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By Rhonda J Spivak, B.A., L.L.B., Special Report from Washington

Fifty one year old Gerry Silverman, the newly appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Jewish Federations of North America has Winnipeg roots.
“My, father,  David Silverman ( now a Rabbi) left Winnipeg in 1954 ,and my mother – Florence Perman  ( maiden name) left in the 40’s but came back every summer,” Siverman told the Winnipeg Jewish Review, during the General Assembly of Jewish Federations of  North America in Washington last month.

“The Silverman family started migrating to Winnipeg from a small shtibul from Lanovitz in the Ukraine in 1909,” said Silverman, who was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

“My father’s parents, Meir and Anne Silverman lived in Winnipeg on 420 Magnus Avenue, and are buried in Winnipeg.  Meir was an electrician who died in 1963 and Anne Silverman died in 1993,” he added, noting he was last in Winnipeg for a family re-union in 1995. 

Silverman’s mother’s family “started migrating from Warsaw into Winnipeg in the 20’s.” His grandparents, Noach and Tzipora Perman are buried in Israel.

“Loraine Reiner and Marian Silverman and Max Reich and Percy Gass are cousins of mine living in Winnipeg. My aunt, Rivkah Switzer just passed away recently in Winnipeg at the age of 102,” he added.

According to a report in the New York Jewish newspaper, the Forward, Silverman’s annual salary is $575,000 U.S. dollars, but that is an amount based on his predecessor’s salary from 2007.  Silverman is ranked as the highest paid professional for salaries of Jewish Communal leaders in the U.S. by Forward.

Before joining UJC/Federations, Silverman served as president of the Foundation for Jewish Camp, the only non-profit national organization dedicated to raising awareness and support of non-profit Jewish resident camps.

For a decade before that, Silverman held a range of executive positions at the Stride Rite Corp. of Boston, including president of its international division; president, Stride Rite Children’s Group, and president, Keds Corp. Between 1979 and 1994 Jerry held several senior executive positions at Levi Strauss & Co. in San Francisco, starting as a production manager in women’s wear, moving into financial planning, working as an account executive and sales representative, then as a regional district national account manager and national sales manager of Levi Dockers.

Silverman is married to Erica Silverman and is the father of five children ranging in age from 15-24.

Silverman’s organization,  the Jewish Federations of North America, (formerly known as United Jewish Communities-UJA), represents 157 Jewish federations and 400 independent communities in the U.S. and Canada.  The umbrella organization is funded by dues proportionate to federations’ campaign revenues. However, it has a deep fiscal shortfall.

At a press conference in Washington, Silverman said, “The total amount of money raised by American Jewish Federations is down 11%, meaning that we’ll close 2009 at a total of $823 million, which is $ 88 million dollars down from last year [ 2008]. These figures exclude Canadian figures.” But, Silverman suggested that the 2010 campaign will be higher, “We are hearing of good increases from 2009 to 2010.”

Silverman pointed out that in Chicago, for example, given the tough economic climate “ a number of major donors doubled their gifts, to make up for what others couldn’t give.”  He suggested this was also happening in New York.

When asked by the Winnipeg Jewish Review, for the 2009 Canadian campaign figures as compared to 2008, Silverman responded that he did not know the figures, but that Joe Berkovsky communications director for the Jewish Federations would provide them.

As of the time of this publication, those figures have not been received.

Silverman also said, that in considering Jewish philanthropy, “the question is whether we are geographic Jews or universal Jews?” In tough economic times the Federation system has to grapple with questions of how much money to send overseas to Jews struggling in Israel or other areas, such as the former Soviet Union.

The overseas partners of Silverman’s organization, The Jewish Agency for Israel, and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, have been facing an ongoing decline in funds from Federations. Thus, they have increased their efforts to fundraise directly from Jewish communities.

Another challenge that Silverman outlined is “How to convert the unconverted.” He noted “there are a lot of Jewish philanthropists who are giving money to causes, but not necessarily in the Jewish sect.

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Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.