Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I have been gratified that so many of you have e-mailed me directly to tell me of your appreciation for this very personal Blog and to express your own concerns about UJC as well as to reflect on your personal engagement with Jewish communal life. There is nothing wrong with reminiscence so long as we remain focused on the present and the future. All of us who have learned from the past and incorporated that learning into our lives are in the best possible position to understand what UJC could and should be. A new Federation Chair very recently asked me why I remain involved. My response was to paraphrase: "Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?" Your letters are a clear indication that you share that dream, that vision, that question...and that answer.

Among other letters, I heard from a friend who has been and is a leader on the local and national stage and is deeply committed to the ultimate success of our national enterprise. In part he wrote:

"Your message on the Internet cleared a lot of cobwebs...and reminded me
of the reasons that I have been involved in this meshuggah organization for
so many years.

My personal involvement...included amongst other things, the original NTC
(National Training Center) where a bunch of crazy people were ready to fly
anywhere -- at a moment's notice -- to train others to do solicitations. Those
were the days of the Bud Levin's, and many others, (who) saw the value of
'the system' to support the local and overseas needs of federations by doing
more suite solicitations than I care to remember."

My friend continued further:

"...[W]hy did the organization ever give up the brand -- UJA? We had a won-
derful brand. It was a well known brand and recognized in every part of the
world for quality because we had a fine image and did meaningful work.

Having a good 'brand' does not make a worthwhile organization and a success-
ful image. Certainly, the UJC has spent tons of money to develop the 'brand'
but the image of the organization leaves lots to be desired.

We already have a brand -- let's focus on the work of the organization. The
($845,000) funds could be better allocated toward meaningful services for
the Jewish people."

I remember so well, as a young leader and Past Chair of my federation when UJA moved Operation Exodus forward. Tens of UJA lay leaders fanned out across America rallying federations in support of what would become a $1 billion Campaign that assisted our brothers and sisters in their aliya and in resettlement for some in America. I remember UJA Executive Committee meetings where our CEO would offer idea after idea (maybe even a "big idea" or two) and we would debate them, really debate them, often with sarcasm and some humor but always with a seriousness of purpose. From the multitude of ideas came, among others, Partnership 2000 which thrives even today. But I also remember UJA as a place where men and women, young leaders and older, lay and professional, came together with an understanding that our first mission was to strengthen the Annual Campaign without which the federations from which all of us came could not be the central address of the community. We were infused with a passion for the Jewish People and we loved one another.

Today, the canvas on which so many of you wrote great chapters in modern Jewish history is being unnecessarily defaced with a distortion of that history. Examples:

  • UJA "just took its budget off the top of allocated funds without regard for the federations." During my time, the UJA Budget Committee, on which I served for years and chaired, was made up of federation lay leaders. We met over two days and heatedly debated priorities. The pressure to reduce the Budget was consistently before us; that pressure was not disregarded.
  • UJA leaders were in large measure responsible for the "silos" which UJC's reorganization will once and for all eliminate. Our UJC Chair reported to the Board at Newport Beach that the silos were so immense that when the three organizations -- UJA, UIA and CJF --moved and merged the space was divided by the organizations like three separate shtetls in one space. The fact was that the three organizations moved in together to 111 Eighth Avenue well before there was a merger and well before a merger could have been predicted. While in this way the identity of each organization was preserved until the merger, the space arrangement was not an obstacle to integration post-merger.
  • The national system can't impact on the Annual Campaign. So, that false premise leads to the conclusion that the only real impact UJC can have is through massive Special Campaigns with a narrative that suggests competiton with the Annual Campaigns that are the lifeblood of our federations.

UJC can and will succeed on its own; it does not need its own misinformed version of the predecessor organizations' glorious histories in order to succeed. What it needs today is a cadre of federation leadership who like my friend who took the time to write are willing to do more for UJC than some day they will "care to remember."


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