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Departure of Chief Lobbyist Poses New Challenge for Ujc

February 28, 2003
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The departure of its top Washington advocate could pose a new challenge for the federation system, which relies on the post to ensure billions of dollars for its programs.

Diana Aviv, the United Jewish Communities’ vice president for public policy, will leave her position of nearly a decade in June to become president and CEO of Independent Sector, a prominent coalition of more than 700 philanthropic and public interest groups.

Aviv is widely regarded as a star lobbyist with broad connections to Washington power circles.

Her move comes amid a flurry of personnel changes for the UJC, which continues to face criticism for having trouble assembling a vision.

“They’re going to have some very big shoes to fill,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“She was regarded as one of the most knowledgeable experts in town on government funding of social services,” he said, and was “a remarkable Jewish presence in much of the activity that happens in Washington that affects the Jewish community.”

Richard Wexler, a member of UJC’s budget committee, said Aviv “understood our system well and could articulate it brilliantly.”

UJC’s Washington Action Office, which also houses UJC’s Human Service and Social Policy Pillar, is charged with lobbying for government funds that help sustain local services provided by Jewish federation agencies.

Such services include Jewish family services, low-income housing and health care.

The federation system, through its social service agencies, receives $5 billion to $7 billion a year in federal and state grants, the bulk of which is through Medicare and Medicaid, Aviv said.

She cited as an example the $6 million in federal funds her office helped secure for federation-supported agencies serving the elderly.

The appropriations bill passed recently by Congress contains funds for Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities, or NORCs, in 13 Jewish communities across the country.

Aviv said her office’s greatest accomplishment since she came in 1994 was to get local Jewish communities to understand that “we have a massive stake in the federal agenda and budget.”

With the Jewish community’s current preoccupation with Israel and terrorism, she said, “I am concerned that people don’t agree on the degree to which this area is at risk.”

This is not “a criticism of people’s priorities, but a plea” that the Jewish community not lose sight of what’s at stake in terms of U.S. government funding, she said.

Stephen Hoffman, UJC president and CEO, praised the work of Aviv and her office.

They have “helped to achieve major wins for our domestic and international interests,” he said.

“She will leave our Washington operation in the strongest possible position to continue achieving successes in the future.”

“We are thrilled for Diana Aviv for her professional opportunity to lead a key entity in the nonprofit sector. Of course, the Independent Sector’s gain is UJC’s loss.”

But some believe her loss will provide new opportunities and approaches.

And some insiders say her assumption of the helm of Independent Sector may be a boon for the Jewish community.

“To have someone who knows the Jewish community so well and is so well respected” in political and religious circles in Washington head Independent Sector “will be helpful in ensuring that both the Jewish community remains informed about issues that affect all nonprofits, including our own, and that Jewish concerns will certainly be heard in the broader nonprofit community,” Saperstein said.

Aviv, a native of South Africa, has worked in the Jewish community for more than 20 years — first at the National Council of Jewish Women, then at the forerunner of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs before coming to what was then the Washington Action Office of the Council of Jewish Federations.

CJF later merged with the United Jewish Appeal to become UJC.

Aviv, who said she was approached for the new position at Independent Sector, said it will be very hard “to leave a community I know.”

“It’s my community, it’s my people,” she said.

According to insiders, possible candidates being talked about to replace Aviv include Mark Pelavin, associate director of the Religious Action Center, and Reva Price, JCPA’s Washington representative.

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