Sunday, June 23, 2013


So here we are again, facing the evidence of a system self-destructing yet one that senses that it is beyond criticism. ejewishphilanthropy published the cry of a  communal professional who had, quite apparently and eloquently, seen the futility in the exercise of her responsibilities as she wrote brilliantly and poignantly:

This is an article that must be read in full. I commend it because of not only its candor, but also because of the repercussions. The author, Michal Kohane, was immediately terminated from her position by a community in stasis; by an organization totally unable to stand outside itself and look hard at itself in a critical manner; one that needs every Michal Kohane it can get its hands on. But, that will never happen -- certainly not in a failing community, not in a floundering one. (Of course, the community in question has never been hesitant in its criticism of anything with which it has or does disagree.)

Dan Brown, the brilliant and incisive founder and publisher of ejewishphilanthropy, framed the question best when he learned of Michal's firing: "We must ask, why is it that our organizations act vindictively towards anyone -- employees, lay leaders, the media -- that say anything critical of any initiative or policy? Are their CEO egos so fragile? Are their missions so questionable that some behave like the worst dictatorship in history?"

Well, of course. But, where there is a balance in the lay-professional partnership -- a balance that ceased to exist at many of the organizations about which I have been writing over the past years, there is either a lay or professional leader with too much power (and in the case of the chief volunteer officer in too many places, too little experience) and way too little judgment --that sense of l'etat c'est moi. Where there is a balance, often the lay and professional leaders respond to the private criticism in a constructive way. But, more and more, any criticism, all criticism is viewed as negative and the critic, whether private or public, shelved.

In every organization that I chaired my door was open to my fellow lay leaders and to the chief professionals and their colleagues -- all of them were my partners. I heard their complaints -- about the organizations and, often, about my leadership. I attempted to learn from every encounter, and to both change myself and to effect change to make the organizations and their leaders better.

I read Michal Kohane's column as a scream of pain, one that came from both her heart and soul after failing to get the ear or, more likely, the understanding of her Federation's CEO. 



Anonymous said...

Rabbi Andy Bachman, spiritual leader of Brooklyn’s Reform Congregation Beth Elohim wrote, under the eJewishPhilanthropy piece announcing that Kohane had been fired, “Michal was fired for saying what most Jewish professionals I know believe to be true. And even if one were to disagree with Michal (which I do not) dissent is a Torah value. The San Francisco Federation looks pretty bad here.”

commenter's note: someone needs to tell CEO Jerry, "dissent is a Torah value!"

paul jeser said...

This is Michal's comment posted on the eJewish website..

Michal Kohane: it’s been a bit of a crazy ride, the last 60 hours or so, and shabbat – as always – is just in time. once again we read this week one of my (54) favorite parashot, reminding us that seemingly bad things, can turn into good things. I believe in it too.

I appreciate the feedback and support. I hope we can stay focused on the topic(s): the great need for vertical community opportunities and engagement that just gets better with time so we all have good things to look forward too, not just memories.

Quick idea – from a colleague of mine – for example, is having birthright trips be staffed or joined in part by “older” community members, a rabbi, board member, a long time community member. yes, I get the challenges, but think about it for a minute: this means that when the trip participants come back, they now have a community go-to person, and the community has a bridge to them.

I am not against YA programming. I just believe we need to leverage what we’re doing and give it much more depth. my best qualification for writing this article is not my professional background but the fact that I am a mother to six children, ages 15-26. the first thing I did when I wrote this piece, was send the article to them and get their “approval”. please hear it in a non-emotional, not angry, not frustrated, almost shabbat tone: we need to give our young people much deeper soil to put their roots in. let’s talk about how we do more of that.

for whatever it’s worth, I need to add that it was never my intention to harm in any way the SF federation. it’s a great place that does great work locally and globally. I was honored to be invited to work there, and value its contributions to the community. it is not my intend to stop supporting federation myself, and am no interested in others campaigning to do so.

I am, after all, in the words of my beloved mentor – a federation “junkie”. I drank the Koolaid. I believe in the value of building community and the need for a convening organization. I will look forward to the next opportunity for me to do so. shabbat shalom -

Anonymous said...

The Vladimir Putin Award for Defense of Controlled Freedom of Expression must certainly go to the almost Large City Executive who compliments Michal for her "courage and passion" but then states that such behaviors have consequences. A future JFNA CEO no doubt!

paul jeser said...

Story from HAARETZ:

Fired for challenging U.S. Jewry's focus on young adults.

A director at San Francisco's Jewish federation is sacked for suggesting that the Jewish community puts too much premium on engaging young adults, instead of putting 'older, integrated' adults forward.

paul jeser said...


Jennifer Gorovitz, the federation CEO, sent us this statement:

As the professional leader of the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation, I wholeheartedly support robust and meaningful debate about the many important questions facing the Jewish community and the leaders who support it. The Federation strives to listen and grow and improve continuously.

The post published recently in eJewish Philanthropy, however, does not represent the views of the Federation. In fact, it runs very much counter to the spirit and culture of our organization, which works to engage and benefit EVERYONE in Jewish life, at every stage of their lives, and to promote an open environment that allows civil discussion of complex issues affecting Jewish life.

The fact is that most major philanthropic organizations around the world are exploring how to better engage youth. Our desire to do this in no way diminishes our commitment to our other critical community members and stakeholders. It’s never been an either/or situation, and we want to make sure that message is clear to our wider community of supporters and leaders.

We have shared with our employees the explicit expectation – one that is fundamental to good operational procedure in any organization – that public communications from within the organization require review and approval prior to publication. This is particularly important when they involve the use of official Federation titles and positions. Violations of this policy are taken seriously and require a thoughtful and deliberate response in consideration of all the facts and circumstances surrounding an individual’s overall performance. None of this changes our commitment to a culture of lively discourse both within and beyond the Federation’s walls that advances our critically important work in the community.

Anonymous said...

To be successful Donald Trump and the Kardashians need a brand - Federations require a vision, a mission and a soul.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't a legitimate national organization of and by the federations be offering a place for inexperienced Federation CEOs to gather with mentors and debate matters such as these? Or did the San Francisco CEO call CEO Silverman for counsel before "immediately firing" the author?