NEW YORK, May 13 (JTA) The United Jewish Communities has offered its top volunteer position to the president of North America’s largest Jewish federation.
According to a member of the UJC nominating committee, James Tisch of New York has been asked to replace Charles Bronfman as UJC chairman when Bronfman steps down in October. Tisch, the president and CEO of Loews Corporation, apparently is looking into the matter and is expected to give an answer in the next two weeks.
Tisch declined to comment. UJC officials similarly declined to confirm the nomination, saying they had been “talking to a whole host of people to see who’s interested.”
Officials and several committee members say the process is supposed to be secret to avoid offending future candidates, who could learn that they were offered the position only after someone else declined.
In addition to Tisch’s own involvement with UJA-Federation of Greater New York, his parents, brother and wife also are well known in the Jewish philanthropic world, where the Tisches are considered “mega-donors.”
Tisch has a reputation for being a decisive person and a strong writer with little patience for process.
As president of the New York federation, Tisch has been outspoken in pressing the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella group that aims to coordinate Jewish activism on a range of social and political issues, to narrow its agenda and focus on issues of direct concern to the Jewish community.
His business ties have proven controversial however. Loews owns the Lorillard tobacco company, and some board members of the New York federation objected when Tisch became president.
However, many Jewish leaders defended Tisch, saying that excluding leaders and donors because of their business interests would lead to a “slippery slope” whereby philanthropists could become mired in controversy over a wide range of businesses and practices.
Bronfman, the UJC’s current chairman, is a former owner of Seagram, a liquor company that recently was sold to a French media company.
The issue of whether Tisch’s tobacco interests might damage the UJC’s image apparently was raised during discussions in the nominating committee, a member said. In addition, some members were concerned over Tisch’s lack of experience in UJC matters.
However, the committee decided that the positive qualities Tisch would bring to the job outweigh his negatives, according to a committee member.
The nominating committee also is seeking a replacement for its No. 2 lay position chair of UJC’s executive committee to replace Joel Tauber, who also is stepping down in October. Robert Goldberg of Cleveland UJC’s immediate past treasurer and the chair of its Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution Committee is the apparent favorite, according to several sources.
Goldberg, who is the immediate past board chairman of the Cleveland federation – the top volunteer slot at the federation – said he had not been offered the position.
“If the community feels they want me I would do it,” Goldberg said. “But if I don’t get it my feelings won’t be hurt.”