But...that was not to be. In fact, within a year after the Washington Post revelations, one New York Jewish organization after another was disclosed to have been victimized by a combination of criminal fraud and lax oversight, the damages not just in the 10's of millions but in the breakdown of the trust so critical to the charitable enterprise. And, the question: have we learned anything from these disasters? Because if you accept my thesis -- that the single-most failing leading to these episodes of corruption and to the breakdown in trust that followed was secrecy coupled to lay leadership's failure to demand accountability -- then the evidence demands that we answer: we have learned nothing. There is not one publication -- be it Guidestar, the National Council of NonProfits or the Trustees of the Indiana University Foundation, to name just three -- that doesn't mandate greater transparency and greater accountability, the opposites of secrecy. One has to wonder what the State of New York Attorney General would require and when.
Our Continental organization, the Jewish Federations of North America (you may remember that one), has demonstrated an opacity in its disclosures and in its operations that is incomprehensible. You know the litany of secret deals, among them: million dollar consultant contracts, General Assemblies accounting, naming of new "partners," Dues defaults, conduit deals, and the like. Now, perhaps, in every area the members of the Transactions Committee (chaired by the Board Chair), the Treasurer (also the Budget & Finance Committee Chair) and the CEO know exactly where the money is being spent and for what. But a Board member can't perform the Board Member's fiduciary responsibility if he/she can't "follow the money." And I would submit to you that no voting Board Member of JFNA can "follow the money" if he/she wanted to do so -- for JFNA truly operates in the darkness and claims "confidentiality" in matters that in any other public charity would be transparent and accessible.
The great Rabbinic leader, Rabbi Haskell Lookstein recalled as he looked on as a horrific fire destroyed his treasured Kehilath Jeshrun, it was not the fire or the destruction, it was the future: "When tragedy happens -- and this was a catastrophe, not a tragedy, no one was hurt -- it doesn't help to ask why did it happen, it helps to ask what we're supposed to do next." That's the opportunity available to Richard Sandler and the JFNA Board -- to state once and for all that JFNA will operate in a transparent manner appropriate to its position as a public charity; not to continue to hide its actions behind claims of alleged "confidentiality." It's long past time to open the "books" to the JFNA Board; to disclose: the consultant contracts, which communities are paying less than or none of the Dues that others are paying and the losses suffered on the GA, among other things.
You know I believe that the truth will set JFNA free; why should the federations trust their umbrella organization when that organization doesn't trust them with the truth embodied in the concepts of transparency and full disclosure? Susan Solomon, a lawyer by training, the co-founder of the New York Stem Cell Foundation was recently quoted in The Wall Street Journal: "I'm really comfortable asking dumb questions." Class, please compare and contrast with JFNA where leaders are comfortable asking no questions at all. It's also past time for questions. Isn't it time for secrecy to end once and for all?
JFNA has chosen to operate in its own self-imposed darkness -- that's the same dark curtain that cloaked numerous agencies in New York City, the darkness that produced the corruption at FEGS, at the 92nd Street Y, at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, at the New York Legal Assistance Group. It was Justice Louis Brandeis who observed: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants." JFNA is in need of a whole lot of sunlight.
It's up to JFNA's Board to demand accountability. Do you think they will do so?