“Dr. Mike” Takes the Federation Gavel

Julie E. Schwartz

For fifteen years, TV viewers have been able to hear Dr. Michael Wasserman’s sage advice at 7:12 a.m. every other Tuesday morning on the WWL-TV’s Eyewitness Morning News with Eric Paulsen and Sally Ann Roberts.  On the show, “Dr. Mike” answers listeners’ live call-in questions about potty training and diaper rash, developmental issues and ear infections.  Now, you’ll be able to catch Dr. Mike’s “other” show—at the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, where he is serving as President and will use his experience to heal and strengthen the Jewish community. 

 

Dr. Michael Wasserman is the friendly pediatrician with the quintessentially kind bedside manner, a loving family man to his wife Lynne, their children Danny and Julie, daughter in-law, Rachel and new grandson, Jacob (Yaakov).  On first impression, one notices his pleasant, easy-going manner and friendly smile.  On closer inspection, one sees an extremely organized person, a tireless worker, and an experienced, confident, and caring Jewish leader. 

Wasserman was inspired to seek out leadership roles after a community mission to Israel led by then Federation Executive Director, Eli Skora.  Michael’s not certain why he and Lynne chose that particular trip, but it was a life-changing experience that led him to become first a participant, and then an advisor in the Lemann-Stern Young Leadership Program.  He subsequently joined the board at Congregation Gates of Prayer, and then the Federation Board, where he spent many years of service in a variety of offices. 

During the past year, Wasserman took on the demanding role of Campaign Co-Chair (along with Vivian Cahn) for the Federation’s successful 2007 Annual Campaign.  Yet, with his typical humility, he claims that chairing the first campaign since Hurricane Katrina ravaged the city was “not that hard.”  “I have to give credit where credit is due,” says Wasserman, “Sherri (Tarr) told us everything we needed to do.  Because of the great staff support at Federation, it really was a very manageable job.”  (Wasserman’s wife, Lynne, is counting on that, since she will serve as a Campaign Co-Chair for the 2008 Annual Campaign.) 

Michael Wasserman has a decidedly unusual attitude toward his Jewish community service.  While most people would describe the work as “selfless,” he describes it as “selfish.”  “I enjoy it.  I like being around and working with Jewish people.  It satisfies a social need in me,” says Wasserman. 

It does, admittedly, take up his “free time.”  Wasserman manages to fit everything into his day by rising every morning at 4 or 5 a.m.—and always without setting an alarm clock.  After drinking coffee and perusing the news, Wasserman quickly gets down to business. 

Perhaps one reason he enjoys his work so much is that he doesn’t try to do what his mentors—Skora, former Federation president Joel Friedman, and father-in-law, Ralph Washofsky—did.  Instead, he “does his own thing,” finding what he enjoys, and the jobs in which he finds the most satisfaction. 

Wasserman chose Federation in part because it is the “big umbrella,” the organization in the Jewish community that can affect—and therefore positively impact—the largest number of people.  Yet his goal is not to reinvent or overhaul Federation.  Rather, Wasserman believes “This is not a time to come in with my own agenda, separate and apart from the leadership before me.  Our community has been working for almost a year on developing a strategic plan, and it has just completed a demographic survey.  My job will be to follow the direction set by the community.” 

With that said, Wasserman has much he hopes Federation will accomplish under his leadership.  “Federation can allow for a better life for our city’s current residents, while spreading the word to others about the opportunities available here.  We are at a point where Federation can take positive steps to promote diversity, insure the community’s long-term financial stability and help to insure that all aspects of Jewish communal life remain available to our population.”

Dr. Wasserman now works for Ochsner, but when he began practicing medicine, his group was still known as the Rothschild Pediatric Group, of which his father, Dr. Charles Wasserman, was a founding member.  Born and raised in New Orleans, Wasserman graduated from Newman High School in the same class as Federation’s immediate past-president Allan Bissinger, and a few years ahead of former Federation president, Bobby Garon. 

Forget JDate; Wasserman met his wife Lynne in the library of the Loyola Law School.  Claiming the Loyola Law library was nicer than his other options, he coyly suggests that he might have been interested in finding more than a quiet place to study.  When they met, she was in her first year of law school and he was in medical school.  Now, with busy law and medical practices respectively, and a host of family and volunteer obligations, they still try to have family dinner together whenever they don’t have meetings, and to get in numerous walks through their neighborhood.  They will both be participants on the Federation’s October Mission to Israel, which Lynne is co-chairing. 

Wasserman has found his work with the Jewish community to be tremendously rewarding, and encourages every member of the Jewish community to find their own niche.  “Get involved in a way that meets your needs.   Do what feels good to you, what makes you happy—whether it’s at your synagogue or with any other Jewish organization. Working with the Jewish community has expanded my social horizons, and makes me feel good.  Find out what’s in it for you.”