Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Can there be such a thing as "Institutional Insanity"? If so, I witnessed it yesterday. Late yesterday afternoon, Howard Rieger sent the following Memo to Federation Executive Directors (a Memo that I assume he didn't intend to place in the hands of federation lay leaders and, most certainly, not in mine):


I am writing to urge you to maximize the funding of the Ethiopian National Project, either from your federation's resources or from your community's donors.

As I wrote last month, the ENP's impact on those it serves has been independently verified, and it is extraordinarily impressive.

Yet the ENP today is serving far too few students (8,000 out of a potential 16,000), and the funding for half of those kids (including training and employment of their 240 Ethiopian-Israeli teachers) is in jeopardy. The reason: Israel Emergency Campaign funding expanded service into the North and elsewhere -- but now those funds are spent. The ENP needs $10 million, half of which must come from the North American Jewish community.

On August 15, Rabbi Michael Melchior, a Knesset member and chair of its Education, Culture and Sports Committee, met with me to deliver a message to our system. Cutting the ENP would be a 'national crime,' he said.

This is not Rabbi Melchior's view alone. I have sent you the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Study, which details quantitatively the ENP's deep impact. Israel's Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, echoes that conclusion in her July 22 letter, which is attached. I am also attaching a powerful letter, at once passionate and factual from the leaders of Israel's Ethiopian community.

Please work with us in raising the funds needed to continue the ENP at the necessary level. Look at your own resources, speak to donors who might be able to help, and call on us. We are eager to help in any way, including in the solicitation of any donors. We can't let these kids down..."

A truly passionate ask for more funds for a critical program. I have been honored to serve on the ENP Board from its birth. I applauded UJC when, as part of the ONAD request, in its second year, aked for additional ENP funding in the form of a 5% increase over the prior year's federation allocation -- Chicago responded; as did Houston. Howard was leading Pittsburgh then -- neither his community nor almost any other responded. The ENP does need additional funding desperately. Of course, nowhere does Rieger reference the fact that the ENP today and since its founding has been funded by JAFI and JDC with, essentially, our federation dollars -- maybe he isn't aware. And, maybe he has forgotten that JAFI and JDC are suffering tremendous deficits -- or maybe he isn't aware.

Forget for a moment that this letter is no way to raise money -- it suggests the writer may have forgotten how you do so. Some facts: about ten weeks ago, Rieger made an ask of the Federations for, among other requests for additional funding beyond dues, additional ENP support -- as I recall, for an additional million or so per year for three years. There was no budget data accompanying the request, as was the case yesterday, it is an ask, now, for an additional $5 million. This "ask" at a time when the UJC Georgian-Russian Crisis Mailbox is practically bare, when the UJC has asked, with no follow-up after an allocation decision , for an additional $13 million-plus for the Victims of Terror in Southern Israel knowing there were no fund available, etc., etc. The only difference between the ENP "ask" and those for the Mailbox and Victims of Terror, is that the latter were approved in a UJC process, the ENP ask is Howard's, and his alone -- no process, no discussion, no debate, no prioritizing. Howard Rieger has decided that the ENP needs $5 million from our federations and that is enough, in his mind, to ask for it, disconnected from every other priority or non-priority at UJC.

This is not just incredible, it is nuts. What federation in North America would permit its CEO to solicit donors for massive funding for a pet project with no process whatsoever? And what would federation lay leadership do when a CEO makes his own ask for massive funding for something he/she deeply cares about without regard to all other federation needs? The question is rhetorical -- that CEO would be gone. Let's say that a federation CEO believed that his/her federation isn't allocating enough to day school education and unilaterally with no process sends a letter to his/her community's donors seeking millions from them. What happens to that CEO? What is the difference between that federation CEO doing private fund raising among federation donors and Rieger doing fund raising among UJC's "donors," the federations? Disarray, anyone? Do even long-time supporters observe a problem here, a CEO run amuck, an institution run amuck?

I'll ask again: if ENP emergency funding is one of UJC's most critical priorities -- apparently, to the CEO, the most critical -- why isn't UJC's own Budget a source for this emergency funding. Why is there nothing more than a Memorandum to Federation Executives? Why, if the Israel Overseas Council means anything, was this not a matter of discussion on its agenda yesterday? (If it was, forgive me.) Why was this not a matter worthy of discussion on last week's Executive Committee call?

Once again, UJC acts in a manner that demonstrates a lack of institutional credibility and a total lack of internal institutional accountability. This is not Charles Bronfman determining where to spend his Foundation's resources; this is an employed UJC professional deciding what federation priorities should be and competing with the other asks he has made without regard for the system's priorities. What thought could possibly have been given to this outreach? "Trust us," they say. Sure


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