Monday, May 14, 2012


Let me state at the outset of the Post that I knew Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l. He was my friend and mentor. We met often in New York and spoke as recently as in the weeks before he died. He was a huge figure in Jewish life and my life and in the lives of so many. In our weekly chats, he never failed to bemoan the fate of the Young Leadership Cabinet and to excoriate me, as only Herb could, for pushing what he called "the disaster" -- the merger of UJA and CJF into... 

So, when I read the treacle below and the closing line, all I could do was lift a toast to Herb, who, contrary to what Jerry Silverman wrote, would have seen the sorry state of today's Cabinet as nothing more than evidence of how far our system has fallen. 

Here's what the President wrote, with my comments.

"Young Leadership Cabinet Alumni Inspire Today's Leaders"

May 11, 2012

In 1963, a group of upwardly mobile men in their early thirties joined together to create the Young Leadership Cabinet at the behest of Herb Friedman, chief executive of United Jewish Appeal. A mentor and visionary, Friedman taught the Cabinet members about Jewish responsibility, about the history of their people, and about why they should be proud of their heritage. He convinced them that they could be tomorrow’s leaders, and make changes in the Jewish world that were so desperately needed. Ten years later, nearly every national Jewish organization was led by a Cabinet alumnus, each of whom made a tremendous impact on the Jewish community and the state of Israel. The issue is not what these alumni and others of the Cabinet in that era accomplished for their federations and our partners since. The issue is what Is the Cabinet today and where will its graduates be in the future? A Cabinet today that apparently lacks all membership criteria; where the per capita giving at the last Retreat was a woeful $6,000; where there are no goals or demands (other than "come to TribeFest").

This weekend, more than 40 of those leaders gathered in Washington, D.C. at the 50th reunion of Young Leadership Cabinet members from 1960 to 1970. I was honored to stand among them with my colleagues Joanne Moore (who herself is a National Young Leadership Cabinet Co-Chair alumna) and Barry Shrage, president of CJP, Boston’s Jewish Federation, listening to their stories of triumph and tribulation, awed by their incredible accomplishments in the face of insurmountable obstacles. These men transformed the global Jewish community for the better, and helped build an Israel that is today a haven for Jews from around the world. 

Joel Tauber, a Cabinet alumnus and a former chair of UJC, tells of a time when he and other Jewish leaders met with President Clinton while he was in office. “I told the president how The Jewish Agency for Israel had just gotten thrown out of Azerbaijan (actually, Russia) because the government said the Jewish Agency was convincing Jews to leave,” he recalled. “Before I told them about the situation in Azerbaijan (actually, Russia), none of the government officials in the room knew anything about it. By that weekend, the Jewish Agency was welcomed back to Azerbaijan.” As he does so often, Tauber makes the story about him and never lets the facts get in the way...but, in order to do so, he misstates history. I will leave it to others (who were there) to provide the facts when they choose to do so but, as in so many things, Joel left behind a mess that others (at the NCSJ) cleaned up. And, what did this "story," even if true, have to do with the Cabinet? (That's just rhetorical.)

In conversation after conversation throughout the weekend, you could hear, “Cabinet changed me; it exposed me to a greater good. It had a major impact on my life.” This was true not just in the first decade of the Cabinet but straight through my era, and to the formation of JFNA. The excitement of a Cabinet Retreat in Lake Bluff, Illinois to one in Scottsdale two decades later, has been lost; the inspiration of capacity giving with our peers, lost; the dynamism of Washington Conferences, gone forever to AIPAC.

The truth is the Cabinet experience and Cabinet leaders have influenced the world. They have had a major impact on lives across the globe.

Today, our National Young Leadership Cabinet stands on the shoulders of these trailblazing men. While they were sharing stories and reconnecting in Washington, a group of 45 men and women from today’s Cabinet were sharing stories and connecting in Greece, exploring the ways that they, as young leaders, can support our brothers and sisters in the Greek-Jewish community during a historic, devastating economic and political crisis. Next week, Cabinet members will visit Poland and travel alongside Chief Rabbi of Poland Rabbi Michael Schudrich and Honorable Member of Knesset Dr. Nachman Shai to survey the impact they can make in the Polish-Jewish community. Not an impact they make, but one that we as a federation system could continue to make with a shared vision and commitment.

Today’s NYL Cabinet continues make change in the Jewish world, caring for those in need and nurturing Jewish communities across North America, in Israel and around the globe. They serve as advocates and activists, leading and educating others about Israel advocacy, humanitarian endeavors, legislative issues and Jewish life. They are 300 strong, committed to shaping a bright future for the Jewish people. What Jerry doesn't understand, seemingly can't fathom, is that today's Cabinet is so far distant from Herb Friedman's vision for it, as to be out of real touch with Herb's dreams. Worse, Jerry hasn't a clue how to fix it because he does not know it is broken.

Herb Friedman would be proud. No, Jerry, he would be sickened comparing the glory of the past with the reality of today.


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