The Milwaukee Jewish Federation is a long way from the State Department’s headquarters in Washington D.C.’s Foggy Bottom neighborhood. But Hannah Rosenthal, who has traveled the world in recent years as America’s top official tasked with combating international anti-Semitism, will soon be moving to the medium-sized Midwest city from the nation’s capital to face a challenge that promises, in its way, to be just as formidable.
In October, Rosenthal will take over as president and CEO of the Milwaukee federation. She has roots in Wisconsin, where she studied, and family in Milwaukee.
The federation, which had revenues of $46 million in 2005, was hit harder than many by the Great Recession. It took in only $7 million in 2009, the year the meltdown in housing really hit home. By 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, the Milwaukee federation’s revenues had climbed up to $19 million.
“We went out searching for somebody that could really lead the community coming from where we were coming from, which is a community that is trying to change,” said the federation board’s chair, Jerry Benjamin, of its decision to hire Rosenthal.
Rosenthal, the U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, was traveling in Europe in her capacity as special envoy and said via email that she was unable to comment for this story due to time constraints.
The Rosenthal pick could prove to be an edgy one for Milwaukee’s Jewish federation, which serves a small community of 30,000. Though she served as executive director of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the national community relations umbrella group for the Jewish community, it was Rosenthal’s ties to leftist Israel-focused activist groups that drew attention when she was named anti-Semitism special envoy in 2009. Rosenthal is a former board member of the dovish Americans for Peace Now and was an adviser to the similarly dovish J Street.
In 2009, after the administration had appointed her but before she had actually begun her work at the State Department, Rosenthal gave an interview to the Israeli daily Haaretz criticizing Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, for declining to attend a J Street conference.