Friday, February 6, 2009


David Fisher's resignation as National Campaign Chair set off so many fireworks within what passes for lay and professional leadership at UJC today that it is worthy of a bit more detail. It is a story of this leadership at its worst --and that's saying a lot!!

A bit of history to start. David had decided not to accept a second year as National Campaign Chair. The press of business and a young family, and watching senior Development professionals treated in humiliating ways, forced out of a place to which they were dedicated, were among the factors that I think influenced David's decision. While UJC failed in its efforts to recruit experienced leaders to succeed David, UJC's Development professionals were unremitting in their pleas to Fisher to take the additional year. UJC's Eric Levine and David Saginaw flew to Cincinnati in an effort that ultimately bore fruit. David would continue to lead, calling upon his predecessor Chairs, Joel Alperson and Steve Selig, to assist him, and would reenergize the Campaign Executive Committee. Almost simultaneously, the Large City Executives produced their Report -- Refining UJC's Vision -- which included among its Recommendations the immediate strengthening and elevating the role of the National Campaign Chair. The CEC recommended that the National Campaign Chair become the overall FRD Chair essentially combining the roles of Campaign Chair and Chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy. When David took that recommendation to the UJC Chair and CEO, they rejected it outright.

David resigned. He explained his reasons in a letter to Kanfer copying those with whom he had worked closely. This proved to be a wise decision. In an interview with the JTA on the subject, Kanfer left the implication that Fisher -- mega donor, federation leader, YLC graduate -- had been "fired" because he failed to share Kanfer's (and trust me, Kanfer's and Rieger's only) unarticulated "vision" for UJC, wasn't supportive of "change," etc. -- the usual UJC mantra to camouflage their own failings. But it didn't end there.

Someone at UJC, speaking to the press and others, apparently insinuated that Fisher's resignation was triggered by an antipathy toward Kanfer arising out of David's father-in-law, Steve Selig, being denied the UJC Chairmanship by Kanfer's nomination. Consider it -- David, with Steve's encouragement, accepted the Campaign Chairmanship and, these people suggest, suddenly 1-1/2 years later decided to resign because of something that occured 2-and-1/2 years earlier. Do these "leaders" ever think before they start this venal stuff? Before they do anything, for that matter? The only campaigns they appear capable of running are those of personal vilification.

UJC was now embarked on a campaign to make David a "non-person." Kanfer, not happy with his own misrepresentation of David's resignation in the press, sent Fisher, in Kanfer's capacity as UJC Chair, a letter that I have been told was inflammatory, accusatory, humiliating in its ugliness -- and totally unjustified under any circumstance, let alone these. (As an aside, as Kanfer apparently chose to send this letter as UJC Chair, it should be available to any federation leader, UJC Board member, etc., requesting a copy.) Simultaneously, Eric Levine (you will remember that Levine pled with Fisher to stay in the position for another year almost non-stop until David accepted) sent the following Memo, in pertinent part, to the UJC professional staff:

"Colleagues: As you may be aware by now, David Fisher sent a letter to Joe Kanfer
indicating that he would be resigning as national chair of campaign. This all took place
yesterday. Actually, David concluded his term a year ago but continued on in an interim
role as we were in transition within the lay leadership structure..." (Emphasis added)

"Actually," Eric's revisionist history was nothing more than a crock. I told him so in an e-mail: "Eric, I expected more from you. You pleaded with David to serve another year. You and David Saginaw traveled to Cinci to plead with him. How could you write this kind of e-mail to a staff that knows better?" I believed Eric when he later said he should have chosen his words more carefully as he respects David and treasured their relationship.

Then, it gets bizarre. I received an e-mail directly from Rieger: "He got Eric's simple e-mail to FRD staff on David's resignation almost immediately! He could be JTA source." (I cleaned it up a bit, Howard's not too good with caps.) So I responded: "I think I received this in error interested though I am in its content and finger-pointing." ([1] I should have just forwarded this paranoia on to Kanfer directly as this was clearly intended for him; and [2] I was not JTA's source.) Surprisingly, I received no answer from Howard. UJC then began a frantic search for a successor to David so as to enable Kanfer to announce his replacement on Sunday to the gathered Federation leaders who still have not been advised by anyone at UJC of David's resignation. Maybe Kanfer/Rieger believe that announcing a successor simultaneous with announcing David's resignation will erase the stain of their actions. Not a chance.

Just another week in the life/death of UJC.

Shabbat shalom.


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