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Is restricting the executive positions at Jewish institutions to Jewish candidates arbitrary and limiting, or does having a non-Jewish executive detract from the mission of a Jewish organization – and, potentially, its attractiveness to Jewish donors?
“Most organizations that identify themselves Jewishly know that a significant portion of their support is going to come from Jewish philanthropists, the Jewish community, so they try to hedge it both ways,” said Jay Sanderson, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
“Do I believe it’s impossible for someone not Jewish to take on these jobs? No. But you have to be passionate about building the Jewish people to be involved in any of these organizations,” Sanderson said. “The 92nd Street Y didn’t make being Jewish a high priority. To me it’s a little disappointing. As organizations choose to become more universal and less particular, more secular and nonsectarian, this is going to happen more and more.”
Jewish nonprofit leaders long have bemoaned the dearth of future leaders prepared to step up and take the reins of Jewish nonprofit institutions. Some blame a lack of talent, others a lack of leadership training; many complain that executive jobs in the Jewish nonprofit world are not sufficiently attractive or lucrative to retain top Jewish talent.
Yet in the world of federations, JCCs and groups that deal with Jewish content, there’s practically no willingness to entertain the possibility of a non-Jewish executive at the helm, according to David Edell, president of DRG, an executive search firm that specializes in Jewish nonprofits. The Jewish institutions that have been most open to non-Jewish leadership, he said, are groups that focus on health care or human services, such as Jewish family service organizations and Jewish day schools.
Marc Kramer, executive director of Ravsak, a network of Jewish community day schools, said interest in hiring non-Jewish executives arose years ago, when the day school movement was growing quickly and there was a shortage of quality talent. These days, day schools by and large have turned away from gentile leadership, according to Kramer.
Within the Jewish schools that still have non-Jewish heads of school, the lead professional position usually is more akin to CFO or COO than principal.
“In communities where we have had gentiles in the lead professional role, they often have a Jewish partner who holds the cultural and religious portfolio,” Kramer said. “What we’ve heard from the schools is that it is tricky; it’s not a hole-in-one kind of move.”