An incisive Comment from he/she who must be an ardent student of our system crossed our threshold recently. The Commentator raised extremely provocative and important points:
"...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."
The express assumption embodied in this Comment is that we face stark choices -- it's either adapt to change and abandon core values that have built our system or continue to be the dinosaurs and be abandoned as you/we wallow in self-pity and criticism.
The same knowledgeable and articulate Commentator then responded once again with the following:
"As the author of the sections you've cited, I can tell you that I don't see change as requiring the abandonment of core values, and I regret leaving that impression. There are many options in finding ways to interpret and express these core values via institutions/structures and philanthropic enterprises/relationships. The federation system and its national collective are but one way -- and it seems the Jewish marketplace of the near past, present and future haven't/aren't/won't embrace this means of delivering on these core values.
A national (to say nothing of international) system that cannot decisively and with unrelenting commitment coalesce and deliver around vision, strategy, resource allocation and tactical execution has zero chance of successfully expressing these core values via the work of its membership (ie individual federations).
For the collective to demonstrate that its role is decisive -- that tomorrow is better than today because of it -- requires the individual to subordinate to the collective. (And by this I mean the donor to the collection of donors -- federation - and federation to the collection of federations -- JFNA.) This isn't rocket science, but in these times it is (obviously) difficult and elusive. The more the collectives don't deliver (federations to donor; JFNA to federations) the greater the challenge and the self-reinforcing notions of the irrelevance/obsolescence of this local/national collective."Brilliant stuff whomever you are. (And I would love to know just whom you are, of course.)
This Blog in retrospect has become a 5 year jeremiad; and no one could be more sorry about that than I. JFNA is suffering, has been devastated by a continuing series of self-inflicted wounds...and, instead of "getting well," the organization, suffused with inept leadership, just keeps shooting itself in the foot to the point where it not only cannot walk, it can hardly crawl. Yet, the decline continues and, with it, the decline of the federations as well. So, what do JFNA's leaders do? They keep repeating the errors of the last decade; they perpetuate the myth of their own strength while the facades of their Potemkin Villages crumble into dust. They never learned the "First Rule of Holes" -- when you're in one, stop digging. And, so they dig, dig away, pretending that all is well when almost nothing is.
In response to the ejweishphilanthropy invitation, two experienced leaders, one the Houston Federation CEO, the other, that community's Chair, offered the rational and responsible suggestion that JFNA convene a "Conversation" on the future, on purpose and revisioning. But, like one with an addiction to alcohol, who must first admit his/her addiction before the process of "getting sober" can really begin, the leaders of our federation "system," if one still really exists even in theory, must admit that there is the threat, if not the reality, of their own failure before that "conversation" can be convened let alone begin. And, these guys think all is well -- for they are the "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" leadership -- literally the ostrich leadership of a system that once was. They truly believe that if they don't acknowledge failure, then all will be well.
Well, they are wrong.