The federation system has tapped a veteran federation professional to become its new president and CEO.
After some six months of searching, an internal United Jewish Communities committee unanimously recommended an insider to succeed Stephen Hoffman: Howard Rieger, president of the United Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh.
Robert Goldberg, head of the search committee and chairman of UJC’s board, called JTA on Tuesday with the news that the committee had decided to offer the job to Rieger, who has said he will accept it.
The choice of Rieger, 61, continues a tradition of picking federation system heads from communities considered “large cities” — ones that contribute the bulk of funds the systems raises and whose leaders make key decisions.
Rieger, who has headed the Pittsburgh federation since 1981, was unavailable for comment.
Rieger worked for 11 years in various positions at the Cleveland federation before heading to Pittsburgh. He joins what some jokingly call the “Cleveland mafia,” since both Hoffman and Goldberg also came from Cleveland.
UJC’s board of trustees still must approve the appointment.
Asked if the board would approve Rieger, Goldberg would say only that it “will get a unanimous recommendation from the search committee. I think that says a lot.”
The transition, which will take place at the close of Hoffman’s three-year term this summer, comes as the four-year- old UJC, a merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal and United Israel Appeal, still is struggling to define itself.
Despite the respect commanded by Hoffman, individual federations have complained about inadequate services and high UJC dues.
UJC’s overseas partners, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, have blamed the system for failing to boost funds for overseas needs from individual federations.
Hoffman has tried to respond to complaints by reducing the budget and installing reforms to groom top professionals.
With the UJC still at a critical juncture, several say Rieger’s lengthy experience in the system positions him well for the job.
“I think continuity at this point is critically important, and Howard has shown a dedication to the UJC that I think will help to ensure that kind of continuity,” said the UJC’s vice chairman, Richard Wexler of Chicago.
“Whatever progress has been made under Steve Hoffman, I think Howard will build on,” he said.
Wexler added that Rieger had been “instrumental” in the merger leading to UJC’s creation and understands its purposes.
Wexler has said that one of the merger’s key purposes was to boost overseas allocations, which UJC has yet to do.
According to Steven Klinghoffer, who headed the UJC’s politically charged Overseas Needs Assessment and Distribution committee, Rieger has what UJC needs: a “very good sense of what the correct relationship between professionals and lay leaders is.”
“One of the great failures in the ONAD process” was that professionals “were the ones making key decisions and lay leaders were for a variety of reasons left out,” said Klinghoffer, a lay leader from the Metrowest federation in New Jersey.
Hoffman said he was “thrilled” to hand over the reins to Rieger.
“Howard is a great people person and he’s very smart. He’s very hardworking,” Hoffman said.
“I would just advise him to keep in shape because he’s gonna run just a little faster,” joked Hoffman, referring to the pace of the national scene.
In fact, Hoffman said, “you need the ability to laugh at yourself” at the helm of UJC.
“You need to understand how different parts of the country and different community sizes come at issues differently,” he said.
“Yet we’re all working for the same end,” he added, with “different dynamics at work in each of our communities.”
During his time at the Pittsburgh federation, Rieger helped lead a slew of local efforts, including an annual fund-raising campaign that tops $25 million, a $15 million campaign to resettle Jews from the former Soviet Union, a $60 million campaign to renovate local agencies and an effort to restructure services for the community’s elderly.
Rieger also has served in national roles, as adjunct staff to help orchestrate the UJC’s merger and as chairman of the publications advisory committee of the UJC’s 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey.
A native of Chicago, Rieger earned a Ph.D. in government from Southern Illinois University and a B.A. in political science and a masters of public administration from Chicago’s Roosevelt University.
He joined the federation system after a two-year stint as an assistant professor at the State University of New York.
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.