Questions for JFNA Leadership as the 2018 GA Ends in Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in conversation with outgoing JFNA Board Chair Richard V. Sandler; screencapture JFNA Facebook page.

By An American GA Attendee

While many esteemed individuals were part of the GA and it included several articulate, inspiring speakers, the 2018 event at-large left more questions than answers, some of which left a sense of tremendous pessimism for JFNA as an efficient organization.

An example of questions for the JFNA leadership:

This past summer, around 100,000 Israelis flooded the streets of Israel to protest anti-LGBT policies. Why did JFNA fail to ask questions during the GA “dialogue” to the Prime Minister or the Speaker of the Knesset regarding an issue of shared interest to individuals across all represented communities? Wouldn’t an issue that impacts thousands of families trying to raise Jewish children be more important than having a dialogue about the Prime Minister’s attendance at the Hamilton play in NYC?

At an event held at the Knesset, off to the side sat a philanthropist whose initiatives have helped hundreds of thousands of children throughout North America. He has made one of the most significant contributions to Jewish life in North America in the 21st century and could easily be a role model for all in attendance. Why does JFNA need to be so elitist as to largely ignore showcasing and acknowledging some of the most heroic Jewish philanthropists in the community just because they may not be Federation-centric? This is one example of many of how JFNA is embodied as a deeply elitist organization.

Non-Orthodox Jewish individuals do not have the flexibility to have Jewish marriage and raise Jewish children as they wish. If the mission of the GA was “Let’s Talk,” why wasn’t there enough courage to have an open and honest dialogue created with Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein or Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the massive religious schisms that exist in Israel.

Israel President Reuven Rivlin sent a letter this summer to Knesset members urging them to revise a bill aimed at enshrining Israel’s Jewish character in law, saying that the measure “could harm the Jewish people, Jews throughout the world and the State of Israel.” Wouldn’t it have been valuable to better understand how Israeli policy leaders seek to bridge the details of the gap between the Prime Minister’s policies and the President’s disagreements on such a significant piece of legislation? Wouldn’t it have been better to delve into specifics and not sound-bites or generalities?

The North American young adult population seems to have been represented by just about a dozen or so members of the Jewish Federation’s Young Leadership Cabinet. How could the two most significant leaders of the Jewish Federation of North American exclaim so often about the success of this year’s GA when so few young adult leaders of the Jewish community attended the event and when practically no young adults in the Israeli philanthropic community were represented? Practically no time on the plenary was granted discuss the tremendous challenges facing Noth American Jewish leadership in the 21-45 age cohort.

How can JFNA stay relevant with no clear and compelling call to action, which fails to seek serious answer to serious questions, and which is not able to spur creative engagement that reaches the next generation of Jewish leadership in Canada, Israel and the United States?

Also – Would JFNA be willing to be transparent about the cost of the GA (some have speculated close to $20 million) and how JFNA measures the results for such a costly undertaking? How can such a cost be justified when so many vulnerable Jewish individuals are in need.