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Collaborative Leadership is Hallmark of New JPSA CEO

Hava Leipzig Holzhauer, Incoming JPSA President & CEO

Hava Leipzig Holzhauer’s official start date as president and CEO of Jewish Philanthropies of Southern Arizona is Dec. 4, but she will be joining the community on Dec. 3 for a solidarity gathering for Israel called “A Light in the Darkness” because of its proximity to Hanukkah.

The event will feature Dan Elbaum, the Jewish Agency for Israel’s head of North America, plus local speakers sharing their experiences since the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. Holzhauer expects the gathering will recreate the atmosphere of “positivity and support” she experienced at the Nov. 14 March for Israel in Washington.

The Washington march, which had a three-pronged focus of supporting Israel, calling for the release of the hostages, and combating antisemitism, had more than 290,000 people in attendance according to organizers, making it the largest pro-Israel rally in U.S. history. Holzhauer says many people initially were nervous about safety at the march, but it was “a giant love and support fest.”

Holzhauer was a litigator specializing in employment law and civil rights before she switched her focus to nonprofit leadership 11 years ago. She is galvanized by JPSA’s status as a newly integrated organization that blends two longtime institutions, the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona and the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona, which gives scope for new ideas in everything from legacy planning to workplace culture.

Holzhauer has already been meeting remotely with the JPSA staff, board, and volunteers, as well as with colleagues at the local Jewish agencies — Jewish Family & Children’s Services, Tucson Hebrew Academy, Tucson Jewish Community Center, and Tucson Jewish Museum & Holocaust Center.

She says her first job in the nonprofit world, running the Anti-Defamation League statewide in Florida, allowed her to “look under the hood” after serving as a volunteer and a board member.

Other nonprofit positions she held include serving as the inaugural director of the Konar Center for Tolerance and Jewish Studies at Nazareth University in Rochester, New York, and most recently, as interim CEO for the Jewish Federation of Greater Kansas City.

While practicing law, she participated in the Wexner Heritage Program, a two-and-a-half-year educational program on Judaism and leadership. The idea, she says, “is that you’ll better know your Jewish lens, and it will help inform decisions that you make in your life, decisions that you make in your work, decisions about your involvement in the community.”

“It worked on me,” she says, helping spur her decision to work at the ADL.

Holzhauer “understands menschlichkeit and Yiddishkeit,” says Liz Kanter Groskind, using Yiddish terms roughly translated as kindness, humanity, or compassion and Jewishness/the Jewish way of life. Kanter Groskind is chair of the JPSA board and a member of the CEO search committee.

In addition to her professional roles, Holzhauer has been a lay leader, chairing Federation programs such as Super Sunday, Kanter Groskind says. “She really has the full package.”

The seven-member search committee, chaired by Danny Gasch and Elizabeth Firman, determined prerequisites for JPSA’s next leader, such as a collaborative leadership style and experience working with an active board.

Some traits can’t be taught, says Firman, including “a commitment to listening and relationship building” and comfort with “helping develop a vision with consensus building.”

The committee hired a search firm, Sageview Consulting, that identified and narrowed down an initial list of 60 or 70 candidates. The committee met with five finalists before selecting Holzhauer.

Sageview helped the committee obtain the right references, Gasch notes, which included not only people to whom the candidates reported but also people who reported to the candidates.

Together, Holzhauer and the board will identify priorities for JPSA. But the Oct. 7 attack has put an extra emphasis on security.

“We are in the midst of a crisis that is affecting Jews not just in Israel but globally and locally,” says Kanter Groskind. “We have our own issues here in town with people feeling traumatized and Jews feeling less safe and secure. There is also a collective sense of people wanting to be in community with each other, and how we can work to facilitate that is at a different place than it was before Oct. 7.”

Holzhauer worked on security with the Kansas City Federation and can apply that experience here.

“I can already tell from conversations I’ve had with executives from other agencies and from some people who live in the community, even in my remote time here, that we’re going to want to look at the community security program for the future – sort of look holistically and think strategically,” Holzhauer says.

“As I understand, a lot of work has been done individually with each agency for the past 10 years or so,” she says.

Implementing practical measures based on expert evaluation is part of security, she says, but another piece is making sure the community is aware of those measures “so we can have confidence and feel good and be able to show up when we want to.”

Programmatically, Holzhauer says, JPSA can move forward using information from the demographic study done just before the COVID-19 pandemic.

JPSA should “have a fluidity to it in terms of what we are raising revenue for and providing in the community,” she says. “I want to make sure that we are comfortable enough to also be creative.”

JPSA staff and board members are eager for Holzhauer’s arrival.

“We’re excited to welcome Hava to Southern Arizona to lead JPSA,” says Interim CEO Emily Richman.  “I look forward to moving back into my chief development officer role, where I am overseeing fundraising for the entire organization, including the Jewish Community Foundation, the annual campaign, and other supplemental initiatives including, right now, the Israel Relief Fund. In my CDO role, I can focus fully on developing relationships with, and raising funds for, our wonderful community.”

Holzhauer and her husband, Adam, are “absolutely thrilled and excited about the move to Tucson,” says Firman, who tag-teamed with search committee member Jeff Katz on an extensive car tour for the Holzhauers. “They were really jazzed to see how close JPSA is to everything in the community.”

Holzhauer says she and Adam, who are “mobile nesters” rather than empty nesters, look forward to making Tucson a gathering place for their four children, ages 19-25.

“Tucson has a really special Jewish community,” says Gasch. “We think Hava can help this community stay special.”