Heard Around Jerusalem, continued

The Week That Was

Friday morning in Jerusalem; a time to complete Shabbat preparations, and reflect on the past week. And as senior leaders – both lay and professional – continue to stream into Israel, a day of rest sounds pretty good.

With the upcoming Jewish Agency board meetings next week, the tension is so thick a plastic knife could cut through. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

After the high of multi-young leadership events the past few weeks, including the ROI Summit, the Nahum Goldmann Fellowship and the launch of the latest cohort of the PresenTense Global Fellowship, the Israeli Presidential Conference opened on Tuesday. And what began with such high hopes and expectations in 2008, at least as far as Jewish world programing, has become a disappointment for many. The most positive impact: the cafe and hall-way networking – especially those conversations that pulled in the under 35 demographic – continues to make the event an important one on the calendar. But a program filled with distinguished presenters, and star entertainers, needs much more, including the organizing committee selecting moderators who have enough savy to actually moderate, and not turn sessions into an embarrassment. We’ll have more on the “President’s Conference”, including in-depth looks at several sessions, beginning Sunday.

Yesterday saw the opening of the most recent session of the Zionist General Council, and, once again, except to the political apparatchiks who take part, no-one cares. But that’s the least of the problems facing the World Zionist Organization (WZO) – or looking at it differently, perhaps that is the heart of the problem. Spun-off from the Jewish Agency two years ago this month in governance changes, the organization has been floundering, looking for a reason to be, ever since. As a senior professional confided in me, “The WZO divorced from the [Jewish] Agency is a runt that only does damage as it seeks to do anything.”

There has been talk of the two (WZO and Jewish Agency) reuniting, and we understand influential American leaders have signed on, but apparently Avraham Duvdevani, WZO chair of the exec, – who had previously stated he would be willing to step aside to allow the reunification – has changed his mind, unhappy with his own loss of power. Hard to say where this plays out, but one thing is certain, the question that still needs to be answered: what is the WZO actually accomplishing with its roughly $12m. budget?

Lost in the conference news of the week was the announcement, first carried by The Jerusalem Post, that Israeli-Kazakh billionaire Alexander Mashkevitch said he will resign from the presidency of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress (EAJC). eJP has learned that Mashkevitch’s decision centers around the continuing sums of money [he was providing] to run the organization. This is a problem that extends far beyond the low-profile EAJC. From the World Jewish Congress (WJC) to the Russian Jewish Congress, and beyond, many of these organizations are not structured to exist without the significant support of a single donor. It is generally acknowledged that WJC president Ronald Lauder’s generosity, like Edgar Brofman’s before him, allows the organization to continue. Yury Kanner’s role in the Russian Jewish Congress is similar. While the Jewish world might not run out of interested billionaires anytime soon, this is not a prescription for long-term good health.

The Week That’s To Be

The Jewish Agency’s Board of Governors convenes in Jerusalem this coming Tuesday and more than one long-time observer has indicated the in-fighting is worse than it has even been. The members of the various factions, including those representing Jewish Federations of North America – including UIA, – Keren Hayesod the WZO and the Jewish Agency are all, not so subtly, engaged in self-destructive, and obstructionist, acts. When eJP suggested to several board members the current situation resembles the U.S. political landscape of today (where if the Democrats say the sky is blue, the Republicans introduce legislation to quickly change the color to green), one board member said Congress doesn’t hold a candle to the manipulative dealings in the Knesset. Regardless, one thing is clear from numerous conversations, civility has taken a back-seat to all else.

Indirectly related to the tensions surrounding the board meeting, is the Jewish Federations “handling” of their desired Global Planning Table (GPT) and how money is allocated for overseas needs. This is another place where it is difficult to tell where it will eventually play out, but despite being in self-denial, JFNA’s lay and professional leadership needs to not only understand, but accept, that this continuing fiasco has caused them significant damage across not only the federation system, but across all meaningful global giving discussions.

We end as we began, Friday morning in Jerusalem. Shabbat is coming. Events surrounding the Jewish Agency board meetings are fluid, and continually evolving. Let us hope that all the key players take a good, solid, time-out beginning tonight and think about what is best for the Jewish world. Then let us all figure out how to move that agenda forward together.

Shabbat Shalom.