Friday, March 20, 2015


A recent, and I must say, ridiculous, missive from JFNA further demonstrated how little a role lay leaders now play at our continental fiasco. That bulletin came straight from the hands of two pros, one the leader of JFNA's Marketing and Communications efforts, the other the professional leading the GA effort. The subject: 2015 General Assembly: Community Works. The very theme, in light of this announcement, is as oxymoronic as "airplane food." 

Let me explain to these two fine pros and the rest of the so-called "leaders" of JFNA -- Community Works only...only...where the lay-professional partnership is strong. Many have complained to me that one of the failures of the 2014 GA was that the General Assembly had become nothing more than a captive conference by and for professionals in which lay leaders -- beyond a few meaningless speeches -- were almost totally irrelevant. Now, even the pretense of General Assembly Chairs has gone by the boards -- there are none...yet. Surely there will be and their roles will be "made as instructed." Photo ops, shpil nachas and send out some briefings (kind of like leading a Solidarity Mission, I guess). These brilliant marketing and communications mavens seem to still believe that calling the old "new" makes it so. When, if ever, will they ever learn?

This particular GA communication was so filled with jargon (for example:  "GA 2014 was the first step toward a more intentional and  collaborative approach to how we create the GA – a trend we aim to continue in 2015." Really? A "more intentional...approach?" Huh? What? And "collaborative" -- does that mean JFNA pros "collaborating" with each other? Or FEDovation -- "so nice we're doing it twice") and so lacking in everything of substance, all I could think of was that some Large City Executive said: "You have to send out something on the GA right now" -- so staff did -- and this thing was really "something" when one remembers that at JFNA "black" is "white" and "something" is "nothing." 

Think about it: the recently concluded AIPAC Conference -- 16,000; the last GA -- 1,300, if that.  Is this how the federation system wishes to be perceived? I recall hearing the constant argument against making the GA an every-other-year event as: "If the federation system gives up the annual GA, some other organization will step right in..." Sure, "other organizations" are salivating at the very thought of hosting an annual conference that attracts maybe...maybe...1,300 persons a year for maybe a day-and-one-half. Sure there are!!

If this "alert" is the beginning of what one would hope would be a GA with take home value (other than the value of the schmooze), you can forget it...again. Trust that this mailing from two professionals -- essentially a bulked-up "Save the Date" -- will attract no one to this same old-same old act in the now permanent venue of Washington D.C. (even though the hotel this time is actually in the District). I am a firm believer in "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" -- but there has been vast consensus that the GA has been broken for at least a decade, it needs to be "fixed"...right now...yesterday. 16,000:1,300....16,000:1,300. 

If the GA were the only example of the exclusion of lay persons from their proper role in setting policies side-by-side with the professional partners who will execute them, one might say it's nothing more than an aberration. But, of course, it is not. For example, the recent decision by JFNA to create an Education Unit within the futile National Agencies Alliance -- a recommendation flowing from an unknown consultant's study (at a reported cost of $300,000+) -- the Unit as designed would have no lay oversight, just a lay "advisory committee." I guess the initial $510,000 budget will be reviewed by Jerry (!). Or the elimination of all Vice-Chairs as well as the Chair of the Executive. More and more lay leaders have been pushed to the curb -- you would almost think that JFNA's professionals had proved themselves capable at all in running the organization. They haven't.

At a time that cries out for greater lay involvement, the current crop of lay leaders have agreed themselves to less engagement by the fewer. Does this make any sense to you?

This is exactly how Jewish non-profits get into trouble. Not a problem for is already in trouble...and the GA is JFNA in microcosm.



Anonymous said...

Why does this all remind me of how, at the height of the banking crisis, Wall Street firms were doling out bonuses? But at this point the GA and JFNA have become too small in role and purpose to fail - irrelevant to the very real challenges faced by Federations, communities and the Jewish world. And when they finally close shop and disappear it would be not with a bang but a whimper and some, if they even take notice, will say, "huh, didn't even know they were still around".

Anonymous said...

Perhaps JFNA needs to look to the young people. BBYO had an international conference with 3,000 real people from about 15 countries. It was coordinated by the teens, run by the teens, dynamic and meaningful speakers - think Steinhardt, Schusterman, the CEO of Nordstroms, excellent performers(albeit probably not the taste that the typical GA crowd might tolerate) and so much more. JFNA could take the recently graduated high school age leaders of BBYO and turn it all over to them. As a start the GA might improve to a level not seen in close to 15 years or so.