Friday, September 17, 2010


One of my friends posed the question above to me. He did so after he and others heard a sad mantra time and again at JFNA meetings: "It's JFNA's money." How wrong they are.

In my neck of the woods (and that's your neck of the woods as well, my sisters and brothers), the dollars sent to New York by the federations are, first and foremost, our donors' money; and, secondarily, those dollars are the federations' money. In most communities, as measured in the last national surveys on the subject, our donors continue to believe that at least 50% of the dollars they entrust to the federations are being sent to JFNA for ORT, the Jewish Agency and the Joint. Yet, the current JFNA leadership has articulated this strange sense that they and they alone have that "it's JFNA's money" to distribute, in addition to reduced allocations to JAFI/JDC and now ORT, to the pet projects of a few.

No accounting has ever been provided to the system for the collection and distribution of the Special Campaign to assist those of our People who suffered in Operation Cast Lead. What accounting have you received of the federation dollars sent to relocate a few Yemenite families from their homes to Monsey, New York? How has the $800,000 (+/-) allocated to Sheatufim been spent -- on what, by whom? Do any of us even know what Sheatufim is? (These should be the most simple questions to answer inasmuch as the JFNA Israel CEO is the Sheatufim Treasurer!!) And, now, this leadership wants you and me to entrust them to decide how to "reallocate" $13,000,000 (+/-) desperately needed for their core activities by the Agency, the Joint and ORT. Are you kidding me?

Consistent with these past practices, at the Summit recently concluded, a JFNA Co-Chair argued that 10% of the federation allocations for JAFI/JDC be set aside for...Birthright. This is the leadership which next Monday and Tuesday will confront JAFI/JDC leadership with a "new construct" -- set aside another 10% from a drastically diminished allocation to a JFNA-run "global planning table" (viz, ONAD-again) to be reallocated from the organizations' core activities to designated projects to be determined "at the table." I suppose it could be argued that if JFNA had demonstrated any support for JAFI or the Joint these past five years, or if a base allocation were guaranteed in some manner, there might be some basis for discussion. But...make that BUT...we have an organizational leadership determined today to make its bones on the backs of JAFI/JDC with no knowledge whatsoever of how to do so. JAFI and Joint leaders will be told this is good for them..."trust us." Uh-huh.

Friends, we all know of examples of communities, once strong, now weak, where trust in the federation as the central communal institution has been lost. That trust, so fundamental to communal success, has been lost in so many places in large measure because of leadership who have lost their way. At JFNA, this basic trust was never constructed, only demanded...constantly demanded. Now, once again, lay leaders ask for our trust while having earned none. We already entrust these folk with $30.3 million dollars for a Budget -- only to see that $30.3 million treated as fungible dollars spent without focus or articulated purpose -- probably because "it's JFNA's money."

It's time for those whose money it really is to say "this is over." Then, let's begin again -- after all, the New Year is a time for new beginnings.

G'mar tov.



Anonymous said...

Putting aside the issue of Birthright effectiveness (that so many of our leadership have questions about despite or even as a result of funder sponsored evaluations) should not there be a quid pro quo of giving communities, JCC's and Federations real access to bI alums? Or do we just play hardball with our close family in JDC and JAFI?

LisaB said...

Lots of Federations and JCC's have real access to BRI alums. Anyone who organizes a trip has access. Thing is, alumni don't respond to anything that doesn't interest them.

I worked on a project reaching out to alumni and their families. I had their assorted emails, addresses and parents addresses. The response rate was around 2%. Maybe 50% of the e-mails were no longer active as they were attached to colleges.
The few who responded were very enthusiastic, and there were some lovely stories from parents. However the myth of a magical "list" of hot to trot alumni just waiting to be touched by the Jewish community is just that, a myth.

Anonymous said...

given Lisa's comments it may be that our Emperor(s) of Birthright have no clothes (oy what a disturbing image to contemplate)