"I also thought that the attendance was small (and a lot of staff). But this is also a reflection of the growing professionalization of our federations. We don't have to play the AIPAC numbers game. It's fine if we don't have tens of thousands coming to the GA. AIPAC's convention is all about the numbers and trying to show off, and not about the content and the context. What I witnessed at the GA however was truly inspiring--a new generation of young Cabinet leaders, new Execs coming into their roles, new ideas about engagement and philanthropy."OK:
1. The Opening Plenary. With Chuck Todd moderating important Roundtables offering critical post-election analysis in a ballroom with a maximum capacity of 900, multiple rows are empty. Where are the promised 3,000 attendees? Well, really the same place they were last years and the three years before that -- not there.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who, as we have reported, has sowed the seeds of inter-denominational discord in Great Britain, roused the crowd with a call for Jewish unity, Kind of a "do as I say, not as I do" -- quite appropriate to JFNA.
2. Institutional Ineptitude. At the Prime Minister's Council Event, normally a major moment for the communities' largest donor group. Congressman John Lewis and Suzanne Heschel were reminiscing about that moment in the Civil Rights Movement when Jews and African Americans joined arms in Selma. JFNA at that moment flashed a photo on the large screen and Abraham Joshua Heschel's daughter said, "Uh, that's a scene of Rabbis at the Vietnam Memorial." Yep, some would call this hysterical, others, pathetic...but, it's really just JFNA. Sad and inept.
3. Speaking of Sad and Inept. You will recall that JFNA often confuses its letters with actual substance. At the JFNA Board meeting, the Board and Fed Members Corp were actually asked to vote on sending another letter to the Prime Minister (and the language thereof) with regard to, what else, the implementation or, more correctly, the PM's obvious "problem" in implementing the now 1-1/2 year-old enacted Resolution to provide egalitarian space adjacent to the Western Wall for non-Orthodox Prayer. Those Trustees participating in the Board Meeting by phone had yet to see the letter (although asked to vote on it) and the brief discussion of the letter suggested it was as weak as were its predecessors (but, according to Jerry, it just had to be that way). We heard that JFNA "has been working" with the Movements and "working with JAFI" on this but we all know what that means by now, don't we?
So, here is the letter, you be the judge of its worth and whether it's weak or compelling:
BTW, there is a playbook on issues like this -- it's called the "Law of Return" Playbook. But, unfortunately, it's a "book." And, today, we don't read and we don't mobilize."Dear Mr. Prime Minister,As leaders of Jewish Federations from across North America, we are writing to affirm our unwavering love for the State of Israel as well as to convey our collective appreciation for all you have done to advance the establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and to make room for a diversity of Jewish religious practice and expression. We recognize that no Israeli leader understands the importance of religious pluralism or has done more in this area than you have.We are as committed to Israel’s strength and security as we are to her economic and social prosperity. We are sure you can understand the concerns we hear from many in our communities who struggle to understand why the implementation of the historic government resolution to create a space at the Kotel where all Jews are free to worship appears stalled.We know you recognize the growing sense of urgency to fully implement the Government Resolution, which resulted from the work of your office together with Natan Sharansky’s leading of the parties to a compromise. Your declaration at last year’s General Assembly that there is “one Wall for one People” has become a statement that our communities truly believe and expect to see come true.On behalf of the Federation movement we represent, we thank you for your leadership on this matter and look forward to your ongoing efforts to make clear to millions of Jews in Israel and around the world that, in spite of our differences, we are one People."*
So, now, JFNA will apparently be processing all of its "letters" through its Board aend Federation Members Corporation -- a bizarre way of doing business.
P.S. The inane processing of this JFNA "letter" through the JFNA Board should be compared with the organization's statement on Presidential election -- a statement that seemed to be published just after the GA with no process whatsoever. Read the story here: http://www.jta.org/2016/11/17/news-opinion/politics/jewish-federations-bannon-trump And, of course, later in the day, an unnamed "consultant" fell on his/her sword (for whom) I have a sense we all know) for this whole mess.
4. Oh, and that Board Meeting. Nothing Happened. But there was a two sentence plea for cash and a brief admission that core allocations to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT will reach new lows this calendar year. And Harold Gernsbacher delivered a passionate upbeat report on FRD while announcing a magnificent personal gift to a vital program of the Ethiopian National Project. If I get this correctly, the Board must approve letters but the National Campaign Chair can unilaterally announce a new Special Campaign. Interesting.
There was a stirring address from JDC's Outgoing CEO, Alan Gill, and I confess I hung up before the presentation by the head of the Israel Government Tourist Office, Northeast Region, whom, I assume, is related to someone on the Board.
5. Monday Night. You ulta kachers, like me will remember that Monday nights when GAs were real went something like this: we would join our friends from our federations or our constituencies for a raucous dinner, then we would rush back to GA HQ for an always provocative and important speaker, then, or us Chicagoans, we would repair to the suite shared by our Chair and CEO and shmoooze, drink and share experiences. At this GA, there are those same dinners, then buses to an Israeli-Ethiopian film and "Hip Hop Party." Compare and Contrast.
6. The Message of The Forward 50. It appears traditional that The Forward publishes its 50 over the days of the GA. This year those fifty do not include a single Federation Movement leader -- not a single one. This is more than a little shocking but, perhaps, it is one major Jewish publication's determination on the system's growing irrelevance. I can think of several LCE who would merit inclusion; I would have cited JFNA's William Daroff within "the 50." But The Forward has made its selections and federation leaders ought to being paying attention.
7. The Closing Plenary. Maybe it was appropriate, symbolic even, that as this GA approached its end Tuesday morning, Jerry Silverman spoke to a 1/2 empty (at best) room. Even Jerry should now "get it" -- the GA needs a complete overhaul and, at the least, a serious discussion as to whether it should continue to be an annual event. I know, I know, the arguments will be made: (1) if JFNA doesn't do it, others will step into the void; (2) we contract with hotels years in advance and would be at risk for substantial damages for termination; and (3) we've already announced the time and place of the 2017 GA in LA. But, of course the responses are simple: (1) the GA itself is a "void" -- attendance has fallen much like allocations; (2) let JFNA's hotel consultants negotiate a deferral of the LA GA to a year in the future; and (3) just move all of it back. Use the year hiatus for a hands-on examination of the GA by lay leaders with experience Chairing GA's.
And, of course, see you in LA.
* Some of you have suggested that my Post on November 10 in which I "pointed out" that JFNA had totally dropped the ball on the Wall issue was the catalyst for this "letter" suddenly being placed on he Board Agenda (It did not appear on the Agenda distributed to the Board before the meeting. You're welcome.