I leave it to you, my friends, to conclude for yourselves -- in fact, I leave it to Michael -- whether over three years of his Chairmanship, Michael has moved JFNA forward in any way toward "...ensuring a vibrant American Jewish future" or anything at all on "the affordability of Jewish engagement." I see nothing...absolutely nothing...in JFNA's budget or on its "planning table" that would move our continental polity toward Michael Siegal's noble goals...or any goals at all."Mr. Siegal noted that some fifty-plus years ago the federation leadership of the American Jewish community focused on the challenge of building the State of Israel and its collective agreement to focus on Israel’s nation-building. And, while charitably supporting the State of Israel is still an important commitment, Mr. Siegal noted that the American Jewish community faces the challenge of ensuring a vibrant American Jewish future, pointing to, among other things, the affordability of Jewish engagement. Mr. Siegal concluded his remarks by stating that his personal goal is to “make sure that we focus on building the vibrant narrative, the Jewish narrative, connected to the global Jewish community, one which leads to the answer that yes, I have created the environment that gives my grandchildren the ability to be safe and can be or will be Jewish.”
Michael Siegal is a mensch -- a great communal leader in Cleveland, a major philanthropist in so many areas of Jewish and communal life, once the International Chair of Israel Bonds. I can't profess that I know Michael well but every interaction any of us have had with him reflected his engagement, his generosity and his love of the Jewish People. I know what Michael's practical goals were for his Chairmanship and, while most were related to me in confidence, I can candidly report that they were goals in the best interests of JFNA and our communities, they were goals that all of us, every one of us, would share -- and my own conclusion is that none of them were accomplished...in fact, few were even pursued. It appeared that if Michael once had that "get up and go," somewhere along the line it "got up and went." Sad. So damn sad.
To his credit, Michael did make Board Meetings, like trains, run on time. While he rarely offered a personal opinion, when he did it was most like the advice he offered for integrating Young Leadership Cabinet members into our communities: "...invite them over to your home for dinner." Maybe he made JFNA more efficient. That was good, just not near good enough.
Then there was the last Chair of the Executive, Dede Feinberg. I have known Dede for a long, long time. I had the greatest respect for her as a leader since I first sat down with her when she chaired the Washington Annual Campaign a long, long time ago. While I was thrilled when she was elected Executive Chair, in recognition of her decades of leadership in the Washington D.C. Federation, at UJA, UIA, JAFI and JFNA, I also recalled, in the midst of one major institutional brouhaha, when I asked Dede to engage, her response was at its essence: "I don't like to fight and I won't." So, I didn't expect much in the way of Dede moving JFNA forward if she encountered any resistance to anything and, sadly, my expectations were realized.
Dede, and some of her predecessors proved, at least to JFNA's current leadership, that a Chair of the Executive was no longer needed and could be replaced with one Vice Chair whose sole purpose, apparently, is to Chair any meeting at which the Board Chair is not present. QED.
Both of these fine people, from whom so much could have been and was, expected in their critical roles to turn JFNA around, essentially did not succeed in doing so. Worse, at no point did they even try, at least not hard enough.