New federation president sees changes ahead

Newly installed S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation President David Steirman took office only weeks ago but he’s already hard at work on a top priority: filling another office.

“We’re in the process of looking for a CEO to succeed Sam Salkin,” he says, referring to federation’s recently departed top executive who is the new executive director of the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund and the Goldman Environmental Foundation. “If all goes well, we will have someone hired within a few months. One of my personal objectives is to help that person succeed.”

As board president of the most broad-based Jewish organization covering San Francisco, Sonoma, Marin and the Peninsula, Steirman plays a major role in the federation’s success. And that means making sure funding remains sufficient to sustain the programs the federation supports.

It isn’t always easy.

“The level of involvement of Jews in Jewish community is generally less than in the East and Midwest,” says Steirman. “Statistics show a lot of Jewish donors give to non-Jewish causes. Our challenge is to make those donors comfortable giving to Jewish causes.”

If anyone’s up for that job, it’s Steirman, who replaces Adele Corvin for a two-year term. He’s been involved with the federation ever since moving to the Bay Area nearly 20 years ago. He was active with the JCF’s Young Adults Division, played a leadership role with the Diller Teen Fellows Israel program and later served on the board of the Jewish Home and as president of both the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Bureau of Jewish Education. “I have a long history of getting people involved,” he says, “and getting them on a path to giving.”

Along those lines, Steirman says the federation’s ongoing fund-raising campaign is in excellent shape so far this year, despite the recent executive deck shuffling. And while stability is something devoutly to be wished during times of economic upheaval, Steirman says he does anticipate some changes.

“We’re in the process of trying to figure out how to change the federation,” he notes. “Historically in our annual campaign, we ask the community to join us, then we decide how to allocate funds. For some people, that’s not the way they want to participate. The challenge is to be responsive to those donors, while not causing the system to unravel.”

In addition to supporting scores of local Jewish agencies, schools, arts and community organizations, the federation will also expand its commitments to Israel, according to Steirman.

“Israel is at the top of our list,” he says. “What’s been going on there over the last few years has created new challenges, but we have many people re-energized about Israel. We will continue our process of reviewing allocations there to be more effective, and to continue having a strong impact with those funds.”

Bay Area leaders who know Steirman are thrilled to have him take this senior post. Says JCRC Executive Director Doug Kahn: “There are two kinds of people in our community: those who know what a strong and wonderful leader David is, and those who will discover what a strong and wonderful leader he is.”

Steirman attributes his passion for Jewish communal work to his parents. Both were refugees from Germany (his mother was a Shanghailander). “My parents were always volunteers,” he recalls. “I picked up their example.”

He grew up in Chicago in a Reform household, moving to San Francisco in 1985 to pursue a career in investment management. At the same time he began his long association with the federation.

And while some people meet their beloved on jDate.com, Steirman found love in the federation boardroom. That’s where he met his wife, Anne, at a young leadership conference a few years ago. They are now the parents of two young children.

But he may have to miss a few bedtime readings of “Goodnight Moon.” Steirman will surely be a fixture in the federation’s Steuart Street headquarters for some time to come.

“How do we take all the wonderful things [the] federation has done, keep them going, but make the necessary changes to keep them relevant? My responsibility is to figure that out, to keep people interested and motivated,” he says.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a J. staff writer. He retired as news editor in 2020. Dan can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.