Is The Emperor [Mostly] Naked?
What was it about Uzi ben Gibor’s post last week “The Ugly Side of Jewish Federations,” that caused it to immediately explode across our readership? Was it the word “ugly” attached to Jewish Federations? Or was it nothing more than a slow Wednesday morning where readers were easily distracted from their morning routine?
Yet something hit a nerve and a tsunami began gathering steam across federation land. And while Uzi is impressed by the almost 900 likes, the real impact are the comments and the almost 20,000 unique visitors the post racked up in the first 48 hours!
As of this writing, there have been 55 comments posted – the bulk are what you would expect: written either by federation supporters or federation critics. A different, and more nuanced conversation, is taking place over at JEDLAB where 103 comments have been posted. For those of you not familiar with JEDLAB, it is a 5000+ member network of folks passionate about the Jewish education world. A significant number work for federations, or federation supported communal agencies. The Jewish Week described it last year as the “hotspot forum for Jewish educators.”
Additionally, Amanda Glincher, a professional at the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, shared her thoughts in a well written stand-alone submission.
And a third indication of the post’s impact played out in eJP’s email box (more on that below).
I have stated publicly, and privately, for many years that the Jewish Federations IN North America do good work on the ground. This should not be confused with the work of the umbrella organization, the Jewish Federations OF North America aka JFNA. But Uzi’s posting dealt only with the former, so that’s where we’ll stay.
As several commenters pointed out, it was unfortunate Uzi grouped the 150+ Federations and hundreds of networked communities together. I, too, just did the same in the above paragraph. And while I stand by my statement, I know full well that both the execution and impact varies from federation to federation. Unfortunately, without name-calling, I do not know of a better way but lumping them all together. And whether it is Uzi, Amanda, myself, or a post commenter, we’re all mostly relating to experiences where we have first hand knowledge.
Many have criticized Uzi for writing anonymously – but let’s go back exactly two years: we published a piece by Michal Kohane, a professional at the Jewish Federation of San Francisco (“40 Plus and Screwed“) that questioned the Federation’s focus on young adult engagement at the expense of those 40+. That piece too had meaningful traction and the Federation’s then CEO – Jennifer Gorovitz – terminated Michal the very same day. Is it any wonder Uzi was gun-shy?
The incident with Michal is the perfect segway to another place where the post’s impact played out: my email box. For here, many individuals – all but two federation CEO’s – shared their thoughts on Uzi’s words. And most, but not all, went on the attack. After all, as they couldn’t/wouldn’t publicly attack Uzi, I was the next best thing! And they didn’t mince words about an anonymous writer or my decision to publish:
One CEO wrote, “I often finish reading the daily post scratching my head and wondering if any federation anywhere ever does anything good (italics, underlining by the CEO). Really? I must be reading a different newsletter than this CEO because I’m pretty sure the last time we criticized a federation (either by name or collectively) dealt with Michal’s firing 2 years ago.
One CEO went so far as to basically praise Richard Wexler for writing openly in his critiques of JFNA. Of course, this CEO – and many of his colleagues – have turned Richard into a pariah. But hey, he writes openly. That we shun him (and that’s on a good day), well let’s not discuss that little detail.
And several CEO’s told me that it’s my job to censor (yes, that word was used) what is allowed to appear on eJP.
Lastly, one honest former senior professional wrote, “my first reaction to the article was that it was way over the top. Then I reviewed each of the points made and realized that I was personally witness to more than one validating event for each, not saying that was the norm but that the stuff happens often enough.”
What should be clear from all the dialogue, is that a certain amount of disconnect exists between the federations, their employees, and the larger community. Federations have played a vital part in providing services to Jewish communities at home and abroad and are the best positioned to continue that work in the 21st Century. But that will take work, including connecting/reconnecting to the grassroots in their own communities. And it will take showcasing the work of federations not just to donors, and potential donors but to the broader American (and Israeli) communities. At eJP we’ll work with you, but you need to change the culture of not accepting criticism. If for no other reason, your next generation of donors won’t accept doing business as usual.