In an article in The New York Times (January 9, 2011) on the lack of transparency at American law schools, the Dean of the Indiana University Law School observed that "...law schools have a moral obligation to tell the truth about themselves." If it's right for law schools, my friends, isn't it all the more so for our Federations and their national organization, the Jewish Federations of North America?
But, what we see is all too often an attitude that donors, Board members and even officers all too often are held to be on a "need to know basis" -- and the "need" is to be determined by a given chief professional and a very small group of lay leaders. Some examples? At JFNA, the immediate past CEO thought it so important to bring a small number of Yemenite families to Monsey, New York, that he engaged in a one-man crusade initially (eventually, with no Board or Executive Committee authorization the then Board Chair and Executive Committee Chair [now the Board Chair] joined in a direct solicitation) -- first, attempting to shame the federations he contacted (with no governance action let alone approval) into funding an alleged $8 million cost (with no budget) he asserted that a failure to fund would discredit all of federations' social welfare obligations. The budget was reduced to $3 million in that request from the then Chairs and that CEO. Ultimately, the federations coughed up a little over $630,000 with no public accounting of either the funding or the monitoring of the condition of the, I think it was, 17 families who were induced to New York.
The federations themselves took deserved pride in raising $410 million in the Israel Emergency Campaign. But never to this date, some 5 years after the fact, have the federations themselves accounted for that total -- how much was collected, how much was sent to JFNA, how much was ultimately transmitted to our partners and what was done with the funds that never made it to JFNA, JAFI or Joint? And, JFNA hasn't the institutional courage to even ask let alone account.
For years it has been clear to some of us that JFNA was "borrowing" without accountability from federation overseas allocations to cover it own Budget. It seemed obvious -- approximately 85% of allocations are paid in December of each year whereas by December 1, JFNA has expended 11/12 of its calendar year budget. Unless JFNA were printing money, or its budgeted expenses were covered by manna from heaven, the funding had to be coming from somewhere -- and JFNA was not bank borrowing to cover its own costs. It turns out that the "borrowing" was from UIA income -- income earned by UIA assets to benefit JAFI. But, whatever the source,t at JFNA denial was the order of the day. Professionals and a succession of Budget and Finance Chairs issued annual denials not only to gadflies but to federation CEOs who asked. When the truth finally emerged this November, some six years, at least, after the practice began, it was only because the federations' Dues deficits had grown so large, and the organization's banks had refused to renew the JFNA line of credit, that year-end "true up" was no longer possible. Some at JFNA have apologized to those to whom they misrepresented the facts over the years; most have just gone about their "business" failing to acknowledge that it's our business.
And, just days ago, the JFNA Board was not told that JFNA is in a $2.6 million dollar hole -- $583,000 from a failure to raise enough money for the GA and a failure to control costs there and at the LOJE New Orleans event; and another $2,000,000 in unpaid "deferred" Dues. No, to disclose that would be too painful a truth-telling and interfere with the Chair's agenda-- that's none of our business.
These examples are but the tip of an ugly, deep and jagged iceberg. But, it's none of our business.
Friends, we have let this happen. We have entrusted the people's business to those who believe that it's their business and none of ours. Those who believe so must go...now...and/or this business reshaped to meet with the reality we face.