Steering UJC past the shoals of ‘we and they’
Lori Klinghoffer sets ‘challenging’ priorities as federation president
Staff Writer, New Jersey Jewish News
Lori Klinghoffer has held some of the most prominent positions in local and national Jewish philanthropy. In addition to being a key member of numerous committees for United Jewish Communities of MetroWest NJ, she serves on the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel and held a term as president of the board of national Women’s Philanthropy of Jewish Federations of North America.
So it is saying something when she bluntly tells a reporter, “This is the most challenging position I have agreed to take on.”
This month Klinghoffer began her three-year term as president of UJC MetroWest NJ, succeeding Gary Aidekman as top lay leader of New Jersey’s largest Jewish federation.
The most immediate challenge will be the economy, “because what we do is directly related to the money we raise,” she said. But she feels some confidence creeping back into the annual fund-raising campaign. “I think the fear factor is waning,” she said. She’s pleased with the new — and more transparent — structure for allocations she is inheriting from Aidekman, which earmarks the lion’s share of federation’s allocations for specific programs.
Klinghoffer said she also wants to move forward and address head on what she sees as two big issues: youth and turf.
She knows younger Jews are committed to social action, and she wants to make sure they place that commitment within a Jewish framework. “We have to put thought and energy into making federation relevant for young people,” she said. “We have to keep moving forward. That’s what we’re talking about in the philanthropic world — what’s going to create sustenance.
“Federation today is not my parents’ federation, and I can’t expect it to be my children’s. We’ve got to be fluid and flexible and start listening to people other than ourselves, and think clearly about where we’re going.”
Another of her aims is to ease “we and they” issues among different parts of the Jewish communities — turf battles as well as a kind of self-imposed isolation that often overshadows the positive work they do.
“Whether it is agency to agency, UJC to agency, or local to overseas, it has to be not ‘we-they’ but all of us together,” she said.
Klinghoffer will be the federation’s third woman president, following Judy May and Ellen Goldner. She will be the first spouse of a former president, newsletter publisher Steven Klinghoffer, who held the post from 1999 to 2002. (Asked if she will draw on her husband’s experience, Klinghoffer is diplomatic. “I turn to all past leadership for guidance,” she said. “I’m the new kid on the block, and I rely on everyone.”)
Asked if women and men take different approaches to leadership, she said, “Yes. Women and men are different by nature. It’s the Venus/Mars thing. It’s a real factor. I feel as a woman I may be a little softer. I’m persistent but I take a softer approach to achieve similar results.”
Klinghoffer is homegrown: Born in Irvington, she lived in West Orange until eighth grade and then moved to South Orange and graduated from Columbia High School. She worked in graphic design at her alma mater, Boston University, right after graduating in 1972 and later at Midlantic Bank (now PNC) and freelanced when her children were young. Today she is executive vice president and creative director of WPI Communications, Inc., in Springfield, a business she founded with her husband. She is also a member of the board of directors of Valcor Engineering Corporation, also in Springfield.
The Klinghoffers, who live in Short Hills, are members of Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael in Springfield. They have two grown daughters: Lisa Buber, who lives with her husband, Felix, in Maplewood with their year-old twins, and Rachel, a student at the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence.
Klinghoffer said her parents taught her the importance of supporting the Jewish community, and she learned by example. But her husband was first to step into federation work. “I cheered him on from the sidelines,” she wrote in an e-mail. She herself was drawn in during a 1983 couples’ mission to Israel. “It was the first time we had left our children, and it changed my life,” she said. “Looking down at the Kinneret from the Galilee heights, I knew that my heart had found a home.”
It was during that mission that she began speaking with other women about their gifts. But she didn’t really dive in until the 1990s. “The more involved I became over the years that followed, the more my passion grew for all that we do to make our Jewish world a better place,” she wrote. “When an elderly woman at the Jewish Agency headquarters in Moscow thanked me for helping her get to Israel back in 1998, I first realized that in some way, yes, I was responsible.”
Locally, Klinghoffer has served as chair of the Israel and Overseas committee and of the UJA Campaign, as Women’s Department president, and as Women’s Campaign chair. She continues to serve on the general UJA Campaign cabinet, Women’s Campaign cabinet, and the Women’s Philanthropy board.
She has also held a variety of national positions. At JFNA, serves as a vice chair as a member of its executive committee and board of trustees and is immediate past president of the National Women’s Philanthropy Board.
She is a member of the Jewish Agency for Israel board of governors; deputy cochair of the Unity of the Jewish People Committee, chaired by Natan Sharansky; and a member of the Activism and Partnerships Committee.
Although she’s been all over the federation world, she said, “MetroWest is where my heart is. There is a warmth and connection here that binds us and drives us forward.”