Sunday, August 13, 2017


I can't put my finger on the exact moment in time when the commitment of JFNA and the federations to the core, foundational principle of "collective responsibility" collapsed in the organization that was created in part, at the least, to strengthen it. It might have been at any of these points:

  1. In the second year of the merger when a single federation breached the agreement all federations had committed to maintain core allocations at their merger level for two years and not a single protest was sounded; within months these allocations commitments had toppled like dominoes;
  2. In the 4th year of the merger when neither unanimity nor even consensus could be reached on binding federations to a minimal level of core allocations support as part of a reform of the JFNA Dues formula;
  3. Over more than a decade the Jewish Federations-National Agencies Alliance weakened, collective support for the legacy national agencies slowly (and now rapidly) evaporated;
  4. When a JFNA Board Chair was elected from a community that owed JFNA over $1 million in unpaid allocations;
  5. In the basic premise of the failed "Signature Initiatives" promoted by JFNA as the "singular achievement" of the disastrous Global Planning Table which subscribed to the concept of "coalitions of the willing" -- small numbers of federations engaging in small numbers of projects, effectively standing the very definition of "collective response" on its head. Even today, 2+ years after the total demise of the GPT, the remaining "Initiative," the I-rep while operational, remains millions of dollars from its funding goals, and engages but a small percentage of the total federation population;
  6. When federation and JFNA leaders set a "red line"which would not be crossed without consequences while debating the setting  a minimum Overseas allocation requirement as a condition of JFNA membership over and above Dues and, then, agreed to a "best efforts" minuscule level of commitment without consequences that has never been applied in practice since its adoption -- the "red line" evaporated as if never articulated; 
  7. And at other points, large and small, contributing to the basic conclusion that...
...the leadership of JFNA does not even comprehend the meaning of "collective responsibility." Here is the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet's application of the term:
"We believe in the collective -- the ideas that our Federation movement is stronger when we work together, and everyone is invited to play a role in fashioning and imagining the Jewish future. 
We experience the profound sense of 'the collective' full-on here at the Retreat, where more than 200 young leaders feed off each other's ideas, energy and curiosity."
JFNA has rebranded "collective responsibility" by simply removing the word "responsibility" from the brand.  And, this walkaway has been led by the organization created to protect and enhance that very "responsibility." For the CEO's Session at the Cabinet Retreat, Silverman would speak to: "Federation believes in a collective responsibility to embrace every member of the Jewish community as part of our extended family." Silverman didn't understand "collective responsibility" when he was engaged by JFNA; he doesn't understand it now; so, instead, he has led in the rebranding/redefinition effort reducing "responsibility" to cliche, to pablum, to the nothingness that it and JFNA have become.

How can Federation leaders look to an organization that clearly doesn't understand its own responsibilities to advocate and lead the communities in fulfillment of theirs? Some of you have suggested that the path to be taken would require the mass resignation of JFNA's lay and professional leaders and their succession by women and men who would move the organization forward in a recommitment to the original goals of the merger. And that would be great but for the pre-condition to such actions of a self-awareness that the laity has never before demonstrated. 

The condition of JFNA today, its abandonment of principle and purpose, reminds me of the
cruel joke circulating in 1998:
"...two aging US diplomats are shown sitting on a park bench in Washington, studying a newspaper filled with news of the war in Lebanon. One of the State Department veterans shakes his head sadly and says: 'It wouldn't have happened if Warren Christopher was alive.'"
The "joke" --Warren Christopher at the time was "still alive." It would be great today if Richard Sandler along with the federation professionals who clearly understand how badly drastic surgery is needed showed some life, proved that as to JFNA they are "still alive."

Without their taking responsibility there is no responsibility.



Anonymous said...

"A self-awareness that the laity has never before demonstrated" - and therein lies the real problem. An incompetent CEO, even after 8+ years of on the job training, and a board that has a long history of sitting back, doing nothing and letting a handful of LCE's call the shots.

THE MODEL IS BROKEN. New leadership (lay and professional) won't help. Perhaps building a new national organization from the ground-up will; but that is doubtful. There are way too many competing interests - and competing egos - for any type of success.

Anonymous said...

Do we model the "power of the collective" in our home communities? Do we give sufficient attention to empowering our boards and strengthening the lay/professional partnership? In some places maybe yes, in many places probably not so much.Whatever JFNA, or any national Jewish organization, is it is in part a mirror of a culture that starts on the local level.

pqul jeser said...

The question is... Which is going to come first.... A plan and action to fix this serious issue, or, the coming of the Moshiach?

Dan Brown said...

Paul, I think the Moshiach.

Anonymous said...

Why should anyone be surprised? This has to do with much, much larger forces at work in the US and the world today.

--There are growing popular revolts against the collective in this country. No-one wants to pay any taxes (well, at least until a hurricane devastates their area and then they belatedly beg for assistance). Everyone wants to make "Shabbat" for themselves (and you get what you pay for). Corporations and the right wing are trying to demolish the collective of the unions. Hello, Walmart. Oh, and remember those things called pensions? You'll have to teach your kids about what they were.

JFNA is a very, very small drop in the bucket here.

Anonymous said...

Yes, JFNA has been allowed to become "a very, very small drop in the bucket" but that is not what has to be. The federations need a strong continental organization that will lead, advocate and program with excellence; it was created to be the moral center of the federations -- and it is none of these things under this leadership. Richard has been to generous in not ascribing to Richard Sandler, David Brown, David Butler, Cynthia Shapiro and the Large City Executives the responsibility to make the changes necessary to change JFNA for the better. That starts with Jerry Silverman's immediate departure. That is where the blame lies -- all of these do-nothings should resign. NOW.

Anonymous said...

we can still affect change at the national level with the current leadership doing anything. everyone who writes in frustration, get your federation to hold off paying dues. If 25% 0r 30% of federations start withholding dues the changes will come.

Anonymous said...

Feds should get back to collectively tossing cash into the big black Jewish Agency hole than all will return to normal. Massive donor attrition will reverse. Thousands of young people will suddenly reconnect because of the power of doing exactly what the system did pre-merger. We can get a great expert on Jewish life with minimal Exec experience to replace Silverman. GAs will be overflowing because the case for giving like we used to will reignite the whole Jewish worlc. Brilliant!

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I've learned all I need to know from the Mount Rushmore of Jewish Life---Jeser, Brown, Windmueller and Wexler.

Paul jeser said...

I'm honored to be among D.Brown, S.Windmueller, and R.Wexler. :-)

Dan Brown said...

To anon at 11:10 -You insult others and hide behind anonymous? Shame you lack courage to self-identify. And presumably you are a leader? Ha! Ha! Ha!

Anonymous said...

I"m with Anon 10:05-withhold dues for lack of service delivery and things will happen.
Regarding the collective in individual federations, I think that Anon 8:27 is off the mark when she says that the collective is dead in the individual federations. They may be struggling with their marketing efforts to remain relevant and they may have challenges with raising resources each year, but I do believe that at the heart of their efforts is the concept of being the convener of their collective Jewish community.

Anonymous said...

Thanks to the last Anon for bringing us back to the topic. And thanks to Jerry for the two Anonymous comments at 11:08 and 11:10 last night.

Anonymous said...

Without the ability to rouse us to collective action; without even understanding the moral imperative to do so; without any assistance to our communitiesother than DC (and "we'll get back to you" but never do doesn;t count); with no interest in producing substantively important General Assemblies; without relevance all JFNA is is a colelction agent and a conduit. We don't need this albatross any longer. WE DON'T NEED THIS JFNA AT ALL.