East Bay federation announces layoffs

Anticipating steep shortfalls in donations, the board of directors of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay last week announced the elimination of five staff positions.

Among those departing are Chief Operating Officer Stephen Lasser and Valerie Jonas, director of the Contra Costa County/Tri-Valleys/Tri-Cities area office. Also cut were an assistant director of youth programs, a campaign associate and a staffer in human resources.

“The challenging economic climate led us to a realization that the campaign was not going to achieve the level of fund-raising from the past year,” said Rabbi James Brandt, acting CEO of the federation. “We’re taking steps proactively to ensure the dollars we’re raising are preserved for community allocations and grant-making.”

Calling the layoffs a “proactive step,” Brandt, who replaced CEO Loren Basch in mid-December, said the federation’s annual campaign is “on pace” for the fiscal year. The dollar target has been lowered, however, from last year’s $3.4 million to $3 million for the current campaign.

“We set that goal based on our ability to forecast,” Brandt added. “We are trying to be realistic.”

In a Jan. 30 e-mail to board members of federation entities, Brandt and federation president Rob Ruby explained that Jewish educational services and community outreach will be consolidated within the federation’s Center for Jewish Living and Learning. Sam Strauss, currently director of outreach for the CJLL, will become marketing coordinator.

Director of Community Programs Riva Gambert will coordinate outreach in Jonas’ former region. The federation’s satellite office at the Contra Costa Jewish Community Center will remain open, Brandt said.

“As a Jewish professional, this causes me great pain,” Brandt said of the layoffs. “These are fine people. This is happening to federations and Jewish organizations across the country. We just need to get through these times, and make sure the families that are suffering get help.”

Brandt insisted the federation’s various community services and grants remain intact, though he worries about the deepening global economic crisis and its potential to inflict more local damage.

“Are we stretched? Of course,” he said. But he maintained that people are taking the layoffs in stride. “People understand this was something that had to be done. Even the people laid off had a great understanding.”

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.