Longtime Dayton Jewish Federation Director Dies at 95
By Marshall Weiss, The Dayton Jewish Observer
Master fund raiser and community builder Robert Fitterman, who served as executive director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton from 1948 to 1978, died on May 22. He was 95.
His 30-year tenure with the Federation reflected the successes and challenges faced by American Jewry in the years following World War II.
Fitterman arrived in Dayton at the age of 35 on April 5, 1948, only weeks before Israel’s War of Independence broke out.
His first charge was to spearhead the Federation’s emergency campaign for relief, rehabilitation and resettlement programs of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, United Palestine Appeal and United Service for New Americans.
That year, Dayton’s total campaign raised $641,627, a record that stood until the 1967 Six-Day War, when it raised a total of $1.59 million, marking the highest per capita amount raised by any Jewish federation in the United States. Locally, this record stood until 1973, during the Yom Kippur War, when Dayton’s annual and emergency campaigns achieved $3.09 million.
Fitterman retired from his position on Nov. 1, 1978, six weeks after the official dedication of the Jesse Philips Building and Covenant House, at the Federation’s Jewish Community Complex in Trotwood, which he considered his “crowning achievement.”
He succeeded Sidney B. Markey as executive director of what was then called Dayton’s Jewish Community Council. Fitterman came to Dayton from his position as regional director of the New York state and New England regions of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds.
“Out of this emphasis on the campaign must come the realization that the campaign is not an end in itself, however,” Fitterman said in an April 16, 1948 interview with the Dayton J.C.C. News. “The campaign is one of the functions, one of the responsibilities of the Jewish community which is organized to serve as the trustee and agent of its citizens in the discharge of their common responsibilities.”
Fitterman oversaw the Federation’s gradual expansion from a small non-profit with fewer than two dozen employees to a multi-agency operation with more than 200 employees at Trotwood’s 84-acre Jewish Community Complex: a full-service campus at the disposal of Dayton’s 6,000 Jews, most of whom then lived in Northwest Dayton and the adjacent suburbs.
During his tenure, the Federation acquired the land for the complex in 1956. He oversaw the Federation’s acquisition of the Jewish Home for the Aged on Grand Ave. and its transition to Covenant House Jewish resident and respite care facility at the complex, and the DJCC amenities built on the campus, including the Olympic-size pool, camp lodge, and recreation/athletic facilities.
“He was my mentor. He was the one who taught me everything I knew about raising funds and community work,” said close friend, Federation Past President Lou Goldman.
“My wife and I went to visit Bob and Mollie about five months ago. They were almost like parents to me.”
Goldman recalled that for about eight years — when he was Federation president and on the board — he ate breakfast at the Fitterman home almost every Sunday morning.
“He motivated the people,” Goldman said. “He always knew how to push the buttons in the right way to achieve things. His life was our community. Dayton owes him a tremendous thank-you for everything he achieved here.”
After his retirement, Fitterman was active with the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach, where he also served for a brief period as interim executive director. He and his wife, Mollie, moved to St. Louis several years ago to be near their daughter, Susan Witte, a senior planning associate at the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. Fitterman is survived by his wife, their daughter, and son Mark.
“Bob touched the lives of tens of thousands of his fellow Jews around the world in meaningful ways,” said Peter H. Wells, who succeeded him as executive director of Dayton’s Jewish Federation from 1978 to 2004. “He was respected and loved by his colleagues.”