May 15, 2015Jerry Silverman, CEOThe Jewish Federations of North America
Wall Street Station
PO Box 157
New York, NY 10268Dear Jerry:We just completed our May Executive Committee meeting, which ended with a directive to me to let you and the JFNA family know how very disappointed we are with JFNA’s decision to abstain from the Presidents’ Conference vote to admit J Street.This has nothing to do with whether or not MJF Board members agree or disagree with policies or statements by J Street. This is about inclusivity.In Milwaukee, after much research and community planning (our reimagining process), the number one goal of MJF moving forward is to be a warm, welcoming, and inclusive Jewish community. We regularly hold public programs representing vastly different opinions on policy positions, especially relative to Israel. In a few weeks, the anti-J Street film will be shown here. Earlier this month Caroline Glick (one-state solution) presented a program. At all times, we seek ways to include all voices in our community conversations.And we believe that our national voice, JFNA, has undercut our message of inclusivity. The President’s Conference is supposed to represent all points of view on our beloved Israel, and we believe your lack of support to allow an agency focusing on peace in Israel flies in the face of who and what JFNA is supposed to be, and who we in Milwaukee are. We do not have litmus tests for people or groups that want to engage with the Milwaukee Jewish community. We think it counter-productive and counter-intuitive to abstain from a vote about ensuring a variety of positions are represented by the CoP.
As you know, I did call you about this matter. When Mark Gurvis returned my call, he explained that you ‘felt the pulse of the system’ and decided not to take a stand. Not to take a stand on inclusivity! MJF is also disappointed in the process you apparently used to ‘feel the pulse’ of the federation system. We most definitely were not asked for feedback, and want to know how in the future we and/or other large intermediate or smaller federations will be consulted during such an assessment.Finally, let me say, while I may be new to the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, I came here with much experience in the JFNA (was UJC) system. I knew the system was better than this disregard for differing opinions on how to reach peace in the Middle East. And I fervently hope the system will be more considerate of varying positions and issues of inclusivity moving forward.B’Shalom,Hannah RosenthalPresident and CEO"(emphasis added)
Let me make sure I have this straight -- JFNA's leaders didn't trust their Executive Committee, didn't trust the federations (other than some self-selected ones) but they trusted Jerry Silverman's sense "of the pulse of the federation system???" OMG.
JFNA "leaders" are so ashamed of this non-vote, so embarrassed by it, they have refused to acknowledge it. In a bathetic "what's up at JFNA" over Michael Siegal's signature that was distributed after the J-Street non-vote, no mention of the abstention. But, now, there it is. Who is advising JFNA on its communications "strategy" here, Baghdad Bob? And, while debate on the issue would have been healthier than this stealth strategy, JFNAs leaders appear to cower at the thought. (Makes one question how many other "decisions" have been made after CEO Make-No-Waves feels around for a pulse -- perhaps, he should first take his own.
This Post is not about whether Milwaukee's (or any other Federation) positions on J-Street and so-called "inclusivity" are correct; nor is it about J-Street at all -- this is again about a total lack of process and a total lack of transparency under a leadership that lacks any understanding of either. When federations are excluded from decisions like this one; when the JFNA Executive Committee and/or Board are excluded from decisions like this one; when the CEOs of dues-paying federations can only obtain information on a decision by calling Silverman (or Gurvis), we not only have dysfunction, we have dangerous disengagement.
Yes, Silverman "felt the pulse of the system" (probably by placing his hand on the wrist of some LCE or two) and, no doubt, he found none. I'd say that JFNA leaders should have the courage of their convictions, but there are none of those either.