Saturday, May 30, 2009
May 26, 2009
Friends, in this beautiful place this evening, and at this time on the Jewish calendar, it strikes me as appropriate that we dedicate tonight’s D’var Torah to the Festival of Shavuot that we will celebrate in but a few days’ time and that we consider the implications of God’s gift of Torah to the People of Israel.
We know, as we are told, that what happened in the shock and awe and thunder and lightening at Mount Sinai was a “founding moment in Jewish history,” as the great scholar David Hartman has described it. It was at Sinai that we began the process of searching out what God wanted of us. And, we are told, with God as our partner, each generation of Jews shall regard itself as standing together with every other generation at Sinai.
As it has been written, it was “[A]t Sinai, God and the Jewish People entered into a sacred Covenant filled with mitzvot … responsibilities that not only continue to evolve but give meaning to Jewish lives…”
The responsibilities we received at Sinai, where we stood side-by-side with Avraham aveinu and Moshe Rabeinu, and Sarah, Miriam and Esther, where we stood hands locked together with the 6 million whose lives and deaths are remembered here and the Survivor community whose courage and stories are memorialized here….with the 3 million olim we have brought to Israel…. with the 100’s of thousands of Jews here in Chicago, in Israel and around the Jewish world whose lives are touched by our philanthropy and sacred work every day and whose cares are and shall remain our concern.
On Shavuot and every time we are together, we stand as one People at Sinai where God called upon us to do His work upon this earth now and forever. Chevre, these may be difficult times for our People, but let us never forget the privilege we in this room have been given to lead and in doing so to embrace the generations who preceded us and the generations to come. At Sinai God called upon us to do Torah, to embrace Tikkun Olam -- at each meeting of this Board and in the manner we conduct our leadership we honor those responsibilties.
Thanks and amen."
Chag Shavuot Sameach to each of you and your families.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
So, here is what we have learned. Professionals who led UJC's efforts in the Speaker's Bureau, UJC Direct, Blue Knot, Donor Acquisition and others were summarily dismissed. Some had received Service Awards, others had received "notes" from the CEO commending their "loyalty" and thanking them for it. Programs like Blue Knot and UJC Direct, cutting edge in approach and connecting UJC to donors and communities as were few others, were terminated. Many of those who were terminated, who have written to me directly, or to this Blog anonymously, have pointed the finger at, e.g., the refusal of UJC's leadership to impose a salary reduction to reduce terminations and to the Board Chair's apparent insistence on spending what is now millions on a marketing and branding study while valuable professionals and long time support staff were let go into the worst economic tsunami our system, our country, have ever faced.
Friends, we let this happen.
"From: Yisroel Schulman
Sent: Tuesday, May 26, 2009 5:52 PM
Re: Yemen Jews coming to Monsey
Thank you Jay. I only meant that each child will have free choice. Frankly, many of us are hoping that they will begin their own yemeni school. I commit that a secular lawyer from my office will expain to each family their rights, etc. Other facts on the ground are as follows: FEGS is providing oversight, job training and case management, etc; NYLAG is providing all of the necessary legal services; monsey family health is providing all necessary medical services and referrals; the community college is providing the english classes. The main role for UJO has been to raise some funds from their community and use some of their monsey contacts to help the committee find housing and office space (others have also raised funds.). None of UJO's current staff will work on-site in Monsey and communal lay oversight consists of representatives from the local federation, other jewish communal groups and the existing yemeni community
Frankly. I strongly object and resent anyone referring to this as a joint UJC/UJO initiative as it unfairly minimizes the work of so many.
From: Jay Sarver
To: Yisroel Schulman
Sent: Tue May 26 15:21:38 2009
Re: Yemen Jews coming to Monsey
I believe the compelling reason for the Yemeni community moving to Monsey is the promise of compensation for both their existing property as well as costs associated with their resettlement. As we know, with every promise of compensation is an associated cost.
I noticed in your response that you mentioned that the kids would not be 'required' to attend Satmar schools. I would hope they would be prevented from attending should indeed federations including my own be asked to donate.
I do not doubt for a moment the impressive work done by you and others in your local community. Your selfless efforts for those less fortunate are exemplary. However, I think this issue is beyond the concept of freedom of choice. It is about the federated system supporting the Satmar community and all that it stands for vis a vis Israel."
I think that all that could be said (or written) on the subject has been. The seminal issue -- the propriety of UJC ignoring its partners and its owners in its frenzy to accomplish this relocation --has been more than unfortunate. It is that "ignorance" which has been the catalyst for all of the concerns that have followed.
And there is a final question: when the federations fail to wholly fund the $800,000 "ask," for whatever the reason, then what? Will Yis Schulman and other men and women of good faith who support this effort join the ranks of those who have been let down by UJC's failures?
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
You may remember me. Until this past year, I proudly sat on various committees of the Jewish Agency. I am responding to various news comments attributed to you and others concerning the relocation of families from Yemen to Monsey, New York. As one of the active leaders of the community in which the families will be relocated (of their own accord), I have been intimately involved with virtually every aspect of their resettlement. It appears that someone is feeding you and others a tremendous amount of misinformation. For example, neither myself nor most of the involved individuals residing in Monsey are members of the Satmar Hassidic sect.
Further, none of the immigrant families will be residing in exclusively Satmar neighborhoods and their children will not be required to attend Satmar educational institutions.
The strong beliefs of many that all Jews should immigrate to Israel should not rationalize the outright distortion of the facts on the ground. Should you or any of my former colleagues at the Agency wish to know the real facts, I am available at any time. "
Yis Schulman's letter is an important contribution to a dialogue UJC should have conducted before it embarked on its new "partnership." "Misinformation" is a by-product, inthis instance and so many others, of no information but for the parsed and redacted Memoranda circulated by UJC.
Many questions remain open even after Yis Schulman's sincere response to Paula Edelstein. In fact those questions have been asked by another of the copy recipients.
"You are well aware of the anti-Zionist nature of Satmar and therefore should be able to appreciate the sensitivities being raised in these issues. They, of course, have no reflection on you or your contributions to Klal Yisrael.
How would you characterize the flavor of the UJO? Is it not a predominantly Satmar run institution? Rabbi Niederman?
Would you sincerely deny the ongoing activity of the Satmar to influence the Yemenites in Yemen and in their coming to the US?
Obviously you are correct that the immigrants will have the freedom granted to any other New American to chose whatever school they want. But is that the intention now?
Do you think it unreasonable to suggest that the Satmar role in past Yemenites arriving to the US will be different now?
UJC could not or would not answer these questions, framed as they are with sincerity and good faith. In contrast, Yis Schulman has responded by offering the opportunity to visit the Monsey community where these 113 Yemeni Jews (or, at least most of them) will find their new "homes."
More to certainly follow.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
UJC has been overwhelmed by a small leadership cadre that is so bewildered that they have thoroughly confused UJC with themselves -- dissent from their policies and "you're harming UJC," criticize some desperate scheme of theirs and "you're damaging UJC." This particular "Anonymous" loves to use the word "pathetic" -- as it turns out, an apt self-description.
Now, as to "demonization." By almost any definition, the verb does not apply to an institution -- however, given the confusion that exists among this leadership as between the institution and themselves, it's easy to understand how this "Anonymous" correspondent might reach his conclusion. It's interesting that the Thesaurus uses the word in a sentence as follows: "Power has demonized him." But, for synonyms the same source suggests: "alter, change, modify, transform." I doubt that this "Anonymous" even contemplated the possibility that these Posts have been an attempt to jolt UJC back on course, back to the core values that were embedded in its Mission and Vision (which this leadership, true to their course, unilaterally modified).
I have heard from so many of the "best and brightest" who have left UJC, often fired in particularly uncaring and "un-Jewish" ways, and who were sacrificed, quite literally, so that the Kanfer- or Rieger-driven programs and plans (often themselves never approved) could go forward unchallenged, unquestioned. Our system has lost many of these -- typically young, bright and dedicated men and women -- without a care in the world or any pushback on our system's, let alone UJC's leaders, part. I will write more on this painful chapter in the weeks ahead. The loss of so many will be the legacy these leaders will leave behind; it is the singular loss from which UJC and the federation system will never recover. If anything has "demonized" UJC's leaders, it has been their actions with regard to a generation of men and women dedicated to UJC and the federations.
One of my friends recently advised me: "These people will be gone by August and the GA, respectively, they're not going to change." My response: "It's never too late." Or, maybe it is.
Sunday, May 24, 2009
After the original Post this morning -- YEMENITE JEWS, THE UJC AND BUSINESS AS USUAL -- I received an e-mail from a thought leader for whom I have great respect. He suggested I take a look at www.jewlicious.com, a website with a very significant following "largely college-age," or, in the vernacular, the "NextGen." The story to which I was directed is directly on point -- a point that clearly UJC's leaders have chosen to ignore, disregard or misrepresent. I wanted to share it with you:
HELPING YEMENITE JEWS EMIGRATE TO AMERICA INSTEAD OF ISRAEL
"The Jewish Agency in Israel is in an uproar. The agency, responsible for furthering Zionism’s goal by bringing Jewish immigrants to Israel, is outraged by the decision of the American UJC to bring 113 Yemenites to the US.
Now you could say what business is it of the Jewish Agency? What’s wrong with bringing Yemenite Jews to the US instead of Israel?
On the face of it, nothing. People can choose to live where they like and if the US is willing to accept them, why should Israel receive preference?
Except that the UJC is moving these Yemenite Jews to Monsey, NY, where they will live among Satmar Jews. Satmars are ultra-Orthodox Jews who happen to also be anti-Zionist in their world view. Their version of Judaism is a strict and demanding one and they have spent many years sending emissaries to Yemen in what can probably be called missionizing. The result has been that some Yemenite Jews have taken on this form of Judaism and some attempt to move to Monsey to join the broader community there.
Those of us who have seen the movie “In Satmar Custody” have a different view, perhaps, of what happens to Yemenite Jews when they reach Monsey. Here is part of the NY Times review of the movie:
Mr. Jaradi and his wife, Lauza, tell their story in Nitzan Gilady’s modest, disturbing documentary “In Satmar Custody.” The tragedy began to take shape after the Jaradis had been in the United States for several years. One day in 1998, at home in Monsey, N.Y., their daughter, Hadiyah, fell from her chair and lost consciousness. A neighbor tried to rouse the child by shaking her, Mrs. Jaradi says in the film, but to no avail. When Hadiyah was taken to a hospital, comatose, bruises were found on her, the Jaradis were charged with child abuse, and their other children were soon taken from them and placed with Satmar families. Hadiyah died in 2001.
The same thing has happened to native-born American parents, of course, some guilty and some completely innocent. But the Jaradis’ ordeal was intensified by the constraints of the life they had been able to make in the United States. The Satmars, who are ultra-Orthodox and also fervent anti-Zionists, took away Mr. Jaradi’s passport, he says, and forced him to work for them, fund-raising door to door. The children were not allowed to learn English, which, as the film notes, effectively made them even more isolated in their new home and dependent on the religious leaders.
A good bit of the documentary follows the Jaradis through the almost unbearably frustrating process of trying just to see their daughter and, when she dies, to be able to claim her body and bury her. But the message of “In Satmar Custody” is much more ominous than a lament about red tape.
When Shlomo Grafi, a Long Island man identified as chief executive of the Yemenite Heritage Fund, is asked in the film what the Satmar sect does, he says, “Mostly they like to take children.” One man says of Mr. Jaradi, “He was offered $20,000 for one of his twins.” Another tells of having lost all six of his children to Satmar leaders. Mr. Jaradi replies, “God help us.”
It is a horrifying film. Using the law to their advantage, the Satmars take advantage of this poor, young, ignorant couple who have come to America from Yemen and really know very little of America other than what they see in Monsey. Their struggle to regain their children is heartbreaking and the roadblocks put up by the Satmars are infuriating. The couple never does get their children back unless something has changed in the past couple of years since I first saw the film.
None of this is discussed in the debate between the Jewish Agency and the UJC, but it should be front and center.
The names of three UJC leaders are mentioned in the J Post article about this:
UJC leaders, including Board of Trustees chair Joe Kanfer, Executive Committee chair Kathy Manning and president Howard Rieger.
Dear Joe, Kathy and Howard, please rent a copy of “In Satmar Custody” before you take this step of bringing more Yemenite families into the Monsey Satmar community. I have to think that anybody who watches that movie can only conclude that sending Yemenite Jews to Mongolia or Dubai would be a smarter and more positive move than to Monsey. Or heck, even Israel would be a good place.
Please reconsider." (Emphasis added.)
That the young Jewish men and women of jewlicious.com demonstrate a greater sense of communal responsibility than the leaders of United Jewish Communities is commentary enough.
Rieger sent out at least one hysterical (not in the "hysterical funny" sense) e-mail to a Large City Executive, demanding federation participation and threatening that a failure by federations to partner in this (then a "rescue") relocation effort, would prove that the federation movement had lost its way. The facts, it would turn out, suggest that UJC had totally lost its way.
For, within days...literally just days...of the news of UJC's intent to ask the federations to support a multi-million dollar "relocation/rescue" effort to bring Yemeni Jews to Monsey, New York, where they would be held by the Satmar, UJC's anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, "partner," a Study Group made up of among others, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and a leader of the UJA-Federation of New York, but with no UJC representation, travelled to Yemen, met with the Government, tribal sheiks and the Yemenite Jewish community itself, and effectively did the due diligence that UJC never did. They did not find a Jewish community cowering in fear behind locked doors, they found a Government offended that it was being portrayed as holding Jews against their will, and determined that Yemeni Jews would be issued passports to leave for whatever destination they desired.
When we recall the aliya of Jews from the Soviet Union and our mishpacha from Ethiopia, we recall a spirit of cooperation and understanding that with the Jewish State that we helped and help to build, Jews were no longer refugees without a homeland. For the Jews of what is now the FSU, North America would be their destination for "family reunification" and the numbers were determined by explicit agreement. The federations, at least for a time, contributed to a pot to assist those communities in North America which were disproportionally impacted by immigrants from what is now the FSU under a program titled "equitable collective responsibility." There was discussion, there was heated debate and there was resolution. The Ethiopian olim were not impacted by such discussions -- although some federation leaders, sensing that Israel was dragging its feet, told me "...if Israel doesn't take the Ethiopians, we'll bring them here." UJC leaders unconscionably have tried to compare the aliya of millions to their "relocation" of 25 families; apparently comparing their total lack of process, lack of discussion and lack of due diligence today to the engagement of federations and their national organizations then. Truly pitiful.
And, then, without a word of advocacy for federation collective responsibilities or for greater allocations for JDC or JAFI, UJC, it has been reported in the press, has been lobbying the Government of Israel for a further "relocation" of Ethiopians to Israel, its prior agreement to end that trans-migration ignored. It is as if UJC lives and works in a Jewish World freed from the burdens of raising the dollars, freedom from caring for those for whom it advocates, and washing its hands of all matters after a few pious pronouncements.
In light of all of this, UJC proceeded in its "relocation" efforts. It invited favored federation executives to meet with the U.S. State Department, it downplayed Satmar involvement, it hid the fact that the Rockland County Federation (the "host federated community") had not paid its UJC Dues (or an allocation) for an extended period of years, it "negotiated" with FEGS, the successor agency to NYANA, to front and fund a significant portion of the relocation with federation dollars, and with a new party involved -- a Williamsburg, New York, social welfare arm of the Satmar (but not disclosed as such) -- still with no UJC governance action, Kanfer/Manning/Rieger asked federations for a sliding scale share of an aggregate $800,000, the "reduced price" to bring 25 Yemeni families mainly to Monsey in just a matter of a few weeks.
While all this was on-going, not once did UJC reach out to the Jewish Agency to discuss a matter that is the focus of our system's partner for aliya -- a partner which had just cut its budget by $75 million yet pledged to bring every Yemeni Jew to the Jewish homeland at no additional cost...none...to our federations. At a moment in time when many federation leaders are committed to bringing a truly authentic Zionist voice to the leadership of the JAFI Executive, not a thought seems to have been given to, nor a word spoken about, our national organization "partnering" with an anti-Zionist, anti-Israel religious group for a "cause" that seems not even to exist.
UJC has outright refused to advocate for allocations to the Joint and Jewish Agency over the past 4 years. Its leaders never fail, however, to advocate for unapproved plans such as this "relocation," the impact of which, if supported by the federations, would collectively drain another $800,000 from allocable funds at a time of drastically reduced overseas dollars. Are there other uses for $800,000? Sure. Just reread the impact of Madoff's fraud on scholarship aid for students in the arts in Israel as reported in The New York Times last week? Could $800,000 have been leveraged with the Government of Israel and, perhaps, the Jewish Funders Network? Could $800,000 have eased even a little the huge budget reductions keeping JDC/JAFI from doing their work on our behalf? And, so much more. But, nowhere did that debate take place? Nowhere. Instead, our...we own it you know...our national organization went off on another frolic of its own, talking only to itself and sending out a bill. And, I am not making this up.
When I first wrote about this "relocation," I was viciously attacked by those hiding behind "anonymity" (although everyone who read the "anonymous" comments advised me that they knew exactly who wrote them) suggesting I was, among other things, putting lives in jeopardy. Now, UJC's three leaders went "public" with no apparent concern whatsoever.
Sad...so very sad. After four and three years, these leaders still can't connect the dots.
Friday, May 22, 2009
I chaired a once important UJC Committee from the merger through 2006 when, quite properly, I was rotated off my chairmanship -- six years is way too long for anyone to serve (actually 3 years has proved to be way too long for some). My successor, a terrific leader, called me to tell me of his new role and asked me to remain on the Committee which I, of course, agreed to do. Time and again in 2007 this Committee's role was usurped by the Board and Executive Chairs and the Treasurer, but that seemed acceptable to the Committee Chair, so be it. In early 2008, the Committee Chair called to tell me that the Board and Executive Chairs and CEO had demanded that I be "fired" from the Committee but that he had insisted I stay on --I thanked him and believe I was helpful in the, as I recall, two instances where the Committee was called upon to take any action last year. (This would be all the more curious if many...many...federations paid no Dues....none...in 2007, but if that was the case, the Committee was never advised. And, one must assume, if many did not pay 2007 Dues, it follows that many...many...more failed to pay in 2008. By the By-Laws terms, the membership of federations which failed to pay Dues terminates without further action by UJC. So, did UJC leadership just sit on this information and may have refused to share that data with the Committee Chair.)
Two weeks ago I received a generic form letter advising me that I was being rotated off the Committee. OK, seems appropriate after 9 years. Then one of my outspoken comrades, who I had appointed to the Committee, also from a Large City, forwarded to me a copy of the same form letter, more or less, that he had received. We shared a laugh. Then another of my outspoken comrades, who I had appointed to the Committee, from another Large City, forwarded the generic form letter he had received, discharging him from the Committee. It was no longer funny.
I got a call from my friend, the Committee Chair. "Richard," he said, "I was going over the list of Committee members with ______ (the Committee staff director, a terrific, dedicated professional) and we thought it was time to rotate everyone off who had served more than four (I think he said "four") years. Now, we did keep two people on (both of whom had served for the same length of time as I; I had appointed them) just for the history they have and continuity." So, it appeared at the time, with no consultation with our Federation CEOs, three of us were being purged. So be it.
Then, only at UJC. One of our number spoke with his federation CEO about what had occurred, nothing more. That CEO inquired of a senior UJC professional "just what is the term for UJC Committee service?" I guess the answer was "there is none" (although I would add "subject to good behavior" which as any reader of this Blog knows means "do what we say or you're out!!"). Two days later, my friend, the Chairman called my friend the former Committee member whose federation CEO called UJC, to say in effect: "You know, I have been thinking this over quite a bit and I think we made a mistake. You should stay on the Committee."
And, thus closes the latest purge...er, chapter... in the sorry saga of United Jewish Communities. You have to just shake your head in wonder, shock and awe. You have to love these guys.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
- The Fundermentalist -- JTA's own Blog, written and compiled by reporter Jacob Berkman, often covers matters not found on the pages of JTA.
- e-Jewish Philanthropy -- covers the waterfront of Jewish philanthropic issues with original editorial pieces and reportage as well as articles culled from the Israeli and Jewish press.
- http://www.boundlessdramaofcreation.com/ -- written by Atlantan Seth Cohen, it offers Cohen's often incisive perspective on a variety of Jewish and communal issues.
Nothing beats the periodic Dispatches From an Anxious State, Danny Gordis' superb insights from Israel. As an example, the most recent "Dispatch" -- For the Sake of Clarity...-- is a brilliant, sobering and devastating look at Israel-American relations at this, the onset of the Obama and Netanyahu Administrations. For more go to danielgordis.org.
I am certain that I am missing many. If you have some suggestions, drop me a note or Comment.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
The question for the day: Will Kathy Manning have the strength yet unseen to take UJC on her shoulders and bring it to a better place, the place where it should have been and where it must be? (The same question might be asked about the Chair of the Executive Nominee, but he has already demonstrated by deed and word, that he hasn't the convictions let alone the courage of his convictions, to be anything but a placeholder and a cheerleader for Kathy.) I think, all things considered, Kathy can be incredibly successful against all odds. Her role in the building the mess UJC is in notwithstanding, Kathy has proved herself to be an excellent listener -- now it will be her challenge to operate on what she hears, not merely to listen, take notes and do nothing. She must surround herself not only with those who agree with her on everything but those lay and professional leaders who were ostracized by Kanfer and Rieger and Gelman. She needs a broad level of support and she needs to accept the challenges offered by those who disagree l'shem shamayim. She needs to break out of the tiny phone booth into which the UJC lay leaders of today can fit and offer an expanded tent of leadership wherein all are given the sense that they have real input in the UJC decision-making process.
Kathy knows that she must break UJC out of the Yogi Berra truism: If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there. She must prove that those were the roads taken by KanferRieger and she's just not going down them ever again. And, finally, she has led the UJC Search process (which, by length alone, has reached the state if farce). From that process must emerge the "anti-Rieger" -- a professional partner who can inspire the federations with his/her charisma, focus, management style, humor and grace. And that choice must be made now -- even if it is but an "interim" (two years length) choice that with her will get this organization back on its feet.
Can Kathy do it? Yes, I think she can. And, we'll be watching
Monday, May 18, 2009
Some background -- with the agreement of a number of the federations which pay Dues and allocations on a 1/12th basis, so that UJC need not borrow to pay itself its Budget and meet payroll, etc., and given that a super-majority of federations pay their Dues in full only in December, UJC internally "borrows" from the allocation portion of federation 1/12th payments until federation Dues payments "true up" at year-end. Forget for a moment that this "process" forces JDC and JAFI to borrow to meet their Budgeted obligations while their budget cuts are deep into bone, this Rube Goldbergian methodology only works if at year-end federations do in fact "true up." And, even if they do, as you know, UJC's partners, JDC and JAFI, are already paying the budget of UJC -- the result is clear, the Agency and Joint have seen cash at year-end drop well below UJC forecasts; a budgetary catastrophe for JAFI and JDC -- and no financial impact on UJC whatsoever. And no disclosure by UJC of Federations in default of their Dues obligations and their allocations moral obligations-- not even to the Financial Relations Committee (which seems to operate on a philosophy of "don't ask, don't tell.")
And, this week KanferRieger will visit the Los Angeles Board and no doubt advise that federation of the Draconian penalties of lost membership, among other things. Yet in the intervening months between Los Angeles's decision to reduce dues and this visit, has UJC done anything to engage further with Los Angeles or any other federation? Has it demonstrated added value beyond UJC Washington? Rhetorical questions. (And, the tunnel-vision on Dues will certainly...certainly... preclude discussion of allocations as "peripheral" or even unrelated to the KanferRieger focus on Dues and Dues alone.) Should L.A. determine, post-visit, that there will be no change in its determination to reduce its Dues, in such case, somewhere...anywhere...within UJC there must be a discussion of how UJC will adjust its Budget and its programs to reflect what will be done in light of 1/3rd of the federations withdrawing Dues support in whole or in part.
The Board Chair has told the UJC Executive Committee of his belief, as in a Country Club, of "pay to play" and a willingness to accept the "disappearance" of 1/3rd of the Owners (whom he calls and treats as "Members") with the conclusion that "we'll be a better organization." Sobeit for the "United" in United Jewish Communities. Kanfer's new name for the organization must be "Some Jewish Communities." Sad.
Friends, the chickens have come home to roost in so many...so many...ways. What we have here is not some kerfuffle about nothing, it is a disaster. The volume of traffic on this Blog has increased by 40% in the last week alone -- the e-mails I have received from you over this same period have disclosed the building frustration and even anger with the blind eye of the current (and, now, future) UJC leadership toward federations, toward process, toward sensitivity...and with the Dues crisis, toward any sense of reality.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
You will remember that first the CEO went shouting to a few, select federations for funding for this "secret relocation" claiming that to fail to "rescue" these "Jews in jeopardy" by Pesach would make a mockery of our social service network -- of "all we are about." Days later, a Study Group that included a New York UJA-Federation lay leader and the Israeli Foreign Ministry went to Yemen and determined that (a) Jews were being protected by the Yemen Government and tribal sheiks, (b) they did not really want to go anywhere other than to new homes in Yemen, and (c) the Yemen government would issue necessary passports and visas so that those who wished to leave could do so. (I have over-simplified, but not by as much as has UJC.) The Yemenite Jewish community celebrated Pesach in Yemen, where they would surely recite at Seder's end: "Next year in Jerusalem." I guess UJC ended its Seder with "next month(s) in Monsey."
So, weeks have passed. The U.S. State Department is apparently issuing the necessary paperwork to assist 112 (or, maybe, it's 113, the UJC letter used the two numbers interchangeably) Yemenite Jews -- 25 families -- to "relocate" to, in the main, "Monsey, New York." (As we have pointed out before, Monsey is in reality a "wholly-owned subsidiary" of the anti-Zionist, anti-Israel Satmar chasidim.) Those choosing to stay in Yemen or those making aliyah are contrasted in the UJC leaders' letter to those coming to Monsey in the exercise of "freedom of choice."
UJC will be working not only with HIAS and FEGs, two responsible organizations in the federation family, but with UJO of Williamsburg -- an organization whose role is as a "provider of social and housing services...for the Hasidic community in the greater Williamsburg area" and, of course, unsaid, Satmar Monsey. There are those who suggest that the UJO is a social welfare organization of and for the Satmar.
UJC has apparently committed (once again without asking you in advance [because this was a secret]) a "reduced price" of $800,000 as the federations' share of this "relocation" effort -- even as FEGS will expend "half of its 2009-10 UJC/Federation grant to support this effort." UJC even goes so far as to deny that it is "partnering" in this effort with the Satmar community in Monsey (even though CEO Rieger expressly acknowledged this relationship in his original Memo on the subject [see Post AND, NOW, A NEW PARTNER, March 18, 2009]) even though it is clear that but for the political muscle of the Satmar, none of this would be happening.
So, what's the big deal? So there was no UJC process, so funds have been committed without first asking the federations, so most of these families will end up in Satmar Monsey, so the relocation of these 25 families is expressly compared by UJC's leaders' tortured logic to the literal rescue of the Jews of the then Soviet Union and Iran by JAFI in partnership with UJA/UIA/CJF , so concerned is UJC for the relocatees welfare that "[T]hey will be permitted to leave (Monsey) at any time they want..." suggesting their fear this "one-time offer" might be rejected because of the proposed new "home." "For $_,000, your federation, pursuant to this one-time offer, can 'relocate' part of the remnant Jewish community of Yemen."
So let's do it...."this 'offer' won't be repeated anywhere, it is only available through UJC right now." All of this could have been accomplished directly and forthrightly, but that is not this leadership's style...and still isn't. Instead, as one of those who received the Kanfer/Manning/Rieger missive said to me: "This is really the height of bombast." Facts are hidden, ignored or manipulated -- the ends justify the means. I remain at a loss as to why UJC believes that it can't trust its owners with all of the facts on this matter...on anything!! This from the present, and future, leaders of UJC.
But it is an offer that is undeniable. Federations are once again faced with a fait accompli; the logic is undeniable, we can't leave these 25 families with no place in America to go -- even though some would question whether Monsey is in fact... Could this sensitive matter been handled any worse? Could the lack of transparency been any greater? And, let us see if these families are really "...here in the next five weeks."
Friday, May 15, 2009
During the one day deliberations of the UJC Nominating Committee, one of the UJC's few non-elected leaders, who got herself appointed to the Committee because...well. she is one of UJC's few leaders...announced to the Committee that UJC "..is doing great -- better than any organization that preceded it, better than any administration of UJC that preceded this one." This argument was apparently as persuasive as it was delusional as the Nominating Committee recommended as Chairs the current Executive Chair and Treasurer -- promoted as if the Nominating Committee operated in the same alternative reality as do the four or five UJC leaders of today. If what we have today is good, just what might "bad" be?
Then, Slats asked: "It's good, right, that a woman was nominated given that UJC just fired 25 people at 25 Broadway and they were all women?" "Sure," I answered, "It would have been great if Kathy had opened her mouth." Slats: " Didn't UJC's professional flack, Joe Berkofsky, announce to JTA that 66% of UJC's employees are women so, of course, women are going to be fired." "Yes," I answered, "That's UJC's brilliant math once again -- 66% of our staff are women so it's only logical that 100% of those fired are women." Slats," I guess Kathy must have missed it." "Yep, she also missed it when the senior professional running Marketing was forced to resign, when the Senior Development Professional was forced to resign and when the incredible professional who succeeded that Senior Development Professional was forced to leave. She missed a lot." Slats: "She didn't miss being promoted by Joe Kanfer, though." "No, she didn't miss that."
Slats Grobnick continued: "Ain't it great that Kathy Manning was Joe Kanfer's personal choice to succeed him?" "Yes," I replied, "Joe is the gift that keeps on giving." We have heard of the calls Joe made to influence Nominating Committee members to support his choices. Joe and Kathy have done such a great job of leadership that federations in huge numbers are withdrawing from the national organization; who better to complete the task than his Co-Chair?
Understand, it is great that UJC's Board Chair is a woman. I think of the incredibly qualified and generous women who could have served in this position: among them, Arlene Kaufman, Carole Solomon, Suzie Stern, Rani Garfinkle, Midge Pearlman, Dede Feinberg, Lori Klinghoffer, Jane Sherman and others... and I scratch my head. And it's great that the incoming Chair of the Executive's wife and family are such incredible leaders and philanthropists...and I scratch my head.
The Chair of the Executive has sat by and merely ignored all that has happened over the past three years as if "..that was all Joe and Howard, not me." She sat by while women professionals at all levels of the organization were demeaned, some forced out, so many fired. As mediator between JAFI and JDC she effectively disqualified herself and UJC. She helped to plan and ran a succession of GA's totally irrelevant to the federations' agenda. She ran meetings well. She asked really good questions.
The Treasurer presided over three of the most corrupted, opaque Budget processes in the history of Jewish organizational life -- with no push back against an Executive who demanded that $2 million in proposed budget cuts be restored for 2010 and that not a single employee take a compensation reduction to save the jobs of many who were fired. He demonstrated total acquiescence to a multimillion dollar branding and marketing scheme that still has no end in sight and over $1.5 million of which was never approved by the Budget Committee, and whose main focus was on the KanferGelman driven vendettas. With this compelling pair of resumes, only at UJC....
So, let's get this straight -- in our country, during this economic calamity, those responsible -- either in corporate America or in government -- are voted out or are forced out of their positions; at our national Jewish organization, those responsible in large measure...are nominated for promotion. "Kind of counter-intuitive," Slats concluded.
But there is a certain logic to the Nominating Committee's recommendations -- as this twosome for three years was riding shotgun on the UJC bus careening toward total disaster, why not promote them in time to drive the bus over the precipice? "Why not, indeed," Slats concluded.
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
When it turns out that all those fired at 25 Broadway were women, given prior actions by this management, serious questions have to arise. Let's look at the record of last week's atrocity:
~ One of the those let go in the mailing list area had been a responsible staff member for 30 years...she and two others...gone.
~ The Network Director, a serious professional with a most difficult assignment which she handled with care and in which she worked assiduously to grow the financial resources without much support...gone.
~ The Speakers Bureau Director, who was one of the few direct points of UJC contact with the federations, and who had directed this area with great skill even with a declining Budget for many years...gone -- and I would guess with no "heads up," no prior discussion with Network lay leadership.
~ A wonderful professional, who worked with UJC Direct (one of the few areas of UJC interface with its owners, shut down last week as well) and had received the UJC "Customer Service Award"...gone.
These are but examples of dedicated staff members some or all of whose jobs might have been saved had UJC's Budget Chair and leadership approached their responsibilities differently. At a time that federations' staff (and even at law firms) across the country are reducing their compensation so as to save the jobs of others, at UJC...nothing. It's not their fault, you see; or their responsibility it appears.
Monday, May 11, 2009
"This country was born of dissent (the Revolutionary War), defined by it (the Civil
War) and changed profoundly by it....Dissent has been hailed as noble and necessary
by our leaders. None other than President Dwight Eisenhower said that Americans
should "never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion." Former Senator J.
William Fulbright declared, "In a democracy, dissent is an act of faith."
Not in the current history of United Jewish Communities, however, where dissent is neither honored in the abstract or in practice. (With incredible disingenuity dissent is invited then treated as treason.) Haass goes on to cite Joseph Heller, who, in his parody novel Good as Gold portrays a Presidential aide telling a job applicant: "This President doesn't want yes-men. What we want are independent men of integrity who will agree with all our decisions after we make them." Welcome to our UJC.
Haass continues with the "dilemma" of dissent:
"Dissent is difficult. it can constitute a real dilemma for the person who disagrees.
On one hand you owe it to your conscience and to your (leaders) to tell them what
they need to hear rather than what they want to hear. Speaking truth to power is
actually a form of loyalty. it is the best and at times only way to make sure that...
any organization lives up to its potential..." (emphasis added)
To me, in my leadership roles, all I have experienced has taught me that better informed decisions come from real debate and real debate means that dissent will be heard. To UJC and its leaders and their enablers, debate (and certainly any public debate) is not tolerated. Period. End of story. The results are spread before us -- our national organization: suffused with hubris, disengaged from its owners to the point that 1/3rd and more will not pay full Dues, deconstructed. The actions of the leaders and their enablers, to apply Haass' logic, demonstrate the ultimate disloyalty to the UJC. Think about it; they don't.
In fact, in the case of UJC, too many have confused personal loyalty with institutional loyalty. This is an understandable confusion given that at UJC today, leadership themselves have thoroughly confused their roles -- l'etat c'est moi seems too often to be the operating mantra. And, we have all seen instances where individuals believe that by their positions, they are the organization...and at UJC this is exactly their behavior. Thus, those who submit their total obeisance to leaders are not being loyal to UJC the institution at all. They don't see it that way, of course.
And if you wonder whether those who blindly lead these cheers using their 20/20 hindsight, share any sense of responsibility for the dire circumstances UJC, the institution, faces today, then, you wonder alone because they don't. They condemn dissent; sha sha they say. Whose interests are they serving? Had we spoken out could 31 jobs been saved last week -- or even a portion of them? Had their been vigorous debate within UJC led by the federations, involving the federations. engaging the federations, would 1/3rd and more been on the cusp of turning their collective backs on the organization?
What do you think?
Sunday, May 10, 2009
This week, UJC will visit the Board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles to disabuse that federation from its decision to reduce its UJC Dues from $2.2 million (!) to $1 million. The UJC "leaders" will no doubt point out how much Los Angeles receives through the work of UJC's D.C. Office and how much the federation will miss participation in the leadership ranks of UJC, JAFI/JDC, and the loss the community will feel when its women philanthropists are denied Lion of Judah status and its young leaders will no longer participate in the Young Leadership Cabinets. Perhaps, Los Angeles Federation leaders will question why these same UJC leaders have ignored them for, oh, the last four years -- except on issues of Dues -- and express an interest in continuing to pay their pro rata cost of UJC Washington, among other things from which they and our system benefit. Perhaps, just perhaps, Los Angeles' leaders will get answers about the 2010 Budget that have been provided no one else and then share those answers with the rest of us.
I know the lay and professional leadership in LA. They are caring leaders who believe in a responsible and responsive collectivity. I also firmly believe that a new leadership dedicated to the federations will be the only real hope we have to bring the LA's back into the collective fold.
No, you "..can't blame the pigs for Swine Flu," but when it comes to UJC, we all know where the blame lies.
Len Despres was a Chicago original. As Bill Singer, my contemporary, and a one-time firebrand and Alderman himself, said of Despres "...he taught us it was important to raise the issues even if we were sure to lose." Great lessons were taught by Despres. If Len were involved in national Jewish life today, under the premise of some, Despres should have just shut up and gone away. And, oh my, what we would have lost.
I had an epiphany as I thought about Len. The data in the 1990 National Jewish Population Study disclosed the incredible rate of Jewish intermarriage. Back in the mid-90's I used to jokingly tell my friends, "You know, if we hadn't had that damn Population Study, we wouldn't have any intermarriage." Many looked at me askance, others caught the "irony."
Friends, we can't hide the facts by deciding to suppress them. All we do then is postpone dealing with them. For example, in early 2008, a decision was made within UJC not to use the "R" word -- pretend that the "Recession" which was so predictable by then, was not to be mentioned. While that decision, I suppose, was strongly influenced by the pressure from some federations, all that it did was pull UJC back from doing any North American planning for confronting the economic tsunami now facing us. (Of course, you could argue, UJC still could have quietly done some quiet planning for this catastrophe...and you would be right...but they didn't.)
They may have temporarily turned off Len Despres' microphone, but they couldn't stop the truth of his message. May his memory be a blessing.
Thursday, May 7, 2009
Read this and weep:
May 6, 2009 4:51 PM
I am one of the 31 sacrificial lambs that UJC was sooo pained to dismiss. OUR many years of service meant nothing to them when they decided to give millions for their precious branding project in their new budget and cut our jobs that did not even add up to one million dollars. The women (yes, ALL women) that were so arbitrarily dismissed in the US offices meant NOTHING to them. There should be an audit of how much they are spending in their Marketing Dept. since they have done nothing but spend money on new initiatives and hire NEW high level MEN at HIGH salaries. Now they say they have no money to keep the WOMEN that have served them for years and have been the backbone of the organization. Their great idea last year was to move missions to Israel, now they are bringing it back after they realized they made a mistake. They should have cut some of the lazy highly paid MEN on top instead of the people that really work and makes a meager salary..."
Friends, we need an organization that is worthy of us; and we must be worthy of it, as well. Speak up and do what is right.
~ Isolation. UJC must transmit a sense of welcoming, of openness, of engagement with the federations as never before. It must do so by embracing the federations' agenda as its own and by demonstrating an unwavering commitment to the Vision and Mission that federations embraced at UJC's creation. The federations of North America's areas of greatest Jewish population growth must feel that they are part of a collective system. Those who have dissented and those who dissent , those who have identified what they perceive to be the inconceivable, must find their place within UJC not apart from it. This seems to this observer to be such a simple thing; yet it appears that it is so difficult and, to the current leaders, impossible.
~ Concentration of Power. The next leadership must be broad and deep and avoid the concentration of power in too few. The broadening and deepening of leadership must include leaders from all City-sizes so that perspectives are infused with the experiences of many rather than with the opinions and focus of four or five (or is it two?) leaders. We must move from the monoculture of UJC today to the multi-culture of tomorrow and we must do so with the same sense of urgency that will drive all UJC actions.
~ Unilateral actions. No longer will UJC's lay or professional leaders engage in unilateral actions (requests for funding "special projects" outside the Budget, creating new and expensive endeavors without process under the guise of "management decisions" which have nothing to do with "management") that further distance 25 Broadway from the Federation owners.
~ The Marginalization of Israel. UJC must acknowledge the centrality of Israel in our work and in our collective response to critical issues ranging from "Who Is A Jew" and the "conversion issue" to rallying support for the People and State of Israel in difficult times. No longer can UJC's work overseas be termed "Global Operations" with "Israel and Overseas" but an afterthought.
~ The Marginalization of JDC/JAFI. Our partners must be made to feel that they are true partners in the work of UJC and the federations, neither distant from that work nor, certainly, alienated from it. Working together UJC, the federations, JAFI and JDC can achieve miracles; working at cross purposes will negatively impact the federations in so many ways.
~ The lack of transparency. All matters UJC must be wholly transparent, consistent with the requirements of its own governance, and readily communicated to and understood by its owners. No longer will an Executive Committee be told by leadership that a Budget had been "...gone over by the Budget and Finance Committee with a fine toothed comb" when it was not to even be questioned, no longer will information on critical matters be parsed out or redacted.
~ Financial Resource Development as an after-thought. The totality of UJC's FRD, including Supplemental Giving, will be brought together under a single National Development Chair who will also Chair the Center for Jewish Philanthropy. Total FRD will be redesigned to benefit all federations and the Large City Executives recommendations in their Refining UJC's Vision document will be implemented for the benefit of all.
~ The Moral Obligation to Advocate. In recognition of the moral imperative assumed by UJC at merger, UJC will be at the forefront of advocacy for federations' collective responsibilities -- of which membership Dues is but one. Federation lay and professional leaders and leaders of JDC/JAFI will bring the message into communities including their own with passion, enthusiasm, love and respect.
~ The Religious Movements. UJC, with its federation owners, must explore ways in which to involve our Religious Movements in our work more directly and closely. This is on-going within our federations; there are a myriad of best practices to investigate and from which UJC must learn.
UJC must be reconstructed. Leadership, lay and professional, long dormant, can and must emerge to assure that the UJC that rises from the ashes succeeds.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Friends, we...all of us...share responsibility for this latest round of terminations. We have been the enablers, we have stood on the sidelines watching the organization's slide into irrelevance. Many of us have patted this leadership on the back offering unquestioning support rather than the tough love it has so desperately needed. To this leadership your...our...pats on the back, our utterances of "isn't it a shame," have been the "loopholes" through which the current leaders have driven the bus straight and non-stop toward oblivion. So the shame is also on those of us who have saluted the Emperor in his New Clothes and who have condemned those who have criticized the same leaders for their continuing stream of failures that have brought us to this day as "out of touch," "undermining," "treasonous." Yep, it's those who have criticized fault. I wonder who is really out of touch? Really.
I wish all of those who will lose their positions today -- professionals and staff -- Godspeed. It did not have to be this way for all of you, perhaps, for any of you.
I have printed the cries of pain from federation lay and professional leaders who have been attacked and insulted for raising legitimate questions, for having the temerity, in the view of a few, to dissent, to question. The anonymous response from UJC's few remaining defenders -- "slander." I have strongly suggested that UJC's failure to listen, failure to engage, failure to include and failure to comprehend the federations' concerns have brought it to the point where 1/3rd and more of the federations will not pay their 2010 Dues. The anonymous response from UJC's few remaining defenders -- "slander." I have offered constructive suggestions, from my experience and perspective, as to how to turn UJC around. The anonymous response from UJC's few remaining defenders -- "slander."
Trust that if I had written this Blog as some form of hagiography dedicated to UJC's "leaders," there wouldn't be a peep of protest. So, it is not the fact that that there is a Blog that drives UJC's leaders to misrepresent it, it is the fact that in this Blog I have peeked (and given you all a peek) under the black-out curtain that hides the Emperor's New Clothes from "view."
Some of UJC's cheer leaders object to the very idea of exposing a UJC gone wrong -- apparently, they would rather UJC go down in flames (as it is) than to try and steer the owners toward a corrective path. As those who read these Posts know, I hold those who know that the Emperor has no Clothes but refuse any acknowledgement of that reality equally culpable for UJC's current state of collapse. It is hard for me to comprehend those who believe that a leader's fiduciary obligation is to a transient leadership to the detriment of the institution on whose Board they serve and to whom their real allegiance is owed.
So, once again, I invite those who believe I have misrepresented any facts to write, over their own names as I have, and cite the specific factual areas I have made. See if you can do so without using (or misusing) the term "slander." If you can.
Sunday, May 3, 2009
~ The Federation leader whom I venerate most of all said this at a critical Federation meeting last week: "We need more process. The better the understanding (of what we are doing), the better the buy-in." Outside of 25 Broadway (that's like "beyond the Beltway"), I would like to think that is what all of us believe. So, I ask: "Why haven't we been able to inculcate that message to those in leadership of UJC who believe we need no (or, at the most, minimal) process?"
~ Last week, at a meeting in the White House, the President welcomed Senator Arlen Spector to the Democratic Caucus this way: "Today I have the privilege of standing next to the newest Democrat...I don't expect Senator Spector will agree with every decision I make, and support every one of those policies." The President went on to say he didn't expect Spector or any other Senator to be a "rubber stamp." President Obama concluded: "I'm eager to receive his counsel and advice, especially when he disagrees..." This is leadership, my friends. We must recreate UJC in the "Obama Model" not replicate what we have had for the past three years.
~ How many federations have yet to report an allocation to UJC for Israel and Overseas needs for JAFI and JDC for 2008? For that matter how many have yet to pay their 2008 Dues? Are the numbers being held by UJC in secret for discussion only among the chosen few? If "membership," is, as Joe Kanfer described it, "like a country club," shouldn't there be a "Member's List" posted with/circulated to all federations (as Chicago has requested for years)?
~ On the good new side of the UJC ledger, all Board Members received a Memo from GA Chair, D.C.'s wonderful leader, Dede Feinberg, last Thursday initiating an "RFP Process" inviting new ideas for making the GA more meaningful from the widest possible constituency. It's really a great initiative!! Any ideas?
~ Then, there is this...I have come to understand that I could Post daily if I could find the time -- that is really how bad things are. Some will not think so but I have shown restraint. At one and the same time I have been asked: "Do you believe that UJC can be saved?" My answer has always been: "It has to be. Our federation system requires a national organization to rally us to great achievements and to remind us, when necessary of the core values and timeless principles that have inspired the generations that preceded us, our generations and, most important, the generations to come to the concept, the construct and the ideal of Federation as Community." We can do it; all it takes is an understanding and inspiring leadership to join with federations to put the pieces back together.
Friday, May 1, 2009
~ The UJC 2010 Budget -- You will recall that in response to a question during the Budget Committee meeting as to why there was no recommendation that Executive salaries be cut to save some jobs, Chair Gelman's response was dismissive: "We considered it but thought it would be bad for morale." Last Friday, in our Crain's Chicago Business it was reported that mid-sized Chicago law firm Shefsky & Froelich, where I have many friends and a few ex-partners, resolved that partners' salaries be cut 30% and all other staff members' compensation be reduced by as low as 5% (for non-lawyer staff) so as to avoid terminations. Imagine, a law firm...a law firm... showing more compassion than our national Jewish organization. Hard to imagine? Not really, unfortunately.
~ The UJC 2010 Budget...more -- I am told by very good sources that the original professional-driven 2010 Budget would have recommended $2,000,000 in additional Budget reductions over the 18% reduction approved by Executive and Budget Committees. So, what happened? Did the CEO, claiming some sort of non-existent "executive privilege," merely step in and order "restore $2 million?" And that, as they say, was that. No lame duck he; just lame. And, at least 1/3 of the federations will be unable or unwilling to pay the resultant dues. And where was the Budget & Finance Chair during this episode?
~ "Will Israel Cease to Exist?" -- In a transparent attempt to promote his book -- The Late Great State of Israel -- author Aaron Klein was given space in The Daily Beast to question Israel's ultimate survival. As I read Klein's piece, he condemns Israeli diplomacy as well as the conduct of its defense leaving, well not much that Israel can do. There are far better things to read.
~ The Centrality of Federation -- One of my friends who has had a history of leadership involvement at federations and overseas beneficiaries, responding to my Post The End of the World As We Know It? pointed out that the federations overseas partners have also suffered the fate of local agencies -- reduced federation support requiring increased investment in fund raising within the communities, often in competition with the very annual campaigns that support the allocations to them. Of course, my friend is right. And if federations and their partners can't find the means to truly partner, all will suffer. This is exactly one of the areas where a strong and respected national organization could make a difference.
~ Comments -- The Blog has received a number of constructive (and, some, not so much) Comments since the Post on April 17. They all deserve reading as many of the "Commentators" are far more articulate and passionate on the subjects of the Posts than I. What the future leadership of UJC can learn from these Comments is that UJC can succeed and that our federations are fortunate, even blessed, with leaders who "get it."
~ And, for your viewing pleasure -- It is not politically correct, but for a great laugh: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tQQkopQSOIA and forgive the one swear word...