NEW YORK — The umbrella organization for North American federations does not plan to replace its executive vice president, former Bay Area Jewish activist Louise Stoll, who officially departed the organization last week after almost a month of negotiations.
"This is not the time to get into another search process," said Stephen Solender, the president and CEO of the United Jewish Communities.
So UJC's executive-level professionals will divvy up the responsibilities of Stoll, who was with the organization 13 months, he added.
In addition, the group plans to hire an executive to head human resource development — including overseeing efforts to address the national shortage of Jewish educators and other professionals.
It is not entirely clear why Stoll left. Citing a "gag rule" that was part of the severance agreement, Solender declined to discuss the circumstances of Stoll's departure. Stoll, for her part, did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Her supporters say she was a first-rate professional with fresh ideas. Her critics say she had a tendency to be abrasive.
They also say that having been more accustomed to working in corporate and government sectors rather than the consensus-driven federation world, Stoll didn't fully understand the need to reach out to professional and lay leaders in her effort to promote change.
A former Berkeley Board of Education president and board member of the Jewish Federation of the Greater East Bay, Stoll incurred controversy in the Bay Area Jewish community in the early '90s. She and a group she helped found, the Israel Action Network, accused the East Bay federation and some other local Jewish agencies of being soft in their support for Israel.
She also criticized the East Bay federation's handling of its Project Exodus campaign and took issue with groups that sponsored programs featuring Palestinians, including Lehrhaus Judaica and the S.F. Jewish Film Festival.
At the time of her appointment to the UJC post, Fred Rosenbaum, founder of Lehrhaus Judaica and a local Jewish historian, said, "I remember her as a force of divisiveness and not unity in the community."
In addition, William "Ze'ev" Brinner, retired professor of Near Eastern studies at U.C. Berkeley, said at the time, "She could be a pretty craggy person."
By contrast, Ernest Weiner, director of the American Jewish Committee office in San Francisco, who was also interviewed after Stoll's UJC appointment, called her "one of the most passionate, dedicated people I met…There was a classic purity in her devotion to Israel."
When word leaked out about Stoll's departure from the UJC — which several insiders say was not her choice but the result of pressure from key lay leaders and large-city federation executives — some observers interpreted it as a sign the organization resists change.
"I'm disappointed" about what this says about the system's ability to rebuild itself, said Caryn Rosen Adelman of Chicago, who is active in the UJC.
It's especially frustrating "because there are real needs out there, and we're still discussing governance and internal politics instead of doing whatever we can to raise money and save Jews," said Adelman, who first brought Stoll's name to the attention of the federation world.
Stoll was hired in 1999, six months after the UJC was formed, following a protracted search. After leaving the Bay Area, she served as assistant secretary for budget and programs at the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1993 to 1997. At the time of the UJC appointment, she was working in Washington as a senior vice president for the Dames & Moore Group, an international engineering and consulting firm based in Los Angeles.
She was tapped by the UJC for her managerial expertise, outsider perspective and ability to effect change, officials said at the time. Stoll was originally considered for the top UJC post, according to federation insiders.
But federation executives pressed for the appointment of an insider who understood the system, knew the players and could hit the ground running.
According to several federation insiders, Stoll faced challenges from the start.
Some senior UJC professionals apparently resented her authority and refused to report to her.
Stoll also apparently alienated some federation executives and lay leaders by not showing enough deference.
One federation official who did not want to be named recalled a meeting in Jerusalem in which she publicly berated a lay leader, a move seen as a major no-no in the federation world.
Ron Meier, executive vice president of UJA-Federation of Bergen County and North Hudson, N.J., said Stoll was "refreshing in her candor" and "in some sense very helpful" but "had a harder time developing the kind of relationships that would support change.
"Perhaps her agenda for change ran ahead of the relationship development that would have supported that change over time," Meier added.
One observer who has advised several federations on management matters suggested Stoll's departure resulted not from her personality but "symptomatic of the fact that there is not agreement" about what the UJC is and should be.
"It starts with merger-itis, in which there are competing pulls within the organization related to the old UJA and CJF about who's going to be in charge and who has what portfolio," said this observer, who asked his name not be used.
Some have also speculated that Stoll's departure may signal that the federation system, long regarded as a "boys' club," is an unfriendly working environment for women.
Solender said Stoll's departure should not be seen as an indicator of the UJC's receptivity to women or willingness to change.
"Three out of six of our top positions are filled by women," Solender said, referring to the positions directly below him. "That speaks for itself."
Officially, Stoll is maintaining a "consulting relationship" with the UJC, but it is not clear exactly what role she will have after she moves to Washington, where she plans to "pursue other professional interests," according to a UJC statement.
According to the UJC, Stoll's responsibilities had included leading a strategic planning process, overseeing the National Jewish Population Survey, guiding the system toward greater use of technology, and developing a relationship between the federations and Birthright Israel.
Solender is insisting that Stoll's departure will not affect progress of the roughly 1-1/2-year-old organization, which resulted from the merger of the Council of Jewish Federations, United Jewish Appeal and United Israel Appeal.
It's "never easy to have executive change at the top," he said. However, staff members were "able to remain focused and keep going.