A Conversation With Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman


[part 1 of a conversation with Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning]

This afternoon, in Washington, D.C., The Jewish Federations of North America (formerly UJC) will open their annual General Assembly (GA). The world has seen significant change since the organization adjourned in Jerusalem one year ago: both Israel and the U.S. have elected new leaders; while the financial meltdown was underway we did not yet know of the damage inflicted on the Jewish world by Madoff’s sins; and in Israel, daily barrages from the Gaza Strip had not yet caused the latest war to erupt.

Much has also changed at The Jewish Federations since last November: as a result of further budget cuts, the organization again cut the professional staff and to reduce expenses relocated their offices to lower Manhattan. Partly due to limited resources, the organization initiated “user-generated” program ideas for this GA; a branding initiative led to a name change; and most significantly new leadership – both lay and professional – sits at the top.

On the eve of this event, eJewish Philanthropy sat with both Jerry Silverman, the Federation’s newly appointed CEO, and Kathy Manning, who will be installed as the new board chair during the GA, for an extensive and free-wheeling discussion on their vision for The Jewish Federations.

The conversation was refreshing and enlightening – and for the first time in a long time, we began to hear leadership speaking not only of the future, but how to take The Jewish Federations forward.

In explaining the need to deliver both content and results, Silverman, who spent much of his professional career in the apparel industry, focused on how to “get aisle” – in other words, those prime locations in a retail store with the highest visibility, craved by every vendor. He continued, for both “content and product drive sustainability.” We have a “remarkable content story on how federations have led through these common times” that is not out there. He went on to further discuss the past year, citing examples where the leadership of the various federations was primarily focused on doing – supporting their own communities. Through numerous initiatives, local communities have met many challenges; across the board, volunteers have stepped up in making – and enacting- decisions. But, that JFNA as an organization “can do a much better job sharing the stories taking place on the ground”.

Zeroing in on what is likely to be a core theme as The Jewish Federations look ahead, we discussed the concept of community. Most important, that it is not geographic and how critical it is “to drive the issues of the Jewish future”. As we look to Israel, Silverman spoke of the “strength of an umbilical cord [that] has not diminished – but challenges have come up.” I heard from both leaders on the work of partnership communities and the need for them to continue to grow; on building missions, a prime vehicle for connecting to communities on the ground. And what I am sure is music to the ears of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), a ringing endorsement by Kathy Manning, “an extraordinary organization that has done extraordinary things for the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

Coming back to the concept of collective, Silverman indicates the question is

“how to enhance… how to drive momentum as a collective… how it gets unpacked is the challenging work we have to do together.”

And with this GA, the work formally begins.

[The discussion continues with part 2, Manning and Silverman on Leadership and the New Generation].