How much of a disaster is today's JFNA? So much so that it's time to call in FEMA. Or, better, it is time for Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg to act.
Sadly, the leaders of many federations are just beginning to understand that through last November the actions of a small group of lay leaders and an even smaller cadre of aging professionals has had a stultifying impact on both the potential and the current and immediate past reality of our national entity rendering it nothing more than a Continental (perhaps even intercontinental) joke. From my perspective what we have is a dispiriting slog of ineptitude. We have what one terrific analyst has described as "...a closed self-reverential loop" -- one that produces a lot of undeserved back-slapping and self-congratulations and little else.
The JFNA Executive Committee and Board had come to see their roles as representing nothing more than binary options -- do it/don't do it -- as opposed to understanding the values inherent in transparency, in debate, in open discussion, in compromise. Thus, following JFNA from one ill-thought out program to another failed one, as I have described it elsewhere, is like playing Whack-a-Mole -- you know, one is knocked down only to pop up elsewhere. Certainly Jerry Silverman inherited a bus already in a ditch but his choices, and his failure to influence his lay leaders otherwise, have got that bus stuck in the muck even further. Illiterate in the basic language of federations over almost 4 years of employment, Jerry exacerbated this failure to comprehend by supplying his own definitions to that lingua franca of the federation world, thereby illustrating how little he continues to understand of that world he was selected to lead. Under Jerry, at 25 Broadway and in Jerusalem, other than in the Washington Office, no one with the courage to push back understood, to paraphrase Mario Cuomo, that "...you advocate in poetry but you manage in prose." For JFNA's leaders there neither was nor is poetry or prose, just jargon, cliche and rebranded terms they themselves did not understand.
Sadly, today's JFNA lay leadership appears slow to confront and act upon the need for real change; although I sense that the selection of a real COO may have been theirs. Today's leaders, to their credit, have avoided their predecessor's behavior as the Board Chair running a kleptocracy -- a belief that the organization exists to operate on her behalf and upon her demand. Yet, today's leaders have perpetuated the alternative governance structure that is the Global Planning Table by non-action, allowing the kleptocrat to run it as a separate funding organization. I still have confidence in Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg as they find their way...as they must and as they are...but they must act with the urgency the times and circumstances demand.
What we have today in JFNA is, after all, an organization that has perfected the reverse Midas Touch -- the gold it has touched has turned to dross: the General Assembly, the Special Campaigns, the Young Leadership Cabinet and on and on. JFNA has become the organizational paradigm for being unable to manage itself out of a paper bag. For those who look for more than criticism, JFNA must be changed, and change must start at the top.
The fault, dear friends, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. As always.