Thursday, August 9, 2018


I was recently reminded of that moment in American history when President Eisenhower, on the cusp of his retirement, warned America about the dangers of the "military-industrial complex" by a warning to his community from a retiring Federation CEO appearing in the San Diego Jewish World. It was an enlightened warning -- one applicable to almost every community across the continent.

Michael Sonduck, retiring after 6 years as the CEO of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County (and in other roles, including COO, for years prior thereto) spoke to the need for leaders "of some 120 local Jewish look beyond their individual organizations and put the welfare of the overall Jewish community first."

Sonduck observed:
"Many years ago, the Jewish Federation was the umbrella Jewish agency in San Diego County, with the funds it raised being allocated by its board for local needs, help for overseas Jewish communities, and aid for Israel.  There was a “primacy” period when other Jewish organizations refrained from fundraising to permit Federation to conduct its campaigns.  That no longer is the case.  Once there was a time when the main agencies of the Jewish community (Jewish Family Service, Seacrest Village Retirement Communities, Lawrence Family JCC, Hillel, and the Agency for Jewish Education) and the Jewish day schools (Soille, Chabad, San Diego Jewish Academy) could anticipate automatic grants from the Federation.  That is also no longer the case.  Today, agencies, day schools, synagogues, and other Jewish organizations raise funds for their own projects year round, while ever more Jewish organizations spring up, with competition for the Jewish dollar becoming that much keener..."
And, more:
“"'When the prosperity of any one organization within our community becomes more important than the overall community, the seeds of failure will have been set in motion,' he said.  'It may well be irreversible.'”
 and, yet, there it is. The Federation in San Diego has been reduced, on the CEO and his predecessor's watch, to "second class status" behind (rather than next to) the community foundation which, though led by past federation leadership, views itself as in heated competition with the federation itself.

Worse, Sonduck observed:
“'As a result of the competitive landscape in which we live,'” he added, “'there is public divisiveness, name calling, and an utter disregard for civil discourse in our community.  Are we really served by our western-gunslinger, every-man-for-himself-or-herself culture?  As you know already, I don’t think so.'"
And, while he concluded with an expression of hope, the retiring CEO offered no remedies: 
“'Without raising our eyes to see the whole community, we will not see the path to their solution,'” he said. “'We must dedicate our zeal to the whole community regardless of the board on which we are members, or who pays our salary, or which synagogue we belong to, or whether we believe that one should never criticize Israel in public, or whether we believe that as in a loving family, we should call out our brethren when they don’t live up to our shared vision.'”
 As one who has watched the San Diego Federation go through the agonies of major changes over the decades to its reduced communal status today where it has chosen (or acquiesced) to be but a conduit for its dwindling number of donors' funding choices rather than as the central address of the Jewish community, one can only hope that its leaders were listening to its CEO's farewell address not the actions taken over the decades.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You failed to note that Sonduck succeeded to the CEO role while the devastating changes were already in place. Now, there is another "plan" which a new CEO will inherit and with which that CEO will have to deal. Every word that Sonduck spoke should resonate everywhere.