Let's take a refreshing break from the woes of JFNA.
A recent article in Time was titled "Can He Write a New L.A. Story?" (March 31, 2014), and featured the new Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti. For our purposes that story could just as easily featured a photo of Jay Sanderson, L.A.'s CEO and framed the identical question about that City's Jewish community. I recently visited Los Angeles and what I found was the emergence of the L.A. Federation as the communal central address. And was I surprised for the good.
Why the surprise? My visits to the Los Angeles federation date back over four decades. Even before the first visit, when I would commute to our Loop offices with my dear friend, Joel Shinsky, z'l, Chicago's Campaign Director, I would look at the UJA communal campaign stats and complain: "Look at LA's campaign, Joel, they are eating our lunch." "Patience, Richard," Joel would respond, "wait until year-end and let's compare." And, sure enough, by year-end, year-after-year-after year, the Los Angeles campaign was in the crapper. By the 90's, UJA had to send in its CFO to review the Los Angeles financials, so far behind had the community fallen in paying its annual allocations. I followed, negotiating an allocations payment plan with the community that was honored in the breach. And, I followed periodically with meetings to discuss overseas allocations -- which had dwindled to almost nothing. In the 80s, I had worked with communal leadership to assure that its now historic partnership with Tel Aviv was "approved" by a recalcitrant JAFI (which had been pushing communities to partner only in the Israel periphery) and in the mid-90s Los Angeles' lay and professional leaders called me in on an emergency basis to explain to the federation's leaders the work the national system had undertaken in response to the flare-up of the "Who Is A Jew?" issue in Israel. Over time I developed a great respect and affection for a succession of the community's lay and professional leaders but I watched them struggle to gain any traction in campaign, in allocations, in executing their myriad plans even with a history oof great lay and influential lay leadership.
And, then the community chose Jay Sanderson as its CEO some 4+ years ago. While Jay had led the Jewish Television Network for years, I had my doubts as to whether his experience and success there could translate into communal success. And, when I first met Jay shortly after he was seated in the CEO Chair, I admit to surprise at Jay's articulation of strong opinions about the Jewish Agency, the Joint, the community and about JFNA. Little did I realize what a quick learner Sanderson was, how much he knew or the reach of his contacts through-out not just the Jewish but the general community. And is he ever leading Los Angeles. He is proof that strong, visionary professional leadership can effect transformational change, not just talk about it.
The Annual Campaign of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has emerged from years of flat or negative to have grown by 7% over the last year and is growing again. The number of donors in a community characterized by a lack of affiliation is growing in percentages greater than any other Large City. Best, the LA Annual Campaign is centered on the Jewish values and timeless principles that have been at the center of the best campaigns in the country. When Sanderson first took the helm of the L.A. Federation he discovered a $6 million dollar deficit, one that he confronted in part by bringing on board as CFO a work-out specialist. The Federation's Young Leadership programs are the envy of most federations around the Continent.
And Jay has jumped in to serve JFNA. He, like Nasatir, Hoffman and Ruskay, has been one of Jerry Silverman's "go to" professional leaders. This year Jay is the leader of the LCE. Jay doesn't appear to tolerate fools, his influence will be felt continentally and internationally.
From my first meeting with Jay to the last one just days ago, I appreciated his sense of humor, his sarcasm, his candor. I even appreciated his willingness to meet with someone who had been critical (and who met with me against the advice of "friends" of mine who cautioned him that such a meeting would be at best "a waste of his time.") But Jay knew he had a great story to tell and he tells it so well. But it is a story supported by facts, by data, by growth unheard of in my decades of visiting the community. I congratulate Jay Sanderson and his lay and professional leadership.
In that Time hagiography about Mayor Eric Garcetti, coincidentally a long-time Sanderson friend who will co-officiate a communal Seder at the Federation, the Mayor said: "L.A. has never been afraid to reinvent itself and we have to do that at this moment." Jay Sanderson might have said those very words about the JFGLA -- he has certainly lived them. And there are still mountains to climb.