As I listened to the GPT presentation to the JFNA Board and Delegate Assembly to the 80 federations present (of 157), my mind wandered back to one of those old black and white films -- one of those Westerns where Gabby Hayes was peddling sarsaparilla to the unsuspecting settlers as a cure-all for everything that ailed them.
When JFNA last confronted the ONAD mess, a group of CEOs had to jump into the fray to literally "save ONAD from itself." ONAD, now dead and buried but soon to be resurrected as "the GPT," was the Overseas Needs and Distribution Committee, which, in its five years of existence contributed nothing to the Overseas Allocations and Distribution process other than divisive debate and the undermining of the system's trust in its overseas and historic partners -- through no fault of theirs.
As disinterested as so many are in the ONAD history, without understanding that history and the outcomes -- all bad -- one can't understand the potential that the GPT has for the deconstruction of our system. ONAD lasted for a little over five years. It began well-planned with much thought and hope as a planning and evaluative tool with the Jewish Agency and the Joint leaders "at the table." During the five years of its operation, the JDC and JAFI, by conservative estimates, invested well over $7 million responding to constant questions, asked and reasked, by consultants hired by JFNA (UJC at the time) and JFNA's professional staff -- to no apparent affect. Over those years, the core allocations to JAFI and the Joint nose-dived. There was a side benefit to ONAD -- many federations that previously lacked them, created Israel and Overseas Committees...an unintended positive consequence. And nothing more.
At the end of the first year of ONAD, its incomparable Chair, New York's Alan Jaffe, speaking for the Committee, concluded that at a time of declining core allocations ONAD would not recommend changes in how funds would be allocated between JAFI and JDC. That was the constant recommendation from a succession of Chairs -- Bobby Goldberg and Sonny Plant, z'l, each a master of the art of compromise, of bringing people of polar views together. In its last year, a far more ambitious Chair attempted unilaterally to override the compromise reached at the ONAD table and approved there by the participating federations. Disaster was averted only by the intervention of the "three wise men."
The first speech of Jerry Silverman's predecessor began with a statement that ONAD was over and that "...it's time to trust the Jewish Agency and Joint once again." Unfortunately, these were just words...only words. Think of it, over 50 federations were directly represented on the ONAD Committee during its terms. Generally speaking, the representatives from the federations themselves -- mandated to be sitting or incoming Chairs -- and those representing their City-size groupings, were men and women of good will. Yet, only one of these fifty federations has increased its core allocations -- the rest have cut those allocations, some by 30% of what they were and more.
And, now, JFNAs leaders will replicate the sorry process that was. If you ask them, as I have asked some of them, their uniform answer is: "Oh, this won't be ONAD." Ask them how it will be different and get back a glazed look in the eyes, anger that you asked the question, and no answer. They aren't interested in the mistakes of the past -- only in repeating them at far greater cost.
And what about those wise men -- those federation executives who rescued ONAD from itself in 2005? Hmmmm.