Friday, May 24, 2013

"ME, ME, ME!!!"

I remember, as you do, when my grandchildren, hell, my own children now parents themselves, would cry out "me, me, me." They quickly grew out of this cry; and did so quickly. Our philanthropy is based on just the opposite. Well, the babies at 25 Broadway and at JFNA Israel, are still, at age 12 crying out in a manner that says "it's all about me."

When your organization is in stasis mode, accomplishing little if anything outside of its D.C. bastion, apparently you have to grab whatever credit you can shouting "me, me, me" every step of the way. Thus, in the context of the now-failed expansion of the Western Wall to accommodate all genders and religious streams, JFNA claimed that it had "facilitated" the "thought-to-be, hoped for" Sharansky compromise when all that it had done was to make available the resources of the JFNA (formerly UJA) Rabbinic Cabinet (an ever-decreasing budget item at JFNA and one that a succession of CEOs had been trying to rid themselves of for years). Since that compromise is in great jeopardy, rejected by the Women of the Wall (emboldened by the slender thread of a single Israeli court decision) and, as well, those who "control" Israel's Holy Sites in an ugly and discriminatory manner, and have for too many years now coupled with ultra-Orthodox confrontations.

Were those rejections "facilitated" by JFNA as well? Of course not. But, if the expensive Isreal Office had its ears to the ground, could JFNA have turned to its Rabbinic Cabinet in the midst of the crisis created by the contemplation of these rejections and "facilitated" their intercession? Would it have made any difference? Who knows inasmuch as it appears that JFNA was only interested in the "credit" that followed Sharansky's apparent "success," not in the incredibly hard work that it  would have taken to sustain it.

Yes, while the professional head of JFNA's Global Operations:Israel and Overseas Department was busy patting JFNA (and, of course, thereby herself)  in the weird, and lengthy, JFNA Blog that she writes and in regular never-ending "me, me, me" newsletters in Ivrit, that promotes JFNA as the vehicle of American Jewish expression on issue after issue, forgetting, apparently always, that JFNA was/is to be the embodiment of the American federation system and exists not for itself but for us, for the federations, not for itself but for our communities, the deal that JFNA claimed to have "facilitated" fell apart. Could JFNA have done anything really to hold the parties to the agreement to that which they had agreed? Probably not inasmuch as JFNA to date has accomplished so little, almost nothing; and never will so long as it is solely focused on taking credit, totally focused on itself and...themselves.

How can JFNA change? First, its professionals must be managed, given the direction they so clearly need. Second, its Chairs must provide the Chief Professional Officer and JFNA itself clear direction. Today, the alleged "fiefdoms" that UJA and CJF left behind have been replaced by a series of new ones, real ones -- Marketing (of JFNA, of course), the Global Planning Table (about nothing), Global Operations: Israel-Overseas, Washington, etc. -- and the lack of management, supervision, purpose, structure or vision are self-evident...shocking even in their ignorance of what federations are all about.

I despair...this is not anger, it is despair. Those who should care far more (or at least as much) as I just don't or can't or are too busy or have their heads in the sand...perhaps, even disagree with me. But, on my travels around this country, in my discussions with lay and professional leaders, I listen and what I hear is a yearning for leadership from our national leadership on the matters about which our federations and our donors care. But, at JFNA it's all and always about "credit" --it's like lawyers in a law firm battling for "credit for business" -- even when none is deserved.

Until this stops, until the JFNA lay leaders demand that it stop, that JFNA focus not on itself but on the federations, JFNA's message will continue to be "me, me, me."


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