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Pulling together

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New UJC leader aims to attract local donors through national initiatives. 

By Todd Cohen

For Howard Rieger, philanthropy is all about family.

Inspired by his father, a Hungarian Jew who struggled to support his family and put his children through college after immigrating to the U.S. in 1925 at age 18, Rieger decided as a young man to devote his life to working on behalf of the Jewish community.

Now, as the new president and CEO of United Jewish Communities in New York City, Rieger wants to help the organization strengthen its family of 156 local Jewish federations and 400 independent communities throughout North America.

“The greatest thing we could do as a system is to find ways to enhance the bottom line in communities,” says Rieger, who served for 23 years as head of the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, which now raises more than $25 million a year.

“I think we can actually create a pot that’s bigger,” he says, “rather than arguing about how to divvy up the same amount of money.”

Raised in Chicago and trained as a political scientist at Roosevelt University there, Rieger taught at Roosevelt and at the State University of New York in Geneseo before taking a job in 1970 with the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, a job he says he “didn’t know anything about.”

He spent 11 years there, rising to the job of director of operations, before becoming head of the Pittsburgh federation in 1981.

Howard M. Rieger         

Job: President and CEO, United Jewish Communities, New York City

Born: Chicago, Sept. 25, 1942

Family: Wife, Tina; son, Alec; daughter, Miriam; grandson, Matan Ori.

Last job: President, United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh

Education: B.A., political science, and M.P.A., Roosevelt University

Favorite movie: The Great Dictator

Recently read: The Late Divorce by Amos Oz

Inspiration: Father. “To me the heroes are the people who haven’t necessarily changed the world but rise to the occasion and do good things.”

A capital campaign from 1996 to 1999 raised $60 million for the development and renovation of seven Jewish service agencies in Pittsburgh, and the federation in the early 1990s raised nearly $15 million, or twice its goal, for the resettlement of Jews from the former Soviet Union.

Elder care was a main federation focus under Rieger, who in the early 1990s led efforts to create the Jewish Association on Aging in Pittsburgh. He also has pushed to create Jewish community centers throughout the former Soviet Union, and to develop a worldwide program to recruit and train more than 500 new Jewish professionals since 1989.

Now, he oversees an organization created in 1999 through the merger of the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the United Israel Appeal.

Last year, UJC members in the U.S. raised $827.5 million.Rieger, whose son works at UJC, says he wants to “bring more money in the system through new funding sources” attracted to projects that supplement local initiatives.

And in addition to developing financial resources, he says, he wants to focus on strengthening Jewish identity, and on health and human services.“This should be about more than studying needs in those areas, but what do we do about addressing the needs of the system, and find resources that might exist at the national level,” he says.

By promoting the value of system-wide programmatic strategies to local federations and communities, he says, they might be more likely to participate in raising money to support those strategies.

He says he will be looking for pilot projects that will show the impact national strategies can have on topics such as Jewish identity and education, and on reaching local donors to finance those strategies.

The organization also will look for special opportunities abroad. “We can train speakers, create marketing materials, motivate lay leaders to be inspired to get out there and work with constituencies such as young leaders and women,” he says. “The most significant thing we can do,” he says, “is help people raise money, find sources of money that perhaps we can unlock if we have a collaborative approach.”

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