The Birthright Israel Foundation, the fundraising arm of the wildly successful program that sends 18-26 year-olds on free 10-day educational trips to Israel, has named Robert Aronson, the long-time Detroit Jewish federation executive, to head the foundation in the coming year.
Aronson, an unparalleled leader in the Jewish philanthropic world, will succeed Jay Golan, the foundation’s executive since its inception, as president of the foundation on January 1. Golan will then continue to be available to the foundation for an additional six months as an executive consultant. The transition is by mutual agreement.
Aronson announced several months ago he was leaving the metropolitan Detroit federation – after serving as its CEO for 20 years – to become a private consultant to Jewish philanthropists and non-profits and to serve as president of the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life. Called a “visionary” for his forward-looking thinking in the Jewish communal world, Aronson turned the Detroit federation into the third largest in the country.
According to Dan Och, chair of The Birthright Israel Foundation, “Bob Aronson is the preeminent activist in American Jewish philanthropy today. He has been involved with Taglit-Birthright Israel since its inception, has served as its director in the US, and is extraordinarily knowledgeable about the Jewish communal and federation world – an area in which we’d like to enhance our relationships, as we would with Keren Hayesod and the Jewish Agency for Israel, as well as with our alumni and their families. It’s a rare opportunity that we could combine an organization with such a tremendous brand and success rate as Birthright Israel’s, with Bob’s unique – even tailor-made – background.”
The president of The Birthright Israel Foundation’s responsibilities include all advocacy and fundraising in North America for the Birthright Israel program, which has brought almost 200,000 young Jewish adults to Israel since its inception in 1999.
In the nine years since its launch, Taglit-Birthright Israel has established itself as the most successful international Jewish educational program of the last generation. It is a unique partnership between private philanthropists through The Birthright Israel Foundation, the government of Israel, and Jewish communities around the world.
Robert Aronson, 57, served as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit for 20 years, growing a federation in the 25th largest Jewish community in America to the third largest federation, and increasing its annual fundraising to $34 million this year, up from $27 million in 1989.
Under his direction, the Detroit federation launched initiatives that attracted millions of dollars to endowments established to address community priorities, facility expansions and renovations in the community, including spearheading the financing of expanded and revitalized facilities and programs in health, education and housing throughout the Jewish community.
Over the past two decades, the federation’s endowment has quadrupled from $100 million 1989 to $400 million in 2008.
In addition to his work with Taglit-Birthright Israel and the metropolitan Detroit federation, Aronson helped to establish The Areivim Philanthropic Group, a $100 million fund for transformative Jewish education projects, built through individual donations of $5 million from various major donors.