August 2, 2011
Is Tel Aviv/L.A. partnership still working?
Federation re-evaluates how best to connect L.A. Jews with Israel
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An initiative on food insecurity helped Tel Aviv reframe its food bank system, and the visual arts committee set up artist-in-resident exchanges and art collectors delegations; and helped establish relationships between top Tel Aviv institutions and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Otis College of Art and Design, and private galleries.
But some of these small, specialized exchanges need to be broadened, Federation leaders say.
“We need to ask whether a program can have a much broader reach or is it a limited activity? I’d like to see us do things where we can build on small things and leverage dollars and resources to make a much greater impact,” said Irv Weintraub, chair of the Israel Advisory Committee at Federation. “If all we do is year after year engage five people in an exchange, at the end of five years that means you’ve only impacted 25 people, and maybe those same dollars could be spent in a way to impact 250.”
The Los Angeles side has carried most of the financial burden, according to leaders in both cities. The Reut report recommends that Tel Aviv contribute to every program and that Tel Aviv leaders tap into the emerging culture of philanthropy.
Weak leadership in Israel has hampered the program, according to the report. While the leadership in Los Angeles has rotated regularly — albeit among leaders generally within the same age range — in Israel there has been very little changeover in the top leadership, which often comes from among Tel Aviv’s municipal leaders.
The last chair, Natan Wolloch, was forced to step down last month as deputy mayor. Last year, Wolloch was found guilty of fraud, and in June a Tel Aviv judge found that his crimes were also tainted with moral turpitude and corruption.
Leaders in Los Angeles say it has been difficult to cultivate new volunteers in Tel Aviv, and, further complicating matters, some recent headway was lost when some of the programs were put on hold in early 2010 for the re-evaluation.
Nevertheless, Grinstein is confident that Israeli interest in the Partnership has rekindled in the last few months, attracting new leaders.
“Tel Aviv is striving to be recognized as one of the world’s global cities, with dozens of events going on as part of this campaign,” Grinstein said. “The relationship with L.A. is now viewed in that context, creating renewed and revitalized interest.” But it will take some rebuilding, because most of the Jewish Agency staff people in Israel who were dedicated to the Partnership no longer work for the program, and the Israeli lay leadership felt blindsided by the halt in programming, according to Niv Ahituv, a Tel Aviv University professor who has been involved since the inception.
Some Federation volunteers in Los Angeles were also distraught when programs, such as the environmental initiative or a planned delegation of art collectors, were halted midcourse.
The disruption left them baffled and angry, and wondering if Federation was interested in continuing the Partnership.
“The Federation has pretty much eviscerated the Partnership. This was the best thing that the Federation has done in years and it was shunted aside,” said Herb Glaser, head of the Glaser Development Co. and an active Jewish communal lay leader, who served as the founding chair of the Partnership. “I think it’s appropriate to evaluate programs and see what is possible based on the limited resources that the Federation has. I just think this was done too quickly, too unilaterally and without an understanding of what was achieved and what was intended.”
Lay leaders, who are both significant donors and volunteers, say communication simply stopped 18 months ago, in early 2010.
“We were working in a vacuum and trying to find out what was going on,” said Sonia Cummings, a lay leader who co-chaired the visual arts committee. Cummings said in the last few months Federation leadership reached out and held two meetings.
Federation Chairman Richard Sandler says one of his goals at Federation has been to shift a balance that used to give lay leaders more authority over professionals, and he acknowledges that the changing dynamic may have contributed to lay leaders feeling left in the dark.
“We have to make sure that everything we do here is professionally driven, and in doing that, looking back, if we have moved too far, if we have moved in that direction and made our lay leaders feel not included or not appreciated, or not part of the process, then that was a mistake,” Sandler said.
All these issues came out in a heated meeting June 30, where the top professionals met with Partnership lay leaders. Lay leaders were unimpressed with the Reut report, which they said did not add much to an internal detailed analysis and recommendations published in 2007 and updated in 2008.
“We wasted a lot of time waiting for this report to be issued, while the programs atrophied, and we thought it was going to be some kind of appraisal or evaluation of what we’ve done and where we are, and it was none of that,” Glaser said.
Grinstein said the report was never meant to offer recommendation on specific programs, but rather to offer goals and criteria by which to judge programs.
Volunteers and professionals will press forward with evaluation and recommendations on specific programs, Sanderson said.
But what that group will look like and where it will fall in Federation’s leadership structure has not yet been determined. Also unclear is whether the Partnership will have its own committee or if Partnership programs will be woven in to the existing committees.
Where and how to fit the Partnership into Federation is complicated by the fact that, last year, Federation dissolved its Israel and Overseas Department, where the Partnership resided, in favor of integrating Israel-related programming throughout all of Federation’s strategic areas — Ensuring the Jewish Future, Caring for Jews in Need, and Engaging our Community.
“Our new structure includes Israel programming and thinking everywhere,” said Andrew Cushnir, chief program officer at Federation. “We’re not doing our work in stand-alone committees — we’re doing things integrated, and the Partnership connects in lots of places. The conversation about how this will go forward will involve multiple pods of lay people and professionals.”
Lorin Fife, a founder and past chairman of the Partnership, is optimistic that the partnership will get back on track.
“I’ve known Jay and Andrew for years, and they are really good people, and Jay has hired a really capable team. I think if we handle it right moving forward, we can re-engage the donors and volunteers who are frustrated with the way this has all been handled and actually have a much better, more effective Partnership than we did before.”
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