A light at the end of the tunnel
A few months ago, as I was beginning my tenure at JFGO, a former senior volunteer leader of the United Jewish Communities whom I greatly admire for his wisdom and insight wrote in his blog: “Many of us have watched the JFGO for years, viewing it as a place of unrealized and incredible potential. In the past years, it has struggled with dormant campaigns and huge debts. But, there is clearly a revitalized leadership in Orlando and... there is real hope. But this community represents an incredible challenge.”
Today, I can say that he was right. In the past nine months, I learned a lot about the challenges and worked very hard to nurture the hope. I came to this community to help realize its incredible potential and the last thing I want to hear is the word “unrealized.” Today, I see a glimmer of light and I think that the tectonic plates are beginning to shift in the right direction. In recent weeks, a group of committed communal leaders, motivated by a desire to address the major fiscal challenges facing the community, have come forward with a bold plan of action. Some of the components of this plan are not new- they have been proposed and discussed in the past - but what’s different now is a sense of real urgency and a commitment to stay the course. I am very energized by this effort and look forward to updating the community on its progress.
What also gives me hope is a changing climate of our relationships with the agencies, both those on the campus and those that “live” off it. In the past several months, JFGO’s Chairman of the Board Michael Soll and I have engaged their lay and professional leadership in direct and honest discussions about the role of the Federation and the future of the Jewish community. From these conversations, we learned that there is a desire to move forward and work together.
In the past several months, I have been involved in numerous discussions about the role of the Federation. There is a point of view that its role is limited to making allocations. To me, it’s a very narrow perspective. When the 2008 recession hit and the annual campaign declined, JFGO made a strategic decision to reduce allocations and overhead in order to uphold its critical financial obligations and save the community’s main assets. And we still make allocations, albeit fewer in number and smaller in dollars. At the same time, JFGO has maintained its programmatic priorities with severely reduced staff and resources. The work of the Federation has continued on. At a recent gathering of past and present major Federation donors, one of the participants suggested that if the Jewish Federation didn’t exist, the community would have had to invent it. To prove this point, we presented a strong case for supporting the Jewish Federation of today and tomorrow.
The Jewish Federation of today and tomorrow is the central community building organization concerned with the well-being of every member of the Jewish community and with the health of its institutions. The Jewish Federation is an incubator of new leadership for the entire Jewish community. Many graduates of the Jerome J. Bornstein Leadership Program have held top leadership positions at Central Florida’s Jewish institutions. A couple of weeks ago, I met with the 2014 Bornstein class and was very impressed with the quality of its members. I am confident that the community will reap long-term benefits of Federation’s efforts.
I am also very impressed by the growth and success of Our Jewish Orlando (OJO). Even at its beginning stages, OJO has proven that we have found the right approach to addressing the burning question of “how to engage the next generation of Jews in Jewish life and philanthropy?” As OJO continues to grow and develop new initiatives, I am confident that it will benefit the Jewish Orlando as a whole.
Along with the emphasis on the young members of the Jewish community, we must not forget our elderly and vulnerable community members. At the time of reduced resources, we must look for solutions in creative collaborations with partner agencies and general community organizations. Here, as in many other initiatives, JFGO will continue to play the role of convener, facilitator, and, with community’s support, funder.
As we work to strengthen the local Jewish community, we must also remember our obligations to Israel and to Jews around the world. The Jewish Federation is the only organization that connects us with every Jew in need in the world, from Argentina to the Ukraine. Even more directly, our relationship with the Partnership2Gether community Kiryat Motzkin in Israel is generating mutually beneficial connections and enriching experiences for the entire community. There is a great potential in this relationship and we are committed to enhancing it.
Yes, we don’t do enough to support the local community. We know that we have to support Jewish education and identity building. We know that we must bring the Jewish community together. All these goals are on our agenda but we can only achieve them with your help. We have set ambitious goals for the 2014 Annual Campaign and we continue to work very hard to achieve them. We have named the 2014 Annual Campaign “Shaping the Future,” and this is indeed what we are about: shaping the future of the Orlando Jewish community. I invite you to join us in this exciting journey. We have set ambitious goals for the 2014 Annual Campaign and the next few months will be critical to its success. Get involved, participate, contribute. There is a place for everyone at the Jewish Federation. To find out how, visit our website at http://www.JFGO.org; call me at 407-645-5933 or email me at email@example.com.