Night to honor incoming S.F. federation president Koshland

When James Koshland assumes the presidency of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation this summer, he won’t have to deal with a learning curve.

Koshland has long been a fixture in the Bay Area Jewish community, having served on the board of directors for the federation and the Jewish Community Endowment Fund, as well as countless other boards and committees.

Now Koshland is poised for a double honor. Not only will he become the new federation president on July 1, replacing outgoing president John Pritzker, he will also receive the Albert L. Schultz Jewish Community Center’s 2008 Rambam’s Ladder Award.

At the JCC’s annual dinner and auction March 16, Koshland will be saluted for his role in fundraising for the Taube-Koret Campus for Jewish Life and the future Oshman Family JCC in Palo Alto. Koshland is the president of the Taube-Koret Campus.

Koshland, 56, of Atherton, takes the award in stride and is quick to credit others. “I’m the symbol,” he says. “I don’t deserve it, but it’s an honor. These are wonderful projects, and there were times we didn’t think we’d get there.”

As incoming federation president, he knows he will face many challenges. One of his top priorities: strengthening the federation’s ties to the burgeoning Jewish community in the South Bay.

“We need to decide how to develop outreach and community building there,” he says. “Especially in the South Bay, there’s a lot of wealth and young people, and they don’t always look to the federation for ideas on philanthropy. We’re going to have to try to relate to them as partners.”

He also looks forward to planning the federation’s 100th anniversary bash in 2010.

More immediately, however, he and his colleagues among the lay leadership will be doing their best to ensure a smooth transition to the federation’s incoming CEO — whoever that person might be. The post has been vacant for most of the last year.

One aspect of federation that Koshland feels has worked very well is the annual campaign. Even with no CEO at the helm, the federation has met or exceeded annual campaign targets and expectations.

“We’re way ahead,” he said, adding a cautionary note. “One thing we always struggle with is that the federation is both a community builder and a fundraiser. I think we focus a little too much on the fundraising.

“We have to relate better to the younger generation — people under 40,” he continued. “And we have to try to build community.”

That should come easily to Koshland, who hails from one of the Bay Area’s oldest and most community-minded Jewish families. His ancestors came to San Francisco from Boston during the Gold Rush. His grandfather, Daniel Koshland Sr., married Eleanor Haas and helped run Levi Strauss for decades.

Koshland’s father, the late Daniel Koshland Jr., was a respected U.C. Berkeley biochemistry professor and philanthropist.

Down through the generations, the Koshland family devoted much of its philanthropy to the Jewish community. James Koshland says he’s “very blessed to have that in my blood. As my grandfather and father always said, it’s much better to be involved, so I got involved. I’m the lucky one.”

A corporate attorney with the Palo Alto firm DLA Piper, Koshland works primarily in the high-tech sector and venture capital. He also sits on the board of Levi Strauss. He says in his work he facilitates transactions, which is not unlike the tasks awaiting him at the federation.

Koshland’s wife, Cathy, is a U.C. Berkeley professor of engineering and public health. The couple has three grown children and one grandchild.

As for the future of the federation, Koshland knows times have changed, and he expects the organization to adapt.

“Our relationship with agencies has to be more of a partner than parent figure,” he says. “Whether it has to do with aging or Jewish education, we need to be the convener of agencies. We’re no longer the sheriff.”

The Rambam’s Ladder Award Dinner and Auction honoring James Koshland takes place 5 p.m. March 16 at the Palo Alto Hills Golf and Country Club, 3000 Alexis Drive, Palo Alto. Tickets: $175 per person. Tables of 10 may be purchased for $1,500. Information: (650) 852-3512 or

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.