The Minneapolis Jewish Federation’s new CEO, Stu Silberman, tells us about returning to the Midwest, his first impressions of our community and why Star Trek’s Captain Picard is a badass.
You just moved to the Twin Cities. Welcome! Where did you come from?
I moved from Louisville, KY where my family and I lived for the last five years. I grew up on the East Coast in Teaneck, NJ.
You are the new CEO of the Minneapolis Jewish Federation. How did that opportunity come about?
The Federation became aware of my accomplishments in Louisville, particularly in the area of collaboration, and asked me if I would be interested in leading this community. I was CEO of an agency called the Jewish Community of Louisville, which included the Jewish Federation, the JCC, the JCRC and Hillel. Louisville was one of the first to adopt an integrated model of Jewish agencies. Louisville is smaller than Minneapolis. Leadership here is not necessarily looking to implement the same model, though a lot of what we did there might be transferrable here.
What interested you in running the Federation in Minneapolis?
It did take me a while to “warm up” to the idea at first. But, the fact that you have a much larger Jewish community with significant involvement on the national and international scene in respect to world Jewry was enticing. Functionally there are fewer responsibilities, which will enable me to delve into in each more deeply and, I hope, give me the time to experiment with new initiatives that will continue adapting the Federation to best meet community and donor needs now and in the future.
During the interview process, I wanted to know, “Would this community be willing to embrace some new paradigms?” And the answer was yes. The Federation saw in me a combination of business skills and corporate experience as well as a true passion for the Jewish people and non-profit work. It was a good fit.
How do you like the Twin Cities so far? Is it a big change for you?
We spent 18 years in Michigan, mostly in Ann Arbor. Moving here feels like a return to the Midwestern culture we really liked. The sophistication of this city was unexpected. It has a very vibrant cultural scene and feels more like a big city.
What have you learned about our Jewish community in your first month or so on the job?
I’ve learned this is an absolutely amazing Jewish community…and I don’t use superlatives unless they’re called for. I genuinely feel that the Jewish community here is intelligent, thoughtful, committed, passionate and open to new ideas.
I also think this community is in a period of introspection and recovery after a difficult time following the financial crisis of 2008. It resolved to lift itself by its bootstraps and move on. I’m honored to lead the committed staff and community members. I don’t know where the final outcome is going to be but I can see that the raw ingredients are surrounding me everywhere to make the right decisions and get to the next stage.
How are you going to spend the high holidays?
We have been extended many invitations and will be taking up a number of them. We’ve been welcomed from before we even moved here. It’s an incredible feeling. I tell people I would much rather live in a warm community than a warm climate.
What’s your favorite holiday?
Shavuot, because I love cheesecake! And, more importantly, it commemorates the day God gave us the Torah. I see it as the defining holiday for the Jewish people.
What is your favorite Jewish food?
Tell us what makes you folkin’ awesome.
I’m a real science fiction fan. I love “Star Trek” and have taken a lot of lessons from Captain Picard. I’ve even read a book on his leadership style. There’s an episode where they can’t figure out how to avoid a massive shockwave that’s coming at the Enterprise and the shields won’t be able to protect them. At the last second, without time for explanation, Lt. Data tells the Captain, “Drop the shields.” Despite objection from the First Officer, the Captain gives the order, and of course they survive. The explanation follows but only after Picard taught me a great lesson I still live by today: “Trust your people”.