April 3, 2008
As Jewish communities unite, disconnects persist
(Page 2 - Previous Page)Despite this stature, Bubis maintains that the UJC leadership has consistently tried to suppress the book and limit its circulation, in the process violating the professional norms of open discussion.
For instance, when Bubis tried to market the book at the UJC General Assembly in Toronto in November 2005, he was refused permission to do so, Bubis said.
Even more stunning to Bubis was the failure of the respected Journal of Jewish Communal Service to review "From Predictability to Chaos?" The Journal is published by the Jewish Communal Service Association of North America, which Bubis had previously served as president and whose present executive director is Brenda Gevertz.
As is the norm in peer-reviewed professional publications, a review of the book was submitted by former Dallas federation executive Morris Stein, but then the process ground to a halt.
Bubis said he received a letter from Gevertz regretting that the review could not be published, noting, for one, that she could not find two other professional members to comment on Stein's review, and, for another, that "sometimes one has to adjust to political realities."
Such back-and-forth about a book review may strike the layman as a tempest in a teapot, but to members of professional organizations the absolute independence of their journals, allowing full expression of all views, is sacred.
One member incensed by the review brouhaha was Melvyn Bloom, now executive vice president of the American Technion Society and a former top executive of the UJA.
Bloom said he wrote Gevertz, offered to review Stein's review and to find a second reviewer, but was told by Gevertz that her leadership had raised objections.
Angered at what he saw as political pressure, Bloom notified Gevertz that he would withhold all professional dues to her organization.
Speaking from her office in New York, Gevertz flatly contradicted the Bubis and Bloom versions of events.
She said that following normal procedure, she sent Stein's review of her book to three members for comment. One responded that the Stein article should not run, a second refused to review it, and a third never responded at all.
Gevertz said she then consulted the board of her association, which decided against running any review of the Bubis book.
"The UJC leadership was never consulted in this matter and had no part in the final decision," Gevertz declared.
Windmueller, the book's co-author, has been less involved in the controversy, but said he "shared Jerry's frustration and found the matter very disheartening."
Rieger, the UJC president, denied that he had any role in the alleged suppression of the book and described the controversy as "a red herring."
Describing himself as a longtime colleague and friend of Bubis, Rieger said that while the book may have represented "a snapshot in time," it did not reflect UJC's substantial changes in recent years.
Jeffrey Solomon, president of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, who also participated in the merger talks, judged the Bubis book as "not very sophisticated," but said he saw no reason to suppress it.
While the arguments surrounding the book may be symptomatic of the waves roiling UJC's waters, the current criticism of the organization runs broader and deeper.
One leading and prominent critic is Richard L. Wexler, a Chicago attorney. His list of previous national offices include chair of UJA, Jewish Agency for Israel (North America), United Israel Appeal and the National Conference on Soviet Jewry.
Most germane to the present topic, Wexler was co-chairman of the committee that hammered out the establishment of UJC (with Rieger serving as the key professional) and he remains on UJC's board and executive committee.
In a phone interview, Wexler said that under the merger agreement, the country's federations were to be the "owners" of UJC and take responsibility for its effectiveness, but have failed to do so.
"There is a lack of focus, a lack of prioritization," Wexler said. "When all problems are considered equally important, then none is important."
Other shortcomings, he alleged, were "lack of passion and engagement" by lay and professional leaders, and "unprofessional and un-Jewish treatment of employees."
"Not even lawyers treat their staff so badly," Wexler interjected jokingly.
While the original proponents of the UJC merger projected increased assistance for small federations, as well for Israel and overseas needs, the opposite has happened, even while dues from federations to UJC keep going up, Wexler charged.
Asked for any positive UJC accomplishments, Wexler cited the "excellent job" in quickly getting aid to victims of Hurricane Katrina, and, more recently, to terror victims in Israel, particularly in Sderot.
Rieger, 65, the target of much of the criticism, became UJC's third president/CEO in late 2004, after 23 years working for the United Jewish Federation of Pittsburgh, concluding the service as president.
In a phone call from Washington, where he was addressing his organization's young leadership, Rieger rebutted his critics in some detail.
He asserted that UJC is meeting Jewish needs at home and overseas faster and at a lower cost than would have been possible without the merger.
In the past three years, "We have saved the Jewish community tens of millions of dollars and lowered our budget, without giving up a heck of a lot in effectiveness," Rieger said.
"We have demonstrated our ability to respond to crises in Israel in a way that federations couldn't have done on an individual basis," he added, citing $800 million raised in two emergency appeals, and an additional $25 million sent recently to the people of Sderot and Ashkelon.
Rieger also pointed to UJC's aid, "from day one," to the Jewish community of Katrina-stricken New Orleans and vicinity, without which the local Jewish agencies would have collapsed.