Rabbi James Brandt has been named CEO of the Jewish Community Federation of the Greater East Bay.
The five-year federation veteran previously served as director of the Center for Jewish Living and Learning, the federation’s education arm, before replacing CEO Loren Basch last December as interim director.
The federation board decided to make the promotion permanent.
While Brandt vows to “do my very best to serve the Jewish community in the East Bay,” he doesn’t expect a cakewalk during a recession that has hammered nonprofits.
But Brandt said it’s also “a time of great opportunity because of the importance of our community working ever more closely together.”
Though federations were once the primary funders of local Jewish institutions, Brandt recognizes the landscape has changed. He would like the East Bay federation to “serve the community in the role of evaluator and convener” and provide “the structure to tackle some of the problems as a community.”
Brandt notes his first priority is to build up relationships between the federation and its constituent Jewish institutions. But with some Bay Area Jewish community leaders proposing a merger between the East Bay and S.F.-based Jewish community federations, Brandt wants to take a go-slow approach.
“As far as merger,” he says, “if it happens, it will happen incrementally until we build speed and come closer together. [S.F.-based federation CEO] Daniel Sokatch and I are meeting, and we’re talking about ways to work more closely together. Those talks are leading to some programs and initiatives.”
Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Berkeley synagogue Netivot Shalom is one of some 30 area leaders to recently co-sign an open letter urging the merger, Creditor is pleased with Brandt’s responses so far.
“Jim’s ability, despite having been here for some time, to keep alive the merger or collaboration means we might be on the verge of a new day,” Creditor says. “The way for him to succeed as a new kind of federation head is to seek active participating from all the East Bay professionals he can invite to the table.”
Brandt, who was the first full-time rabbi at Congregation Beth Sholom in Napa, earned a master’s from Hebrew Union College after receiving a degree in environmental design from U.C. Berkeley and a master’s in architecture from MIT.
Before pursuing the rabbinate, he served as executive director of a Massachusetts synagogue and worked for the Los Angeles federation. For more than 20 years, he has been involved with Jewish education.