Sunday, September 26, 2010


"We must kill the patient to save it." An interesting attitude to say the least. Estimates of the Jewish population of Orlando, Florida range from 23,000 (1993) to 35,000 today. Yet, as disclosed on the wonderful eJewish philanthropy website based on an article in the Orlando Sentinel, after 50 years of allocations, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando eliminated all allocations to Jewish organizations (except for a contractual obligation to the Rosen JCC campus of $125,000.(A more extensive albeit confusing explanation of the federation debt that created the crisis appeared in the Heritage Florida Jewish News.) While the JFGO's message to the community was "[T]his is a new day for the federation," for all intents and purposes, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando is but a shell, a federation in name only.

If ever there was a place for JFNA to have offered advice, counsel and person-power, would not this have been the place? I am not certain whether consultation and guidance could have helped but not to have provided consultation/guidance/intervention was impermissible. I know: tachlis is so 90's; the community should have reached out to us; yada, yada, yada.

Just four years ago, JFNA had in place an Emerging Communities initiative under the auspices of its Development Department. It was a lay/professional partnership effort with excellent professional leadership, some of whom are still on the JFNA Development staff. The entire program, which could have played an important part of a JFNA effort in, e.g., Orlando was scuttled by the then Chairs and CEO. The national effort had partnered with first Las Vegas and, then, Phoenix, and was planned to grow its engagement when it was unceremoniously axed... dropped with no consultation with the lay or professional leaders engaged in it. Those of us involved in the partnerships with the high potential high growth communities were welcomed; we viewed the partnerships we had created or were on the verge of creating as positive signs of the potential of JFNA to make a difference. Someone or ones apparently disagreed.

Could some form of intense engagement by JFNA leadership with Orlando made a difference? Obviously, I don't know...but it couldn't have hurt. The reality is that in the CJF/UJA era, the organizations would have attempted to partner with the community in creative triage...not content to merely sit by and observe as is the sad case today.

I still believe that Mike Lebovitz and his lay team twinned with Jerry, Paul Kane and others in Development could make a difference. But, they have turned the organization's focus to Regional Ignitions with no follow-up, branding, e-philanthropy, Tribefest and #ish, vendettas and, did I mention, branding? Can our national system afford the loss of a federation in a community the size of Orlando? Can we learn from this catastrophe -- for that is what it is. Or do we continue down the path of $30.3 million of programs the vast majority of which are of no apparent value-added to the federations?

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.



paul jeser said...

A disclaimer - I proudly served as the Exec of the Orl Fed from 1976 to 1985. Although we still have some friends/contacts I do not have any real 'inside' information to add to your comments.

Although I think that it would have been helpful to the Fed if the JFNA had played a role, the JFNA is in exactly the same shape as the Orl Fed is now. From an 'outsider's' view, it does not have much life in it. For sure, no credability or influence.

I believe that if there had been no merger, and the CJF were still alive and functioning today, there would be a different outcome. The CJF was there to service and support the Feds. At least, in my day, the CJF would have taken an active role early on and there is no doubt in my mind that the outcome would be VERY different.

The Orl Fed is a major causality of the merger.

RWEX said...

Thanks Paul,

Orlando is but one of the many casualties of the merger.


Devldave said...

I am a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, and my family and I have been involved in the Orlando Jewish Community for more than 50 years (my personal involvement goes back to 1990). Central Florida is still a vibrant Jewish community. It has, however, suffered greatly due to the ongoing recession, in large part because Central Florida is ground zero for the economic downturn with a housing market that will take years to get back on its feet.
That being said, the truth is the national parent organization, by whatever name you call it, has done nothing in the entire time I have been involved but let Orlando down. After years of promises to help with counsel, staff, fundraising efforts, organizational strategies, we were left, time and time again, with nothing but hot air and vapid talk. Emerging communities? The only thing that emerged for us was idle chatter from above. There was never real assistance. Never additional staff to help, never anything concrete. So why, after years of empty promises, should this community have turned once again to a parent whose only constant, whose only quality we could count on was abandonment, and whose only historic record was one of failure. If the Orlando Federation falls, it will fall alone. It will fall without ever having received real guidance or support from any national organization.
The lessons learned? Don't count on anyone besides yourself. Help yourself. There is no rescue from above. Sad but real. The Orlando jewish community plods on, one step at a time, and it does so on its own.

paul jeser said...

A comment about David's comment.

David is talking about the past decade or so.

In my day (mid-70s to mid-80s) BOTH UJA and CJF played major roles in the community. I do not think that there was a week that did not have some sort of support/assistance from one or both of those two most impritant organizations in each of the areas that David mentions - and many more...

HK said...

I don't believe blaming the challenges Orlando is facing on the National office does neither one of us much good. Have we gotten the response from them we have always needed? Not always. Have we benefited from being associated with JFNA? More times than not. But the truth of the matter is blaming JFNA takes the focus away from the real issue. If the Federation falls, it will not fall alone. It will be just the beginning of the end for many Jewish organizations in our community. We will go back in time 30 years or more. If the Federation falls, it is the fault of our own Jewish community - not JFNA.

Steve Levine said...

I'm sorry (a little) to redirect "Devldave"'s incorrectly pointed finger, or conflict with anyone's agenda, but as someone who had a front row seat at the Orlando Federation's self-inflicted "roots' canal ( I led the organization's strategic planning process in 2005-06), I can tell you two things with absolute certainty and accuracy:

1. In 2004-05, UJC sent a team of excellent,experienced and knowledgable consultants (including former UJC CEO Steve Solender) to assist Orlando. Many of their key findings & recommendations were ignored, but nonetheless, UJC's efforts on behalf of the Orlando Federation were remarkable, particularly given their very small campaign,low number of donors and one of the worst per capita giving figures in the system. Two years later, based on the beginning of a clear turnaround, UJC rewarded Orlando by naming them as host of the 2011 GA. That award was rescinded only after the organization reverted to its old ways (see #2, below) and began to once more head, forgive the expression, south.

2. Among UJC's findings in 2004 was a belief, if not a conviction, that the Jewish community in Orlando, particularly its leadership was, to use their term, "dysfunctional." Community participants (over 40 of them) in the 2005-06 strategic planning process, similarly described their community with that same ugly word.

In short, instead of "fun house" mirrors (and distorted images)"Devldave" and others who blame UJC/JFNA for Orlando's difficulties should be looking into the reality of their own making.

And speaking of reality, full disclosure demands that I point out that this writer's spouse was the CEO of the Orlando Federation from 2005 to 2007.


RWEX said...

Thanks Steve,

Are you certain you and devldave are from the same community? Might the earlier Comment have been referencing the last five years?

Steve Levine said...

Although I've never seen him use that handle, I'm certain I know who "devldave" is; even if his perceptions are flawed and self serving,his self description is unmistakable.

Since "devl" will undoubtedly read this post, I want to make sure he, HK and others among the past & current leadership understand that my comments are in no way personal. For me "devl" is simply an apt metaphor for the core leadership of the community about whom I'd paraphrase the British Quaker radical, John Bright: "They're self-made men who worship their creator."

"Dave" was simply wrong...and if he (or anyone else) chooses to discuss it with me, I'll document it...about UJC's role in Orlando. Short of a "hostile takeover," they could not have been a more supportive and caring parent during the pivotal period 2004-07.

However, I absolutely agree with one thing that devldave, characterizing as "sad but true," pointed out: "The Orlando Jewish community plods on, one step at a time, and it does so on its own."

One footnote: There are a number of quality, decent, smart and open people in the Orlando Jewish Community and if HK is who I believe she is, and has the strength, courage and smarts that people attribute to her, the community at least has a prayer to survive and someday even thrive under her leadership!