Tuesday, November 11, 2014


In a thoughtful Comment to the Infection Post a few weeks ago, one person wrote the following:

"Richard I believe that you are well intentioned (mostly) as are some (not all) of your anonymous responders but you need to stop using LCE as a blanket term. There are 19 large city Execs and only a small handful with any real system clout. You also have a small number of lay leaders who act on their own without knowledge or consideration of the impact of their decisions or non-decisions. When you make blanket indictments you hurt those who want change but cannot effect change."
I will try to be more careful.

I know, we all do in fact, that what this Anonymous Commentator wrote is true. I have been in the room with many of these same guys (at a time they were all "guys") and they could hardly agree among themselves to the meaning of "federation" then -- no doubt less so now -- and most are risk averse. Over the course of writing this Blog, I have heard from some Large City Executives directly, met with others, who would explain that without the support and leadership of LCE X or LCE Y or LCE Z, nothing will change; they can effect no changes; and they would not go public; they also said that with the leadership and support of LCE X, Y or Z, change could and would be almost immediate. But, sadly, there should be no expectation that X, Y or Z will be doing any leading to change. They haven't and they won't.

Another anonymous Comment suggested one step that might be taken:
"It's a shame that none of those not part of the handful don't take some of their own action along with their community. Or maybe they are and not being vocal about it. I can think of several things they could do even without clout. One example - Let JFNA know that their community is reducing dues until ABC happens. If A happens they will increase a portion of the withheld dues. If B also happens an additional portion and so forth. I'm sure that the creative minds of the remaining 15-16 people can come up with other things they can do besides sit by passively and do nothing. Or if they are doing something they should be more vocal about it. They have more power than they think. They are only beholden to their local community. Do they really think their local community will remove them from their positions if they take a meaningful stand on JFNA contrary to the views of the few with clout?" 

I have presumed on what I know to be the intelligence and knowledge of you the readers of this Blog. I believe you know that consistent with the "golden rule," I hold those professional leaders of the largest Dues-paying communities responsible for the deep, deep hole which they have helped the chachams at JFNA dig. They, of all people, no how bad things are. They are the ones I am writing about; they are the ones who could and should make a difference. But they are also the ones who are running JFNA from their positions of comfort in their home federations. They are the Wizards of Oz behind the darkened curtain. And, to a person they would deny it -- wink, wink.

If there is any hope at all for change, it is embodied in a new "group" who, if they choose, could inspire others to change -- I am talking about a Marc Terrill and  a Jay Sanderson, and others who know what they see and, in my experience are not abashed in speaking out. I am talking about the still fresh New York UJA's Eric Goldstein, who may take a careful look at how his community's $5,135,000 in Dues are wasted year-in and year-out and, unlike his predecessor, say "what the hell?"

On the lay side, it is so much harder to see, let alone hear, voices demanding change. On all sides, if you know women and men who can no longer abide a system that serves only itself, its "brand," worthless though that brand may be, give me their names off-line and I will reach out to them. Some of you have already done so, and I have spoken with many of you, but it is not yet a group of sufficient size to constitute what we need, a movement. But, with your help, we can get there...we will get there.

As Nelson Mandela said: "It always seems impossible until it is done."



Anonymous said...

If you were present at the JFNA Board meeting just now, you witnessed the total futility of an organization that hasn't a clue what its federation owners need or want. It is so pitiful.

Anonymous said...

The federation "owners" don't have a shared clue about what they need or want. How can JFNA know what its owners want if the owners don't even know?

By and large, the federations are paralyzed. The American Jewish world has changed and its hardly done. The federations are the status quo institutionalists. supported by those who came to Jewish maturity (and I'm not talking bar/bat mitzvahs) via these same institutions. The donors are clueless or unaccepting about what change means, even as they know change is needed (it's already happening!) for the next generation (which they are scared to death of losing). The major lay leaders and professionals are scared to death of losing donors, their paychecks, status etc = paralysis.

And JFNA is similarly paralyzed. Its doesn't know what it is and its owners are of no help in figuring this out. On second thought, it's not paralyzed; JFNA is simply and tragically chasing its tail the same way its owners are. When the owners get a clue and get decisive, JFNA will follow suit. In the meantime, buy long in tail chasing.

Anonymous said...

To the second anonymous: we are in the business of community structures and institutions. Perhaps they need change and reform but acting like foundations and throwing dollars at flavor of the month identity programs is not our role. We have not only lost direction we have lost our sense of pride and purpose.

Anonymous said...

Who is "we"? What does it mean to be "in the business of community structures and institutions"? Foundations and flavor of the month are strawmen you have set up and knocked down. Besides, how do foundations act? You know very little about them if you dismissively generalize that foundations throw dollars at the flavor of the month.

Maybe I am being to hard on you. After all, your last sentence seems to be in agreement with my comment (although I suspect you simply want to get back on the same course "we" were on and carry out "our" purpose the same way and thus restore "our" pride. That ship has long ago sailed).

RWEX said...

Uh uh, you are not getting off so easy -- your Comments have stimulated debate and discussion and have been much appreciated. Keep 'em coming.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Sir. However if my comments have elicited discussion I would welcome hearing from others as well. But to clarify my original comment: I believe the privatization of Jewish philanthropy under the leadership of foundations has been a mixed blessing - public accountability being a major casualty. Second, I believe that communities need structure and that ensuring the health of a collaborative system of agencies including JAFI, JDC and ORT as our global agents is the burden, nay mitzvah, of Federations.

Anonymous said...

As someone has stated recently, why all the guess-work?
Why doesn't JFNA simply poll all the member federations, asking them for the 5 (or pay a consultant to determine the correct number....just kidding) Top Priorities that will drive their local federation's mission statements for the next 10-15 years (mission statements do change from time to time, particularly when Strategic Plans are adopted)?
And, most importantly, make the results public so everyone can see the results.
Then JFNA can use those results as a guide for their relevance to their stakeholders.
Everyone will see what the system wants/needs.....no guesswork, finger-pointing, etc.
Then based on the results, JFNA will be forced to 1) Keep the status quo, 2) Restructure (at either a lower or maybe even higher annual budget), 3) Shut the doors.
I actually never understood why this wasn't done prior to the merger in order to determine a clear path for the new UJC.

Anonymous said...

To the 5:15&930 Anonymous. Belief is great but it can lack persuasiveness when it isn't backed up by anything but broad assertions ("public accountability being a major casualty"). What do you even mean by public accountability?
I get that you long for the institutional structure and power of of past decades. There's something powerful and compelling about centralized planning, fundraising, allocating and decision-making. It worked for the North American jewish community for decades.
But the Jewish market place has changed. For sure there is a loss in the shrinking of the collective system. I'm not here to bash it and in fact I share your pain. But other things are gaining via the democratization of Jewish philanthropy -- and besides, you can't put the genie back in the bottle.
When the market place changes, it's adjust or disappear. It doesn't mean Jewish philanthropy is dying. It just means that the traditional delivery mechanisms are shifting.
American Jews know that the needs are not what they were during the heyday of the federation system. Thank God. It means we solved many problems and overcame many challenges. Declare victory and move on.
The segment of Jewish needs that is receiving increased focus is that of Jewish identity and engagement (just look at Jafi's strategic programmatic shift away from rescue and relief/aliyah). But it's also not as compelling (to many donors) as meeting basic human needs and there's lots of human misery and suffering in this world.
We can deny that change is happening. We can long for the glory of times past. I think we're better off understanding, embracing and engaging in change. The alternative, which denial and legacy genuflection succor, assures creeping irrelevance. And judging by the comments on this blog, irrelevance doesn't feel too good.

Anonymous said...

We tolerated Charles because he has a good heart and a smart handler; we put up with the bullying narrishkeit of Michael S. because hedge funds were sexy. So now we have the monstrosity of a Sheldon and you buy in cause you rationalize that the taglit ends justify his style and means and political crap. Call it the nature of a marketplace; call it even progress. But please don't use the word "democratization". It is our worship of our holy .1%. Amcha and those rooms so many of us spent years in debating and defining the meaning of community be damned.
PS: I like your passion. Too bad there is no real venue beyond this blog for our discussion. Maybe someone can invite us to Vegas or Macau?

Anonymous said...

Democratization means you and I and a junta, committee or the proverbial back room don't get to decide. Even Adelson doesn't get to decide unless the mark lets him. Democracy means more choices made by more people. It doesn't guarantee good choices and good people. Basically, we decide four ourselves. Besides, our definitions of good people and noble causes are not necessarily shared widely.