Eric Fingerhut, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), faced unprecedented challenges this past year. Leading a legacy organization for four years, he withstood criticism from Jewish groups across the political landscape and navigated pressures that threatened the organization’s core position.
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However, with his background as a congressman and leader of Hillel International, Fingerhut drew upon his astute political acumen. Not only did he weather these storms, but he also emerged as a pioneering figure in leadership. During the financial turmoil triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, he steered JFNA – and, in many ways, all significant Jewish entities – and safeguarded them through financial woes. His political savvy enabled Jewish organizations to secure funds, and he spearheaded efforts to raise hundreds of millions of shekels for the urgent aid of Ukrainian Jews.
This year, however, presented a different set of complexities. Fingerhut endeavored to bridge the gap between the liberal American Jewish community, the Israeli government, and its society. At the JFNA’s General Assembly held in Israel, he navigated the tightrope of diplomacy. On one hand, anti-judicial reform activists pressured him to revoke the slated speech of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who eventually withdrew). Conversely, proponents of the reform sought amplified representation. This culminated in a riveting panel moderated by Fingerhut, featuring resistance movement leaders and MK Simcha Rothman, a key player in the proposed reforms.
In a clandestine meeting with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, Fingerhut aimed to convey the sentiments of American Jews regarding this intricate situation.
One can only hope that in the coming year, prominent figures like Netanyahu will recognize the importance of dialogue with pivotal Diaspora Jewish leaders like Fingerhut.