Saturday, June 6, 2015


1. There are those who have articulated the belief that if the federations don't hold a GA each and every year, "...some other organization will step into the void" and literally snatch the GA away. Of course the last time I heard that rationale for an annual assembly, the General Assembly was attracting a real 2500 paid registrants as opposed to the fictional "3,000" claimed every recent year rather than the 700 or so in actuality. (Further, there are already other organizations -- e.g., JNF -- holding annual conclaves that are eating JFNA's lunch.) I was always cynical about this argument but another void seems to make the point for those who demand the annual GA.

I am talking about the year-in year-out joy-filled celebrations of Israel Independence Day. In every Large City (and, I assume, almost every smaller community) whose website I examined but one, the Yom Ha'Atzmaut holiday event is sponsored by or convened by the local Federation -- something that has been on-going for, maybe, 67 years. But, in Los Angeles, for reasons I am both unaware of and fail to understand, the Jewish Federation has ceased its sponsorship of this annual celebration that, there, I am told, attracts in excess of 20,000. There are about 140 "Presenting Partners," "Title Partners," "Partners," and "Friends" of the Los Angeles Annual Israel Festival this year, including numerous Federation agencies but the Federation itself? Federation is nowhere to be found. I know that the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, for decades, was the convener, even the host of an Independence Day Event or a significant sponsor/funder but, at some point in the last couple of years, no more. (In fact, on the Federation website it is made perfectly clear that the 2015 event " not sponsored by Federation" in caps.)

Stepping into the void in Los Angeles is the Israeli-American Council, a grassroots aggressive organization led by a cadre of, what else, Israeli- Americans and funded in part by significant grants from philanthropists from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban. The IAC is now engaged in vigorous fund raising and programming. With start-up offices and a growing constituency in L.A., New York, Boston, New Jersey, Miami and Las Vegas (and, perhaps, in other communities, as well), the IAC is literally leaving federations on the sidelines in fund raising and programmatic activities among Israeli-Americans and others in L.A. for starters. When it came to the annual Celebration of Israel, the articulate and creative President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson, with whom I so often agree, told the LA Jewish Journal:
“'We think the Celebrate Israel Festival is a great event, but it’s not as high a priority for us as it is for them,'** Sanderson said. 'I do not judge the IAC for their decision to prioritize this event, and I hope they will not judge us for our lack of prioritizing the event.'”
While Federation may conduct its own mini-event, this decision created a void into which eagerly stepped the IAC.

2. Then there is the void created by the Jewish Agency's "reprioritization" away from its own core values and programs, chief among them aliyah. So many of us over so many years, felt that our philanthropic participation in aliyah through our federations, through the Jewish Agency, brought home the meaning behind We Are One. And, then JAFI with the leadership of JFNA/JAFI urging it on in a so-called "Strategic Planning Process" recast itself as the Global organization dedicated first and foremost to "Jewish Identity." It did so years after it divested itself of significant tranches of aliyah to Nefesh B'Nefesh, especially from North America. And, as JNF* highlighted recently, into the void we and JAFI created...
"There's no time like the present to live and love the Aliyah dream. With JNF and Nefesh B'Nefesh, help support the future doctors, soldiers and academics of Israel. The citizens making their home in our homeland."
So, this time it's The Jewish National Fund and Nefesh B'Nefesh engaged in aliyah with a focus on the Negev (!!) and the North. Maybe they can help with the "Jewish Identity" of those brought to Israel without our help.

3. A Friend of the Blog added another sad void being filled by others to the growing list. As ejewishphilanthropy reported:
"BBYO, Hillel International and Moishe House are teaming up in launching a unique, pioneering global partnership to recruit, train and retain top professionals throughout their organizations. Called the Talent Alliance, this novel collaboration will link 780 Jewish communal professionals in 37 countries together in a global ecosystem designed to promote rising stars in these Jewish nonprofits."
No one at JFNA seems to understand or care. And, where is the voice of the Federation professional on this one? Just too busy as the system collapses around them.

It is Dr. Steven Windmueller, whose brilliant analysis of the federation movement  has been a constant in our lives, who wrote:
"In the past highly successful movements had the luxury of ignoring their competitors or those who might challenge their position, yet most great movements have learned to build alliances, create partnerships and systematically enter into arrangements where allied or competitive groups were integrated or merged into their system."
In too many places, the need for total control (or competing priorities) has trumped the recognition of the need for partnerships and alliances -- even with those who will not be "integrated or merged" -- to the detriment of the central body of the Jewish community.

So, perhaps those who fear that if we don't convene an annual GA, no matter the cost and the pathetic registration, someone else will -- are right.  


* "Them" in this instance is between 20,000 and 30,000 celebrants.

** The Jewish National Fund has created the tag line: Your Voice in Israel. So much for JFNA-Israel mantra -- Its Own Voice in Israel.


Anonymous said...

"Void?" "Void?" The biggest void in Jewish life is sitting as CEO at 25 Broadway and no one is replacing him.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of filling the void, check out the work of Limmud in Jewish education. JFNA is so fearful of Limmud that it will waste millions to set up an "Education Unit" to, what exactly? Compete with an established, innovative organization that is doing pioneering work in the field and capturing federation dollars in the process.