Is a New Funding Formula the Answer or a Smokescreen

With the upcoming UJC Federation Leadership Institute, the very public pr battle involving future funding between the UJC/Federation system, JAFI and the Joint is out in full swing. In the media, on blogs, conference calls from Board chairs to decision makers and around the coffee shops of Emek Refaim it’s a hot topic these days. However, at the UJC offices in New York City, with employees up to their ears in boxes preparing for their move downtown, the day to day needs have been pushed to the sidelines – and staff are already discussing the anticipated next round of reductions.

Also at UJC, earlier this week David Fisher resigned as the National Campaign Chair. For whatever the reasons behind his decision, why his resignation letter and the UJC’s response was sent to the press is beyond me – that’s why we chose not to publish them. A long time communal professional told me yesterday that it is ok to openly question policy decisions espoused by our leadership – but the level of personal attacks is getting out of hand.

This time last year, while Brandeis University was accepting proposals for the newly established Bronfman Chair in Communal Innovation, the viciousness being waged against some submissions was so outrageous, the blog showcasing many of the proposals needed to turn off its comment box. Too much of what I have been reading both in the press and on the blogosphere lately disappoints me. It is perfectly acceptable to disagree, but why can’t we do it with respect to others?

Why all the misquoting? After personally speaking with the author, at least one recent article appears to be unintentional. But in other cases, it sure sounds like words are being twisted. And why does a spokesperson for a major Jewish organization launch a personal vendetta when an unfavorable story appears in the press?

I know I am in a minority, but isn’t it about time, in all we do, Jewish organizations, and those working in the Jewish world, take the high ground as opposed to employing the very worst practices of the private sector?

As to the FLI, it’s pretty much a guess what actions will really be taken as a result of the Florida meetings but it is safe to assume that at the Jewish Agency Board meetings later this month more budget cuts will be needed due to a shortfall in expected cash from 2008. Where they will come from is a good question because with the exception of cash rich MASA, JAFI is about as lean as it can get.

For those not up on current events, these letters between JAFI’s Board Chair and UJC’s senior leadership will give you a head’s up to the questions being raised around the current funding arrangements. This article from The Jewish Exponent speaks about Philadelphia’s “experimenting with essentially the same practice that many are pushing for on a national level.”

As for what the broader community is thinking, in this editorial The Forward weighs in.

Saving the Agency

Some say the fate of the Jewish Agency doesn’t matter, that the great Jewish dramas of the 20th century are over. That’s shortsighted. There’s still a need for collective institutions to carry out the Jewish community’s will at the international level no less than at the national and local levels. There’s also a need for accountable institutions to conduct the business of Israel-Diaspora relations, so the task isn’t left to billionaires meeting in back rooms. If the Jewish Agency isn’t doing its job, it must be fixed — not abandoned.