Recently, one of my dear friends, a major philanthropist with unmatched experience in Jewish communal life at the local, national and global levels, raised the following with me:
"With all due respect, it is the failure of the JFNA lay leadership over the years that has been the largest contributing factor to the decline of the national system. It is apparent that they have consistently made poor choices, among themselves as well as in choosing professionals. You know their history and track record as well as I do. I just arrived at the conclusion long before you!
This friend, sadly, walked away from the system when his advice and counsel were consistently ignored; he walked away at about the same time that Michael Siegal, a terrific person with a big and generous heart, a major Federation presence with alleged major direct contact with P.M. Netanyahu (from his days as the national leader of Israel Bonds), was parachuted into JFNA lay leadership with no prior experience or exposure there. The lay leadership he inherited already had their allegiances to others (and to themselves) and have consistently rejected Michael's efforts to reform the organization and focus it on its core purposes and bring the Global Planning Table into and under the JFNA governance. So, like some of his predecessors, while still in office, Michael appeared to wash his hands of any hope of effecting change, and limited himself to signing Briefings, giving impassioned speeches without follow-up and calling federations to plead that they pay Dues. What a waste of what could have been the leader of transformational change.There are multiple solutions that would probably work should there really be an appetite for change. However, their implementation would mean abandoning or terminating the entrenched decision makers and a complete re-engineering of the organization. This kind of turnaround means someone or some group with authority and resources will emerge out of the current malaise to spearhead the effort. As you know some of us have done so in the past with great success but now it is time for the next generation to seize the reins. So far, they haven't figured out the logistics."
When, at the birth of the merger, Charles Bronfman, JFNA's first Board Chair, faced objection from the federations over his determination of to whom an Assistant CEO would report -- Charles or the JFNA CEO, Steve Solender -- Charles simply threatened to resign. This occurred on the cusp of JFNA's inaugural GA (in Atlanta, as I recall). So, a group of Federation lay and professional leaders was organized to meet with Mr. Bronfman and (1) apologize and (2) plead with Charles to modify his position. Whether Bronfman prevailed is less important to this narrative than is the fact that he acted as the Board Chair should. In the case of Michael Siegal, any pushback on any initiative he has begun has resulted in...nothing...absolutely nothing. So we can expect that until Siegal's Terms as Board Chair end, that is exactly what is going to happen...absolutely nothing.
The place has been and still is on fire and there is no fire extinguisher in sight -- one cannot even see hope in the distance. Here we are waiting for someone, anyone, to step forward and assert him/her self with a promise to effect change and with the will, so lacking today, to act. But it almost as if that person will have to hide his/her intentions or else their emergence will never be permitted.
So, while I can ask "why?" I know that the answer will be "why not?"