Six years after becoming the first openly gay leader of a Jewish federation, Harold Goldman is retiring from his chief executive post in Philadelphia — without anyone following in his footsteps.
At the end of June, Goldman, 63, is giving up his post as president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. He will be joining his partner of 24 years, who moved to New York City for work-related reasons.
Goldman says that his tenure was refreshingly clear of any unpleasant experiences that might have stemmed from his being gay, in part because he was vigilant about keeping his sexual identity out of his professional life. While gay issues have often taken center stage in American and Jewish life during Goldman’s tenure, he avoided involving the federation in any gay initiatives.
“I was very careful about taking positions on anything that could possibly be misread,” Goldman recently told the Forward, just weeks before he is scheduled to hand over the reigns to Temple University provost Ira Schwartz.
Until recently, Philadelphia’s federation had not done any outreach to gays during Goldman’s tenure. The federation did recently announce that it would sponsor a mission to Israel for lesbians and gays, but Goldman said he had nothing to do with it.
“If anything, my presence has worked as an impediment to outreach because I can’t make my personal agenda my work agenda,” Goldman said.
Goldman will serve as honorary chairman of the mission to Israel, but he said that the push for the mission came from volunteers who felt that the federation should be “more inclusive and more welcoming.”
Goldman, who grew up in an Orthodox family in Memphis, Tenn., took over at the federation after leading Philadelphia’s Jewish Family and Children’s Service. Goldman said that when he first entered the Jewish communal world 24 years ago, he made sure that his employers were comfortable with his sexual orientation.
“I told them, ‘You have to understand that I’m gay; you have to be comfortable with that,’” Goldman recalled.
The primary area in which discrimination against gays has come up in Philadelphia’s federation is in discussion about whether the city’s newspaper, the Jewish Exponent, should list same-sex unions and other gay-lifecycle events. The paper still does not include such listings. Goldman declined to comment on the policy.
Goldman and his partner had a commitment ceremony three years ago at Philadelphia’s Society Hill Synagogue.
From his perspective, Goldman said, Philadelphia lived up to its moniker as the City of Brotherly Love; the only derision he ever encountered in the Jewish world came to him third hand at a federation fund-raiser.
The more frequent response has been that of Jewish parents who came to Goldman to ask him to speak with children who were struggling with their sexuality.
“They would come up to me and say they were pleased that I was so public about who I was,” he said, “because they felt it provided a good role model.”