April 3, 2008
As Jewish communities unite, disconnects persist
(Page 3 - Previous Page)UJC is also allocating $40 million to a "forward-looking project" to establish independent living retirement communities in 45 cities across America, among other initiatives.
"There is plenty of life in the enterprise," Rieger said. "We can always do better, but the reality of Jewish life is that while we can coalesce when the chips are down, during business-as-usual times it's easy to criticize. We are skeptics, and while it is great to challenge, sometimes it's good to come to a conclusion, and that's always a stretch for the Jewish world."
He denied that UJC was dominated by a few large-city federations on the East Coast and in the Midwest, and cited the names of current UJC leaders from small communities.
"You could even make the charge that the big cities are underrepresented," he said.
Implicitly addressing his critics, Rieger said that there are some "who prefer to play Don Quixote, some voices that have been heard for too long. While they have every right to do so, they are not right to drown out everyone else."
He attributed much of the criticism to a reluctance by detractors to accept change.
Responding to charges of poor staff relations, Rieger described UJC as "a great place to work," infinitely better than in the past, but always with room for improvement.
On request, UJC's headquarters staff supplied a rundown on its revenues and expenses from fiscal years 2003-2007.
The chart showed that in 2003, UJC received $543.6 million, dropping to $414 million in 2005, but swinging back to $610.7 million in 2007. Revenues exceeded expenses, except in 2004 and 2005, when the balance ledger ran into the red.
Rieger attributed the numerous high-level staff resignations during the past year to a desire by senior staffers with long tenure to explore other options.
Asked how frequent attacks on his stewardship affected him personally, Rieger answered, in Jewish tradition, with a series of questions: "Do I wish people who criticize me would have a better opinion of me? Yes, I do. Do I think those people have genuine differences of opinion with me? Yes, I do. Do I think the anonymous blogger has a personal axe to grind? Yes. I do."
He concluded, "These problems are facts of life. I will let my record speak for itself."
Rieger has a strong, though not uncritical, ally in Stephen Hoffman, who preceded Rieger as UJC's president and CEO, and is now president of the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland.
Hoffman curtly dismissed the list of complaints against UJC's performance as "bull----," and countered that UJC was delivering services to the American Jewish community at 25 percent less cost than was possible before the merger.
Like others, Hoffman argued that under the merger agreement, the country's federations had assumed ownership of UJC, without taking the corresponding responsibility for its performance.
While Hoffman said he did not wish to judge the effectiveness of Rieger's administration, he added that the positives far outweigh the failures.
"The problem is that everybody had inflated expectations of what the creation of UJC, through the merger, would accomplish," Hoffman said. "UJC has delivered on some of these ambitions, but is still on its way to delivering on other goals."