Cushman leaves JCF to head up Hebrew Free Loan

In the past 105 years, the San Francisco office of Hebrew Free Loan Association has had just five executive directors. The sixth, Ed Cushman, says nobody expects No. 7 to arrive on the scene for a long, long time.

"One of the things that's so fascinating about this agency is when you go to the office, they have a picture of every president, every executive director the agency has had going back to 1897," said Cushman, 52. "It's not often you find agencies that have that kind of continuity."

Cushman left positions last Friday as assistant executive director and as campaign director at the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, posts he held since 1998, and will move next door to take over at HFLA on July 1.

The San Diego-born Cushman served in his most recent position at the JCF for four years, after starting his career in Jewish communal service at the JCF. In 1980, he began a seven-year stint in the JCF's Young Adult Division and planning and allocations department. Then in 1987, he moved to Cleveland to assume a campaign chair position and, three years later, he took the reigns of the Orange County federation as executive director.

The HFLA's director for the last decade, Irwin Wiener, retired in April and has since relocated to Arizona.

Cushman declined to elaborate on specific plans for HFLA without first presenting them to the board, but he does intend to look at alternate fund-raising methods and would like to broaden the scope of HFLA's mission by targeting "fragile Jewish communities" elsewhere in the world.

HFLA board members point to a variety of reasons why Cushman was a unanimous choice to succeed Wiener.

"He has a lot of experience and talents. He has prior top executive experience and is very familiar with the Jewish community and other Jewish social service agencies in this area," said Stuart Pollak, the organization's board president.

"We want to increase the interaction of our agency with the work of other agencies. We want to be able to complement the work of other Jewish agencies. Ed is very familiar with who's out there."

Cushman's many years in the Bay Area — he first moved here in 1970 — were seen as a major plus by HFLA's board. His experience as a federation campaign director was also key.

"In addition to giving money, you have to raise money. We give out half our corpus, so it's important to raise money so we can continue to give it out," said Len Cohn, an HFLA board member and immediate past president.

"Ed is very warm and understanding, and that's especially important at Hebrew Free Loan. A number of people come in here and, certainly, nothing gets out as far as who gets loans; it's a very confidential operation. Irwin did a superb job, but I feel Ed can bring the organization along even further."

Added Pollak: "We want to expand our services, and in order to do that, we have to be able to raise funds. I think Ed will be very helpful in our efforts to do that."

Cushman, who is married with two teenage children, said he didn't want to leave the Bay Area, but felt he needed "a change of pace" and "missed being an executive director." Sam Salkin, the JCF's chief operating officer, confirmed that Cushman's move is unrelated to the federation's recent layoff of a dozen employees.

"It's a wonderful opportunity for me to be involved and help lead a direct service agency," said Cushman.

"This is an agency that has just a tremendously positive reputation in the community. It's amazing; since this became public and people have been congratulating me, almost everyone has some story about the Hebrew Free Loan. Whether they received college loans or co-signed a loan for their niece or nephew, whatever it might be, the agency has some deep tentacles into this community going back 105 years. It's just a great opportunity for me."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.