Tuesday, February 10, 2009


I was going to title this Post FLI Rigged? Almost. But, then again. One of our system's great leaders, a dear friend who shall remain anonymous, wrote, before the FLI: "I salve and comfort myself knowing that this era will pass. We will get UJC back. Or a replacement will be born. We will return it to a proper role in our community. I believe in my heart -- it will happen." Then again, maybe not. One thing is certainly clear: the Federations wants and needs and the Kanfer/Rieger agenda have never been more out of alignment. The lack of synchronicity is now total. These leaders' day is done and their days are numbered.

Seemingly oblivious to the fact that only a single Federation West of Kansas was present, those gathered were pressed hard to support these leaders' obsession with change for changes sake. To UJC it seemed unimportant even irrelevant that less than 1/2 the number of federations were represented at the Institute. This should have been extremely telling to this leadership given the sense of drama and urgency they had tried to convey in multiple e-mails and many, many phone calls pleading for attendance. Well more than one-half the federations rejected the Institute as an Event they "must attend;" thereby, they rejected this Agenda, rejected this leadership...and, they will reject the results. For all of us...all of us...who had great hopes for UJC to be the central address of national Jewish life, certainly by this tenth year of existence, this was the worst message of all transmitted by this Institute. Nonetheless, UJC's wordsmiths characterized the FLI as having reached "broad consensus" -- as predicted in these Posts.

Before the Institute, Kathy Manning, who chaired the Institute with her usual skill, told at least one major federation that the Recommendations on Israel Overseas, having been, her words, "blown out of all proportion," were "off the table," while Toni Young, the co-conspirator in framing those self-same Recommendations, insisted publicly that they would be debated at the Monday session. Someone was clearly out of that loop. Turns out...it was Kathy, the Chair of the Institute. The ultimate problem with the current UJC leadership, aside from their pettiness, is this: they have never learned to listen, let alone to obey the maxim that probably...probably...drives GoJo Industries' success: "always listen to the customer." In UJC's case this maxim should be all the more compelling inasmuch as the customer is the owner. But, UJC's "leaders" pushed back until they were told unequivocally by those Large City Executives and Chairs who believe in and act on the collective responsibility that these leaders give lip service to -- there will be no change in exclusivity as to core allocations. Other things may change...but not exclusivity as to core. And, then, as reported below, stuff happens.

On another matter, Kanfer and Rieger, by the end of last week, had pressured one of their faithful to accept the National Campaign Chair position, promising the chosen one all of the perquisites -- UJC Management Committee membership denied to Fisher, no need to travel, no need to raise money -- that would induce this leader to say "yes" by the FLI so that Kanfer could announce David Fisher's successor to the multitudes. (Kanfer and Rieger were truly desperate to put the Fisher resignation behind them. Federations were complaining that, once again, they had to "read about it in the Jewish press" [and, by the time of the Institute still had heard nothing from UJC directly]. Kanfer no doubt was even more concerned that the press would get their hands on the vicious, demeaning letter that he had sent Fisher upon his resignation, realizing after the fact that that letter was more demeaning and humiliating to him, to Kanfer, than to the recipient.) So, Michael Lebovitz, a leader of the Chattanooga community, agreed to accept the position. After all, he had already been admitted to the Kanfer "Circle of Trust" -- he had co-chaired the FRD Study Committee, chaired the Nominating Committee that named Kanfer, chaired the Real Estate Committee that authorized UJC's relocation within Manhattan. Although he had already turned down this "opportunity" before -- during the "search" after Fisher had originally decided not to take a second year, as did many others, the blandishments and representations (which Michael no doubt believes were sincere, as did David before him, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding) proved to be a good recruiting tool, even if that's all they were. But he apparently agreed to take the position effective for the 2010 Campaign year leaving UJC Development without a lay Chair in this, certainly the most difficult campaign year ever faced by the federation owners.

To close the Circle, Kanfer also announced yesterday that the always available Toni Young, whose experience in Campaign/FRD leadership appears to be limited to her family's and her generosity, would now succeed, eight months after her predecessor resigned in disgust and disappointment, Morris Offit as Chair of the still-born Center for Jewish Philanthropy -- a title without a purpose. Good job.

With Young and Lebovitz in place, the federations represented in UJC leadership are: Akron, Greensboro, Chattanooga, North Shore Massachusetts, Delaware and D.C. Somehow I'm missing any geographic and City-size diversity here. Great leaders can and do come from the Small Cities -- but all (almost) of them?? Breaking into the Kanfer/Rieger "circle of trust" (and then staying in it) is very, very hard to do; remaining in the Circle, easy if you are constantly willing to sacrifice principle for access to power. To paraphrase Frank Rich, what Kanfer, Manning and Rieger might wish to present to the federations as a meritocracy is "...merely a stacked deck."

On to the FLI itself.

In apparent disregard of the Board Chair's pleas, the federations expressed their opinion of the "importance" of the Institute by staying away in significant numbers. More absent than present. No matter what the "mad counters of UJC" (yes, the same ones who counted 4,000 at the GA in November '08) projected for the FLI attendance, no more than 70 federations were represented. The message of disengagement was no doubt lost on UJC's leaders -- just as it was at Newport Beach one year ago.

While some federation leaders unequivocally, uncritically and fulsomely supported the Strategic Planning Work Group Recommendations -- Kanfer would assert that they were of and by the federations, at least the 22 members of the Work Group outside his Circle of Trust, thus, not his recommendations-- many more Federation leaders were focused on matters outside the scope of the Recommendations: UJC's lack of communication with the federations, the closed "circle" of UJC leadership, the lack of process, the lack of a plan by UJC to cut its Budget, among others. We already speculated on how Kanfer would respond at the FLI to any matter not on his Agenda: "we'll study this/assign a Committee to look into it. Now, let's move on." We were right. How did this all play out? Let's count the ways.

As you would have assumed, Kanfer was forced to negotiate some back room deals ahead of the Institute in an effort to deflect the criticism that had already built over the FLI Agenda, the SPWG Recommendations, his own leadership "style" (the last of which had already poisoned the atmosphere of the Institute but would prove impossible to change). Even as UJC staff were assigned Federation professionals to call and plead that they support the Recommendations, the days of unquestioning support had come to an end.

First up, the Marketing and Branding Initiative. $2 million in the making (of which $865,000 had been budgeted and approved through UJC Governance, the rest...just spent. $1,135,000...just spent.) And what have are the findings? Well, you would first have had to be at the FLI to know. For $2 million one might have expected at the least an Executive Summary distributed in advance. A suggestion of Jewish Federations of North America as a brand would be a step forward -- it was suggested 10 years ago. And the tag line: One People One Destiny. Where have I heard that before? But, this is UJC's way under this leadership. No memory. The less material in your hands ahead of time, the less opportunity for real analysis, hard questions, and the less opportunity for any debate, let alone meaningful debate. Then, all that was produced for the FLI -- a Power Point. The Study will arrive soon. "Let's move on." As one terrific CEO stated: "All the branding initiatives in the world won't matter if you don't have the product." To UJC such comments -- treason. UJC's focus on brand and marketing and failing to focus on the product was and is failure.

A reduced Budget. In preparation, not ready to be discussed. Will be ready by month's end. How can we debate something that's "in preparation?" We just didn't have time to get the reduced Budget to you by the FLI!! And we can't tell you how much of a cut it will be -- when asked and the Treasurer responded "not more than 15%" there was no outcry. And the Board Chair then stated by implication that UJC has reduced its budget every year for the last 10 years. How wrong that is but in the statement how telling!! But, be assured, as UJC's Treasurer reported: "We're on budget this year."An elephant remains in the room. But...just as I had predicted prior to the FLI itself..."Let's move on" was the message.

The Exploration In Depth. On Day 2, the attendees were divied up at tables with facilitators at each. It appeared that if you were identified as one who might push back, or as a "troublemaker" (one who might push back plus) or appeared somewhere on the UJC "Enemies List," you were assigned a "minder" at your table to watch, correct, attempt to intimidate. The sessions were well thought out, well organized toward leadership's goals for the FLI. The table participants rotated three times as three subject areas were discussed -- UJC's mission and roles, the Marketing and Branding Initiative and the Israel and Overseas Global Agenda, dues and membership obligations. A Branding Initiative at this time is but an Nero fiddling a very expensive violin.

The Board Chair described the FLI outcome as UJC "reinventing itself." Not quite. That will take new, invigorated lay and professional leadership. For UJC to be "...the place where big ideas go to happen," it will have to be more than this. For today UJC is a place of no big ideas other than how to expend its Budget.

Let's examine the outcome of the discussions on the Israel and Overseas Global Agenda. The outcome was intended to be all things to all people; and it was...and it wasn't. Global responsibilities only at the time of emergencies as a premise? Heretical. While JAFI and JDC might have been pleased with an announced result that federation core allocations will remain the exclusive sharing of resources with JAFI and JDC, it was also clear that UJC's leaders determined to delimit "core" from its historic and heroic sharing to far less so. Because, apparently, "times have changed," if that is a reason rather than a rationale, each federation would be left to determine for itself what "core" would mean going forward. And should "core" be defined by, e.g., New York UJA to be, let us say, 40% of its allocation of "free money" to UJC for JAFI and JDC, UJC will gladly receive 60% for "reallocation" as some undefined "planning table" might determine. What is the value of consensus that "there is no change in the historic relationship with JAFI and JDC" if the very definition of "core" is rendered null and void? UJC agrees to encourage "every federation for itself." What a "big idea." It is the basic formula, followed by some federations already.

For JAFI/JDC this promise of "exclusivity" is illusory forcing these two "beloved partners" to further communal advocacy and direct fund-raising. . For UJC, however, meaningless as well as each federations will determine where "core" distributions will flow. Then, without any...any...thought about the implications, there was the suggestion that UJC's budget be supported from the allocations off the top. These are sorry outcomes. Those responsible for then should reflect on what their leadership in this area has meant. To UJC's leaders, they will realize, soon enough, that "the operation was a success, but the patient died."

No votes were taken in any area of FLI focus. UJC leaders claiming "broad consensus" (usually to test consensus a vote is necessary) assured, really, in advance of the FLI, will now attempt to implement the Strategic Plan Recommendations which will founder on lack of engagement, lack of substance and a lack of commitment by the federations to them. They exist in a vacuum created by the current leadership. On February 4, Maureen Dowd in her New York Times column denounced (and I obviously paraphrase): "...that elitist mentality of 'we know best,' we know we're doing the thing (for the federations), so we can twist the rules..." as we see fit.

UJC can be what we dreamed it to be, what we as federations and donors conceived it to be, but not when our core values are not matched by our goals. What we proved at the FLI is that we, today, are a "system" only as to a very, very narrow set of objectives. The consensus reached, if any, contributed not to our unity but to our divisions, not to our collective responsibilities but to our individual wants. We are once again less a system than we were coming into these meetings even if some venerated leaders, sadly, have been seduced. And that's the shame.


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