Thursday, April 10, 2008


The great Conservative Rabbi, Ben Zion Bokser, z'l, once observed:

There are three prerequisites for effective criticism, according to the Talmud,
and they apply to anyone who seeks to correct his neighbor, which is the
ultimate goal of preachment. The person to be (criticized) must be willing to
accept criticism, the critic must know how to criticize, and he must be virtuous
enough to merit the role of being a critic.

I admit to my failure to meet Rabbi Bokser's standards for the role of critic; unfortunately for our system, there are those at the top of the UJC food chain who view all criticism unworthy and those who criticize, in any way, even less so.

Look at what has happened to those in lay or professional roles who have criticized the actions taken at UJC over the past two years -- they have been demeaned publicly and privately, shunned and ignored. Criticism is not merely ignored, it is not tolerated. While leaders prattle about "welcoming criticism," yada...yada...yada, their actions once again speak loudest. They...can't...stand...criticism. Almost anyone who has led a federation, a local or national agency, learns to deal with those who disagree with their actions and soon recognizes that most act out of a sense of shem l'shamayim. I can honestly state that some of those who were most severe in their criticism of me during my time in national leadership are today among my dearest friends.

We operate today in a "go along to get along" environment. And too many lay and professional leaders have chosen that easy path even as they express themselves privately to me (and probably to you) that as they can't effect change, it's a lot easier to "take the high road" -- that is to say to do nothing. Yet, that "road" is, again, the "Bridge to Nowhere" and that path is inconsistent with our responsibility for tikkun olam. For, at least to me, embodied in the concept of "repairing the world" is the obligation...the speak out.

Sure, this Blog has been criticized by many as being destructive -- actually, most, if not all, of leadership's attacks on this Blog have not been directed at the substance of what has been written but with the fact that it has been written at all. (I suppose I would be gratified that these leaders read this Blog at all but I'm not -- I would be gratified if they were responsive to the substance in any way, shape or form instead of shouting out "look at what we have been suffering with" or "we can't work this way.")

I want all of the readers of UJ Thee and Me to know that through 2007 I attempted to influence change through private correspondence. It was only when that failed to evoke any...any...response from leadership -- and I would have welcomed even a "you're wrong, Richard, and here's why" (and I was being attacked as the alleged author of another Blog with, of course, no proof [as has been the case with a litany of other vilifying accusations] but always with absolute certainty) that I turned to writing more publicly these Posts.

No, I fail to meet Rabbi Bokser's standards, but I will continue to try to live up to the principles that guide and the passion that motivates almost...almost... all of us in Jewish communal life.



Simeon Wolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simeon Wolf said...

I have been reading your blog since its inception and an employee of a large Federation I find the issues you bring to the fore and the constructive criticism you provide of the system to be invaluable.
I am sensitive to now working in the field as well as in a National office through past work experience. What I fail to understand is why some of my fellow professionals at the UJC don't fully understand what the real needs are out in the field. It would build a lot of good will, bridges and dare I say “enlightenment” to create a cadre of “Field Reps” that travel to many of our communities and stay for a few weeks to take stock in the situation of their “customers”. These field reps could then report back to the UJC and create real lines of communication. We preach about creating living bridges between us and Israel but when it comes to our own home and system we barely communicate. A
"list serve” is not real communication. That is the system that exists for many of us right now. We really know better as professionals that this way of communicating is not ideal. I don’t have email relationships with my donors… I meet face to face…I have shared experiences etc. I have interactions of meaning and purpose.
So many times I have racked my brain with feelings that they just don’t understand on 8th Avenue what is happening beyond the Hudson. It’s time to build a living bridge across all “SILOS” etc (insert you own in speak phrase here) and on all levels. If not now... when?

RWEX said...


Thanks for your insights from the field. You have identified the real "silo" that desperately needs deconstruction -- the silo that is UJC itself, constructed by its current leadership and isolated from the federation owners. As those "in charge" are actually the ones who built this fortress, the owners themselves -- the federations -- are the ones who must take it down.