The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has named as its next president Jay Sanderson, CEO and executive producer of Jewish Television Network (JTN), a nonprofit producer and distributor of Jewish-themed television programming.
Sanderson, 52, replaces John Fishel, who served 17 years as Federation president and resigned last January, effective next Dec. 31.
“I’m extremely excited and feel deeply privileged,” Sanderson said in an interview Tuesday morning at the home of Stanley Gold, The Federation’s board chair. “I’m surprised. It’s such a big, important job I wasn’t sure I was going to be the person that they chose, especially given the quality of the other candidates.”
In the final week of a three-month process, the selection committee had narrowed an initial field of some 20 candidates down to four: Sanderson, former City Councilman Jack Weiss, former William Morris COO Irv Weintraub and Joshua Fogelson, executive director of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation.
Gold and Richard Sandler, The Federation’s incoming chair, informed Sanderson of the decision on Tuesday at around 9 a.m.
“All of our candidates were very, very qualified, and in that regard it’s a good decision to have to make, because we have good people,” said Sandler, an attorney who works closely with Michael Milken and the Milken Family Foundation. “Jay has the knowledge of the community, he has the skill set, and he has certainly accomplished a tremendous amount as head of JTN.”
Sanderson has been professionally active in the Jewish community for two decades, primarily in Jewish media. Since 1989, he has led JTN, during which time, among other accomplishments, he created and served as executive producer of the PBS series, “The Jewish Americans,” and the upcoming PBS documentary on modern genocide, “Worse Than War.”
Along with JTN board member Michael Lynton, chair and CEO of Sony Pictures, and News Corp. Executive Vice President Gary Ginsberg, Sanderson also created Newsweek’s annual list of “America’s Top Rabbis,” published by the magazine for the past three years.
Prior to joining JTN, Sanderson, a graduate of Syracuse University, was an independent producer of films and documentaries.
Sanderson says he will leverage his experience in communication to help The Federation expand its membership and fundraising base, and build the Jewish community.
“My No. 1 goal is to really return to being central in the community, and in doing that we have to reach out to the whole community,” Sanderson said. “It has to be a convener and a collaborator. There are thousands and thousands of Jews who want to be involved in Jewish life who need to be engaged in The Federation.
“The community is so diverse, and there are so many more organizations than there have been in the past, we have to assert ourselves in terms of outreach,” he said.
Sanderson pointed to the kinds of grass-roots organizing efforts that helped make Barack Obama president — Internet technology, e-mail, networking — as tools that could help The Federation reach and inspire a new generation of Jews.
“There’s a lot of Jews out there who are not engaged but not disinterested,” he said.
Sandler agreed. “Federation has been around a long time,” he said. “But people under 50 years old really don’t know what Federation does.”
The Federation has traditionally raised funds and distributed them across a variety of social service, educational and advocacy agencies, in Los Angeles, Israel and elsewhere. It has also created and run its own programs and activities.
“A lot of people see Federation as this big organization, but they don’t see the small, important things it does,” said Sanderson, pointing to the KOREH LA literacy program as one example. “It does amazing things on the ground to help people.”
Sandler, who will take over as board chair on Jan. 1, joined Sanderson in saying that engagement also means more outreach and collaboration with existing Jewish organizations and synagogues. Sanderson promised “a whole other level of engagement” with synagogues and major locally-based Jewish organizations like the Skirball Cultural Center, the Simon Wiesenthal Center and American Jewish University.
This Rosh Hashanah, The Federation will launch one such collaboration — a communitywide effort to raise money to fight local hunger and to distribute the funds through a variety of organizations and synagogues.
“Every synagogue has participated,” Gold said.
Sanderson takes the reins of the nonprofit, headquartered at 6505 Wilshire Blvd., at a difficult economic time, when donations to federations around the country are down. Gold said The Federation’s annual campaign will be down between 10 percent and 12 percent from the $50 million it raised in 2008.
“I’m not one of those people who recognizes this as a more challenging time,” Sanderson said. “Every period in philanthropy has its ebbs and flows. If The Federation is successful in reaching out and really telling its story in a way that’s powerful, new donors will come in.”
To assist in the search for Fishel’s replacement, The Federation hired Development Resource Group, a nonprofit headhunting firm based in New York. Estimates put the cost of the search at around $250,000.
“It was as thorough and fair and democratic a process as I’ve seen,” Gold said.
Sanderson, who lives in Encino with his wife Laura Lampert Sanderson, a psychologist, son, Jonah, and daughter, Isabelle, said he is looking forward to working with his new Federation co-workers, the lay volunteers and the larger Jewish community.
“I can’t do this alone,” he said. “Stanley Gold did a fabulous job, as did John Fishel, leading Federation to this point, and my job is to take what they’ve done and build on it. We’re all really excited about the future.”