedicated young Jewish leaders. May her memory be for a blessing to all.”
Diller is survived by her husband, Sanford, three children, and seven grandchildren.