Tuesday, March 25, 2014


While our federations' national organization, JFNA, flounders as never before, our two overseas partners -- the Jewish Agency and the Joint -- are blessed with strong lay and professional leadership infused with the values of their organizations and dedicated to their present and future. I was reminded of this leadership growth by the election, at the JA Board meeting last month, of Cleveland's Chuck Ratner to succeed Jim Tisch as the Jewish Agency Board Chair. Both JAFI and JDC and World ORT go from strength to strength.

Let's take a look:

  • At the Jewish Agency, the growth in lay leadership has been a constant -- from Corky Goodman's terms forward through Alex Grass, z'l,  Richie Pearlstone, Carole Solomon and on to Tisch culminating now in Chuck Ratner matched from Sallai Meridor forward to the inestimable hero of the Jewish People, Natan Sharansky, there is strength and there is passion perhaps unmatched over the past 25 years at any organization. With Alan Hoffman as CEO and Misha Galperin as the head of FRD, there is a creative dynamic at the Jewish Agency that has been most evidenced by the partnership with the Government of Israel in the newest and most ambitious Initiative on Jewish Identity and Peoplehood.
  • At the Joint the leadership tandem of Alan Gill, the CEO, and Detroit's Penny Blumenstein brings knowledge, strength and passion to their positions that match perfectly with the Joint's historic vision and values. In these challenging times, Penny and Alan embody all that is great about the JDC as they join JAFI and the Israeli Government while continuing the Joint's vital work around the globe. Penny Blumenstein, as Detroit's Federation Chair learned early on the futility of attempting to work with JFNA, Alan, who before his decades of work building JDC-Israel was the CEO of the Columbus federation, has been and is a passionate spokesperson for the Joint.
  • At World ORT, my friend and mentor, Robert Singer served 14 years as Director General/CEO, after his incredible work in the rescue of our Soviet Jewish mishpacha, succeeded by the estimable Shmuel Sisso, once the respected Israel Consul General in NYC. Their American professional leaders -- Harry Nadler, Jim Lodge and Howard Feinberg -- have more direct federation leadership experience than, I would guess, the totality of the JFNA professional staff.
Lets face facts, JFNA and its GPT affiliate (or maybe its the GPT and its JFNA affiliate) are way out of their league when it comes to any attempt to manage or manipulate the Jewish Agency or Joint or both, hopefully, both together. JFNA's lay leaders are top drawer but are far out over their skis when it comes to the passion, experience and vision of a Tisch, a Ratner, a Sharansky, a Blumenstein, and at World ORT a Dr. Jean de Gunzberg. And pro to pro, it's just no contest. Alan Hoffman, Alan Gill, Misha Galperin, Shmuel Sisso and...Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi?? It's real leadership vs. the faux variety. It's real professional leadership as opposed to...what?

What's the prognosis? The "leaders" of the Global Planning Table are desperately trying to stuff the square peg of their "Strategic Initiatives" into the round hole that is the Government of Israel/JA/World Jewry Plan. It is an almost pathetic effort to salvage something out of the GPT after four years and millions of dollars. What JFNA is truly needed for at this point is to lead the fund-raising effort for the GOI-JA-JDC Initiative; and, yet, every party to this process knows full well that JFNA is incapable of raising funds for anything, other than its own Dues. Sure, Chicago and New York, Cleveland and Baltimore, maybe LA and Miami, will come up with seed money for the Global Planning Table "Strategic Initiatives." But those Federations and their leaders will assure that the "GPT Initiatives" will be redefined to fit within the GOI-JA-JDC efforts and, if not, they will not be funded. Oh, there may be some face-saving -- "thanks to JFNA for its leadership, blah blah blah" -- but, we'll know; oh yes, we'll all know.

At points along the way toward these failures, as we have reported, Silverman, et al., predicted that "if the Global Planning Table fails, the system will be destroyed." Foolish and short-sighted leaders bought into this mantra even though it was more of the same Emperor Has No Clothes style of leadership. The reality is that the GPT was systemic quicksand, as soon as new Chairs came into office, knowing, as they did, that the Global Planning Table was nothing more than an illusion disconnected from institutional reality, a quagmire and, yet, they did nothing to stop it, they were stuck, taking JFNA deeper into the muck. Certainly the leaders of the Jewish Agency, the Joint, World ORT and in most of our funding Federations know that the Global Planning Table is sucking not just the funds out of the Partners but sucking the soul out of the system. 

And, yet, they do nothing about it.


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