There have been a number of times over the past 6 years when I came to believe that what is now JFNA had "jumped the shark" evidencing that the end was at hand or, at the least, near. Three "strategic plans," 57 pages of programs in a Budget, demands for federation dollars over and above allocations to support the whims of a CEO, the constant changing of the organizational agenda, the "rescue" of Yemeni Jews not to Israel but to Monsey, NY, the constant requests for more dollars over and above Dues without any prioritization, and on and on. But, if you want a specific event, try this on for size:
When the Conversion Bill was initially modified to include significant provisions that would impact on Diaspora Jews, the Reform and Conservative Rabbinate, and conversions performed even in the IDF by Orthodox Rabbis, JFNA spoke for all of us in a frenzy of opposition. Letters to Prime Minister Netanyahu were as much of a constant as was Jerry Silverman's presence in the halls of the Knesset. Ultimately, the Prime Minister, clearly recognizing the need for the support of World Jewry on matters of vital national interest, was able to both obtain a six month moratorium on consideration of the legislation and hold his coalition together. Effusive letters in praise of the Prime Minister flowed from 25 Broadway, where, you will recall, the Board Chair characterized the delay as a "major victory." I think that any rational person would recognize that the Prime Minister's continued support in this opposition is vital.
So, what happened? The Prime Minister sent Ms. Manning a letter on 6 September. It had a very simple message:
"I affirmed my government's commitment to strengthening the connection between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel. I also pledged to increase my government's support for these efforts...Given our common objectives of strengthening Jewish identity, promoting Aliyah and fighting the deligitimization of Israel, I believe that now is the time to forge an even stronger partnership between us."
Then the Prime Minister got to it:
"That is why I hope that the Jewish Federations will decide not to change the basis by which funds are allocated to the Jewish Agency. I believe that continuing your level of support for the Jewish Agency will send an important message about the strength of of our continued partnership..."
Leaders for whom I have great respect argue that the Israeli Prime Minister has attempted to insert the Government of Israel in a matter -- allocations -- in which it has no interest. I disagree -- the fiscal health of the federations' partners who leverage significant dollars in their work on the federations' behalf is a matter in which all of us have a stake.
Now it was time for our JFNA's leaders to respond. And, they didn't. They totally ignored the crux of the message from the Prime Minister of Israel in Ms. Manning's return letter...just ignored it as if it hadn't even appeared in the PM's letter. I can think of nothing worse, nothing more insulting and nothing that more exemplifies this lack of leadership, the instituional weakness.
This is after all the Prime Minister who so appreciated the importance of the support of World Jewry that he stood with us and he, alone, confronted his own coalition to gain a 6 month moratorium on the Conversion Bill -- yes, that Prime Minister. Now that Prime Minister asks us for support and we don't respond at all? And, by our lack of response, we insult the elected leader of our beloved Israel.
What might Ms. Manning and Silverman have written? Well as one leader for whom I have the greatest respect suggested in a similar circumstance: "You don't insult the Prime Minister of Israel in this way. You respond by saying something like this: 'Mr. Prime Minister, we hear you loud and clear. You have our commitments, as the leaders of JFNA, to take your message to our federation leaders and owners with our unequivocal support.'" But, not these leaders...uh-uh. That would require leaders who understand leadership and their roles on our behalf.
Six months are almost up...and so is JFNA's time. They've jumped the shark.