When you get back home after some time away, it's always good to catch up on your reading. In doing so this week, I read Tom Friedman's brilliant piece in The New York Times of Sunday, June 8: People vs. Dinosaurs -- about competing "bets" on Israel's future. In his column, Friedman noted how Eitan Wertheimer, the Israeli business leader, Warren Buffet's partner, and great philanthropist is "...famous for staying close to his customers." "If you sleep on the floor, you never have to worry about falling out of bed." This struck me as so apt to the present circumstance of United Jewish Communities as, in my experiences over 35 years, never had a representative organization been so out of touch with its customers -- with the distance growing day by day by day. I would wager that in his corporate life, the UJC Chair is "sleeping on the floor" but, in his UJC position, if he "fell out of bed," it would be a long way to the floor...a long, long way.
The current UJC leadership is very taken with consultants, they employ more for more diverse purposes than any other organization with which I am familiar -- marketing and research firms, community planners, management consultants, even what its CEO described as "white shoe Wall Street" law firms, among others. Lost in all the consulting are UJC's Mission and its purpose. Given the embrace by UJC of every form of consultant guru, I thought I would provide them with a bit of the wisdom of one of their historic favorites -- James Collins. Over the years of UJC's existence, Jimmy Collins has spoken at GA's (and met privately with UJC leaders there), his works could inspire thoughtful debate about UJC's and our system's future.
Years ago, Collins wrote: "Re-engineering and other prevailing management fads that urge dramatic change and fundamental transformation on all fronts are not only wrong; they are dangerous. Any great and enduring human institution must have an underpinning of core values and sense of timeless purpose that should never change." (Emphasis added.) Those organizations that have gone "from good to great," Collins observes, "...have done so by grasping the difference between timeless principles and daily practices." Collins concludes, citing examples in corporate practice, that "[A] true core value is something you would hold even if it became a competitive disadvantage (although that seldom happens)."
And Collins, while not knowing UJC when he wrote this challenge, spoke directly to the most critical issue facing UJC today -- its current lay and professional leaders have no understanding of or appreciation for"the bedrock principles -- the 'what we stand for' and 'why we exist'" -- that could make of UJC the moral bedrock and central address of our system. If they ever knew it, they have forgotten it in the pursuit of their own agendas and in their absolute belief that l'etat c'est moi. They seem not to understand or care about the the core values that ennoble our system and drive it forward in the pursuit of tikkun olam. They fail to understand that there is a vast gulf between the core values of Purell and those of the federation system -- and never is the gulf open to debate. When I told Joe Kanfer directly of my belief that the federation system and UJC are in an extremely fragile condition requiring examination and discussion and federation leadership's engagement and debate with and within UJC, he scoffed. When Howard Rieger has been challenged, or a federation has respectfully declined to participate in an UJC initiative unilaterally announced by UJC, he has angrily attacked even federation CEO's.
Winston Churchill, when asked the secret of success, answered with great sarcasm: "...it is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm." Under that standard, absent Churchill's sarcasm, UJC's leaders have been eminently successful and its lay and professional leaders should be congratulated.