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The Aronson Factor
rom the moment the North American fed-
erated network was formed four years ago
through the merger of three major Jewish
appeals organizations, the Detroit
Federation's top professional has been wooed directly
and indirectly to lead the United Jewish Communities.
Once again, speculation over who should be presi-
dent of the New York-based UJC centers on Robert
Aronson, chief executive officer of the Jewish
Federation of Metropolitan Detroit. Stephen
Hoff man's three-year stint as president will end in June
Interest in Aronson is not surprising. He is a super
fund-raiser who knows his way around the convoluted
federated world. He also is savvy when it
comes to understanding Israel-diaspora rela-
Aronson is widely respected for elevating
the Detroit Federation to national status. Detroit is the
10th-largest U.S. Jewish community in population,
but ranks second among the larger federations in per-
capita campaign giving, according to the UJC.
Aronson, the top-paid Federation leader nationwide,
isn't saying whether he'd take the UJC job if offered.
No formal offer has been made, so Aronson feels it
would be presumptuous to comment.
He surely is mulling whether he wants to take on an
organization that has been almost dysfunctional from
the get-go. Would the job require him to fix something
that may be beyond anybody's managerial skill set?
The selection process could take months, so
Federation leadership must do all it can to help
Aronson remain effective here in Detroit during a peri-
od of uncertainty.
This year, Aronson faced the worst fiscal crisis since
coming to the Detroit Federation from the Milwaukee
Federation in 1989. Federation had to make across-
the-board budget cuts to solve a projected $6.2 million
revenue shortfall in the general fund, which feeds com-
munal allocations. The impact of those cuts will rever-
berate for years in some cases.
The crisis did spur creation of the Detroit Legacy
Fund. The hope is to endow it with
$50 million generated by planned
giving. Over time, Federation's gen-
eral fund should gain from this unre-
stricted endowment for urgent and
planned community needs.
Federation's shortfall caused staff
layoffs, domestic pullbacks, less over-
seas support and other reductions.
Federation leaders made conscious
decisions about the $50 million
spent in the community from the
general fund over the past nine years.
Still, more vigilant spending via
fewer or delayed commu-
nal grants might have
saved some of the jobs and
services that were cut.
Aronson and his staff learned the
hard way that Federation must
engage more self-discipline, that it
no longer can be the source for any
and all financial relief
Challenges aside, Aronson inspired
the hugely successful $60 million
Millennium Campaign for Detroit's
Jewish Future a few years ago.
He also counsels mega-donors
William Davidson, an Auburn Hills
industrialist, and Michael Steinhardt
of New York, chairman of Jewish
Renaissance Media, parent company
of the Detroit Jewish News. So it's
possible he would choose to devote all of his time to
foundation work after leaving Federation.
Hoffman is a good executive who has instituted
some order. But complaints about its vision, direction
and priorities for member federations and overseas
partners haunt the UJC.
The UJC was created in 2000 from the merger of
the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish
Appeal and United Israel Appeal. Detroiters Joel
Tauber and Conrad Giles, both lay leaders, helped give
THAT THE PRIW
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ahatir Mohamad really should know
better. The prime minister of
Malaysia, on his way to regional eco-
nomic talks in Bangkok, dropped in on an
Islamic summit meeting and offered
his views on how the world operates.
"The Europeans killed 6 million
Jews out of 12 million," he noted,
"but today the Jews rule the world by proxy.
They get others to fight and die for them."
It wasn't clear which wars he was thinking
about; the one that the Palestinians have waged
for three years against Israel presumably doesn't
count in his reckoning of how things are in the
21st century. What was really striking was his
readiness to embrace the core belief of anti-
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NATI oNS 114 AT
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it immediate respect and resonance.
The next president will preside over whether it sur-
vives as North American Jewry's central fund-raiser.
We're hard-pressed to say Detroit Jewry is better specif-
ically because of UJC initiatives.
His skills make Robert Aronson a sought-after exec-
utive. So the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan
Detroit had better begin planning for the day when he
is no longer its major fund-raiser. His impact on this
community is immense. ❑
Generally Off Base
Semites the world over who have never stopped
blaming someone else for the troubles that they
make for themselves.
Never mind that the Arab world has had sev-
eral trillion dollars in oil revenues
over the last century and finds itself
with twice as many people and four
times as much poverty.
Never mind that much of Asia has boomed
without any notable guidance from Islam, or
from Judaism for that matter. In Mahatir's view,
whatever is wrong can be traced to those
sneaky, pesky Jews.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion are alive
and well and living in Singapore.
It's incumbent that we stay vigilant. El
rmy Lt. Gen. William
Boykin has been going
Christian breakfasts and prayer
meetings to share his
belief in the rightness
deputy undersecretary of
defense for intelligence and
war-fighting support, seems to
be violating military ethical
codes and common sense in
making those appearances
while in uniform.
The general has as much
right as any American to his
beliefs and to freedom of
speech. And we can't argue
with his statements about
being bent on
But he needs to lose the
khakis and the stars when he is
out proclaiming that America
is "a Christian nation" and
that President Bush is in the
White House "because God
put him there for a time such