Monday, September 20, 2010


Annually during these yomim nora'im we are called upon to do penance and to engage in meaningful introspection. Two recent e-mails -- of over 100 -- that were "inspired" by my Post on JFNA Secrecy:

"When did we abdicate all of our (lay) power and influence?" This from a respected federation leader who serves in a leadership role at JFNA.

"I simply don’t get it. Really! How did we get to this point, leaderless, rudderless, without vision, action and a plan? It is so frustrating out here in the real world to know that we have an umbrella with a huge budget doing what? And yet here on the ground we are busting our asses, doing more with less and without benefit of real help or assistance." This from a Federation CEO who is working day and night in his federation professional role.

The frustration grows with every secret consultant deal, with every secret meeting, every "Summit" to which so many are excluded and haven't even any knowledge of before it takes place (or after). In part, the frustration grows from a leadership culture of secrecy that has overspread an organization that should be wholly transparent. But...there's so much more.

JFNA the Brand. In the immediate aftermath of the merger, Charles Bronfman, our first Board Chair, directed the UJC Communications and Marketing Department to refocus its energies on "marketing" the federations qua federations. It was an appropriate recognition that UJC was not only owned by the federations but was to be about the federations. Today, everything is about JFNA -- we must establish and support the JFNA brand as the priority to the apparent practical exclusion of the federations that own it. This thrust is as if the federations would not exist but for the existence of JFNA; it is the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

This leadership sincerely believes that it is "JFNA first and only." They resent the reality that, as examples, JAFI and Joint Board members consider JAFI and Joint first and foremost, yet see nothing wrong that they, the leaders of JFNA, see JFNA first and foremost, even as they sit in most critical councils of the Jewish Agency, placing JFNA "interests" (without anyone, even they, knowing what those are -- other than "control") and even ahead of the interests of the federations JFNA serves.

"They are not JFNA." If you are a sitting Federation Chair, you "...aren't JFNA" unless JFNA's leaders deem you to be. If you are a sitting Federation CEO, you "...aren't JFNA" unless JFNA's leaders deem you to be. And if you are deemed "...not JFNA," as determined by (but never defined by) JFNA's leaders, you may not serve on the JAFI Board and, if they could control it as they wish to, you would not be able to serve on the Joint Board. Only those who "are JFNA" as determined in the sole discretion of JFNA's leaders are eligible.

Allocations? "It's JFNA's money." Many of us have heard the Chairs refer to your donors and your JAFI and JDC allocations as "JFNA's money." One of the "outcomes" of the small group that met three weeks ago in a "Summit" was to recommend (to whom, to what) that a significant portion of a declining core allocation (10% !!) be reallocated to JFNA's non-existent "global planning table (f/k/a ONAD)" But, it's not "JFNA's money," is yours. And your donors believe they contributed the money, based on an annual case for giving, to meet the needs of the JDC and Agency, federations and local agencies.

Confusion to our Friends...and "Enemies." I would guess that if JFNA's leaders ever asked their Governance and By-Laws Chairs about the continuing creation of new (sometimes "secret") Coordinating Councils, Committees, Task Forces, Summits, they might be advised that the current By-Laws set forth with specificity how JFNA is to conduct its business. But, never mind: here's how it works: we have an Executive Committee with specific membership, forget 'em and create a "Coordinating Council" that I, the Board Chair, will run. We have an ad hoc "Coordinating Council" and an Executive Committee, but I, the Board Chair, will call a "Summit" and invite neither (although maybe I will invite some) the Coordinating Council nor the Executive Committee as we recommend drastic changes in how we (that's the imperial "We") do our Israel and Overseas business -- returning to a "rebranded ONAD." We have a Governance-authorized Israel and Overseas Committee, I will create an Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council what exactly? Confused? Then we have succeeded.

Federation Values? When your leaders reject the service of lay leaders as not being current Federation Chairs, they fail in their obligation to engage in introspection. They articulate a view that you can't serve JFNA because you were a Federation Chair some years or, even, a decade or more ago, but these same leaders' service to their federations was long the past, as well. In practice we see nothing that evidences our JFNA's leaders familiarity with federation values; we do see an obeisance to "JFNA the Brand" as if the national organization is all. If these leaders truly cared about the owners, about the shareholders, about the core values and sacred principles that underpin the work of federations, they would be one with them. They would be visiting with federations and learning from them instead of "...leaving that to Jerry."

So it is that they pay scant attention to federations' needs and wants as they pursue an unfocused agenda that has so little to do, in too many instances, with federations but so much to do with promoting "JFNA the Brand" (and, in so doing, attempting to elevate themselves). Let's have an open debate about federation values...a debate between the Board Chair and any Federation Chair focused upon federations' needs and wants framed against JFNA's goals. The disconnect would be self-evident.

This may not read like any introspection on my part. But I have engaged in a great deal of it. I revisited our goals and hopes and dreams when we went through the merger. Tragically, I see absolutely no connection between those hopes and dreams and goals and the JFNA of today.

As I conceived this Post, I had been looking at a photo forwarded on to me by my Federation of a picture taken of a Mission group that I led in 1995 at the end of the Operation Exodus Campaign. It was such a great Mission filled to the overflowing with leaders of our federations and our system and overflowing, as well, with incredible memories. Sadly, a small number of the participants have since passed away, their memories are forever a blessing; of the rest of these participants, all still active leaders of their federations and serving on the Boards of JAFI and JDC, among others. Except for one beautiful leader, not one of the 50 on that Mission today serves in any meaningful role in JFNA. This calls for some introspection among JFNA's leaders but there will not be any. This is one of the organization's most fatal flaws.

I plead for the forgiveness of all those whom I may have offended in 5770. I hope you had an easy fast, my friends.


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