Goodbye and thank you to a real mensch

In a dynamic Jewish community such as ours, change is a constant. Leaders come and go. Occasionally, someone comes along who makes a significant difference, and when that person departs, we owe a debt of gratitude.

Such is the case with Jennifer Gorovitz, who for more than four years has served as CEO of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation, and in other key posts going back a decade. Last week, she announced she will step down on March 31 and return to practicing law.

She will be sorely missed.

Gorovitz came to the job under tumultuous circumstances. In the fall of 2009, her predecessor, Daniel Sokatch, had abruptly resigned after little more than a year as CEO. She had been serving as his chief of staff for a short time but had a solid grasp on the job’s requirements. Still, she had not sought the job. Instead she found herself thrust into a leadership role. And she handled it beautifully.

Her tenure has been one of adaptation and innovation. Under Gorovitz’s guidance, the federation responded to the changing nature of philanthropy by giving donors more choices in their giving.

Gorovitz also reached out to younger Jews — many of whom likely viewed the federation as an anachronism — and helped get them excited about Jewish philanthropy. Innovations such as the Impact Grants Initiative, and renewed inroads into the LGBT and Russian-speaking communities, all happened on her watch.

In a time of national recession, she turned around federation fundraising, which had been in decline, by increasing both the number of donors and dollars. Today the financial health of the institution is strong.

Perhaps most important, Gorovitz changed the institutional tone. She brought a quiet strength to the post, even though, as the first woman to head a big-city Jewish federation, she had plenty to crow about. She has been unflappable, unfailingly courteous and sensitive to the many constituencies a federation CEO must please.

Also under her direction, the federation partnered with the Jewish Community Relations Council in launching the celebrated Year of Civil Discourse program. It’s no surprise that Gorovitz was deeply involved in this effort to foster respectful dialogue within the Jewish community. She is the very essence of civil discourse.

We know that the San Francisco-based federation will find a worthy successor. The work is never done, and new challenges will require fresh approaches to leadership.

Jennifer Gorovitz will be at her desk for another 21⁄2 months, leading the federation with her trademark grace and skill. But for now, we offer our collective thanks to her for a job exceedingly well done.