Wayne Feinstein, JCF leader, stepping down

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Wayne Feinstein, most likely the highest paid Jewish community professional in the Bay Area, has announced he is stepping down next month.

On Monday, Feinstein told staff members at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation that he will resign as the agency's executive vice president June 30 but stay on through August.

Having worked 27 years in Jewish communal service, the 48-year-old Feinstein said he has been thinking about leaving the field for several years.

"Since I turned 45 three years ago, I've been exploring other career options," said Feinstein, who took over the JCF's top post in 1991.

"I love what I do but, at the same time, I'm not sure I'm going to love getting up and doing this job full time in five or 10 years. If I'm going to try to have a new career, this is the time to do it."

The San Mateo resident, who plans to remain in the Bay Area with his wife and three children, is walking away from a $230,000 annual salary.

But Feinstein isn't worried about money. "I expect to be able to replace my income and make even more," he said, quickly adding, "but that isn't what motivates me."

Other than saying he wants to start his own business and is meeting with a range of potential partners, Feinstein wouldn't divulge his career plans. "I'm still exploring a lot of options," he insisted.

A replacement for Feinstein will be found via a nationwide search, said Harold Zlot, the JCF president. A search committee of eight to 10 members will likely be formed at JCF's next board meeting, scheduled for Thursday.

Alan Rothenberg, the former JCF president, has been asked to sit on the committee. "It's real important who we choose next," he said. "It sends out a very loud message."

He said the committee will not limit its search to people in the federation system. "We have to find someone who can prove federation's relevance to the next generation, to find someone who is exciting to younger people," Rothenberg said. "It's hard to find people with that kind of vision."

Zlot, who is working closely with president-elect John Goldman, said it was far too early to discuss candidates for the impending vacancy.

However, Jewish community insiders threw out the names of Nate Levine, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and Rabbi Doug Kahn, executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council.

"I'm honored that my name came up, but I'm pretty pre-occupied right now with making sure we save the JCC," Levine said Tuesday.

Levine, who was a high-level director at JCF under both Feinstein and his predecessor, Rabbi Brian Lurie, is overseeing a $70 million, three-year project that includes building a new JCC in San Francisco. "I've got my hands full," Levine said.

The JCF search committee will be hard-pressed to come up with an ideal executive for the job, said one community lay person who didn't want to be named.

"Large-city federations all across the country are crying out for senior executive talent," he said. "It's not as if dynamic federation leaders are a dime a dozen."

Lurie agreed. "It's a little traumatic," the president of the Jewish Museum San Francisco said. "The federation's big challenge is that they've got to find the right person. It won't be easy."

Zlot said an interim director will be appointed to assist with the transition.

Candidates for that position — and perhaps for the permanent position — include Stacie Hirshman, the JCF's associate executive director and director of the Israel and overseas department, and Ed Cushman, the JCF's assistant executive director and director of the annual campaign. Cushman was the chief executive director of the Jewish Community Federation of Orange County from 1991 through 1998.

Another interim candidate is Phyllis Cook, the executive director of the JCF's Jewish Community Endowment Fund. She served as interim director nine years ago, during the gap between Lurie's 18 years on the job and Feinstein's service.

In a letter e-mailed throughout the Jewish community this week, Feinstein wrote that he will "stay on" through the end of August "to facilitate an orderly transition."

In an interview, he said that means he will continue working every day, although he might take some vacation time. He also promised to remain available as a consultant to JCF through June 2001.

"I'm sorry that he's moving on, but I know he'll stay involved in the Jewish community in a new capacity," said Anita Friedman, the executive director of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children's Services. "He has a deep personal devotion to the Jewish community."

Friedman, whose organization received more than $500,000 from the JCF last year, has had a 20-year professional relationship and friendship with Feinstein.

She had good things to say about Feinstein, as did Zlot, who lauded Feinstein for "many notable achievements during his tenure."

Zlot cited the Gift of Israel program, which helps send Bay Area children on trips to the Holy Land; the Israel Center, a clearinghouse of Israel information in San Francisco; and the Teen Initiative, a get-teens-involved program JCF spearheaded six years ago.

Kahn said he worked closely with Feinstein on many projects. "I have genuinely enjoyed working with and learning from Wayne," the JCRC head said. "I have consistently been impressed with his intelligence and analytical skills and his wisdom."

Community leaders praised Feinstein as a solid fund-raiser, someone who is an expert at articulating the role of diaspora Jews.

The JCF annual revenues when he took over in 1991 were approximately $31 million. This year, Feinstein estimated total revenues will be $91 million, from endowment gifts as well as the annual campaign.

However, Feinstein's tenure has also included a handful of shortcomings, according to people in the local Jewish community, most of whom refused to attach their names to any criticisms.

Feinstein's interpersonal and leadership skills came under fire, with people pointing to low morale and high turnover of personnel at JCF. Some said he lacks warmth and has an autocratic style.

"His strengths were programming and fund-raising but he never enjoyed being an administrator," Rothenberg said.

One person criticized Feinstein for not having fresh approaches to significant problems that many federations have been facing in recent years, such as balancing funding for Israel with needs at home.

"Were there any new directions under his tenure? I can't identify any," said one board member who didn't want to be named.

"Wayne worked as hard as he could and did the best job that he could," said Lurie. "He was totally committed to the Jewish community and Jewish causes, and is a lover of Israel. He gave it his all. Did he fall short? Sure. Did I fall short? Absolutely."

Lurie refused to elaborate on how Feinstein came up short, saying only, "It's a tough job. He gave it his best shot."

Added Rothenberg: "I think he's given us a lot of progress to build on."

Feinstein was 39 when he became JCF's top executive in 1991. He held a similar position with the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for five years before that, and was the executive vice president of the Jewish Welfare Federation in Detroit for four years.

In the late 1970s, he was hired by Lurie to serve as the S.F.-based federation's assistant executive director and campaign director. Lurie had previously hired Feinstein to work at United Jewish Appeal in New York.

After nearly three decades in Jewish communal service, Feinstein said he is now eager to join the private sector.

He said he is considering becoming an interim CEO for a start-up company or launching an "executive coaching" business.

He might also hook up with an Israeli partner looking to expand its business in the United States.

Another possibility is going back to a field has long interested him — advocacy work on behalf of immigrants or the elderly.

"These are all areas I have strong interest in. I'm just trying to find workable options," he said. "I'm fortunate that I can go some time before I have to grab at a job."

Andy Altman-Ohr

Andy Altman-Ohr was J.’s managing editor and Hardly Strictly Bagels columnist until he retired in 2016 to travel and live abroad. He and his wife have a home base in Mexico, where he continues his dalliance with Jewish journalism.