Perhaps the best/worst evidence of the abysmal failure of JFNA under a leadership embedded in the depths of failure is the GA 2017 which, a little over one month away, is reflecting the worst attendance...ever. The venue is a downtown hotel (yes, an LA hotel, not the LA Convention Center that was the central venue for the last General Assembly in that great City) is the smallest venue for a GA...ever; the number of vendors renting exhibition space the fewest...ever; and many rooms available if you wish to register. We all know the drill by now: fill the seats with day school and Hillel students, offer freebies to locals, proclaim there are 3,000 (always 3,000!!!) "in attendance." This bogus number is really nothing less than proof of failure.
JFNA has secreted away $100,000s of thousand ($250,000 in this year's [or was itlast year's] Budget alone) to protect against the annual abject failure of GA after GA, but, it appears, beyond "marketing" a theme -- Venture Further -- that only Jerry Silverman could believe means anything, that no creative thought was given to how make the GA the success that it once was -- mirroring the inability by JFNA's leaders to give any thought to making JFNA what it once was. (Yes, I do mean, UJA and CJF.)
There will be speakers and presenters -- many, many of them, most yet to be identified on the Program, but they will include philanthropists like Michael Milken and Peter Lowy, Jerry Silverman (who will offer a Plenary "Words of Wisdom" -- OMG!!), a "veteran cause marketer," "Richard Sandler will share his views on the Jewish future" and Steven M. Cohen, Arnie Eisen, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell will return once again. There is also a whole bunch of Hollywood-related stuff on the Program that may be of interest...or not:
"You may know them from the big screen, but their rabbis know them from shul. Get to know the Jewish side of Hollywood as notable television and film celebrities engage in conversation, live, with their rabbis."As Richard Sandler pointed out in a Memo this week: "The GA program is filled with many unique speakers and discussion topics at the top of our communal agenda. We will have several opportunities to venture further into the future of Jewish education, philanthropy, and our community — taking The Federation Movement farther than ever before." So, there's that.
There are some ponies in there; you just have to dig them out.
Travel back with me to the last Los Angeles GA. On the cusp of its kick-off, an excellent program under an excellent, dedicated Chair, was literally kidnapped by the Large City Executives and totally reoriented to an Israel focus. The Chair, a wonderful philanthropist and leader, resigned, forced out in reality, and, in this writer's opinion, any number of GA "regulars" were so turned off that they have never returned -- and JFNA has never asked a simple survey question of the now annual missing -- "what would it take to bring you back to the General Assembly?"
For now, the construct of an annual GA is dead, with JFNA's lay and professional leaders performing the last rites. We just do it because we've always done it; with the annual counter: if we cancel we will lose our hotel deposit (which has been proved false by the actual cancellation of a GA scheduled for Houston). Lay leadership have voted with their feet. Your federation and mine draw more to a single fund raising dinner, with more excitement, than JFNA can attract to a GA. How can that be; how inept are the current leadership? Yes, rhetorical questions all.
Friends, I am absolutely convinced that our leaders have been hiding the financial catastrophe that the GA is by playing Budget games to which none of us are privy. I would guess the accumulated losses could be in the millions.
I'm certain that the information to disprove my these here is deemed "confidential" by the Board Chair, if he knows and I know he cares.