Monday, November 9, 2009


As one of the more bizarre mistakes of the The Jewish Federations of North America's 2007 Reorganization Strategy, the creation of what resulted in an UJC- Israel Office completely unrelated to, then, UJC's, or, more certainly, the federations' agenda. It is the best example yet of my pet philosopher's, Yogi Berra's, assertion that "if you get to a fork in the road, take it."

UJC-Israel's work at the time of the merger and until 2007 was led by two brilliant professionals -- Menachem Revivi, who brought his insight and intellect to the position under the banner of CJF and, then, the UJA-CJF Partnership, and Nachman Shai, who combined both of Revivi's superb talents with the critical add-on of important contacts within the Government of Israel, the media and the IDF. 2007 arrived with the desperate desire of "leaders" for "change for change's sake" -- and change everywhere. Instead of a leader with the contacts of a Revivi or a Shai, Rieger and Kanfer decided to reposition UJC-Israel as a major "player" in the Israeli NGO and social service structure, choosing a long-time professional within JDC-Israel, Rebecca Caspi, with no relationships with the Government of Israel or JAFI to reposition the Office in the image conceived by then UJC "leadership." This was characterized as a "professional management decision" thereby exempt from lay oversight through governance processes; it was, however, a substantive policy change. But, I sense that Becky Caspi soon understood that she was to do as she was told not as she knew things should be.

And, with conflicting direction from New York, and with the ubiquitous Toni Young as her lay partner, Kanfer/Young/Rieger began to build an empire -- ok, nothing as exalted as an empire -- maybe more of a duchy. Best I can tell, after three years of "effort," the duchy of UJC-Israel is nothing more than the "mouse that roared," consuming vast amounts of federation money with so very little to show for the investment. And, the results, such as they aren't, are not Becky Caspi's fault; whatever "fault" might be ascribed, it belongs to those unseen hands who pushed UJC-Israel to be something that it could not be and need not have ever been -- the cutting edge of a new social service delivery organization for the federation system in Israel.

It is one thing to experiment and fail, admit failure and move on. What we have seen at The Federations of North America is that we experiment, we fail and then we invest more in the failed experiment. This has to stop. UJC-Israel went forward with a three year investment in Sheatufim of $750,000. Caspi became its Treasurer; UJC's lay and professional leaders spoke at its annual Conference -- maybe at two of them. And? Where are an accounting and accountability? Staff at UJC-Israel grew (excluding UIA professionals) to a dozen and more...researchers, accountants, marketing, finance, programmmers. And? Where are an accounting and accountability?

Mission responsibilities were thoroughly down-sized as The Jewish Federations of North America abandoned missions to the federations which sought out their own vendors and guides. Relationships with the Joint and JAFI were rent asunder as UJC-Israel at the directions of a lay and professional leadership which sought to (a) distance itself from its partners ("so 1980's") in Israel and (b) establish a UJC Israel social service presence in Israel where none was needed. These relationships can be restarted and I sense that Michael Lebovitz, Kathy Manning and and Jerry Silverman can do it with what is now an eager professional component.

Hoping to create a project fund raising presence in Israel, Young, now ensconced as Chair of the still-born Center for Jewish Philanthropy, attempted to apparently perpetuate still-born programs demanded by Young and Kanfer. So, the Israel Office started something called "10 x 10" -- a fund raising project to connect ten Israeli philanthropists contributing $50,000 with ten North American philanthropists making equal contributions. Forget that neither lay nor professional Development leadership were attached to the "project;" ignore that both the Joint and JAFI were actively engaged with the Israeli philanthropic community, "ignore everything , this is something we must do." What can't be ignored is the reality that 10x10 failed -- failed so badly that UJC's leaders tried to tap the UJC (now The Jewish Federations of North America) endowment for about $250,000 as "seed money." "Seed money" for a "program" never approved anywhere within UJC governance. And, when their efforts were turned away by the Committee, they tried again, rebuffed again and one more time.

The worst has been the lack of transparency -- something for which only the "responsible" lay leadership can be blamed. Most of these failed projects, most of the staffing decisions were never even vetted with the Global Operations:Israel-Overseas Working Group, Task Force or whatever. Decisions were never discussed or debated, direction was determined by "management" -- with no accountability. We are talking of millions of dollars.

So, isn't it time for the Independent Duchy of UJC-Israel to "rejoin" The Jewish Federations of North America..."independent' no more? Past time? Get back to basics; give Rebecca Caspi and her staff a chance to succeed, something that they have not yet had.



Anonymous said...

There never was a Global Operations. The name itself is a pretentious pig in lipstick. There is no Center for Jewish Philanthropy. Just ask Morris Offit - he had no desire to lend his name to a fraud.

Anonymous said...

having listened to Jerry Silverman at the GA it sounds like we are in for yet another "reinvention". His touting of Les Wexner, "what got us here won't get us there" could either be a critique of the last 5 years or a disdain for the past 60... this jury of one is still out.

joebrown42 said...

I have to tell you the Israel (NGOs) side of the UJC-Israel office.
We considered it extra bureaucracy, more red tape, and less efficiency.
They offered no professional support beyond that which was already given by other bodies (Shatil/NIF, JDC, JAFI, etc.).
There was no true concentration of efforts (getting NGOs to work together, maybe create fewer NGOs where there were too many, for instance).
The Nachman Shai figurehead may have been a good idea for speeches, but not for actions. NONE of the projects run by UJC-Israel managed to have an impact on the government, aside from its brushing off responsibility, such as with the ENP. In that case, Nachman Shai got everyone to one table but then made no follow up on the round table decisions for three years.

While I have friends in the UJC-Israel office, I hope that a reorganization knows how to either utilize their true talents, make a real change here in Israel, or allocate the monies to a body that does.

Sorry I am so harsh, I hope no one is directly offended.