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.