Tuesday, December 8, 2009


The following is based on a true story. I became a member of the Jewish Agency Executive Committee by reason of my service as Chair of our United Israel Appeal. I learned recently that JAFI's counsel has opined that while one may have began one's service on the JAFI Executive as the representative of an organization, once one's service commences, we sit in personam and, therefore, as JAFI has no term limits, we may serve, theoretically, forever.

Unfortunately, this can happen...

Jake Shanker was now 105. He had already been featured on a Willard Scott "he's 100 years old" segment on the Today show -- twice. He could no longer travel. He continued to serve on the Jewish Agency Executive Committee. How did this happen you ask?

Well, back in '09, Jake, having already served on the Jewish Agency Board for a quarter century (there are no term limits) decided to resign as a Board Member. He, of course, had assurances that he would be elected to a new office almost immediately -- that of Honorary Board Member -- a position that offered the same "benefits" as the more traditional Board Member position, with, apparently, none of the responsibilities. So, Jake Shanker was no longer an elected JAFI Board Member. But Jake, in 2009, was also a member of the Jewish Agency Executive Committee at the time of his resignation as a JAFI Board Member. And, given the sorry state of JAFI's governance, once one is appointed to the JAFI Executive (other than those who serve by virtue of their position --e.g., the UJC Board Chair) one ceases to serve only by death or resignation. Yes, unbelievable though it may be, one needn't be a member of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors to serve on its most critical governance body.

Sure, when Jake Shanker resigned from the JAFI Board, The Jewish Federations of North America approached Jake: "So, Jake, we assume you'll give up your seat on the Executive as well given your expressed desire to spend more time with your great-grandchildren." "Nope," Jake said, "I like the Executive. Learn a lot of stuff. I'm staying on." This conversation continued annually for the next 25 years. Jake Shanker's response was always the same: "Nope." Jake started to attend the meetings by phone. He expressed a great interest in getting what he called "new blood" on the JAFI Board (but apparently not on the Executive). When amendments to the Reconstitution Agreement were proposed for Board Member Term limits, Jake was totally supportive; when amendments were proposed that would require "real" (as opposed to Honorary) Board membership as a precondition to service on the Executive, Jake was totally opposed.

At an Executive meeting that coincided with Jake turning 105, Jake Shanker attended in person -- he was flown on a hospital plane to Jerusalem. With doctors on either side of him at the JAFI Executive Meeting, Jake asked to speak. "Friends, I know some of you expect that I have asked to speak so that finally I could announce my retirement from the Executive." A murmur of anticipation echoed through the Bistro Room at the Inbal Hotel. "Well," Jake said, "I am not going to give you the satisfaction. I will continue to serve until I die at my place." And then he did.

In Jake Shanker's memory JAFI's Board approved an Amendment to the Reconstitution Agreement -- forever to be known as the "Jake Shanker Amendment" -- requiring that service on the JAFI Executive would require that one be a Member of the JAFI Board with term limits. Gee, what a great idea!!

See you at the JAFI Executive Committee meeting in February.


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