Archive for the ‘Memo to the (Federation) File’ Category

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Strange Love of National Organizations (or how I learned to stop worrying and love my local community)

November 18, 2009

Do not separate yourself from community – Hillel (Avos 2:5)

All politics is local – Thomas ‘Tip’ O’Neill

Quite simply, the GA is a reminder of the gravitational force of national Jewish organizations and the important role they play in connecting us to one another. We often exhort one another to ‘not recreate the wheel’ in our respective community efforts, but if it wasn’t for networked cadres of national leadership and large conferences like the GA there wouldn’t be opportunities for the mass in-person sharing of new ideas and lessons learned in order to avoid such redundant efforts. Certainly technology has given us all the ability to communicate more quickly (even instantly) and has removed geography as a barrier to the exchange of ideas. But nevertheless, there is no substitute for harnessing the collective power of diverse and distributed Jewish leadership so that together, under the umbrella of a national organizational endeavor, they can meet challenges and seize opportunities that are continental and even global in scope.

And having watched some of my friends ‘go national’ I also know the seductiveness (and impact) of being engaged in community discussions that transcend ones own local community. Whether it is the national young leadership cabinet of The Jewish Federations of North America in which many of my friends participate, or the boards of continental endeavors like Joshua Venture Group (in which I am involved), the involvement in initiatives that have a scope beyond one’s city limits are often perceived as a form of ‘graduated’ leadership. For others, however, ‘going national’ is a matter of necessity – to effect the level of transformative change they seek to achieve, local communities (especially small ones) may be too limiting. Whatever the reason one decides to expand his or her role in more national endeavors, there can be no question that it can be extremely educational and enriching.

But it can also be distracting.

There are a few reasons why involvement in national organizations and initiatives can present both challenges and opportunities related to the success of Jewish leaders. First – the challenges. “Going national” is a substantial commitment to individual resources and time commitments, and requires a high level of patience with long-distance communication, collaboration, and politics. While not always the case, the exhaustion from national involvement often limits activists from greater engagement in their own local communities. But there is another issue of greater significance (and often related to the first issue) – often national endeavors can feel a bit disconnected from local needs and issues. While solving issues on a national scale may involve a level of grand planning and implementation, it ultimately is often excellent local execution that make those solutions achieve their intended results. In sum, while passions may be national, needs are still local.

But on the other hand, the positive impacts of national involvement are clear. Engagement in national (or international) activities often give scale and scope to the imaginations of local activists. Connecting and sharing with peers is one of the best ways to meaningful exchange ideas and experiences, and the ability to connect with different people with different perspectives is a true benefit of national involvement. Also, as one of my friends reminded me at the GA, often in small communities the opportunity to become more engaged in the Jewish community is limited and becoming involved in national endeavors is the most meaningful way to provide engaged Jewish activists a way to make a Jewish impact. Lastly, understanding that there is a large community of which we all are a part (and that requires some of our attention and effort) is a key benefit of exposure to national initiatives – the more we feel a part of something bigger than ourselves, the more we are empowered to view ourselves as vital instruments of empowerment and change.

But with all that being said, I think that one can’t lose sight of the fact that community starts at home; first in our own home and then in our home communities. Sure, the lure of the faraway is great – its often feels more significant and less limited. But the ability to invest in our own communities is great as well, and there is no lack of need to impact the communities around us in the smallest and most significant ways. While we may worry about issues that transcend just our individual cities and towns, the love of our local communities – the communities that care for us – must remain great. Whether it is innovation, connection with Israel, Jewish arts and culture or otherwise – if there is a national need, that means there is a local need. And if there are local needs, we need local activists just as much as we need national ones.

So with that in mind, and the GA in our rearview mirror, lets make sure we all think communally, learn and interact nationally, but not forget to act locally. It makes a difference – a difference that can change a nation of Jews one community at a time.

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A Moment in Time: Sunday Night at the GA

November 15, 2009

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” – Henry David Thoreau

Anyone who has been to a GA knows that there are two schedules – the one that is published in the program book and the one you make for yourself.  Between the plenaries and the salons, there are meetings squeezed into bar booths and between sofas, old stories being recalled and new opportunities being explored.  Whenever so many people from so many places come together, there is often too much to discuss in too little time; the GA is a microcosm of the Jewish world – passionate, exhilarating and exhausting. Yet somewhere among the hectic schedules there are moments both superb and sublime that comprise the GA, moments that sometimes reflect upon the past and other that portend the future.

One such moment was Sunday night at the GA.

Convened by the grassroots efforts of Nina Bruder of Bikkurim, Keith Greenwald, a Vice-Char of the National Leadership Cabinet of Jewish Federations of North America, Shawn Landres of Jumpstart, Toby Rubin of UpStart Bay Area, Felicia Herman of Natan, Matt Abrams Gerber and Miryam Rosenzweig of Jewish Federations of North America, along with the support of myself, Steve Rakitt, the President/CEO of Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and several others, over 120 Jewish leaders and professionals crammed into a  room in the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel for almost two hours in the late evening hours of the first day of the GA. The room was a cross-section of the modern Jewish communal landscape, with representatives from National Young Leadership Cabinet, members of the Jewish social entrepreneur community, professionals involved in building and sustaining community capacity, as well as over twenty executives of Federations from across the country. Intermingled among the tables in the room were artists and journalists, fundraisers and philanthropists, passionate supporters of overseas needs and activists for the most local of causes.

The purpose of the gathering was to have a conversation among a group of engaged volunteers and professionals about how to strengthen and expand local Jewish communities by encouraging new ideas, new leaders and new approaches to Jewish community life.  An important and interesting topic for sure, but what made the room so compelling, however, is that for many participants in the room, this was the first time they had the opportunity to truly sit around the table taking to community members from communities other than their own – not just geographic communities, but communities of interest as well.  The sheer density of the room broke down silos, if for no other reason than there was no room for the silos to remain standing. Moreover, while many of the participants had shared their aspirations and frustrations of their respective communities with members of their respective communities, this was an opportunity for the various groups to fund common ground if not always common cause.

As pointed out by many attendees, the night wasn’t flawless, and in several respects it could have been improved. Although the hope was that there would be a healthy dialogue, naturally there was the occasional monologue. And without true facilitation, many of the table discussions left participants frustrated with the pace and progress of the conversations. Some suggested that guiding questions might have been a bit vague and next steps might have been unclear.  Lastly, just as much as one could marvel who was in the room, one also had to stop and wonder who wasn’t in the room and what it would take to get them there.  Nevertheless, the volume of the voices in the room made it clear that of those in the room nobody was keeping quiet and no opinion was left unexpressed.  In a GA filled with moments, Sunday night was a noisy, messy, and exhilarating one.

So what to make of this moment?  Sometimes a moment is just a snapshot in time, nothing more and nothing less. Sometimes it is the drop of a pebble that makes a ripple, which turns into a wave that transforms a landscape. It is hard to guess exactly what kind of moment that Sunday night at the GA was – a moment that captured the desire for people to more closely connect with one another in transforming their communities, or a moment where silos fell momentarily only to eventually be reinforced again over time.  Perhaps it was a moment in the present that was a reflection of moments that could have been, or much preferably, perhaps it was a moment that foreshadows the promise of what can be.   To realize that promise, there is no question that there is much work to be done in the moments and months ahead, especially if the participants hope to continue the conversations around those tables and tables in their local communities. Yes, perhaps Sunday night at the GA was a moment in time –

but in time, anything is possible.

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Too Big to Fail: Large Jewish Organizations and the Imperative of Success

November 2, 2009

Unless you have been in a cave for the past year, you have no doubt heard the debate about how certain financial institutions are too big to be allowed to fail (therefore necessitating government intervention/support). And unless you are totally unengaged from the organized Jewish world, you have no doubt heard debate about whether certain Jewish organizations are too big to survive. Local Federations (and the national Federation system) as well large multi-national organizations such as the Jewish Agency for Israel are the subject of ample criticism (sometimes much deserved) for being too big, too slow to change, and possessing leadership that is too entrenched and myopic to successfully transition to a new era of Jewish communal life.  It is said these large organizations and others like them are at the doorsteps of obsolescence and they are outdated infrastructure for a time that has passed.

I believe, however, these organizations are too big to fail and that the support they need is not from the government, but from all of us.

Now to be clear, these organizations suffer from deficiencies that need prompt remediation. But like the financial systems that are essential to the endurance of an efficient economy, these Jewish organizations serve important roles in the maintenance and endurance of strong Jewish communities.  Their history alone does not require their continued existence, but the legacy of their successes should give us pause before we cast these organizations off to the bookshelves of Jewish history.  Billions of dollars raised by Federations and millions of olim assisted by the Jewish Agency have helped transform Jewish life in Israel and in communities around North America in a magnitude that cannot be quantified.  Also, we often say that if these organizations did not exist, we would need to recreate them, subtly recognizing that their shortcomings should not override the merit of their continued existence.

But just as status does not equal merit, existence does not equal success. While these organizations may be too big for us to allow them to fail, disputing and denying their shortcomings will not help in renewing them for the next Jewish century. The missions encompassed by their initial development may still be sound –  but the environments in which they pursue their vision have changed. With respect to Federations, while the amount of communal need has not diminished the impact of communal giving, the demand for philanthropic choice has increased the need for organizational flexibility. And with respect to the Jewish Agency, core aspects of the role it must fill have changed; Aliyah has become an evolutionary project not just an existential one and the need for the development the social capacity of the Jewish people should now be on par with its other historic roles.  Yes, they may be too big too fail, but they cannot be to small-minded in redefining what success looks like.

In their influential study on the lifecycle of organizations, Danny Miller and Peter Friesen categorized troubled organizations with similar characteristics. While our large Jewish organizations might have aspects of all of the archetypes, perhaps the most fitting  for some large Jewish organizations is the ‘Stagnant Bureaucracy’ category.  In that case, the organization has ossified to a point where it is neither receptive nor responsive to changing dynamics around it and where the weight of its own organizational infrastructure make it less likely to adequately adapt.  These characteristics do not mean the essential purpose of the organization is outdated, but they do make a clear case that the strategic and tactical approaches taken by the organization must be updated.  Organizations, however, cannot update themselves. The success of their ability to change requires committed and visionary leadership as well as the prodding and patient constituents; in other words, it requires all of us.

So as we embark on this next great chapter of Jewish organizational life, we should remember there are Jewish communal organizations that are too big to fail. It is not the size of their payrolls that make them so, but it is the size of the ideas they embody.  And in a world where the smallest and most instantaneous message can often be the most impactful, we should not underestimate the potential impact of the renewal of our largest and most enduring organizations on the success of our collective Jewish future; a future that is also too big to fail.

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Memo to the (Federation) File: The New CEO’s Reading List

July 15, 2009

Books are lighthouses erected in the great sea of time.” – E.P. Whipple

Notwithstanding their often harsh and withering expression of opinion, critics are often the most adoring supporters of substance, especially the written word.  E.P. Whipple, one of the 19th century’s finest literary critics knew this well;  even though he was well acquainted with numerous literary personalities, it was the books he held most dear.

I was recently reminded of Whipple and his famous quotation about books as lighthouses when a friend asked me my opinion of the news of the new CEO at UJC/Federations of North America.  I don’t know the new CEO, nor am I qualified to pass any opinion on the matter.  But I do know that the challenges he faces are great and the opportunities are even greater. And I know that he steps into his role in a time when there are many clouds and the waters are quite choppy.

In other words, no matter his skills as a captain, he could use a few good lighthouses to help guide his way.

So that got me thinking – rather than respond to my friends query with uninformed advice that would  be ephemeral and illuminate very little, I thought I might suggest a few books that could serve as lighthouses to the new CEO.  My list is as follows:

1.   Book of Joshua (Sefer Y’hoshua).  My friend Rabbi Joshua Heller recommended to me that I go back to Joshua (the book, not him) when I was experiencing my own leadership transition, and it was very sage advice. Wandering in the desert is one thing, crossing into the land is another. We are at an important moment of time in Jewish history where we are facing many of the parallels to the Book of Joshua;. a good reading of the book (and commentary) reveals those parallels and much more.

2.   The Roots of the Future by Rabbi Herbert Friedman. Everything old is new again, and this book makes the case that there is a compelling approach to our future that can be borne out of our past.  This book not only covers Herb’s amazing life, but speaks to the importance of the Federation movement and the power embodied in its ideals. Essential reading from an essential life.

3.   Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Essays by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  I am fond of saying that I am a big fan of H&H, but not the bagels – Herb and Heschel. This book is a perfect compliment to Herb Friedman’s book, if Herb’s is about experience and action, these essay by Heschel are about vision and audacity. Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the current state of the Federation movement is we have lost some of the audacity and amazement that were hallmarks of its earlier days. Reading a bit of Heschel can make you believe in the need to bring it back; and we need to believe before we can begin anew.

4.   Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal.  We use language about reimagning organizations, but often what we really need is to reorganize our imaginations. Bolman and Deal provide an important source of knowledge on how we can enhance our organizations and ourselves. Any good leader understands that success is based on choices, and choices that are not only his/her own. The leader of a national Jewish movement needs not only that understanding, but a guide to converting that understanding into action. This book helps.

5.   Dealing with Darwin: How Great Companies Innovate at Every Phase of Their Evolution by Geoffrey Moore. He helped us cross the chasm, and survive inside the tornado, but Moore’s best book is the one where he helps us understand the power of engaging innovation as part of an organizational culture. This book is not the only book the new CEO should read on innovation, but it is a good start (especially Chapter 7 on renewal innovation).

6.   Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher and William Ury. Bedside reading for negotiators, this could be one of the handiest books on the list for the new CEO. There will be negotiations aplenty, with donors, local Federations, partners, and governance, and the answer always need to get to “yes.” Negotiations can be adversarial, but if properly constructed they can be incredibly empowering and enriching for both parties –  and we need more enrichment in our local and national discussions. Special attention should be paid to Chapter 4 “Invent Options for Mutual Gain.”

7.    Marc Chagall by Jonathan Wilson.  Contemporary Jewish America is complex – rooted in Jewish heritage but colored by streaks of frustrating ambivalence. We paint pictures on tapestries of our own design, often using our own colors in painting images found elsewhere in society. In many ways we are like we are a community of talented and challenging artists. So in order to get a better sense of our collective inner Jewish artistry, I suggest reading about Chagall, one of the greatest Jewish artists in history. He is an artist that embodies our times, and Wilson’s book is a wonderful place to start.

8.   Leveling the Playing Field: Advancing Women in Jewish Organizational Life by Shifra Broznick.  I previously wrote that the next CEO of UJC/Federations of North America should be an outsider and should be a woman. So, although one out of two isn’t bad, we should make no mistake – we still need more women leadership in the senior professional ranks of our movement, and this should be a priority of the new CEO. This book is an important resource, but not nearly as important as the resource we would all have if we had more women CEOs in Jewish communal life.

9.   Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff.  The new CEO doesn’t need to Tweet or blog, but he needs to understand those that do. It is a different world than it was a few years ago, and it is constantly changing – our movement’s leadership needs to not only adapt to that change, but to anticipate it as well. Part Two of this book is essential reading for anyone facing and embracing the groundswell.

10.   Saving Israel: How the Jewish People Can Win a War That May Never End by Dr. Daniel Gordis. In North America we hold a deep passion for Israel but often struggle to find the right voice to express that passion. Fortunately we have Danny Gordis to help us, and he shares that voice in a serious book for serious times. Our Federation movement needs to continue to reinvorgate American passion for supporting Israel, and its leadership needs to be a bold voice in this effort. On page 216 of the book, Danny writes “the purpose of Israel is to transform the Jews.” I suggest that a primary purpose of the Federation movement is to help in that transformation, and this book is an important resource to aid in that effort.

11.    And one bedtime story…  The Kugel Valley Klezmer Band by Betty Stuchner (a PJ Library Selection for 5 year olds). Between reading books for my own pleasure, I read books we get from PJ Library to my children. This is one of my (and my daughter’s) favorites. Not only does it teach history, but it teaches the power of music and the poetry that is created when many instruments join together in harmony. After reading the stack of books suggested above, a short nighttime story for the CEO would be in order, and this is a perfect choice. Joy, music, song… they are not just the stuff of children’s books, or at least they shouldn’t be. This book is a simple reminder of the music we can all make together in our families and in our communities when we play, and work, together.

So that’s it – ten books and one bedtime story that I have on my (initial) suggested reading list for the new CEO.  I welcome others to join in  (in the comments) with their suggestions – not only for the CEO’s reading list, but our collective education as well.

Few things are more ambitious (or exhausting) than a good, long reading list; and while I hope the CEO spends more time listening and leading, there is no substitute for some good reading.  But lighthouses can only help so much, especially in rocky and choppy waters – so safe reading one and all.

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Good Decisions in Bad Times: In Praise of Federation Community Allocations

May 27, 2009

In the words of Thomas Paine (or depending on your musical taste, the Kingston Trio) – these are the days that try men’s souls. With the economy in tatters, jobless numbers swelling, and pocketbooks suffering, charities all over the country are facing decreased campaigns and increased needs.  And of course in the Jewish community, the campaigns of federations have not been immune to this swift and painful downturn. Even those campaigns got an early start before the full onslaught of the economic retreat was felt have suffered substantial drop-off in contributions. In addition, there is the broad impact of Madoff, shrinking endowments and reduced government grants. Yes, these are trying times that can freeze us in the face of the challenges presented. But they are also times where we must nevertheless make decisions on how to confront those challenges. In the federation world, those decisions are often made by community allocations committees.

The good news? Even in bad times, these committees are making good decisions.

Taking my own community as an example, this week the Jewish Federation of Atlanta concluded its allocations process by accepting and approving the thoughtful and balanced recommendation of the local allocations committee. Paradoxically, even in these troubling times, the allocations decisions gave us all something to feel good about. Now make no mistake, nobody felt good about the decreased resources – notwithstanding the heroic efforts of the campaign team it is natural for everyone to wish there was more money to allocate to worthy affiliates and grantees. But what felt good was our collective understanding and appreciation of the way the allocations committee deliberated and decided how community resources should be allocated to meet community needs. The process was thoughtful, inclusive and exhaustive – and even though it resulted in reduced allocations for all, it balanced those reductions with targeted allocations to areas in which need is greatest. Painful decisions perhaps, but smart decisions nevertheless. And the best part? The tough decisions were made not by professionals or hired consultants, but the very members of the community that will be impacted by those decisions.

Now it is popular these days to bemoan how Jewish philanthropy is changing, that the sovereign donor is making more of his/her own choices independent of communal campaigns. In addition, the generosity of individual philanthropists lulls us into a false sense of security that foundations will always meet the targeted needs of the community. But there is an undeniable fact that a community allocations process, run effectively and inclusively like the one in Atlanta, results in broader, more sensitive and more balanced impact than independent decisions by individual donors and foundations. While foundations can be myopic in their focus, federation community allocations decisions must be based on a wide view of community need and consensus.

There is a reason why allocations committees have endured in our communities for so long – because they work.

So now, whereas for many years we have praised foundations at the expense of federations, in these trying times we should be thankful that we have our fellow community members making community decisions. Indeed, in many cases like today in Atlanta, these decisions seem imbued with the wisdom of King Solomon. Balancing local needs with out commitment to Jews overseas, weighing core human services needs with the need to provide education scholarships, maintaining infrastructure while also supporting outcome-focused initiatives – all of these balancing acts can only be genuinely conceived and decided by people who genuinely feel a part of the community they are serving.

Our challenges in these difficult days are great, but not unprecedented. We are reminded that, like now, there once was a time recorded in the Book of Judges (Nevi’im) that there was no king in Israel and everyone did as they pleased. These days we too have no king, and many times it seems like everyone is doing what pleases him or her. Nevertheless, we should not lose sight that in each of our towns and cities we have a kinship of community that demonstrates the wisdom of kings;  wisdom expressed by making community allocations decisions that give us all a reason to be proud – even in times that try our souls.

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(Not) Waiting for Godot: Five Steps Toward Federation 2.0

May 25, 2009

“ESTRAGON:  (giving up again).  Nothing to be done.

VLADIMIR: (advancing with short, stiff strides, legs wide apart). I’m beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I’ve tried to put it from me, saying Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven’t yet tried everything. And I resumed the struggle.”

Any fan of Samuel Beckett (or individuals with a passing knowledge of theater) will know those lines as the opening lines of “Waiting for Godot,” one of the most intriguing (and debated) plays of the modern era.  Notwithstanding its acclaim and endurance, questions continue to be asked about the message Beckett was trying to convey. Who was Gadot? And in the event he arrived (which he never does), what would happen?

Over the past few weeks the “Godot” question has plagued me, but for a different reason. As the conventional Jewish communal calendar comes to its summer recess, there is still a substantial question raised by many (including me in my previous posts): what is the future of the Federation movement?  For much of the Jewish world, this is a marginal question (at best) and increasingly an irrelevant question (at its most dangerous); but for those who have busied themselves with wondering about this future aloud, there tends to be a recurring and Godot-esque response: “let’s wait and see what the next leadership does when she/he arrives.”

Here is my suggestion: let’s not wait for Godot.

If we are truly in the window of opportunity to reframe and renew one of our most central, enduring, and impactful modern Jewish movements, then we can’t rely merely on the arrival of a professional CEO or the engagement of new volunteer leadership. We need to take significant, broad-ranging and constructive actions (not just budget cuts) to bring Federation 2.0 into being.  And we need lots of participants in this endeavor, participants that are not satisfied waiting for change, but participants who want to create change.

We have not been at such a fundamental inflection point in the Federation movement for decades. Not to slight the many years of merging, restructuring and strategizing, but those were inflection points tied to reorganizing the Federation system. What I am writing of is reimagining the Federation movement. Once the movement is reimagined, we can then begin the process of converting our system to meet the vision of a renewed movement.

However, to look forward, we can use wisdom by looking to our past. At one of the our movement’s great moment of inflection, at the 1969 General Assembly, Rabbi Hillel Levine, then a student, spoke of being part of the “children of timelessness” who nevertheless want to “participate in building the vision of a great Jewish community.”
In what could easily pass as something being heard in 2009, Levine said in 1969 “we don’t want commissions to ‘explore the problems of youth.’”  Rather, he stated, “we do want to convert alienation into participation, acrimony into joy – the joy of being possessors of a great legacy – a legacy which has meaning for today.”

In similar spirit, it is time again to bring forward the great legacy of the Federation movement in America to have relevance today. And we don’t have time to wait. We need to act, and act swiftly.

In personal hindsight, eighteen months ago when I first started circulating the white paper titled Federation 2.0: Reimagining the Federation of Greater Atlanta, I made (at least) two mistakes. One, I relied on thoroughness over brevity, making the action plan too lengthy and detailed to make it actionable. And second, I encouraged talk rather than action. Learning from my experiences I now propose, in brief form, specific action steps for bringing Federation 2.0 into reality and helping us all take possession of the great legacy that awaits us.

1.   Refrain from placing blame about the status of Federation 1.0. There are many who would be quick to compose a laundry list  (privately and publicly) of all those who are to blame for the current state of the Federation system and constituent Federations. Where does that get us?  It is an empty endeavor that does not hasten the development of Federation 2.0, and traffics more in institutional memory than impassioned creativity.  The blame game is destructive and dividing, and our endeavor to move forward is weakened by both. Regardless of how our opinions may differ, our endeavors should be based on kavod and the language we should use with one another should be language worthy of our endeavor. Let’s leave the ‘I and thou’ to Buber and focus on the “we and us” While actions matter, language does as well.

2.    Engage our legacy. How many smart women and men have been engaged in the Federation movement only to eventually find their passion and engagement waning for one reason or another?  Locally and nationally we need to reach out to the disaffected and disenchanted, we need to harness their memory to help create a different future. And not only people, we need to remember some of our texts. Not just religious texts, but communal texts. Levine’s speech, Rabbi Herb Friedman’s book, Heschel’s essays on radical amazement – the history of our movement and the ideas of our people should inspire us to recall our mission even as we reimagine our approach.

3.    Open source our ideas. In the few short years I have been engaged in Jewish communal leadership I have been amazed at the insight and creativity inside of both career social workers and emerging social entrepreneurs. In reimaginging the Federation movement, we cannot engage only those that meet certain experience levels and donor status, we need to engage passionate Jews at in all stages and interests. We need to open up the discussion broadly, energetically, imaginatively, and audaciously. We need to use social media tools, virtual town halls and in-person listening tours we need to move swiftly, but not by being exclusive in our discussions. Yes, there is always a place for focused discussions of our most generous supporters, but as I discussed in the Federation 2.0 white paper, we need to make sure that we do not forget that the base is broader than the pinnacle and our movement is one of many, not few.

4.   Create a national Federation 2.0 working group. This is not just a New York City project, and with apologies, it is not just Chicago, Boston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles’ project either. It is not just a “Big City” project and it is not jut an executive committee project. It is a national project. It will require input from Seattle and Savannah, Providence and Pittsburgh.  We will need engaged leaders from all over the nation to commit to a discussion where we frame a national agenda for the Federation movement. This working group is not inside out or outside in, but a true partnership between those inside the system and those outside of it.  An agenda should be set for discourse, but with a goal towards answers. This working group should be self identified immediately, and begin its work immediately, with substantial discussion having occurred by November.

5.    Utilize the 2009 General Assembly as a forum for the debate and adoption of a renewed agenda and approach for the national Federation movement. Forty years have passed since that 1969 GA, and it is time that we engage in a discussion and debate of the magnitude we had then.  UJC should reframe the GA in the context of a great national debate, and rather than recognizing ribbons we should look to rigorously debate a national agenda for our movement. Call it “GA 2009: Reframing, Reimagining, and Renewing our Movement.” Cut the attendance cost and bring people of all backgrounds and ages to be part of the discussion.  Create nationwide conversations during the same days for those that can’t come to Washington (and nationwide plenaries via national teleconferences and webcasts).  Then, at the conclusion of the GA, adopt an agenda and national approach that is bold and imaginative. Create working groups for that agenda to continue the national dialogue and to keep us accountable regarding our approach. And let our movement once again spread across the country energetically from the bottom up, not the top down.

So there you have it, five actionable steps for the development of Federation 2.0. Yes, we still need leadership to arrive and yes, we should have high expectations of her/him.  But we cannot wait for Godot.  As that play ends…

“VLADIMIR: Well, shall we go?
ESTRAGON: Yes, Let’s Go.”

We too must go – go forward.  Who’s ready?

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History, Facts, Faces, and Faith: The Case for Maintaining Overseas Allocations

May 2, 2009

It is that time of year again, the time of counting. I don’t mean just the counting of the Omer, which we do, daily in our synagogues and temples; I mean the counting of dollars and cents raised by our communities as part of our various Jewish community fundraising campaigns. It is the time when we make our final estimates and declare our final projections; the time when we begin to make decisions about where the dollars we raise will go, and how they will be spent.

And this year, more so than any in recent memory, there are fewer dollars and there are harder decisions.

Our communities at home in the United States are all suffering from the unprecedented economic hardships – the ledger of financial resources is short and the list of people in need is long. Our day schools are suffering attrition at rates that are alarming and emergency assistance requests are increasing at a pace that is dismaying.  With all this in mind, there is an increasing sense across American Jewish communities that we need to make sure that before we send too many Jewish dollars overseas to Israel, to the JDC, to the Jewish Agency for Israel, that we must take care of our needs here at home first, at the expense of our overseas allocations.  Not without hand wringing and hearts breaking, we argue and posture that ‘just this year’ we can reduce our overseas allocations to keep more money in our communities.

But after seven years of serving as a volunteer in local Federation planning and allocations decisions, and notwithstanding my involvement in many local Jewish organizations, I am convinced more than ever of the following:  in this time of economic crisis, we should not and cannot disproportionately sacrifice our overseas allocations for our local needs.

There are four reasons why we must honor our commitment to Jews across the world, most substantially in Israel and the Former Soviet Union: History, Facts, Faces, and Faith.

History is significant threefold  – the history of combined philanthropy, the recent history of our local communities, and the history our children and grandchildren will learn. As we sit around our board rooms in our Federations and Jewish Welfare Boards, we cannot and should not forget that much of the history of combined philanthropy was to efficiently and powerfully address the needs of Jews around the would.  That is our history, and that remains our mission. Certainly recent economic history challenges perception of our past, we more viscerally remember our much more recent local history of retraction and need.  In the midst of this recent history, we cannot help but momentarily forget how we got here when we are overwhelmed of the question of where to go in the future.

But we should not forget we are making history too – how we respond to this crisis will be recorded for our children and grandchildren to know. And they should know this – even when we suffered at home, we never forgot our obligations abroad.  Our history should show, it must show, that in time of our greatest need, we still honored our past – we remembered the places of our history and the needs of Jews that still remain in those places.

The facts and faces of overseas needs are critical factors to remember in our allocations decisions and oftentimes are the most easily forgotten. Our local needs confront us every day, we feel their impact, and we know the people who suffer the loss. We are also inundated with data and information that build the case for keeping dollars at home in our own communities.  We are overwhelmingly persuaded by the facts and faces that surround us when we are making our decisions – we know what we will feel when we walk out of our boardrooms, and even more so, we know what we will hear.

That is exactly why we must not sacrifice our commitment to helping Jews overseas. The facts are no less compelling – in these economic times the need is even greater in Israel and FSU.  The pain is even higher. The danger of losing Jews is even greater, and the other networks of support are even weaker. We know, factually, that the need exists. Butt we don’t see there faces everyday – we don’t know their names.  When we walk out of our boardrooms, we won’t hear from them; they won’t call to complain.

They will be the silent cuts – and the faces we do not see. And while our local community needs will be more apparent to us over the coming year, and motivate us to dig into our pockets even deep in the coming year, the needs of our brothers and sisters in Israel, FSU and elsewhere will still be far removed from us.  We can’t forget them now, because we may not remember them later.

Lastly, our overseas allocation is a matter of our faith. Not just our faith in one another, but our faith in G-d as well. As a Jewish people we are in a great partnership – not just in communities and not just with our “overseas partners,” but we are partners with G-d in acts of creation, of sustenance, and of compassion for G-d’s people.  That partnership not only includes those partners we see day-to-day and live in our towns and neighborhoods. We have partners all over the world that have joined with us in G-d’s acts of creation throughout history. We cannot choose to recognize that partnership in part; we must recognize it in whole. And this partnership, this holy partnership requires us to make holy decisions – decisions that require sacrifice of ourselves.

So there it  – history, facts, faces, and faith. The four legs of the table on which we must do our counting; the four factors we must consider when doing our deciding how we will protect and preserve our support of our fellow Jews overseas. It is my case for preserving our overseas allocations this year, and it is my plea.  But my questions remain:

In this time of counting – how will we count? And who?