Don’t be alarmed if you see three puffs of smoke coming from the Federation building at 6505 Wilshire Blvd. tomorrow. Our sources say that the committee that will select the next president of the Jewish Federation will meet tonight—either at Fed headquarters or at the home of another board member—and make the final decision.
As we reported here yesterday, the Final Four are
Minneapolis Federation Executive Director Joshua Fogelson, Council Member Jack Weiss, JTN CEO Jay Sanderson, and former William Morris Agency COO Irv Weintraub.
(For those who miss the reference, the College of Cardinals releases white smoke from the chimney atop the Sistine Chapel when they choose a new Pope. The AP photo at right, by Pier Paolo Cito, depicts the smoke following the April 19, 2005 of Pope Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger of Germany).
I feel I need to keep repeating here why this appointment is the source of much discussion and speculation among a relatively small but influential subset of LA Jewry. The Fed Pres controls a $50-plus million campaign and has the putative position of being the head of local organized Jewry. It can be a powerful bully pulpit and financial lever. Of course, the fact that I need to keep explaining that means the position and the organization aren’t quite as meaningful or relevant as they once were, or maybe could be again.
(And the fact that we get many more clicks on my “How to Make Challah” video than we do on our Fed-prez coverage makes me think Jews may not have their priorities straight… or maybe they do).
That said, who will get the nod? There’s fresh money on a latecomer to the race, Irv Weintraub. The fact that he survived the big cut means the committee saw something that helped them overlook how much time and money they had spent on the formal search process (at least $250,000 according to our reporter Brad Greenberg, though others think it may approach $500,000). Weintraub was the COO of a large company, comes from the entertainment Industry, and was already involved in Federation as a volunteer lay leader—and thus has close peer relationships with the very people making the decision.
On the down side, as Nikki Finke and Sharon Waxman make clear on their blogs, Weintraub’s reputation in Hollywood is decidedly mixed. He is mensch to some, and evil incarnate to others (hey, that range should prepare him for leadership in the Jewish community). His experience as COO, while technically in “Hollywood,” had more to do with “making sure the lights stayed on” as one source told me, than it did with connecting with talent.
I don’t know him, but my questions for him are the same as for any of the candidates:
Does he have a game-changing vision of the role Federation must play? Can he communicate a compelling new vision and execute it? Does he have what it takes to set the agenda and lead? Does he have a plan for involving the next generation of Jewish funders and activists?
He can still be competent and take care of the place lacking all these traits—somebody from the agency world should surely know how to service the relative handful of older, wealthy funders who give the majority of the campaign funds. But to “make the Federation relevant,” as outgoing chair Stanley Gold promised, means to infuse it with passion, activism and innovative ideas, so I hope, if Weintraub’s the One, he has those abilities.
On the other hand, Joshua Fogelson, Jay Sanderson and Jack Weiss—while they have to be a bit perplexed how the rules of the game suddenly shifted at the finish line—must still have plenty of support going in to the conclave, otherwise they wouldn’t have been subjected to the grueling final round of interviews, meetings and presentations.
As one source said, “Who knows? It’s all so secretive and opaque.”
Secretive and opaque? Hey—maybe THAT’S part of the problem.
**PRES SHABBAT UPDATE** Over the course of the day numerous sources have confirmed the committee could not reach a decision and punted, I mean, delayed a final decision until some time next week.