Thursday, September 22, 2016


Once again, ejewishphilanthropy has provided us with food for thought, a feast actually. First a piece authored by George Caplan, a Past Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and the esteemed academician and student of Jewish communal life, Steven Windmueller -- Federations and Their Legacy Tradition: How the "Greatest Generation" Impacted American Jewish Life. Only days later, the dean of American federation CEOs, my friend Steve Nasatir, published a response -- Let's Not Demean Today's Great Generation of Jewish Leaders.**&utm_campaign=Tue+Aug+30&utm_medium=email

Both of these fine commentaries need to be read in full (and not only because the Caplan/Windmueller article did not "demean today's great generation..." but reflected instead on the incredible contributions of those of the "greatest generation") because, as one would expect, each is written from a unique communal perspective -- Los Angeles and Chicago -- in a point/counterpoint. (Not surprising, that captive sad rag FedWorld prominently featured Steve Nasatir's piece, while days earlier it merely provided a link to the Caplan-Windmueller article that was the catalyst for Steve's.) And neither are wrong although it is extremely difficult to convert their conclusions into something more universal. The cynic in me would suggest a post-script to Nasatir's piece -- might read like this: Let's Not Demean Today's Great Generation of Jewish Leaders -- They Are Doing a Fine Job of Doing So by Themselves. But that would be wrong.

I don't believe that anyone...that's anyone -- would argue that, but for a few even rare instances, today we are not producing another Max Fisher, z'l, a Corky Goodman, a Shoshana Cardin, a Marvin Lender, an Albert Ratner, a Charles Bronfman and others whose contributions to Modern Jewish History and leadership remain unmatched. And, we are terribly diminished by that sad reality. 

And, examples of the contrasts in the point/counterpoint in ejewishphilanthropy are among those that I witnessed first-hand: in one community a Campaign Chair was plucked from out of the blue because he gave a substantial gift at an annual (now canceled, of course) UJA Aspen Event but had had no prior community leadership role; and, because the federation had no succession plan for its lay leadership, that same new leader was parachuted into the Chairmanship where, among other things, he would cancel Board meetings at his whim. With no background in federation governance, he was driving blind. Since then, the community has been placed in the best of hands.

In the other community, mine, competition for the top lay positions is often so heated that leaders who don't know better will, too often, actively lobby for the Chairmanship sometimes in inappropriate ways. One, the circumstances of which I remember vividly, involved a local leader of transparent ambition who tried to leverage a national agency leadership position against his desire for the federation Chair position, claiming he "would have to accept" the national agency leadership if he didn't get the Federation Chair...he didn't achieve the federation chair that time. I'm certain that hope springs eternal.

Fifteen years ago, Jeffrey Solomon and I collaborated on an article in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service -- Settings Standards for Volunteer Leadership and the We were honored with an 
award for the "article of the year," but more so by the fact that schools of Jewish communal 
service added the article to their curricula and that in the JFNA seminars for new Presidents and CEOs 
the article was a reference point for a number of years...certainly no longer. It is clear, from the Caplan-Windmueller and Nasatir articles that standards for lay leadership and the quality of those leaders vary widely.
One characteristic that all would agree upon, espoused most recently in the passionate words
of Richard Sandler, is a commitment to Jewish values and an understanding of how Jewish 
values infuse our sacred work.

At least there is that.


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