Work is all in the family for new federation director

Even before Jon Friedenberg came to work for the Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, he had positive — and personal — associations with the organization.

After all, it was on a federation mission to Israel that he met his wife, Dodi Lazarow. What's more, his father-in-law worked at federations for years, most recently as executive director of a federation in central New Jersey.

In assuming the same position at the San Jose federation, the 35-year-old Friedenberg carried on the family tradition — and may well have established the country's first father-and-son-in-law team of federation executive directors.

"Judaism and the Jewish community are both very important to me," says Friedenberg, who assumed the position April 1.

He replaces Paul Ellenbogen, who left a year ago to work in the Jewish community on the East Coast. Janet Berg served as interim director of the federation, which covers most of Santa Clara County.

Though working at the federation itself is new to Friedenberg, Jewish communal work is not. He worked for four years as director of planned giving at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.

Following that, he returned to his native Bay Area to assume the position of major gifts director at the Mills Peninsula Hospital Foundation.

Then the federation position came his way.

Working in the Jewish community again is "a chance to come home," says Friedenberg, who grew up in South San Francisco and Hillsborough and attended Congregation Beth Israel-Judea in San Francisco.

Aside from liking the idea of contributing to Jewish communal life, "when you're working in the Jewish world, Jewish resources are easier to obtain and more accessible, and I like to take advantage of those."

Currently, Friedenberg and his wife live in San Mateo and belong to Peninsula Temple Beth El. They plan, however, to move farther south to be closer to both their jobs — she works as a technical support person and technical writer for a software company in Campbell.

Affable and good-humored, Friedenberg is the first to acknowledge that with its emphasis on raising big bucks, federation work can get very political at times.

That does not worry him, however. With two college degrees in political science — one from U.C. Berkeley and another from U.C. Davis — the self-described "political junkie," who also calls himself a San Francisco 49ers junkie, has also directed several political campaigns.

"I think being a success in this job will require all of the skills I've developed in all of my endeavors," he says. "There's a big job and there's a lot to be done."

Among Friedenberg's immediate goals is encouraging Silicon Valley's many Jewish professionals to become active in the federation. Doing so, he says, involves hearing what they have to say.

"Rather then going to them and saying `Hey, we're federation, we're great and we're important, please help,'" says Friedenberg, "I think what we need to do is engage them in dialogue to try and ascertain what interests them."

He acknowledges that some who reside in the San Jose federation's jurisdiction feel overshadowed by the much larger S.F.-based federation. He hopes to change this.

"Part of the challenge of developing the new leadership will be to help people understand that what we're doing here is also important and worthwhile," he says.