Member Spotlight & Builders Circle Member Profile: Daryl Messinger & Jim Heeger
“Beth Am was the very first organization that Jim and I made a major gift to, in honor of Jim’s dad, Myron,” recalls Daryl as she looks at a photo taken on the occasion at Beth Am. It was in May, 1992 and Beth Am had undertaken a Torah project to write a new scroll and raise funds for the congregation. This was the first of what would become multiple “Sinai moments” for Jim and Daryl at Beth Am. The photo shows the two of them with their young sons, Adam and Robbie, along with Jim’s parents, Myron and Maurine – which, as they look back now, reflects a longstanding and deeply impactful relationship with the Beth Am community and beyond.
Jim grew up in Sioux City, Iowa, among a Jewish population of only 3,000. His family attended Shabbat services every week at their Reform congregation, and both parents were very involved. Jim went to a Jewish camp -- Schwayder Camp in Colorado -- and also visited Israel his Bar Mitzvah summer. While these experiences cemented Jim’s deep connection with his own Jewish identity, it wasn’t until adulthood that he felt the kind of transformational “Sinai moments” that tend to chart one’s course in a different way.
Daryl also grew up with a strong Jewish identity, but was not initially active in congregational life. It was going to the URJ’s Eisner camp in Massachusetts while in high school that altered Daryl’s trajectory toward Jewish leadership. She was president of her temple youth group and the regional NFTY board. In college, Daryl expanded her Jewish involvement which included helping Soviet Jews and other campus activities.
Daryl and Jim met at Stanford’s Business School in 1980 and soon became part of a group of Jewish friends there who celebrated Passover and other holidays together. Friends from Stanford encouraged the newlyweds to join Beth Am and participate in our Chavurah Program. “The Kugelheads” chavurah resulted – aptly named because of its members’ quest to find the best kugel recipe and the curly hair of most of its members. Not only did the group succeed in finding “the best kugel recipe ever,” but the group continues to meet. “We all started as young couples together, raised our kids together and really consider each other extended family,” recalls Daryl. “Now the next generation is trying to perfect the recipe.”
Initially invited to take part in leadership opportunities by Rabbi Akselrad, both Daryl and Jim went on to become presidents of Beth Am – Daryl in 1995 and Jim in 2003. In fact, one or the other of them held a position on the board for a total of 19 consecutive years! Daryl worked her way up from chair of the Chavurah Committee, to chair of the first Émigré Council. She was a member of Rabbi Block’s Search Committee, and participated in the ECE (Excellence in Congregational Education) effort in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Soon she and Jim led the initiative to build the new Beit Kehillah, creating the vision for the building and seeding the campaign with their own major gift before raising five million more from the community. As Jim says, “Daryl and I were a tag team – she raised the money and I helped spend it.” Opening day of the Beit Kehillah in June, 1999 -- another Sinai moment -- remains a highlight of their time as Beth Am leaders and community members.
Jim’s next project was as a member of the Beth Am Finance Committee (he would later become Board Treasurer), taking on the job of assessing our congregation’s long range financial picture. Recognizing that Beth Am had a chronic budget deficit that needed addressing, Jim proposed creating an endowment fund that would generate operating income in perpetuity. Jim and Daryl again provided seed funding to get the endowment campaign going, and the Fund for the Future was born. This Sinai moment resulted in a revenue stream that today provides a critical piece of Beth Am’s annual operating budget.
During these years of active board and committee work, Daryl and Jim often had young sons Adam and Robbie in tow. “The boys felt pretty privileged with both parents being president of their synagogue!” says Daryl. Adam and Robbie participated in Shabbaton with Daryl and Jim, attended Sunday Program, became B’nei Mitzvah, and completed Confirmation. As teens, the boys were active in NFTY and Camps Newman and Eisner, and Adam is now a burgeoning leader in the local Jewish community.
“We have had very business oriented careers, and Beth Am has always fulfilled the other side of us,” explains Daryl. That’s why she and Jim have so significantly invested in Beth Am – with their energy, talent and financial resources. “Part of the attraction to Beth Am was that the congregation has always been willing to entertain new ideas and take risks,” says Jim.
When these two commit to a project, they dedicate themselves to its success – whether it’s hiring a new clergy member, building a new building, creating the endowment or leading other members toward engagement and philanthropy. And it’s not just at Beth Am – their resumes read as a catalog of Jewish life, with leadership at the URJ (Daryl is the current Board Chair), Camp Newman (where they co-led the board and the recent facilities renovations), Oshman Family JCC (Daryl was Board President), Hillel at Stanford (Jim was Board President), Moishe House (Jim is the current Chair), WUPJ (World Union for Progressive Judaism), Jewish Community Federation (Jim is Chair-elect) and JFCS (Jewish Family and Children’s Services where Daryl was Treasurer). “It’s about the continuity of the Jewish people – these places support Jewish life through all the stages of life, locally, nationally and internationally,” describes Jim.
Daryl and Jim didn’t have to think twice about preparing a legacy gift to Beth Am, to sustain this community they have dedicated so much. “We believe in congregations! We believe they are a form of community unlike anything else in today’s world.”
The Beth Am Builders Circle is the group of members who have included a legacy gift such as a bequest to Beth Am. For more information about making a bequest or other legacy gift to Beth Am, please e-mail Director of Development Mandy Eisner or call (650) 493-4661, ext. 211. For sample bequest language, please visit the Legacy Giving page of the Beth Am website and download the brochure.