Carey Cooper’s tenure as a lawyer in Chicago lasted a little longer than a typical pretrial conference.
“I loved the people and the city,” Cooper, of Highland Park, recalls. “But I didn’t love practicing law.
“I got out of law in my 20s because I was more of an entrepreneurial guy.”
Still is. Cooper, 67, heads Evanston-based Cooper Management, a financial services firm, as well as the LYFE (Love Your Food Everyday) Kitchen restaurant in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.
His former jobs include executive positions at Redi-Cut Foods, Danaco Solutions, L3 Hospitality Group, and Chicagoland Equipment & Supply.
About three years after dismissing himself for good from courtrooms, Cooper got involved with the Youth Leadership Division of the Jewish United Fund (JUF) of Metropolitan Chicago. His late grandfather, Eli Field, had served the JUF as its general campaign chair in 1982.
Cooper’s current JUF role, since November 2022? Same as Grandpa Eli’s 41 years ago. It’s an 18-month term. Cooper will lead the 2023 JUF Annual Campaign, which provides foundational support for a network of more than 100 human service agencies, educational institutions, and community-building programs in Chicago, in Israel, and around the world.
“My grandfather was amazing and a character and a half,” a chuckling Cooper says of a man who settled in Glencoe after growing up in Liverpool, England. “He was fearless and charismatic and persistent. He’d camp out outside companies and wait for employees to exit the buildings at the end of their workdays. Then he’d ask them to donate to the Jewish United Fund.
“My grandpa believed firmly in the importance of giving back to the community.”
JUF’s mission must have struck a chord with Eli Field. Founded in 1900, the community-driven humanitarian organization seeks to “amplify (its) collective strength to make the world a better place—for everyone.”
It’s a welcoming and inclusive community, inspired by Jewish values, committed to eradicating hunger, isolation and inequities, and uplifting people to find health, harmony, unity, prosperity, and peace.
In 2022 JUF positively impacted more than 500,000 Chicago-area people.
The number of times the highly engaging and affable Cooper has smiled since being named JUF’s general campaign chair probably surpassed that prodigious number sometime around noon on New Year’s Day.
“I went on three JUF missions last year,” Cooper says of trips to Poland, Israel, and the Middle East (Bahrain, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi). “My five days in Poland, during the summer, seeing what JUF is doing for refugees and others there … all of it opened my eyes. I was proud. There are massive needs out there, here, and in other countries, and the Jewish United Fund is addressing them.”
Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022, JUF advanced $1 million in emergency funds to its partners on the ground. Nearly $7 million in additional allocations followed.
Closer to home, JUF provided nearly $22 million in COVID-19 relief funding across the Chicago area that fortified emergency financial aid, responses to health- and safety-related concerns, social services, organizational stability, and food assistance.
“Our staff,” Cooper says, “is so dedicated.”
Cooper has already sat down with 10 past JUF general campaign chairs to better prepare him for the work ahead. Some, he learned, had devoted 40 hours per week to the commitment.
“Mind-blowing,” he says.
Cooper was a busy man before he took over the post.
But he doesn’t mind, in the least, the additional responsibilities he now finds on his crowded plate of Things to Tackle each day.
“I’d never heard, ‘If you want to get a job done, give it to a busy person,’ until my grandfather Eli said it,” Cooper says.
“I’ve always liked being busy.”
Cooper plans to lead a JUF mission to the Kingdom of Morocco in May, mainly to explore the Jewish culture there and see how the Abraham Accords are working in the North African country. The Abraham Accords are a series of joint normalization statements initially between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.
Morocco and Israel signed the pact in December 2020, aiming to refresh the countries’ relations.
“Morocco,” Cooper says, “has a rich Jewish history. The trip should be interesting and fascinating.”
Cooper attended Glenbrook North High School, where he wrestled for three years and played baseball—as a second baseman—for a season. The late Scott Sanderson, a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs and several other teams during a 19-year Major League Baseball career, baffled and overwhelmed the Spartans’ foes in batter’s boxes when Cooper (Class of 1974) was a student at the Northbrook school.
The son of Highland Park residents Phillip and Sandra Cooper, Carey earned a B.S. with a CPA designation from the University of Illinois and a J.D. from Loyola University in Chicago.
He has been married to Wilmette native and New Trier High School graduate Cheryl, an ophthalmologist, for 42 years. They raised children Allie, Nathan, and Douglas. They have five grandchildren.
“My wife is the better half,” Cooper insists. “Her passion for everything, her discipline … yes, she’s definitely the better half.”
But the other half of the union isn’t half bad. Carey Cooper continues to flourish as a businessman/restaurateur and to champion all things Jewish United Fund. He also has served as president of the North Suburban Jewish Community Center, vice president of the National Fragile X Foundation, and president of The Cove School (Northbrook) board of trustees.
Plus, he’s forward-thinking, especially when it comes to JUF.
“I’m all about doing what I can to expand the circle of JUF supporters, reaching and motivating our organization’s future leaders,” Cooper says. “That includes my kids and my friends’ kids. Too many don’t fully understand what JUF does, don’t realize the positive impact it has in the community, in Chicago, in Israel, and in other countries. But when they do, they get excited about our plans and our mission.
The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, 312-346-6700, is located at 30 South Wells Street, Chicago. Visit juf.org for more information.