Why I Am Leaving San Francisco Jewish Federation

New Life Chapter Will Clear Path for Innovators — and Women

New Chapter: Jennifer Gorovitz writes that personal reasons are mostly behind her decision to step down as CEO of the San Francisco Jewish federation. She is confident new innovators, and women, will pick up the torch.
Courtesy of Jewish Community Federation
New Chapter: Jennifer Gorovitz writes that personal reasons are mostly behind her decision to step down as CEO of the San Francisco Jewish federation. She is confident new innovators, and women, will pick up the torch.

By Jennifer Gorovitz

Published January 04, 2014.
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In my nearly 10 years at the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, and in my fifth year as the CEO, I have had the great fortune to be in the forefront of a community that is responding with creativity and wisdom to the changes in Jewish life in the 21st century.

Having dedicated myself earnestly to reorienting the Federation to meet the challenges, and to pursue the opportunities, of Jewish life in America, this week I announced that I will be stepping down as CEO at the close of the first quarter on March 31.

I have loved my work at the Federation, and appreciated every step of the journey, but I am now planning to return to my former career as an attorney with a new focus on trust and estate planning for individuals and families, and to spend more time with my family while my children are still at home.

I am turning 50 soon — already outliving my father by four years — and this has caused considerable reflection. I am ready to build another chapter in my life.

As the first woman to head a large city Federation in North America, I am glad to see other women beginning to lead in greater numbers, including my colleague Deborah Corber, CEO of the Montreal Federation. From where I sit, I see a great many women leaders nationally and in the Bay Area, where so many of our terrific agencies and organizations, large and small, are headed by women. And I see a huge cadre of emerging women leaders behind them.

As our community grapples with the many transitions in leadership that are coming, our task is to recognize these new and existing women leaders, to cultivate them, and to tell their stories of success, not simply because they are women but because they are first-rate leaders whose voices are needed in our communities. What a wonderful opportunity!

I hope that, as I depart the Federation, the story will not primarily be about the gender gap or other inequities in the Federation system, but rather about what the San Francisco-based Federation has achieved under my leadership these many years. If we truly want to elevate women to an equal playing field, in Federations and throughout the Jewish world, we need to share the examples of what women are accomplishing as leaders.

At the Federation in San Francisco, I was fortunate to have three great board chairs in Jim Koshland, Nancy Grand and Tom Kasten, and, in partnership, we have created a new vision focused on embracing the diversity of our community, innovating, and engaging a new generation. We have pursued a new approach to grant making for greater impact and a new approach to fundraising for greater engagement, which has resulted in more dollars raised and more donors for the first time in many years. We have more donor advised funds and more assets under management than ever, coupled with more philanthropic education and multi-generational conversations and services.

I’m particularly proud of transformative grants to Keshet and Interfaith Family, as well as recent successes, like the Impact Grants Initiative, our new venture philanthropy and engagement model with young adults; our Silicon Valley Young Leaders trip to Israel; and, Birthright Experience, a just-launched program that will help engage more than 2,000 Bay Area Birthright alumni with the Federation and our Jewish community. These are but a few of the many inspiring ways that the Federation is building Jewish lives and deepening and broadening its reach.

The Bay Area is known for being at the leading edge of innovation, and the Federation is squarely part of this ethos and drive. We are proud to be a model for both Jewish and philanthropic innovation and experimentation. This is an exciting time for new leadership to enter and push this evolution to the next level.

In order for our Jewish Federations and organizations to maintain their relevance and not just survive but thrive into the future, we will all have to embrace many of the changes that are afoot – innovation, substantive and meaningful engagement of Jews of all ages and backgrounds (including interfaith Jews, LGBT Jews, and I could go on). And yes, the central role of women leaders in our communal story, from San Francisco to New York.

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