Friday, April 4, 2008


The leadership of UJC preaches a kind of Orwellian doublespeak in trying to convince the federation owners as they have convinced themselves that great change is upon us ... if only we had the patience to wait for it. Let's examine two of many myths against the realities:

  • The One Year-Old Implementation of the Organizational Strategy has successfully "torn down the Silos perpetuated in the merger." This is as good a place to start as any. The perceived "silos" were of Campaign/FRD, Israel/Overseas, Renaissance and Renewal and Consulting Services. Today, we have the Jewish Peoplehood Initiative, Global Operations: Israel and Overseas, and Community Capacity Building (to which Campaign/FRD has not been integrated but absorbed). The reality, new silos at best with new names and, in two instances, new professional leadership -- old wine in new bottles with a Table of Organization in place that would rival the Tower of Babel. The Large City Executives, in a paper essentially and effectively rejecting the Organizational Strategy -- Refining UJC's Vision (a paper which UJC leaders refuse to release to UJC's own Executive or Budget Committees let alone the UJC Board[more about its findings in an upcoming Post]) -- calling for, among other things, a reduction in dues, a reduction in the investment in UJC Israel and for a reordering of UJC priorities to emphasize rather than deemphasize fund raising, will be rationalized away by UJC's leaders unless the Large City Executives demand UJC leadership's attention to its recommendations.

  • UJC leaders demand a "seamless alignment" of all aspects of UJC's work and programs. Let's look at how this plays out in practice in at least one area. UJC's CEO has pointed with deserved pride to UJC's Campaign leadership's work with 20 federations in developing the "collaborative fund raising model." This "model" which trains professionals to integrate the "ask" for campaign, endowment and supplemental funds was conceived by the FRD Study Committee that I co-chaired with incredible partners: Cleveland's Berinthia Levine and Chattanooga's Michael Lebovitz. It was developed and originally implemented under the guidance of Vicki Agron since shoved out of UJC by leadership's demeaning and humiliating "the ends justify the means" tactics. While singing the praises of the collaborative model, in the brilliance of its "seamless alignment" strategy, UJC's leaders disintegrate the UJC internal collaboration of campaign, endowment and supplemental giving by separating campaign and endowment from supplemental FRD by keeping the former within Development" and moving the latter to the so-called Center for Jewish Philanthropy with its own Chair, independent of the National Campaign Chair. Why the misalignment for one of UJC's "top priorities," you might ask? "Don't ask," you would be told.

Now, UJC rhetoric often combines the mantra: "seamless alignment can only be accomplished by tearing down the Silos." Sure. This syllogism can be compared to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens' historic pork (excuse me) barrel support for what became known as the Alaska "Bridge to Nowhere" -- after the investment are we any closer to the goal? "Don't ask," you would be told.

The realities at United Jewish Communities must be separated from this UJC rhetoric . Is it the hope of today's leadership that federation lay and professional leaders haven't the time or the interest to ignore the rhetoric and examine what is really happening with their $40.5 million (+) per year, let alone speak out in frustration? Those who do speak out -- be they Federations from Large City to Small, their CEO's and Chairs, or just lay persons who question -- continue to be dismissed as "out of step," "sour grapes," "treasonous"....or worse. But, the cries of pain are getting louder, the authors of Refining UJC's Vision will neither be brushed aside nor vilified so easily and hope for real change is in the air like the first breaths of our new Spring.



Tateh said...

reading your posts Richard I'm reminded of the novel The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa about a sicilian nobleman grappling with the death of traditional society and the birth of a more ruthless age. In all but possibly Chicago the discipline and loyalties of the old federation and UJA are now gone replaced by arrogant mega donors and bean counting foundations, professionals with disdain for their laity slouching their way to a fat retirement and laity with no reflective sense of the system's history and hence unable to reimagine the future. But am yisrael chai and out of the rubbles of our nostalgia will be born a successor structure worthy of our beautiful children and grandchildren.

RWEX said...

Thanks for your beautiful message.

I fear we are dealing not alone with the "rubble of nostalgia," but with the destruction of dreams.

I think you, Tateh, should be writing this Blog, not I.

Tateh said...

thanks but you're doing just fine...and to paraphrase a line from a great debate: "I knew Richard Wexler and I'm no Richard Wexler".