In an example of both desperation and courage, the faculty of Yeshiva College at Yeshiva University voted "No Confidence" in the once-respected Richard Joel last month. As reported in the New York Jewish Week, the faculty "...cited the administration's lack of financial oversight, mismanagement and refusal to take responsibility as reasons for the move." Hmmmm...got me to thinking, of course...
It is and has been clear that the "lack of...oversight, mismanagement and refusal to take responsibility" at JFNA easily matches that at Yeshiva University and may even have both preceded and exceeded it. Yet, there is no faculty at JFNA to raise the issues, only a few voices in the wilderness, though those voices may be increasing their ranks joined by the Jewish press from time-to-time. Those who have a real voice inside JFNA -- the JFNA Board and the federation CEOs who might raise a hue and cry over the abuses they see taking place every day -- are silent. And there is no reason to believe that so long as the LCE are preaching a message of sha sha telling one and all that "all is well" and that things will change.
So, where could one look for that hue and cry, if anywhere? Several years ago, during the brief time that I served as Chair of the United Israel Appeal, a group of mega-donors came together claiming that allocations through UIA to the Jewish Agency were being deployed to an entity infected by political activities which would, if true, jeopardize the tax deductibility of our donations. JFNA's leaders with UIA's understood that if true, the buck would stop with JFNA and the federations, the implications far more threatening to federation donations and JFNA's defense was vigorous, led by Joe Kanfer, then the Board Chair, and Sam Astrof, the JFNA CFO/COO, and superb outside counsel. The allegations were proved to be without merit but not before that original group of major donors sought out the support of a broader group of major donors across the United States to join them in their cause.
Among the core group of mega- and major donors who raised these issues with UIA and JFNA were and are men and women who are fully familiar with JFNA's abject failure today...and over the past decade. Yet, they have remained silent in the face of facts as well known to them as to your author. There is no doubt...none at all...that if they gave voice to their common concerns with the failures and waste that continue at 25 Broadway, there would be change, transformational change...immediate change.
Why have these men and women failed to rise up to date? Perhaps an example will suffice. Back in the mid-90s, a great and Large City Federation, a significant allocator to both JAFI and JDC, began to decrease its overseas allocations by 10% (or more) annually. The community was the home of many advocates for and leaders of the Jewish Agency, men and women of great generosity, and no shrinking violets among them. I and others met with the greatest leader of that community and showed him the numbers, which we believed spoke for themselves; that leader assured us that he would meet immediately with the federation CEO. Not more than one week later, that leader called me, I remember it like it was yesterday: "Richard, I just met with ______, we went over your numbers and he showed me how wrong you were." I was momentarily speechless -- our numbers were those supplied by the federation itself, after all, and the exec had told me of the community's plan. Later that same day, that CEO, a friend then and now, called me: "Richard," he said,"Don't ever call my lay leaders about allocations again. I don't want them confused with the facts."
But this example and our institutional silence over the past decade should not stop our leadership from doing what is right, from advocating in fulfillment of the moral obligation that is ours. Yet, we have wallowed in silence and that is our shame.