Tuesday, July 28, 2009


"So we elect these guys to Chair our organizations and then we abandon them. Is that the deal?" This was the question posed to me by one of the best and brightest of federation CEO's. Of course, the question failed to recognize how so many of the federation CEO's "abandoned" their own -- be it at CJF or UJC -- and left those organizations and their professional leaders hanging out to dry.

In my opinion, over the last three and five years respectively. United Jewish Communities' top lay and professional leadership have honored the memory of Michael Jackson every day by a behavior both clinically and institutionally dysfunctional. And, that hasn't been a good thing -- neither for UJC nor for the federations which own it. Yet, there are those who believe (and have articulated it to me) even after stating unequivocally that "they have created a disaster" that "we must continue to support them" -- not attempt to change them or even use the clout of Dues to influence them, but to follow them -- "our leaders right or wrong." This has led these same UJC leaders to believe that they can ignore process, ignore their own By-Laws and ignore the restrictions of their own Budgets with impunity, cloaked, in their opinion, in the protection offered without question or criticism. This should never have been allowed; it should never be allowed again in the future -- neither by UJC's leaders themselves nor by the cheer leading federation leaders.

The brilliant, award winning economist, Paul Krugman, in his column in the New York Times on July 13, wrote about Boiling the Frog. He asked if our country is "...on its way to becoming a boiled frog?" He explained: "I'm referring, of course, to the proverbial frog that, placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes the danger it's in and is boiled alive...the hypothetical boiled frog is a useful metaphor for a very real problem: the difficulty of responding to disasters that creep up on you a bit at a time." While we know that frogs are traif, UJC has become our "Jewish organizational boiled frog." It all started with the initiation of Operation Promise. Rolled out by Howard Rieger at a Sunday UJC Board of Trustees Meeting in New York, he changed the entire program (previously agreed to by City-size groupings) without so much as a consultation with anyone other than Board Chair Bobby Goldberg. There was astonishment in the room and even objection followed by acquiescence (even as leaders like John Ruskay continued to raise objections to the methodology). Thus, was gradual heating of the cold water begun. Rieger, followed by KanferRieger, learned their "lesson" from the Operation Promise failure -- don't even bother to take matters to the UJC Board for a vote -- and hence the frog was boiled. The result, federation disengagement; UJC achieved irrelevancy; frog boiled.

When information is withheld, when it is not demanded by a Board, there are serious questions as to whether the Board Members are fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities. (In a moment of irony, as I wrote two weeks ago, when a Board Member, taking his responsibility seriously, challenged the UJC Budget Chair, Treasurer and Chair of the Executive-elect, on his failure to offer support to JAFI, the Treasurer and Chair-Elect stridently questioned whether he who raised the question understood his fiduciary responsibilities, thereby turning the entire concept of fiduciary obligation on its head.) Ask a question of these people and your loyalty is questioned. Welcome to my world.

In our "go along to get along" world, those who fail to question, those who cheer the Emperor even while stating privately that they know he wears no clothes, fail in their responsibilities to the very organization they believe in with sincerity. As Richard Haas has written, our duties are to the organization, not to the individuals in transitory positions of power. The claque, however, demonstrates obeisance to the latter and, thereby, have weakened the former and led it down the path of deconstruction. The bottom line: UJC's leaders have lost touch with the federations which own them -- that they have done so wishing only to do good and effect "change," offers them an excuse; the knowledgeable clique and claque that has applauded their every move like a Pavlovian reflex even while knowing that the path(s) chosen led to a precipice must shoulder the blame.

The title of this Post is a spin on the oft-quoted Admiral Stephen Decatur's "my country right or wrong." As you would expect, I prefer Senator Carl Schurz's version: "My country right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." The cheer leaders won't understand but "if wrong, to be set right," is our minimal responsibility in fulfilling our fiduciary obligations to UJC and to our Federations. Otherwise, my friends the frog won't be jumping out of the pot.


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