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Why did we choose Special Envoy Hannah Rosenthal as the CEO/President for the Milwaukee Jewish Federation?
August 1st, 2012
It is no secret that the efficacy of collective giving and the maintenance of a common fund that supports all aspects of Jewish community is a conversation that takes place wherever Jewish federations exist. There are some members of our community who believe that there are better ways to address issues of common concern, such as the education of succeeding generations into the customs, culture and beliefs of our people; there are others who would like a much smaller portion of our collective efforts to go to Israel and overseas needs; and despite the fact that we have learned to hold our tongues in hope that civility will shape our dialogue, many still believe that Jewish pluralism is not possible and that their particular version of our tradition is the only legitimate expression of Jewish belief.
There is no one who would argue that things are going particularly well for Jews 72 years after the Holocaust and 64 years after the founding of the State of Israel. Jews in Israel and consequently worldwide are divided as to how Israel should work out its relationship with the Arab world. In Europe and the Middle East criticism of particular Israeli policies has been conflated with blatant anti-Semitism and even with calls for an end to the sovereign State of Israel.
These are all issues where thoughtful Jews have strong personal opinions. Our community is no different: we are passionate about our beliefs, our faith, our way of life. When we brought 300 Jews from every corner of our community together at the Community Summit in June 2011, we searched for common ground. We learned that we wanted our federation, first and foremost, to raise money collectively and use those funds to build and strengthen our community. Participants were also clear that they wanted the federation to be open to all members of the community and make it possible for them to contribute to the common good in any way they could. This was summarized as two imperatives: to collect funds and convene the community.
The CEO Search Committee that came together and unanimously recommended the hiring of Special Envoy Hannah Rosenthal as CEO of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation did so with the voices of the Summit speaking clearly to them. The Committee included the two of us, as well as a diverse group of engaged participants: Alan Borsuk, Mark Brickman, Fred Croen, Mark Goldstein, Bonnie Jacobson, Rabbi Wes Kalmar, Marlene Lauwasser, David Lubar, and Andrea Schneider. Staff of the Jewish Federations of North America’s Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence identified nineteen candidates and reviewed their resumes. Six were brought to Milwaukee for in-depth interviews. Two were selected to return for lengthier conversations.
The Committee found Hannah's background and accomplishments very impressive: on checking her references we learned that, wherever she worked, she brought people together and helped them find common ground. We were told that she is a consummate development professional, achieving an aggressive five-year fundraising goal in two years; we were impressed at how she developed staff and lay leadership. When we put it all together, Hannah was not simply the strongest candidate but was so strong that one reference aptly wrote: “You would have to be crazy not to hire her." All of this made it possible for the Search Committee to reach a unanimous decision, which was, in turn, unanimously ratified by the MJF Executive Committee on July 18.
We are proud of our decision to appoint Hannah Rosenthal as our CEO. We are a community that has been working on Reimagining ourselves, a community that wants to change, become more inclusive and an organization that believes it can become even stronger for our children and their children in the years ahead. It is our belief that there is no one better than Hannah to lead us through this transformation.
Dan Bader is chair of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s CEO selection committee. Jerry Benjamin is chair of the MJF board.