Saturday, June 6, 2009


It appears that UJC, whose leaders so violently oppose "leaks" to the press, have leaked their Search process results to the press themselves. Jacob Berkman's May 26 article in JTA follows, then some comments.

"UJC closing in on new leadership team
By Jacob Berkman · May 26, 2009, JTA

In the coming days, the leadership picture of the central organization of the North American Jewish federation system is expected to become clearer.

Ever since the CEO of the United Jewish Communities, Howard Rieger, announced that he would be leaving his post at the end of August, the big question around the organization has been “Who will replace Howard?” Now it appears that a decision could be made within the next week or so, according to several sources.

For months it was rumored that Misha Galperin, the executive vice president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, was the front-runner for the spot. But, according to several sources, he is out of the running.

Though other names have been floated, such as Jehuda Reinharz, the president of Brandeis University, and Morlie Levin, the national executive vice president of Hadassah, the name with the most buzz now seems to be that of Jerry Silverman, the president of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

Silverman would be an interesting choice. He has received universal praise for his work in turning the camp foundation into one of the most successful and innovative Jewish organizations, and has helped pump tens of millions of dollars into developing the Jewish camping world, in the process attracting tens of thousands of children who had not attended Jewish overnight camps.
He also would be the first professional head of the UJC that came from completely outside the federation system (Rieger and his two predcessors served as chief executives of big-city Jewish federations before joing UJC). So Silverman is not necessarily a safe choice in terms of appeasing a federation system whose lay leadership is putting intense pressure on the national organization to downsize and become more efficient.

It has been rumored for months that members of the UJC search committee seeking Rieger's replacement favor bringing in an outsider -- eliciting grumbles from some of the old guard of the federation system’s lay leadership who would like to see the spot filled by an executive from one of the largest federations.

Hiring an outsider also could further rankle some who already were upset with the other major leadership news from earlier this month -- that a nominating committee had tapped Kathy Manning to be the next chair of the umbrella organization of the North American Jewish federation system.

Manning, who has served as the chair of the UJC’s executive committee since 2006 and heads the search committee searching for Rieger's replacement, is a reformer who wants to see the federation system and the UJC evolve -- and the favored choice of outgoing chairman Joe Kanfer.

If her nomination is approved at the annual UJC General Assembly, which will be held in Washington in November, she would become the first woman selected to the organization's top volunteer post since its creation from the merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations in 1999.

But there is a potential pitfall: Manning is from Greensboro, N.C., a small-market federation town.

As much resistance as Kanfer has faced during the past two years for his sometimes aggressive moves to overhaul the UJC and bring the country’s federations in line with the national organization, the CEO of GOJO Industries (the maker of Purell hand sanitizer) has perhaps has received even more pushback from some corners of the federation world because he is from a small-market federation, Akron, Ohio.

Some argue that a system that receives most of its money from large federation markets such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Baltimore should have a lay leader from an area with mega money.

Time will tell if Manning, a graduate of Harvard University and the University of Michigan Law School, runs into more of the same.

It's not an easy time to be the top lay or professional leader of the organization.

The UJC recently went through its second round of layoffs in the past year, with 31 employees let go as part of an 18-percent budget cut -- from $37 million this year to $30.3 in 2009-10. Meanwhile, the organization is still struggling to define its mission."


Consider this writer among the "rankled" but for reasons other than those about which Berkman speculated. The Search Committee met last Wednesday.

First, some of the names thrown out there in the JTA article (and in prior leaks from within the UJC Commitee) have never indicated that they are or were candidates. As an example, for it to be suggested that Misha Galperin, a wonderful and creative Federation CEO, whose own life story and life's work inspires, to be deemed "out of the running" when he, as I am informed, never subjected himself to "the running," is sad. I am informed that at least one other "finalist" was never a candidate, as well.

Second, the size of Kathy Manning's community should have no bearing on her service as UJC Board Chair. Some of our system's best leaders have come from smaller communities -- Marvin Lender, Len Strelitz, z'l, and countless others. But some focus on the role that Kathy played in placing UJC in the circumstances she, Michael Gelman and a new CEO will face -- with UJC rapidly descending down the precipice of failure -- might have been more appropriate. Now Kathy will have the opportunity to demonstrate her leadership skills without the KanferRieger yoke, if that's what it was. May she prove to be up to the task of reconstructing UJC.

But, at a time that requires a CEO who speaks the language of federations, is of and from the federations, the very fact that an excellent reporter has been told that a true "outsider" will be the anointed one, speaks volumes not about the "outsider" but about UJC's leaders' disengagement from its owners. Although there are some terrific federations leaders on it, when UJC structures a Search Committee to include its present lay leaders, and a number of their acolytes, none of whom have demonstrated that they understand the federations which own UJC or care much for the federations' agenda, the process that follows is too strongly influenced by their "wants" as opposed to UJC's real needs. The Search Committee (or whatever "Screening Subcommittee") may have been "wowed" by Jerry Silverman's presentation and charm (two prerequisites for the position) and his success in leading, even transforming, the national camping movement, but when UJC most needs a professional leader who can hit the ground running, who knows the federations, who knows the UJC staff, who has demonstrated a commitment to Israel and overseas and knows the system's partners -- those basic qualifications appear not to have factored into the decision -- that is not what we're going to get. Silverman should be congratulated for having sought out a number of Large City Executives in this process, to learn of and from them, but that is not a qualification for CEO only excellent evidence of how sensitive he is to his future constituency. We can only wish him well if Silverman is the choice as JTA has projected and if he accepts this daunting challenge.

I fear for UJC's present; I fear for its future. I fear it when "out of the box" thinking trumps good sense.



Hillel Korin said...

Silverman is an interesting guy-- I have worked with him on a project and while he is an outside the box thinker the NFJC is a single issue organization that seeks to impact Jewish Camping and has so far done it well-- Politically it has far fewer challenges and far fewer issues to manage and certainly far fewer agenda! IMHO

Anonymous said...

How can a three-term state senator who hasn't even finished a term as junior senator possibly be President of the United States? He lacks experience, know-how, etc. etc. etc.

I agree with you, Richard, regarding the need for a strong national system. Jewish unity is critical and those that forget that fact do so at our collective peril. But in the last ten years, three very successful and long-serving large-city Federation executives have tried valiantly but failed to build that system.

Now comes the alleged front runner, a man with a track record of building a national constituency, raising gobs of money, and holding together a coalition -- camping may not be the Jewish Federation system but it's definitely got multiple factions, no?

Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results." Maybe it's time to focus a fresh set of eyes on the issues?

RWEX said...

Dear "Anonymous,"

Your points are well made and compelling. (And no one... is living Einstein's admonition more than I.) A couple of comments: (1) Steve Hoffman's tenure consisted of righting the ship and moving UJC forward (his leadership has been undone by his successor; (2) if Silverman is to be the person, he will need far more than "...a fresh set of eyes" to succeed. The fear here is that there is no one in the lay or professional ranks at UJC who has the experience with the federation system to help point one with no experience with the federations in the right direction from Day One; and (3) there are no discernible parallels between the federation "business" and the camping "business."