Friday, January 7, 2011


Much to the initial chagrin of the JFNA Chairs, I was privileged to be involved in the "negotiation" of the Agreement in Principle among JAFI, the Joint Distribution Committee and JFNA in the weeks leading up to the GA and the execution of the Agreement. I characterize JFNA's lay leaders' reaction as one of "chagrin" inasmuch as they "instructed" JAFI that I was not to be involved in any way -- "there are plenty of other lawyers out there," and similar bouquets.

In all events, I was involved and had the opportunity, over the last three weeks in October to consult with the Joint's and JAFI's leaders, identify issues in common that resulted, I believe, in a better agreement and in a more positive working relationship between the two partners. With Cleveland's Steve Hoffman playing the role of "shuttle diplomat" beautifully, and with Jerry Silverman's assistance, I believe -- this is just a guess -- that ultimately everyone saw my involvement in a more positive light.

Now that the Agreement has been approved by the three parties and the terms finally disclosed to the federations -- a few comments on the substance of the agreement:

  • The ultimate success of the contemplated tri-party effort is wholly dependent upon the development of "guidelines" in many areas -- e.g., FRD, advocacy, co-branding -- arising out of a "Committee process" the success of which is wholly dependent upon JFNA's ability to populate the "process' with respected federation lay and professional leadership. Does JFNA possess the core competencies at every level of the "process?" That's JFNA's challenge as JAFI and the Joint clearly have those competencies in significant numbers.
  • The federations and JFNA will be challenged to develop a "Second Membership criterion" that will assure federations' sense of collective responsibility to Israel and Overseas needs. There are federations today which allocate nothing (or next to nothing) to the core budgets of JAFI/JDC or just one of the two. Will JFNA's leadership have the courage of the convictions expressed in the Agreement or was the promise of a Second Membership criterion just the bait to hook JAFI and the Joint into a process with no substance? Will the federations cede to JFNA the power to construct a meaningful plan of enforcing a minimum of collective responsibility?
  • No one in leadership of JFNA -- not the CEO nor either of the Chairs -- experienced the terrible and costly failure of the ONAD process. Now, they have constructed a "Global Planning Table" that is a mirror image...the mirror image... of the failed ONAD experience. Santayana's maxim has been stood upon its head. No thought has yet to be given as to how the failures of ONAD (and nothing before or since has come closer to destroying JFNA) can and will be avoided. I would presume that the same JFNA senior pro who had ONAD responsibility will now be the senior JFNA pro at the "planning table." Worse, since the Agreement, JFNA without notice to JAFI/JDC has had at least one meeting, probably more, of a "small Committee" to structure the Global Planning Table. Nothing predicts failure better than to confront one's "partners" with a fait accompli -- something these "leaders" have failed to learn from prior failings. Further, this Committee includes community representatives from federations that allocate from nothing to de minimis.

Yes, there are other issues...but if these three can be addressed with the same sense of good will and good faith that characterized the negotiation of the Agreement, there is a chance -- a chance -- for success. But the chachams are off to a terrible start -- evidencing their continuing ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.



paul jeser said...

Richard, let me use the 'chain' analogy - The JFNA will be only as strong as the weakest Federation.

I believe that all the mtgs, discussions, etc., about JFNA's relationships with JDC, JAFI, etc., should be secondary.

The JFNA's top priority NOW should be closer to the responsibilities of the CJF z'l, not the UJA z'l.

Unless the Fed system gets fixed there will be no $ for the JFNA to deal with.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the chain analogy is not quite correct. The stronger links in the chain, nor the chain itself do not have the ability to strengthen the weakest link. In the federation system there have always been stronger federations and weaker federations. through collective efforts either led by JFNA or other federations, loaned exec, exec institutes, volunteer training, etc they have usually been able to strengthen the weaker federations - professionals and volunteers. It's this collaboration toward a common goal that has always been the hallmark and unique contribution of the umbrella organizations, either CJF or UJA, or even in its earliest years - UJC (z'l?).

Those of us with long time experience in federations remember numerous consultations and specific programs that did exactly what JFNA should be doing if they only saw beyond their own internal interests.