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October 15, 1993 - Image 36

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1993-10-15

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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Robert Naftaly Driven
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W

hen former Gov. James
Blanchard gave a nick-
name to Robert Naf-
taly, his state budget
director, the name -"Dr. No" -
just stuck.
"We thought a budget direc-
tor needed a nickname. We came
up with this one so people
couldn't expect so much money
from the state," says Mr. Blan-
chard, recently appointed by
President Bill Clinton as the U.S.
ambassador to Canada. "The re-
ality is that Bob Naftaly was Dr.
Yes. He always found some way
to help everybody."
Mr. Naftaly, who tells people
he is "just a CPA," is a well-
known face in Jewish communi-
ty, business and Democratic
political circles around Detroit
and Washington, D.C. Friends
and business associates suggest
his popularity stems from a cer-
tain humility and a burning de-
sire to get things done.
"I've gone with Bob to visit a
lot of congressional offices, and
I've never seen such an out-,

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Robert Naftaly

Photo by Kristotter Gillette

pouring of support for him," ex-
plains former Detroiter Nancy
Rattner Barbour, the director of
Washington affairs for the De-
troit law firm, Dykema Gossett.
"You might agree or disagree
with what he has to say, but you
will always get the straight scoop
from him."
Mr. Naftaly's resume includes
such prestigious jobs as director

of the Michigan Department of
Management and Budget, vice
president and auditor for Detroit
Edison and now executive vice
president and chief financial of-
ficer for Blue Cross and Blue
Shield of Michigan.
Those who know him best,
like marketing executive Zina
Kramer who worked with Mr.
Naftaly on fund-raising for Doug
Ross's successful 1977 campaign
for state senate, say Mr. Naftaly
is driven by one thing. a Ytddishe
neshama, a Jewish soul.
"He's just like my father (the
late Amil Kahn)," says Mr. Naf-
taly's mother, Grace, of Oak
Park. "My father pulled himself
up from the boot straps. He was
a hard working man. I think he
worked on Bob."
Encouraged to become an ac-
countant by his uncle, Sam
Geller, Mr. Naftaly graduated
from Walsh College and became
a CPA at age 21.
Driven into community in-
volvement by his grandfather,
Mr. Kahn - former treasurer for
the Jewish National Fund and a
founding member of Congrega-
tion Beth Moses (now Beth Abra-
ham Hillel Moses) - Mr.
Naftaly's ticket to the Jewish
scene came in 1965 at an Anti-
Defamation League meeting of
young adults.
He worked his way up the
ADL leadership ladder and be-
came the first Michigan person
ever elected to the organization's
national executive committee.
He also served as ADL's nation-
al treasurer.
He later began working with
the Jewish Federation, the Jew-
ish Home for Aged (he now is
chairman), Wayne State Uni-
versity's board of governors, the
nonsectarian Detroit soup
kitchen Capuchin Charity Guild,
and a host of other organizations.
Next week, Mr. Naftaly, 55,
will be honored with the Cham-
pion of Liberty Award from the
ADL. It is the first time he has
agreed to accept such a high-pro-
file honor.
"He has said no to us for 15
years (declining the honor)," says
Richard Lobenthal, Michigan re-
gional director for the ADL. "Bob

doesn't like the limelight. He's a
modest guy.
"His modesty made him more
effective," Mr. Lobenthal says.
Robert Naftaly grew up in De-
troit and graduated from Cen-
tral High School. His late father,
William, a traffic manager for
Dodge Truck, and his mother,
former secretary for Rabbi A. Irv-
ing Schnipper, had three chil-
dren.
"I came from a strong, activist
Jewish background," says Mr.
Naftaly. "I got turned on by that
first ADL meeting.
"I knew that as an individual,
it was hard to make a difference,"
Mr. Naftaly says. "But you can
be protected by the strength of
an American Jewish organiza-
tion."
He was concerned about the
rights of Jews and all minorities.
The ADL was a perfect place to
try to help combat anti-Semi-
tism. During the mid-1960s, he
investigated complaints of anti-
Semitism for the local organiza-
tion. He went undercover to Nazi
rallies in Michigan, and took co-
pious notes for the ADL.
"Going to a hate rally really
reinforced my need to be part of
the ADL," Mr. Naftaly recalls.
Mr. Naftaly says his sense of
responsibility to the Jewish corn-

"Bob doesn't expect
too much. He likes
people. He is kind
and generous. He
gives more than he
receives."

James Blanchard

munity keeps his life in focus -
especially when it comes to pol-
itics.
He helped Mr. Ross plan
st ategies for his state senate bid.
Around the same time, he
thought it would be nice to help
another Jewish Democrat -
then Detroit City Council Mem-
ber Carl Levin - with his books
during his first campaign (1978)
for the U.S. Senate.
Ever since, he has been an ac-
tive fund-raiser for candidates
that support Jewish ideals. Mr.
Naftaly is treasurer of the Motor
City Political Action Committee,
which raises funds for Democ-
ratic candidates running for U.S.
House and Senate offices. "So
many people get into politics and
expect things from it," Mr. Blan-
chard says. "Bob doesn't expect
too much. He likes people. He is
kind and generous. He gives
more than he receives."
It is important, Mr. Naftaly
warns, that Jews have access to
both major political parties.
"America is a wonderful country
NAFTALY page 38

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