Wednesday, April 8, 2009


There is no one who writes revisionist history more frequently than does the President and CEO of UJC. His latest chapter in his on-going saga was sent to the federation system yesterday. It's truly sad. One can only ask: Howard, why would you do this? Does your diatribe serve the interests of UJC, of the federations? Is it appropriate for a professional, no matter his or her position, to attack lay leaders or fellow professionals, all of whom are held in the highest esteem, in this way?

Here is what Howard wrote (with the facts as I know them to be interlineated).

"From: Howard M. Rieger, UJC President & CEO

Re: UJC Dues Proposal

Two weeks ago a UJC Executive Committee subcommittee under the co-chairmanship of Harvey Barnett of Chicago and Steve Silverman of Jacksonville, Florida, met to consider modifying the process by which UJC apportions responsibility to Federations for paying their fair-share dues, which fund most of UJC's budget.

Immediately after the meeting we spoke directly with Richie Pearlstone, the volunteer head of the Jewish Agency for Israel, and Irv Smokler & Steve Schwager, the volunteer and professional heads of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, to inform them of the subcommittee's recommendation, (what Irv Smokler and Richie Pearlstone were told was pure shorthand, no details with a promise, since breached, that "we'll arrange a meeting to discuss" or "we'll get back to you") which will be presented to UJC's Executive Committee on April 22.

Subsequent to those conversations ( as, without any discussion of the Proposal with JDC or JAFI, UJC published it) , JDC wrote to UJC leadership, with an open copy to all Federation presidents and executives, attacking the part of the proposal aimed at seeking contributions (note that these are now characterized as "contributions") from JAFI and JDC to fund a portion of UJC expenses for activities that benefit both organizations and the needs they meet (there is nothing in the Proposal that suggests that "off the top" will come only from that "...portion of UJC expenses for activities that benefit (JAFI and JDC) and the needs they meet." That is because that would result today in a net reduction of ZERO.).

Prior to merger, the United Jewish Appeal was fully funded by JAFI and JDC (which, as you recall, JDC and UIA owned). Today, the two groups contribute no funding to the portion of UJC operations relevant to them. (1. Q: So in "BizarroWorld," Howard, have you chosen to forget that upon the merger, the entirety of the UJA budget went where, exactly? A: Into UJC's budget. And (2) apparently in the fictional world in which the CEO lives and works there is the belief that there is "...a portion of UJC operations relevant to..." JDC/JAFI? Could the CEO could quantify those relevant operations. A: No. Given the apparent basis of the "off the top" as Howard described it herein, it appears that UJC owes JAFI and JDC a lot...a lot... of money.) Prior to merger the budget of UJA was formulated internally and was not presented to Federations for approval. Today UJC's budget is fully transparent and is acted upon by the Federations in an open process. (See yesterday's Post and ask yourself: "Is this budget process transparent?")

Some believe that returning to a pattern of some sharing of costs with JAFI and JDC is not without merit. Even if that proposal were accepted, UJC's budget would still reflect a pattern of full disclosure ( Q: what of the $2 million in Branding contracts, what of $250,000 to Sheatufim, what of Executive compensation, etc., etc.? A: We'll get back to you on those.) to which we are totally committed.

The recommendation has yet to be considered by the governance arms of UJC. We also have made it clear that we are not proposing unilateral action. ( OMG ) To the contrary, as early as January of this year we had scheduled a meeting of JAFI/JDC leadership, aimed at surfacing and discussing a variety of issues of mutual concern. Unfortunately, JAFI/JDC leaders chose to cancel that session. (Clearly, Howard believes that if one repeats something often enough it becomes truth -- but only to him and the lay leaders who shelter him. The "January meeting" was one for which JDC and JAFI leaders requested an Agenda -- they made that request numerous times. They believed the purpose of the meeting was to mediate open issues between the two organizations. The meeting was canceled only because UJC refused to disclose its real Agenda in advance. That Agenda was disclosed to JAFI and JDC only after the leaders canceled the meeting for lack of that Agenda. So, here's how it works -- you provide no information in response to requests, then blame JAFI and JDC for cancelling because they had no information.)

Finally, a few days ago, the "dues" issue surfaced ( actually it "surfaced" in a Draft Report sent to the federations with, once again, no prior discussion with the "partners") in an article in the Jerusalem Post, with quotes from JAFI and JDC leaders. We feel that the media is not a proper forum to debate legitimate proposals.

We value the work that JAFI and JDC perform on behalf of the Jewish people. (At the Budget Committee meeting Howard suggested that JAFI and JDC "cannot be trusted," or words to that effect.)We also appreciate the moment in time in which we all find ourselves. It is at just such times that we need to come together to contemplate the mutual challenges we face. Accusing UJC leaders of actions detrimental to the best interests of Jews in need couldn't be further from the truth, nor is it constructive. (But this Memorandum, filled as it is with make believe, is just fine.)

Beyond this "controversy," we firmly believe that UJC has formulated an agenda that will serve all of us well if only we would come together to better address the challenges we face with a mobile and changing population, which we have studied and are responding to with new models of communications, fund-raising and needs identification. (I won't comment on this run-on sentence.) We are committed to that collaboration and won't give up the desire to work together toward this objective. (Let's understand -- it is UJC that has failed to communicate, failed to collaborate, and, with a Memo like this, clearly has failed its partners and its owners.)

We stand ready to meet with JAFI and JDC at any convenient time of their choosing! (What is this "High Noon?")

Chag Pesach Sameach v'kasher. "


Friends, I could have parsed almost every sentence in this Memo, so filled with hyperbole, half-truths and worse is this piece of fiction. Why did Howard find it necessary to stand truth on its head and disseminate this...thing? Clearly, he finds it impossible to "handle the truth." I think it is out of his sense of total desperation -- if a (not "this," "a") Dues Proposal does not pass, this iteration of UJC will be over given the growing number of federations who cannot or will not pay the Dues even a $30 million budget would require. Instead of spending the past months, even years, directly engaging with federations with or without his lay leadership, Howard has spent much of his time, apparently, openly disengaging from them, ignoring them and, as to our system's historic partners, with the Board Chair, insulting them.

Howard's sad diatribe is without merit. Treat it like the fiction that it is.

Have a wonderful Pesach holiday.


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