Seven top officials have been fired from United Jewish Communities, the national roof body of local Jewish charitable federations, the Forward has learned.
Insiders say the dismissals are part of a dramatic reorientation taking place under the organization’s recently installed president and chief executive officer, Howard Rieger. Most of the layoffs involve two departments central to the organization’s long-range planning on issues of Jewish values and identity.
While UJC would not confirm the firings, an insider said the list of those being let go included the head of the organization’s Jewish Renaissance and Renewal Pillar, Sheldon Zimmerman, and the head of research and development, Robert Hyfler.
After years in which the organization has struggled to define its larger purpose, the layoffs seem to confirm indications from Rieger, who became head of UJC this past September, that the organization will be focusing more on the daily business of 155 local federations in North America. UJC represents a vast philanthropic network that spends billions of dollars each year to deliver social services, support Jewish education, and provide support for Israel and impoverished Jews living abroad.
Rabbi Eric Lankin, director of religious and educational activities for UJC, who was also let go, wrote in an e-mail to colleagues, “Professionally, I wonder what will happen to the UJC Jewish continuity agenda, relations with rabbis and religious movements.”
These firings come just a month after UJC fired the director of its Washington office, Chuck Konigsberg. The office was the central UJC address for dealing with federal budget issues and other matters of national policy. UJC has yet to fill the Washington post.
A UJC spokesman, Glenn Rosenkrantz, said he would not speak with the Forward about the firings.
At UJC’s annual general assembly this past Novemeber, Rieger argued that the main mission of federations has been to raise money for social services. He told the Forward: “At times we’ve done more than we’re capable of doing as well as we should. When the day is done we’ve raised our money in the communities to help support human services. The service orientation is where we will get evaluated — that should drive a large part of what we’re doing.”