The Coen Brothers movie A Serious Man was an Academy Award nominee. I found it to be a wondrous film -- not everyone agreed. Those of you who saw the movie will recall one scene where the protagonist has filled a blackboard in the college lecture hall where he teaches ( I think it's physics) with formula after formula. He describes the formulae as proving "The Uncertainty Principle." The students are appropriately overwhelmed, disinterested or totally confused. Looking around as the students scramble to escape the lecture hall, Professor Lawrence "Larry" Gopnick shouts at them: "Even if you can't figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the mid-term." My sentiments exactly.
Jewish leadership -- lay and professional -- today is staring at a blackboard on which are scrawled what appears to them, apparently, to be nothing more than gibberish and they are being held responsible. And they don't appear to know what to do. The lay leaders at JFNA don't appear to know how to explain JFNA's value to the federations...so, they don't. I guess it's a matter of "let Jerry do it"... if he can.
Look at these lay leaders squirm when you ask them -- what is our system getting for $30 million? The Washington Office's success -- o.k., but we got some of that when CJF ran the shop; branding and marketing help -- o.k., cool, what's the value-added to what my federation already does; Israel & Overseas -- o.k. you (or should I say, as before, UIA) do a good job with monitoring our allocations to JAFI, what about JDC, what about anything else; well, we have the Cabinets and Women's Philanthropy -- didn't those exist and thrive under UJA; etc., etc., etc. Instead of answers, you get blank stares and cliches.
To paraphrase Stanford University's Larry Diamond, quoted in Tom Friedman's New York Times column on March 24: "If you don't get governance right. It's very hard to get anything else right that (that governance) needs to deal with. We have to rethink in some basic ways how our ...institutions work, because they are increasingly incapable of delivering effective solutions any longer." At JFNA, we have a lay leadership with no apparent interest in "rethinking" because they fail to understand how the federations for which they have major responsibility and obligation work...or else they confuse marketing and branding with rethinking and change and purpose. So they make their public appearances and appoint Task Forces and Work Groups with little apparent interest in results. Folks, "Branding" is not a purpose; it's a strategy; it is not an end, it's a means. The same with Marketing.
$30 million, boys and girls, show us something. Much as I might be disappointed with the outcomes, show us at the least a "CJF of excellence." Show us some leadership.