In light of recent revelations with regard to JFNA's leaders insistence that the cherished concept "zionism" -- the word that has inspired generations -- be excised from a Global Planning Table Work Group Report because "zionism is too controversial," (something they will surely "deny," or argue "I knew nothing about this" or equivocate -- "I'll look into this and get back to you") I reflected on just how far JFNA, under its current lay and professional leadership, has moved from the core values and historic principles that framed its creation, its Vision and its Mission. "The word 'zionism' is too controversial." Oh my G-d.
It was just a few years ago that, in one of its periodic "reorganizations," that JFNA's then leaders, who included some still around today, changed the name of its Israel and Overseas Department to "Global Operations." Just another rebranding without meaning. The hue and cry was loud and continental for both substantive and symbolic reasons. But JFNA was unmoved until...until... a group of federation CEOs from all City-sizes registered their objections to thus thoughtless change. Almost immediately, the Department's name was rebranded again -- to Global Operations: Israel and Overseas.
Over the next few years, JFNA gave only lip service to its historic commitments to the two organizations that actually gave to JFNA any semblance of a "global operation" -- the Joint and the Jewish Agency. After all, advocacy with the federations for core allocations for these "historic partners" would have disrupted the narrative that JFNA's leaders began six years ago. And, while CEO Jerry denied that he ever told any federation that "we at JFNA will never urge you to increase your allocations," the facts are very different. And, prior to and in the midst of recessionary times, JFNA stood by as core allocations to the system's Israel and overseas partners cratered, never lifting a finger in support and distancing itself as well from any direct campaign assistance to federations most in need.
And, now, we have come so far that our national organization shuns even the appearance of "zionism" in one of its reports? What's wrong with this leadership; what's wrong with us? With Board Chair Manning and GPT Chair Butler in the room, "zionism" is out and efforts to direct the GPT to "engage with the Jewish People" out as well? We can and should debate whether our system's best way to engage North American Jewry with Israel is through JAFI and the Joint; what we cannot permit is an implicit denial of the centrality of Israel in our lives and a denial the absolute responsibility we as Diaspora Jewish leaders have to engage more Jews here with Israel. But, those denials are now being encouraged by an insipid leadership driven by concepts of "change" that they do not understand and which, if implemented, will destroy the very system they were elected to enhance and support.
It was Jim Collins, the author and management guru, whose philosophy guided many of us through the merger process that birthed the now-fatally floundering JFNA, who wrote: "Vision is simply a combination of three basic elements: (1) an organization's fundamental reason for existence...(often called its mission or purpose); (2) its timeless, unchanging core values; and (3) huge and audacious -- but ultimately achievable -- aspirations for its own future..." And, critically, Collins asserted that misalignment will ultimately bring organizational collapse. JFNA's leaders these past 6+ years have unilaterally decided that JFNA can totally skip/ignore (1) and (2) above jumping directly to what they believe to be "huge and audacious" (although far from it in reality) programs like the Global Planning Table.
Ask a federation leader what the "fundamental reason for federation existence" is today and you will get a variety of answers dependent on the community's level of success, history and the background of the leader himself/herself. Ask the same leader what the "fundamental reason for JFNA existence" and you get in return a blank stare, perhaps a "serve the federations" mantra. But, ask a JFNA leader the same question and you will receive back the vagaries of irrational notions made up out of whole cloth.
Ask a federation leader today what the "timeless, unchanging core values" that are at the foundation of the federation concept and construct and, sadly, in most instances...most, but not all...you will not get a response. And ask the same of JFNA's leaders and the response will be totally unrelated to those core values. Friends, our commitment to "zionism" as a cause and as a concept has been and remains one of the inspirations for our work and our philanthropy -- but to these "leaders," it is "too controversial" even for a Report from our own organization. Ask the leaders of the Refusenik Movement if "zionism" was "too controversial" for them, ask those of us who organized the movement that toppled the "Zionism is racism" UN Resolution, if "zionism" is "too controversial" to them. Ask those of our dearest Israeli friends? Ask those who support the ugliest of BDS actions whether they are happy that mainstream Jewish organizations, in particular the umbrella or our federation movement, reject the inclusion of "zionism" in their reports because it has become "too controversial."
When and where we have an uneducated laity and a silent majority unwilling to argue for that which is right, unwilling to fight for our values, those values disappear. It's happening before our very eyes...right now. And, we put up with this, with these, because....???