What Will Be at UJC

We all know the Federation world is hurting. Atlanta, Cleveland and New York, to name a few, have announced highly publicized down-sizing. Even with last summer’s lay-offs, many Federations have been pressuring the UJC to further cut their budget beyond the planned 10%. Some Federations have called for a 50% reduction.

Yesterday, shortly before the end of the business day, UJC’s Howard Rieger had this to say in a memo to employees: “On April 6, the UJC Budget and Finance and Executive Committees will be meeting jointly at UJC to review the proposed 2009/10 operating budget. UJC Leadership is recommending a budget that reflects an 18% reduction, a significantly greater cut back than we communicated in February.

This new proposed reduction reflects the deeper economic pressures the federation system has faced since that announcement. If adopted, this would mean that our current $37 million budget would be $30.3 million for 2009/10, resulting in a significant paring of infrastructure and programs, and the elimination of 31 staff positions. This is a painful proposal that we fully realize affects our colleagues and people we deeply value, and one we did everything possible to minimize.

…There will certainly be a debate that will result in an outcome that will determine the shape of UJC for the coming year. The proposed budget will then be recommended to the UJC Board in June.”

From what we’ve heard, this is UJC’s leadership’s opening bid to calm Federation dissidents. The cuts may yet be greater. But what is most disturbing, is this new budget is being negotiated by a lame-duck leadership (per Merriam-Webster, lame-duck: one whose position or term of office will soon end). Howard is stepping down in August and no successor has yet been chosen. Yet, the outgoing leadership might effectively be tying the hands of an incoming CEO who will have a difficult enough time establishing a unified vision for the UJC’s future and receiving buy-in from all the various stakeholders.

While we are on the subject of “vacancies at the top”, the Jewish Agency Board of Governors has been working tirelessly for well over a year on revised bylaws to be voted upon at this June’s Assembly. One of the significant changes deals with the nomination and selection of the Chair of the Executive – with the overall goal of moving the position from being a political entitlement of the senior coalition partner. Now that Israel has a government, what will Bibi have to say? Will JAFI’s nominating committee, regardless of the proposed by-laws, be able to act independently of the Prime Minister’s office. The position is still vacant – no interim head has yet been decided on to replace Zeevik, and and we’re only about 75 days away from the June meetings.

There are other major American based Jewish organizations who are, or will be, in for significant change at the most senior levels of leadership over the next 18 months. Coupled with the downsizing made necessary by the current economic climate, we’re in for an interesting year.

Let us hope all these many organizations across the communal world welcome in strong and effective leadership on Wednesday night when the door is opened for Elijah.

Dan Brown is the founder of eJewish Philanthropy.

For more on this subject you can read, UJC’s Future at Stake as Local Charities Call for Dramatic Cuts, in today’s The Forward.