Because our leaders don't talk about it, most of us don't know that in the past year the number of Jewish Federations has reduced from 155 to 148 across the Continent. In fact, since the formation of what has become JFNA, there has been a more or less steady erosion in the number of federated communities -- not even counting those like San Diego which still carry the name "Federation" but are no longer so. Sure, there have been a few mergers -- there should be more (the Minneapolis and St. Paul federations come to mind), but more and more communities, in the face of declining campaigns and a lack of JFNA support or counsel, have come to the conclusion that they can no longer support a CEO let alone a staff let alone JFNA Dues, and have opted out -- becoming members of the ineffective, unrepresentative Network of Independent Communities.
We remember the days when JFNA's Consulting Services Department was held in high regard within many communities for its intervention and counsel. As a holdover from one of the most critical functions of the Council of Jewish Federations, when terrific, creative professionals out of CJF headquarters and a small number of regional offices, were offering counsel daily to the federations, into this JFNA where a diminished Department was held in such esteem internally that Howard Rieger at one time chose to subsume FRD under its wings,* Consulting Services had so cratered under JFNA Jerry as to have no Director and no staff. This void has meant that senior JFNA professional leaders -- e.g., Mark Gurvis and Brian Abrahams -- are serving a community consulting function in addition to the jobs they were hired to perform and the organization's search for a new Director of Community Consulting promises that that hire will report to Renee Rothstein, the estimable Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications, exactly the wrong round hole for this square peg.
Yes, once again, JFNA gives every evidence that its leaders neither know what the organization is doing, what it is not doing, nor what it is supposed to be doing. Inasmuch as its professional leadership appear to be wandering aimlessly in a wilderness of its own making, one would hope that its laity would step in and create a change environment. But...of course not; they just can't be bothered. Instead JFNA is like the pinball in one of that ancient arcade games, ricocheting off every wall, bouncing from one thing to another while bells ring and whistles blow...eventually landing in the gutter.
Perhaps the best/worst of JFNA is captured in two very recent moments in time: in one Richard Sandler...that's JFNA Board Chair Richard Sandler...said: "Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do;” and then there's Richard Sandler...that's JFNA Board Chair Richard Sandler...quoted in his official capacity in support of the President's controversial nominee for Ambassador to Israel. This is our leader and these might explain JFNA's continuing confusion and its irrelevance.
I'd like to think that there are among the lemmings a few (two, one?) leaders who see what is/is not going on, the lack of any established purpose(s) -- that the Emperor has no clothes. For those, try to remember that the truth will not only set you free, it will set the organization free. It would be nice if Richard Sandler were that leader but, frankly, he can't be bothered with the one action that might -- it's "might" I admit, not "will" -- turn the organization around or, at least, at last point it in the right direction. I speak with many JFNA Board members who all -- not just one or two, all -- recognize that the return on their community's "investment" in JFNA (and for some that investment is in the millions) has not been and will not be commensurate with that investment...
...in any way.
* Rieger's motivation appeared to be two-fold: to eliminate the holdover FRD "silo" from the UJA era and to force Vicki Agron, then FRD's lead professional, out of the organization. In the end, while he eventually accomplished the latter, he effectively so diminished FRD within JFNA that it became totally ineffective. The consolidation in any event totally failed. My own objection to it, in a private letter to Rieger, ultimately resulted in the beginning of my ostracization. So there's that.