Wednesday, October 8, 2008


With UJC sinking faster than an investment bank, and at this time on the Jewish calender for introspection, and for al chait, it is time (some of you I know, believe it long past time) for me to put this Blog on hiatus. I have been writing these past almost 10 months of the systemic disappointment that UJC has become under the current lay and professional leadership; I sense no updraft from the downward spiral of UJC. Yet, I remain confident that UJC can be fixed and will be fixed when the current leadership leaves the scene. Enough of you have written me and called me -- federation lay and professional leaders from across the country, from every City-size group -- for me to know that you "get it," that change is in the wind -- not change imposed by the current misguided national "leadership," but change driven by the federation system, UJC's owners. Those changes should be immediate. (Read the escalating compensation that Howard Rieger has been paid over the years since he took on the CEO position in this week's Chronicle of Philanthropy, compare his salaries with the UJC's results and this will tell you all you need to know of the air of unreality that exists at 111 Eighth Avenue. Is there really a Compensation Committee at UJC?)

Since Howard Rieger announced his decision to retire next August, he has been telling his senior staff, and federation professional leaders around the country, that the "problem" at UJC has been Joe Kanfer's interference -- stating UJC positions without consultation, constantly demanding that UJC change course without prior discussion, and leaving the UJC professionals to take the system's heat. On this one I give Howard the benefit of the doubt. Yet, in many ways, Joe is Howard's "creation" (for more on this read my book to be published in the first quarter 2009 -- United Jewish Catastrophes..the Love Story Ends) and, therefore, Howard is not free from blame. May this be the last time our national organization is led by a Chair who doesn't understand how federations work or what they need, and, it appears, who doesn't understand the lay-professional partnership.

Anyone who has read my Posts understands my commitment to and passion for a strong central address for the federation system. We didn't create UJC to be either a reincarnated UJA or CJF ( and does anyone believe that in the midst of a financial catastrophe that is the economic equivalent for federations as Hurricane Katrina was a natural disaster for so many communities, that either of the predecessor organizations would be silent, without a plan as is UJC?) but an entity that would be better than either, better than the sum of its parts. We appeared to me to be on the cusp of that success at the time Steve Hoffman resigned as CEO...and, then, it all fell apart through federation disinterest, paying dues without regard to the ever-diminishing return on dues investment, an evermore exclusive lay leadership circle consisting of those who nodded their heads in agreement with the Board Chair's and CEO's wants and desires, apparently never questioning "is this what the federations want or need" (and G-d forbid, we ever talk with them about their wants and needs) and terrible personnel management. I have questioned where has the passion gone, where are the charismatic leaders, what is the organization's dedication to the Mission and Vision set out for it at its inception (not as Rieger unilaterally rewrote it, springing it on the owners in a View)?

I have banged my head against this wall for too long. I look forward in this New Year to a new cadre of lay leadership and a new professional leader who will deliver a UJC in which we can all take pride -- one that will engage all of us in this holy work. The sooner the better.


G'mar hatima tova,



long time observer said...

I didn't get to this till today, but I must say that I am both sad and glad that you are putting the blog on hiatus: sad, because we do need a venue in which to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the federation system and UJC; glad, because your blog clearly wasn't it.

I'm truly sorry that you were never able to separate what is apparently your personal pique and the attacks you chose to make on individual leaders from the substantive critiques that you offered of policies and directions. You have been a significant and dedicated leader in our system, and even though, as I have previously written, I think you are dead wrong in terms of what you advocate for the federations and UJC, the issues you raised are genuinely important.

Sadly, I notice that you could not resist one final (?) effort to point the finger of blame at Joe Kanfer and Howard Rieger. Anyone who knows them will likely (and rightly) dismiss your characterizations. (The notion that Joe Kanfer does not understand lay-professional relations will, e.g., be laughable to anyone who has worked closely with him as a professional.) For those who may not: Be assured. Richard has a version of reality that is obviously deeply felt, but only loosely connected to what actually takes place.

Happily, you are quite right that the federation system will go on without you (and me). There is indeed lots of work still to be done to re-calibrate the federations and UJC for the 21st century, and many good people working on just that, including Joe and his fellow leaders at UJC.

So, take a break. Do some post- Yom Kippur reflection on how Jewish tradition teaches us to speak about others, even in offering reproof, and if you can get over what seems to be your personal animosity, I look forward to reading and responding to your thoughts again in the future.

(BTW, how come if so many people write you to express their support, they never comment publicly on the blog? Oh well. Having more people in the discussion would have been useful.)

In the meantime, Shabbat shalom and chag sameach to all.

Dan said...

Dear longtime observer,

As someone who also blogs about our Jewish world, I can tell you that a great number of people prefer to offer their comments privately. Whether in 100% support or disagreement with what is written is not important.

My experience is that the majority of senior professionals and lay leaders in the Jewish world are not comfortable enough with the open forum of blogs to venture in this realm with real dialogue. Probably why you don't yet see open blogs on their sites.

RWEX said...

In response to my Posts, I have been gratified by the number of professionals and lay leaders in our system who have written me privately with the concerns that they and I share. I have heard from current and past professionals within UJC some of whom have poured their hearts out to me. All who have written me have done so knowing that I would not breach the confidences they have shared with me -- that may include the anonymoyu "long time observer" who can't bring himself/herself to attach his/her own name to Comments accusing me of being wrong about just about everything I have written laughingly stating, this time, that I have written out of "personal pique" and that I am dead wrong in terms of what (I) advocate for the federations and UJC," while never stating what might be "right."

I have engaged in my introspection with the advice and counsel of others. But, I will be back to these pages soner rather than later.