Sunday, February 3, 2008


In an Op-Ed in this week's Forward, Jeffrey Solomon, the creative and insightful President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Phlanthropies, wrote Agencies Must Gird themselves For A Recession reflecting on the potential impacts of a "full-blown recession...on Jewish organizational life." No opinion piece could be more relevant to those of us in our federations and, in particular, at United Jewish Communities, but, compare Agencies Must Gird... with the UJC Board Agenda last Sunday-Monday in Newport Beach and the follow-ups in the February 1 Howard's View and the UJC Briefing "UJC Board of Trustees Discusses New Ideas." of the same date. No mention, not a reference in the UJC agenda of the potential impacts of a recessive economy on the federation owners.

In the UJC Briefing and in the major presentations to the UJC Board, the Chair focused, instead, on "leadership for the big issues and ideas of Jewish life" -- unformed concepts of massive supplemental campaigns for, e.g., the "Passport to Jewish Life" which would provide commendable innovative "gateways to Jews who might not otherwise be involved in the community" by provideing a $1000 gift to offset the costs of Jewish affiliation. UJC's Treasurer, so taken with the concepts, "said the system should aim to raise $3.6 - $5 billion for offering higher gift amounts." Great. As a system we only raised $960 million in Operation Exodus in the most historic special fund raising effort in our system's history (which, based on federation estimates to JAFI of significantly greater results left the Jewish Agency, UIA and the federations $100's of millions in debt at the end of the day), but what the heck, I'm from Chicago where Daniel Burnham once challenged us to "...make no little plans."

Add to the "Passport..." a second unformed massive Supplemental Giving concept rolled out to the UJC Board, an $80 to $100 million dollar supplemental Fund for Children in which UJC and the federations would partner with JDC and JAFI..."make no little plans," indeed.

Nowhere on the UJC Board Agenda was there any apparent room for discussion of the implications of a failing economy. Jeff Solomon wrote:

"Economic cycles have enormous impact on organizational health and, therefore,
on the health of the overall community. We all bear the responsibility to accept
the mantle of leadership so that our communal organizations can continue to de-
liver their services regardless of the economic and environmental stresses -- and
so that our community can maintain its tradition of incomparable compassion and

And, where are the funds for continued service delivery found -- in the Annual Campaign that is the lifeblood of our federations as well as the lifeblood of JDC and the Jewish Agency -- actually, even the annual cash source of budgetary dues support for UJC itself. Eric Levine, who is charged with professional leadership of UJC's Development work surely understands this, every federation lay and professional leader understands it; yet, UJC, with a strange tunnel vision, proceeds to role out unformed "big ideas" without apparent regard for the potential devastation to our federation and Israel/overseas system being devastated by economic conditions that impact the Annual Campaign. But, the issue appeared nowhere on UJC's agenda. Too "small" an idea, I guess.


1 comment:

Tateh said...

our beloved federation system was established to support agencies - relevant, dynamic and evolving agencies. When agencies, as is their fashion, fell into a desert of wandering we gave up on them so quickly and either found new loves or prayed at the alter of direct entitlements, like free trips and birth gifts. Now is the time to reinvest in agencies,agencies that will change and bring in creative lay and professional talents, that will make hard choices about mission and relevance. And these agencies will change the lives of Jews, one, two, twenty, hundreds at a time.