Itzler inspires as the community celebrates the Annual Campaign


Inspiration and motivation were the keys to the evening as the community celebrated Oct. 30, at the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island’s annual campaign event.


Held this year at Temple Emanu-El, attendees heard a lively presentation from entrepreneur, philanthropist and author Jesse Itzler about his professional journey and the life lessons he learned while living with a Navy SEAL for 30 days.

Itzler shared anecdotes about his business endeavors, such as writing the New York Knicks theme song, from which he created an entire “sports music” industry, his initial first failing pitch of Marquis Jets and his inspiration to create Zico Coconut Water while training for a 100-mile race. “The key is you just keep on going,” said Itzler.

Itzler co-founded Marquis Jet, the world’s largest prepaid private jet card company in 2001, which he and his partner sold to Berkshire Hathaway/NetJets. He then helped pioneer the coconut water craze with Zico Coconut Water, which he and his partners sold to The Coca-Cola Co. in 2013. His many life experiences are inspired by his personal goal to “never take your foot off the gas.”

His most recent adventure was hiring a Navy Seal to live with him and his family to push his endurance and determination to the next level. Already a super athlete, Itzler felt that his exercise regimen needed a boost of energy. His final challenges included jumping into a frozen lake and doing 1,000 push-ups in one day. He told the crowd that the experience taught him to “be comfortable with being uncomfortable” and  how to move on after failure.

Itzler and his wife, Spanx founder Sara Blakely, have also committed themselves to philanthropy. One flagship project includes the building of the 100-Mile Man Educational Campus, housing an extended-hours daycare center and preschool for low-income families in Rishon LeZion, Israel.

In addition to Itzler, community member Jordan Harpel shared his personal story on living Jewishly in Rhode Island. Now a senior at the University of Rhode Island, Harpel, the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, grew up in Cranston. Susan Froehlich, vice-chair of philanthropy, introduced Harpel by saying, “Tonight represents the power of community when we join together to make an impact… Jordan is one of many community members who have directly benefited from our support and now has chosen to keep the cycle going by giving back himself.”

Harpel began his Jewish journey as a camper at Camp JORI and spent last summer as a head counselor, which was his 13th consecutive summer at JORI. He participated in the March of the Living during high school, Birthright Israel in college, and now works as an afternoon teacher at the David C. Isenberg Family Early Childhood Center at the Dwares JCC. Harpel told the audience, “When I think about my grandfather, David, fleeing Nazi Germany, and the many Jews around the world today who must hide or deny their Jewishness, I feel lucky that there is so much to participate in and get involved in locally as a young Jewish person living and studying in Rhode Island.” He expressed appreciation for all the support given to him by the donors to the Alliance Annual Campaign that has provided him these opportunities.

Gary and Mynde Siperstein and Bethany and Richard Sutton co-chaired the event which was designed to celebrate the Alliance’s  effectiveness and impact on programs and services while thanking the 1,800 community donors for ongoing commitment and support.

Two donor receptions were held prior to the main event. Pacesetters, Lions of Judah and Silver Circle donors, chaired by Ralph Posner, Mindy Wachtenheim, Jeanie Charness and Faye Wisen, heard a presentation from retired IDF Col. Kobi Marom. He shared insights into the current situation in the Middle East, including the civil war in Syria and the growth of ISIS.

At a reception for Double Chai Society members, co-chaired by Bethany and Rich Sutton, the next generation of Jewish Alliance donors was able to chat with Jesse Itzler and Tslil Reichman, the new Israeli shlichah in the community.

Mitzi Berkelhammer, board chair, welcomed attendees to the main event: “[The Jewish Alliance] is providing positive Jewish and communal experiences for all … we are caring for those most in need with our Living on the Edge initiative. And we are responding to needs locally and abroad when they arise in the face of growing anti-Semitism, natural disasters and poverty.”

Attendees left inspired and motivated. James Pious, vice chair of philanthropy, closed the evening by reinforcing the importance of the Alliance’s annual campaign and how, similar to Itzler, our community must continue to innovate and motivate one another.

For more ways to get inspired by Jewish giving, contact Trine Lustig, vice president of philanthropy: or 401-421-4111, ext. 223.

To donate to the Annual Campaign, contact Michele Gallagher: or ext. 165.

STEPHANIE HAGUE is the philanthropy officer for the Jewish Alliance.