Saturday, June 21, 2014


I was multi-tasking the other night in the manner of an aging person -- catching up on my reading while the television blared in the background. Something caught my attention -- it was a report by the esteemed Jon Frankel on HBO's award-winning Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Frankel's reports are almost always on matters of interest and, even more so, because Jon was one of the "headliners" at the first failed TribeFest. As I paid more attention, Frankel was moderating a story on the rising expectation that the World Cup in Brazil will be the same albatross as have been a succession of Olympic Games around the globe, leaving in their wake great debt, unused facilities and rising anger among the populations.

I was struck by the history of the "White Elephant" that was retold in the course of the HBO story:
"The story behind the phrase comes from the old traditions of Siam (Thailand). White elephants were very rare, so if the king gave one as a gift, it was an honor. However, the gift was a terrible burden to the person who received it. He had to feed and care for the elephant all throughout its long life."
(You, my faithful readers, probably see where this is headed!) So, the phrase "white elephant" means a useless possession. As has been written: "Often a 'white elephant' is a burden in some way: large, difficult to store, or expensive to maintain."

Yes, indeed -- JFNA, sadly, is our 2014 version of the "White Elephant" -- it was "gifted" to the system by the JDC and by UIA/JAFI, performs few functions well and, rather than fixing it, the federations just feed it annually with outrageous Dues for minimal, if any, return, and will do so for the rest of time expecting less and less in return. Institutional memory is gone, and in its place have been substituted those in current leadership who either choose to ignore what has happened to our national institution or what is happening everywhere. Does anyone reading this Post believe that the Government of Israel would have effectively ended the Jewish Agency's historic role in aliyah leadership, as it has done, if they expected what would have been North American Jewry's pushback? Does anyone reading this Post believe that the Jewish Agency would have put itself in the position of weakening its own historic role, if North American Jewry possessed the understanding and strength of its historic roles? But, here we we are. 

We have held out hope for years that somehow, with each iteration of fresh lay leadership there would be a candid and honest reappraisal (or even just an appraisal) of how far JFNA has fallen from relevancy into irrelevancy while the claque stood on the sidelines joining in the applause for....well, nothing. And, each time, the lay leadership is either overwhelmed or too taken with their positions to look beyond the surface and take the necessary action. In some instances, like the present, the voices of a few professional leaders have trumped rational thought and action. Yes, the same guys who stepped in when the first CEO failed the system, today stand back and do nothing while the system is so poorly served. These LCE know that the current CEO does nothing without asking their permission -- if that's the way to sustain a white elephant, then we are well-served.

"Shame" is the Word of the Day.


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