One of the best and brightest of my professional partners in national Jewish life once described a national lay leader as "...a fresh breath of hot air." The windbag he described is gone from the scene but, baby, look at us now!! For today what passes for our Continental professional leader is but a gasbag engaged in daily self-promotion, ego exercise and in the glorification of self (or, he might say, JFNA) for doing...what exactly? Oh, in the current crisis, it's for: four Solidarity Missions (well done), Daily Briefings and allocating. I guess if the news of the day and our direct contacts with our extended family in Israel aren't enough, we can watch CEO You-Can't-Do-Without-A-Daily-Dose-of-Me on videos he believes to be inspiring. (One senior professional watched the first of these videos and wrote me, calling the exercise "pathetic" -- an understatement.
More critical is what JFNA is not doing -- not inspiring us, not running any national campaign...NONE. And why the former? Who knows. And, why the latter? There's the rub.
It traces back to the decision by UJA and CJF leaders meeting in Max Fisher's, z'l, suite at The King David Hotel over a decade and one-half ago. After debate late into the night and early morning, Corky Goodman said that, bottom line: "We have to trust the federations." And, as was often the case when Corky led us, we agreed. And, now, 16 years later, the ownership of our system by the federations has brought us to the abdication of our collective responsibilities to our brothers and sisters in Israel at this perilous time. While the smallest of federations appear to need the collective response, the larger the federation the more likely that a major portion of funds raised will be/have been sent on to JFNA entrusted to an Allocations Committee but a greater and greater amount is being directed by each federation as each federation sees fit. In no prior crisis have I seen this breadth of designated allocations outside of the national or continental system. And JFNA -- Solidarity Missions (well done), Daily Briefings and allocating. The discipline necessary to the exercise of a true collective effort has now completely broken down.
And all of this at a time when a true continental effort is needed. As a system, our leaders, until now, have known that we are at our strongest when we act collectively -- that while our individual fingers may have some strength, it is only when they are gathered into a fist that we amass and exercise our greatest strength. While a $10,000 grant to a favored agency in Israel gives an individual federation a nice warm feeling of doing good, 155 $10,000 grants yields a powerful result. Sure, the needs being met by others than our historic partners are important and, no doubt, often vital, but a drib here and a drab there won't meet the immense needs now or post-War when that day arrives. I listen to CEO Silverman pontificate about "unity" while presiding over the worst examples of systemic disunity in the face of a crisis our "system," if it can still be called that, has ever seen.
In a different age -- before we entrusted our system "to the federations," in a crisis for our Israeli mishpacha like this one, the United Jewish Appeal would have deployed lay leaders (remember them?) after Solidarity Missions out to the federations to speak and inspire action not merely to report on what they saw; Regional meetings would have been convened and a national campaign would have been mounted with serious fund raising by the then national system. Today, daily prattling in Briefings from JFNA about the "unity" they have observed, an elusive, growing "target" (but, G-d forbid, not a goal) and meetings of its allocations committee to approve the distribution of funds. While JFNA may believe that its Israel "partners" are so dense that they can't see what's happening here, trust that to meet the needs, they will just rely on the non-campaigns of JFNA...they are wrong. The partners direct campaigns have begun pushing us further and further from collective response. They are doing so because they see and feel the needs and are mandated to meet them -- with or, as in this case, without our total support through a collective effort.
JFNA will continue to brief us, Silverman will continue to send us videos and the federations will continue to do what they do when we are leaderless -- whatever they want. In every prior crisis faced by our Israeli family, we have been there for them...every time. This time, to our eternal shame, we know what we should do but we are leaderless and, in the guise of "protecting the annual campaign," we are not there.
It has gone from embarrassment to disgrace.