United Jewish Communities Founder To Step Down

By Anthony Weiss

Published April 16, 2008, issue of April 25, 2008.
  • Print
  • Share Share

One of the architects of the national organization of Jewish federations is stepping down from his high-ranking volunteer post amid a bitter feud with the heads of the body he helped found.

In an April 3 letter, Richard Wexler blasted Joe Kanfer and Howard Rieger, chairman and president/CEO, respectively, of United Jewish Communities, the national federations’ umbrella organization whose creation Wexler helped engineer. Wexler announced in the letter that he was not seeking re-nomination to his post as chairman of the United Israel Appeal, a UJC subsidiary, out of concern that his ongoing conflict with the leadership would damage the organization.

“The UJC Board Chair and CEO have… been engaged together in a campaign of vilification and personal demonization toward me in a manner unbecoming the leadership positions they hold and, in particular, the Jewish leadership positions they hold,” Wexler wrote. “Under such circumstances, I cannot stand for a re-nomination.”

Wexler, a Chicago real estate lawyer who has been active for decades in local and national Jewish organizations, was one of the primary architects of the 1999 merger that created the United Jewish Communities, the umbrella organization for the 155 charitable foundations across North America that last year raised $900 million in their annual campaigns. Wexler’s decision to step down, and his feud with UJC’s current management, highlights the dissatisfaction with the results of the merger, even among those like Wexler, who helped shape it.

UJC was founded through the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and United Israel Appeal. Intended to become the premier national address for Jewish philanthropy, UJC has been plagued since its founding by internal conflicts, a stagnant annual campaign and unresolved questions about precisely how the organization ought to function. Recently, UJC has faced rebellion from several federations over dues and is facing potential budget cuts in the coming year at the behest of the largest federations.

Wexler has been a relatively outspoken critic of what he considers the failings of the national system he helped create.

As of late, Wexler has begun airing his concerns in a blog titled “UJ Thee and Me.” In an April 10 entry, he blasted a “go along to get along” culture that stifled frank criticism.

“Criticism is not merely ignored, it is not tolerated,” Wexler wrote.

In the letter, Wexler said that stepping down would allow him to speak his mind more freely. Both Rieger and Kanfer declined to comment through a spokesman.

Bruce Arbit, president of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and a UIA board member, will likely replace Wexler in his post.

In the letter, Wexler hinted that perhaps the UJC system ought to be scrapped entirely.

“UJC must either succeed or, as others have begun to contemplate and discuss, another entity will have to find its place in UJC’s stead, as the central address of the Jewish Federations of North America,” he wrote.






Find us on Facebook!
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • 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.