Friday, June 24, 2011


As an outgrowth of a JFNA (f/k/a UJC) FRD Study, among the Co-Chairs of which was Michael Lebovitz, the immediate past Philanthropic Resources Chair, JFNA engaged in a partnership with two "emerging communities" -- Las Vegas and Phoenix -- communities of high potential as yet unrealized. The abandonment of these partnerships dictated unilaterally by JFNA leadership while they pursued their own agendas is but one example of an organization gone wrong.

Las Vegas. At the onset of the JFNA-Las Vegas partnership, Las Vegas was the fastest growing Jewish community in the United States. Over the few years of the partnership, thanks to great local lay and professional leadership, the community campaign, if I recall correctly, jumped/sky-rocketed from under $1 million to over $4 million. JFNA's role in this partnership was supportive and as a national "cheerleader," called upon, among other things, to assist the community in its direction and in the creation of both a new culture and in alternative means of developing critically needed infrastructure.

The national/local partnership was unilaterally terminated by JFNA at the most critical of moments: the recession hit Las Vegas especially hard (and continues to); and an entire new group of professional leaders were coming aboard. JFNA didn't merely terminate the partnership, it abandoned Las Vegas at its moment of greatest needs. The annual campaign has dropped to a little over $1 million. Most of its largest contributors no longer are. And where is JFNA at this moment? It drops in for "events" like TribeFest and TribeFest II and then disappears until the next event.

Phoenix. An equally sad story. The Phoenix Jewish community was growing by leaps and bounds. Geographically spread out with very low affiliation rates, with an annual campaign in stasis and a separately incorporated Foundation seemingly competing with Federation, the Phoenix community was a perfect paradigm for the "emerging community." JFNA's leaders determined that it was necessary to have a written "contract" with Phoenix "spelling out" the responsibilities of the "partners" and, seemingly no sooner than the ink was dry, without notice or discussion, JFNA walked away.

And, since, the Federation has literally collapsed. Its CEO has left, its lay leadership has stepped in...and last month that leadership voted to put an end to the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix with the formation of something called the Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix -- a "federation" no longer. It appears that the main focus of the new Association is to operate and manage the beautiful Campus of the Valley of the Sun JCC...and, then,"we'll see."


Could a JFNA that understood that among its critical purposes is assisting the Las Vegases and Phoenixes of the federation world have made a difference in either instance? While we will never know, it is clear that JFNA's "walk away" at critical moments didn't help, that's for certain. What is also clear is that these partnerships were hard work...and holy work...and for those of us involved, the reward of working with federation lay and professional leaders who cared so much. But, this JFNA, our JFNA had more important things on its plate -- based on history, I just can't for the life of me figure out what.



Anonymous said...

While you mention extreme cases, JFNA isnt there for any community! While I keep hoping that they will see the errors of their way and change their tune - I have come to realize it wont happen. Instead I have a challenge - Richard now that you are retiring from Blog writting could you gather some of your peers and offer to assist some of these ailing Federations -- they could sure use the help from somewhere.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the federation that would benefit from Richard's expertise and the help of others who might join him will consider sending some or all of their dues to Richard instead of wasting it on JFNA.

Richard, if you need a business manager I think you know where to contact me.

Anonymous said...

The guilty come in many forms and many arenas and what you describe is totally common among almost all of our so called "national agencies". JFNA abandons troubled federations, the holier than thou JESNA walked away from BJE's years ago and JCCA runs a Maccabi games and little else while JCC's go bankrupt across the continent. AJFCS is fairly irrelevant to its constituencies. Only JCPA (I know for historical reasons it's not your favorite) still offers some (but not enough) relevance to CRC's. The universal symptom of their collective illness is that think they have a more grand and lucrative independent national agenda that goes beyond the needs and interests of the grass roots.

Elliot said...

Shalom from Israel where I just arrived prior to Shabbat. I opened my email and read your latest blog. Alas…the story emanating from Las Vegas is not as bleak or dire as Richard wrote in his blog and as Paul forwarded in his.

Neither portrays the key decisions made by leadership to “bolster” the community during the past 2 ½ years. True, the campaign did slide from $4 million to $1.3 million. However, the 2011 Campaign will increase to $1.9 million. That is in addition to having raised more than $450,000 for special and designated funds (3 Birthright Israel busses with over 120 participants the past two years; Project Ezra at our JFSA, etc.) in addition to special funds for Israel and Overseas needs (more than $50,000 from CUFI; a local philanthropist who has committed $1 million over 10 years for college scholarships in our Partnership Community-Ramat HaNegev).

Las Vegas has been hit very hard by the recession. However, our leadership made the commitment the last two years to keep our allocations “on par” to local beneficiaries by utilizing our limited reserves; while at the same time significantly reducing the Jewish Federation’s administrative budget. Difficult times require difficult decisions; and our Jewish Federation’s leadership has met the challenge “head on.” At the most difficult economic time we have established new strategic partnerships with our two largest beneficiaries (JCC and JFSA) including putting the JCC in their very own (and first) building and engaging JFSA in a strategic planning process to become more effective and efficient.

JFNA continues to provide services and support to our community. We were pleased to host TribeFest this past year along with the URJ National Board Meeting (400 delegates); RA Convention (600 delegates). We enthusiastically look forward to the National Board of Hadassah coming to Las Vegas next month with 600 delegates as well as to having TribeFest II return next year. Las Vegas is well-known for its world-class hospitality and we are extremely pleased and proud to host these national Jewish conventions and meetings…and hope that many more organizations will bring their meetings to our city and community.

Las Vegas may have been deeply impacted and affected by the economy…but we are not down and out! We remain a strong, vital and vibrant Jewish community…rising the challenges of the new economy and headed towards greater communal cooperation, collaboration and even consolidation. I could tell you more about the Reform congregation that has welcomed an Orthodox Jewish Day School to its campus enabling both institutions to thrive; and other examples of cooperation. Our leadership, both volunteer and professional, is dedicated and committed to insuring that Jewish life and living remains strong in the Las Vegas Valley. We are determined to make Las Vegas a leading American Jewish community…with our own vision, efforts and hard work.

Come visit and see for yourselves!

Shabbat Shalom from Israel.

Hugh Bassewitz said...

Thank you Elliot Karp for a brief yet comprehensive overview of what is going on in Las Vegas. While JFNA did seem to pull back from our community in the past, we also struggled here with professional and lay leadership challenges. With your outstanding efforts as CEO, and with the efforts of our chairman Leonard Stone, the tide has truly been turned for the better. Enjoy Israel!

RWEX said...

Elliot Karp is Las Vegas President and CEO; Hugh Bassowitz, a Las Vegas lay leader and past Co-Chair of the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3 may have his/her reasons for not liking national agencies, but is simply wrong about the facts. Far from "walking away" from BJEs, JESNA is working closely with them in numerous communities and providing more support than ever for them and their leadership. I suggest that he/she check with the leaders of the Association of Directors of Central Agencies about the extent of the partnership. And, oh yes, JESNA works directly with federations to support their efforts as well. Please check with Toronto, Boston, Minneapolis, Columbus, Los Angeles and numerous others. I can't speak in equal detail about JCCA and the others, but from what I do know, they too are doing more than ever to support their local affiliates. Next time, Anonymous 3, please check the facts before you opine.

RWEX said...

To the "long-suffering JCC Executive" -- I concur with your strong sense of what's wrong at JCCA. If you would moderate your Comment -- I think you know what I reference her -- I will publish it.

Many thanks

RWEX said...

Dear JCC Friend,

I wish that I could publish your analysis of the waste and imperialism you have seen at the JCCA. But, the allegations are so specific and I have no means to fact-check them that I cannot.

I hope you understand.