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Itta Dozntmatter about Federation 2.0: A Response

May 31, 2009

“As an essayist I don’t believe in the fiction of an anonymous observer. Rather than the sham of objectivity, I think you should put your perspective up front. That’s only fair to the reader.” – Ralph Wiley

One of the most fascinating aspects of writing a blog is the nature of the comments that one receives after a post.  Generally after I post a new essay I receive several comments, some of which are publicly posted to the blog and some of which are emailed to me directly. Oftentimes the comments via email are done in such a manner because the commentator for one reason or another would prefer a direct conversation (or observation) as opposed to a more public contribution to a discussion I am proposing. In each of those cases I have kept (and will always keep) those email conversations confidential. I also have not (and will not) share feedback I receive without permission.  My feeling is that I am not a reporter with anonymous sources, nor is this blog a conduit for me to refract or reframe the comments of others in a manner of my choosing.  This blog reflects my own thoughts;  those who choose to join a conversation can do so publicly via the comment function or with me directly.

However, just as I respect the desires of those who wish to remain confidential when they contact me, I do not provide a forum on my blog for “anonymous” comments. When I receive comments that come from a source that is identifiable, I post them regardless of content and without edit.  When the comment comes from an anonymous email address or a disguised one, I do not post it publicly.  However, since I have not made this practice clear, I have posted the one recent anonymous comment I have received (since it was intended to be public), but going forward I will not post anonymous comments.

The first (and last) anonymous post on my blog is from a commentator named “Itta Dozntmatter” who wrote from an anonymous email address.  Itta (for lack of another name) posted an anonymous comment to my recent Federation 2.0 post and the comment (in its entirety) is as follows:

“Seth –

Are you working with anyone to accomplish this or are you just sitting back spewing ideas and waiting for someone to ask you to actually get your hands dirty? Stop writing, stop pontificating and actually produce a product and put your words into action. You are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf!”

Itta – as I do with everyone who contacts me about the blog, I want to thank you. First for reading the blog (I still marvel that people take the time to do so), and second for taking the time to comment. But moreover, you raise a good question, an interesting suggestion and a much-appreciated observation. I will address all three via the blog (since I don’t have your email to contact you directly).

1.    “Are you working with anyone to accomplish this or are you just sitting back spewing ideas and waiting for someone to ask you to actually get your hands dirty?” Itta – the answer to your question is yes to the first part and no to the second part.  As my peers here in Atlanta know (and as a cursory review of my bio would suggest) I am actively engaged inside the “established” Jewish community advancing many of the ideas that I suggest on this blog. I am always careful to note that the ideas in this blog are my own and are not intended to reflect the views of any particular organization. But make no misstate, as while serving as Vice Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and as an engaged member of the Atlanta Jewish community, I actively speak about and advocate many of the ideas I discuss here.  I think there are numerous change agents in my own community (and elsewhere) that also share many of my same views, and as they contact me we begin to develop even more coordinated discussions about some of the actions I propose. So yes, I am working with others, but not nearly as many as I need. There is a reason I openly post my email – I welcome others to contact me to join a very important discussion in process.

As to the second part of your question, no I am not waiting for someone to ask me to get my hands dirty, I am asking others to get their hands dirty with me.  Contact me and be willing to be part of a group in Atlanta that helps create Federation 2.0 in our community (because I believe the Federation professionals are willing to create that vision hand in hand with local change agents).  But for those not in Atlanta, also contact me and be willing to be part of a national working group of change agents that work in support of a renewed Federation movement (as oppose to working to only eulogize it). And Itta, I would be delighted to have an open conversation about what “getting our hands dirty” means – even if we have different views, I am certain we would agree that the more hands getting dirty the better.

2.    “Stop writing, stop pontificating and actually produce a product and put your words into action.” So I am not certain that stopping writing is the best suggestion, and I very much try not to pontificate. But the idea of producing a product is one that I very much agree with, which is why I wrote and published Federation 2.0: Reimagining the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.  It has plenty of observations, but plenty of actionable steps too. I continue to use that document as a blueprint for many of the actions I believe we need to take locally and nationally, and Itta – I welcome you and others to take that paper, find a piece of it that resonates with you, and lets’ get to work. A committee of one is not very productive, and a voice with no chorus is not very loud. As I now work to develop the local and national working groups that I propose, I am hoping that many of my words and ideas do get converted into actions. But as I am fond of saying, in this kitchen we need more chefs, not less.  Yes, I would like to see the changes I am proposing, but not to the exclusion of change others are seeking. Federation 2.0 isn’t intended to be only my vision, it is intended to be a model in which my vision, your vision and other individuals’ visions of the Federation movement are all shared, evaluated and implemented.  But before we implement tactics, we need to develop a strategy, and before we develop the strategy we need to identify some common principles of what our renewed movement will look like and feel like. The development of those principles comes from a discussion.  And a discussion is the very first action we need to take, but it needs to be an expeditious and inclusive action.  Sometimes I feel like I am having a one way conversation, I would be delighted if you joined me in this first action step, and then each of the action steps that follows.

3.    “You are beginning to sound like the boy who cried wolf!” Itta – thank you, that is good feedback. One of the hardest parts about writing a blog is the development and refinement of voice. To who am I writing and why am I writing at all? These questions vex me often when I sit down to write. Equally challenging is knowing how my voice is heard and interpreted – am I seen as a thoughtful critic that believes in the Federation movement but concerned that it has been transformed into a “system”?  I hope so. Am I a person who likes combining my experiences (good and bad) with ideas in my head in a thoughtful way then transforming those thoughts into action?  I am.   Do I always get the balance right?  Probably not. In the words of Whitman, I contain multitudes, and this blog reflects many (but not all) of them. You are telling me I am beginning to sound shrill, and that is important to know. Even if that opinion is not universally shared, I am certain it is shared by others. And it is a good reminder to me that I need to continue to develop my voice, and balance my thinking with doing.  But one disagreement – unlike the story about the boy that cries wolf, I am not lying – there really is a wolf. It is called apathy and it is already scattering much of the flock.

Lastly, I am fascinated by the anonymous name you chose for yourself.  As it is written, the name we make for ourselves says a great deal about who we are, what we do and how people perceive us. I write this blog under my name because I am hopeful of change I propose and I believe that my thoughts and words matter in helping create change, as will my actions.

I don’t know what your name is – you say Itta Dozntmatter.

My name is Seth Cohen – and I say it does.

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