Ted Kanner, communal leader, dies

Ted Kanner, who served as an executive vice president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, died Nov. 14, following many years of painful incapacitation.

He arrived at Federation in 1971, was appointed its associate executive director in 1973, and in 1978 was named executive vice president, a position he held until 1986. He established the Council on Jewish Life, and served as an interim director of the School of Communal Service at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR). Kanner wrote often for the Journal of Jewish Communal Service and was a featured speaker at the Conference of Jewish Communal Service.

While traveling in Brazil as a consultant for the American Joint Distribution Committee in 1991 to conduct a training seminar for JDC employees in Rio de Janeiro, he was involved in a serious accident that would shape his remaining years.

More than 150 people attended the Nov. 18 funeral service led by Rabbi Uri Herscher at Mount Sinai Memorial Park in the Hollywood Hills, including many Jewish communal leaders and activists. Herscher, who as executive vice president of HUC-JIR from 1985 to 1995 hired Kanner to head the School of Communal Service, told The Journal that Kanner was both an exceptional leader and teacher. “A person who leads must teach,” Herscher said, “and that was a remarkable gift he had … to extend joy and learning to those around him.” As a Federation leader, Herscher said, Kanner “focused on raising the fallen among us … always battling to loosen the fetters of all who are bound.” Herscher added that under Kanner’s leadership “the community was strongly a ‘we.’ He will be remembered as one who lived the life of always knowing that the ‘we’ trumps the ‘I.’ ”

One of the many Federation programs launched during Kanner’s tenure was Project Renewal, a joint effort of the Israeli government and the global Jewish community to fund urban renewal projects in selected Israeli neighborhoods. Irwin Field, national chair of the United Jewish Appeal when the Project was introduced (and immediate past publisher of The Jewish Journal) said the Project was unique for its time and “subsequently changed the [organized Jewish community’s] relationship to Israel from passive to active engagement.” Field attributes much of the success of the program to “Kanner’s immediate embrace, which resulted in L.A. becoming the first major community federation to become engaged in the neighborhood of Musrara, in Jerusalem.” Over time, Project Renewal became Project 2000, which in turn led to partnership programs between Tel Aviv and the L.A. Federation that exist to this day.

L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who as L.A. city councilman from 1975 to 1994 often worked with Kanner, said Kanner “had a passion for his job, for the community. He saw the potential the Federation had as a community force, as a service organization.” “Without decreasing the focus on international issues, he increased the focus he brought to the needy both here and in Israel — on the elderly, Jews below poverty line here — by bringing services to the people who needed them, rather than waiting for them to find services on their own.” Yaroslavsky characterized Kanner as “a top professional, a man of great integrity and compassion; a mensch.”

Kanner is survived by his wife, Annette, their sons Alan (Jodi Jacobson) and Marty (Mia), and grandchildren Max, Sadie, Ari, Jena and Raphael.