Howard Rieger says his move this week to dismiss several senior staff members of the United Jewish Communities is more about vision than cost-cutting. There was “no pressure to do anything,” Rieger, who took the helm of the federation umbrella group six months ago, told JTA. “No gun pointed to my head.”
Instead, he said, “My goal is to make this organization more impactful,” and if the reorganization called for increased spending, he would have considered it.
At the same time, he acknowledged the need to rein in expenses, saying that “left to its own devices, the cost of the UJC would grow dramatically.”
Since becoming CEO of the UJC, the longtime president of the United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh has spoken often about the need to consolidate the organization’s work, focusing on its greatest strength: fund raising.
In the latest restructuring, he plans to make good on his promise.
The move comes only months before the UJC will pass its annual budget — a perennial time of scrutiny for federations, which complain that the UJC budget is too bloated. And UJC insiders have said that adhering to a strict budget figured prominently in Rieger’s personnel moves.
The staff members being dismissed, effective July 1, are Robert Hyfler, senior vice president for research and development; Rabbi Sheldon Zimmerman, vice president of renaissance and renewal; Rabbi Eric Lankin, director of religious and educational activities; Yoav Ben-Horin, director of the Israel and Overseas Pillar; Lorraine Blass, a senior planner who managed the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey; and Michelle Israel, communications manager.
Eric Levine, past associate vice president of financial resource development, will take over UJC’s Renaissance and Renewal Pillar. And Doron Krakow, vice president of the Israel and Overseas Pillar, will coordinate its work with the activities of United Israel Appeal and UJC’s Israel office.
“I think this is just Howard Rieger’s reshaping of the organization in the image that he wants it to be in, given the budget constraints he’s confronting,” said Jay Sarver of St. Louis, a member of UJC’s board of trustees.
In his interview with JTA, Rieger spoke repeatedly of the need to build an organization based on collaboration and team work.
“It’s all about creating a synergy and a reality that grows out of a merger,” Rieger said. “We have not mined the depth of the opportunity that this merger has presented to us.”
The Renaissance and Renewal Pillar will lose two top people, both rabbis. Asked about the loss of a rabbinical presence at UJC, Rieger said it was “lamentable.”
“But I think the job of UJC at this moment is to decide what are the resources that can get us to where we want to be,” he said.
“Nobody wants to spend one more dollar on UJC operations than is absolutely necessary,” and assigning the job to Levine, who has a background in federation experience, “will enable us to move forward aggressively,” he said.
“This is about how do we get our job done.”
One of UJC’s chief beneficiaries, the Jewish Agency for Israel, is also being rocked by personnel departures.
Yossi Hogri, chief financial officer, has resigned. And Michael Rosenberg, director-general of aliyah and absorption, is planning to leave the organization.
Asked about these developments, the Jewish Agency responded in general terms, referring to its new strategic plan for the organization.
“The Jewish Agency is currently undergoing far-reaching organizational and structural changes based on the revisited strategic plan approved recently by its board of governors,” said spokesman Michael Jankelowitz.
“The purpose of these changes are to adapt the Jewish Agency to current trends and challenges facing the Jewish people, especially in the face of aliyah, education and partnerships,” he said. “These challenges also require changing of the guard and the injection of fresh talent into the organization.”
The Archive of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency includes articles published from 1923 to 2008. Archive stories reflect the journalistic standards and practices of the time they were published.