Saturday, July 20, 2013


It was a long, long time ago, if you consider 15 years a long time, when a group of lay leaders of the United Jewish Appeal met late into the night in Max Fisher's, z'l, suite at The King David Hotel to discuss/debate pursuing a merger of UJA with the Council of Jewish Federations. I remember that night so well. There was an air of both resignation and cynicism among us; UJA was under strong pressure from the Large City Federations to merge, even though a merger effort but three years earlier had collapsed of its own weight.

The discussion went on and on, and, as was so often the case, grew circular with a small degree of anger over the reality that year-by-year, allocations to the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee had reduced. There was a real sense among some that the overseas core allocation was being held hostage by some federations to a merger, increasing tensions. An attempt to create a "floor" for overseas allocations had been rejected by the federations only a few months before. 

Some of us also sensed that a number of UJA's most treasured leaders had already been coopted by their Federation CEOs with promises that once the federations owned the entire system, revenues and the number of donors and the core allocations would all increase. Finally, it was Corky Goodman who cinched the deal: "We have to trust the federations," he said...and all of us concurred to one degree or another.

And, so it came to pass: the UJA Board and UJA's owners, the Joint and UIA, agreed to the merger. It soon became clear that in many instances around the country, the federations wanted ownership for its own sake -- those promises of increased resources, donors and allocations immediately forgotten; just words on the pages of a Merger Agreement. What many federation leaders wanted was simple: control of the United Jewish Appeal Budget. Ironic, is it not, that having gained "control," these leaders (many of whom are the same as way back then, have abdicated any and all budgetary responsibility?

At pre-merger meeting after meeting, I and others emphasized to the prospective owners of the totality our national system the basic expression of our trust: "with ownership comes responsibility. "Oh yes," we were assured, "we understand."  And down our system went...down, down, down. Campaigns...down; resources...down; donors...down; allocations...down; engagement...down. And, our national, our continental, leadership, well, they appear to subscribe to Lewis Carroll:
"If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense
Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't.
        And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. 

       You see?"

At the end of the day, sadly...with ownership came no responsibility. So it is that everything is just fine: core values and timeless principles forgotten, left in the dust and every failure is painted as success. "You see?" 



Anonymous said...

Right on Richard!
Please add rotary phones, aerogrammes, MSG and the steam boat to the list of things that didn't need changing.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the merger was inevitable and a new protocol was needed to talk about local/overseas and JDC/JAFI split. But WITHOUT exception all successive lay leaders and CEO's of the merged entity blew the commitment to keeping the overseas agenda fresh and relevant and the need for transparency and open and honest communication with their federation owners. But most outrageous was their distancing of the agency from the issues most vital to federations - itself a raison d'ĂȘtre of the merger. All treated the federations as either irrelevant or the "enemy".

Anonymous said...

Yes, with ownership comes responsibility. And responsibility includes transparency.

Does even one federation practice transparency? (nominations accepted).

Does JFNA practice transparency?
Does JAFI practice transparency?
Does JDC practice transparency?

In this respect, they will all sink together.

Yankele the Vulcan said...

To the third anonymous- there is one transparent Federation in a galaxy far far away.