Wednesday, December 7, 2016


In a riff on their GA speeches, under the ironic title Let's Not Lose Our Focus, when the organization has absolutely no focus, Richard Sandler and Jerry Silverman issued a joint Statement from their Desk* which read, in pertinent part:
"Yes, it is possible to be at odds on some matters yet still work together on others.

That’s precisely what we do at Jewish Federations. We are the community square, where we work together to find common ground in the name of tikkun olam, making the world a better place.

Our primary mission is and will remain to care for the most vulnerable around us—senior citizens, persons with disabilities, children and at-risk youth, and immigrants and refugees—and to perpetuate a value system that has sustained us and greatly contributed to the world at large for more than 3,000 years.

At the same time, we have to fight hate at home, in Israel and worldwide. Doing so entails opening our doors to varying perspectives and having difficult discussions, not only in our Jewish community, but also in the broader community.

None of us has a monopoly on knowing the answers to complex questions. All of us have a responsibility to discuss issues civilly, intelligently and factually. The world is complicated. Those who agree with us are not always perfect, and those who disagree with us are not always wrong and certainly not evil. When we allow ourselves to talk with someone whose voice differs from our own—not superficially, but to have a true dialogue—we learn and grow and strengthen our community." 
Now, don't get me wrong, this was an excellent Statement of what Federations are already doing, issued as if the Federations needed to be reminded of what they are doing.  The question of course is what is JFNA doing in any of these any of them? And, sadly, the answer is, as Don't "lose our focus," indeed.

I think I have discovered a basic truth in this Statement -- JFNA's leaders, its two highest level lay and professional leaders, actually believe that JFNA is doing something in the areas discussed. These two can't seem to come to terms with the reality that while the Jewish Federations are acting, JFNA is just talking; it is doing nothing but talking. And it is talking about nothing...nothing at all. Our JFNA leaders have confused talk with action. Maybe they believe: "Boy, we're great, look how the federations are doing. And it's all because of our leadership." If they believe that they are impacting in any of the areas discussed, friends, we know how wrong they very, very wrong.

My expectation was that Richard Sandler, a leader possessed of true communal values and an understanding of the absolute necessity and importance of real professional leadership (after all, before he even took the JFNA Chair, he expressed his absolute willingness to delegate to his JFNA professionals, presuming their competency), would have concluded by now that all he wished JFNA to accomplish couldn't be, will not be realized under the current CEO. He has now begun the second year of his Chairmanship and there is not a single new accomplishment to point to...not one...other than that Federations still pay their Dues and Richard, himself, and his appointed lay leadership demand nothing more.

Just one example of the failure of JFNA to be our voice on anything: the Southern Poverty Law Center had counted 867 acts of hate-inspired violence and hate speech since the election. Many, many federations have condemned acts of hate and hate speech in the strongest terms. But from silence. They neither speak for us nor do they even speak for themselves. In its silence JFNA makes a mockery of the very values that Richard Sandler has set forth so well, as recently as that GA just concluded. In a very strong and well-documented plea in ejewishphilanthropy, "An Open Letter to Richard Sandler...," a Jewish educator, Russel Neiss, called upon Richard Sandler demanding JFNA to find its voice.  He asks JFNA for more than could reasonably be expected of it but his passionate open letter exposes the crisis of confidence that JFNA has created by not speaking out against not speaking out about anything at all.

I have questioned whether JFNA leadership can really articulate the purposes JFNA serves. Looking at Jerry's 7+ years and Richard's first, I still don't know and, worse, neither do they. Right now JFNA endures in spite of itself; in point of fact, JFNA is doing less today than it was 8 years ago pure and simple -- and its lay leadership just doesn't care or just can't see it. 

Which is worse?


* Yes, "Desk," not "Desks" -- like "brain" not "brains"

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

At JFNA, silence isn't just golden, it's everything. This is an organization that can't even frame and announce a thought on the issues of hate in all of its ugly manifestations across the continent today.

Quite frankly as in all things other than its work in Washington the organization is worthless. JFNA should be replaced by an entity framed by JDC with the participation of a reformed JAFI and WorldORT. After all, the funds that support JFNA come right out of what once were the allocations to those organizations.