The Steuart Street entrance to the offices of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Inset: Federation CEO Danny Grossman. (Photos/from file)
The Steuart Street entrance to the offices of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation. Inset: Federation CEO Danny Grossman. (Photos/from file)

Federation CEO Danny Grossman to step down at end of year

After 6½ years as CEO of the San Francisco–based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Danny Grossman will step down at the end of the year. His last day will be Dec. 31.

A consummate professional with years of experience in Jewish communal life in the Bay Area, Grossman told J. this was not a decision he took lightly. “This is my community, I love this community,” he said. “This was a really hard decision. But I felt it was the right time.”

A San Francisco native, Grossman was recruited in April 2015 after serving on several local Jewish boards, including the Federation itself, and demonstrable success as a business entrepreneur and a diplomat, with seven years in the U.S. Foreign Service.

He would not be leaving this year, he told J., if he didn’t feel he’d done what he set out to do.

“It was really important to me, starting from where I did 6½ years ago, to put the Federation in a stronger position, because I believe so strongly in its role in the community,” he said. “And I feel like we’ve achieved a lot, and we have a good strategic plan going forward, with strong leadership both at the lay and professional levels.”

Members of the Federation board, who learned of Grossman’s plans this week, agree — not, perhaps, that it’s the right time for him to step down (on the contrary, they’d like him to stay), but that the Federation is in a very good place, and much of that is due to his leadership.

That’s certainly the opinion of board chair Arthur Slepian, who says he joined the board at the start of 2020 so he could work with Grossman. “I and the Federation board have immense gratitude to Danny for all that has been accomplished during his leadership,” he told J.  “Danny is leaving the Federation in a much, much stronger position than we were in when he stepped into the CEO role six years ago.”

Slepian and others point to three main areas where Grossman’s careful hand was evident. First was meeting the challenge of the Covid pandemic, “by quickly adapting our work so we could help the community,” Slepian said. Not only did the Federation step up to the plate with special Covid grants, they also convened educational webinars for leaders of local Jewish organizations to help them navigate the crisis in their own institutions.

Danny is leaving the Federation in a much, much stronger position than we were in when he stepped into the CEO role.

Second, Grossman has, together with Slepian, moved to make the Federation leadership reflect the growing diversity of the Bay Area’s Jewish community. It was Grossman, board members say, who personally recruited four young Jews of color to join the board last month, becoming one of the first Federations in the country to take such a meaningful step.

Third was his role in overseeing the merger of the East Bay and S.F.-based Federations, a process just now nearing completion.

Board member Jerry Yanowitz, who sits on the executive committees of both Federations, puts it bluntly. “Without Danny’s encouragement and who he is as a person, the coming together of the East Bay and San Francisco Federations would not have happened,” he said. “The fact that it’s been successful, when most [mergers] in the national system have not been, is largely due to his leadership. It really reflects on who Danny is as a person.”

Grossman’s personality, the warmth and caring, visible to those who work with him, is mentioned again and again, along with his business acumen and Jewish spirit, as adding to his effectiveness as a communal leader.

“Danny’s leadership is founded on a deep and visible commitment to Jewish values, and that, combined with his unique mix of integrity, empathy and authenticity, has inspired so many people to want to work with him to move our community forward,” Slepian told J.

It won’t be easy to replace him, board members agree. Slepian hopes to name someone by next week to head the search committee, which will look at candidates both nationally and within the organization, he said. If the process is not completed by Dec. 31, they will consider interim solutions. Slepian says he is “really confident” that the Federation is in a good place to recruit “someone fabulous,” because Grossman is leaving at a time when the Federation is enjoying financial stability, strong leadership, and clear strategic direction.

Still, Yanowitz notes, “They are very big shoes to fill.”

What will Grossman do after he steps down? He hasn’t really thought about it yet, he says. He might finally get around to writing a book about his experiences as a diplomat in the former Soviet Union: He served in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) in the mid-1980s before being expelled on suspicion of spying, a charge many chalk up to his active support of Jewish refuseniks — work he was proud to do, he has often said.

Beyond that, he has no firm plans. “I mean, I look forward to recharging,” he admitted. “But I’m not leaving this community. I love this community.”

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor emerita of J. She can be reached at [email protected].