September 21, 2018

David Myers Steps Down From CJH Top Post

UCLA Jewish Studies professor David Myers has announced that he is stepping down from his position as president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History (CJH) in New York.

Myers told his staff and colleagues in a June 28 email that he could no longer handle the constant travel between Los Angeles and New York.

“Los Angeles is my home,” Myers wrote. “It is where my family, professional, and community roots are deepest. Second, the work I most need to focus on in this chapter of my life is teaching and researching Jewish history at UCLA and directing the [UCLA] Luskin Center for History and Policy.”

In an email to the Journal, Myers called his decision “excruciating.”

“I love the Center dearly,” Myers wrote. “But I also love my life in L.A., with my wife, my home, my communities, and UCLA.  Hard to believe, but I think that what I’m saying is that my place is in Los Angeles, not New York.”

Myers told The Forward that his departure from the CJH had nothing to do with the criticism he faced from pro-Israel activists.

“They’re nuisances, they’re gnats, they’re bothersome gnats like you find in the summer and swat away,” Myers said. “They’re not people who compel life decisions.”

CJH Board Chair Bernard Michael praised Myers as an “exceptional leader” and said he understood Myers’ decision.

“We will conduct a thorough search to find the right leader to continue driving our vision of a Center that does even more to educate and inspire the Jewish community and provide a world-class center for scholarly research,” Michael said.

In September, a few months after Myers assumed his CJH post, he came under fire in a widely shared opinion piece by Democratic political consultant Hank Sheinkopf, public relations executive Ronn Torossian, and a former chief of staff to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, George Birnbaum, for his associations with organizations they considered anti-Israel — The New Israel Fund, IfNotNow and J-Street. Also in the piece, posted on The Algemeiner website, the trio criticized Myers for claiming that the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement should not be “demonized” and that boycotts of Israel might be necessary if the Jewish state refused to leave the West Bank and take responsibility for its role in the Palestinian refugee issue.

“The work I most need to focus on in this chapter of my life is teaching and researching Jewish history at UCLA.” — David Myers

“Individuals who hold views such as Myers’ should not hold positions of leadership in the Jewish community,” Sheinkopf, Torossian and Birnbaum wrote. “David Myers must be terminated as CEO of the Center for Jewish History.”

In response to the opinion article, several Jewish leaders wrote letters in support of Myers. CJH board members also published a statement expressing “full and unwavering support“ of him. 

In response to Myers’ resignation, Sheinkopf, Tossorian and Birnbaum wrote another article, posted July 2 on the Jewish Press website, that implied their opposition prompted Myers’ departure from the CJH. The article begins with “It worked” but provides no supporting link between their efforts and Myers’ departure.

“We are proud,” the trio wrote, “that Myers is the second executive to leave the Center for Jewish History in the past six months.”

(Rachel Lithgow, the executive director of the American Jewish Historical Society, which is housed in the CJH, resigned in December after the CJH board cancelled a play and panel discussion she organized, which were funded by the left-wing group Jewish Voices for Peace.)

The CJH houses one of the largest archives of modern Jewish history outside of Israel.