Wednesday, July 28, 2010


In the hallways and meeting rooms at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem one month ago, during the Jewish Agency Assembly and Board of Governors meetings, a small number of federation CEOs and the JFNA President were on the warpath. They were inflamed by the temerity, the chutzpah of JAFI embarking on a Global FRD path -- forced to do so, as is the Joint, as is World ORT, by the failure of the federation system and JFNA to meet their moral and merger obligations to advocate for and impact upon an increase in the financial resources of the Partners. Their flailing anger in Jerusalem was directed as well toward their now former colleague, Misha Galperin, for agreeing (with their express support by the way) to lead the JAFI Global FRD effort with a budget adequate to support the effort.

Let's look at the facts. While I won't judge the support of these CEOs for JAFI, they have expressed it by their constant presence at Agency meetings, one of them led his community to cut their JAFI/JDC allocation in the late 90's by $3,000,000. His public and private reason (he told me at the time that he had led this effort himself) -- the UJA/CJF merger was "moving too slowly." Back then I asked what would happen when the merger took place and I he stated, "I'll restore the dollars." He, his community, didn't (and his community was followed shortly by another, professionally led by a future UJC CEO which cut its core allocation by $1.2 million one year later. That federation was also represented at the BOG meetings). Another of these concerned CEOs who expressed chagrin at the JAFI meetings leads a federation whose core allocation to JAFI/JDC is near the bottom rung of communities of similar city-size. It was this group of professionals for whom I otherwise have the greatest admiration who led the response to the devastating cuts to Joint and Agency core by arguing that the partners failed to include the $100's of millions raised and transmitted through the Israel Emergency Campaign in stating federation annual allocations. They did so knowing full well that those incredible amounts were completely passed through by JAFI/JDC and others -- that enormous outpouring of donor generosity did not fund the JAFI or JDC Budgets at all. And, finally and inevitably, there is, as there always is, JFNA...

Let's examine the reality that none of these federations and certainly not JFNA have offered JAFI or JDC or ORT any alternative. Oh, there has been rhetoric for sure -- any number of ONAD (!!) Resolutions contained (at my Federation's request) hortatory language, non-binding of course, "urging" the Federations to maintain/increase allocations to core. Neither the federation members of ONAD nor the lay or professional leaders of JFNA in its earlier iteration did anything further...beyond "urging" there was nothing. When the opportunity to find additional dollars for core -- for example, when federation Dues obligations were reduced by $10 million dollars -- not any action from JFNA beyond a one-time "urging" of federations to transfer those dollar savings so as to increase core allocations. And, in fact, in the aggregate the federations cut those allocations and most have since cut and cut and cut some more.

So here you have the irony of JFNA demanding...that's right, demanding...institutional discipline from the Jewish Agency and the Joint while demanding nothing of its own members...or itself. (Who can forget the serial unauthorized "asks" of federations to fund "pet projects" in competition with the partners themselves just one year ago?) Complaining about a lack of JFNA representation on the JAFI FRD Task Force, JFNA's CEO sat at a meeting in Jerusalem rejecting the past Chair of a Large City Federation on the JAFI FRD Task Force as "not JFNA;" and the current Chair of another Large City sitting on the JFNA Task Force rejected as "not JFNA." There has been the conceit expressed by JFNA lay leaders that the allocations -- sent through UIA by the federations..."are our money." Yet, when the first federation -- Boston, as I recall -- sent its allocation checks directly to JDC, the system stood silent. (I should note that at the time I plead with the Joint on behalf of UJA not to accept the CJP's check [JAFI at the time refused it] arguing that in cashing that allocations check, the Joint would be starting our system down a path from which it would never return.)

Today, JFNA, holding no sway over the Federations which own it, can only attempt to intimidate our partners after a decade of neglect. Now there was to be a JFNA-convened meeting, after months of silence and neglect, with JAFI/JDC leaders scheduled for late August -- a meeting that now appears to be off the calendar. While this may have been intended as the "follow-up" to the last meeting, so long ago, it's been forgotten just as JFNA'S Chair and CEO have seemingly forgotten that they were to build consensus over the ensuing months for an aggressive advocacy plan. The CEO distracted by the conversion crisis, the JFNA Board and Executive Chairs distracted by...summer?

I know that these CEOs, including Jerry Silverman, represent among the best and brightest professionals we have. It is a real shame that they have nothing more to offer the Agency or Joint than criticism for doing that which they, our partners, have been forced to do. And I am heartbroken that we have reached this nadir for our federation system is now at risk as never before -- where, in short order, JDC, JAFI and ORT will be independently and directly raising dollars as never before.

This reality should come as no surprise to anyone at The Jewish Federations of North America even as they may disingenuously claim that they were "shocked" by the JAFI Global FRD Plan. These were no surprises -- they were foretold by JFNA's own distancing from its partners, by its lack of advocacy for collective responsibility, by its "service" to the federations as the national apologist for federations' withdrawal from the collective enterprise, and by its silence (except for an occasional "tsk, tsk") while core allocations dropped by over $100 million, and on and on.

JFNA: it is responsible for nothing; it stands for nothing. It has proved itself to be feckless.


1 comment:

paul jeser said...

richard - what is so sad about this post is that it reinforces the belief that there is no system left.... And, why major donors and leaders are now 'doing hteir own thing.'

JAFI and the JDC, I beleive, are past the point of no return. And, so is the Federation system as we knew it to be.

You know my vision - it is time for someone to start looking at it seriously - or at other plans that call for VERY major changes.