Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Jewish Federations of North America CEO on Sandy, Iran and Young Leadership (INTERVIEW)

November 14, 2012 10:06 am 0 comments

Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. Photo: JFNA.

BALTIMORE—The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) set a theme of “Where the Jewish community downloads/uploads/shares” for its 2012 General Assembly well in advance. Then Hurricane Sandy came along and ravaged the East Coast, making the theme that much more relevant.

“The uploads, the downloads, the connection—to me it’s all around the concept of connecting and building community, and making sure that you have the platform to be able to do that,” Jerry Silverman, JFNA’s president and CEO, told on Monday morning in Baltimore. “So, whether it’s technology, whether it’s agencies, whether it’s the ability to reach out and have the platform in place to make a difference, [that] is the message, and to be able to collectively come together within a nanosecond of the hurricane hitting.”

Silverman discussed the Federations system’s Sandy recovery efforts, the Iranian nuclear threat, and more in the following exclusive interview.

What was your main takeaway from Hurricane Sandy?

“I think what’s really clear is our Federations are really based on the model where we support and our Federations support critical agencies that support chessed, that support work on the ground every day, that when a Sandy takes place, the ability because we have the structure in place to ramp up within a moment’s notice, and to do so and to be able to assess and get whatever the resources are needed to the people that really are desperate is truly amazing, and it’s part of what the collective model of Federations are about. So, we respond every day to needs, and because of this model, the ability to just accelerate it is so much easier, we’re not starting from scratch. And that truly is one of the secrets of success, I believe, of Federations, in being able to do so.

“The work of the Federations in New York City, and upstate New York, and southern Connecticut, and New Jersey, and their response time… within 24-48 hours, they were literally on the ground, making a difference and meeting needs.”

How did GA organizers manage to put together the program amid the hurricane, and did Sandy add any significance to the GA itself?

“I think there’s a lot of added significance. When Sandy happened, our offices, being in Battery Park [in Manhattan], were completely shut down, our systems were shut down, and within 24 hours our GA team had already figured out workarounds, even if they were sitting in coffee shops to get Internet access. And we had outpouring from Federations to say, ‘How can we help, how can we provide service?’ The Baltimore [Federation], The Associated, jumped in and said, ‘What do you need as far as infrastructure to be able to copy things, to do things, how can we open our doors to be supportive?’

“We were in the [JFNA] office for basically a week with no heat, and no phones, and people were walking around the office with scarves, and coats, and gloves—but they were there because they understood the significance of the GA and bringing the Jewish people together. And that was something that they were passionately committed to, and they put that ahead of their own discomfort, and it truly is a testament to spirit and resiliency.”

What role does the Federation system and its Israel Action network play in dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat?

“Our Israel office and our arm in Israel has been part of the emergency preparedness team in Israel involved in the whole preparedness aspect that’s going on. In Israel, what could be contingency and just normal operations to be prepared. They’ve been actively involved for almost two years within the process and go through scenario planning, and are involved with the government. In North America, as we have for any emergency, and especially Iran, we are ensuring that we have our emergency preparedness processes, operation, playbooks, scenarios in place, and it’s not just going to be about fundraising. It’s about the messaging, that the Iran issue is I think much broader than an Israel issue, it’s truly a world issue.

“And that’s where the Israel Action Network I think will come into play in a big way, is to ensure that they help proactively with the messaging around the threat, and who is the threat for—it’s really a threat for humankind.

“We have ramped up and taken in the Security Community Network, who I think has the closes relationship with the Department of Homeland Security of any faith-based organization. Recently, we were in Washington, hosting a series of dialogue and discussions and exercises around the type of security issues that also come into play with these kinds of threats to our Jewish community, specifically to make sure that we are prepared from a security sense here… and we just want to be prepared always. And I think in today’s times, when we’re dealing with such unpredictability across the world, that Federations really have to make sure we’re nimble and more prepared.”

The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has made Cuban prisoner Alan Gross, a Maryland native jailed for bringing that country’s Jewish community Internet access, a top priority. What role does JFNA play in that case?

“As we did in Denver [at last year’s GA], we invited Alan’s wife [Judy], who came and made a very public plea on the stage of our plenary for his release. And there is work in support of what the Washington Federation and the JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) of Washington is doing on his behalf, [work] that we’re doing in conjunction with them based on their guidance. This is obviously a complex and sensitive issue, so we’re following guidance of our Washington public policy office on this, to do this right, to get out in front of it, and to try to do something.”

Jewish organizations ask themselves every year—’How can we better engage young leaders?’ What future direction will JFNA take in this area?

“I spoke to the University of Maryland Hillel group [Sunday night], and there were about 40 or 50 young people, and I speak to Hillel groups every GA. And what I see in the coming years is [that] we have to change the question. As they said to me, ‘You’re asking the wrong question, because we’re sitting in the audience, and you’re talking about us like we’re not even there, and what we need to do is be part of the solution, we need to be at the tables.’ And I think the more that we can create this dialogue about engagement, about involvement, about sharing and educating and learning together, with all consumer segments and all consumer age groups, and do it at tables together, I think the question may go away. I think we keep talking about this issue, and I think that the solution is really inviting and engaging and including all age groups at the table to have the discussion, because I think we may learn a lot.”

“We are blessed in Federations to have a group called Young Leadership Cabinet, and this cabinet group I think is going to really enable us to take a lead and to use them as fabulous young adult leaders, to shift the dialogue to a new place.”

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.

Current day month ye@r *


  • Arts and Culture Israel Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel

    Jerry Seinfeld to Make Comedy Debut in Israel – Famed Jewish-American comedian and actor Jerry Seinfeld is slated to make his comedic debut in Israel later this year. Seinfeld, who was born in Brooklyn to Jewish parents from the Ukraine and Syria, will perform in Tel Aviv’s Mitvtachim Menorah Arena on Dec. 19 as part of a world tour. The comedian is most known for his enormously popular NBC sitcom Seinfeld, which ran from 1989-1998 and is widely considered one of the greatest TV series of all time. […]

    Read more →
  • Food Israel New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    New Video Shows American Kids Reviewing Israeli Food After Tasting Dishes for First Time (VIDEO)

    A new video circulating online shows eight American children reacting — mostly positively — to their first taste of the famed Israeli eggplant salad/dip, known in Hebrew as “salat hatzilim” and in other parts of the Levant as baba ganoush. The clip, created by, features the youngsters trying a variety of exotic dishes from other countries as well, such as Hawaiian poi, Colombian pork belly and Russian borscht. The Israeli delicacies served include schnitzel, slices of pita, hummus and the baba ganoush salad. “If someone […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Pioneers/Philanthropists ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit

    ‘Start-Up Nation’ Israel to Host Forbes Magazine Young Entrepreneurs Summit – Forbes magazine announced Tuesday that it will host its Under 30 EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa) Summit in Israel for the first time in April 2016. The conference is expected to bring together some 600 young entrepreneurs, with 200 from Europe, 200 from the U.S., and 200 from Israel. The summit has been hosted in Philadelphia for the past two years. It will include presentations, speeches, a pitch competition, and cultural immersion opportunities in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Beliefs and concepts What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David?

    What’s That Huge White Bridal Dress Floating Over the Tower of David? –  “What’s that huge white bridal dress floating over the Tower of David?” That’s what visitors to Jerusalem’s Old City asked last week. The wedding gown, created by leading Israeli artist Motti Mizrachi, is part of the 2nd Jerusalem Biennale for Contemporary Jewish Art, an event that blew into town as the Sukkot holiday got underway. Mizrachi, who lives and works in Tel Aviv, created the dress that floats majestically over the Tower of David, the main exhibition site […]

    Read more →
  • Features Opinion The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    The Top 10 Places to Visit in Israel

    Israel is a holiday destination on many travelers’ bucket lists. No matter the style of holiday you are after, Israel has the answer. Whether you prefer to relax by the beach, hike up mountains in the desert, visit religious and historical sites, eat your way through the country or just enjoy some retail therapy, your journey through Israel will be one to remember. While there are obviously so many things to see and do, here is a list of 10 of […]

    Read more →
  • Pioneers/Philanthropists US & Canada Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO

    Jewish American Fashion Mogul Ralph Lauren to Step Down as CEO – Jewish American fashion mogul Ralph Lauren announced his plan to step down as chief executive officer of the renowned fashion brand. The head of Gap Inc’s Old Navy brand will take over the position. The 75-year-old Lauren, who founded Ralph Lauren Corp. in 1967, will continue to serve as executive chairman and will continue leading the fashion house’s design team, according to a statement by the company. After the announcement, Ralph Lauren shares rose 3.79 percent while Gap shares […]

    Read more →
  • Featured Sports US & Canada Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish Boxer Dustin ‘White Tiger’ Fleischer Scores Fourth Knockout Victory

    Jewish boxer Dustin Fleischer, who said his quest is to become the first world champion descended from a Holocaust survivor, stayed unbeaten with a first-round knockout. Fleischer, nicknamed “The White Tiger,” moved to 4-0 with the defeat of Ira Frank on Saturday night in Beach Haven, New Jersey, near his home, he reported after the fight on his Facebook page. The 26-year-old welterweight has won all his bouts by knockout. Read full story at JTA.

    Read more →
  • Featured Israel Pioneers/Philanthropists Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Meet Israel’s Santa Claus, the Trustee Tasked With Handing Out Leona Helmsley’s Billions (INTERVIEW)

    Renowned New York attorney Sandor (Sandy) Frankel, one of four trustees of the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust, was in Israel earlier this month to look at additional philanthropic options and to observe the progress of those endeavors already funded – to the tune of multi-millions. Frankel, who recently joined the prestigious Park Avenue law firm Otterbourg P.C., met with Israeli politicians and other bigwigs to get a sense from them about which projects in the country […]

    Read more →