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Commitment to Renewal

Even if the reasons for doing so are prosaic, there’s a welcome symbolism in the decision by the Jewish Federations of North America to move its annual General Assembly from Disney World to the city ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Federation officials say that there wasn’t enough space in Orlando to accommodate the thousands of expected attendees. Still, they had to be aware of the message a meeting in New Orleans sends — one of commitment and renewal, just what an organization struggling with its own identity and mission must convey.

Welcome, too, are some of the priorities set by Jerry Silverman, the new president and CEO, especially the emphasis on growing the talent pool of potential federation leaders. Would that the rest of the Jewish communal world shared that commitment.

Since early November, when the Forward published a major survey showing that only 11 of the 75 largest communal organizations had a woman leader, the gender gap has, unfortunately, grown. Silverman’s former employer, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, replaced a female acting CEO with a male appointee, dropping the overall percentage of women to 13%. Meanwhile, the only woman to ever lead any of the major federations — Jennifer Gorovitz in San Francisco — is still doing so in a temporary capacity.

To address his new priority on talent, Silverman told JTA that his organization is considering creating a professional training program to recruit talented recent college graduates. That builds on what he told the Forward last November: “I don’t know that we’ve put enough emphasis on grooming women, building their capabilities, expertise, leadership.”

Silverman seems to get it. Perhaps by the time the G.A. meets in New Orleans next November, there will be something to show for it, too.

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