Russell Robinson, Eric Fingerhut: Striving to better the Jewish world

#46: Russell F. Robinson & Eric Fingerhut

Eric Fingerhut & Russell Robinson (photo credit: COURTESY/JNF-USA)
Eric Fingerhut & Russell Robinson
(photo credit: COURTESY/JNF-USA)
Russell F. Robinson and Eric Fingerhut are two of the most influential figures leading American Jewry today. Robinson is CEO of Jewish National Fund-USA (JNF-USA), a position he has held since 1998, while Fingerhut – a former congressman who most recently served as president of Hillel International – took over on August 6 from Jerry Silverman as president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. JFNA is an umbrella organization representing 147 Jewish Federations and more than 300 communities, raising and distributing more than $2 billion annually. Supporting social welfare and education, JFNA protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide, especially in the fields of caregiving, aging, philanthropy, disability, foreign policy, homeland security and health care.
Robinson has been lauded for bringing JNF-USA to new levels, both in public support and donations, while Fingerhut – who at Hillel developed groundbreaking partnerships, asserted leadership in advocacy for Israel and doubled its annual revenue from $90 million to nearly $200 million – promises to energize the role of Federations across the US. Robinson resides in New Jersey and works out of JNF’s national office in New York, while Fingerhut hails from Cleveland, Ohio.
When Fingerhut’s appointment was announced, JFNA Board of Trustees chairman Mark Wilf said that, “for more than half a decade, the Jewish world has watched as Eric spearheaded transformational change at Hillel. With a clear vision for the future of Jewish life on college campuses and universities, he took a 90-year-old organization and made it new again. We believe he can bring the same energy and imagination to Federation. He’s the right leader at the right time.”
“I grew up in Cleveland,” Fingerhut recounts. “My mother was a receptionist at the Federation-supported Cleveland Jewish News for 30 years. My father sold insurance. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my early life was shaped by Federation. I went to preschool at the JCC. I vividly remember carrying signs in the walkathons standing up for Israel during the 1967 and 1973 wars. Never did I imagine that nearly a half-century later, I would have the opportunity to lead a movement that has impacted my life and so many others. It has a rich history, and I believe it can have an even more impactful future. I am excited to take on that challenge.”
In an interview Robinson explained that JNF-USA has always been strategic in the way it makes funding decisions.
“Our Blueprint Negev Campaign started almost 20 years ago and JNF-USA made a bold statement of bringing 500,000 people to the Negev. That was our strategic objective, and we set our plans of developing six new communities in the Negev. We established these new communities to start a movement of young people believing there was an opportunity to live in the Negev. We focused on strengthening Beersheba as a strategic objective as well. We knew Yeroham, Dimona, Sderot, Ofakim and Arad were important – yet without a strong, viable center, these communities would not be strong.”
Robinson says his goal for the coming year is to expand JNFuture, JNF-USA’s donors from the 25- to 40-year-old demographic.
“Today, it is the fastest growing part of our donor database,” Robinson said. “ Our president made a declaration at a recent Board of Directors meeting that every committee, from Finance to Constitution to Investment, will have at least two members of JNFuture serving on them. We are building a platform – ‘From Birth To The Boardroom,’ – a continuum of making sure that life at JNF is strong for the next 100 years and beyond. We will connect with you from a tree planted on Tu Bishvat in your fourth-grade classroom to you serving as a leader of our organization.
“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.’”