Monday, January 24, 2011


Signs at the end of 2010 and into these first weeks of 2011 point to a potential revival of the federations' annual campaigns across the country. would never know it, chevre, in the halls of 25 Broadway. As we have pointed out on these pages, time and time and time again, its all about JFNA...always about JFNA. Here we are in early 2011 and the federations face incredible challenges with their own infrastructure, with, in some instances, finding the "new, big idea," with competitive fund raising from every direction in their midst, with a need to find the key to unlock the dreams of the next generations, with the appeal of Birthright and aggressive FRD beginning within JAFI and the Joint and growing at Birthright. And what does JFNA unilaterally decide -- JFNA will lead an effort they call "Completing the Journey" of Ethiopian Jewry.

It's a nice, even noble cause. in a demonstration of real empathy, JFNA's leaders as always ignore history -- a history in which on at least two previous occasions, the Israeli Government announced that all Ethiopians with a Jewish history had been delivered to Israel and our system joined in closing the camps in Ethiopia. But still, claiming family reunification, more Ethiopians demand the right of aliya. Yet, JFNA is building its new fund raising effort upon the abject failure of its own Operation Promise a special campaign so confused and confusing from the outset that JFNA folded it in in part into the Israel Emergency Campaign to save it from total embarrassment. Operation Promise was premised on a $163 million fund raising goal for multiple purposes. The then Chair and CEO refused to prioritize within the $163 million and, as so often happens in such circumstances, the "goal keepers" competed with each other. Ask JFNA how much was raised. (The last numbers published by JFNA were as at 1/11/2005 -- $26 million raised and $1,706,000 transmitted. At that point, then UJC prepared a "Plan" that included suggesting to the "Top 40 communities" that they consider the sources for Operation Promise funding, including from overseas allocations.")

By December 2006 the then UJC unilaterally "shut down" Operation Promise leaving JAFI and JDC holding the bag. A few months earlier, in 2006, in a meeting with then Acting Prime Minister Olmert, the then UJC Board Chair "personally guaranteed" the federations' allocation of $9 million to rescue what was then represented as the "last remnant" of Ethiopian Jewry. We didn't raise that money; the "guarantee" was never called. As JFNA was then advised the additional cost to JAFI for this massive effort at Ethiopian aliyah was $21 million for one year, $61 million in total; you may guess how much was collected and transmitted by JFNA.

Yet, the failure of Operation Promise is not the point of this Post -- other than as a cautionary tale. For with all that federations are facing in rebuilding their campaigns, the questions arises, just where was this "campaign" discussed? How were the federations engaged? Sure, a small number of federations have been at the forefront in advocacy for the re-creation of an Ethiopian exodus, once again a final one, small in scope and, to these federations, critical in importance. Wouldn't it have been appropriate for those federations to jumpstart the funding of "Completing the Journey" disproportionate to other federations? And how were those federations approached by JFNA at the outset of this "special campaign?" I'm just guessing but how does: "not at all" sound?

So, if you know what the plan is for this Special Campaign is, please fill us in. If you know where the goal of $5.5 million over 3 years came from, what the budget is, what anything is for this "special campaign," fill us in...please. If you believe there is no plan beyond a mission and a couple of fine staff persons, cast your vote. As one of the Friends of the Blog observed: "I've seen this movie before --we all know the ending."

And so we have and do. From the Board Chair's announcement of the fund raising effort, one hears echoes of the woeful JFNA efforts that produced $630,000 on an original $8 million ask to relocate Yemeni Jews to Monsey, New York; the totally failed FRD call for the Israel Advocacy Initiative; the $5 million ask for the Israel Action Network to fight BDS the results of which have never been reported; and, of course, Operation Promise itself; among others. Fund raising, which we used to do so well as a national organization has become a travesty -- it's no longer Campaign, its no longer Development, its now the meaningless rebrand to Philanthropic Resources. And, now Philanthropic Resources will try to raise $5.5 million -- the Board Chair asserts that "[W]e will assist your federation in your fundraising efforts." With what, with whom, how? In 11 years JFNA direct "fund raising" has consisted of Yitzchak Shavit and, now, a little of Jerry Silverman and very, very little else. Further, Prime Minister Netanyahu has challenged the federation system to dramatically increase their already significant Birthright funding by positing Government assistance as a "challenge grant." Federation CEOs eyes must be spinning. JFNA offers no priority-setting assistance -- annual campaign, core allocations, Select Core Priorities, Birthright, Ethiopian aliyah, IAN, ENP, Monsey, IAI and, always, Dues -- the message "hey, we just throw these things out there, you the federations, sort them out." Friends, this is no way to run our national organization.

But, JFNA's proven inability to raise funds isn't the biggest issue here; neither is the lack of process within JFNA, now almost a given -- the biggest issue is that at a time of potential annual campaign momentum, JFNA inserts not support but a $5.5 million distraction. Each time it has done so over the past 6 years, it has fallen on its face -- but never with any accountability...and no transparency. Now, it has been federations at the forefront of the "bring them home movement," such as it is. We can't afford to fail; yet, we have no evidence of this organization's ability to motivate and drive success.

Can we afford to fail once again? One of my dear friends characterized this "ask" as a potential "rally killer" for the Annual Campaign. Oh, the Annual Campaign, for JFNA "not our problem."


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