New East Bay federation president: Theres a lot to do

Donald Brody loves to give people an earful. Whether it’s with the high-end loudspeakers his company makes, or discussing his passion for the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay.

Having recently been elected federation president, Brody certainly has the well-being of the Oakland-based agency in mind. In a period that has seen much change, including the departure of some high-profile staffers, Brody hopes to be a positive force in the year ahead.

Brody, 56, follows Eileen Ruby, who served as federation president for two years. Her tenure was marked by the arrival of new CEO Loren Basch and the federation’s relocation to its new headquarters on Grand Avenue.

The new president hopes his term will not feature similar fireworks. “There’s a lot to do,” he says. “But there’s a lot in place, too.”

In a speech delivered at the federation’s annual meeting in June, Brody outlined his main goals. Among them, to groom a new generation of leaders, to foster Jewish education in the East Bay, to bring more interfaith couples into Judaism and to increase the federation’s Israel advocacy.

Brody also wants to make structural changes. Most significantly, he says the federation should not be in the business of providing direct services, but rather in the sole business of raising money. This will mean agencies like the Berkeley Richmond Jewish Community Center and the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center would eventually detach from the federation and stand on their own.

“They always acted as if they were on their own,” he says. “You empower their boards, and they will attract greater depth of leadership.”

Brody says there is broad support for this idea within the community, and he hopes to implement the plan by next summer.

He is also happy to work with Basch.

“He’s found good professionals, including a new CFO [Jeff Fearn] and new Young Leadership director [Tova Grunes].

Fearn replaced retired CFO Deborah Garcia. In recent months, the East Bay federation has undergone a flurry of personnel changes. Rabbi Glenn Karonsky recently left his post as head of the Center for Jewish Living and Learning. Also departed, Jewish Community Foundation Executive Director Penny Sinder and Volunteer Action Center Director Ilana Schatz.

Brody is a familiar face at the federation. He’s been a member of the board for years, and since the mid-’80s he was a board member at the Berkley Richmond JCC.

A New Jersey native, Brody grew up in a home where volunteering for the federation and Jewish causes was a routine part of life.

He attended the University of Pennsylvania (where he met his future wife Toby Mickelson) and later earned a law degree at U.C. Berkeley. The couple settled permanently in the East Bay where Brody built a law practice.

A man of many avocations (boating, photography and rock ‘n’ roll among them), Brody was intrigued when a friend pitched the idea of buying out Sumiko, a Berkeley-based home audio company.

That was 10 years ago. Since then, as Sumiko’s CEO, he has helped steer the company to global success. Sumiko has 400 authorized U.S. dealers and eight product lines, including speakers, turntables and video projectors.

Brody and his wife, a learning specialist at Oakland’s Redwood Day School, also brought up three sons (two became b’nai mitzvah at Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom, the third in Jerusalem). The couple has sponsored the popular community High Holy Day services at the Berkeley Richmond JCC over the last few years.

Between family and career, how does Brody find the time to serve in such a prominent federation post? “How do I not have time?” he says. “It’s important to give something. My mother was very involved. This became a habit.”

Cultivating a habit of giving is Brody’s central goal. Though he is pleased with the federation’s ongoing campaign, he feels the East Bay has barely been tapped when it comes to Jewish philanthropy.

“A lot of money will be coming into my generation,” says Brody. “Up to $15 billion [in inherited wealth]. We’re going to see people with excess dollars to give. It should be fun.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.