God in his infinite wisdom
Did not make me very wise --
So when my actions are stupid
They hardly take God by surprise
Reading David Remnick's typically brilliant article in the April 28, 2014 edition of The New Yorker, Putin and the Exile, inspired considerable thought on my part on my own exile from the organized Jewish community. For that's where I am and, in large measure, where I have been since this Blog began. Like the Russian economist, once "...a member of the credentialled, globalized Moscow elite," who told Remnick "[B]etter Paris than Krasnokamensk," Russian prison, I can attest that it is better to be in "exile" in Highland Park, Illinois than be a tuches kisser to 25 Broadway.
I sense certain similarities to those who have exiled themselves (as opposed to having been exiled from) from Russia. The warning to the exiled from Putin was: "Stay out (of our way) and thrive. Push back, presume, overstep and you will meet a harsh fate." The warnings to me were similar. And so I did...and the "harsh fate" has befallen me; mainly because I stopped urging principled action in private and took to these pages to do so.
Yes, I was promised my fate by true friends of mine, including "the destruction of (your) reputation." And, as I have pointed out on these pages (over and over and over again), how the values to which we (and I emphasize it was "we" not just "I") subscribed over a decade ago were being deconstructed at what is now 25 Broadway, I was scorned and attacked and directed explicitly and implicitly to "lech l'azazel."
And, why? Because I wrote truths that no leader wants "out there" among the kahal. It has become dogma that we hide behind carefully edited Leadership Briefings and redacted Minutes and that Wizard of Oz's darkened curtains. I was committing the worst sin -- exposing the darkened room machinations of failed leadership to the light of the day. "We can't have that," I was told. "Stop it." Sorry. But I am more sorry that I presided with others over a merger process that produced...this mess. Would I prefer the UJA and CJF frozen in the amber of their last decade over the debacle we observe today? Duh...let me think about that for a nano-second. But, my friends, I did not invest four years of my life, with so many others, in structuring a merger only to watch it being deconstructed while sitting by in silence nodding my head in approval at the disintegration of things we held holy in common.
We have seen the surrender of our collective responsibilities to the self-selection by the federations with capacity of a couple of "Signature Initiatives" that will not be fully funded and to a donor or few to a "Voluntary Initiative" because the current professional leaders don't/never have understand/understood collective responsibility and the current most senior lay leaders and CEOs who know better don't care or can't be bothered. We pay outrageous Dues to fund an annual $30+ million budget rather than reform a Continental entity that gives us less at greater cost than did the predecessor organizations, one that has become the captive of a small cabal of lay and professional leaders who truly and sincerely have convinced themselves that "all is well," going great, actually. Sure, we have failed to raise money promised to fund a series of approved Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution efforts, seriatim; we have no priorities...none...everything is a priority meaning that none is (add Detroit flood relief as the most recent), we permit abuses at the Continental level that we would never tolerate in our own federations.
Friends, over my time in Jewish organizational life, I have been nothing more than an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Circumstances that permitted me to be a participant in modern Jewish history as I could not have imagined when I first entered Jewish communal life and leadership in the early 1970s. I have been blessed to have worked side-by-side and hand-in-hand with the best and brightest of Jewish communal professionals and lay persons. I will not turn my back on them and their teachings even though life would be so much simpler were I to do so for turning my back to them would be a rejection of the sacred principles and core values that they have taught me.
Friends, a Rabbi recently wrote me in support of my efforts telling me that "dissent is a Torah value." I feel that and yet I have known for a long time that it is not in our system. Our communal system is like the mantra of Chicago's old Daley political machine: "Don't make no waves; don't back no losers."
Some have asked me whether I am "embarrassed" at having written this or that; and I have answered that I am truly embarrassed by what I have witnessed -- the continued deconstruction of institutions tasked with the sacred work of community and People by those who either should or do know better. Never in our history have our communal institutions been less capable of rallying us and themselves to greater achievement. And, though some would like to think otherwise, I am not the cause of that reality, I am only an astonished witness.