Friday, August 29, 2008
BASKETS FROM ETHIOPIA (BASED ON A TRUE STORY)
1. An e-mail
"Operation Promise is bringing the last group of Ethiopian Jews to Israel, where they will weave their traditions into the fabric of Israeli society. As we work together to fulfill this promise, we offer you a chance to own a piece of authentic Ethiopian culture.
A mesob is a unique, handmade, vibrantly colored woven table on which meals are traditionally served. Consider placing a mesob in your office as a decorative and useful side table, as is or with a piece of glass on top. At home, a mesob makes a great nightstand or coffee table. Take off the lid and use it as a dining table for two, as the Ethiopians do. Or turn it upside down and use it for storage.
The baskets are appropriately 3 ft. tall and 2 ft. in diameter, and they are natural straw with red, green and yellow. The cost is $360 per basket, and all proceeds will go the Operation Promise campaign. Click here to order a mesob." (an e-mail from UJC, 10 February 2006)
2. One Year Earlier
"Hey, have I got a great idea. I touched base with one of those consultants hired in the UJC Offices in Jerusalem, and did we come up with an incredible marketing scheme. To stimulate interest in the plight of the Ethiopians and in their potential resettlement in Israel, we are going to have them make really nice native baskets, 200 "mesobs" as they call them, which we will then sell to the North American Federations as a symbol of our hope for and promise to the Ethiopian community. I'm telling you this is the greatest idea for fund-raising ever -- even better that that idea a few years ago during the First Intifada to have our donors pay for "a pizza and a Pepsi" for the Israeli soldiers at the Lebanese border -- let's all buy a mesob.
Here's the plan. We're going to have Ethiopians in the camps in their country, where they are subsisting on a starvation diet, at best, make these baskets. They are going to look great -- every Federation is going to want to buy one at $500 (ed., so now it's marked down to $360. It's still a big profit item because we're paying the Ethiopians $50 and a pair of Nikes per piece ) a mesob and put it in their Federation building lobby. First I am going to have them shipped to UJC headquarters in NYC and then we will take a whole bunch to the Toronto where, at the November 2005 General Assembly, 1000's of people will be lined up to buy them. I almost guarantee that this idea will be the catalyst for the Operation Promise Campaign (which isn't really taking off). Is this going to be great!!!
And, on top of this, we are going to have tens of thousands of sticks, branches and twigs from Ethiopia delivered to the Toronto Convention Center in conjunction with the GA where we will bring in three Ethiopians to build three traditional huts (called messohs) that will vividly bring to the attention of Federation leaders from across North America the conditions under which our Ethiopian mishpacha are living. I'm telling you this is going to kick off Operation Promise, the $160 million effort to, among other things, bring the remnant Ethiopian Falas Mura community to Israel in ways that, until I came up with this incredible idea, could not have been possible. Can you picture it -- little Ethiopians building huts with wealthy North American Jews watching -- is this ever great?!! (Ed, this is not to be confused with wealthy North American Jews building teepees. In its August 3, 2007, edition, The Forward, reported -- "Bronfman corrals big names for cushy confab in Utah" -- as follows: Park City, Utah - A strange thing happened in Utah this week. Some 40 leading Jewish academics, writers, rabbis and professionals descended on the mountains of Park City where, among other things, they built teepees. Although the media wasn't invited to watch the experience, which was concluded as a 'team building experiment' by the outdoor company running it, plenty of kvetching could be heard afterward.") I'm thinking that Howard Rieger, our CEO, probably thinks I'm a genius; I'll probably get a promotion. I'll make him think it was his idea; maybe he'll write one of those great Views about this.
3. More Recently
Okay, so it's over one year later and no one is really thrilled with my plan. We abandoned the idea of Ethiopians building huts at the General Assembly when some small thinking people didn't think it was appropriate to have Ethiopian Falas Mura building what looks like slave quarters on the floor of the Exhibition Hall. What do those people know about marketing?
Then, the baskets started arriving at 111 Eighth Avenue, UJC Headquarters, last fall and are they ever fantastic -- of course, they look like something we could have bought at Pier One and they could have been made in Mexico, but, hey, we can attest to their authenticity. They are filling every nook and cranny, every hallway, at UJC. Baskets here, mesobs there and everywhere. Oh, and they smell.
It's a remarkable sight because these are really big baskets -- I mean, huge. The Ethiopians use them as a dining table. Usually it takes, as I understand it, over a year to make just one of these things but, with our money (oh, make that your money), we were able to expedite the manufacture of these handmade baskets over a matter of just a couple of weeks. I still think every federation is going to want at least one. I want one and would have bought one but, unfortunately, my wife saw one in my office and suggested it was either me or a mesob. In fact, our Chief Operating Officer wants one for his own home; wants to eat off of it like the Ethiopians do -- if you saw one of these things, you could hardly picture a group gathered around this basket eating, but I guess anything is possible.
So far, I am sorry to say. federations haven't expressed any interest whatsoever in buying a mesob or even taking one for free. What do they know about fund raising or marketing? They're still in the 20th century. In fact, our own UJC Marketing Department thinks this is and was a stupid idea -- but what do they know? I have discussed this problem with Howard Rieger; he believes the failure to get these baskets into the marketplace is further evidence of the silos we have not yet torn down here at UJC. He says he is going to do a real reorganization at UJC so we can move these things out. That's going to be fantastic!!
We've had kind of a tragedy. Penny, one of the UJC Secretaries, just walking through one of the halls here at Headquarters that were filled with these baskets, was bitten by a spider -- an Ethiopian spider, a toxic bite. She was placed on an IV at a hospital in New York City. Some chacham now thinks we should get these baskets fumigated -- I argued against it as it might detract from the baskets' authenticity. Risking one or two lives to achieve our goals for Operation Promise seems an appropriate and acceptable risk. Then we learned that the New York City Department of Health won't permit us to use the proper pesticides because of their potential toxicity even though this one incident was from an Ethiopian spider bite. The pesticide we need to use is too strong, they tell us-- but, what do they know? So, now we are shipping these hundreds of baskets for fumigation to New Jersey where, of course, they don't care about pesticides. Our COO thinks this is all a bad idea because who would eat food out of a basket after it has been treated with pesticides. I agree with him, the pesticide idea is a bad one. We are putting the entire project at risk because of one toxic -- uh,oh make that two toxic spider bites. Let's show some leadership here.
At the end of the day, this isn't going very well but, what the heck, it wasn't my idea anyway -- it was Wexler's!! (And deep discounts are available -- we have to get these out of here -- we'll pay you to take one.)"
During Chanukah of that year, I returned to Chicago from a vacation to find a huge box in my office. One of my dear friends at UJC had sent me a gift. I opened the box -- it was a mesob. I fell on the floor, crying with laughter...then I felt it bite me.....
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
"RE: URGENT ENP FUNDING NEEDS
I am writing to urge you to maximize the funding of the Ethiopian National Project, either from your federation's resources or from your community's donors.
As I wrote last month, the ENP's impact on those it serves has been independently verified, and it is extraordinarily impressive.
Yet the ENP today is serving far too few students (8,000 out of a potential 16,000), and the funding for half of those kids (including training and employment of their 240 Ethiopian-Israeli teachers) is in jeopardy. The reason: Israel Emergency Campaign funding expanded service into the North and elsewhere -- but now those funds are spent. The ENP needs $10 million, half of which must come from the North American Jewish community.
On August 15, Rabbi Michael Melchior, a Knesset member and chair of its Education, Culture and Sports Committee, met with me to deliver a message to our system. Cutting the ENP would be a 'national crime,' he said.
This is not Rabbi Melchior's view alone. I have sent you the Myers-JDC-Brookdale Study, which details quantitatively the ENP's deep impact. Israel's Minister of Education, Yuli Tamir, echoes that conclusion in her July 22 letter, which is attached. I am also attaching a powerful letter, at once passionate and factual from the leaders of Israel's Ethiopian community.
Please work with us in raising the funds needed to continue the ENP at the necessary level. Look at your own resources, speak to donors who might be able to help, and call on us. We are eager to help in any way, including in the solicitation of any donors. We can't let these kids down..."
A truly passionate ask for more funds for a critical program. I have been honored to serve on the ENP Board from its birth. I applauded UJC when, as part of the ONAD request, in its second year, aked for additional ENP funding in the form of a 5% increase over the prior year's federation allocation -- Chicago responded; as did Houston. Howard was leading Pittsburgh then -- neither his community nor almost any other responded. The ENP does need additional funding desperately. Of course, nowhere does Rieger reference the fact that the ENP today and since its founding has been funded by JAFI and JDC with, essentially, our federation dollars -- maybe he isn't aware. And, maybe he has forgotten that JAFI and JDC are suffering tremendous deficits -- or maybe he isn't aware.
Forget for a moment that this letter is no way to raise money -- it suggests the writer may have forgotten how you do so. Some facts: about ten weeks ago, Rieger made an ask of the Federations for, among other requests for additional funding beyond dues, additional ENP support -- as I recall, for an additional million or so per year for three years. There was no budget data accompanying the request, as was the case yesterday, it is an ask, now, for an additional $5 million. This "ask" at a time when the UJC Georgian-Russian Crisis Mailbox is practically bare, when the UJC has asked, with no follow-up after an allocation decision , for an additional $13 million-plus for the Victims of Terror in Southern Israel knowing there were no fund available, etc., etc. The only difference between the ENP "ask" and those for the Mailbox and Victims of Terror, is that the latter were approved in a UJC process, the ENP ask is Howard's, and his alone -- no process, no discussion, no debate, no prioritizing. Howard Rieger has decided that the ENP needs $5 million from our federations and that is enough, in his mind, to ask for it, disconnected from every other priority or non-priority at UJC.
This is not just incredible, it is nuts. What federation in North America would permit its CEO to solicit donors for massive funding for a pet project with no process whatsoever? And what would federation lay leadership do when a CEO makes his own ask for massive funding for something he/she deeply cares about without regard to all other federation needs? The question is rhetorical -- that CEO would be gone. Let's say that a federation CEO believed that his/her federation isn't allocating enough to day school education and unilaterally with no process sends a letter to his/her community's donors seeking millions from them. What happens to that CEO? What is the difference between that federation CEO doing private fund raising among federation donors and Rieger doing fund raising among UJC's "donors," the federations? Disarray, anyone? Do even long-time supporters observe a problem here, a CEO run amuck, an institution run amuck?
I'll ask again: if ENP emergency funding is one of UJC's most critical priorities -- apparently, to the CEO, the most critical -- why isn't UJC's own Budget a source for this emergency funding. Why is there nothing more than a Memorandum to Federation Executives? Why, if the Israel Overseas Council means anything, was this not a matter of discussion on its agenda yesterday? (If it was, forgive me.) Why was this not a matter worthy of discussion on last week's Executive Committee call?
Once again, UJC acts in a manner that demonstrates a lack of institutional credibility and a total lack of internal institutional accountability. This is not Charles Bronfman determining where to spend his Foundation's resources; this is an employed UJC professional deciding what federation priorities should be and competing with the other asks he has made without regard for the system's priorities. What thought could possibly have been given to this outreach? "Trust us," they say. Sure
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Let's look at the facts -- while critics of the annual campaign constantly reference its "(decline) in constant dollars," the reality is that federation annual campaigns have grown by $300,000,000 in actual dollars since UJC was formed. Combined with the growth of federation endowments, the federations do "remain philanthropic leaders in the 21st century." The life blood of federations remains the annual campaign -- to dismiss it -- because of the "constant dollar" argument, the reality that the number of donors has reduced by 300,000 over the last 15 years, etc. -- and then to conclude that the "initiative in shaping the Jewish agenda has passed from federations to foundations and other, more dynamic organizations" suggests that this Commentator has already cast aside the federations as the central communal addresses and the central planning bodies for our communities. I haven't and won't and no UJC or federation lay or professional leader worthy of the title "leader" should either.
The mantra that UJC's "current problems are the result of waiting far too long to dismantle and integrate the old UJA fundraising apparatus into an organization truly focused on helping federations thrive.." rests on three false premises: (1) that "the old UJA" wasn't "truly focused on helping federations thrive;" (2) that the FRD structure within UJC resisted integration and (3) that UJC's current initiatives are "helping federations thrive." None of those conclusions are correct. Then, there is the familiar complaint that UJC was from the beginning afflicted with an excess of "process." Can anyone cite a single instance ...one...where an initiative flowing from UJC leadership down has been denied them because of "process"? This argument, like that about the lack of integration, is but an excuse for UJC's failures and the consequent and escalating waste of federations' and donors' resources, nothing more.
I may be wrong, I often am; this Commentator with fake name may be wrong -- but these matters should be the subjects of debate that takes place within UJC, within its Board. The reason the "debate," if that's what it is, takes place here, is that it's not taking place there. And, under this deservedly insecure UJC leadership, never will.
And that's the real pity.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Let's call UJC what it is -- a failed experiment -- and let's call it's current iteration "over." It can only be restarted with new lay and professional leaders at the top to realize upon what we had hoped it would be -- a place where best practices emerge, where the best and brightest in our federation system would find a home, a place of open debate and inclusivity at all levels, and where $500 million would be spent on federation wants and needs not wasted on the whims of a few leaders...a very few...some of whose whims seemingly change day-by-day. We need a place of accountability -- not alone accountability to our donors and federation owners but accountability to those of our People most in need who rely on us every hour of every day. We have none of this today.
I, and anyone else who has criticized this leadership's policies and management practices, has been accused of not supporting UJC, in their words "...undermining UJC." I have responded as you would expect: "I totally support what we intended UJC to be. What I can't support is what you are doing to UJC." The problem is that this leadership -- and this leadership alone --can't tell the difference.
The current Board Chair treats UJC as if it were a subsidiary of his family-owned business -- not a federation-owned philanthropic enterprise; the CEO is buffeted not just by this Blog, but by the constantly changing demands of the Chair (with no process and little thought) and actions the CEO himself has taken with no process -- either relying on his presumed support from a few Large City Executives or his belief that what he decides is in the best interests of the system. The result is the deconstruction I have addressed. Not all collective wisdom is within the grasp of the four or five leaders who are sometimes consulted, but not always, on UJC's ever-changing plans. The result is chaotic -- and more and more federations are going their own way.
Examples of how UJC, its leaders living in the bubble that protects them from the real federation world, has ignored the federations abound. Let me cite one glaring area that says it all. While Steve Hoffman was CEO, UJC would annually survey the federations -- kind of a "how are we doing" and "what can we do better" survey conducted by a respected Rochester, N.Y. research firm. The results over three years were pretty uniform -- the vast majority of respondents cited UJC's work in the Development area received the highest marks and the federations requested more help in the annual campaign are -- that is those federations outside of the Largest 19. When this group took office, our Chair announced publicly that UJC should no more engage with the annual campaigns -- the federations needs and wants be damned. The CEO, playing the good soldier, began his dismantling of the UJC Annual Campaign infrastructure. There was no federation ask for this marginalization/vaporization of the Annual Campaign, there was no research to support the shifting of millions of dollars to unproductive areas or that UJC focus on grand schemes/"big ideas" for Supplemental Campaigns. But onward UJC marched to the sound of its own drummers and the applause of the few leaders allowed within its circle of trust. Federations received no further annual campaign assistance, UJC's focus shifted to an unfocused "Organizational Strategy" filled with sound and fury, signifying nothing...nothing, except the expenditure of another $117 million in budget, more or less.
Yet, if you study UJC's successes, other than the Washington Office, they are Development/Campaign driven-activities -- the collaborative model (which has now been coopted by the consulting area) and events in the Development area -- the Lion Of Judah Conferences, the Young Leadership Cabinet Retreats, last year's Prime Minister's Mission, the Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Missions, etc., etc. This leadership is unable to connect the dots -- never has, ever will.
These leaders truly believe that a letter "asking" for more dollars for multiple asks is all it should take; that the reluctant creation of a Georgian-Russian Crisis Mailbox requires no advocacy for filling it (or that it's "someone else's "problem"); that "engagement" with federations means visiting them to advocate for UJC's budgets and to plead for "trust;" that e-mails to potential Registrants will create a full house for the 2008 Jerusalem GA (which is currently looking at a huge attendance and cash deficit); and on and on. By pushing away so many lay leaders from any sense of (let alone real) engagement, UJC has no one to call upon to visit federations, interact with fellow lay leaders, transmit the message (were there one). The l'etat c'est moi attitude has helped to deconstruct the organization.UJC was created to be the national address of its owners, the Jewish Federations of North America. Over the past 4 years, it has become, instead, the captive of an incredibly small group of insiders.
Yep, $500,000,000...$500,000,000!!!... and counting. And, what do the federations have to show for it?
Have a Shabbat shalom.
Tuesday, August 19, 2008
As I grew up in leadership in UJA, Stanley was at the helm of a thriving enterprise. He was a great correspondent in an age when correspondence meant a well-reasoned letter. He had a passion for the lay-professional partnership but, most of all, he had a passion for and a vision of the American Jewish community and the possibilities of and for our federations as the "system" that we have allowed to be misplaced somewhere along the way...and, in Stanley's memory, we must regain.
Stanley did not suffer fools and, therefor, those who he befriended and mentored along the way were particularly privileged. I know I was. He left the professional leadership of UJA far too soon. I valued his wisdom so much and as we moved through the merger process, my own hubris caused me to ignore his cautions and his wisdom to my current regret. His insights were spot on and my files include a sleeve containing his letters (and, later in life, his e-mails) filled with that wisdom, those insights and keen observations. Stanley was a remarkable leader as his legacy demonstrates.
To his family, certainly, and to his friends, Stanley was a man of great warmth, total integrity, absolute candor and a subtle sense of humor and, always, the warmest of smiles. My memories, our memories, of him will be for a blessing forever.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Just a few facts: since the birth of UJC, the aggregate of federation campaigns has increased to almost an annual $900,000,000, an increase of almost $300,000,000. During that same time, federation aggregate allocations to the Jewish Agency and JDC have decreased by close to $75,000,000. Let me repeat, annual campaigns have increased by almost $300 million, allocations have decreased by $75 million. Through an incredible misuse of statistics, UJC has announced that federations allocate $400 million annually -- but, when you look at the data honestly, it is clear that UJC has lumped together the IEC special campaign funding which represented a federation triumph and for JAFI/JDC a pass through of some $230 million -- none of the IEC dollars went to fund core or elective programs of either organization. This reality hasn't stopped UJC from pandering to its federation owners with a terribly false conclusion, known to UJC's (and some federations who have similarly trumpeted this line) to be false. As federation allocations from the Annual Campaign are American Jewry's sole support for the core -- the infrastructure -- of the Jewish Agency's and the Joint's work, that support had, by the time of the Georgian-Russian War been reduced to the point that both partners were anticipating the largest annual deficits in their respective glorious histories.
With the data of declining core/infrastructure allocations in front of them, UJC's lay and professional leaders turned their backs. They apparently believed that a single letter from them urging additional allocations support, a GA speech in Los Angeles and an isolated mention now and then in the Views was more than sufficient. They were/are wrong.
And, in their comprehensive analysis of UJC's failings, the Large City Executives March Report Refining UJC's Vision (as opposed to, as reported earlier in this Blog, redacted and rewritten by UJC resulting in its watered down version titled....Refining UJC's Vision. One for Ripley.), suppressed by UJC's leaders with the apparent acquiescence of the LCE themselves, the Execs admonished UJC for its marginalization of the Annual Campaign and demanded that the National Campaign Chair's leadership role be restored to its former stature and with the role, the status of Campaign/Development be restored within UJC's structure. This was not to be. UJC's leaders unilaterally had determined -- why, we will never know -- that the annual campaign would be diminished, period. When the sitting National Campaign Chair, David Fisher, a Next Generation mega-donor, refused a traditional second year, UJC's leaders asked him to (a) keep it to himself, (b) not reveal the underlying reasons for his decision beyond family and business and (c) continuously returned to David to plead with him to take the second year. Ultimately realizing that returning time and again to David was not going to be productive, these same UJC leaders returned time and again to others, who will go nameless here to protect the innocent, and were rejected time and again. I am certain these federation leaders said no because they realized that UJC's Board Chair's and CEO's representations to the contrary, their actions -- deprecating the Annual Campaign publicly and privately, cutting the Development budget drastically, unilaterally shifting Development functions to the totally unplanned "Center for Jewish Philanthropy," attempting to coopt the Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors 2008 Mission, forcing out the two top Development professionals in 2007, and more -- suggested no support, none. The sad result, for the first time in my years of engagement, The Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Mission went with no National Campaign Chair, the Young Leadership Cabinet Retreat, no National Campaign Chair, the Jewish Leadership Forum, no National Campaign Chair. Pitiful.
With the above factual context -- increasing federation annual campaigns, drastic decreases in federation allocations to JAFI/JDC core/infrastructure, no national advocacy for core, diminished UJC Budget support for Annual Campaign development -- we turn to measure the incredible conclusions in Friday's Howard's View.
This week's exercise in ingenious disingenuousness began in Howard's View as follows: "...our federation system has a proud record of leveraging our Annual Campaign-funded programs worldwide when crises hit. (If anyone reading this knows what UJC meant by this, please help me to understand in the context of the Russian-Georgian crisis.) Our UJC/federation-funded partners. JAFI and (JDC) ... relied on their existing infrastructure to move into action." Apparently, Howard was asserting that but for federation allocations, neither JAFI nor JDC would have an infrastructure. Then Howard goes on about JDC using a van to deliver emergency provisions and JAFI bringing 30 refugees to Israel, remarkably reducing both organizations' emergency efforts on the ground to trivia. This led that author to emphasize the need for core -- as if UJC was advocating for the core or fighting to grow it rather than letting core allocations diminish without even a reference or a whimper. (Curiously, from the start of the crisis, where 7,000 to 12,000 Jewish lives are literally in the balance, UJC's Chair of Israel/Overseas, on more than one occasion, referenced this crisis as "good for the Annual Campaign" and urged that the crisis be made a feature of the 2009 Campaign seemingly failing to even comprehend that Annual Campaign dollars will be allocated by 155 federations [presumably including her own] sometime in Spring 2009 when emergency funds are desperately needed now.) Let's be clear: neither JAFI nor JDC have the requisite core dollars in an era where the core has been reduced by $75 million to deal with this crisis any more than UJC, whose bloated budget has been reduced by $3.2 million, has budget dollars for, apparently, any matter of urgency -- be it the Georgia-Russia crisis, the ENP, the IAI, and on and on.
Without ever connecting the dots between the Annual Campaign and allocations, the Friday View jumped to the continued vitality of the Annual Campaign as evidenced in the twin successes of the Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Mission and the Cabinet Retreat fund raising and the continued gathering of high net worth potential philanthropists at the Jewish Leadership Forum -- all holdover annual FRD events from the UJA calendar --and the remarkable growth of federation endowment assets in 2007. And, then off on a tangent with support for the UJC-driven Social Venture Fund for the Environment and another for Jewish-Arab Equality and Shared Society. (Both focuses of, inter alia, the Jewish Funders Network or the New Israel Fund.) And, then to the announcement of successes of the Washington Office -- with no mention...none...of UIA's success in achieving a $39 million Grant for Refugee Resettlement in Israel, some of the beneficiaries of which will be those rescued and resettled in Israel from the Georgian-Russian Conflict.
So, after reading the weekly disjointed View, is it fair to ask if anyone at the top of UJC lay and professional leadership understands the nexus between the Annual Campaign and the core activities of the Joint and the Jewish Agency...of the UJC's moral obligation to be the advocate for those allocations...and how UJC's failure to be the advocate has contributed to the $75 million reduction in core allocations that creates the need for emergency funding by us?
Friday, August 15, 2008
Since the disastrous and thoughtless implementation by UJC's CEO and Board Chair of the "Organizational Strategy" in March 2007 (which they actually brag about presenting to the recently completed Young Leadership Cabinet Retreat) with no process whatsoever, UJC professionals have been moved around time and again like pawns on a chessboard, often without regard to their capacity or the unprofessional manner in which transfers and reassignments have been made or, certainly, without thought about the consequences of the almost comical reorganizations. Terrific professionals have seen their positions undermined, their responsibilities and they, themselves, reassigned...without explanation; others with enhanced responsibilities have found themselves with no support professionals. Is it surprising that so many good people are so responsive to job offers elsewhere; and that so many resumes are "on the street"? These professionals want to make a difference for our People; an organization absent leadership, focus and passion, let alone an unseen Table of Organization that must be drawn on a "Magic Slate," can't be a good, let alone "great," place to work.
And, equally sad, how many lay leaders have walked from their positions when they have seen their leadership roles undermined by actions of the Chair and CEO diminishing their responsibilities, modifying the scope of their responsibilities, always without explanation to them until after the fact and without process, often with apparently little thought and even less sensitivity. When mega-donors and ILR-level donors walk away from leadership positions within UJC because they find themselves outside the ever-tightened UJC "circle of trust," how can UJC ever expect to build bridges to the mega donor community? This goal of some of the most critical communities will not be achieved with this leadership of UJC in place. Instead, if the "Mega-Group" of UJA days is any example, the mega-donors today will even more quickly walk away from the federations' national organization than they did then. And that has the potential to be apocalyptic for UJC and our system.
How demoralizing is it to wonderful professionals with tremendous skills and potential to see friends of the most senior professionals promoted over those who have made a career in Jewish communal service? And how demoralizing it must have been to have seen one of the CEO's sons on UJC's payroll (at one time there were two) chosen as one of two "most outstanding young UJC professionals" (chosen by the CEO's COO) and given a free ride to the Young Leadership Cabinet's Tel Aviv I. (You may remember that in an earlier Post, we reported that the CEO rejected a small staff celebration of IEC success uttering the immortal: "we don't thank people for doing their jobs.") Forget the appearance of impropriety, where has the concept of lay oversight built into the governance structure of UJC's "Operational Executive" gone? It has disappeared as has UJC itself. Is any one home...any one?
No, my friends, it is not the critic who stands in the way of UJC making a difference today, it is UJC's leadership itself.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Here is what I have come to learn is the pattern that UJC's leaders followed; none of this will surprise you. The initial reaction of UJC's CEO and Chair was that the crisis impacting on the Jewish population within the territorial limits of Georgia was not worthy of a Mailbox -- not worthy of "another ask." Neither the Board Chair nor CEO considered placing this on an emergency call of UJC's Executive Committee or, even, the UJC Board of Trustees. Neither the Chair nor the Director General of Israel and Overseas/Global Operations (the perfectly "acronymed" "IO/GO") felt the crisis and its ramifications worthy of consideration by the 12 lay person IO/GO Council (just what does that successor to a large and engaged Israel/Overseas Pillar do exactly?). There may have been much discussion amongst Howard Rieger, Jim Lodge, Joe Kanfer and Toni Young but, apparently, none of them thought the crisis worthy of discussion and engagement with federation lay leaders beyond this inner circle. (But, to his "credit," it is possible that Howard convened the Executives conference call to override his top lay leaders' opposition to a Mailbox without his fingerprints being evident. If so [and we will probably never know], I am really getting more confused than normal and more certain of UJC's lay leadership's dysfunction. No doubt Howard will explain all of this with clarity when he appears on Fox News.)
Finally, the CEO decided to convene a Conference Call among professionals only. (Note that other Mailboxes during other crises, some of which affected only a non-Jewish population, were opened with no "process" whatsoever.) The results were published in yesterday afternoon's Briefing. The decision to open a Crisis Mailbox for the "Jewish and general population." (How these funds will be divided has yet to be established.) For reasons unclear, ORT's needs and efforts appear to have been ignored -- where was that decision made...and, by whom?
The result is the proper one. But, consistent with past practice, this UJC leadership continues to believe that that is all that is important -- at the end of the day, the ends justify the means in all things. Another opportunity to engage lay leadership at a critical moment in Jewish history...lost.
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
After yesterday's Post, I learned from an excellent source of this information, that ORT, like JAFI had contacted UJC-Israel's Director General seeking financial assitance through a mailbox to bring 50 young people to Israel, to house them in ORT schools and to offer trauma relief, one of ORT's areas of great expertise. The response: "UJC has no money. We're monitoring the situation." Our federations' national organization with its $37 million budget has no money but sure can monitor at a desperate time for our People.
So, now, there will be a Georgia Crisis Mailbox -- actually two as JAFI established its own for this purpose when UJC leaders still had their collective heads in the sand. The money is critically needed. Give generously NOW as you always do.
Monday, August 11, 2008
And, what is the Agency, our JAFI, doing on our behalf? It will bring 50 children from Georgia to summer camps in Israel, expedite Aliya and visa processing, offering 10 young adults immediate participation in the Sela program, large family absorption center housing for multi-generations, transport assistance to Tbilisi, Georgia for Aliya assistance, offering Aliya assistance to at risk Georgian Jews living in Russia and immediate need-based financial assistance. But, JAFI, suffering a massive Budget deficit incurred, at least in part, by a failure in our 2007 federation allocations transmittals, needs an immediate federation- and donor-driven cash infusion to respond to these emergency needs.
So, JAFI turned to UJC thinking UJC to be its partner. Asking professional-to-professional that UJC open an "emergency mailbox" for $663,000 to $1 million or more to fund the comprehensive package of assistance above, UJC's most senior professionals responded: "No, the amount is too small." Or, "this has to be coordinated with JDC." No immediate processing the JAFI request with the UJC Executive Committee; no immediate interest even as Jewish lives are at risk once again. JAFI has scheduled a special teleconference briefing on the crisis for today and JAFI has convened its Executive for an emergency meeting this Thursday; UJC-Israel senior staff spent part of this morning questioning JAFI leaders about the need for funding. The National Conference on Soviet Jewry convened a conference call today on the crisis. UJC remains silent...figuring our how to "coordinate" while Jews are in peril. While UJC "contemplates," JAFI has been forced to open its own mailbox -- www.jafi.org/JewishAgency/English/Home/ .
I could write that this is par for the course with UJC. I could sarcastically assert that UJC, without process, has asked the federations for $100's of thousands for. as examples, a tax attorney in Washington or a non-Jewish school in Ethiopia or millions for the Israel Advocacy Initiative, or the multiple mailboxes opened without process for tsunami or Katrina relief, but when it comes to $660,000 to $1 million to save Jewish lives, to meet our highest obligation, pidyon sh'vuyim, there is only silence..."the amount is too small" -- "we must coordinate." This is beyond shame or reason.
Some alternatives: UJC has a $25 million line of credit. UJC should immediately convene its Executive Committee and approve the draw down of $500,000 today and transmit these emergency funds to save Jewish lives to the UIA for the Jewish Agency. Then convene the UJC Board to ratify the emergency funding, ask the federations to participate, open a mailbox for JAFI and JDC all while sending an emergency Mission led by Kanfer and Manning (joined by major federation leaders and donors) to Tbilisi and Israel to evaluate on-site. Or, in the alternative, recognize the emergency and redirect $500,000 from UJC's 2008-2009 Budget to JAFI. In either instance, UJC could either repay its draw-down or its "loan" from Budget from the UJC Mailbox established to aid the Jewish victims of the Georgia-Russia War.
Or UJC can do nothing on behalf of Jews whose lives are at risk. Nero fiddles while Rome burns. UJC's leaders appear to fear doing anything to support this emergency funding request even as Jewish lives are threatened These are our leaders? Who can possibly be proud under these circumstances? How can we permit this to continue?
P.S. UJC has now convened an "Emergency Briefing" on the Georgia "crisis" for tomorrow afternoon. Most of you, and certainly I, are not invited -- maybe it's exclusively for federation CEO's.
Friday, August 8, 2008
I have been accused by UJC's lay and professional leaders and some of the Blog's readers of undermining trust in UJC; I have responded by reminding UJC's leaders I can't undermine what's not there. Rather than building trust in UJC, these leaders have instead merely demanded it. They don't get the reality that they have failed to earn it. As many of you, I have heard the mantra repeated time and time again by these leaders: "trust us, look at us in (pick a time, 60 days, six months, a year) and judge us then, but trust us." Then, inexorably, the 60 days, the six months, the year passes and the mantra is restated: "trust us, look at us in..." Again and again, as this leadership leads the federation system...nowhere.
In 2007, the "Executive Summary" of the UJC Budget document stated as follows, in pertinent part:
"With our funding coming from the field, it is imperative that our budget be transparent,
and that our objectives be clear and measurable.
UJC's proposed budget for 2007-2008 is aligned with UJC's new strategies and goals
and allows the transition to a new business model. The proposed budget reflects a broad
strategic reorganization with a revamped focus on new areas and efficiencies."
OK, those are nice thoughts to live by. Of course that Budget included a blank check for $1.5 million unallocated dollars, but it was approved by the federations.
Then came the 2008-2009 Budget "Executive Summary" stating:
"UJC and the federations have engaged in a process, which will continue to the next
fiscal year, to further strengthen the work and focus of UJC. The accompanying proposed
budget of $37 million for fiscal year July 1, 2008 to June 30, 2009, which is the beginning
of the process, includes new business models for greater efficiency and cost effective-
ness and provides new focus in investments in important areas."
Excuse me, the Budget says UJC and the federations have both "engaged in a process" and is at "the beginning of the process"? And, this year's Budget just repeats the false mantra of the prior year's Budget. Is this redundancy year-to-year, this obfuscation, written in the belief that the federation owners don't read...or don't care? Is this how UJC builds trust in the institution? Time after time after time, when you read through the "summaries" and the "Briefings," and just listen, as well, what you hear is the desperate need for new leadership...now, before it's too late...if it isn't already. We need leaders who understand the difference between actions and rhetoric. Leaders who understand our donors and our federations. Leaders who understand what UJC was created to be.
As Tom Friedman wrote on Sunday, July 20,2008, in his Op-Ed in The New York Times -- 9/11 and 4/11 -- "There is an old saying in Texas that goes like this: 'If all you ever do is all you've ever done, then all you'll ever get is all you've ever got.'" Trust me, that's the truth.
Shabbat shalom, chevra.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Sadly, I have to report that over the past weeks, UJC leaders have escalated their personal attacks on your author suggesting their desperation and fear that I am so close to the truth of their failure and so willing to discuss it on these pages as to require that they employ tactics used by Richard Nixon and his ilk in a failed attempt to discredit me. Let me count they ways:
When this lay and professional leadership wanted me to resign as UIA Chair, they publicly and privately alleged a litany of fabricated examples of my "disloyalty" to UJC -- all of which...each of which...were false, and worse, known to them to be false. My real acts of "disloyalty" were and remain my criticism of UJC's lack of leadership, focus, vision, management and mission reflected in my opinions, fairly expressed, in this Blog. My refusal to resign only further infuriated the Chairs and CEO.
Notwithstanding intensive investigation within UJC, management has been unable to identify the Blogger(s) responsible for disunitedujc.blogspot.com, these leaders continue to state with absolute certainty that it must be me, my outright denials and all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
The UJC CEO created a scurrilous defamatory rumor, in reckless disregard for the truth, that my and my family's ILR-level annual campaign gift is the aggregate of all of the gifts of all of the lawyers in my law firm -- there are over 600 of them around the country. Rieger knew this information to be false when he spread it within and outside UJC; if he claimed he did not, all he had to do was call his friend, Steve Nasatir in Chicago. He did not want to know the truth or, maybe, he "couldn't handle the truth" that my gift -- Pinkert-Wexler Families gift -- is made up of mine, my wife's, my generous uncle and Aunt, and two cousins and our spouses. When I confronted Rieger about this, he apologized in his way, blaming a faulty informant for the slander he chose to spread. Yet, I am not the first lay person whose gift has been disparaged -- and I probably won't be the last.
In a truly desperate, Nixonian attempt to find something that might "dirty" me up, I have been told from within UJC that Rieger has demanded that the UJC Finance Department conduct a "forensic audit" of my Expense Reimbursement requests for my travels on behalf of UJC and UIA over the years. Let's see if I can spare them the time and cost: I have charged UJC or UIA for only my direct expenses and have not charged back for hotels or car rentals, even when entitled to do so. (Even though I was invited to seek reimbursement by UIA's Executive Vice Chair and UJC Senior Professional, Yitzchak Shavit, for my research trip to Israel with him on the frustrated Resource Development Guidelines [see my earlier Post: A Cautionary Tale], I bore all of those costs myself.). The facts notwithstanding, Rieger has told lay and professional leaders inside and outside UJC that I have stayed at "expensive hotels" suggesting that I have charged UJC the cost thereof. He knew or should have known better.
It probably isn't fair to speculate whether Howard is seen late at night in the north-south hallway at 111 Eighth Avenue trying to pry my picture (up there as a past UJA Chair) off the wall.The great fear should be that with Howard's announced retirement one year in advance there will be no accountability, as there is none today.
As the saying goes: power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. Shame.