Dissenting Opinion: 4 Courageous Lay Leaders speak out on JFNA-UIA Fiasco

[eJP note: For background, we direct readers to our earlier post, “Send in the Clowns: A Commentary on JFNA-UIA.”]


We are members of the JFNA Global Operations Review Committee (the “Committee”). After extensive consideration, we dissent from certain portions of the draft Report of the Committee, dated October 8, 2018 (the “Draft”), as we explain below.

The premise of the work of the Global Operations Review Committee was a two-pronged evaluation of the overseas agenda/work of JFNA, including its subsidiary UIA. Conceptually, it was to serve as a zero-based budgeting tool to be incorporated into the overall Bridgespan JFNA scope and strategy effort.

During the evaluation process, we were members of the Israel and Overseas Subcommittee. There was only one in-person meeting attended by both Subcommittees. During that meeting, our strong concerns were expressed about the approach to JFNA’s future scope of activities, its relationship with the American Joint Distribution Committee, the Jewish Agency for Israel and World ORT (collectively, the “Partners”), as well as JFNA’s/UIA’s governance role in the Jewish Agency for Israel. Although certain references to the Partners were inserted into the Draft in response to our concerns, the overall approach to the scope of JFNA’s future activities remains unchanged.

The concepts of collective responsibility and collective giving have been the cornerstone for generations of the Federation system, in general, and Israel and Overseas activities, in particular. We fear that the underlying substance of the Draft, if implemented, will encourage an atomized future of narrowness and particularism in the Israel and Overseas area that runs counter to these fundamental concepts.

We are unable to accept this vision. We believe it (i) will undermine Israel and Overseas efforts by, and giving from, Federations and others in the United States; and (ii) will significantly weaken the Partners, as global service organizations that offer – even with their shortcomings (which we believe are being and will be addressed) – the only long-term path for global Jewish responsibility, unity and connection.

The narrative presented in the Draft overstates JFNA’s role and record in addressing Israel and Overseas advocacy and fundraising. While JFNA does provide engagement opportunities with the Partners during missions and at the GA, and through participation in the Jewish Agency’s governance, the narrative in the Draft fails to indicate that JFNA’s role primarily has been as a conduit for the Partners, not as the implementer and fundraiser for these endeavors. In fact, JFNA has not had a specific focus on fundraising at individual Federations for the international funding agenda. The Draft suggests that JFNA build new expertise in overseas priorities without providing meaningful and detailed assurance as to how it will do so. In light of JFNA’s historic role as a conduit, we believe this gamble on an expanded JFNA role is unwise and may result not only in taking attention away from the Partners, but also in diminishing the effectiveness of North American Jewry’s efforts in Israel and overseas.

Specifically, the Draft (on page 4, items 5 and 6) describes a future in which JFNA would expand greatly its operations in Israel and Overseas to focus on projects and activities originated by JFNA and funded by individual Federations (this, in the context of the Committee’s original mandate to focus on reducing JFNA’s costs in the face of Federations’ concerns about the size of the JFNA budget). Based on JFNA’s limited accomplishments in the Israel and Overseas agenda and its funding since the merger, if JFNA truly seeks to expand support for the Israel and Overseas agenda, consideration should be given to focusing its activities with the Federations and with involvement of the Partners.

In contrast to the breadth of JFNA’s role laid out in the Draft, we believe JFNA generally should focus its Israel and Overseas efforts on areas where it can successfully and efficiently create an umbrella of support. These include (i) advocacy for the principle of Jewish collective responsibility; (ii) broad advocacy amongst Federations for the sector and the Partners (which would supplement the Partners’ increased advocacy for their respective activities directly to Federations); (iii) organization in the U.S. of ad hoc national campaigns in times of emergency in the Israel and Overseas sector; (iv) high level interaction with the United States and Israeli governments; (v) logistical support for missions, travel and similar activities that foster greater personal connection for Federations and their donors with Israel and Overseas communities; and (vi) providing financial logistical services to initiatives that individual Federations undertake. Ultimately, by enriching the collective of the Federation system and the Partners, rather than assisting in their dismantling, we believe our local and global efforts will be enhanced.

If the rationale for the Committee’s efforts was to focus JFNA’s Israel and Overseas work, the Draft’s recommendations actually expand them in an open-ended manner. Given JFNA’s historical performance, if the Draft’s recommendations become the new strategy of a financially-constrained JFNA, we also fear the Partners will be severely damaged and will be pressed to compete with Federations’ activities in their own communities. We strongly recommend that JFNA focus on utilizing and strengthening the Partners (as opposed to limiting their roles and seeking to grow JFNA’s) to implement the substantive Israel and Overseas agenda.

Finally, rather than presenting a unilateral announcement of policy from JFNA, we believe JFNA should engage in a serious and extended discussion with the Partners and the Federations as to JFNA’s future role in Israel and Overseas activities.

Alisa R. Doctoroff
Beth Kieffer Leonard
Heschel J. Raskas
David Silvers

December 4, 2018

[eJP postscript: We have offered JFNA the opportunity to respond.]