Sunday, December 28, 2008


Yesterday the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, sitting side-by-side with his Foreign and Defense Ministers, described the actions Israel has been forced to take to protect its citizens from the constant attacks of the Hamas terrorists. "We are prepared to shoulder the burden," Ehud Olmert said, as Israel always has. And in every war to which Israel has been forced to respond, we, the Jews of North America, world Jewry, has taken on as our obligation in the historic partnership of the Jewish People our share of that burden. Will we this time? Who will rally us? While we pray that Israel will not experience full-scale war, with rockets continuing to rain down on Israel's South, where do we turn if our extended mishpacha reaches out to us once again? How will we respond?

We know that our national organization, United Jewish Communities, is effectively leaderless at this critical time. So many federations, impacted by the economy and Madoff's criminality, have turned inward. Until the special campaign in response to the first Intifada our donors had always been inspired by a focused, respected, inspirational national leadership to achievements thought, until those great chapters in modern Jewish history, to be beyond our means. We have always...always...stood tall, been there. But, the response to that first Intifada was inspired by the federations who demanded the leadership of our national organization. Later, the Israel Emergency Campaign that raised $362 million was federation driven -- an emergency campaign where the national organization followed, counting the money, prioritizing its expenditure and calling the IEC off even as the terrorists attacks continued. Now, the same "leaders" who failed to lead that IEC effort confront the potential for a war in which the demands on Diaspora Jewry may again be great.

One of the saddest moments of so many in 2008 arose out of the Israel Overseas/Global Operations determination that an emergency need of $13.2 million for victims of terror in Israel's South required immediate funding. There were, however, no IEC funds remaining -- UJC had failed to conduct a cash collection effort. So the IO/GO Chair sent out an "ask" for $13.2 million to the federations where the effort died and, with so many other "asks" went onto the UJC shelf.

With UJC's leaders having effectively denuded the Development lay leadership (but for National Women's Philanthropy whose leaders clear focus remains the inspiration it always has) the federations, their $37 million dues investment notwithstanding, will have to take on the emergency campaign themselves. This should not have to be the case. Months...months... before economic catastrophe, the Large City Executives "persuaded" UJC to bring together the system's mega-donors and shape a new mega-donor/federation/UJC effort as UJA had done in the 90's (or at least initiated). Rieger was to staff the effort and the results...take a guess. Had those donors been organized and meeting, UJC might have been able to convene them in the midst of crisis. But, instead, Howard and Joe have been very busy with the Strategic Plan for....UJC...while the federations have no central address to which to turn (and when they do turn, most, other than a select group of Large City Executives, get no answers).

At a time of what should be our greatest strength, a time that needs our greatest strength, we must find that strength in ourselves. We have no one home at UJC; it is a moment of our greatest weakness. We confront a national malaise without the leadership who could inspire us to our responsibilities. It is pathetic; it is so sad...and, if the federations would take the action they should, so unnecessary.


P.S. UJC "leaders" were in a frenzy today -- suggesting the IEC be "reinstituted" (forgetting that it was UJC that stopped it), convening conference call among its few experienced campaign leaders (forgetting that so many of them had been forced out or urged out).

1 comment:

Leslie said...

With all due respect, I think you're off base. Not on your statements about UJC -- those, as usual, are on point.

This is not the Jewish community of yesteryear that can gear up for an emergency drive every few years. As it is, this year's annual campaign pitch is laced with urgency unseen in recent years. Federations are making their annual campaign pitch using more compelling messaging driven by the economic situation. (Perhaps a different time we can discuss what is a uniquely Jewish response to the economic downturn.)

Yes, war is a compelling situation. But what is the need? What is Israel's capacity? What actually is accomplished with emergency campaign dollars? Is this just to assuage guilt felt by some American Jews?

To be sure we must stand squarely with Israel. Is writing a check the only manifestation of solidarity, support and concern? What makes the current situation (or its worsening) "worthy" of an emergency campaign?

One other thought: If there are legitimate needs arising from the current situation in Gaza, perhaps we ought to reshuffle the priorities to reflect these needs and redirect existing resources appropriately.

Donors would be right, especially when they are strapped, to demand that we prioritize. At the end of the day, isn't this why federations exist in the first place?

I think donors are tired of "emergencies." They see them as predictable and probably inevitable attempts to get them to give more. And perhaps they even work (although is it not true that the 2006 IEC raised considerably less than the emergency campaign from 2000/2001? If I am right, does that suggest "emergency campaign fatigue"?). But at what cost? If we are constantly running emergency campaigns what does that say about the uncompelling nature our annual campaign?

This is not the Israel of 1967 or 1973. And to be sure this is not the American Jewish donor of that period either.