Speaking of Delusions...Since the publication of the Pew Report, which JFNA's leaders appear to view as both an opportunity and some form of existential threat, Jerry Silverman has been just popping with what passes at JFNA for "big ideas." And, now, he has been joined by his Chair.
One, which Silverman trotted out the same week as meetings with Birthright leadership took place with federation CEOs and JFNA. The subject is JFNA's want: access to the Birthright participant lists -- some 350,000 names. He then repeated the "dream" time and again, and never, ever, with any meat on the bones of this "big idea."
Here is what Jerry has been told more than once by Birthright leaders: every federation currently gets the list of the participants from its community. Then follow-up resides with the federations. Maybe CEO Jerry needs someone to explain this to him until he nods affirmatively that he understands. Maybe Jerry could ask the federations for the lists with which they have been provided -- although the likelihood is that the federations themselves don't trust JFNA with the selfsame lists. If JFNA wants to add value, it seems reasonable to suggest that JFNA proactively plan and offer its own list of optimal post-Birthright activities for distribution to the federations. In doing so it might gather the best practices of those communities already engaged with the alumni. But, no, JFNA just wants the lists.
And, what if JFNA had these names? What would JFNA do with them? Based on CEO Jerry's passionate oration at the GA -- they haven't a clue. NOT A CLUE. There has been no planning at JFNA; there are no plans at JFNA -- these are just words. And, friends, trust me; were I at JFNA right now, I would want to ride Birthright's coat tails and make its accomplishments JFNA's. The problem for CEO Jerry is that the Birthright leaders are a lot smarter than he -- yet, it's also quite possible that if he came to them with a viable plan, a real plan, one that spelled out how JFNA's work with the Birthright alumni would further their Jewish identity and offer them a real (as opposed to an illusory [or nonexistent]) path to communal engagement, these accomplished leaders would join in a real effort. But, of course, there is no there there, is there?
And, then, the Board Chair announced a potential $1 billion...yep, $1,000,000,000...special campaign to offer a free Jewish pre-school education for every Jewish child and CEO Jerry added a demand to triple the number of kids at Jewish camps within five years. Now, I am in favor of big and bold plans...which these clearly would be if there were real substance to them...but wouldn't some pre-planning be appropriate before boldly going where no one, certainly not JFNA, has gone before -- like some discussion with the federations themselves as to priorities and capacity?
This is simply ridiculous. JFNA, an organization that couldn't even raise its financial commitment, already unilaterally reduced, to "Complete the Journey" for Ethiopian Jewry; that can't even raise the $1,250,000 (or is it $1.5 million?) it committed to in its current budget; that dismantled its FRD staff and can't even hire a Senior Vice President Campaign; will undertake campaigns without plans. Sure.
UJA used to be accused, with some real evidence, of being an organization that exemplified "ready, fire, aim;" JFNA now can best be described as "ready, fire, aimless."