Sunday, June 8, 2008


I was sitting at my Chicago Federation's Overall Planning and Allocations Committee meeting last week when the thought struck me that our federations often act toward UJC as does a parent to a spoiled child.

The federation "haves" respond to initiatives (frequently those they have themselves created) while UJC plays the role of "bill collector;" the federation "have nots" are not even given the consideration of consultation, process or discussion. All federations but the select few essentially are asked only to pay their dues, and to otherwise get out of the way. The national organization is not playing the role of convenor; it is not playing the role of consensus builder; in fact, too often it is playing no role whatsoever. UJC's Board Chair and CEO have their own agendas (almost bi-monthly reorganization, an expensive marketing/branding initiative, positioning UJC as a funding/social service provider in Israel, dreamers of large unarticulated Supplemental campaigns while the annual campaigns of so many federations suffer) while the federations themselves go about their business neither driving UJC to be the best it can be nor seemingly caring very much about what UJC does with its $37 million "hardship budget."

The wag who wrote "if you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there" knew that of which he/she wrote; we, unfortunately, are not only living the mantra through UJC, we are the enablers. Let me explain.

The Israel Advocacy Initiative, the "IAI," about which I have written recently, is a terrific program.UJC has declared, at its Board Retreat in Newport Beach last January, and, last month, at its Board and Assembly meetings, how critical is the role the IAI plays in framing our system's advocacy policies vis-a-vis Israel. Yet, other than federation leaders playing key roles, the so-called "partnership" between UJC and JCPA in the IAI is simple: federations are the funding partners, UJC sends out the bills, and the JCPA is the action/programmatic partner. So, UJC stresses the import of the IAI, parcels out the costs to the federations and that's it (well, not quite, to support the IAI, UJC went to the national agency Alliance funding pool [a pool of funds for the critical priorities of our funded national agencies] and strong-armed $80,000 for the IAI with no prior or post-discussion with the national agency leadership) -- after long presentations at Newport Beach (with [1] very few in attendance and [2] little discussion because, face it, UJC structures its meetings to avoid dialogue); and a "briefing" at its Executive Committee where a "budget" (nothing more than a single page summary of almost $3,000,000 in proposed expenses) was distributed with no line-by-line analysis of a three-year ask, three weeks ago prorated among the 159 federations as if some actual process and approval had taken place. My community was asked for and will pay its $300,000 IAI bill because we believe in the collective enterprise, we believe in the IAI and participate in it and we have the funds through our incredible IEC effort. But, others won't; and there continues to be no UJC advocacy for anything other than dues, disaster relief, etc.

A cause to which all of us must be deeply, deeply committed -- advocacy for sanctions and more against the terrorist regime in Iran -- is being converted into a multi-million dollar three-year bi-partisan not-for-profit effort: the creation of a broad-based advocacy organization for which the federations (or, at least, some of them) apparently have "accepted" a three-year multi-million "share." And, just where and how did this "acceptance" take place? Was there a national process? And, what's UJC's role in all of this? Apparently none -- no engagement, no leadership, certainly no discussion or vote. Or, maybe I missed it. Maybe a group of federations got together and agreed this was one of our highest priorities, as it should be. My federation will commit its 9% pro rata share -- other communities will/have been asked to pony up. It's one of if the most important efforts one can imagine; but, is this how our system is to work?

The seminal question: if these two critical advocacy efforts are among the highest priorities of the federations, why aren't these dollars, totalling some $2 million per year, in the UJC Budget paid by the federations of $37 million -- not over and above the budget, in it? I have asked this question before -- and after the "Harumphs" and the rolled eyes and the quizzical stares (or in UJC's case, the silence), I hear: "UJC had to cut its budget by $3.2 million...painful...38 people fired...painful." But, my friends, what are the federations' priorities for UJC? These are never discussed, never debated today -- priorities were debated passionately at UJA year after year; they were debated strongly at CJF, year after year. Today, the debate is over the dollars, not the priorities -- never the priorities. The owners' attitude today seems to be: "Just keep the costs down and we'll leave you alone." So, UJC proceeds in its unfocused way, in a multitude of directions at once. And, only rarely do the priorities of the two coincide: the federation-driven IEC, disaster relief, the bond program, peer yardstick, the collaborative model. (All that for $37 million, imagine.) But, not only is there not a dime available in the UJC Budget for the IAI or advocacy for sanctions against Iran, there's none for Israel@60, or Blue Knot or Limudim or emerging communities., and on and on.

When my beloved community, a model of what collective responsibility means in the 21st Century, and a few others act, as a terrific federation leader described it, as an ATM for UJC, without demanding that UJC focus, debate and then agree to national priorities and without demanding accountability and discipline from UJC, we are nothing, more or less,than enablers. By failing to insist on priority-setting by the federations for UJC, we embolden UJC's leadership to continue to go their own way without regard for the federations' priorities for UJC. And the federations continue to go their various ways independent of UJC. We have effectively and sadly turned the core concept of collective responsibility on its head.

When we choose blind cheer-leading as the support strategy for UJC as opposed to critical analysis and debate, at the end of the day we are contributing to weakening UJC leading to the eventual deconstruction of UJC not its potential or its strength. Requests for funding projects outside the UJC Budget have never been honored by more than an affluent few. The expectations created when not followed by success weaken our system and when federations, pressured to pay over and above, themselves use the allocation to JDC/JAFI (often with UJC's implicit encouragement), they, too, are forced to consider direct fund raising to support critical programs of human needs -- Jewish needs -- these actions by UJC and the federations are inconsistent with the "partnership" we claim to share with JAFI and JDC.

As long as we, as the owners of UJC, fail to require UJC to focus on its priorities as our national agent, we weaken UJC. And as long as UJC's lay and professional leaders believe that they can act with impunity with process, if at all, only following "facts on the ground," UJC cannot succeed as all of us want it to succeed.

When will they learn, when will they ever learn?

Chag Shavuot sameach.


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