A principal at an Alameda County high school. A director at Be’chol Lashon. A former synagogue president in Los Altos Hills. The founder-director of a local consulting firm.
All four are Jews of color who have been brought onto the board of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation to help create a “stronger and more durable” organization, according to CEO Danny Grossman.
Kenny Kahn, Lindsey Newman, Andy Cheng, and Natasha Kehimkar started their two-year terms on July 1; they are part of a group of eight new board members the Federation approved at a June meeting.
Grossman described the selection as “part of a much larger process” of diversifying leadership at the S.F.-based Federation, which is one of the largest in the country. He pointed to a February 2021 report, based on the 2017 Portrait of Bay Area Jewish Life and Communities study commissioned by the Federation, that found one in four Bay Area Jewish households includes someone “who is Hispanic, Asian-American, African-American, or of mixed or other ethnic or racial background (other than white). He also said that conversations stemming from last year’s protests after the murder of George Floyd helped Federation see the urgency of taking such steps.
“It was a profound realization,” said Grossman. “It was work that we deepened and examined” after Floyd’s murder.
“I think we recognize the importance of having leadership that reflects the full diversity of the community,” said board chair Arthur Slepian. “If we want to effectively serve the community, our leadership needs to reflect that as well.”
The four new board members come from a variety of backgrounds.
It makes sense to step in and step up, given everything that occurred [last year].
Kahn, who was born in Oakland and raised in Richmond, is a former public school teacher who in July will become the principal of Redwood Alternative High School in Alameda County.
“It makes sense to step in and step up,” said Kahn about his board tenure, “given everything that occurred [last year].”
It will not be Kahn’s first introduction to the Federation. During last summer’s racial justice protests, Kahn, who is Black, became part of the organization’s Racial Justice Task Force, whose stated goal is to bring “racially diverse voices to the table.”
“I want to represent people from my background and also people who have different stories,” he said. “An ally, an advocate and co-conspirator.”
Two of the other new board members of color serve on the same task force. Newman is its co-chair.
“That task force has done really great work centering the voices of Jews of color,” said Newman, who is Black and the director of community engagement at Be’chol Lashon, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that advocates for diversity within the Jewish community. Part of her work in the group, she said, has been looking at whether internal policies at the Federation are aligning with the values of inclusion.
“The task force helped to bring to the attention of the board a much more diverse class of nominees to join,” she said, calling the Federation’s decision to broaden the range of voices “a phenomenal step.”
Cheng, a Chinese American who grew up in Millbrae, is the former president of Congregation Beth Am in Los Altos.
He said he has spearheaded diversity efforts at other organizations. At his Los Altos temple, he launched diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, and he is also part of a racial justice task force at the Union for Reform Judaism, the congregational arm of the Reform movement. “The Federation’s work has always been far-reaching and impactful,” said Cheng, who is “really honored” to serve on the board.
The fourth new board member of color, Kehimkar, is an Indian American originally from Toronto who moved to Foster City in 2013. She’s the founder and CEO of Malida Advisors, a management consulting company, and has been on the board of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. She’s also a current board member at Be’chol Lashon and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Kehimkar first got involved with the Federation through its Community Impact team and as a student of the Wexner Heritage Program, a Jewish-focused leadership program where she met Grossman. (She graduated from the program this year.)
Kehimkar said she is looking forward to bringing the perspective “of people who are very involved in the Jewish community but don’t always look the part.”
The other new Federation board members are real estate professionals Barry Cohn and David Friedkin, Wells Fargo national women’s segment leader and national Asian segment leader Judith Goldkrand, and former Google real estate director Laura Rooklin.