Detroit Federation CEO Kaufman will take a “mini gap year” and continue to consult on Federation programs.
Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit CEO Scott Kaufman today told his executive committee, staff and Federation board members he was leaving his job after a decade at the helm. He says he plans to focus his efforts on leading some innovative, collaborative projects aimed at strengthening Jewish communities.
Kaufman of Huntington Woods had long been involved in lay leadership roles in the Jewish community before becoming head of Federation at age 43.
Reached mid-day, he interrupted hugs and congratulations to talk to the JN briefly about why he was making this move.
“It’s been 10 years — that’s a long time in a very challenging job. I’ve been all in all of the time,” he said. “My role is building community — the community works together well; we collaborate well; we now put community before brand. The community is better off than it was a decade ago.
“What I’ve learned should be exported. The Detroit lessons can go broader. I was the right leader for then, now someone can build on that and take us to the new level with new energy.”
While Kaufman says he has no definite plans, he does have ideas of how to spend his time after leaving his position at the end of November.
“I want to balance my life a little,” he said. “I want to take some time off this winter to recharge my batteries — a mini gap year. I don’t want later to wish I had done that. I’ll do some bucket list things, like travel and skiing, which is a major passion. I took a week’s vacation this summer studying at the Hartman Institute in Israel. I really enjoy learning and want to take more classes.
“But I am not moving. If I can be helpful with anything, I’m just a phone call away. This community is in my blood, and I am not walking away.”
He will serve as a consultant to Federation and continue to lead the development of JLIFE, a new platform to engage individuals through events and programs — a platform of Jewish connectivity that can be useful here and in other Jewish communities, he says. And, in January, he will volunteer as chair of the board of Leading Edge, the Alliance for Excellence in Jewish Leadership.
During Kaufman’s tenure, the Jewish Federation increased its endowments and other assets from $450 million to nearly $700 million, the highest level in its history. The Centennial Fund was launched and has now raised close to $240 million to support a variety of core Jewish areas.
Kaufman also led the effort to reimagine young adult engagement in Metro Detroit, resulting in CommunityNEXT, NEXTGen Detroit and other affinities-based outreach approaches that have become national models. Also, under his watch, Federation launched JHELP, a youth mental health initiative, and the Community-Wide Security Program.
His time at Federation was not without controversy. When the Jewish Community Center closed its location in Oak Park in 2015 due to financial difficulties, Federation found a donor and stepped in to try to replace the building with a new structure that would be a gathering place in the area and home to several agencies. The old building was razed but tenants needed to sustain a new building could not be secured, and it never materialized. Community members still express bitterness.
“I am deeply grateful to Scott for his remarkable commitment and service,” says Beverly Liss, Federation president. “While we will all greatly miss his many talents as an exec — along with his warmth, humor and tremendous personal integrity — we are excited for him to continue his journey as a creative visionary and leader.”
Alan Kaufman, president of the United Jewish Foundation, the Federation’s fiduciary partner that holds, manages and distributes the Jewish community’s assets, said, “We are indebted to Scott for his extraordinary passion, commitment and hard work on behalf of Jewish Detroit. He is a unique leader whose inclusive approach has truly made an important difference for a number of people across our Jewish community.”
For his part, Kaufman sees his position as “one of the major Jewish jobs open in the country.”
“We’re in a good place, a good community with a wonderful professional team and lay leaders. It’s a good opportunity for someone,” he said.
A search committee will be formed and will begin an extensive national search in the coming weeks, according to a Federation press release.
“I am incredibly grateful for having this opportunity to work for our community on behalf of the Jewish people with incredible people, professionals, lay leaders, donors, organizations,” he said. “It’s the biggest blessing in my life. An honor and a privilege. I am very proud of what we have accomplished together.”