Suggestions for a stronger Jewish community
I would like to comment on some of the recent suggestions made as to the short- and long-term future and plans of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando as well as the agencies on the Maitland campus. While I am on the boards of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, Central Florida Hillel, and the Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation, this letter represents my personal views and not necessarily those of any of these organizations.
First, I should indicate that fundamentally I approve of the direction the Federation is going and I am in general agreement with many of the suggestions made, although I may have some reservations on some of the details. As far as I understand, and my understanding may be off in some issues, the following are some of the different concepts being discussed and my reaction to them.
Consolidation – I see this on a few levels.
First, if I am not mistaken, the model used in Tampa where there is one director wearing the hat on the head of both the JCC and the Federation, is being considered. I realize that Tampa is not unique, and that this model is used in other Jewish communities of our size—Austin, Texas, for example. I reserve judgment as to whether this approach is best for the Greater Orlando Jewish community, but I suspect that it would not take much to convince me. To prove the case to me and the community in general, we need a formal cost benefit analysis showing the advantages and disadvantages. I would also like to gain input from at least two communities who have successfully converted from our model to the combined model especially reviewing the challenges they had and how they overcame them.
I think we may want to view consolidation and elimination of duplication on a few additional levels. In order to properly review this we should be looking at each and every agency and determine if there can be some consolidation or if there are cases where there may be duplication that could be eliminated. We need to realize that we are trying to make this the best Jewish Community possible, recognizing that there is a limit to the amount of funds available. As an example of the thought process I am implying, consider the Beit HaMidrash currently run as a Federation program with input from the synagogues involved. There is no question that Beit HaMidrash is an important program and resource of our community in its attempt to educate our youth beyond the bar and bat mitzvah age. This is an educational program. Another agency also mainly involved in education is the Jewish Academy of Orlando. Does it make sense to have the Academy take over the administration of this program, or if this asking too much from the head of the school?
Selling or renting the Jewish Academy building.
First I need to point out that I am a strong supporter of day school education. All three of my daughters went to day school both elementary and high school. All of my grandchildren are either day school graduates, currently in day school, or in one case too young to go to school yet. One daughter is the principal of her local Schechter School, and another daughter is a Judaic studies teacher at her local Schechter School. Thus it should come as no surprise that I am committed to see that the local day schools here are successful. However, we need to separate out the educational component from the facilities component. I am not familiar enough with the JCC building and the needs of the Jewish Academy. If the JCC building can fully accommodate the physical space needs of the Academy for both the present and the foreseeable future without a significant negative effect on the JCC’s programming, I see no reason why we should not at least investigate the possibility of selling or renting, whichever makes most sense, of the current day school facility. I suspect that the selling or renting of the building is not desired by either the school or the JCC, but again we need to get the community to look beyond personal turf and rather look at what is best for the community as a whole.
Not much has been said about synagogue relations, and there is not a direct relationship since the synagogues are organizations completely independent of Federation, but are very much indirectly affected by successes and failures of Federation. The main point is that we need to make sure that the synagogues are part of the dialog since long term for any radical change to be successful we need buy-in by everyone. Secondly, if we can turn the Federation around and really increase the pool of funds available, there should be funds for Federation to support appropriate programs generated by the individual synagogues that are open to the community as a whole.
From my point of view, whose name is on the title that is registered with the county, i.e. the JFGO or the Rosen Foundation is completely irrelevant. What is important is that the JCC remains as a JCC committed to supporting the Southwest Orlando Jewish community as it has been doing. I understand Harris Rosen’s desire to have the Rosen Foundation take over the ownership from the JFGO before he invests additional funds to the facility. If this is what it takes to obtain a “world class” facility in the South campus so be it as long as the proper safeguards are in place to insure the long-term stability of the JCC as a JCC. I personally am not involved in any of the discussion on the South campus, but it is my understanding that the Rosen Foundation is committed to keep the building operating as a JCC. Whether the South JCC should operate as a branch of the JCC or as a separate entity I will leave to the JCC leaders to decide. However, if we are talking about consolidation as described above, it would look out of place to take a consolidated organization and break it up. This is not to say each campus could not have some sort of autonomy.
The future for growth in Orlando over the next few years looks very positive, and not just for the attractions. For example there is the completely new medical complex at Lake Nona, which is expected to attract many new residences here in Orlando. There are big challenges here for all of us in the Jewish Community to make this an attractive community for Jews of all ages and different levels of commitments to want to relocate here. If we all are ready and willing to take a hard look and determine what is best for the community in general, and not just the one or two organizations we are active in, we will end up with a much better and more vigorous community, and in the end all organizations will end up being stronger and better able to satisfy the needs of all of their constituents.
Edward E.A. Bromberg, PhD