Sunday, July 19, 2009


As I begin it should be clear that I come from a Federation that views its obligations to its collective responsibilities through a prism of tradition, obligation and discipline. The commitment to meet Jewish needs wherever they exist equitably and immediately is a function of our Federation's DNA, our vision of federation purpose and our donors' commitments. We are often referred to as dinosaurs -- and, if we are, we are proud of it. With this admission as a preface, some observations.

Having visited well over 100 federations over the past few years, I believe that I am qualified to conclude that that which propels federation leaders to reduce allocations to JDC and, in more instances, JAFI, is not, at its essence, a matter of philosophy or the organizations' changed circumstance or questions of performance or accountability by our Overseas partners; it is, pure and simple, a matter of communal resource development failure. Today, for example, there are large federations cloaking their reduced allocations to Joint and JAFI core resulting from the devastating collapse of these federations' campaigns in specious arguments about a lack of "transparency" or "outlived their usefulness" or "they fail to be accountable." None of these "issues" has a basis in fact.

Here is the thought process I have observed: a desperate Federation CEO ("CEO 2"), seeing his/her communal resource base crumble, reads that another Federation CEO ("CEO 1") has argued against the overseas allocation to one or both of our system's historic partners. Without regard to the facts, and with no due diligence (how many times have I read letters beginning "I have heard..." or "I have read..."), CEO 2 adopts the same arguments, usually, but not always, wholly specious. The "bandwagon effect" follows. For years, JAFI and JDC could rely on three sources to respond: (1) the agencies themselves respond point-by-point and are ignored, (2) other leading Executives would respond with the facts to their "colleagues" and/or (3) the national organization -- UJA or UIA or CJF -- would respond factually and passionately. Today, the Joint and Agency responses are muted, the federation Executives appear not to be willing to step forward outside their own communities and the national organization is represented by men and women from communities which are themselves unsupportive of the Overseas allocation and, therefor, have no voice.

A companion piece to the breakdown in communal allocations discipline is found in the competition between and among the international organizations for communal funding. In the past, even at a time of declining allocations, JDC and JAFI felt "represented" in the federations by the UJA...and, they were. Today, the internal communal representation of JAFI and, in particular, JDC, frequently make arguments for "their" organization at the expense of the "other." The unfortunate ONAD "process'" sole "contribution" was to increase organizational costs without benefit to any of JDC, JAFI or UJC. UJC's abdication of its moral obligation to advocate for greater resources for both the Joint and Agency, and the consequent decline in core allocations have literally forced all of our system's Israel/international organizations to enhance their North American professional staffing to engage in direct fund raising. This will only increase if collective resource allocations continue their steep fall.

Are there any solutions? Several that I see. (1) Federation Executives who recognize that collective responsibility is the principle that sets the federation system apart from all other charities must step forward and respond, privately and publicly, to those among their chevra who don't care or understand (and, while some do, not enough...not nearly enough). (2) UJC's next leaders must, first, comprehend that collective responsibility is the institution's primary obligation -- without collective responsibility, there is no need for anything but a continental trade association with Dues sufficient to support the salaries that UJC pays -- and, then, its leaders must become the public spokespersons for the collective. (The current UJC leaders appear not to comprehend that the payment of Dues is part of collective responsibility. They don't understand that among so many other things and, therefor, can't articulate it.)

Lay leaders who come from communities that fail to meet a minimum standard for overseas allocations (today, I can think of two [and there are more] who come from communities that fail to make an overseas allocation or one so small as to not register on the Richter Scale of communal responsibility) cannot be made Chairs of, e.g., UJC itself, or of UJC Committees or Work Groups whose primary obligations have to do with Israel or Overseas, no matter how generous or articulate they may be personally.

I find it deplorable that among UJC's current leaders there are those who refuse to "allow" engagement with the federations on allocations issues because, they say, "'s just yelling at the federations." Friends, it has never been "yelling" -- it's always been about talking about responsibility (which admittedly, to a given federation may sound like "yelling") and, yet, these same UJC leaders never miss a chance to confront a federation which is failing or threatening not to pay its Dues, to threaten and cajole and threaten some more.

In all events, this subject is about institutional obligation -- UJC's and the federations. Advocacy is a discussion that ennobles our organizations. Let's hope the new leadership understands.


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