Joe Kanfer's three years as Chair of what was UJC have ended, not with a bang but a whimper -- actually with what I understand was a beautiful serenade from his successor. Over $100 million of our donors' dollars, of federation allocations spent on his watch...on just what, exactly? Someone other than I will have to recite the accomplishments of the past three years; they are not self-evident. Joe, to his credit, persisted to the end -- a final speech at the GA Opening Plenary. His dreams for the future of The Jewish Federations of North America, a mishmash of programs either already in place in so many ways in so many federations ("volunteerism") of which Joe remains singularly unaware, or plans rejected by the federations. Joe's message resonated with the mantra "I believe it is possible" and we agree. But Kanfer's vision of where The Jewish Federations of North America should go is far different than the sorry place he has taken it.
And, Kanfer cited a crucial challenge -- "...the challenges of affordability and access to Jewish life." Here he struck a chord and had he led us for the past three years in grappling with this critical, seminal issue, what a contribution UJC:The Jewish Federations of North America might have made under his leadership. To raise this now is like Ike reminding us as he left office after eight years of the dangers of the "military-industrial complex" having done nothing about the issue during his Presidency.
Joe's legacy cannot be that which he wished for but something far, far less. There is a "new culture" -- unfortunately, it is one of secrecy, lack of transparency and lack of accountability -- a new culture which Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning will certainly correct. It has been three years without measurable accomplishments other than a "new brand" -- one which had been an alternative rejected ten years ago, revived when the "old brand," United Jewish Communities, proved to have no traction -- and a new mark, a new logo; a new Chief Executive who offers the promise of a new era but who will have to spend critical time righting a ship that has careened far off course.
As the lay and professional leadership ranks were culled, Joe assured that there would be no institutional memory. He wanted to hear nothing that would disrupt the narrative that he and Howard Rieger were building. (And, truth be told, as we have learned, Kanfer arrogated more and more of Rieger's management responsibilities with no evident pushback from anyone, making it harder and harder to determine Rieger's real role in the emerging mess.) Myths rather than facts passed for reality; their counterfactual history was offered as a substitute for reality. Our system was not served well by this retelling.
Rather than expanding the leadership ranks, Joe drew the a "circle of trust" ever more tightly, pushing away those who pushed back at policies imposed upon them with no discussion...and sometimes doing so in a manner suggesting a lack of sensitivity...UJC became a shop closed but to a chosen few. The doors and windows will now have to be pried open...let the sun shine in.
It has been all so sad.
In The New Yorker last year, the brilliant Hendrik Hertzberg wrote of a person who "...will be remembered as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, in which a hero is ruined through some terrible choice(s) of his own..." To paraphrase Hertzberg's conclusion: "One can only hope that the tragedy will be his alone and not..." that of the organization he was elected to lead. Unfortunately, as Joe confused his own goals for those of what was then UJC, the tragic circumstances in which The Jewish Federations of North America finds itself are those that were created by and literally demanded by Joe, supported by a small claque. And, now it is over.
Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in, let the sun shine in once again.