While I object to the sense that speaking truths can be called "dishing" or dissing, and I would applaud a broad and civil dialogue, could I convene such I would do so -- readers know that I and those within our system, such as it is, having been asking for just that for years to no avail. And, of course, the world would be such a better place, wouldn't it if we all could "just be friends." And, in fact, that desire may be the very reason that our organizations -- international, continental and local -- are in such horrible, horrible condition today. We are so ready to ignore the "serial boo-boos (seriously, who writes like this) and disasters" that we perpetuate, even encourage, them.
In the interest of sh'lom bayit we are constantly told to shut up and "join the team" and, if not, lech l'azazel. At the very core of the corrupt practices that we see splayed across the pages of JTA, The Forward and The Jewish Week, is this attitude of "hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil." We are in the era in which a tyranny of silence reigns supreme. Speaking out, dissenting, seeking debate, uh uh. The mere thought of a leadership comprised of a "Team of Rivals" out of the creative tension of which might flow great ideas, are you kidding?
Friends, those publications which have delved into the truths about the rot that has eroded the trust in our institutions have actually been responsible in a perverse way for the growth of the Federation-owned press in so many of our communities, those "papers" dedicated only to self-promotion and sunshine, never letting truth-telling get in the way if the news might be considered, G-d forbid, "bad" (i.e., "negative"). These sanitized publications, often employing excellent writers, may make the communal or national or continental lay leadership feel great about themselves, but like the green grass in the film Blue Velvet, that thin veneer only hides the vermin and worms eating away underneath -- and, then, only hides that reality for the shortest of times.
I think we all have seen what I would define as dissent putschism -- the often subtle, often less than subtle, removal from leadership ranks of those who fail to stick to the script, raise questions, stray from the "righteous path," go "off message." You can answer as well as I, perhaps better, whether our institutions, absent any and all dissent, are the better off. I think you know what I think.
What my Anonymous friend quoted above misses is that, in the main, in the vast majority of instances, "our institutional cultural failings" are the direct and clear result of "complicit colleagues" stifling that very dissent that might -- just might -- make our institutions stronger. When dissent is stifled inside the tent, it has no place to go but outside. For some, many of them my friends, the "right path" has been the one of no dissent, no separation of truth from the bulls..t being served daily by those who pass for "leaders" today. And those "leaders" truly believe in the practice of obscurantism to the nth degree, and their "success" in that area is neither to their credit nor to that of JFNA or whatever institution they serve.
Some have convinced themselves that what they are hearing is true and that has served their ambitions well; others know what the truth is but "going along" is just so much easier.
When Dan Brown, the terrific thought leader, sought submissions to his creation ejewishphilanthropy in the hopes of creating a civil dialogue that might lead to transformational change, JFNA and UIA leaders were said to have urged, publicly in some instances, but mainly in the usual silent places, that no one submit a paper. While one brilliant paper emerged from leaders in Houston, even in the public arena of the ejp there was silence, the ever-gaping void. The tyranny of silence reigned; the obscurantists prevailed. When I think of JFNA leadership, I do despair; yes, when I think about Michael Siegal, I think of the words of Gov. Mario Cuomo citing President Bill Clinton: "My job is to get to yes. If I don't get a deal, I get nothing done. If I get nothing done, I am a failure. If the objective is to make a nice speech, it means nothing." Michael, you are the master of the "nice speech," the frequent impassioned Briefing -- you've proved that leadership can equate to nothing.
The incredible philanthropist, Michael Steinhardt, probably known as the most creative and most cantankerous of the mega-donors, often the most generous among all, always willing and able to speak his mind, recently addressed a number of issues to an audience of over 3,000 (a real 3,000, not the JFNA kind), of BBYO/BBG -NFTY and other teen organization reps in convention in Atlanta. Michael addressed many of the issues we have tried to point to -- organizations and leaders who are long past their "use by" dates, leaders who are likewise. He urged these future leaders, including my granddaughter, to act not like so many of the tired, vacuous Jewish leadership of today but instead to act boldly and to "challenge the status quo." He admonished these young people to ignore the criticism which will surely follow the new ideas and initiatives they can create. Oh, were it only to be.
What if Michael Steinhardt challenged his fellow philanthropist Michael Siegal, JFNA Chair, to actually lead; to actually be the agent for transformational change at JFNA. Would Siegal listen? Could Michael Siegal be stirred to lead us through real change after two plus years of just watching the world go by? Of mouthing speeches and attaching his name to Briefings and thinking that those are real accomplishments? But change is what is needed -- Siegal knows it, you know it. Just can't be bothered.