An Open Letter to Eric Fingerhut – Incoming CEO of JFNA

Dear Eric,

Congratulations on the new job!

As a Jewish educator who’s been working in the field full-time for almost 15 years, and as a volunteer and donor to my local federation I’ve always appreciated your commitment to Jewish education, and to the well being of the Jewish people and its communal organizations.

So you can understand my surprise when I recently learned that you would be speaking together with ZOA President Mort Klein, on “a two person panel” in just a few short weeks. As you are undoubtedly aware, Mort has a reputation for attacking other Jews and Jewish organizations with extremely harsh language if they don’t conform to his political views. He also has a penchant for saying things that to a casual observer might be considered racist, misogynistic, and islamophobic.

To be fair, I’m a big tent guy, and believe that Mort’s sometimes problematic language shouldn’t automatically disqualify him from professional Jewish life. But I do believe it’s incumbent upon all of us, and especially other Jewish leaders, to civilly call out inappropriate and unacceptable behavior in our ranks whether it comes from donors, or other organizational partners, and we should be careful about providing platforms to those who have consistently used them to coarsen the dialogue.

Eric, you said it best in a recent interview with Inside Philanthropy after you acknowledged that “Political and religious divisions” was one of the key challenges facing US Jewry today. You asked, “What does it take for the Jewish communities in North America to be a powerful force for good in our broader communities, living up to the values of our religious teachings?” Admittedly, you’ve been at this work far longer than me and have a much wider perspective, but I don’t understand why one of your final acts as a private citizen before taking over the largest and most influential Jewish nonprofit in America is sharing a stage and elevating the voice of a man who denigrates other Jews and a wide range of others with whom Jewish Federations around the country partner with to help meet the needs of the North American Jewish Community.

I look forward to hearing your thinking.


Russel Neiss

St.Louis, MO.