Stepping Into JDC Presidency, Stan Rabin Writes New Chapter

January 12, 2016


Q: What are your goals for your presidency? What excites you?
A: What excites me most are, ironically, the challenges we face. We have a need — and it’s what JDC has always done — to convert the challenges of the time into opportunities that enable us to fulfill our mission. This is certainly a crazy and turbulent time in the world. But because of that, we must have a transformative impact on the lives of people. That’s what’s characterized JDC for its 101-year history.

Q: How does JDC relate to your own family story? Does that give your work on the Board added depth?
A: I’m the child of immigrants. My father came from what’s now Belarus and my mother from what’s now Ukraine. My father came in 1908 and my mother in 1914 to the U.S., to New York, and that was pivotal in my life — that I was the child of people who had to leave because of the pogroms. That was part of our history. Growing up in New York, I was part of that first generation encouraged to get a strong education, and learn about things. As I got older, I came to connect to this idea of a global Jewish people and being collectively responsible for Jews around the world. It was that feeling for me of “there but for the grace of God go I.” As I began in my middle years to travel a lot on business and see different parts of the world, I was already starting to visit places like West Germany and the Communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe, where there was so much Jewish history.

Q: What do you see as the challenges and opportunities facing JDC?
A: Among the core challenges is the turbulence in the world, but particularly in areas like Central and Eastern Europe — and now even Western Europe, which would not have been on our radar screen five years. We thought differently about the relatively thriving communities in Western Europe and not been so focused on some of the issues we’re facing now. There’s also the changing situation for Holocaust survivors, with them passing and the funding associated with that disappearing over time. In Israel, the work we do there to help the vulnerable be able to participate in the success of Israel is challenged by some of the specific demographics we deal with. The nature of philanthropy and funding is changing over time. We need to expand our resource development beyond North America and reach younger generations. There, we’ve had successes with programs like Entwine, and we need to keep building on them.

One challenge that we’ve made a lot of progress with is bringing our business heads into our operations to make them even more efficient and effective, more transparent. Another clear challenge is CEO succession. We’ve been building that relationship between the professional corps and the lay leadership, and we need to keep strengthening it.

Q: When you look back at the last few years, what do you see as key JDC successes?
A: Some of the key successes are both internal and external. During that period, Alan Gill became the CEO, and we went through that transition successfully. We’ve made a number of reforms internally, particularly in governance. We’ve secured new and added funding, which makes our work around the world possible. We’ve made a major move toward approaching our programs in a more global manner through the formation of the Global Program Committee. There have been continuous challenges, and we’ve dealt with them. In places like Ukraine, where we’ve been quite active, I think our rescue and relief efforts have been quite extraordinary. However, we need to redefine our priorities as required.

Q: Have you traveled to the field? What impacted you?
A: In June, I went to Israel and then to Ukraine, just outside Kiev. Even though I knew what was happening there, when you see it, it just again brings home what the challenges are. The country itself is faced with a number of challenges and the poverty level of many of the people we serve is so high, particularly with the recent high inflation. We really are a lifeline for people. And how much they appreciate it! When I’m in a place like Ukraine, where my mother was born, the impact particularly hits home — through the Heseds and the various activities within Ukraine, the rebuilding of the Jewish community, and reaching out to younger people. I’m planning to go back in late March on a study mission. I have been to Israel, Hungary, Poland, and other locations on many occasions.

Q: What do you hope your JDC legacy will be?
A: We will have continued to have a transformative impact on the lives of people and we will have continued to ensure that Jews are able to live in a safe and secure environment and that people have a sense of dignity and every opportunity to thrive Jewishly. And we will have accomplished that over these several years, and improved our ability to fund the efforts that are so critical. I think JDC will also have used its history and experience to not only alleviate poverty, but actually to make people and communities more self-sustaining. I would also hope that during this period we will continue to develop tomorrow’s Jewish leaders, because that’s so important. We’ve had success and we need to continue that.

Q: I know your family is very important to you. How do you frame JDC’s work to your five grandchildren?
A: I often mention the family history and experience and how my parents escaped persecution. On my wife’s side, interestingly, she grew up very differently; she grew up in Texas in a town with only 10 Jewish families. I showed them the apartment building I grew up in in the Bronx. Everyone in this building was Jewish, which is difficult for them to fathom. They find it interesting how their grandmother and I, both Jewish, grew up so differently but ended up in the same place. When they have mitzvah projects, I relate that to the work JDC does internationally, and just how crucial it is. For me, it’s just been so important to think about global Jewry. I make no distinction whether someone’s Jewish in Dallas or Jewish in Kiev. To me, I just feel that responsibility so strongly.

JDC’s global programs are made possible by the generosity of our supporters.

Sign Up for JDC Voices Stories