Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Another Salvo Against Institutional Judaism

Fellow JBloggers over at just posted a really interesting piece that turns up the heat on the UJC. Read what they had to say below.

The argument is classic Jewish continuity, and the question of who represents us as a community is a fair one. The UJC/Federation system provide large numbers of social services, but are perceived by some as monolithic and unable to really represent the myriad opinions that exist in the community.

For the sake of not butchering their words, and letting the full thing sink in for effect, we are reposting the full article below. It can be found in its original form here.

All hail our leader William Daroff
by Kung Fu Jew [➚] · Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

If it was doubted before that social media breeds transparency, then the evidence is in Mobius‘ Twitter debates with William Daroff, head of the UJC. The summary: Daroff says the UJC represents all of and is entitled to speak for all of us, at least because they paid for grandma to move here from the old country; Mobius dissents. The juiciest part I excerpt below, but do read the whole thing:

Daroff: @mobius1ski Does Obama represent you? Did Bush? You might not agree w/everything we say or do – but we do represent you.

Mobius1ski: @Daroff Comparing UJC to elected officials is beyond hubris.

Mobius1ski: @Daroff My U.S. citizenship is a social contract w/ the gov’t. My Jewishness is not a social contract w/ UJC.

Daroff: @mobius1ski Didn’t mean to be hubrisy; simply stated: organized Jewish community endeavors to represent Jewish communal interests.

There’s more. Daroff needs a reality check. In his childhood, the federation may have been the be all, end all of Jewish communal life. But the past 20 years saw not just a boom of independent growth, but a decline of previous institutions. The federation system struggles to find not just funding, but a leadership that isn’t plauged with failure and embarassing turnover rates. (Worth mentioning here: yesterday the federation’s highest rising star Daniel Sokatch just left the SF Fed after less than a year to head the New Israel Fund.)

Meanwhile, after decades of stagnation, more than 300 new Jewish orgs have been founded in the past ten years alone, representing 400,000 Jews and $100 million, according to JumpStart’s 2009 social entrepreneurship report. These newcomers were founded to get away from the UJC and do work outside the consensus: AJWS, New Israel Fund, Jewish FundS for Justice, Progressive Jewish Alliance (founded by Sokatch), the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, J Street, the Limmuds, PresenTense, ad neaseum, all founded in the past 35 years. And of course, none of these orgs have a seat at the JCPA policymaking plenum or the Council of Presidents I might add further. Their umbrellas are pretty narrow.

It’s a product of our times as well as our generation, created to fulfill a vision for communtiy that the UJC didn’t have and wouldn’t seed. The UJC doesn’t represent me or anyone else who gives neither a dime nor a damn. (Okay, okay, I gave $5 to UJA-NY Fed once, but just so I could vote in the icky World Zionist Congress and undermine the right wing.) My money has gone to groups founded in the past 35 years and I’m hardpressed to find a legacy org worth saving. (Also an exaggeration, I like HIAS’ immigration work with non-Jews.)

Mobius was very kind to UJC to recognize the good work it did and does. But it’s not the model we need anymore, and I feel it’s not disrespectful to say “Thank you for your work, but it’s time to retire.” The federation is raising money from fewer and fewer donors, making Daroff’s claim to democratic mandate slimmer and slimmer. And personally, I find his haunty, self-important puffery the epitome of leadership I can’t admire.

Daroff, it’s a new era and you need to see your institution in relation to the changes afoot. Take it down a notch. Humility is in these days.

Daroff then responded to the post in a comment which read:

I appreciate the dialogue & have attempted to respond, in part, via twitter. So, as KFJ suggests, please check out my tweets at

As you’ll note, I’m on the Hill at the moment lobbying for more funding for social service programs for federation system agencies — agencies that care for millions of Americans, without regard for the level of their donations (if any), and in keeping with our moral mandate to care for the vulnerable among us & to care for our neighbors as we would care for ourselves.

As I tweeted, here are the Public Policy priorities of UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America (pdf):

So, before you dump the federation system as being obsolete, or out-of-touch, please consider that we are consensus-based and THE mainstream of the organized Jewish community. Before you reject our existence because of our support for sanctions on Iran’s energy sector, please also consider that we stand on that issue with the Reform movement, with the Reconstructionist movement, with the Conservative movement, and the Orthodox Union. It is the consensus position, those opposed to it are free to be opposed, are certainly within their rights, represent the views of many others, are fine people, but they are simply outside the mainstream of the position of the organized Jewish community.

Lastly, before you reject the federation system because of our position on Iran sanctions, please do not forget the vulnerable whom we assist through social service programs at our agencies — in a way that no other organization in the Jewish world is doing, in a way that no other organization in the Jewish world has the capacity, and in a way that too few outside the Jewish world are doing.

Now, I must run back into meetings. Thank you for reading - thank you for the dialogue - I think it’s very healthy, and look forward to catching up on more of every one’s thoughts later this evening.

Warmest regards and best wishes to you & all of kol yisreal for a sweet, happy, and healthy new year. K’tivah v’chatimah tovah.

—William Daroff · September 16th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

What's better than Jews arguing? How about more Jews arguing on the internet!

No comments: