Editor’s Note: This is part two in a series about the turnover in the Seattle Jewish community’s leadership.
With the turnover of so many top-level Jewish professionals in our community, what should agencies be looking for in their new leadership? Josh Gortler, who spent 37 years as CEO of the Caroline Kline Galland and Associates nursing and senior-care facilities, has a unique insight into this Jewish community.
“It is not a job, it is a commitment,” Gortler told JTNews. “The person’s primary function is to run the agency that they get paid for, but they cannot have a blind eye to what’s happening in the total community, because what happens to one affects the other.”
Three major organizations, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle, Jewish Family Service of Greater Seattle and the Jewish Day School of Metropolitan Seattle hope to announce new leaders in the coming months. As was reported previously in JTNews, a half dozen synagogues are seeking new rabbis or executive directors as well.
A Jewish professional, Gortler noted, “is representing not only their own institution, but they’re representing the entire Jewish community. We’re all part of the kehilla.”
And being part of the kehilla, the community, Gortler said, means support of everyone’s religious observance — or lack thereof — and other organizations within the community.
“Your institution has to be number uno, but you cannot move your eye from the rest of the community,” he said.
Judy Neuman, CEO of the Stroum Jewish Community Center, echoed many of Gortler’s sentiments.
“I hope that they’re creative thinkers [and] I hope that they would put a high premium on true, community collaboration,” she said, “both in terms of strategically thinking about the community more holistically and working together to serve those needs.”
Neuman pointed to her own experience of having worked in the corporate world for many years, and as a lay leader in the Jewish community, which gave her good insights into both. She said she hoped that local agencies might take a look at someone with similar experience.
“That gave me a big running start, and it also helped me think communally and not only just the JCC,” she said.
In its search for a new chief executive, representatives from the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle conducted close to 100 interviews — not of candidates, but of “community members, donors, non-donors, partners, rabbis, etcetera, etcetera,” said Robin Boehler, who with Andrew Cohen co-chairs the Federation’s CEO search committee.
Those meetings resulted in a list of nearly unanimous attributes: “Thinking and acting strategically, communicating effectively, inspiring others in building commitment, and leading and managing change,” Boehler said.
Given the Federation’s flagging or flat community campaigns over the past several years, excelling at all of these attributes and growing the campaign could be a tall order, but Boehler thinks the right candidate is out there.
“The bent of this search is not just to find someone who can manage and run the Federation,” she said. “It’s to lead the Federation and the community, and to be someone who communicates incredibly well back and forth, in and out, and every direction what the value of having a Jewish Federation in a community like ours can bring.”
The new CEO will replace Richard Fruchter, who stepped down from the position in July 2012 after six years in the position. The Federation’s chief operating officer, Nancy Greer, has held the position of interim CEO while the search has been underway.
The search has narrowed to four candidates, Boehler said, with each either planning to visit Seattle or having already visited to meet with the full search committee.
“If all goes well, we’ll narrow it to a smaller field and we’ll bring them again in May,” Boehler said, with the hopes of announcing a new CEO by mid-June and a start date as close as possible to July 1.
Jewish Family Service has big shoes to fill when its CEO of 29 years, Ken Weinberg, retires from the position in June. Right now, the search, which began in October, has narrowed from 10 interviewed to two. JFS hopes to announce its final candidate by the end of this month.
“I’m very excited about the two candidates,” said Emily Alhadeff, JFS’s board president. “They’re both great and both different from each other.”
They are also very different from their would-be predecessor.
“We’re not even trying to find another Ken,” Alhadeff said, “because that person does not exist.”
Weinberg was instrumental in building up an agency that, when he came on as a geriatric social worker in 1975, had 15 employees and a budget of approximately $500,000. Today, close to 200 people work for JFS, with a budget approaching $9 million and a much wider array of programs for a much larger population in need of emergency or social services.
“One of Ken’s strongest assets is he really empowers the people who work with him,” Alhadeff said. “Every single staff person in that building, or who works for JFS, truly believes in the mission, and I think that’s what also makes JFS so strong.”
Whichever candidate is hired will be walking into new financial challenges due to external realities such as the federal budget sequester and likely cuts in funding from the state legislature.
“Institutional funding is way down, so we need to figure out how we’re going to fund our programs and how we’re going to keep funding while doing that,” Alhadeff said.
Weinberg plans to continue to work with JFS in an advisory role. Like Weinberg, Maria Erlitz, head of school at the Jewish Day School in Bellevue, does not plan to walk away from the academy she helped found more than 30 years ago when she retires at the end of the school year.
“She’s still in the community,” said Robin Castrogiovanni, who with Mindy Geisser is leading the search committee for Erlitz’s successor.
“We’re taking our time,” Castrogiovanni said of the search. “We want someone who has a full complement of skills in order to come into the school. We’re not trying to replace Maria with another Maria. She’s a unique individual, someone who’s left a legacy.”
That said, JDS’s adoption of what’s known as inquiry-based education, which gives students the ability and leeway to use their natural curiosity to help them learn, means “someone who’s coming in new has to buy into the fact this is the education we’re providing,” Castrogiovanni said. “We are taking a stand to make sure that we fit into the future of education and preparing our kids for the future.”
That doesn’t appear to be a barrier, as candidates are still submitting applications for the position despite the search committee having already brought in some potential finalists to visit the campus.
The committee hasn’t ruled out bringing in an interim head of school if they don’t find the right permanent candidate. Castrogiovanni said the committee wants to be sure its next head can properly engage both in outreach to the Jewish and non-Jewish communities as well as be an expert in educational management. And, though it probably should go without saying, the right person is someone “obviously who has a passion for Jewish education.”