Federation CEO resigns, takes top post at New Israel Fund

After little more than a year on the job, Daniel Sokatch has resigned as CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation.

Sokatch, 41, has accepted the post of executive director of the Washington, D.C.–based New Israel Fund, an organization in the mold of the Progressive Jewish Alliance, the L.A.-based social justice agency Sokatch co-founded and led for eight years.

Jennifer Gorovitz, the S.F.-based federation’s chief of staff and a five-year veteran of the organization, has stepped in as acting CEO. Like Sokatch, she is an attorney.

“As difficult a decision as this was, I felt called,” Sokatch explained. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me to do a thing that is in total harmony with who I am as a person and what I care most about in the world at a time the situation in Israel and the global Jewish community is at perhaps the most critical crossroads we’ve seen in at least a generation.”

Daniel Sokatch photo/jcf/peter g. marcus

In a statement, federation president James Koshland said, “We have dearly appreciated the leadership and vision that Daniel brought to the federation, and take great comfort knowing that we’ve accomplished so much in such a relatively short time.”

Those accomplishments include a $22 million take in the annual campaign and the launch of the JCF Catalyst Initiative, a $7 million dollar program to outlay emergency funds to synagogues and other local Jewish institutions.

Still, not everything went smoothly. Sokatch’s tenure at the federation coincided with the nation’s steep economic downturn, resulting in a 12 percent drop in funds raised by the annual campaign.

He also contended with a controversy this summer over the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival’s screening of “Rachel,” a film many viewed as harshly anti-Israel. Several donors, angered by federation helping to fund the festival, pulled their support. Sokatch opposed the festival’s decision to invite Cindy Corrie, Rachel’s mother, to speak after the screening, but he said the festival had the right to show the movie.

Sokatch says neither the economy nor the film festival controversy affected his decision to leave.

“The economic collapse was massive and unprecedented in living memory,” he said. “But we put out $160 million in philanthropy here and abroad. Yes, it had an impact, but this organization continued to do what it does.”

Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, the New Israel Fund is dedicated to building progressive democratic change in Israel. Sokatch was to make his first appearance in his new role as NIF executive director at the organization’s anniversary dinner Sept. 16 in San Francisco.

Sokatch will also represent NIF when he delivers a keynote address Oct. 25 at the national conference of J Street, a liberal Jewish lobby based in Washington, D.C.

Sokatch said he wanted to work with NIF because it “provides the American Jewish community with a way to engage positively in the Israel they believe in. It’s worked for 30 years to build a secure and democratic Israel that so many look to as a beacon, and pray for.”

Sokatch noted he is pleased that his interim replacement is Gorovitz, whom he appointed as his chief of staff six weeks ago. Sokatch said she impressed federation staffers “with her skill, technical ability, her overwhelming competence and confidence, and the fact that in a complex organization she was the one person everyone respected.”

Gorovitz said she is looking forward to her new responsibilities, adding, “We want to keep the ship steady. I’m already putting the pieces in place for the transition in working with [Koshland] and the officers so our campaign, our catalyst and endowment work are carried on.”

Sokatch, who took over the federation’s top post in July 2008, said he plans to continue living in the Bay Area for the time being. While excited about his new position, he noted his regret at leaving the federation.

“The job at the federation is something I care deeply about,” he said. “The opportunity to re-energize and reboot a venerable organization that has served this community for 100 years has been a great privilege.”

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.