Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This could only happen in an environment where there is a leadership vacuum. As the Forward will soon report (if it hasn't already), the Joint Distribution Committee has announced that it will "leave the system" as its demands for a change in the "split" of allocated dollars with JAFI has not been changed. Does any rational reader believe that JDC would put the system (this is premised on the fact that there is still a "system") at risk for its own motives if the system stood for anything; if JFNA's lay leaders had their respect? I don't.

Since the beginning of JFNA -- back to when it was but Newco -- leaders of the Joint and Agency have been looking for leadership, for the commitment to increased funding for both organizations. What have they gotten back from first UJC now JFNA, a deafening silence, then a plea to "trust us, we'll get to this next year," etc., etc., etc. And, then...nothing...nada...squat.

Do you think this would have happened if Bronfman or Tisch or Wexner or Crown were Chairs and willing to assert themselves? I don't. It certainly wouldn't have happened in the UJA era when that organization demonstrated its commitment to JAFI and JDC day in and day out. But, it's happening today.

I do wish that the Joint leadership, on a visit to Chicago a little over one month ago, had roiled out ithis "plan" to a community that has met its financial responsibilities to JDC year in and year out. I do wish that Joint leadership hadn't merely prepared a Memo filled with threats of what it "will do" when (and if) it leaves the system (most of which JDC is already doing) but prepared a Budget that explained in detail, line-by-line, how it spends its money. Then we all might have had something to discuss. But, I understand the Joint's leadership's frustration with the federations' national organization which appears to be cowering in a corner somewhere.

But, understand -- this is not an attack on JFNA, it is an attack on the federations, pure and simple. Has this attack been decided by the Joint's Board? Has this "plan," this "threat" been debated there? JFNA is viewed as irrelevant in JDC's threat to individual federations they have addressed demanding that those federations "change the split or else..."

The "split," my friends, is but, in Hitchcockian terms, a MacGuffin -- it is a decoy as federations have, in their ever-increasing designated allocations, paid it less and less attention. For the Joint to premise the deconstruction of a system that has provided it with $100's of millions in allocations over this flimsy plot device is just plain wrong. To threaten the federations with an ultimatum of this nature is worse. But it is what it is and we haven't leaders at JFNA who know what to do. So, absent JFNA, the burden once again falls on the federations who care to say to JDC this will not happen.

Stay tuned.



paul jeser said...

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. I do, however, disagree with the thesis that the problem is the lack of JFNA leadership.

The real issue is that many major donors no longer see the Fed as a place to give their gifts, not because of the JFNA, but because they (the donors) want to be much more in control of how their gifts are spent.

The Federation movement, as we knew it, for good or for bad, is no longer viable, and unless it significantly changes it will cease to exist - and that would be a shame.

Jewish Philanthropy News and Views said...

Here's more:

A Funding Clash Forces Choice: Food or Identity? JDC Weighs Departing From Historic Agreement