After a stint as interim CEO, Joy Sisisky has been appointed CEO of the S.F-based Jewish Community Federation.
After a stint as interim CEO, Joy Sisisky has been appointed CEO of the S.F-based Jewish Community Federation.

Joy Sisisky, Federation’s new CEO, will be 2nd woman leader in org’s history

The S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund board didn’t have to look far to find a leader to take the helm of the organization. The board this week voted unanimously to name current interim CEO Joy Sisisky as the Federation’s new CEO, effective July 1.

“Joy personifies the very best of the next generation of Jewish leaders,” Federation board chair Arthur Slepian told J. “She is a strong, strategic thinker, she works with great professionalism and competence, [and she] is an outstanding communicator and relationship builder who brings out the very best in the people around her.”

“I’m so excited and really honored,” said Sisisky, 46, who previously served as chief philanthropy officer for the Endowment Fund before becoming interim CEO in January after the departure of Danny Grossman. “There’s a lot of work ahead of us, but I’m up to the challenge.”

The challenges are many, among them the pandemic’s ongoing impact, roiling social issues and increasingly visible antisemitism. Yet Sisisky remains bullish about the Bay Area Jewish community, its institutions and its robust philanthropic culture.

“We continue to steward well in excess of $2 billion,” Sisisky said, referring to the combined Jewish philanthropic capital of the Federation and Endowment Fund. It provides grants and other support to Jewish agencies, camps, schools and institutions locally — covering the North Bay, East Bay, Peninsula and San Francisco — and in Israel. “The Endowment Fund facilitates over $150 million in grants [annually] that are donor recommended,” she said. “This year to date, we’ve already made 10,000 grants to 3,000 organizations.”

A native of Virginia, Sisisky grew up steeped in Jewish life. She earned a B.A. from Brandeis University in Near East and Judaic studies and politics, and two master’s degrees, including one in Jewish communal service from Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles.

After a stint at AIPAC, Sisisky became a fellow with the Joint Distribution Committee’s Ralph I. Goldman Fellowship in International Jewish Communal Service, living and working in Ukraine and Ethiopia. She also worked for the Jewish Federations of North America running the Lion of Judah endowment. Before moving west to join the S.F.-based Federation, she served for eight years as executive director of the Jewish Women’s Foundation of New York, which funds efforts to empower women and girls in New York, Israel and around the world.

Sisisky is the second woman to head the S.F. Federation after Jennifer Gorovitz, who served as CEO from 2009 to 2014. Only five women have been named CEO of comparably large federations in North America, a fact not lost on Sisisky, for whom women’s issues are paramount.

“It has always been a priority for me,” she said. “I am totally committed to diversity, equity and belonging. We have a commitment to advancing marginalized communities through [Federation] programming and giving opportunities, so it’s not a surprise that our Federation cares so deeply about the advancement of women. It doesn’t just happen because you wish it to.”

Board chair Slepian has known Sisisky since she joined the organization in 2016, and has been impressed by her abilities.

“[Our] endowment and philanthropic work has been reinvented and remade under her leadership,” he said. “In the middle of all this we had the Ukraine crisis emerge. She stepped forward and led our community with compassion, insight and knowledge in ways others couldn’t. It speaks to the breadth of the experience she’s had in her career.”

Since the Russian invasion on Feb. 24, the Federation’s Ukraine Emergency Fund has raised more than $3.3 million from nearly 1,500 donors. In addition, this past March, Sisisky and Slepian joined a contingent of other North American federation leaders on a mission to the Poland-Ukraine border.

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“There was no waiting around,” she said of taking that trip. “Our Federation’s historic partnership with global Jewish communities and the Joint Distribution Committee allowed us to welcome Jewish and non-Jewish [Ukrainian] refugees with compassion and open arms. My own family was from Ukraine, from the same city I lived in, Dnipro. I worked in the Jewish community in Donetsk and Donbas region, so it’s devastating to watch [the war there] unfold.”

Back at home, she is gratified the Federation managed to flourish through more than two years of the pandemic. Even with rising inflation sending shock waves throughout the economy,  Sisisky said giving from both the Federation itself and the donor-advised funds it manages have increased.

Expanding philanthropic innovations, such as giving circles (which allow people even of modest means to become philanthropists), remain a cornerstone of the Federation’s approach.

“When the community is inspired they can do great things together,” she said. “We’re not a bank. We want to put those assets to good use in the community. Like anybody in this business, [donors] pay attention to markets, and when they’re down, they still give, because they know the community may be in distress.”

Sisisky and her husband, Jonathan Salky, live in San Francisco and have two young children.

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.