Leading America's Jews through a crisis

#36 - American Jewish leaders: William Daroff and Russell F. Robinson

(L-R) William Daroff & Russell Robinson (Photo credits: JNF / Marc Israel Sellem) (photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
(L-R) William Daroff & Russell Robinson (Photo credits: JNF / Marc Israel Sellem)
(photo credit: JERUSALEM POST)
William Daroff and Russell Robinson are two of the most high-profile American Jewish organizational professionals doing their part for the Jewish people and for Israel. But they’re on two very different trajectories – one has spent more than two decades leading his organization and meeting his objectives, and the other has only this year stepped into one of the most powerful positions in the Jewish world.
Robinson has served as the Jewish National Fund’s (JNF) chief executive officer since September 1997, as the organization’s youngest CEO.
People generally associate JNF with trees, and indeed, Robinson is proud of the efforts at the greening of Israel.
“Because of JNF-USA and its affiliates, Israel was the only country to enter the 21st century with a net gain in trees,” he told The Jerusalem Post earlier this year. When a single tree can absorb as much as 50 pounds of CO2 per year, planting trees with JNF-USA is an effective way for companies to achieve their goals.” But under his leadership, JNF has grown beyond its roots. Robinson has been instrumental in developing successful programs for Israel’s water innovation industry, Zionist advocacy and education, community development, environmental work, and the organization’s Billion-Dollar Roadmap initiative, which seeks to bring 500,000 and 300,000 new residents to Israel’s South and North respectively.
Robinson told the Post that his goal is to build a platform – “From Birth To The Boardroom,” – to strengthen JNF and Israel – for the next century.
“My personal and professional plans are to make sure that when I leave, the person who takes over will see a lineup of people knocking on the front door saying, ‘I want to be involved in Jewish life and connecting to Israel through the Jewish National Fund.’” DAROFF BECAME the chief executive officer of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations on February 1, taking the helm from Malcolm Hoenlein, an institution unto himself.
Filling those big shoes, Daroff is the senior professional guiding the Conference’s agenda on behalf of the 53 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life.
Previously, he was the senior vice president for Public Policy and Director of the Washington office of the Jewish Federations of North America, where he was the chief lobbyist and principal spokesperson on public policy and international affairs for 146 Jewish Federations and more than 300 independent communities. It was there he became known as a unifier of the disparate Jewish community.
In addition to being a social networking pioneer with some 45,000 followers on Twitter, Daroff is a key player in policy circles, advising policymakers and elected officials on Jewish communal concerns – namely those related to the US-Israel relationship, the Middle East conflict, Jewish communal security, antisemitism, and efforts to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. He is also a leader in the worldwide fight to combat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy.
Since taking his position, Daroff has had to deal with the devastating effects on the coronavirus pandemic on Jewish communal life in the US.
“Most nonprofits do not have a huge rainy-day fund,” he told the Post’s Omri Nahmias in May. “These agencies are focused on providing critical services to help people and not on holding funds back, so they have big financial cushions to rely upon.” But perhaps his most formidable challenge in his new position will be to unify the polarized Jewish community together in times of political division that has never seen a greater divide.