So, at this moment in time, when advocacy, when making the case for funding the Jewish Agency's work was already in crisis as Federation allocations had already collapsed to the lowest levels in history, COVID-19 effectively shut down the federation funding "system." Anyone who does not understand that the impacts of the pandemic will include federations further turn inward in Dystopian ways, just cannot see what is happening in front of their very eyes.
Chevre, these are the worst of times.
In case you hadn't noticed, these are no longer the times of Max Fisher, z'l, or Marvin Lender, Richie Pearlstone, or of the beloved Rabbi Herb Friedman or Irving Bernstein. This is no longer the era of commanding figures who could or, more important, would rally the communities to a cause greater than themselves supported by the Steve Nasatirs, Steve Hoffmans and John Ruskays, by professionals who understood and could articulate the global needs of the Jewish People. Ain't nobody rallying anybody any more.
These are the times of a collapsed Keren Ha'Yesod, the fund-raising arm for the Jewish Agency around the world other than in the United States -- KH as it is called is a fund-raising arm that raises no funds yet retains its voting privileges for 20% of the Jewish Agency Board. KH's Board includes some wonderful leaders -- men and women who have served on the JAFI Board in some instances for at least 30 years. (Did I mention the funds they raise barely covers the Keren Ha'Yesod organization's overhead leaving almost nothing to allocate to JAFI itself?) Some -- the Koschitzky Family comes to mind -- demonstrate their commitment annually in beautiful ways but KH lay and professional leadership have wholly failed to leverage the signifcant gifts KH has received to broaden the base and increase the pot.
And, lurking always, is the WZO, the World Zionist Organization, surely one of the most bizarre and controlling shadows in organized Jewish life. A decade ago the Jewish Agency leadership determined to reform its organizational structure and eliminate the WZO's particpation in its governance. Placing the negotiation of that reorganization in clearly the wrong hands, JAFI traded millions in annual grants to the WZO in consideration of which the WZO gave up its power to elect JAFI officers -- there was no change in WZO's ownership of the JAFI Board for the WZO continued and continues to appoint 50% of the Board and control 50% of the ownership of JAFI, 50% of the vote and contributes not a dollar to JAFI's Budget. And, in the decade since this a "worst deal of the century," WZO has positioned itself as a direct competitor of the Jewish Agency because: (1) they can; and (2) in Israel "conflict of interest" doesn't appear to exist even as a concept.
This balagan leaves the Jewish Agency facing a most serious financial crisis approaching the catastrophic. Let's review: allocations from the federations through JFNA will approach collapse after year-after-year low point after low point; funding from Keren Ha'Yesod will also reach a nadir; the WZO will continue to fund only its own activities, many of which conflict with the Jewish Agency's own work. This will leave JAFI at the mercy of the Government of Israel and the funds it allocates to the Agency's work on the Goverment's behalf. And, lurking like an immense black cloud over all of this is the JAFI pension debt obligation; the debt about which no one speaks.
Can anything be done to avert the financial catastrophe? I have some thoughts, of course. Ignoring for the moment feasibility:
- In partnership with the Government of Israel:
- Restructure JAFI's ownership
- Eliminate WZO's ownership, control and appointment power while retaining and assuring JAFI Board membership for Zionist and religious movement constituencies through direct election;
- The 50% balance of members will be prorated based upon the financial contributions of the federations and KH to the Jewish Agency Budget
- Restructure JAFI's Pension Obligations:
- The GOI to assume the current Pension indebtedness
- Going forward, the Pension offered Agency employees will be consistent with best current business practices
- Borrow the funds necessary to support a JAFI 3 year Budget
- In partnership with the JAFI JFNA Board members:
- Develop a plan for budget advocacy among and within the federations
- Create and fund the implementation of an annual FRD plan through an invigorated JAID/JAFI NA
- Led by capacity gifts from the JA Board Chair and Officers, begin an emergency campaign
- In partnership with the JAFI KH Board members, begin an emergency fund-raising campaign to support JAFI's work and Budget; and
- Restructure KH governance to create term limits
Ein breira, my friends...ein breira.