Monday, January 12, 2009


In addition to Commentators to this Blog who choose to hide behind false names, I also receive hundreds of e-mails in reaction to each of these Posts from correspondents engaged with and, often, leading federations and agencies who don't hide but write knowing that I will not breach their confidence. Over the past few weeks our Posts have stimulated an array of messages that have, among other things, revealed that a greater number of federations than previously disclosed by UJC have decided they cannot or will not pay "Fair Share" Dues, some in whole, others in part; that distrust of the current leadership runs rampant across the federation horizon; that the Strategic Plan Draft is thought to be devoid of value to federations who are trying desperately to deal with the triple blows of the economic crisis, Madoff and the Gaza War; among other things. Many of those who write share a common frustration -- they have raised their concerns directly with UJC's current "leaders" and are totally ignored.

Let's look at what UJC has "accomplished" over just one week in the life of... It convened an Executive Committee meeting to discuss how to react to a War that was already ten days old. Only relief efforts proposed by JDC and JAFI totalling $19 million were in front of and discussed by an Executive Committee in a meeting described to me as "..the most embarrassing, chaotic leadership discussion" some had ever participated in resulting ultimately in the approval of only $10 million for emergency relief efforts. Remember, dear readers, that only JAFI and JDC proposals were on the table for consideration -- not those of ORT or the JCPA or the ITC or any other. Nonetheless, in 24 hours, the Israel Emergency Campaign "Work Group" was resuscitated and that Group of 4 or 5 approved huge grants no only to JAFI and JDC but to the ITC, the IAI and the ENP. I explained to one of my correspondents that the way to get a grant for emergency relief is not to apply for it, to submit no details, but to have the ear of the CEO or Board Chair. It's no way to run our national organization, but is exactly how Governor Rod Blagojevich thought he ran Illinois.

Then, UJC also distributed the Draft Plan Recommendations of its Strategic Planning Wor Group. While the federation participants may have wanted value-added from this $2,000,000 effort, what they received was, in part, a prescription for conflict between UJC, JDC and JAFI, and the reiteration of "plans" already in place or concepts inadequately thought out. UJC's ability to serve as a mediator of issues between its "partners" abandoned forever; its "big ideas" formula for success exposed as no more than a series of half-baked ideas if baked at all.

Yesterday, a National Mission to Israel was to have begun to express our federations' Solidarity with Israel at its time of incredible need. Even though I felt the UJC effort was too long delayed, I applauded it. Thirty lay and professional leaders are there. As with all UJC efforts, there was minimal communication before the Mission -- a Memo was sent out and, given the urgency, a second Memo. Eventually we will hear of the Mission experiences -- probably in a Leadership Briefing.

Let me finish with a letter I received from a federation and national leader who I greatly respect. (Note to Leslie and LTO, this leader signed the e-mail.) with regard to the Strategic Plan Draft focused on overseas and the "planning table." The "other parts" appropriately dismissed --"...apparently the main concern for UJC is to create a mechanism to ensure dues are paid." Here is what this leader wrote:

"UJC has failed miserably at advocating for Overseas needs in general. And these are core needs of JDC and JAFI that most people engaged in our work would not dispute. Many of us see the partnership between federations/UJC and JDC and JAFI as an almost covenantal relationship -- even with all the problems and issues that arise.

So comes UJC who wants to go out and assess the needs (as if it will be better at assessing the needs than the people on the ground actually doing the work), with or without our 'partners' and then wants to advocate for these needs in a new and yet to be determined way. So it wants to add an even greater task to the one that it has utterly failed at all this time.

The beginning of the document states that UJC wants to avoid wasted resources and duplication of efforts. Well it seems to me that UJC will be duplicating the efforts of JDC and JAFI -- and JDC and JAFI will have to go out and develop its own fund raising staff (if I were them I would start this tomorrow morning if they have not already) -- another duplication of efforts.

...And all this while a war is going on.

As far as I am concerned the two greatest responsibilities of UJC are to advocate for Overseas Needs in a clear comprehensive way and to get federations to give their fair share to overseas needs, and secondly to provide the focus, energy, tools for financial resource development..."

Those who use pseudonyms to write this Blog choose to ask "why do you object to UJC's leaders' efforts to effect organizational change?" My answer is writ large, I think, on the Posts over one year of writing -- I, too, want change...change that is responsive to and in leadership of federations' greatest needs. I have yet to see that kind of change recommended by (or, worse, implemented by) this minuscule set of "leaders" and from all that federations and our donors have experienced, the current leaders have no interest in the federation agenda, only their own. To engage with the federations would require a leadership that is inclusive and expansive, one that embraces ideas other than their own. That's not these guys. And, therefore, they must go.

It's almost too late. If it isn't already.


1 comment:

Leslie said...

You sure are hung up on the whole identity thing aren't you? Why does it matter? What the heck do you care? C'mon, man, get over it.

Listen, all the folks you say write to you and identify themselves -- I don't seem them doing so on your blog. So what's your point?

Hey, here's an idea. Ask them if you can publish their comments -- with attribution -- on your blog. Until then, sir, yap shut.

Now, maybe we can get back to substance?

Regarding the overseas, I fear you are living in the past. You mention you received an email from a "federation and national leader" you greatly respect (note to Mr. Wexler: this person may have written you a signed email but I note you fail to reveal the identity of your source -- hypocrisy is a dish best served cold, sir. How's it taste?). Anyway, I fear your overseas perspective, while one with which I identify, is being overtaken by developments in FRD. Most notably, fewer funders are interested in a model that imposes percentages and mandates partners. This in a climate in which the overseas case is simply not as compelling as it once was (and I say thank God -- it means we have made incredible strides in taking care of Jews across the globe).

If you think a bunch of well intentioned but disconnected "leaders" can dictate this forever you are mistaken. It's time for a new generation of Jewish philanthropists to interpret Jewish needs. Yes, with respect for the legacy of those who came before. Yes, with appreciation for the achievements, passion, vision and generosity for those who built our overseas. And yes, with a new vision for a new world and an emerging global Jewish community.