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January 2, 2009     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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_ - " t " -" EIHHHIIII IIHmlMijlLL']Jli;il]ffllJii]]l[[].J liiJm]liJlll/ HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, JANUARY 2, 2009 Bush pal lauded for leadership of Holocaust museum By Eric Fingerhut WASHINGTON (JTA)--As a close friend of George W. Bush and a top Repub!ican Party fund-raiser. Fred Zeidman knew that his appointment as chairman of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Council nearly seven years ago looked like a gift from the new presi- dent to a political crony. So Zeidman stood up at his first meeting and told the board."Ther.e are no elephants on my tie. This is a totally non- partisan position. We are here for the future of this museum and we need to keep politics out of the museum." A group of Democratic women on the board, includ- ing law professor and Demo- cratic pundit Susan Estrich, encouraged others to give Zeidman. a Houston-area businessman and local Jewish communal leader, a chance. "I think at the outset there was concern that President Bush was appointing his best Jewish friend, a major sup- porter and donor, rather than a'Holocaustperson,' "Estrich wrote in a recent e-mail to JTA, "but I always thought the fact that the museum was the job that Fred--who could have had his choice ofplum spots in the administration--wanted was a clear sign of his com- mitment, and his values." "I think the museum today is stronger because of his leadership," she added. While some other Bush friends who were appointed to top jobs in Washingtonwill go down in history as mistakes. there is broad agreement that Zeidman's tenure leading the governing board of the U. S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has been a success--and that partisan politics were never an issue with him at the helm. even as he remained a Bush buddy, served as a leader of the Republican Jewish Coali- tion and became an active supporter of John McCain's presidential campaign. Current and former mem- bers of the 55-person council and others connected to the museum say Zeidman helped bring a stability and profes- sionalism that sometimes had been lacking in previous years. They also credit him with shepherding the 15-year- old institutioninto its second decade by broadening its focus beyond just telling the story of the Holocaust to examin- ing the tragedy's lessons and legacy. That expansion in focus has led to one of the signa- ture accomplishments of Zeidman's tenure: a higher profile and bigger budget for the museum's Committee on Conscience. which has called attention to genocide around the world, particularly in Africa. The museum took the lead among branches of the federal government in labeling the mass killing in Darfu'r as geno- cide: teamed up with Google to use satelite technology to identify villages that were destroyed, projected images of the Darfur genocide on the walls of the museum during Thanksgiving week two years ago, began producing a regu- lar podcast aimed at drawing attention to genocide; and created a genocide prevention task force that recently filed its fina! report. PAGE 13A "There had to be a much broader emphasis on the causes of genocide and pre- vention .of genocide," said Zeidman. 61. in a recent inter- view in his museum office. While staffers and many council members favored the move. many survivors initially weren't on board. "Their biggest concern was the museum would be univer- salized." said Zeidman. who now splits time between Texas and Washington, and spends his days as senior director of governmental affairs for the Washington power law firm of Greenberg Traurig. But. he added, eventually they Were convinced that"the only way their legacy would be intact is if lessons of the Holocaust were transmitted to future generations." Zeidman said that a discus- sion the museum held among survivors of the Holocaust and the Rwandan and Dar- fur genocides was "the most impactful m6ment" he has experienced at the museum. It was the sort of experience that validated his decision to push for the chairmanshipwhen as a longtime Bush friend he had plenty of options. "I felt like I wanted a job up here that would be meaning- ful and I could really accom- plish something," he said. "To my way of thinking, the chairman of this Holocaust museum is lrobably the most meaningful position for a Jew in America." Zeidman took the helm at the council in the wake of a series of controversies that had dogged the museum's leadership. He succeeded the trouble-plagued two-year tenure of Rabbi Irving "Yitz" Greenberg, who was criticized for writing a letter on mu- seum stationary requesting a pardon for fugitive Marc Rich and became a target of activ- ists many felt unfairly--for a speech he gave about the Israeli army's response to the second intifada. Two years earlier, in 1998. then-chair Miles Lerman's invitation to PLO chiefYasser Arafat for a tour resulted in the resignation of the museum's then-director, Walter Reich. Zeidman said that as the first chairman to not come from the "Holocaust community," and with no direct familial con- nection to the Holocaust. he was able to avoid some pitfalls because hewas coming inwith a "clean slate." "Those controversies were all based in the passion of those people to do what they thought was right for this museum." Zeidman said. "I could be dispassionate where they had this passion. This wastheir baby--all they had lived and breathed for so many years--and I could take a step back" and view things from a different perspective. The ability to avoid ten- sions was important because "controversy is so disruptive to the day-to-day manage- ment of the museum." he said. "The nhain thrust is to reduce controversy, to reduce the amount of time execu- tives have to spend in doing anything else besides funning the museum." That's why, when some survivors were upset with the museum over the speed with which it was allowing access to the newly acquired Bad Arolsen International Tracing Service archive, he invited them to Washington earlier this year for a meeting. Zeidman viewed the acqui- sition of the archive as the "seminal accomplishment" of his time at the museum. and suddenly the insitution was being criticized over it.- So he organized the meeting with survivors to detail "what we're doing and how we're doing it." Sam Dubbin. the lawyer for the Holocaust Survivors Foundation. said the group appreciated the opportUnity Zeidman provided. "There's no question mu- seum leaders learned a lot from having the survivors there." he said. Another dispute Zeidman defused came in 2006, when former New York Mayor Ed Koch called on radio talk show host Dennis Prager to resign from the council because Prager criticized U. S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D- Minn.) for using a Koran in his congressional swearing-in ceremony. After many hours on the phone with Koch and Prager, Zeidman said he got both to realize that "the controversy had nothing to do with this museum" and that it had become"an innocentvictim." The museum's executive com- mittee sent out a statement disassociating itself from Prager's remarks and the issue was settled. "I was very happy with how it was handled," said Koch, adding that Zeidman was adept at dea.ling with such disputes. "He handled all of his problems, whatever they were, in a way that we never even knew there was a problem." As a veteran of corporate boards, Zeidman also changed the role of the council chair. Past chairs, those associated with the museum say, some- times became too involved in the day-to-day operations of the institution. Zeidman recalls that upon his arrival. "they were bring- ing me all these little bitty personnel decisions. I said what is this about?" "You don't hire a profes- sional and then not give her the authority to run the mu- seum." siid Zeidman. refer- ring to museum director Sara Bloomfield. whom he praised numerous times during an hourlong interview. Ruth Mandel. vice chair of the council from 1993 to 2005. says Zeidman trusted his staff. "While he was certainly a presence, he knew what his role was as the chhir of the governing board andwhat the role of staff leadership should be and he knew how to de- velop a good partnership." "He was someone who had a sense of what his role was, who didn'twanttobe in charge of day-to-day operations." said Deborah Lipstadt. an Emory University Holocaust scholar and former board member, who added that some of the problems in the museum's first decade were simply attributable to "grow- ing pains." "He was the right person for the right time," she said. Others on the council praised Zeidman's leadership style. Carl Cox for U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Fred Zeidman, shown speaking at a remembrance ceremony in the Capitol rotunda in May 2008, says the chairman of the governing council of the U.S. Holocaost Memorial Museum "is probably the most meaningful position for a Jew in America." "What makes him so effec- tive is he asks for input from everybody and then together decisions are made," said Dot- tie Bennett. a current member of the council executive com- mittee. "Nothing is presented to us as a fait accompli, so you really feel you are a part of the team." Not everyone was always a fan of Zeidman's more busi- ness-minded, non-contro- versial approach. One person close to the museum who did not wish to be identified said that controversy isn't neces- sarily bad it can also mean that the museum is "on the cutting edge." Michael Berenbaum, a board member from 1998 to 2003. said that as a scholar and academic he sometimes disagreed with Zeidman's outlook. For example, Zeid- man thought the minutes of council meetings should only list decisions taken. while Berenbaum preferred that the document include a description of the nature of debate so that scholars could study and learn from it in the future. Berenbaum. who also served as project director during the building of the museum and director of its research institute from 1993 to 1997. was outvoted in the council's executive commit- tee. "Fred was correct if you're a corporate officer and don't want to be sued." Berenbaum said. "I thought the museum is a historical institution and should not treat itself as safe." But Berenbaum also had praise for Zeidman. "He broughtstabilization to the museum" and "essentially conflict-free stewardship," said Berenbaum. and that is"a significant achievement." While Bush may be leav- ing town this month. Zeid- man--who spends a couple of weeks each month in the capital isn't goinganywhere just yet. He was named to a second five-year term on the council last year and said he intends to stay on the board through its conclusion in 2012. While he would be happy to remain as chairman. Zeidman said he will defer to Presi- dent-elect Barack Obama's wishes. This is one Bush appoint- ment that even the president's most vocal opponents will miss. "I have been a very strong critic of the Bush adminis- tration," said former council member and lawyer Menach- em Rosensaft, but"one of the outstanding appointments that George W. Bush made was appointing Fred chair of the Holocaust council." "He has kept the museum out of politics," Rosensaft said. "and maintained it as a major American institution." ,, :.- Panic! ......................................................................... Popups! ..... ii i iiii;ilili!i: % Adult! iii  Emergencies No Extra Charge! ooo.,00o, www.schiffkey.com ALLIANCE FOR NEIGHBORS, INC. P. O. BOX 160096 ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, FL 32716-0096 A NOT FOR PROFIT-TAXEXEMPT 501(C)(3)ORGANIZATION 407-304-6669 WWW.HELPFORPEOPLEINAMERICA.ORG HELP FOR PEOPLE IN AMERICA IN CENTRAL FLORIDA, THERE ARE AT LEAST: 700 HOMELESS FAMILIES 700 HOMELESS CHILDREN 9000 HOMELESS INDIVIDUALS AND THE NUMBER IS GROWING!!! 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