Wednesday, January 25, 2017


One thing you can always count on at JFNA, the one constant, is a total lack of follow-through...on anything and everything. We can (and have) look back at overseas allocations, the National Agencies-Federation Alliance, any and all Special Campaigns, the issues with WZO and Survivors funding, the Global Planning Table (where organizational failure was a welcome condition precedent to its demise) -- the list of failure after failure just goes on and on and on, ad infinitum. At 25 Broadway there is an institutional attention deficit disorder that has become self-evident in all things. And, as JFNA flits from issue to issue, failed program to new program assured to fail, no one...not a single JFNA leader is holding the staff to account. Irresponsibility has led to unaccountability. 

Nowhere has JFNA's lack of follow-through been more evident than in its failed  substantive advocacy for religious pluralism in Israel. In 2012, and even earlier, JFNA claimed to have been a partner with the non-Orthodox religious Movements, Women of the Wall and the Jewish Agency in pushing a deal through the Netanyahu Cabinet in January 2016, that was to assure egalitarian prayer space by the Kotel. JFNA was one of the greatest of cheerleaders for the deal in which had played no role whatsoever but for which it attempted to grab as much credit as possible. Why it even organized a "march" of 100's in Jerusalem in support of these efforts in conjunction with the last Israel GA. And, while claiming "victory" last January, JFNA leaders put on their blinders against the reality that the deal was falling apart, killed, as are so many things in Jerusalem, by coalition politics; or, maybe, these, our leaders, will claim they have put their faith in Israel's Supreme Court -- but I don't recall any "friend of the court" brief on behalf of our claimed "partners." The Court has acted but, as with so many things in Israel, few expect that the Court's actions will be the final word on the subject.

And so it came to pass that at the GA last November, the JFNA Board -- the Board -- spent  most of its meeting redrafting a letter to the Prime Minister that from its draft state to its final wording was what JFNA leaders termed "strong" but most felt to be obsequious. Even the vote on approval has yet to be disclosed to the Board where we have learned at least two Large Cities voted "no" and the Minutes of that meeting recited a "approved by majority vote." The "letter" approval process required the intervention of the Wall Deal's main architect, JAFI's Natan Sharansky, to push for language that would not upset the Prime Minister. JFNA, as is its practice in matters of this kind  -- i.e., any matter of controversy -- satisfied itself that was doing something by writing a letter. 

And, then, JFNA just moved on. Our organization sent a letter and moved on. When Women of the Wall and others supporting the implementation of the agreement received death threats, maybe JFNA organized a conference call; maybe it's drafting another letter, And maybe it's doing nothing at all.

I have heard in Comments from some friends of this Blog, and off-line, that JFNA is wise to never take a stand on any matter because doing so would further divide the North American Jewish polity. Those intelligent and well-meaning leaders ignore the reality that for our continental organization there must be certain basic principles on which it must "rise up" or be perceived as ineffectual, even spineless. Thus, if religious pluralism is a cause worth fighting for, then fight for it, mobilize for it and do more than give it lip service and agonize over a letter...a the Prime Minister who has a radar detector against weakness in all events. If we have convictions -- even if they are few -- don't we need to stand up for them? Our friend, MK Nachman Shai, who directed the JFNA Israel Office when it was actually effective, forwarded an incisive article in The Jerusalem Post that stated clearly that the Shas "Western Wall Bill will drive away Aerican Jews."  Apparently, the organization that is presumed to represent American Jews, JFNA, can only bring itself to write a periodic letter.

I expressed my pride in JFNA's immediate and public response to the Obama Administration's refusal to veto the UNSC Resolution 2334. (JFNA Rises Up, 24 December 2016) Days later I learned that the organization only did so at the "urging" of Israeli government officials and the Conference of Presidents suggesting that a failure to publicly object to the abstention might result in the Prime Minister no longer being available for, e.g.,  Mission meetings and GA videos among other things. Now we at least understand what will get JFNA to speak out.

Inasmuch as the leaders of JFNA have no shame, by their silence on the Shas legislation they are stating: this isn't our issue. Even though it is.



Anonymous said...

Rabbi Elliot Cosgrove remarks to the President

Israel – and the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry – is at the core of everything I do as a rabbi.

Last year, my community of 1,700 families, the largest Conservative/Masorti synagogue in New York, was honored to host MK Yair Lapid, and the summer before that – the final public address of president Shimon Peres z’l to Diaspora Jewry. Day and night, I labor to create a vibrant, passion-filled, committed Jewish community with Israel at its center. To learn about Israel, to support Israel, to travel to Israel, to make aliya to Israel, to advocate on behalf of Israel, and most importantly – to love Israel. This is not just at the heart of my synagogue, this is at the heart of who I am as a rabbi and as a Jew.

Our problem, however, is that far too often for far too many American Jews, we are left to wonder whether Israel loves us as much as we love Israel. We see an Israel that does not recognize the Judaism we practice.

An Israel that does not acknowledge the marriages or conversions of American rabbis. An Israel that has allowed the symbol of Jewish unity – the Kotel – to become ground zero for fanaticism and intolerance.

An Israel that provides hundreds of millions of dollars to Orthodox institutions and none to non-Orthodox expressions of Jewish life. An Israel in which Conservative and Reform synagogues have been subjected to vandalism. An Israel that is entertaining legislation that would criminalize a woman wearing a tallit.

Anonymous said...

R Cosgrove remarks part 2

What a bitter irony to live in a world in which Israel is the one country in which a Jew does not have the freedom to express his or her Judaism. With every piece of legislation in which Israel declares itself hostile to religious pluralism, hostile to the Judaism we practice in the States, is it at all surprising that American Jews should find themselves increasingly alienated from the Jewish state? As a Conservative rabbi and as an American Jew, I find the situation deeply distressing. But as I said, it is not just my problem, it is our problem – it is a crisis we share together.

The majority of American Jews are Conservative or Reform. 50% of Jews who attend the AIPAC policy conference are Conservative Jews. More than 60% of the leadership of Jewish Federations are Conservative Jews. In other words, those American Jews who are most engaged with Israel, Israel’s strongest advocates in the halls of Congress and on the world stage, are being told explicitly and implicitly that neither they, nor their children and grandchildren, are viewed as legitimate by the very country they so bravely support.

It would be a mistake to attribute the news of last week’s UN resolution solely to the behavior of an outgoing American President – to differences of policy or personality between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations.

When future historians look back on this moment, the gap they will discuss will not just be the one between America and Israel, but between American Jewry and Israel.
Somewhere in all the political calculations, the American administration understood that a gap exists between the vast majority of American Jewry and the actions of Israel. American Jews are not citizens of Israel; it is not our place to tell Israelis how to govern their own country. But there is a moment, a moment in which we are living right now, that American Jewry’s historic reflexive support of Israel will no longer be a given.

American Jewry isn’t able to reconcile the dream of Israel as a liberal democracy and the death of the two-state solution; it is unable or unwilling to defend Israeli actions in the court of world or campus opinion. God help the person who criticizes a member of my family whom I love and loves me unconditionally, but for someone whose love for me is in question – well, that person, or in this case, that country will have to learn to fend for itself.

Anonymous said...

R. Cosgrove remarks Part 3

Now is the time for Israel and American Jewry to work together – taking steps, both substantive and symbolic, towards healing our relationship. As we near the one-year mark since the Kotel agreement, now is the time to show leadership, courage and determination to make sure the decision of the Israeli government is brought to completion.

On the question of funding non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel, on matters of marriage and personal status, on mikvaot and especially conversion – any and every step Israel can take towards cultivating a sense of arevut, of shared destiny – will send a powerful message.

It is a contradiction of Israel’s most basic premise and promise to allow Jewish identity to be defined by the most extreme segment of Israeli society. It is insulting to American Jewry when Mosaic, Israel’s bold initiative to bolster Jewish identity in the Diaspora, is overseen by an education ministry that opposes the recognition of Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Seeds must also be planted. If Israel is truly interested in the future of world Jewry, now is the time to include an understanding of all religious streams in Israeli curricula, to build bridges between Israeli and Diaspora Jews by way of mifgashim, mechina gap year programs, visits by Israeli MKs, mayors, and thought leaders to Conservative and Reform congregations and otherwise. The dialogue between Israeli and Diaspora Jewry must be inclusive, collaborative, transparent and done in a spirit of cooperation and pursuit of the collective welfare of the Jewish people.

As Jews, we are defined by our ability to see the world through the eyes of another and act accordingly. Ethically, in the words of Hillel, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow.” As a people, it is the ability to see a Jew elsewhere in the world, and say: “I could be you and you could be me.” The relationship between American Jewry and Israel will heal when and only when we begin to act upon the mutual obligations that come with ahavat Yisrael – a love of every Jew.
Like two strings on a violin, American Jewry and Israel, though separated by a distance, when touched by a bow, can make a beautiful sound together. Am echad im lev echad – one people with one heart; in dialogue and partnership, passionate stakeholders in a shared destiny.

Elliot Cosgrove is the Senior Rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue, Manhattan. The text is based on a speech given to the Knesset lobby for nation, religion and state alongside Knesset members Alisa Lavie, Elazar Stern and Jewish Agency head Natan Sharansky.

Anonymous said...

Does the horrible JFNA have any purpose what so ever other than to waste millions of our hard-earned dollars? This waste has become as big a scandal as any of the recent New York scandals in terms of lost dollars that were supposed to be expended for sacred purposes.

Anonymous said...

Richard, over all of this time that the National Agencies have literally been overlooked, then abandoned and now stolen from, has there been a peep from the leaders of these national agencies themselves? If so, we've seen none. Why are they not fighting for themselves? This is ridiculous from every perspective

Joel said...

Just saw this site for the first time . Sorry I have been serving as exec of a day school ever since National UJA merged with CJF .Your UJA leadership was incredible -but once the merger happened we lost our identity and purpose . We abrogated global communal vision with myopic and short sighted communal vision -and that allowed donors with special interests to run the roost .

Joel said...

As someone who worked with you 30 years ago I can truly attest to your passion,vision and commitment-
I saw the writing on the wall when UJA merged with CJF -it was then when we lost global vision and abrogated it to insular thinking -
Where donors called the shots -
JDC and the Jewish Agency became ghosts of there former selves -

RWEX said...


(1) Please feel free to contact me offline at; and (2) you have an awful lot of catching up to do!!