WASHINGTON — The Jewish community’s main public-policy umbrella organization has tapped a liberal activist and a former volunteer for John Kerry’s presidential campaign to head its Washington office.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, a national coordinating body made up of 13 national Jewish agencies and 125 local Jewish community relations councils, has tapped Hadar Susskind for the position. Susskind, 32, served for the past three years as the Washington representative of the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life. Before that he served for four years as assistant director of the Washington office of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.
At COEJL, Susskind gained a reputation for creating broad-based Jewish and interfaith coalitions to address environmental issues.
Rabbi Steve Gutow, JCPA’s executive director, said of Susskind: “He not only has the capacity to build the JCPA’s common table in Washington, but he understands the system and is effective in legislation.”
The decision to tap a liberal activist comes just weeks after United Jewish Communities, JCPA’s main funder and the national roof body of local Jewish charitable federations, hired a Republican, William Daroff, to be its Washington representative. The two organizations have clashed at times in recent years, most notably on JCPA’s decision to fight the Bush administration’s tax cuts. Some officials at UJC, which has many Republican donors, were said to be upset over the JCPA’s anti-tax-cut campaign.
But Daroff told the Forward that he had every intention of working harmoniously with Susskind and JCPA.
Susskind said that he expects to “hit the ground running” when he takes his new position December 1, because he is familiar with the issues and with the Washington representatives of other Jewish groups. Almost all national agencies that are members of the JCPA are also members of COEJL. “I have a good understanding of where the different member agencies are on different policy issues, what some of their priorities are and where some of the conflicts between the agencies are,” Susskind said.
Susskind was born in Israel to American Jewish parents. He grew up in Maryland and then moved back to Israel as a young adult, served in the Israeli military, studied in Israel and returned to the United States, where he graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in Jewish studies and political science.
Susskind said that although he comes from groups that are usually seen as liberal, he does not have a partisan or an ideological agenda and will be committed only to the JCPA’s goal. Gutow, who has been a Democratic grass-roots activist for years, also said that Susskind will use his experience in building bipartisan coalitions to bolster the JCPA’s relations on both sides of the aisle. “In choosing Hadar, a partisan thought did not enter my mind,” Gutow said. “It’s a nonpartisan position. Hadar gets it, and he knows what we have to do to be effective.”
Susskind succeeds Reva Price, who recently moved to the office of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.