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A Uniter at the Helm

Yisroel Besser

Eric Goldstein’s selection as head of the largest Jewish philanthropy in the world surprised some, but early returns indicate he’s the man for the job

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

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In a Manhattan brownstone just east of Riverside Park, there is a charming little shtiebel where my father is rav, the kind of place with an old-fashioned kiddush and banter as well-worn as the tiles. When the skilled baal korei, an accountant named Pinky, is away for Shabbos, he makes it his responsibility to find a substitute. Pinky tells me about a local teenager he calls upon.

“He’s a great kid, always happy to help — and he can really lein!”

When Adin Goldstein reads from the Torah, his parents come to the shtiebel too, his mother listening proudly from behind the heavy drapes that separate the ezras nashim from the main shul. And his father?

“If you want to know who Ricky Goldstein is,” a shtiebel old-timer tells me as he sprays kichel crumbs on the thick tablecloth and knocks back small cups of Chivas, “forget his fancy job and speeches. Come watch him, see his face, when his son is leining; then you’ll ‘get’ him.”

Captured Hearts In the shtiebel they see a proud father, but the wider Jewish world knows Eric Goldstein as the CEO of UJA-Federation of New York. It’s a position that calls for fund-raising abilities, diplomatic finesse, genuine heart, and an ability to deal with every kind of Jew on the planet.

Our interview is scheduled for 11 am. At precisely 11:02 the door to his office opens and he welcomes me.

 

The first thing that strikes you about Ricky Goldstein is his boyishness, more of the cool high-school gym teacher, less of the prominent bureaucrat.

He wasn’t supposed to be doing any of those things.

His father is a lawyer, his mother a judge.

“The only question was what type of law. I remember how my brother had lousy handwriting as a child, and my mother asked, ‘How are they going to read your answers on the bar exam if you don’t write nicely?’ ”

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