Jewish Federation of Winnipeg gets its very first CEO with corporate world experience

Jeff Lieberman was running his own business in Winnipeg from 1989 until just three months ago.

“I loved what I was doing, and thought I’d do it forever. I really enjoyed every day of it.”

But then, the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg called him away from over 34 years at the helm of the Great Promotional Products Company.

At first, the 63-year-old didn’t think he would be hired—the Federation had never hired a CEO from the business community before. When they asked him, “I was shocked and surprised in a good way,” he said.

Since then, there have been “many positive messages” about his appointment, he said, adding he hopes to bring his years of experience in business to his new role, along with his connections in the community as a board member of the Federation, the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba, and the Rady JCC.

“I’m honest, hardworking and good listener,” he said of his approach to the new role. “It’s important to listen to people, to hear what they have to say… It’s all about the members of the community, doing what’s best for them.”

That said, he acknowledged there will be some differences from the business world. “I’m used to making decisions pretty quickly,” he said. “That will be an adjustment.”

Lieberman succeeds Elaine Goldstine, who spent three decades working for the Jewish Federation of Winnipeg, including eight years as CEO.

As he looks ahead, Lieberman sees both opportunities and challenges. The biggest asset is the Jewish community itself, estimated to be about 14,000 people. “It’s an amazing group who care about the Jewish community in Winnipeg,” he said.

Among the challenges is the aging Jewish population in Winnipeg, and the need to involve younger people in donating.

“Giving from the younger generations is different from their parents and grandparents,” he said, noting they face pressures from the cost of living and buying a house. “It’s a changed world for them.”

As for plans, among the thing he wants to do is grow the Federation’s endowment and promote Winnipeg as a destination for Jewish immigrants.

“I’m a big believer in bringing new people here to grow the community, people who can help make Manitoba stronger,” he said, adding immigration is the main way the Jewish community in the province will grow.

Lieberman also wants to reach out to other organizations and faith groups to explore potential partnerships, especially with local Muslims and Indigenous people.

“We are all one people, and life is too short not to agree on everything,” he said. “We can find things to do together.”

A child of a Holocaust survivor, Lieberman knows antisemitism is a concern, although he has not experienced much of it personally. “I know it happens,” he said. “It can be pretty scary. We want all Jews to be able to walk down the street without fear.”

Of immediate concern for Lieberman is raising the $6.3 million target for this year’s combined Jewish appeal—up $200,000 from last year.

The funds are used to support 12 local Jewish agencies, along with international and national programs and other initiatives.

“The funds that are raised are crucial for the benefit of those agencies,” he said, noting that costs have increased. “If we don’t raise more, they fall behind.”

A member of Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Winnipeg, Lieberman describes himself as “traditional, but not really religious. It’s important for me to keep Jewish traditions, but I only go to synagogue on High Holidays.”

For the time being, he is trying to learn all the ins and outs of the new job. “It’s like drinking from a firehose,” he said. “But I really enjoy it, I like meeting members of the community, listening to them, getting their views on a number of topics. I love Winnipeg and I love our community, and I want to work hard and do my best to serve them.”