After an expensive, national six-month search, leaders of the United Jewish Communities, American Jewry’s newly reorganized social service and fund-raising organization, discovered what Dorothy learned years ago in “The Wizard of Oz”: There’s no place like home.
The organization announced on Tuesday that Stephen Solender, 61, executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York for the past 13 years and acting president of the UJC for the past six months, had been named president.
“In the small search committee, this scenario was laid out as everybody’s fantasy,” said Jeffrey Solomon, a member of the seven-member committee.Solender’s appointment, effective immediately, was followed immediately by the announcement that John Ruskay, one of two chief operating officers of UJA-Federation of New York, had been named to replace him. Ruskay, 53, of Manhattan, joined the organization in 1993 to provide professional leadership in the area of strengthening Jewish identity.
“I’m honored and delighted to have the opportunity to assume the professional leadership of the largest [Jewish] federation in North America,” Ruskay said. “The strength and vitality of UJA-Federation will be an important determinant of how the Jewish people respond to the challenges ahead.”
He identified them as the need to strengthen Jewish life, to care for Jews in need, to rescue Jews from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and to renew the fabric of Jewish life throughout the world.
Ruskay has been a champion of federated giving, decrying the shift to what he called “boutique philanthropy,” in which donors designate the projects on which they want their money spent.
Ironically, Solender is expected to tap into the desire for boutique giving when he does fund raising on the national level, according to Solomon.
UJC leaders also appointed David Altshuler, 50, the founding director of the Museum of Jewish Heritage–A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Battery Park, to head a new, independent foundation to raise money for UJC initiatives. The new foundation will work in partnership with major family philanthropic foundations, taking note of the tremendous increase in Jewish charitable dollars being distributed through such entities.
In addition, Solender selected Louise Frankel Stoll of California, former assistant secretary for budget and programs and chief financial officer of the U.S. Department of Transportation, as executive vice president and chief operating officer.
All of the appointments are subject to the approval of the 123-member UJC board of directors, expected to be selected in another month.
Solomon noted that “the challenge today is not just traditional annual fund raising, but to capture the imagination of Jewish philanthropists, to serve as a [link] between the philanthropy and generous donors, between Jewish needs and [donors’] desires and wants.”
That will be the focus of the new foundation Altshuler, a driving force behind the Jewish Heritage museum for the last 15 years, will oversee.
In announcing Ruskay’s appointment, which is subject to the approval of UJA-Federation’s board of directors Nov. 10, the organization noted in a press release that he has “long been regarded as one of the leading thinkers and practitioners in Jewish education, diaspora-Israel relations, and organizational change.”
He told The Jewish Week that “we are at an extraordinary moment” of financial success, notwithstanding growing pockets of poverty among Jews in New York City and among the elderly in the former Soviet Union. He said large segments of the New York Jewish community are “experiencing unprecedented affluence, influence and acceptance, and this presents prodigious challenges and opportunities.”
Before coming to UJA-Federation, Ruskay served as educational director of the 92nd Street Y from 1979 to 1985, and as vice chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary from 1985 to 1993. He earned a doctorate in political science from Columbia University and is a respected author and lecturer in the Jewish communal field. He has also served in lay and advisory capacities for a variety of local and national organizations, including the Wexner Foundation and the CRB Foundation. He was also a founding member of the Abraham Joshua Heschel School in Manhattan.
Although Solender split his time between UJA-Federation and the UJC for the past six months, Ruskay and fellow chief operating officer, Misha Galperin, assumed the management of UJA-Federation. During that time, they closed the 1999 campaign, which raised over $228 million – more than 12 percent above the previous year – and embarked on a major reorganization program. Galperin will remain chief operating officer.
The president of UJA-Federation, James Tisch, said Ruskay possessed the “right combination of experience, knowledge, and vision to provide outstanding professional leadership to the Jewish people.” And he agreed that Solender was the person best “equipped to lead the federation system into the next century. We at UJA-Federation of New York are very grateful for Steve’s years of dedicated service and are extremely pleased that his new position will allow him to continue to work with all of us.”
Solender, who all along had said he was not a candidate for the UJC position, said he was not approached about the job until two weeks ago.
“I had planned to go back [to UJA-Federation] but as the last several weeks evolved, it became clear to me that the opportunity to give leadership to the UJC was unique and that this was a one-time opportunity.”
He noted that he came to UJA-Federation to assist in the merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Federation of Jewish Philanthropies. The invitation to assume the presidency of the UJC, he said, was “the second in a lifetime opportunity for an even more complex” merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal.