Friday, July 17, 2009


In the midst of the steady stream of overstated "accomplishments" of the past five years. we have often heard that a major one has been the emergence of something called the "UJC culture." Just what is that? What does that mean? And, is it a good thing?

Sadly these past years at UJC have been hidden behind an opaque wall -- much like the Israeli security fence -- where decisions are made in secret and parsed out only on an "as needed" basis. Todd Purdum's description of the failed aspirant for Vice-President in a devastating article in this month's Vanity Fair applies perfectly to the leaders of UJC as well: "...she surrounded herself with an insular coterie of trusted friends, took disagreements personally, discarded people who were no longer useful, and swiftly dealt vengeance on enemies, real or perceived."

The result at United Jewish Communities: a perfect storm of mutual disregard. On issue after issue -- loss of membership, UJC-Israel, the so-called Center for Jewish Philanthropy, the division between Development and Supplemental Giving, the GA programs in successive years, the "Reorganization Strategy," the "asks" for the IAI and multiple other "causes," UJC behaved as if the federations did not exist; on the other side, the federations went about their business, particularly during this time of economic crisis, as if UJC did not exist. Two ships passing in the night without communicating with each other. A direct result of a lack of transparency morphing into disinterest and disengagement. And, neither the federations (which have spent from a high of $40.2 million down to $38 million during this regime) nor, certainly, UJC's lay and professional leaders, seemed to give a tinker's damn.

What if these past five years of wasted opportunity had been filled, instead, with a focused and followed UJC Agenda developed with the federations, not handed down by UJC as if from the top of the mountain, as if ordained by Ha Shem? What if UJC's leaders had sincerely understood that "we work for the federations" in pursuit of their interests rather than in pursuit of what UJC's leaders believed those interests should be? What if UJC had prepared itself for the economic crisis by cutting compensation at the top of its top heavy food chain? What if? What if?

In a demonstration of UJC's "culture," just last week the Forward reported that UJC, speaking for us, for the federations, UJC Now Lobbying for Universal Health Care. I, and many of you, may support Universal Health Care, but a substantial number of federation leaders do not. In fact, if one of the Administration's alternatives for financing this effort -- a 5% income tax surcharge -- passes, the damage to the philanthropy that sustains our system will be catastrophic. UJC, as is the norm today, just says: "Never mind. We're in it, even if our owners aren't." Where was the authorization, within what UJC governance body was this lobbying effort discussed, debated, approved? Looks like nowhere. That's just one example of "the new UJC culture" at work.

What exactly is transparency? It is decision-making in the open, with all of the facts on the table, consistent with governance requirements. It is not using the UJC income from federations as a bank from which leadership could make withdrawals without process or accountability. It is not, e.g., allocating $400,000 to "seed" the restart of the Trust for Jewish Philanthropy and then merely applying those funds to other purposes without accounting for them or getting approval for their expenditure. It is not spending now in excess of $2,000,000 for a Marketing, Branding and Research Study after approval of the expenditure of only $650,000. And, on and on and on -- as if UJC were a $40 million or $38 million family business.

What has emerged at UJC is, unfortunately, a culture alright -- it is the culture of concealment. It is as if we are at a carnival card game where the dealer shows the cards for 1/2 a second in a magic act and asks you to bid. It isn't a culture in which the departing leadership or their supporters (who might see the cards for 30 seconds) should take any pride. This new culture has the effect of excluding debate, ignoring or misrepresenting governance decisions at odds with the will of the federations where those are allowed to be expressed. It is a culture that breeds mistrust and disengagement.

So, my friends, it is clear that Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman will have some incredibly heavy lifting to do. To move from exclusive to inclusive, from "UJC's agenda" to the federations', from thin skin to thick, from opaque to transparent, from trying to be all things to all people to an organization focused on what the federations' need and want, from talking about change to making real change, from the culture of concealment to the culture of openness -- new paths will be extremely difficult to walk down but, ultimately, if UJC continues down the same path it has been on in the most recent past -- what Kanfer in the Press Release announcing Jerry Silverman's hiring described as its "momentum" -- the current "momentum" will carry UJC over the precipice and into the void. It will be no more.


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