March 15, 2007
Craig Prizant, philanthropreneurship and evangelicals
As a former fundraising professional at the Jewish Federation, I read with interest your story about the firing of Craig Prizant (a gentleman I do not know) ("Federation May Face Lawsuit Over Fundraiser Prizant's Firing," Feb. 27).
There has been a revolving door of development professionals, those at the top of the department and lower level staff, which, to my mind, shows either an appalling lack of management or a lack of appreciation on the part of the exec.
When you have staff coming and going on a frequent basis, you lose institutional knowledge of the various fundraising divisions, and, what I think is most important, you lose the relationships to people and community that your professionals make while at the Fed. Since the early 1990s, people have come and gone (sometimes with alacrity and with no respect to the individuals) in a manner that I don't think you find in other American Jewish communities.
It was heartening to read in your article that finally the lay people are taking a stand. Perhaps the Prizant issue is just the tip of the iceberg? Perhaps the community would be better served by better oversight by the lay board and volunteers? And why is 6505 going through staff so quickly while the Valley Federation is not? These are issues that should be addressed.
Toronto's accomplishments are even greater than Gary Wexler may realize ("Think 'Philanthropreneurship,' Like Canada," March 2).
A couple of years before Gary was hired by the Toronto federation, and before the present executive was there, I was in Toronto for a week, training boards and staff people. I had been there a few times over the years and found it a progressive, vibrant Jewish city as Gary describes. Alan Reitzes was still the federation CEO.
Alan informed me that before my presentation at the federation board meeting, one matter of business was on the agenda. That item was the plan that Gary described in his article. At the time it was a two-track proposal.
The second part of the proposal was to establish a $100 million community fund. The proceeds were to be made available to any Jewish endeavor in the city deemed worthy of support by virtue of its contribution to the upbuilding of Jewish life in Toronto. This plan to raise $250 million over a period of time was passed unanimously and was "kicked off" by a single $35 million contribution.
Subsequently, the community leadership did commit to the new floor for the annual drive but the $150 million goal was raised to $300 million, as Wexler reported. I sat there silent, overwhelmed by the plan's visionary challenge and scope, and immediately thought of Los Angeles and its potential to become a truly great Jewish city.
Upon my return home, I approached a dedicated and devoted lay leader and told him the Toronto story. He, too, was impressed and took up my challenge for him to initiate some beginnings to initiate a comparable plan in Los Angeles. He felt he could call 10 people together and begin the process with $10 million in new money. I thanked him but urged him to think in larger numbers and he agreed, ultimately feeling he could raise $25 million. I was elated but then made a great mistake. I should have urged him to go ahead, raise the money and then present the check as a challenge gift to The Federation, coupled with a visionary plan of how to jump start the development of a comprehensive scenario for consideration by all segments in the community.
Alas, I did not. My visionary friend brought the idea to a few community leaders who provided all manner of discouraging reasons as to why the idea would never get support in Los Angeles. The rest is history.
Los Angeles remains a fragmented community, raising money for great purposes under many auspices but never coming together to act except, in emergencies, to move to some exciting, energized and stimulating approach for tomorrow's Los Angeles.
Wexler was undoubtedly trying to challenge those great visionaries among us to turn their thoughts, imaginations and energies to the end that this magnificent place in flux called Los Angeles set some overarching priorities for the community's benefit and flowering.
Regarding Tom Tugend's interview with Zev Chafets (Evangelical Support for Israel -- Good for the Jews?," March 2), who is promoting his book "A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists and One Man's Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance," there is much that Jews need to learn about Christian Zionists.
The first is to appreciate that in many quarters they are considered neither Christian nor Zionist. They are the hard-core religious right and no amount of their support for Israel justifies what they would like to do to America.
Tugend asked all the right questions, but Chafets kept saying he wants American Jews to shut up about the theocratic domestic agenda of Christian Zionists (prayer and creationism in the schools, for example).
Chafets' expressed contempt: "All I'm advocating is that you cut out the sneering, patronizing behavior toward evangelicals, and you don't need to patrol every town square in Alabama for religious symbols...important to Christians."
It's some consolation that this interview appeared for the comedic Purim edition. We recommend that Chafets take his own medicine and begin campaigning for an Israeli government run by Satmar.
We bet he likes it!
Correction: An article about Gila Almagor (Israel's 'Grande Dame' Grows Up on the Big Screen") had an incorrect byline. The author of the story was Jessica Steinberg. The Journal regrets the error.
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