Wednesday, July 21, 2010


So, the cat's out of the bag, the secret is out, JFNA is being run on the lay side by a 15 person "Coordinating Council." Membership is not controlled by JFNA Governance but, apparently, by whim -- the Officers, the Chairs of various things (all appointed by the Board Chair) including a curious "Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council." This will come as no surprise to federation leaders in the West, but there are no members from west of St. Louis other than Alice Viroslav the YLC Co-Chair from San Antonio. Such is the geographic distribution of today's leadership that Los Angeles, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Portland, East Bay, Seattle and more are excluded, so either eat your hearts out or count your blessings.

What does this extremely effective group do? Well, apparently, agree with whatever Kathy and Jerry wish them to. How do we know what they do? We don't, we won't. I wasn't supposed to even know about this letter to the Prime Minister, and neither were you -- it was in an attachment Jerry sent to "Dear Colleagues" (either his senior staff or Federation CEOs, although in the latter group are many who don't yet consider Jerry a colleague). The JFNA Executive Committee, the structure of which was the result of significant negotiation to assure participation by gender and geography and City-size -- apparently you are just a body designed by the current and immediate past leaders to ratify, to nod yes in choreography of which the Joffrey would be proud. Your role, if any, usurped while the Chair of the Executive appears to have "gone rogue."

Now, they've gone and done it. They surfaced. They joined in a letter to the Prime Minister. With all due respect to the co-signers, it's not like it came from leaders no longer leading -- not from Max Fisher, z'l, Alex Grass, z'l, Corky Goodman, Shoshana Cardin, Lester Pollack, Morris Offit, Jim Tisch, Sissy Swig, Marvin Lender, the Bronfmans, the Ratners, Bill Berman and others who might actually cause the Prime Minister and his Ministers and Knesset members step back for a moment and think. Someone once wrote that we "..get the leaders we deserve" -- I would vote for us getting the leaders we need. Lay leadership at JFNA today is so disconnected from those North American Jews with clout in Israel that on a JFNA Conference Call on the Unity of the Jewish People last Friday morning, our "leaders" had to plead to those on the call: "If any of you know any mega-donors, could you get them to call or write the Prime Minister?!"

The last time this crisis arose, at a time that the CJF and UJA were operating with strength and respect, the Jewish leadership of North America mobilized and, coordinated by CJF, assured that the halls of the Knesset were filled with lay leaders whose names and importance were recognized in Israel and here in North America. Visits were timed so that our lay presence was a constant over the weeks before it was assured that the Law of Return would be respected. The tool kit for how to respond to this crisis is right there. But this cast of characters has gone the letter-writing route. Just a few years ago we sent lay and professional leaders into the breach in a planful, direct way; now, we send letters hoping that the logo, the brand, is recognized.

So, last Friday, the JFNA Board Chair communicated with the JFNA Board and shared Jerry's incredible efforts in Jerusalem. Instead of announcing that she and Gelman and the JFNA Coordinating Council will be leaving for Jerusalem on Sunday past, she asked us to write letters and get others to do so. Were it not for the totally fortuitous coincidence that the Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission was in Israel for part of this critical time, not a single federation lay leader would have confronted this issue with the Knesset face-to-face.

But, perhaps the "Coordinating Council's" absence from the arena is ok. Had they gone to Israel en masse, maybe the Prime Minister would have observed how many of them represent federations which demonstrate an embarrassing minimum of supporting allocations to JAFI and JDC. Instead the PM can marvel once again at our institutional ability to write letters. For letters are cheap.

While I give Jerry Silverman an A+ for his efforts, clearly we have lost our way.



Anonymous said...

oh you are being so unfair Richard! Its summertime and these Jewish "leaders" need the quality time with the kids home from school and the down time at their vacation homes. Its really unreasonable for you to expect them to drop everything they have planned and take off for Jerusalem at a moments notice all in the cause of something as nebulous as Jewish unity.

paul jeser said...

I hate to keep on saying this, but back 'in the day', when the federation system really worked, that is exactly what we all did!

Anonymous said...

A suggestion for round two: In as many cities as have the will to put it off have a local mega donor offer or hire a private jet to take the absolute top Jewish influentials in their town ona lobbying excursion to Jerusalem. Seats will be limited and the honor of being recruited great. Solicit them, or have them solicit each other, along the way. Call it Project Weizmann.

Usedtobeimportant said...

Maybe the coordinating council could do a Flotilla to the Knesset.