After three or, maybe, four "strategic plans," the latest of which was in 2012 (the results announced as "Newly Redesigned for 2013") all of those Alliance failings continue, but, now, the Alliance, having valued the late, lamented JESNA to such an extent that it was prepared to fully fund the organization even as JESNA was in the midst of a final collapse (while cutting other national agencies allocations) and, in fact, somehow paid out $275,000 to the organization after it closed, has proposed and the JFNA Board has now approved the creation of JESNA TWO. ( While JFNA/the Alliance may not have been aware of JESNA's financial issues, JESNA only rented office space within JFNA. Any surprise?) Did anyone...any one...actually miss JESNA after it was gone? Has there been any hue and cry demanding a new JFNA-run education Unit?
So, JFNA commissioned a $303,000 "planning process" on national Jewish education needs (who asked for this, decided the Alliance should do it and just who was that lucky consultant?) and it came up with "do JESNA again only JFNA will do it." Yes, this one would be a programmatic agency that would be owned and operated by...JFNA. Is there anyone alive and breathing in our system? Or...just breathing?
Friends, tell me, seriously, what in the continuing history of failure after failure in the annals of the Alliance suggested to the chachams at the Alliance, this font of failures, that there was/is "a strong consensus from participating Federations (would that number be four or five or six of 155?) that JFNA is "well situated... to play a central convening and catalytic role in the arena of Jewish education, identity and engagement"? Was it that now, finally, JFNA will be given something to do beyond the failed mental masturbation that is the Global Planning Table? Something for Mark Gurvis to run? The Alliance to this point has been a zero sum game -- now it will have gone below zero."The National Federation/Agency Alliance strongly recommends the formation of a new Jewish Education and Engagement Planning Unit at JFNA.** This recommendation is the outcome of the Alliance’s Jewish Education Planning Process***, which surfaced a strong consensus from participating Federations that JFNA is well situated to play a central convening and catalytic role in the arena of Jewish education, identity and engagement. Jewish education is a key area of investment for local Jewish federations, generally comprising either their leading area of local allocations, or one of the top two areas. These local investments include Federation allocations to day schools, synagogue and other supplementary schools, camp programs, Israel experiences, special education, and more."
Why did the Alliance members believe JFNA would be the appropriate and necessary vehicle for delivering this
Have you heard Federations clamoring for greater JFNA engagement in Jewish Education? Have you heard anyone in the Federation system demanding that JESNA be resurrected after millions of dollars of wasted resources? Some speculate that it is the resurrection of an idea of Joe Kanfer's, whose interest in Jewish education is lifelong. But Joe must know that there is no capacity within JFNA to go operational in any area. Only the Alliance could conclude: If the federations have little interest in this Unit after JESNA's slide into liquidation, why not put this on the tab of the very National Agencies the Alliance was created to fund but hasn't; makes as much sense as anything else JFNA or the Alliance has done...or hasn't. Those who believe that success in any endeavor requires "skin in the game," will soon have the experience of deja vu all over again -- when more money is needed for this thing, JFNA will cry poor as it did with the IAN which, after Silverman agreed with John Ruskay that that Unit be funded by JFNA out of its Budget, returned in two years with tears in its advocates eyes asking to be relieved of that obligation. Remember, friends, you read it here first.
So proud are the Alliance "members" who proposed this "Initiative" that they didn't even choose to vet the "concept" with their "partners," the funded National Agency leaders. I spoke with three national agency leaders from three separate National Agencies and two federation Alliance members who attended the last Alliance meeting; there wasn't a mention of Jewish Education Planning Unit let alone the contemplated creation of this Unit or the contemplated funding out of the Alliance funding pool.
Oh, yes, there is both a staffing and a funding component to this initiative. You will remember that the once-treasured JESNA had an excellent Board (independent of JFNA) and for most of its short life, a great CEO and brilliant educator, Jonathan Woocher, and, even with the system's financial support, couldn't make it -- JESNA was unable to raise sufficient funds to sustain its efforts, no matter how valued they were. This Unit would be staffed by two full-time professionals to be hired as an initial staff component -- one senior and the other...a junior planning associate. They would report to the JFNA EVP -- that would be Mark Gurvis at the moment. How would all this be funded? The Alliance would reallocate $200,000 from 2013-14 (that evidently it has been holding rather than allocating those precious dollars to the other member National Agencies -- you would remember them as "partners") and, then $550,000 per year, for each of the next three years out of the Alliance allocation pool.
So, get this -- JFNA will create this Unit which it will control, assure its funding out of the Alliance funding pool and thereby require no fund raising by JFNA; thus, this Unit will compete with all of the other national agencies which our system created or participated in the creation of and to which it has a fiduciary obligation, all the while shouting "what a great idea of ours." All this from an organization that had no clue that its funded Continental education agency, JESNA, was on an inexorable slide toward liquidation. Now, JFNA itself, with no evident ability to do so, will lead an education effort that may be vital today but for which it is ill-equipped and unprepared.
As one Comment to this Post put it perfectly:
"Mmm, the Alliance underfunds an agency contributing to that agency's demise. Said Alliance initiates a study that concludes the demise of the agency is a serious issue that must be rectified with the creation of a new department at JFNA. The new entity will be funded by the Alliance with the funds that previously supported the now defunct agency. Well played..."
Let me remind all of us that the Alliance was created as a partnership among the federations and the national agencies our system created. There is nothing...nothing...in the organizing, formative documents of the Alliance, still in place, that contemplates in any way the creation and funding of a JFNA Unit while pretending that this Unit is a national agency.
Gosh almighty, this sounds like such a great idea!! It's like those old Mickey Rooney-Judy Garland movies -- "let's put on a show!!!!" only the results will no doubt set back Jewish education rather than move it forward.
Oh, yes, let's put on a show, by all means.
* Maybe they meant "Continental" -- or maybe not
** Does anyone really believe that this was an "idea" that originated with the Alliance?
** * If the Alliance had a Jewish Education Planning Process, it was one unknown to the Agency members of the Alliance. The National Agencies were unrepresented in the "process."