Last night 12,000 Jewish Chicagoans gathered for an incredible celebration at Northwestern's Welsh-Ryan (think of those two Northwestern University benefactors' reactions) Arena for an Israel@60 Gala. Chaired by Lester Crown (whose Opening Remarks should be distributed worldwide), with Comedian Jeff Garlin, Elie Wiesel and musician David Broza, it was a night to remember. Celebrations continue, hosted by federations and supporting organizations across the United States -- with one notable organization missing in action.
On the date of the 60th Anniversary itself, UJC did rouse itself from its slumber and send out a self-congratulatory Announcement....on the Budget Committee results. While we waited for further inspiration from our national organization, some...some...acknowledgment of this special day from UJC...we heard only the "sounds of silence." This was a shanda. I don't know about you, but I expect the national organization of the Federation system to speak for us...to speak to us...on days like this. UJC is pouring money into UJC Israel like never before (some day we might even see some results beyond the incisive reports of Nachman Shai); the GA will be held there in November. But, when it comes to Israel, Israel itself is too often an afterthought (or, on its 60th, a non-spoken thought.) An example beyond yesterday: in the meaningless Reorganization over one year ago, the Israel-Overseas Pillar was dismantled (with tens of involved lay leaders given their walking papers). In its stead UJC's chachams created the "Global Operations Work Group" -- Global Operations!!!! Even though UJC has no global operations (it strikes me that those are the purview of JDC, certainly, and JAFI)perhaps the name was aspirational -- today 111 Eight Avenue, tomorrow the world!! Some lay leaders objected in private correspondence with no apparent effect, arguing that to deemphasize Israel, even only in title, was the wrong statement for UJC to make. It was only when Large City Executives complained that compromise occurred -- Global Operations: Israel and Overseas.
So, was UJC's failure to acknowledge Israel@60 just pettiness or some form of institutional forgetfulness or, as is more likely the case, is its Budget its overriding concern? (As an aside, as the Budget Committee ended on May 7, and UJC leaders had advised the Committee that 37 staff members would lose their jobs as a result of a Budget cut to "only" $37 million, Joe Kanfer, in a totally unnecessary obiter dictum, advised the Committee [and I paraphrase]: "even if the Budget had remained at $40.2 million, we would have fired 37 staffers.")
This afternoon, May 9, after my original Post on this matter was published, I received (forwarded because,as I have noted, I have been deleted as a direct recipient) Howard Rieger's weekly View, containing, albeit a dollar late and certainly a day short, sort of a tribute to Israel on its 60th. Appropriately, Howard notes the celebrations across the country and a great Federation leader's, D.C."s Norm Goldstein's, leadership efforts in that regard. What Howard doesn't mention is that but for the assignment of a fine UJC professional to work with Norman, neither a dollar of UJC's Budget was offered to support this effort, nor was UJC a co-sponsor of any of the great events that have taken place from Chicago to Seattle or that will take place in, e.g., Radio City in NYC or the Kodak in LA or on the National Mall in Washington. Never was there the intent for a national celebration (where was that decision made and by whom), never was there a discussion of why the GA would beheld in Jerusalem in November rather than in Israel on Yom Ha'Atzmaut itself (and where and by whom was that decision made). Norm Goldstein demonstrated what a committed lay leader can achieve, it's too bad that UJC leadership failed to lend a hand.
Now, these same UJC leaders will be on their flights to Israel for President Peres's Conference where they will hobnob with academics, political leaders and great Jewish thought leaders and talk and talk, as they are wont to do, of their commitment to Israel. Shame on UJC...and shame on us.