Heritage Florida Jewish News - Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

There is a Choice

 


A response to David Bornstein’s “Community held hostage”

In last week’s issue, Heritage Florida Jewish News published a column by David Bornstein in which he discussed the refinancing of the Maitland campus debt and used it as a proof of a malaise afflicting our Jewish community. David accurately describes the circumstances of the refinancing process. The Jewish Federation was faced with a potential crisis and did its best to save the Maitland campus for the Jewish community. There was some disagreement regarding certain aspects of that process, some legitimate and some resulting from miscommunication. But we want to thank David for the straightforward way in which he presented the facts, and for both offering strategic suggestions and continued academic challenges to the status quo. We do disagree, however, with some of David’s deductions and conclusions. We strongly believe that there is a choice. The dissolution of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando would inflict irreparable damage to the Orlando Jewish community at this critical time.

We believe that the choice lies in rebuilding relationships with new lay leaders of campus agencies who are unencumbered by past grudges and are open to exploring new possibilities for collaboration. As David noted correctly, the refinance process revealed “flaws in the jewel” but we think that it also created an opportunity not just to repair the cracks but to “reshape” the jewel.

We also believe that amid the frustration, the Federation has broad support and a mandate from the Jewish community; ours and more than 175 other communities who maintain some form of federation, which we think is not by accident—federations that once again are adapting to new realities, but not by closing their doors. We have heard time and again in the past six months that the Federation is the only organization in Orlando that can and must bring the Jewish community together. The Jewish Federation is the only organization in town that is concerned with the well-being of every Jew, regardless of his or her age and affiliation (or lack thereof). Federation’s Bornstein Leadership Development Program has been an incubator of the future leaders of this Jewish community. Federation’s newest initiative, Our Jewish Orlando, is poised to become the central address for the young members of the Jewish community. In another initiative, Federation has brought together more than a dozen young Jewish communal professionals from nine agencies and synagogues for a professional development program that will create a new synergy among our communal institutions. We have restarted regular meetings of agency executive directors and have received very positive feedback from them. An upcoming gathering of lay and professional leaders of the agencies will focus on issues of mutual interests and concerns. We are the only organization that can do these things. We cannot let them “fall by the wayside.” Furthermore, the Jewish Federation is the only organization that connects every Jew in Central Florida to the worldwide Jewish community through its support of the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Joint Distribution Committee. There is no other organization that will “absorb” this function.

David proposes to “turn the Facilities Management Committee (FMC) into the property manager and give the agencies what they want—control of the Maitland campus.” We agree that FMC is a dysfunctional and inefficient body. However, turning it into a new entity will not solve the problem. It will only lead to more inefficiency and wasteful spending. If the agencies on campus are “a band of disparate parts, each invested solely in themselves,” how can he propose to give them control of the campus? It will inevitably lead to the loss of the community’s greatest asset.

We agree with David wholeheartedly that the major donors of the community need to exert their influence to effect a speedy and significant change. We know that it cannot be business as usual. It just doesn’t work anymore. We have already begun informal consultations with campus agencies and major community stakeholders, who have been receptive to our ideas. We are hopeful that these consultations will lead to an inclusive process and, ultimately, a new structure that will offer a solution to fiscal and organizational issues on the Maitland campus and to those agencies operating off campus that are increasingly left out of our campus-centric dialogue. After all, the whole point is that all the assets of Federation are owned by the Orlando Jewish community as a whole.

Finally, the events that transpired around and during the refinancing process will not stop us from pursuing our strategic goal of building a thriving Jewish community. This is not a time to give up, acknowledge defeat, and throw in the towel. It is the time to stand up and show leadership. The choice is ours and we are up to the task.

Michael Soll is chairman of the board of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, and Olga Yorish is executive director of JFGO.

 

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