Friends, apparently there is no one in power willing to ask the questions: "Who are we? What are we? What can we be? What should we be?" In a front page article in the New York Times on the decline of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, a past Chair of a Met Department lamented:
"It's a tragedy to see a great institution in decline. To have inherited a museum as strong as the Met was 10 years ago -- with a great...staff -- and to have it be what it is today is unimaginable."This "tragedy" at the Met is not so different from the tragedy, often the farce, that is JFNA and too many federations today.
I find this situation at 25 Broadway and in the board rooms of many federations too ugly to ignore. I cannot look away much as I have been counseled to do so. I have lost friendships over these publications but I have always believed that sometimes it's better to die on your feet than it is to live on your knees. Others...many...disagree.
Sometimes I conclude that JFNA leaders aren't tone deaf. They hear us; they see the abject mediocrity that has become baked in to the JFNA cake. They simply don't care enough to do anything about the mess that they have either (a) created or (b) perpetuated. To do the hard work necessary to clean up this mess would require the kind of hard work for which they didn't volunteer.
Then, at other times, I conclude that JFNA's leaders are tone deaf -- that they have emerged as unresponsive to the needs of the federations they should be serving. At those times I sense that the federations have begun...finally...to notice.
As I have chronicled the daily farce of our leaders who have made an obsession out of claiming it's sunny when we are inundated with rains...with floods...I admit to literally grasping at straws of hope when to others it has become obvious there is none...none at all. In advance, on these pages we have observed the collapse of the historic partnership bequeathed to JFNA that cried out for greater support for our overseas partners; the collapse of community consulting; the abandonment of Financial Resource Development; the futility that would be the Global Planning Table; the abandonment, as well, of collective
responsibility; the pile of consultants unheard of in Jewish organizational life, their contracts held in secrecy under a false claim of confidentiality; the organization which should be their champion abandoning the cadre of communal professionals almost totally; and the need for a total...complete...overhaul of the annual General Assembly which has been abandoned by lay leadership which have voted by their lack of interest for something new, important and different; among so much else.
I have identified two critical foci of failure: (1) a CEO who was asked to lead the JFNA professional effort with neither the background nor the experience to do so and who, after 7+ years, is no better equipped intellectually or practically to do so; and (2) a laity too distracted by bright shiny objects of no value, to effect change in any way. Together they have made of JFNA the "kingdom of douchedom" a sad circus. Under this lack of leadership at every level JFNA has been permitted to take heterodoxy into the secular realm with neither a plan nor a clue.
So, let's get back to that framing question: "why bother?" The answer comes from a sense of representations to all of those to whom I, and others, induced the acceptance of the merger now closing in on two decades ago -- representations incorporated into the merger documents themselves -- that I and others have seen abandoned. The answer for me flows from the values that have inspired me in decades of Jewish leadership -- that I and others have seen abandoned.
A great American once said: "[O]ur lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." Against rational judgment, I have chosen not to"...become silent about things that matter."