New OU Head Wants More Unified Organization

New OU Head Wants More Unified Organization

Allen I. Fagin, a prominent attorney and former chairman of the Proskauer Rose law firm here, was appointed executive vice president and chief professional officer of the Orthodox Union in April after spending more than 20 years as an unpaid officer of the organization. He is the first person without rabbinic ordination to assume the role.

A graduate of the Ramaz School, Fagin, 64, earned degrees from Columbia College, Harvard Law School and the JFK School of Government at Harvard. Highly respected, he takes over at a point when the OU has been beset by problems of weak leadership and lack of management, according to insiders, with the various departments operating independently of each other.

Q: What are your goals for the OU?

A: My primary goal is to enhance resources of every type for the activities and programs of the Union. I include within that our technology infrastructure, professional development, a significant increase in our funding of programs and activities, and a much more intense focus on cooperation and interchange between the various departments and programs within the Union.

It is said the kashrut division brings in tens of millions of dollars each year. How does that impact your fundraising efforts?

The kashrut division supervises 800,000 products in over 8,000 plants in 95 countries. Several thousand of those plants are in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. Everyday of the week we have people in places that you and I can’t spell. It’s an extraordinary operation.

I think the impact of this is primarily in the perception that as a result of kashrut’s revenue our programs are all fully funded, which is nowhere near the case. It represents less than half our costs. And when we talk about costs, we are talking about the current state of our programming, which is woefully inadequate to accomplish the mission of many of the programs we have taken on.

How much more in fundraising do you need?

There is no way to put a precise number on what the needs are. Our Jewish Learning Initiative is on 16 campuses and in September it will be on 21. We could as easily be on twice that number. Each of those campus programs costs us somewhere between $150,000 and 200,000. … That is one small example out of literally dozens that exemplify the resource constraints that we have by virtue of our existing funding.

Your website says you have more than 400 synagogues across North America. What do they receive from the OU?

We run regular programs and group meetings geared towards the executive directors of our member synagogues. Best practices are shared and skills training is done. We have similar programs for the youth directors of synagogues. We provide consulting services each year to scores of synagogues that contact us with unique ad hoc kinds of problems.

We also are in the process of creating a comprehensive web-based set of support materials that every synagogue in America will be able to use. It will cover everything from educational materials to youth programing, holiday programing to governance related documents, model contracts and agreements and so on.

As a former lay leader in the organization, are you concerned that you might be perceived as a puppet of the board?

No. The day after I was elected by the board I met with the entire staff of the Union … I made it very clear to the staff that my role is no longer that of a lay leader but that of the senior professional of the organization.

Do you see yourself as an interim leader? How long do you want to stay.

Everyone is an interim leader. I have given a commitment to stay through June of 2016, and after that we’ll see how things develop. I do see as one of my most significant responsibilities the training and mentoring of a cadre of individuals capable of assuming my position.

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