Three’s A Crowd

In an era of increasing polarization, is there anything more important than finding a way to unite our community rather than to continue working in institutional, ideological and philosophical silos?

By Sandy Cardin

You don’t have to be a golfer or even a sports fan to appreciate the miraculous victory Tiger Woods achieved at The Masters tournament last Sunday. Slowly but surely, he plotted his way around the familiar terrain of Augusta National and waited for his competitors to succumb to the pressure of trying to win a major tournament. While his shotmaking was superb, that was not the real difference in his donning the green jacket for a 5th time; it was his patience, experience and intelligence that helped Tiger make history.

In a world all too dominated by people searching for instant gratification, celebrating inexperience and acting without thinking, the life lessons to be learned from Tiger on Sunday are clear. Less obvious, but equally relevant, are what we in the American Jewish community can take from what happened at Augusta National on Sunday: seizing the moment.

By the time his group reached the par-3, 12th hole, Tiger was 2 shots behind. The leader, Francisco Molinari, hit his tee shot in the water, as did three other players still in contention for the title; only Tiger made it in the green safely. By the time they moved on to the next hole, Woods and Molinari were tied and the stage was set. All Tiger needed from that point forward was to think big, maintain focus, rely on his knowledge of the course, make good decisions and execute well. He did, and he won.

How does that relate to American Jewry?

Right now, searches are underway for the top professional position at three of the most influential Jewish organizations in American Jewish life: the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations. Two of the three are actively searching, the third is about to get started.

And while I am sure each will find plenty of strong candidates to interview, isn’t now a perfect time to ask whether some kind of consolidation among them makes sense? In other words, why not try to seize the moment?

I can think of lots of good reasons not to spend a minute thinking about the possibility, and I even hesitated for weeks to write this article. Mergers are very hard to do well, and institutional loyalties are hard to overcome. Turf and ego issues are as menacing in Jewish organizational life as they are on the golf course. The issues would be complex, the challenges astronomical and the chances of success very low.

But then I watched the Masters on Sunday, and I decided maybe we can achieve the unimaginable the same way Tiger did. Maybe we can use our century of communal nonprofit experience to reshape the Jewish future in a way that only three concurrent leadership transitions could – even remotely – allow to happen.

While much has changed since the Jewish communal system in place today was established, all of us are standing on the shoulders of those who helped American Jewry reach a level unknown in the history of our people. It is to them, as well as for ourselves, that we have the responsibility to ask whether what got us here will be enough to get us there. Rather than automatically and axiomatically preserve organizations, shouldn’t we use this leadership transition as an opportunity to consider reeastablishing our communal institutions on a different basis and in a 21st Century configuration?

The benefits of a successful consolidation would be many, not the least of which would be the savings that result from the administrative efficiencies realized by combining back-office operations and other resources. Overlapping and competing departments could be integrated and streamlined, thereby improving service delivery locally, nationally and internationally. Interaction with Israel would be more focused, and the views of American Jewry expressed more clearly and forcefully wherever and whenever our voice needs to be heard. And, with a broader stakeholder base, the consolidated enterprise would be able to honor the diversity of our people by harnessing the wisdom, perspective and energy of all who wish to be counted among us.

What some may view as a drawback – the fact each of the three organizations has a mission and a focus different from the others – I see as an opportunity. The pieces fit together like a jigsaw puzzle – three divisions (domestic [JFNA], international [JDC] and Israel [Conference] – snapping into place to form a whole image no single piece can create by itself. In an era of increasing polarization, is there anything more important than finding a way to unite our community rather than to continue working in institutional, ideological and philosophical silos?

The risks would be massive, but so would be the reward. All we need to do is to think big, maintain focus, make good decisions and execute well.

Crazy? Maybe.

So was Tiger ever winning again, much less The Masters.

So was SpaceIL trying to land on the moon, an effort that inspired millions and the benefits of which we will continue to reap for years.

And so was Nachshon stepping into the sea before the waters parted and the Israelites escaped their enslavement in Egypt.

Carpe diem, and chag kasher v’sameach.

Sandy Cardin recently stepped down as president of the Charles and Lynn Family Foundation.