One of my great friends, a professional leader in so many areas of Jewish communal life offered me consolation with the following memory. One of his favorite Broadway musicals was 1776. In that smash hit, John Adams sings a melancholy ballad that concludes: Is anyone there? Does anyone care? Great, great questions.
Today, with this final Post, I place UJThee and me... on hiatus. Hopefully, forever. Those in our system who have been my mentors and partners have convinced me that which I should have realized long ago -- they can effect change but I can't; this Blog can shine a light on the need for change but can't cause change to occur. I am clearly a slow learner.
When I was so privileged to receive the JDC Ma'Asim Tovim Award in December 1998, the base of the beautiful Shofar bore this message: For Leading Our National System Into a New Era. This Blog has been a personal expression of pain as to where the "new era" we had dreamed of and worked so hard to create and implement has taken us.... literally nowhere. This Post places this Blog on hiatus with the hope that federation leaders, JFNA's owners, will begin to take their responsibilities of ownership seriously. And if the past is prologue as it always has been, as any reader of this Blog knows, this leadership will face which path to choose and will once again choose the wrong one.
On two previous occasions -- in February 2008 and in September 2010 -- I placed the Blog on hiatus; in 2008 in response to an initiative from leaders of my federation which would have put a stop to both the Blog and to the personal fatwa the JFNA leaders had declared on me based upon their own constant misrepresentations of fact (the fatwa continues -- see below); and last year in the hopes that a new lay and professional leadership team at JFNA would bring a new focus on matters relevant to the federation agenda, rather than on the personal agendas of leadership.
Sadly, in 2008 JFNA's leaders could not restrain themselves, they continued in personal, petty attacks in darkened hallways and e-mails; they even threatened the very existence of organizations I had led. And, throughout, they pursued their personal agendas as if they were the organizations, and in fact, with federations' abject silence, they became convinced that they were right -- after all, to use their phrase: "We are JFNA."
Then, while claiming that they never read the Blog, the vendettas and vitriolic attacks continued since 2010 and the "new" leadership could not find its way...it still cannot and, apparently, won't. The allegations by the Board Chair that this writer has "no integrity" and is "a liar," lacking any basis in fact are even more scurrilous given that Manning knows there is no basis in fact -- to acknowledge even the possibilty that may be wrong would destroy their narrative. Each allegation has been directly rebutted without response from JFNA's leaders. The suggestion that one who has chaired his federation, our CRC, the NCSJ, Operation Exodus, served as UJA National Campaign Chair in the days of a national campaign, led our system into the merger that created JFNA, and chaired UIA has "no integrity" evidences the lengths this leadership goes, unfettered in its attempts to discredit. They have sent a clear message: "Don't ever criticize us or this will happen to you." One can only be saddened for them.
The pettiness, vendettas and JFNA's slanders aside, from the beginning this Blog, at its heart, has been about integrity, truth-telling and transparency. It has also been about the failure of JFNA leaders to demonstrate any real commitments to true transparency (characterized time and again, by Minutes of meetings bearing no relationship to what actually took place), to the federations' core values and timeless principles or to the necessity of engagement through real and meaningful process, and it has been about trust. (For an incisive examination of our institutions' need to develop and build trust, see Dan Brown's Times Have Changed; the Value of Trust in ejewish philanthropy, June 16, 2011.)
As well, mine has been a very personal attempt to urge the federations and you, their leaders, to assert, to demand, as the owners of JFNA, just such commitments. There has been almost unanimity among the federation leaders with whom I have met or from whom I have heard, whether they supported this Blog or hated it, directly and unequivocally that JFNA is in disarray and out of touch in meaningful ways. And, yet, JFNA's leaders apparently hear only that all is well.
It has saddened me that, for years before this Blog, my private correspondence to JFNA's leaders were either ignored or treated as "destructive criticism" or, perhaps, "lies." And while, in meetings and phone calls, Jerry Silverman has encouraged me to offer, privately, what he termed "constructive criticism," I quickly learned (as I probably already knew) that "constructive criticism" was such a subjective term that any suggestions I made were viewed with a jaundiced eye as "not constructive." When I would end a letter by stating "[L]et me know how I may help," I was accused of disingenuity. (I already knew that these "leaders" had determined that I was "not JFNA" even if everyone who knows me well, knows full well that "I am very JFNA.") To the Board Chair, there could be no criticism at all that would ever be considered "constructive." And, so, the Blog continued.
To some, the 660 Posts I have written have been but examples of witless bloviation, a three times per week exercise in narcissism and la-shon ha'ra. Certainly there is some substance to those opinions, even though of 660 Posts, the veracity of only one has ever been questioned -- and then the question was raised by one who "...never ever reads the thing."
Many have argued, not with the substance of this Blog but, instead, with the fact that the Blog exists at all -- hanging our system's dirty laundry outside where everyone can see it and offering to pull back the ever-closed curtain are considered by some an act of betrayal of the system that they know that I love. And there are those, as well, who believe that our when our system elects leaders, their every action by that very election becomes cloaked in an absolute immunity to criticism -- public or private. (Something that certainly these JFNA leaders believe absolutely.) Yet, over my history of communal involvement I know of no leader other than these who has not heard criticism, absorbed it and learned from it.
But the real focus and frustration of the Blog has been with those in Federation leadership who have allowed JFNA to wander aimlessly while wasting so much of the $600,000,000 (+/-) in Dues paid. For the lay and professional leaders of JFNA didn't create this environment of federation passivity, they have merely exploited it. That has to stop!!
And,as but one example of so many, can anyone explain this? After a $185,000,000 reduction in core allocations to the Jewish Agency and the Joint -- while JFNA leaders watched it happen in almost total silence -- how can this group of "leaders" possibly believe that they (and this is about them) should control the application of our federations' and donors' core allocations? When they learned that the Agency and Joint have had to reduce their allocations to a favored program (solely because of these core allocation reductions), how can they rationally suggest that "...this will stop when we control the Global Planning Table?" But, this is exactly how they think, how they behave and what they say. They engage in denial that they have any responsibility whatsoever for the outcomes forced upon JDC and the Jewish Agency.
Now, not for the first time but hopefully the last, I place the responsibility for assuring that JFNA becomes the leader of our national system for the federations and not for itself in your hands, in the hands of you, the leaders, lay and professional, of the federations. It is no longer enough to tell me in private meetings (where I have listened to you in confidence) how terribly dysfunctional our national system is, decrying the waste and disarray that are on-going but doing nothing about it. Chevre, it's time for you to grab the wheel and turn this ship around.
We will see how it goes. My hope and expectation are that this space will be devoted in the months ahead to other matters of concern to all of us in Jewish life rather than JFNA. But if the leaders of JFNA continue to pursue the irrelevant and insubstantial and pursue their personal vendettas without any evident understanding of the core values and timeless principles that were and are at the heart of our communal hopes and dreams, then...!!?? Let's together aspire to the most that we can be; we have seen the waste of aspiring to the least.
To the 800 and more of you who have read these Posts three times a week for three and one-half years and who have understood my motivation and my inspiration, in the words of one of my favorite films: "I love you guys!!" Let's close this chapter with those words of inspiration: Eem ain ani li, mi li? V'im lo achshav aymotei?