As if the responsibility of running America’s largest Jewish federation were not enough, Eric “Ricky” Goldstein, who was chosen January 23 as the next CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, bears an additional burden: He is seen as the symbol of a new generation of leaders coming to the fore in the Jewish community.
Goldstein, who is 54, is the first to take his place on a growing list of top federation positions waiting to be filled. As such, he offers two surprises: Goldstein is Orthodox, and he does not come from within the Jewish professional world.
“It is very significant that the largest and most important federation in the United States went outside the system to appoint its CEO,” said Jacob Ukeles, a policy analyst who consults for Jewish organizations. “It’s a very big move.”
Still, many agree that the selection of the Wall Street lawyer, who served for many years as a senior lay leader in the federation, is consistent with the philanthropy’s current aim of holding on to major donors at a time of decline in federation participation. Goldstein, some believe, could also offer a new opportunity to reach out to New York’s growing ultra-Orthodox community, which has not been as involved in federation activity.
Goldstein will take over the helm of the New York federation on July 1, replacing veteran executive vice president and CEO John Ruskay, who is stepping down after 15 years. Speaking on a press call with reporters following the federation’s announcement, Goldstein alluded to his possible role as a bridge to Orthodox New Yorkers, stressing the need to build a kehila, a community, in which all members of the diverse New York Jewish population can cooperate. The New York federation, which serves as a central address for the state’s Jewish philanthropy, currently serves more than 100 beneficiary agencies and has an annual budget of $220 million.
At first glance, the differences between Goldstein and his predecessor are quite striking. Ruskay came from the ranks of the Jewish communal establishment, filling top positions in Jewish educational and cultural institutions before joining the federation. Goldstein comes from the business and legal world, where he has been a partner in the corporate law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. There, Goldstein specialized in securities litigation and in defending financial corporations and white-collar criminals.
Ruskay’s progressive ideological background was also clear: He was among the founders of Briera, a left-wing organization that supported a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians decades before the mainstream adopted the idea. Goldstein has had little involvement in ideological issues.
But a closer look at the incoming CEO indicates that his selection is no radical change of course. Though not from the ranks of Jewish communal professionals, Goldstein has been deeply involved in communal activities as a lay leader. And while his Orthodox background could suggest a more conservative approach, Goldstein has played a key role in standing up to discriminatory practices of Israel’s Orthodox rabbinate.