August 27, 2010
Written by Barbara Bayer, Contributing Editor
When the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City commemorates the 20th anniversary of Operation Exodus next week at its annual meeting, the featured speaker will have a lot in common with many of those in the audience. Misha Galperin, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Jewish Agency International Development, emigrated himself from Russia when he was just 18 years old in 1976.
“Our family came before the big wave,” he said, referring to the resettlement of more than 1 million Soviet Jews in Israel and North America in the 1990s.
The Federation’s annual meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 1, at the Lewis & Shirley White Theatre. The public is invited to attend and reservations can be made at www.jewishkansas.org or by calling the (913) 327-8103.
Galperin said the big difference between his experience and those who were a part of Operation Exodus is that during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s people essentially could leave Russia but after that, they were stuck there for a 10- to 12-year period.
Born in Odessa, Ukraine, Galperin set out to complete his education after his family settled in Los Angeles. He earned a doctorate in clinical psychology from New York University and is a graduate of the Wexner Heritage lay leadership program. He has worked as an interpreter, a teacher, a psychotherapist and an executive of social service, community service and educational institutions.
Galperin decided to concentrate his career in Jewish communal services for several reasons, he said, one being that he discovered the values and ideals of the Jewish people during his years of volunteer service for a variety of Jewish efforts. The other was because he and his family were the beneficiaries of various Jewish communal services and he saw the value of giving back.
He joined JAFI on July 1, but has served as an associate member of its board of directors since 2004. The Jewish Agency is involved in numerous activities including sending missions to Israel, aiding refugees and people in crisis and setting up new immigrants at absorption centers around Israel.
At JAFI, Galperin said his job is “everything that has to do with partnerships and relationships with other organizations, fundraising and public affairs.” That means he is in charge of the agency’s relationships with North American Jewish Federations, JFNA, JDC and other North American Jewish organizations and communities as well as with Keren Hayesod and other Jewish organizations and communities in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia.
In just the few weeks he has worked for JAFI he has already traveled through Eastern Europe and Israel.
Galperin is no stranger to the Jewish Federation system he now works closely with, most recently serving as the CEO of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, the sixth largest Jewish community in the United States. Prior to that he was COO of New York’s UJA Federation, the world’s largest local philanthropy.
In 2009 Galperin co-wrote “The Case for Jewish Peoplehood: Can We Be One?” with Erica Brown. It was published by Jewish Lights Publishing. His speech will focus on the topic of Jewish peoplehood.
“I enjoy the fact that I am engaging in the pursuit of this idea and engaging Jewish people with each other,” he said. “I will speak about the issues that confront the Jewish people and the new directions the Jewish Agency for Israel is taking to meet those challenges.”
As he wrote in one of his first newsletters in his new position, “When you believe in Jewish peoplehood you believe that we are all part of an extended family with a mission. Every once in a while, you realize that this description isn’t only symbolic or emotional. Sometimes it’s very real.”
In his new position Galperin said he is also excited about the opportunity to work with Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky who immigrated to Israel in 1986 after spending nine years in a Soviet prison. Since then he has led various human rights efforts.
“We are friends and he has been a hero of mine. He has made a significant imprint on Jewish identity for Jews the world over.”