Woman of Impact: Jaime Waldman Seltzer

July 2022

Our Woman of Impact profile features a local woman who is making a notable impact in our community. For this issue, we spoke with Jaime Waldman Seltzer, executive director of American Friends of NATAL (AFNATAL), an organization that supports the important work of  NATAL: Israel Trauma and Resiliency Center, a Tel Aviv-based nonprofit that assists survivors of war- and terror-related trauma. Previously, Jaime was a key member of our local Federation’s professional staff, where she served as director of financial resource development. Jaime was born in New York and raised in West Hartford, where she now lives with her husband Mark. Together, they contribute their wisdom and wealth to many local Jewish community organizations and agencies. Jaime and Mark also value the time spent with their four adult children Amanda and Aaron Katzman and Brittney and Matthew Seltzer and their grandchildren, Molly and Nathan Katzman.

Most of your professional life has been focused on serving the Jewish community. How did you discover that path as your life’s work?

I grew up in a family that was very involved in the Jewish community here in West Hartford, and my parents were fantastic role models. My mother served as our Federation’s Women’s Division chair and was national chair of Women’s Philanthropy during the 1973 [Yom Kippur] war. My father chaired our Federation’s Annual Campaign and also chaired Project Renewal for Federation when Afula was chosen as Hartford’s sister community in Israel. My parents taught by example the importance of giving back and making the world a better place.

I went to Israel just after the 1973 Yom Kippur war as part of a national college mission, and I served as the campaign chair of the Boston University Israel campaign. When I returned from Israel, Federation’s executive director at the time encouraged me to go back to graduate school for a master’s degree in social work, looking toward a career in Jewish communal service.

Following that, I  took a position with Federation and had so many amazing experiences as a result! Some highlights included mentoring so many wonderful community volunteers and leading many missions to Israel, Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and South America. I was also part of the largest group of American Jews to visit Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall—and I joined a group that brought medical supplies to Ethiopia and helped bring many Ethiopian families to a new life in Israel. All of these experiences allowed me to zero in on my life’s purpose: to leave the world better than I had found it and to assist those less fortunate.

How is your current work with American Friends of NATAL a culmination of your professional experience?

I was recruited for this position in 2019 and was immediately drawn to NATAL’s mission. NATAL originally focused on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) related to war and terror. Now, due to COVID and current events, we deal with trauma in many different ways. Our role at AFNATAL is to create greater U.S. awareness of NATAL’s life-saving work and to raise funds in support of that work.

Although I’ve spent most of my professional career in financial resource development—nearly 45 years—my role with AFNATAL has brought my professional life full circle. Because of AFNATAL’s focus on trauma and resiliency, my social work background also comes into play. I feel very fortunate that during my time with Federation—and even to this day—I am able to support the worldwide Jewish community. Now, my work with AFNATAL allows me to positively impact those around the world suffering from PTSD.

What connects you personally with AFNATAL’s mission?

I have seen firsthand the personal impact of the many wars Israel has undergone. For 45 years, I raised money to support organizations that help Israel, but with AFNATAL, I can actually see the lives of those we’re helping. NATAL has also been able to take the models developed in Israel and apply them to trauma-related scenarios here in the States. For example, we’ve trained first responders in New Jersey, and we worked with a pastor on Chicago’s South Side who uses the NATAL model to help those impacted by gun violence.

We are taking our experience and know-how and exporting it for use outside of Israel. I really believe we’re helping to leave the world a better place.

I understand that NATAL’s work has widened a bit in the light of the Ukraine crisis. How has being involved in that impacted you?

My grandmother was born in Kyiv and, having been there several times, I am deeply troubled by what is happening there. It has really struck me hard. As a mother and grandmother, seeing women walking out of Ukraine alone, with babies in their arms, affects me tremendously. However, since the war began, NATAL has done remote [trauma-related] trainings for more than 2,500 psychologists and social workers who are working with refugees and those still in the country. Each professional we train can potentially help thousands of people in need—and we are also providing services to those who have come to Israel. It feels great to be contributing to that effort.

I also feel especially blessed that so many local individuals and families are generously supporting AFNATAL. And I’m grateful that our local Federation supports NATAL’s Connections in Nature, an outdoor program developed with Ha’emek Hospital in Afula for those suffering from PTSD.

I understand you recently made a commitment as a Lion of Judah. What brought you to that decision?

I actually returned as a Lion; I was a Lion for many years in the ’90s and recently came back! I found myself reflecting on the importance of leaving a strong Jewish legacy, and I wanted to make a stronger statement to my children and grandchildren of what it means to support our Jewish community. We also have a family donor-advised fund with the Jewish Community Foundation, and our children and grandchildren will be the third and fourth generations associated with that fund. We are so very proud of our children’s and grandchildren’s involvement in the Jewish community; they are continuing the work of their grandparents and parents and bringing their own commitments and priorities to the table.  It’s an important legacy. One should not say, “You should give, but I’m exempt.” You have to lead by example.

How does your philanthropy and the work you do with NATAL reflect your Jewish faith and values?

Jewish values require that we extend our reach and take care of others. I figure that although I’m just one person, I’m also part of a larger Jewish world, and if we can embrace that worldwide community, we can have an impact on a global scale. I like to think that that’s what my entire life and career have been about. Although we have a long, long way to go in making the world a better place, I still have plenty of years ahead to make a difference—and that’s my intent.