Thursday, April 16, 2009


UJC has been consistent in several areas -- patronizing, pandering and ignoring the federations which own it -- and, in particular, in repeating the mistakes of the past with a certain...insouciance, if you will. A little over one year ago, I wrote the Post that follows -- on reviewing it, I could have written it yesterday.

UJ Thee and Me
Friday, April 4, 2008


The leadership of UJC preaches a kind of Orwellian doublespeak in trying to convince the federation owners as they have convinced themselves that great change is upon us ... if only we had the patience to wait for it. Let's examine two of many myths against the realities:

The One Year-Old Implementation of the Organizational Strategy has successfully "torn down the Silos perpetuated in the merger." This is as good a place to start as any. The perceived "silos" were of Campaign/FRD, Israel/Overseas, Renaissance and Renewal and Consulting Services. Today, we have the Jewish Peoplehood Initiative, Global Operations: Israel and Overseas, and Community Capacity Building (to which Campaign/FRD has not been integrated but absorbed). The reality, new silos at best with new names and, in two instances, new professional leadership -- old wine in new bottles with a Table of Organization in place that would rival the Tower of Babel. The Large City Executives, in a paper essentially and effectively rejecting the Organizational Strategy -- Refining UJC's Vision (a paper which UJC leaders refuse to release to UJC's own Executive or Budget Committees let alone the UJC Board[more about its findings in an upcoming Post]) -- calling for, among other things, a reduction in dues, a reduction in the investment in UJC Israel and for a reordering of UJC priorities to emphasize rather than deemphasize fund raising, will be rationalized away by UJC's leaders unless the Large City Executives demand UJC leadership's attention to its recommendations.

UJC leaders demand a "seamless alignment" of all aspects of UJC's work and programs. Let's look at how this plays out in practice in at least one area. UJC's CEO has pointed with deserved pride to UJC's Campaign leadership's work with 20 federations in developing the "collaborative fund raising model." This "model" which trains professionals to integrate the "ask" for campaign, endowment and supplemental funds was conceived by the FRD Study Committee that I co-chaired with incredible partners: Cleveland's Berinthia Levine and Chattanooga's Michael Lebovitz. It was developed and originally implemented under the guidance of Vicki Agron since shoved out of UJC by leadership's demeaning and humiliating "the ends justify the means" tactics. While singing the praises of the collaborative model, in the brilliance of its "seamless alignment" strategy, UJC's leaders disintegrate the UJC internal collaboration of campaign, endowment and supplemental giving by separating campaign and endowment from supplemental FRD by keeping the former within Development" and moving the latter to the so-called Center for Jewish Philanthropy with its own Chair, independent of the National Campaign Chair. Why the misalignment for one of UJC's "top priorities," you might ask? "Don't ask," you would be told.

Now, UJC rhetoric often combines the mantra: "seamless alignment can only be accomplished by tearing down the Silos." Sure. This syllogism can be compared to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens' historic pork (excuse me) barrel support for what became known as the Alaska "Bridge to Nowhere" -- after the investment are we any closer to the goal? "Don't ask," you would be told.
The realities at United Jewish Communities must be separated from this UJC rhetoric . Is it the hope of today's leadership that federation lay and professional leaders haven't the time or the interest to ignore the rhetoric and examine what is really happening with their $40.5 million (+) per year, let alone speak out in frustration? Those who do speak out -- be they Federations from Large City to Small, their CEO's and Chairs, or just lay persons who question -- continue to be dismissed as "out of step," "sour grapes," "treasonous"....or worse. But, the cries of pain are getting louder, the authors of Refining UJC's Vision will neither be brushed aside nor vilified so easily and hope for real change is in the air like the first breaths of our new Spring.


* * *

And, what, you may ask, has changed at UJC from the date of that Post to today? Not much. The "silos" are "down," and those within the UJC staff if permitted would attest that new ones have been built by the same bureaucrats charged with responsibility for tearing the old ones down. Now, UJC's leaders claim that the proposed 2009-2010 Budget promises "seamless alignment" with the Strategic Work Group "Plan," the Organizational Strategy that was the framing vehicle for the 2008 and 2009 Budgets -- forgotten, just terrible memories. Never existed. We've got something new and different for you. The only thing "seamless" is how "seamlessly" UJC's leaders move from one misbegotten "plan" to another.

And, today's Strategic Work Group "Plan," what about that? Well, it was discussed by 55 federations of 157 in Palm Beach; yet, with no further ado UJC's leaders claimed a "mandate" and are now offering this "Plan" as the ne plus ultra of the three plans they have thrown out there.

There has been one change -- the Large City Executives' Refining UJC's Vision has been incorporated in part as to Development without reference to that Report. (That's the way it is, the only good ideas to these UJC leaders are those they can claim as their own.) Yet, does anyone truly believe that UJC has any commitment to implement an integrated prioritized Development scheme -- that their goal is to say or write anything to get through an "off the top" Dues proposal? Sure.

UJC's current leaders -- the gift that keeps on giving.


1 comment:

michael said...

My basic response is that I was not addressing the Federation globally but locally and that the changes in policy of the Los Angeles Federation seem to me -- and from the response, or more accurately the non-response, to me by its President, to indicate that the Los Angeles Federation has decided that it is not its role to foster community but to rival its own constituent agencies and to let the community fend for itself, without a central coordinating agency.

I concur with Wexler on the need for community. I also concur on the need for a Federation.

Where we disagree is that the Madoff matter was not only about money -- the amount some 18 million dollars, is hardly trivial, but about responsibility. The failure to do due dilligence should have led to the resignation of the Investment Committee or in a worse case scenario, their firing. The absence of either indicates that failure has no consequences, and that failure is accetable to the Jewish community. One can lose communal funds with relative impunity. Were I to have failed like that, I would resign our of shame and I damn well should be fired.

Michael Berenbaum