Veteran publicist Lee Solters tells this story about fund-raiser Sally Fleg: Two men are shipwrecked on a desert island. One frantically sends smoke signals to attract a stray aircraft, while the other lounges about. Finally the first man, exhausted from his efforts, asks the other why he isn't doing anything that might help save them. Casually he replies, "I just pledged $100,000 to Hebrew University. Sally Fleg will find me."
Fleg was reminded of the story one day recently while sitting in her Wilshire Boulevard office. She placed her fingers carefully on her temple as a slight smile crept across her face. "I think Lee is taking a bit of a license there. He gets that because at board meetings I always bring people back to the issue (money). People say, 'There she goes again. That's all she ever thinks about.' "
Maybe not all , but a good deal. Despite the Borscht Belt humor that's used to describe her personality, Fleg is no-nonsense. Her 18-year salaried post as director of the Western States Region of American Friends of the Hebrew University has practically everything to do with money, as in raising it. And Fleg is very good at that, making the Western region the second-highest grossing area (New York is first) of the 39 international chapters.
The diminutive woman with carefully coiffed blond hair possesses a healthy amount of confidence about her accomplishments: "I'm very competitive," she said matter-of-factly. "I'm an achiever. I like to strive for No. 1. It doesn't mean I always make it, but I like to strive for that."
During her tenure as director enough money has been raised to pay for a long list of buildings and services: 10,000 student scholarships, 15 research chairs, 15 buildings (including dormitories, classrooms, libraries, student centers) and six plazas and gardens on the Mt. Scopus campus and at least 10 more buildings on other campuses.
Hebrew University's 17,000 students are spread out over four campuses: Mt. Scopus, which is the main campus, Givat Ram and Ein Karem in Jerusalem; and Rehovot, outside of Tel Aviv. The university boasts the only agriculture school in Israel, and has programs in computer science, veterinary medicine and chemistry. Its size is second only to Tel Aviv University, which has 20,000 students.
Building names read like a page out of Who's Who. There is the Emanuel Streisand Building, which is named for Barbra's father, the Frank Sinatra International Student Center, the Mehli Mehta and Zubin Mehta Music Wing, the Nancy Reagan Plaza, and the Ralph Bunche Gardens, a gift of MCA president Lew Wasserman. The American Friends have never been without big-name Hollywood support (Gregory Peck, Dinah Shore, Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme to name a few), a necessity in the competitive world of fund raising.
Fleg also brings 100 to 200 supporters to the campus every year on an annual trek she calls a "caravan."
The secret of success is in gaining contributors who may never set foot on the campus, let alone have a building named after them. When asked how she does it, she paused a moment before launching into The Pitch: "If you had never been to Israel, certainly you live in this city where there are universities with young people, and you understand what they're doing. You understand how important education is. I don't think the concept of the physical structure is as easy to bring to them as the need for scholarships, or even money for research. Everyone understands how important research is."
Hair-care magnate Vidal Sassoon, a past president of this region of American Friends, described the motivational technique Fleg uses with him: "She'll say, 'So-and-so is in town. Go after him.' It's that kind of thing. Get to the person who can do the most good, and do it efficiently. But not just for the cash--make them aware of why they're giving, why they're involved. And she has a marvelous nose for where the money is."
Fleg found another way to bring the university to Angelenos: She flies in Hebrew University professors to Los Angeles each year for a conference. At a national board meeting scheduled for April in Palm Springs, the roster includes Knesset member and former Foreign Minister Abba Eban and several professors; the emphasis will be on hunger.
Despite her accomplishments, Fleg said, "I never considered myself a fund-raiser. I always thought I was doing what I was supposed to do. The money was never asked for me, for anything personal. It was always something that I was doing for . . . Israel. It became a driving force in my life, a lifetime commitment. I have always felt it did more for me than I did for the cause."
Fleg's commitment to Israel came about 40 years ago when she attended a meeting of Youth Aliyah, a program that brought children of parents killed in the Holocaust back to Israel.