NEW YORK, Feb. 5 (JTA) The umbrella organization for North American federations does not plan to replace its executive vice president, Louise Stoll, who officially departed last week after almost a month of negotiations.
“This is not the time to get into another search process,” Stephen Solender, the president and CEO of the United Jewish Communities, said in an interview with JTA.
Solender said he would instead like to focus on “getting our program moving” and announced several upcoming goals:
Developing several multiyear strategies in the areas of Jewish education, human services and Israel;
Launching a media campaign, together with several national Jewish groups and Israel’s Foreign Ministry, to promote Israel’s perspective in its conflict with the Palestinians;
Planning an initiative to improve the socioeconomic status of Israel’s Ethiopian immigrants; and
Recruiting financial support from private foundations, so that the UJC will not be as dependent on Jewish federations for its revenues. The UJC currently gets the bulk of its operating expenses from the federations.
The UJC’s executive-level professionals will divvy up the responsibilities of Stoll, who was with the organization for 13 months, Solender said.
In addition, the group plans to hire an executive to head human resource development including overseeing efforts to address the national shortage of Jewish educators and other Jewish professionals.
According to the UJC, Stoll’s responsibilities included leading a strategic planning process, overseeing the National Jewish Population Survey, guiding the system toward greater use of technology and developing a relationship between the federations and Birthright Israel.
Officially, Stoll is maintaining a “consulting relationship” with the UJC, but it is not clear exactly what role she will have after she moves to Washington, where she plans to “pursue other professional interests,” according to a UJC statement.
Solender is insisting that Stoll’s departure will not affect progress of the roughly one-and-a-half-year-old organization, which resulted from the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal and the United Israel Appeal.
It’s “never easy to have executive change at the top,” he said. However, staff members were “able to remain focused and keep going.”
After a protracted search, Stoll, who served as assistant secretary for budget and programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1993 to 1997, was hired six months after the UJC was formed.
She was tapped by the UJC for her managerial expertise, outsider perspective and ability to effect change, officials said at the time.
Stoll was originally considered for the top UJC post, according to federation insiders.
But federation executives pressed for the appointment of an insider who understood the system, knew the players and could hit the ground running.
When word leaked of her departure which several insiders say was not her choice but the result of pressure from some lay leaders and some large- city federation executives some interpreted it as a sign that the UJC is resistant to change.
“I’m disappointed” about what this says about the system’s ability to rebuild itself, said Caryn Rosen Adelman of Chicago, who is active in the UJC.
It’s especially frustrating “because there are real needs out there, and we’re still discussing governance and internal politics instead of doing whatever we can to raise money and save Jews,” said Adelman, who first brought Stoll’s name to the attention of the federation world.
Since its formation in 1999, the UJC has come under criticism for being slow to articulate a clear vision.
The UJC has struggled to combine organizations with different cultures.
It also has had to contend with pleasing the federations, with the smaller ones requesting extensive services while the larger ones have called for dramatic cost-cutting.
In addition, some say, there has been a certain fuzziness over whether the UJC should be leading the federations which are its “owners” or the other way around.
It is not entirely clear why Stoll left.
Citing a “gag rule” that was part of the severance agreement, Solender declined to discuss Stoll or the circumstances of her departure.
Stoll, for her part, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Stoll’s supporters say she was a first-rate professional with fresh ideas.
Her critics say she could be abrasive.
They also say that having been more accustomed to working in corporate and government sectors rather than the consensus-driven federation world, Stoll didn’t fully understand the need to reach out to professional and lay leaders in her effort to promote change.
According to several federation insiders, Stoll faced challenges from the start.
Some senior UJC professionals apparently resented her authority and refused to report directly to her.
Stoll also apparently alienated some federation executives and lay leaders by not showing enough deference.
One federation official who did not want to be named recalled a meeting in Jerusalem in which she publicly berated a lay leader, a move seen as a major no-no in the federation world.
Ron Meier, the executive vice president of UJA-Federation of Bergen County and North Hudson, N.J., said Stoll was “refreshing in her candor” and “in some sense very helpful,” but “had a harder time developing the kind of relationships that would support change.”
“Perhaps her agenda for change ran ahead of the relationship development that would have supported that change over time,” he said.
One observer who has advised several federations on management matters suggested that Stoll’s departure resulted not from her personality but “symptomatic of the fact that there is not agreement” about what the UJC is and should be.
“It starts with merger-itis, in which there are competing pulls within the organization related to the old UJA and CJF about who’s going to be in charge and who has what portfolio,” said this observer, who asked that his name not be used.
Some have also speculated that Stoll’s departure may signal that the federation system, long regarded as a “boys’ club,” is an unfriendly working environment for women.
Solender said Stoll’s departure should not be seen as an indicator of the UJC’s receptivity to women or willingness to change.
“Three out of six of our top positions are filled by women,” Solender said, referring to the positions directly below him. “That speaks for itself.”
As for change, Solender referred to the new initiatives in the works and said, “We are in the middle of the most massive change in the federation field since the 1940s.
“This is the largest merger that’s ever been attempted by any philanthropy, Jewish or non-Jewish.”
Jacob Solomon, executive vice president of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation, agreed.
“Everything about UJC is about change right now,” he said, citing the “complex and challenging” task of consolidating into one organization with one culture and one mission.
UJC is “working really hard” to get to a place that is “stable, forward-thinking and visionary,” he said, adding that he didn’t view Stoll’s departure as a “significant setback” in this goal.
(JTA Editor Lisa Hostein contributed to this report.)