Jerry Silverman Will Be UJC's Next President, CEO

By Jacob Berkman (JTA)

Published July 06, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The umbrella organization of the North American Jewish federation system has hired Jerry Silverman, a key player in raising tens of millions of dollars for Jewish summer camps, as its next president and CEO.

Silverman was tapped to take the reins at the United Jewish Communities, which serves as the North American arm of a federation system that raises and distributes about $3 billion annually from its general campaigns, endowments and special fund-raising drives.

Since 2004, Silverman has served as the executive director of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, overseeing the growth of the organization’s budget from slightly more than $1 million per year to more than $22 million.

A former high-level executive at the Levi Strauss and Co. and at the Stride Rite Corp., Silverman will succeed Howard Rieger on Sept. 30, a month after Rieger’s term as chief executive ends.

At UJC, Silverman faces a series of challenges, starting with a shrinking budget and increasing questions about the need for a national system.

“I am going into this really clearly with my eyes open,” he said. “I will be doing an inordinate amount of listening as we really look to put our agenda together going forward.”

Federation campaigns across the country have been down or stagnating in recent years, a problem that has been exacerbated by the recession. In the past week, UJC officials said they project a 13-percent decrease in the systemwide campaign this year, and the country’s biggest federation, the UJA-Federation of New York, said its campaign in 2008-09 was off by more than 11 percent. UJA-Federation typically brings in some $150 million annually.

Local federations and their umbrella have been in a constant struggle over the federations’ dues paid to the UJC. In March, the federations mandated that the UJC reduce its budget from $37 million this year to $30.3, resulting in scores of layoffs.

Federations have long felt tension between having to satisfy their own philanthropic needs in their local communities and their obligation as members of the UJC system to dedicate large portions of their annual campaigns to the system’s overseas partners, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

“All those federations are shareholders, and we have to ensure that for every dollar these shareholders invest in UJC, there is a true added value,” Silverman said.

But, he said, the strength of the system is that it is a collective.

“During uncommon times and during challenging situations, it really gives us the opportunity to look at how we are doing things currently today and to look at the future and where we want outcomes to be, and position us to be in a much stronger place in the future,” Silverman said. “We have to really look closer together to do things differently, and really look at what are the great practices we have going already and to make sure we are sharing them.”

While some within the system had been pushing for an executive at a big-city federation to take the job – like Silverman’s three predecessors – Silverman said he is fine with being an outsider and thinks it will serve him well.

“I haven’t worked in the federation system, but I truly believe that no matter whether I am an outsider or insider, in any move I had made career-wise it is all about developing a very clear vision and having a top-notch, results-oriented organization that is extremely open to listening and to trying to constantly exceed expectations so that their services are in demand,” he said. “If we do that as an organization, then the question about me being an insider or an outsider becomes moot.”

Silverman said he was approached about the job initially in November at the annual UJC General Assembly in Jerusalem, and that he became serious about his candidacy in March – though he did not accept until after conducting intense due diligence with those inside and outside the system.

Local federations and the UJC were made aware of his hiring Monday afternoon.

“Jerry has proven himself to be a visionary and results-oriented leader who put Jewish camping on the communal map,” the head of the search committee and the incoming chair of the UJC, Kathy Manning, told the UJC staff in an internal communication Monday. “His personal qualities, his engagement with the Jewish world and his extensive success in the business world make Jerry uniquely poised to help bring UJC and the Jewish Federations of North America to the next level.”

Silverman, who helped popularize the Dockers brand while at Levi’s, comes to an organization that has spent millions on market research in an attempt to re-brand itself, recently leading to the decision by the UJC to rename itself UJC/Jewish Federations of North America at some point next winter.

“His understanding of the importance of the next generation and multiple audiences is really fortuitous for the organization,” said Joe Kanfer, the UJC’s current chairman and the CEO of GOJO Industries, which makes Purell hand sanitizer. “He clearly understands the importance of communications and branding.”

The president of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, Skip Vichness, praised Silverman.

“I think that we have been very fortunate to have Jerry for the five years that we did,” Vichness said. “He has done an amazing job. I wish the UJC well and I think they made a terrific selection.”

Vichness was the head of the search committee that hired Silverman five years ago away from the business world.

“Jerry has an amazing combination of entrepreneurial spirit and a Jewish neshama [soul],” he said. “That combination, for me, was very attractive. He brought the best of what he learned in the for-profit world, but also had a passion for Judaism and was passionate about camping.”

Vichness, who said the Foundation for Jewish Camp did not try to block Silverman’s move to the UJC, lauded Silverman’s talents as a fund-raiser.

“Jerry Silverman is capable of translating his passion programmatically to funders who see his vision and who are willing to se his vision, and his vision is our vision and he gave life to that vision the way the head of an organization should,” Vichness said. “I hope he can do the same for UJC.”

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.

Find us on Facebook!
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels.
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • "My husband has been offered a terrific new job in a decent-sized Midwestern city. This is mostly great, except for the fact that we will have to leave our beloved NYC, where one can feel Jewish without trying very hard. He is half-Jewish and was raised with a fair amount of Judaism and respect for our tradition though ultimately he doesn’t feel Jewish in that Larry David sort of way like I do. So, he thinks I am nuts for hesitating to move to this new essentially Jew-less city. Oh, did I mention I am pregnant? Seesaw, this concern of mine is real, right? There is something to being surrounded by Jews, no? What should we do?"
  • "Orwell described the cliches of politics as 'packets of aspirin ready at the elbow.' Israel's 'right to defense' is a harder narcotic."
  • From Gene Simmons to Pink — Meet the Jews who rock:
  • The images, which have since been deleted, were captioned: “Israel is the last frontier of the free world."
  • As J Street backs Israel's operation in Gaza, does it risk losing grassroots support?
  • What Thomas Aquinas might say about #Hamas' tunnels:
  • The Jewish bachelorette has spoken.
  • "When it comes to Brenda Turtle, I ask you: What do you expect of a woman repressed all her life who suddenly finds herself free to explore? We can sit and pass judgment, especially when many of us just simply “got over” own sexual repression. But we are obliged to at least acknowledge that this problem is very, very real, and that complete gender segregation breeds sexual repression and unhealthy attitudes toward female sexuality."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.