From Our CEO - Erik Ludwig, PhD


June 10, 2022

Shalom Chaverim (Dear Friends),
Last week, we received remarkable news that Jewish Federations have partnered with the Jewish Agency and Government of Israel to bring roughly 3,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel this year. This represents a continuation of a commitment to Ethiopian Jewry that began with Operations Moses and Sheba (1984-1985) that rescued Ethiopian Jews from Sudanese refugee camps and more recently Operation Solomon (1991) that was a response to civil unrest within Ethiopia, airlifting over 14,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel. The current population of 160,000 Ethiopian Israelis represent approximately 2% of the total Israeli population, many of whom live in our Federation’s sister city, Kiryat Malakhi.
It is significant that such an undertaking, what will become the fourth Aliyah for Ethiopian Jewry, has its beginning coincide with Shavuot—a holiday that, for me, renews our connection to Torah and reminds us, as is suggested in this week’s parsha Naso, that Torah is the foundation for our service to community, klal Yisrael.
As a parent of Ethiopian children, I am proud of Federation’s affirmation of Ethiopian Jewry as klal Yisrael. While it is true that Ethiopian Israelis face unique challenges of status in Israel and that my own children could tell you stories that suggest we have more work to do in pursuit of diversity and inclusion, it is also true that they have been the beneficiaries of an obligation to justice that has been woven throughout our history into the tapestry that is Jewish peoplehood.
We are commanded, “Justice, justice you shall pursue…” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
Thank you for building a more just world. Your gift of tzedakah allows us to fulfill our communal obligation to Jewish peoplehood and the future of Jewish life in Orange County, Israel and around the world.
May we all go from strength to strength,

Erik Ludwig, PhD
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Orange County
1 Federation Way, Suite 210, Irvine, CA 92603-0174

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Our Jewish community is saddened and outraged by the horrific assault on worshipers of the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods this afternoon, in which one congregant lost their life and others were wounded, several critically. We send our deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased, and we pray for the full and speedy recovery of the injured. We honor the extraordinary bravery of churchgoers who subdued and restrained the suspect until first responders arrived.

Our hearts are with the Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church, and we have reached out to express our support in their time of grief.

Shalom Chaverim (Dear Friends),
Thank you for the warm welcome to my position as President and CEO of Jewish Federation of Orange County. In these early weeks, I have witnessed the optimism and strong sense of community that we share for the future of Jewish life in Orange County, Israel, and globally.

Through our Ukraine Emergency Campaign, we are responding to the ongoing humanitarian crisis. To date, we have raised over $200,000 from over 330 community members as part of Jewish Federations of North America, a network of Federations, that has helped raise over $44 million to provide humanitarian aid, housing, transportation, and support for aliya/refugee absorption in Israel through our overseas partners, American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) and the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI).

At this year’s Women’s VOICES on Sunday, April 3, we came together to celebrate and recognize Ann Moskowitz for her life of leadership, specifically all that she has done to secure Jewish identity and future leaders through the Passport to Jewish Life program. It was an honor to get to know Ann through this gathering and to be part of this milestone in her inspiring life story. 
This year’s VOICES also included the special announcement of the establishment of Temple Beth Emet’s legacy gift to our community through an endowment of $500,000 to support the Federation’s Passport to Jewish Life program, which is so near and dear to Ann. If you haven’t had the chance, please join me in thanking Ann for her leadership and service to our community, strengthening it from generation to generation. We are grateful to Andrea Alfi, Women’s Philanthropy President and to Tanya Newman, our Voices Chair, for bringing some 240 of us together and for helping lift the Annual Campaign to $1.2 million.
As my fourth week in this role comes to its culmination, I want to answer a question that a few of you have asked about why I made the choice to leave academia to lead Jewish Federation of Orange County. It is, in actuality, less a leaving and more of a continuation.
I believe that Federation’s purpose is to amplify Jewish life. As an amplifier of Jewish life, Federations have three essential functions at this time: strengthening Jewish identity; developing Jewish leaders; combating antisemitism and anti-Jewish sentiment. In the coming months, I look forward to discussing how, with your meaningful support, Federation will approach these challenges and continue its work to amplify Jewish life in Orange County.
Jewish Federation of Orange County is a unique platform for building and shaping Jewish peoplehood. As I prepare for Passover with family and friends, it occurs to me that there is perhaps no better cornerstone for the foundation of Jewish peoplehood in a postmodern world than Passover. In a time when members of Jewish families live in different zip codes and in which the ways we define Jewish neighborhood are increasingly complex, Passover reconnects us to a shared sense of peoplehood by requiring of all of us to relive the story of Exodus, our shared journey from slavery to freedom. It requests of us that we gather as family, bound by our collective memory, and that we open our homes as refuge to the stranger. “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9).
I find one of the infinite wisdoms of Passover is that we are directed both to tell the story to our children, which indicates that we are among family, and we are taught to welcome outsiders, which hints at a broader understanding of who is familial. In doing so, Judaism asks us to recognize both kinship and fictive kinship. It uniquely conceptualizes Jewish peoplehood in inclusive terms, emphasizing the importance of the recognizable, our own family, and the unrecognizable other. To make this point, the scholar Everett Fox rather brilliantly identifies Moses’ identity as fluid. Fox states, “We learn all we need to know about Moshe’s early personality: he is Hebrew-identifying but Egyptian-looking” (p. 262). This early Moses is neither recognizable in his visage nor in his customs. Fox presents us with a Moses who is an allegory for a Jewish people that is becoming rather than arrived.
Our retelling of the Exodus story is an affirmation of our continued becoming. In a postmodern world, it is admittedly difficult to understand ourselves this way. The artificial intelligence software in the devices we use daily, perhaps even the device on which you are reading this reflection, is designed to promote a sense of curated completedness. The wisdom of Judaism is that it asks us to ignore the AI and instead engage the novel by questioning what is known and by welcoming those who may be unknown to our family’s Seder table. There is no shibboleth (password) required to gain entrance to the Seder. It requires only our faith in Jewish peoplehood and our belief that this night is in fact different from all other nights.
From my family to yours, and from all of us at Jewish Federation of Orange County, warmest wishes for a meaningful and sweet Passover.
Shabbat Shalom,

Erik Ludwig, PhD
President & CEO
Jewish Federation of Orange County
1 Federation Way, Suite 210, Irvine, CA 92603-0174


Erik Ludwig Appointed President & CEO of Jewish Federation of Orange County

After an extensive nationwide search, the Board of Jewish Federation of Orange County is delighted to announce the appointment of Erik Ludwig, PhD as the organization’s President and Chief Executive Officer.

“Erik is a talented, innovative leader with a passion for community who has had a transformational impact on every organization he has served,” said Heather Kline, Chair of Jewish Federation of Orange County. “We are excited to partner with him and have enormous confidence in him to lead our Federation in fulfilling its critical mission to care for the Jewish community and to ensure the stability and growth of Jewish Federation of Orange County.” 

Erik shared, “I am humbled and honored to accept the position as President and CEO to this organization which has served as a foundation for Jewish life in Orange County and beyond since its incorporation as the Jewish Community Council in 1965. While our understanding of the Jewish neighborhood has changed a lot since then, our connection to the past—our shared history of Jewish peoplehood—can be a profound building block for a better future. I look forward to our partnership shaping that Jewish future and working toward a more perfect world.”

Adam Miller, Chair of the search committee, explained, “In seeking our next executive leader, we wanted someone who understood the innovative spirit of our community and the importance of Federation in strengthening Jewish life in Orange County. In Erik, we found a leader whose business acumen and track record of entrepreneurship is the right fit for our community.”

Erik has served as a Jewish communal professional for the past 20 years and brings a wealth of experience, strategic vision, and deep communal relationships to this role. He is recognized as one of the Jewish community’s most innovative and entrepreneurial leaders with a strong record of spearheading organizational change within mature organizations. His strengths were most recently demonstrated during his seven-year tenure as Director of the Zelikow School of Jewish Nonprofit Management at Hebrew Union College where he oversaw the school’s revitalization and growth. Among his numerous accomplishments, he tripled student enrollment by redesigning core academic programs to meet the needs of students in a rapidly changing Jewish professional ecosystem, and significantly grew the school’s organizational capacity through increased philanthropy. Prior to his role at HUC, Erik served as Chief Operating Officer at Upstart Bay Area. He currently serves on the advisory council of IsraAID US and on the advisory board of Jewish Interactive. Erik holds a PhD from the University of Utah, an MA from Humboldt State University, and a BS from the University of Utah. 


As we share this good news with our community, we are conscious of the suffering of the people of Ukraine. The humanitarian crisis that is unfolding serves as a poignant reminder that the act of tzedakah is sacred and life-giving. Please join our communal response and give through Jewish Federation’s Ukraine Emergency Campaign