Bob Hyfler is so right -- and his is not an exhaustive list. We have suggested a continental forum more than once; Bob has now suggested some topics that presume upon JFNA's lay and professional leaders' willingness and ability to convene a continental dialogue. Recently, on a JFNA Board call, Boston's CJP leader, Barry Shrage, for whom I have developed a growing admiration, asked that JFNA convene a dialogue on the Obama "Iran Deal" -- that was met with a response from CEO Silverman of "...let's talk about this off-line." Whatever is going on at JFNA (and there must be something going on, mustn't there?) other than co-convening conference calls, it isn't happening on-line, that's for certain.
"Never in recent history has there been a constellation of meaty and relevant issues begging for public discussion in the Federation world and a Federation forum:
The privatization of major gifts philanthropy;
Is Federation alienated from the grass roots?;
Is "Israeliness" threatening to Diaspora Jewry?;
The continuity agenda 25 years later;
The future of Federation and community in an age of political and religious disunity
Serious issues, Jewish issues, issues worthy of the thoughtful attention of all."
So, my question -- why won't JFNA leadership host a Continental dialogue on anything? I think the answer lies in the reality that JFNA leadership is incapable of doing anything -- there is a fear of the polity's, lay and professional alike, discovery that JFNA leadership is devoid of critical thinking, more interested in what they perceive to be sh'lom bayit than in debate, dialogue or discussion. This leadership fears any agenda it cannot control, and fears any outcome that has not been precooked in its off the books "advisory group."* You can't lead a discussion of an issue you don't understand -- and I really sense that JFNA's leaders do not comprehend the issues with which federation leadership is challenged as never before.
Thus, when the National Campaign Chair reported to the JFNA Board last month that the aggregate of federation 2015 annual campaigns has flat-lined at an increase of a little over 1% (and that the vast number of federations -- all those smaller than the Large Cities -- are showing negative campaign results) -- there is not even a question raised; there is no discussion and JFNA is incapable of any assistance lacking any FRD staff to do so. It has gone beyond the pathetic, friends.
I have given a lot of thought about the necessity of an educated leadership -- at our federations and at our continental institution. My friend, Dr. Jeffrey Solomon and I, years ago wrote an article on the subject. What I have seen emerge, not everywhere of course, but in too many places, is a cadre of leadership that lacks any educated background -- Jewishly or communally or both.** The end result is a leadership that has less knowledge than the Jewish polity they are supposed to lead. This then leads to a leadership fear of opening a dialogue that they are incapable of leading.
Friends, all that one observes confirms JFNA's futility. Keep paying your Dues.
* If you visit the JFNA website, link to "Our Leadership," you can peruse the list of the members of the non-governance "Advisory Council." No comment necessary.
** With Mandel, JFNA rolled out what appears to be an echo of the Wexner Program for lay leadership development. Five federations now participate. Is this another "too little too late" dip the toe in the water effort or will it be something meaningful?