Friday, January 10, 2014


A professional for whom I have great respect recently bemoaned the "brain drain" that has occurred in our system over the last six years on the watches not only of two JFNA CEOs but of the federation CEOs who have watched it happen and stood by in silence as this defenestration has gone on. And it continues, unabated. We, as a Jewish polity, have suffered grievous losses and we have, shamefully, done nothing. In an Anonymous Comment to the recent Delusions Post, one insightful reader wrote: "And let us not forget the professional careers derailed and destroyed by these clueless self serving machinations." Trust that we won't.

How good were the professionals we lost? They were superb -- and each of them has moved forward in often brilliant new directions often outside of our system, and often performing functions that our national organization should (and did) perform -- campaign, training, planning, professional placement, counseling, Missions, mentoring, you name it. Many federations have come to believe that the excellence they once received from the national organization(s), they can now only get by purchasing it from those who once served in the national system...and, sadly, most often they are correct. 

There are some excellent professionals at 25 Broadway and JFNA has added one or two in the past months at what appears to be the demand of JFNA's Co-Chairs. But you can't build an organization of excellence underneath weak leadership at the very top -- whoever heard of such a thing? And, while building from below, the organization continues to wander aimlessly from failure to failure with no Promised Land (or end) in sight. 

While substantive and excellent work is certainly being done -- in Washington, on some consulting assignments, on FedWeb since its beginning a decade ago, and in the continuity of programs of both the UJA and CJF, and within National Women's Philanthropy -- there have been the offsetting disasters. Namely #ish, Community Heroes, a series of TribeFests, GAs of such declining attendance that JFNA is too embarrassed to reveal the real number of fully paid lay registrants even to the lay Chairs. And functions we had come to understand were to be performed by our national organization -- like lay and professional leadership development and mentoring -- are being assumed by mega-Foundations because JFNA isn't making the grade.

Sure, part of the problem flows directly from the reality that the current CEO didn't know federation from Jewish Camp when he was handed the job and he still doesn't seem to have learned very much -- even after being paid close to $2.5 million (if not more) in the aggregate to learn on the job. 

And, though not the subject of this Post, what about the brain drain in the federation system itself -- most recently evidenced by the departure of the leading internal candidate to succeed a retiring Large City Executive -- a federation pro who left for a secular charity. For every federation with a succession plan, there are tens without one. And, of course, JFNA doesn't even understand that there is a problem.

Most of us like one team sport or another. Do you know of a team that continues to fail, year after year, that doesn't replace the manager? But, not us...G-d forbid.



Anonymous said...

Do you think that a viable and vibrant national organization of and by the federations would let the brain drain you describe continue without stepping in?

Anonymous said...

Those who could do something about this seem not to care about the very profession that made/makes their annual treasure possible. That's most evident in their disinterest in their own succession; make that total disinterest.

paul jeser said...

Further proof that the FEDERATION movement is pretty much on the way out....

Israel to spend billions on initiative to bolster Jewish identity in Diaspora

The initiative is a first in that Israel intends to formulate and fund programs collaboratively with Jewish communities abroad.