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National Jewish leader sees challenges to a timeless mission

By Rob Golub

January 1st, 2016

Gerrald Silverman

Gerrald Silverman

MILWAUKEE — The head of The Jewish Federations of North America met with the Chronicle during a recent visit to Wisconsin.

Gerrald Silverman, president and chief executive officer, heads an organization that brings together 151 Federations and 300 network communities, collectively among the top 10 charities in the world. What follows are the gist of our questions, followed by his answers.

What challenges do Federations face?

Our aging population and engaging the next generation are among our challenges, he said.

“There’s various Federations that are introducing new pilots, new initiatives,” he said. “I’m very optimistic about Federations today and tomorrow.”

How do we connect with the next generation?

“The mission is timeless. That doesn’t change,” he said. “What hasn’t changed is the importance of meaning and purpose.”

Young adults are looking for that, he said. They want to see the work, be a part of it and connect to it. He noted a recent Milwaukee Jewish Federation trip to Poland surely created that kind of connection for participants.

How was the November “GA” in Washington, D.C., also known as The Jewish Federations of North America’s 2015 general assembly?

“The GA exceeded our expectations,” he said. “It was inspiring and educational. We had 250-plus students from universities. We had close to 600 people under the age of 35.”

There were also a record number of professionals from the community, he said.

It was an opportunity to talk about best practices and talk about the big issues of the day.

What of critics who say Federations should avoid benefiting settlements?

“Federations are not a political organization,” Silverman said. “The Torah says clearly that we have a responsibility for Jews everywhere.”

Funding from Federation, for example, might help a disabled child attend school, regardless of geography, he indicated.

Federations do not fund any capital projects beyond the green line, he said. It’s a longstanding policy.

What are your thoughts regarding studies that show declining religious affiliation in America?

“We have a great opportunity to look at our tent,” Silverman said. We need to provide new ways for people to enter, he said, like ensuring that family makeup isn’t viewed as a negative or making sure cost doesn’t bar accessibility.

“A young family should not be left on the outside because of cost,” he said.


About Gerrald Silverman

- President and CEO of The Jewish Federations of North America.

- Previously served as president of the Foundation for Jewish Camp.

- Had held executive positions in Stride Rite Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.