Sunday, July 18, 2010


The Conversion Bill crisis -- I think it is safe to use that term -- has proved a number of realities:

1. All politics is local. When Diaspora Jewry finds itself with a negligible impact in Israel for reasons that are abundantly clear (and have been reported on these pages too often), with a North American leadership so diminished they have had to rely on those not at the top of the JFNA lay or professional leadership and on the Jewish Agency just to gain appointments with Knesset members and to reach out to the Prime Minister, we find ourselves in deep, deep trouble. For Israeli Knesset members, their interest, much like a Chicago alderman's, is in pandering to their "constituencies" and their patrons. Some have suggested that what we are seeing politically is pure "coalition politics," with Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of the Foreign Minister, using its leverage to embarrass the Prime Minister (or threaten him) and Shas now joining the fray. Whatever, placing the power to deligitimize conversions or dictate the criteria for them, threatens the bond between Diaspora Jewry and Israel as could little else.

2. In the hands of the too few. As it has appeared for too long, at JFNA "power," such as it is, is vested in the hands of the CEO/President and Board Chair, and no one else. I fear that federation CEOs have had little to say on the conversion subject while they look for "cover" behind JFNA and JAFI. Jerry Silverman, no matter the outcome, has distinguished himself in the trenches doing "battle" for us almost single-handedly. Too little too late. The JFNA-encouraged letter writing campaign has had exactly the impact one would expect even though some of the letters (and, in particular, one written in Ivrit by UIA Board Chair Bruce Arbit addressed to each Knesset member) have been well done. The lack of JFNA-driven access to the Prime Minister, to the Knesset, to mega-donors in North America is a tragic example of chickens coming home to roost.

3. Aftermath. With its self-created disability or just lack of influence and a Prime Minister reliant on a disabling coalition, Diaspora Jewry faces a perfect storm. A strategy that should have dictated demanding that this legislation be withdrawn now apparently has focused on getting passage postponed until after the Knesset Summer recess (and pathetic "constructive discussions" with a sponsor apparently so beholding to his ultra-Orthodox patrons as to be no friend, if he ever was). Can we really rely on Parkinson's "delay is the deadliet form of denial?"

While it now appears that there will be no further votes taken on this legislation until the Summer recess ends, our federations must confront the reality that in allowing JFNA to self-destruct through a series of failed lay leaders over the past six years that it is at home, in our communities, where we will reap the whirlwind if this legislation passes in its current form as donors, already facing a damaged economy, act out in repulsion at the Israel Government's actions -- no matter the "innocence" of the federations, this is how our communities "work." If campaigns reduce, JAFI, notwithstanding its commitment to the Reform and Conservative Movements on the conversion issue, and JDC (whose absence from thus issue has been conspicuous) will be the victims -- after all, if during times of rising campaigns our "system's" partners have seen their federation allocations reduce year after year, the spiraling down trend line of recent years will accelerate.

4. Time for Major Changes. We have reached the nadir. The end of the line. Eleven years after its creation, the limited abilities of JFNA to respond to a real Israel-Diaspora crisis -- and, worst of all, to be unprepared for it -- demands, at long last, a thorough federation-driven reconstruction of its national organization. Period. End of story,


1 comment:

paul jeser said...

This post is, sadly, right on the mark.

So, the question is, what should we do?