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Jewish Federation: The Generation Next

Todd Morgan, the incoming board chairman, represents a demographic shift among Federation leaders

by Michael Aushenker

December 2, 1999 | 7:00 pm

Perhaps his choice of reading material best sums up Todd Morgan's worldview. The man who will be the new chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles -- effective day one of Y2K -- is currently reading a biography about the Warburgs, a 19th century German banking family that founded major Jewish agencies. For Morgan, senior managing partner of the Century City-centered Bel Air Investment Advisors, the book is the intersection of his major passions: investment banking and Jewish philanthropy.

At 52, Morgan will become the youngest man in recent years to assume the Federation chair mantle, but he does not come to the seat unprepared. In 1997, Morgan was general chair of the Federation's United Jewish Fund campaign, and prior to that, he steered the campaign's Financial Services and Major Gifts Divisions. And when he is not working at his investment company, Morgan acts as an honorary trustee for the Jewish Community Foundation, and serves on the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center's board.

Morgan's dedication to community originates from an unlikely place: Minneapolis. "I grew up in a solid, tight-knit community where everybody knows each other," he says of the Midwestern city's Jewish community, where he attended Temple Israel. "It was more of a sense of obligation to give to the Jewish community," continues Morgan. "It was part of everyday life."

In 1987, Morgan's firm Goldman, Sachs & Co. in Los Angeles (where Morgan was a general partner at the time) was approached by representatives of the Jewish Federation, who sought support for the coalition to free Soviet Jews. Morgan became very much involved in the cause, which became his portal into Federation outreach.

Today, the Federation's new leader says that Los Angeles' Jews will not have to wait until he assumes the position for a changing of the guard to occur. According to Morgan, it's already happening.

"We are putting a much higher percentage of people on the board that are in their 50s or younger," says the incoming chairman. "There are many, many young people who have come to me unsolicited and told me that they want to get involved. We are going to see a younger, more vibrant Jewish Federation. There's room at the table now for those who want to contribute their time and energy."

And contrary to popular assumption, the old guard is enthusiastically handing over the torch. "I didn't ask for this job, they brought it to me," says Morgan.

So coming from a big business background, how does Morgan intend to run the Federation? On this topic, Morgan displays a healthy dose of the risk-taking instinct that has made him the financial success he is. "We're going to make decisions and changes that are unconventional," he says. " We're going to take more chances. Some of them will work, some of them will not."

Diving headfirst into Federation matters, Morgan is very aware of the organization's standing and influence in local circles.

"What the Federation does is critical to the community," says Morgan. "The main issue here for me is not one of not enough money. There's plenty of money [in the community]. We need new, younger leadership. And they're there. They just have to be asked."

Morgan's top priority as the new chairman will be to ensure that every hungry, sick, and destitute Jew in Los Angeles is cared for. He adds that no elderly person should be without medicine, or have to worry about burial expenses.

Education -- both academic and spiritual -- is also an immediate goal. "Every Jewish kid should have the opportunity to go to a Jewish day school, to study Torah, and to visit their ancestral homeland in Israel," says Morgan, who will approach companies about sponsoring trips for students. The self-made entrepreneur also wants to bring Torah and Talmud into the lives of Federation contributors. He wants to dispatch a team of rabbis all over the city to their offices and homes for weekly study sessions (Morgan himself is a member of Kehillat Israel of Pacific Palisades and studies regularly with Aish HaTorah rabbi Nachum Braverman).

"I want to give back to people who support us," says Morgan. "We're going to come up with big projects where you can give a quarter of a million or half a million, and you'll know where it goes."

Beyond that, Morgan intends to spread the word about what the Federation does and raise the organization's profile.

So how does he plan to achieve all these ambitious undertakings? In part with the help of some high-powered friends. He has already hand-picked the members of his leadership team, which will include many prominent members of the community: Irwin Field, Hal Gaba, Stanley Gold, Russell Goldsmith, Bruce Karatz, Peter Lowy, Ron Silverman, Steve Soboroff and Richard Ziman, to name a few.

Morgan also hopes to convince his high-powered Hollywood friends to get involved. And he's looking forward to working together with Federation President John Fishel and the Federation's staff and lay people.

But his main collaborator is wife Cheri, who leads the United Jewish Fund's Women's Campaign. "She's a very hard worker, and we're a team," says Morgan of his spouse. "She's my partner in all respects. She shares the same vision."

Cheri Morgan believes that her husband is a "farsighted visionary" who will bring passion and vitality to his role as chairman.

"Todd is a problem solver," says Cheri Morgan. "He sees how things can be done. He pushes through when others quit." The Morgans have a daughter, Tammy, 26, and a son, Josh, 18.

By his own account, Morgan is "living on New York time," getting up every day at 4 a.m. to jump-start his day and put his ideas in motion. Knowing that he cannot accomplish everything he sets out to do in his two year term, he's eager to plant the seeds for the future. Says Morgan, "I have the vision that my generation can do a great deal to enhance the quality of life for the Jewish community in Los Angeles."

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