Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Who said the following: Chance, the Gardener, in "Being There" or JFNA's CEO/President: I just like to watch?

I listened with care to CEO Smilin' Jerry's Plenary speech at last month's GA. It was extremely interesting to me as it expressed exactly what I would have expected -- that JFNA's greatest achievement over the past year was doing and saying nothing and, in the guise of Jewish unity, doing  and saying nothing in the year ahead. This is a message that has been repeated in print and often this year in vituperative Anonymous Comments on these pages. "It's great," they have said and written, that JFNA remains above the fray; "it's terrific," I guess, that JFNA has nothing to say on any issue, believing it appears that if there is not unanimity among the federations on an issue, then JFNA will offer itself as the neutral space in which nothing is even debated or discussed. As a student off the system for 1/2 my life I have to wonder when JFNA became JCPA, unable even to speak a word on any subject where there is any controversy.

So, just when might JFNA actually take a position on anything? I read with interest the newspaper articles on the communal controversy in Los Angeles after the Jewish Federation there took a position against the Iran Deal. It seems that LA's Federation leadership did so after a vote of its Executive Committee but without an a priori debate and vote of its Board. That poor "process," not the position taken, seemed to be a flash point. Richard Sandler, then LA's Board Chair, now JFNA's, and LA CEO Jay Sanderson both reflected that a better process would have been to engage with the broader base of communal leadership  on the Federation Board. Sandler concluded that the LA Board would have voted in favor of the articulated communal position by a super-majority. Now Richard Sandler chairs JFNA. It will be interesting to see if his LA philosophy carries through to the Continental stage on issues of controversy or whether the Smilin' Jerry S. belief that silence is always golden prevails.

But I believe that more was at play in JFNA's decision to say and do nothing in 2015 but offer its "neutral space" as the number of federations which took a position on the Iran Deal either opposed the deal, expressed a negative sense of the Deal or said nothing. Here are some of the factors:

  1. The New York UJA-Federation, of course our largest community, counseled/demanded that the Continental entity remain silent, just as New York UJA itself did;
  2. It was feared that any discussion or position would further inflame and divide our communities;
  3. JFNA leadership desired visibility at President Obama's side throughout, including the ultimate teleconference "viewed by 40,000 people"* where the JFNA Chair sat near the President and presented questions. As with all things, elevating the "brand" was more important (and more "safe") than a debate and discussion at the JFNA Board level;
  4. JFNA at no time consulted either its Board or its Executive Committee on its non-position (that's not what JFNA does on anything, actually) fearing that if it did so, a super-majority of federations might have demanded either a broad discussion/debate and/or a vote on a Resolution that would have negated the influences of 1. and 2. and 3. above.
I heard and read over the last months and throughout the GA JFNA's determination that arguments pro and con the Iran Deal in our communities were fraught with ugliness and anger. Let's even assume that that was true -- I know that on this issue on these pages, many of the Anonymous Comments were venomous (and most of those came from those who did not want the matter discussed/debated) but I also know that  the best leadership can assure civility-- is that really an argument for doing and saying nothing on any matter as vital to federation interests in Israel's security and the safety of its citizens?

Are we as a Continental Jewish polity unable to discuss/debate issues of controversy as adults; are our leaders not capable of managing debate so that it remains within the bounds of civility? If not, then there may ultimately be, if not the case already, no issue of any controversy which we can ever discuss let alone on which we can reach consensus. And, perhaps, a leadership that believes that never shall waves be made, that shies away and literally avoids anything of controversy, real or imagined, likes it that way.

The denouement to all of this? In a Haaretz op-ed: "President Obama’s liaison to the American-Jewish community: We can disagree but respect each other’s opinions." JFNA's convention of the President's arguments in favor of the Iran Deal was favorably mentioned. Yet the liaison couldn't have been speaking of JFNA inasmuch as our organization,  proudly, had no opinion at all.*

So, perhaps, the JFNA letterhead should have another logo on it -- a stamp that clearly states: certified pareve.


*If you read the Op-Ed you might be surprised that the liaison offers the participation in that Conference Call at 15,000; JFNA, at its self-promoting best has been trumpeting 40,000. You be the judge.


Anonymous said...

fact check for you -- Sandler hasn't been board chair in LA for a few years

Anonymous said...

Probably Peter Sellers's best piece of work......especially the out-takes of the ER scene at the end during the credits.
I'm just bummed that you mentioned JFNA in the same post.

Anonymous said...

There's absolutely no one riding the store at 25 Broadway. Our federations' Dues are being spent at the whim of those "not there." And where are the federation lay AND professional leaders? They are ignoring what is right in front of them in the hopes, I guess, of the next office on the rung or a future consulting deal. It is inconceivable after 16 years of this that there has not been a call for change, for revolution, for non-payment of Dues. For SOMETHING to change.