A shana tovah tikateivu to each of you and your families. It is appropriate to the New Year for each of us to engage in both t'shuva and introspection.
As I sat in the endodontist's chair a few days ago contemplating the pain as I endured a root canal, I thought to myself "this is a real JFNA kind of day." Unlike the root canal, for JFNA it just doesn't have to be this day...it is seemingly day in and day out. And I, like you, am sickened by it.
Some readers (and, especially some who claim not to be) have suggested that I am just "too angry" and that I have let anger color the impressions that I have expressed on these pages. In absolute candor I have to tell all of you that I have been angered, truly angered, only once in the 4 or 5 years that I have been writing about JFNA -- and that was anger over the episode in which I was accused of lying (or, in the words of one critic of mine -- "scamming") about Kathy Manning's public insistence that the term "Zionism" be exorcised from a JFNA draft document as "too controversial." That anger was with the false denials -- for Manning ultimately apologized to those that she had publicly accused of "making it up," of "lying" -- that is, she apologized to everyone but me...and, maybe, to those in my own federation to whom she had expressed her anger and denial. (I don't know if to this date her CEO, and, emphasis on her, has apologized to anyone for his misrepresentations during that brief period.) Other than that incident, which, obviously, sticks in my craw, what I have expressed on these pages has been my frustration and disappointment that after so many years post-merger JFNA finds itself more distant from the goals the federations had set for it way back when -- more distant than ever before.
I am saddened and frustrated by lay leaders who believe their first and only obligation is to the transient lay leader who is sitting in the Chair and fail to think once let alone twice about the organization itself; I am saddened and frustrated all the more by those Federation CEOs who know better and who had helped to build an incredible system and inspired a movement and now sit on their hands as that which they love and had built is being deconstructed brick by brick while they sit by waiting for the call to "save us from ourselves" once again. It's way past time, friends, way, way past time.
I am one who loved the institutions of Jewish communal life. I have served many of them and have been privileged to lead a few. I have served in the shadows of and hand in hand with some of the greatest of lay and professional leaders locally, nationally and internationally and I have learned from each of them. My own community taught me the lessons to be learned from both sides of the lay/professional partnership and the core values and timeless principles upon which our instruments have always been built. And those who came before me taught me the real meaning of collective responsibility, that which distinguishes our institutions from all other charities. And watched great leaders -- the Corky Goodmans and Shoshana Cardins, the Max Fishers and the Albert Ratners, the Marvin Lenders and the Milton Wolfs -- those who never shied away from speaking truth to power, and who never shut their eyes to what was happening around them.
When I chaired the Operation Exodus Campaign at its climax, I saw once again the great good that we do first-hand, and to have gone from the darkened hallways of the apartments of Refuseniks to the great Washington Rally to the celebration of freedom that was the Exodus, our Chapter in Modern Jewish History, I felt that our system was ready for the merger that produced JFNA. I, too, believed in that which Max and Corky told us in the "Fisher Suite" of the King David Hotel on that late night so long ago, "it's time to trust the federations." So I took the time to co-lead the effort that produced the merger -- working side-by-side with the brilliant Jeffrey Solomon, the incredible Lee Twersky, and a wonderful group of lay leaders and the best federation CEOs in the creation of a structure, a Vision and a Mission that we handed over and which I have watched brutalized by both failed leadership and a refusal by those selfsame federations we had determined to trust to take any responsibility for the waste and incompetence which they plainly see and which, by their silence, they encourage.
The result is what we have today. An organization that we have allowed to become about itself; one that has wasted much of the over $650,000,000 it has been allocated as Dues -- our donors' hard-earned dollars. A "forensic audit" of JFNA will never happen because it would disclose the waste (e.g., an Israel Office with 27, count 'em, employees) and lack of purpose of today's iteration of our national organization.
So, consider this Blog, if you will, the periodic "forensic audit" of JFNA. Until something really changes. Then, and only then, will it be time to write "enough."