Oh, sure, the organization has opinions -- you remember Board Chair Siegal and CEO Jerry expressed the unsolicited opinion that the system ought to raise $1 billion for a free Jewish early childhood education for all -- they just forgot any substance or process to accompany this throw-away last November. They have also sent the Israeli Prime Minister a number of letters on everything from civil marriage to civil society -- letters!! We have imagined the Prime Minister tossing them unopened into the old circular file.
And then there was the Conference of Presidents vote on the application of J- Street to membership. Thumbs were raised in the air at 25 Broadway to see which way the wind was blowing before JFNA determined to vote...well, how, exactly...on this wayward organization's joinder. First, it appeared that JFNA would hide behind the "aye" votes of, among others, the ADL, the Reform Movement and the JCPA, but JFNA never went public with whether it voted in favor of or against "inclusion" of an organization theretofore condemned for its anti-Israel anti-consensus positions by many federation leaders, including my own. You see, how JFNA determined how it would vote and, then, how it voted is not even to be known by its own Board. (My guess, and it is purely that, is that JFNA was one of the three organizations which abstained -- though abstention would have the same affect on J-Street's attempt at membership -- because JFNA is so proudly pareve in almost all things, one of its worst but most consistent qualities. Since the publication of this Post, The Forward's J.J. Goldberg has cited JFNA as having abstained even as he has yet to be able to confirm.) How many of your federations' leaders were even asked for input before the fact?
The lack of transparency in all things at JFNA is one of its most troubling and pathetic "qualities" so unworthy of an organization of and by the federation owners. This has become an organization unworthy of the least of us.
Speaking of where insipidity reigns, then there are those organizations, "led" by the rabbinic leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements, threatening to withdraw from the Conference of Presidents because they didn't get there way in the vote that rejected J-Street's membership by an extraordinary majority vote in a democratic process. Here are self-important leaders of Movements in serious decline saying they will take their balls and go home. Shame on them -- but at least they said how they would vote, did so, and tried to influence others vote rather than the shameful disappearance from the debate by a JFNA that failed to even consult with more than a majority of its most federation lay and professional leadership before taking its position (or not doing so). These are not leaders; they're not even sheep.* **
JFNA's lack of position is everywhere but nowhere more so than in the work of JFNA Consulting Services and Development (now part of "Philanthropic Services"!!). Not just no position, not even an articulated opinion...ever. Yes, JFNA's Consulting Services Department was there in Philadelphia, San Diego, Colorado and others collaborating in communities turning away from the federation model, turning their back on the centrality of the Annual Campaign and never offering an opinion. And look how well those communities have done. This from the continental organization of and for the federations. Ask Consulting Services if their charge is to include providing some direction, some federation-centric outcomes -- and they won't know what you are talking about. "That's not our job" has been the mantra since the beginning. Is it a fear of offending or is it a lack of lay direction from a succession of absentee leaders who, if they pushed back against the grain, were removed, no questions asked. Thus, the questions for that succession: (1) has/had one of you lay Chairs, during the years of your leadership, visited a federation with which your staff was consulting? (2) Did your Department Committee ever discuss a set of consulting guidelines (e.g., that centrality of the Annual Campaign or the meaning of the lay-professional partnership) to offer any parameters for the JFNA professional consultants? (3) What is JFNA's appropriate role vis-a-vis the communities for which it is performing consulting services?
It's a mess of epic proportions. Make it "THE SILENCE OF THE DOLTS."
* As if to prove my point both in this Post and that on DECISIVE JEWISH LEADERSHIP, in a mailing last Friday that went to G-d knows who, EVP Mark Gurvis, on the subject of Donald Sterling, first directed interested federations to a brief statement by LA's Jay Sanderson, then, but hours later, JFNA moved forward with courage. Read below:
Yep...decisive and courageous."Further to my earlier message on LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling, as the media situation has evolved, we have shifted to a decision that it would be advisable to make public comment. Following is the very brief statement we’ve issued today:Today The Jewish Federations of North America made a statement responding to the remarks attributed to Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling.The Jewish people have a long history of fighting racism and we are deeply disturbed by the reprehensible statements attributed to Donald Sterling. There is no place for racism or bigotry in America today and certainly not in Jewish life. We categorically reject these comments."
** Then, in the May 9 edition of The Forward, appropriately unnamed JFNAers revealed for the first time that it "...engaged in lengthy talks, a source close to the group said, before deciding to back J-Street's admission request. But JFNA would not disclose its decision publicly." HUH?
Then, the same article on The Forward internet site deleted even this attribution. "It's our secret and we're keeping it." Where is Joe Berkofsky when you need him? Will the daily comedy that that is this sorry version of a national organization ever end?