Tuesday, February 15, 2011


It's time to take a look at the "new" JFNA fifteen months into the "new Regime." Unfortunately, there isn't much to report -- there has been a continuum from one Chair to the next and that just hasn't been a good thing -- unless one views a monarchy as good for the Jews. So I decided I would try to penetrate the opaque walls that JFNA has created and take a snapshot of that monarchy so hidden from view.

At JFNA there is an apparent lack of any sense of governing vision or sense of purpose permitted if it conflicts with the Chair's explicit belief that what's good for JFNA is good for everyone; and the Chair has continuously accrued power for its own sake. Instead of empowering others, the Chair chooses to "do it alone" -- mark up the Fair Share Dues Resolution, the Chair does it; draft By-Law Amendments -- the Chair will do it; implement a Global Planning Table without regard for ONAD-type consequences, the Chair will do it; hire that GPT consultant, the Chair will decide; "deal with" JDC and JAFI, the Chair will do it; program the GA, the Chair's job job; revamp the work of the Financial Relations Committee, the Chair will decide; revise the 2010 Cash Summary, redraw the Budget framework, preempt Committee Chairs in the middle of their meetings...etc., etc.

There's not much sharing, if any, going on. David Brooks, in brilliant New York Times Op-Ed piece last year, The Crossroads Nation, offered a conclusion that I wish the Chair could understand: "...creativity is not a solitary process. It happens within networks. It happens when talented people get together, when idea systems and mentalities merge." But, when you need to control everything, it's so hard!! It's hard to make synergy by and with only yourself.

The musician/writer/philosopher Bono has said: "You're as good as the arguments you get." But, this Chair brooks no arguments; she has made it clear that she views contrary opinion as "wasting my time." This is one reason why leaders with aspiration for higher office within JFNA suppress any disagreement with the Chair; they know the consequences.

This Chair has many leadership skills and just a little more than 15 months as Board Chair. Yet, there appear to be no "fixed principles or grand purposes" driving the current regime's leadership. Hope for this leadership fades as JFNA is literally on the brink -- federations failing or refusing to pay full Dues (or the definition of Dues fulfillment modified to fit the "circumstances" as a "deferral"), a belief the Chair has reinforced that "it's all about JFNA...and only about JFNA." And the sad, continuous rejection of history as irrelevant.

And what about the joy of leading, the fun? This leadership has beaten the stuffing out of fun and left it in a small pile in the corner. Never have I seen less evident joy in leadership (unless there is a microphone involved). JFNA has become the Jewish organizational equivalent of the National Football League, the NFL -- the "No Fun League." And, trust me, this Blog is not the proximate cause of the joy void...not by a long shot.

Sadly, when offered the choice of leaders who could serve with the Chair and assist her, she has chosen instead those who would agree. To paraphrase a courageous journalist in Russia who criticized those reporters who collapse in fear of the Putin government instead of doing their jobs, JFNA has become a place where those who know better are no longer fiduciaries "...at all, but bureaucrats, following the logic of...submission." JFNA is not better for the submission that has taken place there. Some of those that I have watched grow in their leadership who have not decided to move their leadership elsewhere have decided to merely acquiesce to anything and everything that doesn't gore their personal ox so long as they get what they want on "their issues" -- even if "their issues" fail to resonate with any but them. Amcha...what do they matter? What we have seen emerge under the leadership the last six years is what I would characterize as "crony governance;" where our large system is governed by a self-perpetuating oligarchy of cronies. It's both sad and self-destructive. I can't think of a successful federation among the 157 where this form of "cronyism" has been raised to the level of art and artifice. It wouldn't be permitted; but at JFNA it is tolerated and, by federation leaders' silence, encouraged. The social contract between the federation owners and their organization appears to be but a distant memory.

One of my dear friends reminded me that a good fisherman always baits the hook for the fish and not for the fisherman. If this Chair is unable to immediately manifest her leadership for and of all of us, articulate and follow a governing vision that arises out of consultation with the federation owners, it will all be over -- if it isn't already. But, the Chair can't continue to do it alone; or with the smaller and smaller claque of lay leaders and an even smaller group of Federation CEOs who pop in from time-to-time to "save the system" but are less and less willing or able to do so because the work in their own communities is so challenging and because to them, as some have told me, "things are better" -- or so they think.

So, after 15 months -- JFNA refuses to publicly discuss a $2,000,000 Dues shortfall and has no line of credit to assist it; JFNA "inside" leadership is so tightly constricted that the Chair reappointed the New Orleans GA Co-Chairs (who presided over a $583,000 uncovered loss in 2010) to Co-Chair Denver 2011; major programs needed by the federations -- like SCN -- are put at risk while #ish, Heroes and TribeFest move forward; a fortune continues to be spent on JFNA-Global Operations:Israel and Overseas with little or no return; and FRD exists in name only, relegated to roles at infrequent Regional events and at Board meetings to present the work of others and in the Festivus and too little else. And if you want transparency: "let them eat cake."

Time is wasting; in fact, it has been wasted.



RWEX said...

To Anonymous,

Appreciated your Comment but as you sent it NOT FOR PUBLICATION (?, I have respected your wishes.

Anonymous said...

Every year many of us loyalists show up at the GA and like loyal cubbies or white sox fans leave saying "maybe next year". Well maybe Denver is the time to stand up at the very first plenary and say "enough-we want relevance, transparency and accountibility now" and take back our system. Hey, even the hope of this happening might boost GA enrollment. What will they do? A twitter counter attack?