Wednesday, February 5, 2014


So, where are we? Nowhere, actually. At 25 Broadway each day is like every other.

Here is some of what one Commentator wrote six years ago:
"Like Mr. Wexler I have worked with many fine professional who have spent the bulk of their careers in Jewish communal work and have also come across some fine people who came mid career from a business or volunteer background. The success of the latter individuals is dependent on them internalizing the very real, specific, and unique skill set we all require of our pro's: managing process and the respective lay and professional roles; understanding the culture and idiosyncrasies of Jewish organizations; knowing how to effectively focus their personal talents in these unique settings and not least of all seeing our Federation enterprise in the context of a long and complex history. This calls for a "professional" and not some bright committed person who wakes up one morning and says (To paraphase Orson Well's character John Foster Kane) "I think it would be fun to run a Federation". Look at the track record of the transplants Mr. Wexler and you would see that acting on such a whim can in too many cases, but as I understand it not all, be an uphill climb."
No longer do we look for that "unique skill set;" instead, like Monty Python, we see our federations and JFNA looking for "something completely different" never understanding the reality that there have been no successes to which a federations or Mandel or JFNA can point of hiring from a pool of neophytes -- those with no federation background or experience for the position of CEO. So much is beyond these new hires' comprehension -- starting with the values that we treasured, values too often unknown to those who come in from the cold and, now, into many places, values unknown to the lay leaders who are doing the hiring. What was once "trendy" -- hiring those with no professional background in Jewish communal life, has now become, as ejewishphilanthropy described it, a "tsunami" extending coast-to-coast, from sea to shining sea, including the New York UJA-Federation and, of course, JFNA.

Our values have been lost in the process of the "new and different." Take, if you will, the values we learned through a series of Mission experiences that meant so much to us in the growth of our Jewish experiences. As one terrific national leader recently lamented:

"There's not one of us who can't point to one moment on one mission that was a turning point in his or her life.  Now?  We're lucky if we can live via memory and/or remote control.  As a devotee of ... missions ... it just makes me sad.  Institutional neglect has reduced 'cutting edge' to 'public self-abuse.'"

JFNA in its ignorance now promotes the "virtual" Mission experience -- which, in reality, is not a Mission experience at all, more like watching someone's video of their trip.

We are well on our way to making of federations -- once the central planning body of the Jewish community and our link to the Jewish world beyond the borders of each community through our collective action -- nothing more than "just another charity." The defenestration of the professional "movement" continues without even hearing a word of protest from the professional leaders who built this system. Just think, in less than a generation we have willingly permitted the destruction of that which we and our forefathers built. And hardly a voice is heard in protest. 

As one respected professional wrote me last week: "Richard: You continue to call it like it is. Eric Goldstein’s appointment blows my mind. The new movement to hire CEO’s from out of the field is a real shanda for those of us that have toiled in the field of Jewish communal Service for many years. The reason that AJCOP merged with JCSA a few years ago after 40 years was because many of the professionals who came in from outside the field thought it wasn’t necessary to financially support a Professional Association. It is really sad day for the field that I have worked and loved since 1964." Friends, with every hope that Eric Goldstein will be the brilliant CEO that New York-UJA expects, this is a sad time for everyone.

For those responsible, or irresponsible, look at yourselves in the mirror. Instead of perpetuating Community, we perpetuate self -- what's my next position, with whom do I have to curry favor to achieve my personal goals? Who must be ostracized because they might speak out? And, if the collateral damage of these personal quests is the destruction of community and collective, so be it. 

We are on the cusp of being no more.



Anonymous said...

Federations began as a lay driven enterprise that evolved into a sophisticated lay-professional partnership that morphed into imbalances and distortions on both sides of the lay/pro equation. The key to our future is to recalibrate the lay professional dynamic in ways that conform to the changing
nature of our times.

Anonymous said...

Who, exactly, can lead the "recalibration" of which you wrote? Jerry Silverman, Steve Nasitir, Michael Siegal or Dede Feinberg, Eric Goldstein? Come on, the LCE (as examples) are just happy with the situation where they lead and everyone else follows, the lay leaders are just happy being led and having a microphone available f when permitted. Situation helpless -- as you have called it, Richard -- FUBAR

anonymous 1 to anonymous 2 said...

Be my guest - curse the darkness. However I believe you and others care and are better than that. The results we all fear are inevitable only if good people do nothing.

Anonymous said...

To 1 from 2: again I ask you -- who can lead the "recalibration" of which you wrote? "Good people"n have been doing nothing for as long as Richard has been blogging.

Anonymous said...

Groundhog Day is right. Same old. GPT. TribeFest. Etc. We need brave leaders.

Zeek wrote this two years ago and is certainly correct that our leadership is stunned and off balance: "They cannot, in good conscience, believe that TribeFest—essentially a spring-break style fest of Jewish partying with content elements thrown in—is a worthy goal in and of itself, or that it represents or conveys the purpose of Jewish youth leadership going forward. After all, the leaders supporting TribeFest are among those who worked to support the Jewish State through thick and thin, who struggled to bring succor and welfare to millions of immigrants and war refugees during the twentieth century, and then partnered to fight for Soviet Jewry, and now raise resources to give our elderly dignity as our population ages. To think that they are declaring our crowning achievements to be a grand weekend of young people in Vegas (i.e., once upon a time, our community mobilized to drain swamps in the Galilee; in 2012 we successfully drained margaritas at the Bellagio.) would be to make a mockery of who they are and who came before them." (

We need a new boldness around commitment.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's "a new boldness" that we need; from my vantage point in a Large Federation on the East Coast, what we need is a whole new national leadership -- not alone a new CEO, but a new Board Chair and a new Chair of the Executive -- we need leaders of competency and courage, we clearly have none right now. The CEO lacks any management or programmatic skill; the Co-Chairs may understand how to run and even grow a for-profit business but are as lost as the CEO when it comes to leading a major non-profit. Together, what has this threesome accomplished? Nothing.