Friday, December 18, 2015


                        OH, THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO ROUND, ROUND, ROUND

...or they are supposed to, aren't they?

Five plus years ago, JFNA hired a new bus driver, told him to drive the bus and, then, watched as the bus on which they were now riding swerved into the ditch when it wasn't heading into dead ends or caroming off the road altogether. 

If your bus company hired a driver like this, overpaying the driver from the get-go to boot, I have the firm suspicion that your bus company would have fired this driver long, long ago. But this is the JFNA Bus Company, after all, a company that serves only itself; a place where mediocrity and outright failure have not just been tolerated, these have been constantly rewarded.

How does something like this happen...and perpetuate? Let me count the ways...

  1. Disinterest. There was a time in the history of JFNA when both federation lay and professional leaders took a direct interest in the management, operation and direction of the organization. That interest played an absolute role in the hiring and termination of the organization's first CEO, his succession by Steve Hoffman and the hiring of Howard Rieger to succeed Steve. With Rieger steering the ship aimlessly while distracted by vendettas and a personal agenda, the federation lay leaders, now a decade older in the case of the LCE seemed to be worn out, having a single focus when it came to JFNA -- "do nothing to disturb our little empires; leave us alone; and, when told, do what we say." Thus, the hiring of Smilin' Jerry was a serendipitous Godsend to them -- let him go off and do his #ishes and Community Heroes and TribeFestivi, but stay out of our business..." even though JFNA's business was supposed to be the federations. Only when a TribeFest would prove too embarrassing to allow it to continue would the leadership say "stop." On the lay side, starting with Board Chair Joe Kanfer the mantra became "either you are on our team, doing our bidding without complaint, will you get anywhere here, or you will disappear." This led to a self-enforcement of discipline that silenced (most) critics or drove them away. Manning continued the discipline, assuring that only lay acolytes moved up the JFNA political food chain, filling every possible leadership role with a willing lay lamb. For those not engaged, disinterest became the course to follow and engagement of the few and fawning became the rule of the day.
  2. Disengagement.  What ties a community to JFNA? The factors are all in the negative; among them -- loss of Washington Grants, loss of constituency participation (in the continuing UJA creations of National Young Leadership, National Women's Constituency), loss of professional participation in City-size professional activities, loss  of Mission or GA participation, professional Institutes and the like. Flip those and you have the positives of engagement -- all continuing activities from the days of UJA/CJF. Oh, sure, there could someday be an exposure to "best practices" (rebranded as FEDovations but nothing new) but the truly new -- the Secure Community Network, the Israel Action Network (with a lay person, an excellent leader, to front the operation but no lay Board) -- are strictly and totally professionally driven. The number of federation lay leaders in key JFNA roles has been dramatically reduced -- now but a single Vice Chair -- in the pursuit of the apparent need for "efficiency" -- after all engaging lay people is so time consuming, costly and...unnecessary. And, so the lay people disengage but for the few with "speaking parts" -- the chance for greater engagement lost when: (a) the last Chair of the Executive, Dede Feinberg, who for years led engagement efforts at, among other places, the Jewish Agency, was merely shunted aside; and (b) the professionals arrogated what were lay positions to themselves with nary a word of objection from lay leaders who should have known better. If nowhere else, and there are many, many places where disengagement is evident, just once again visit the lay paid attendance at, e.g., the last five General Assemblies.
  3. Disinvestment. There are many, many JFNA priority areas where greater lay involvement could be enhanced -- but these are areas of intended budgeted investment from which funds are actually being redirected to other areas without any lay process. As Henny Youngman, z'l, might have said: "Take FRD, please." By Budget, FRD consumes close to or more than 50% of the JFNA Budget. But you know the deal: no staff (FTE being the largest expense component of every JFNA silo) and remarkably, for the past few years, during the regime of Smilin' Jerry, a National Campaign Chair and no Campaign Cabinet. You might ask, "what are those millions being spent on, if not FRD?" You might ask, but the way JFNA is operated, you won't get an answer -- that's how disinvestment occurs annually under the current professional leadership, permitted to do so by a hands'-off lay leadership.
And, so, my friends, the wheels no longer "go round, round, round;" they have literally fallen off the bus. As Gertrude Stein wrote, "there is no there, there" -- not anymore. Just keep throwing your money at 25 Broadway...they like it and they'll tell you it's not enough.

Now, sing along: Oh the wheels on the bus are off, off, off
                            Off, off, off
                            Off, off, off


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

How do we permit this situation to continue year-after-year-after year? Where are the grown-ups?