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November 14, 1986 - Image 14

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1986-11-14

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Dr. Conrad Giles
talks about his goals
as the new president
of the Jewish Welfare

A Prescription
For Progress



onrad Giles says that some
people congratulate him on
his becoming president of the
Jewish Welfare Federation
and others offer him condo-

But no one has to grieve for
me," he says with a smile. Although
he estimates that the presidency will
take a minimum of .20 hours of his
time a week, Giles says the leader-
ship role "has to be your Number
One priority, and something you
think you can do well, or you don't
do it."
Giles, who has served on Jewish
communal boards in Detroit for the
last 16 years, seems well prepared
for the task at hand. He blends a
pragmatic approach that reflects his
scientific training and a °compassion
for human need that comes from his
profession as well as his strong sense
of Jewish heritage.
During a recent interview at
• Sinai Hospital, where he teaches (as
well as maintaining a private prac-
tice and co-chairing pediatric oph-
thalmology at Wayne State and
Children's Hospital), - Giles articu-
lated several of his major goals, pre-

sent and future, and was as comfort-
able discussing the philosophy of
Federation as he was in enumerat-
ing its practical accomplishments.
A warm, thoughtful man with
an organized mind and manner —
he referred several times during our
talk to a short, hand-written list of
points to emphasize — Giles stressed
that the community needs to deal
with modern problems in a modern
way, whether they require a
business-like approach to financial
strains or a scientific approach to
information-gathering needs.
Such a view is clearly in line
with that of his predecessor, and
close personal friend, Joel Tauber,
who broadened the base of Federa-
tion in the community and moder-
nized it professionally during his
three years as president. (See
Both men noted that one of the
reasons why Detroit is blessed with
what is considered to be the leading
Jewish federation in the country is
the combination of a proud history of
leadership and commitment, an ideal
size and demographic consideration,
and a strong sense of interpersonal
Such interpersonal relationships
within the Jewish community began
for Giles, 52, a native of Manhattan,

soon after he moved here 23 years
ago when he became involved in
young leadership activities with
people like David Hermelin, David
Page and Tauber. When people ask
me why I got involved in Jewish
communal life," said Giles, "I tell
them it's because I was born Jewish.
But while the initial contact here
was social, the thread that runs
through this commitment is the fact
that this Jewish community has the
finest, most dedicated people in the
world in Jewish communal life." He
has the highest praise for the Allied
Jewish Campaign's leadership, not-
ing that "motivating lay leadership
is a simple task" because of the high
quality of the people involved.
Asked to describe his style,
Giles said that he is "very open" and
has no hidden agenda. But his public
agenda is long and ambitious.
His desire to make inroads into
those elements of Jewish community
not currently involved in communal
participation can be traced back, in
part, to what he calls his "schizop-
hrenic background," a childhood
steeped in Jewish tradition followed
by a decade of virtually no com-
munal participation.
His mother's family was from
Eastern Europe and his grand-
father's first cousin was the famed

writer Sholem Aleichem. His father's
family was from London, distantly
related to statesman Benjamin Dis-
raeli, who converted to Christianity
and denied his Jewish background.
Giles' father was president of his
synagogue in Rockville, Long Island,
and his mother knew Yiddish and
Hebrew and remembered sitting at
Sholem Aleichem's knee as a child,
watching him perform magic tricks.
Giles was raised on Manhattan's
Upper West Side in a Conservative
congregation, but in his post-bar
mitzvah years, caught up in the aca-
demic life of college and medical
training, he distanced himself from
Jewish activities.
That experience has left him
with a desire to reach out to unaffil-
iated Jews of all ages and bring
them into the community.
One of his goals as president is
to find out just how many Jews live
in metropolitan Detroit and to de-
termine what their Jewish needs
are. We basically know who's out
there," he said, but it's chutzpah to
act on a perception. As a scientist,
I'm more comfortable dealing with
hard data." He intends to commis-
sion a demographic study, as other
Jewish communities have done, to
provide an in-depth analysis and
needs assessment of the community.
"It's a cost-effective approach to
planning, with no real down-side to
it. We've done well until now with
soft data, but we could do a lot bet-
ter with hard data," said Giles, who
noted that while Federation is not a
business, it should be run in a
business-like way.
Another plan for the future is to
take a closer look at popular groups
that are not being served specifically
by Federation agencies, be they sing-
les or single-parent families, noting
that "one of the dangers of outreach
is not serving those we reach out to."

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