JFNA leader shares strategies for worldwide Jewry with local leaders
- Category: Archived News
- Written by Marcia Montgomery, Community Editor
Jewish Federations of North America CEO Jerry Silverman is from Tulsa, Okla. As JFNA’s leader, last week he said he always enjoys returning to the Midwest
“I’m always amazed at the commitment the Jewish communities in the Midwest truly have both for their community, for their future, but also for the Jewish people everywhere. I’m always amazed at the passion and the emotion, how grounded these communities are. It’s really special,” Silverman said.
He was here Jan. 9 at the invitation of the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City to meet with a variety of community leaders including members of its board of directors, young leaders and rabbis.
“Kansas City is one of the top 40 Federations in North America. As the CEO of the national system, I feel it is my responsibility to spend as much time as I can in our Federations because I can be more effective in practicing leadership and ensuring that we are supporting and providing value to our Federations if I am spending time understanding what is happening in our communities,” Silverman explained.
The winter weather shortened Silverman’s visit. He was set to begin meetings Wednesday night, Jan. 8, but he didn’t arrive until late in the evening due to two cancelled flights. One important meeting with local Jewish Federation President and CEO Todd Stettner was early Thursday morning between Silverman and members of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City. The meeting was brought about in part because of a letter signed by a large portion of the RA’s membership asking the Jewish Federation to support a variety of pluralism issues in Israel.
Silverman spoke to the rabbis about different facets of pluralism in areas that Federations have specifically supported in Israel, including civil rights and gender balance.
“I talked to them about their commitment to pluralism and about the strategies that can be employed to really make a difference and shared with them some best practices from another community, which has the same passion and commitment to pluralism, so they can see what another community is doing and how they are framing it,” Silverman said.
Specifically, Silverman told the rabbis about the first experience he had as JFNA’s leader. At the time JFNA lobbied and worked on behalf of the Jewish community and several religious movements against a bill that was going through the Israeli Knesset on conversion.
“That really was a team effort that (JFNA) took the front space in for no other reason than everybody wanted us to take a frontal approach representing the Diaspora Jewish community. We were able as a constituency to get the bill frozen and stopped,” he said.
Silverman said issues of pluralism is something JFNA watches very, very closely and the issue was an important element of its recent General Assembly meeting in Jerusalem.
“We talked about the issues of civil marriage in Israel,” he said. “We talked about the issue of the Kotel, about it really being a place for all Jewish people and how the Federations have been very front and forward on the issue encouraging dialog, encouraging the plan that was evolved by Natan Sharansky,” he continued.
Silverman is very proud that this most recent GA concluded with a major march from Safra Square in Jerusalem (the city hall) down to the Kotel.
“It showed that not only were we verbally supportive of the expansion of the Kotel to allow it to be for all people, but also while we were in Israel we made certain that we had this major commitment to go to the Kotel and there were 1,200 to 1,400 on this walk,” Silverman said.
Silverman said he shared with the rabbis “how impressed and amazed” he is that the Kansas City community as a whole, and the rabbinical group specifically, is talking about these issues as a community.
“I applauded them for thinking about it,” Silverman said. “There was great dialogue, wonderful give and take.”
The meeting ended with a recommendation that a subcommittee of rabbis and Jewish Federation board members “see how they can both strategically meet the needs and the requests of the Rabbinical Association while at the same time look at what best practices are and look at what’s happening on the ground to see how strategies can be employed to have the best effect,” Silverman said.
Rabbi Scott White, president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City, said both parties are currently working to put this committee together and “keep the conversation going.”
“It was pretty incredible that someone of Silverman’s stature came to a community like ours. We’re not one of the larger, more influential Jewish communities that has a lot of clout and influence in larger matters to deal with the Jewish people,” Rabbi White said.
“He listened very closely and we learned a lot from him. I think it put a charge in the Rabbinical Association to know that our voice is being heard and that we are being appreciated,” the rabbi continued.
“I give Todd Stettner a lot of credit for that. He brought Jerry in and made him available to sit with the rabbis,” Rabbi White concluded.
Silverman also praised the local Jewish Federation’s leadership, saying it is exceptional.
“They have a fabulous group of leaders, both professional and volunteer, led by Trish Uhlmann who is someone who cares so deeply and passionately about the Jewish people. There’s an energy and a vibrancy within the people that I’ve met from Kansas City and that I’ve had the opportunity to become involved with, which is really something,” Silverman said.
In fact, when he compared Kansas City to other Jewish Federations, Silverman called it a model community.
“Look at their commitment to global Jewry, their commitment to pluralism, their commitment to the vulnerable here and abroad. There’s a lot of real significant positives in what they do and how they do it, which is really amazing. The work and the connections that they’ve made as it pertains to reaching out to two very poor Jewish communities in Bulgaria and Romania are heartwarming.”