LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

Commentary: "Passions run high" on Federation move


(Note: the opinions expressed within are LilaTov Cocktail's and do not represent those of the Cleveland Jewish News, which has no responsibility for this content.)

In Poll or vote? Debate persists on Federation leaving city (Cleveland Jewish News, 4/18/08), Marilyn Karfeld reports that "passions continue to run high on the issue many call a landmark decision that will affect the Jewish community for years to come."

On the surface, what's at issue is whether to move the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland headquarters from downtown to an eastern suburb.

But below the surface, recent discussions of where Federation should relocate has some fundamental flaws in Federation's relationship with the larger community.

  1. Who will have a say in the decision to relocate?

  2. How can the public --those who are not Federation insiders -- affect the outcome?

David Goldberg, co-chairman of AmTrust Bank and a Jewish communal leader, has organized opposition to the move. His group argues that it's critical that Federation survey "those currently involved with the Jewish community and those who are not and have moved away."

In particular, he wants to engage the younger generation, that group least likely to be in positions of power within the Jewish community.

Sure, a Federation headquarters on the corner of Richmond and S. Woodland would better suit the comfort zone of the suburban-dwelling Jews, with SUVs and children and aging parents. Better (and free) parking alone would make them happier. If Federation moved to Beachwood, most employees would have shorter drives to work. And suburbanites of all races, colors, and creeds are more comfortable when they don't have to encounter people with less money and/or more melatonin than they have.

But what does relocating Federation to Beachwood say to Gen J, that sought-after demographic of young urban Jews in their 20s and 30s. Living downtown unencumbered by children and synagogue affiliation, but by their own admission desperately seeking greater connection with Judaism, these are the guys who are supposed to be revitalizing every aspect of Jewish Cleveland.

So far, Federation leadership has not welcomed the suggestion of bringing your average (and apparently woefully ignorant) Jewish community member into the relocation decision-making process.

Federation president Stephen H. Hoffman told the CJN that it’s unlikely the Federation will survey the Jewish community on the issue. In stark contrast to Goldberg, Hoffman says that the “location of an office building” isn't momentous enough to merit that approach.

David Heller, chair of Federation’s government relations committee and a Federation officer, put his objection to a survey more baldly:

"You run the risk of gathering the opinions of people who may not have an understanding of what the Federation is or how it conducts business. If you follow that path, the community could ultimately end up making a poor decision.” (my emphasis)
Heller's statement should set off warning bells for everyone. Something's deeply wrong if the community which funds Federation -- and whose needs Federation is pledged to meet -- don't have "an understanding of what the Federation is."

The phrase "how Federation conducts business" is an odd one. Doesn't Federation conduct its business the same way everyone else does? Is there some secret, arcane method to the way Federation conducts business that the rest of us wouldn't know about?

In a word, yes. It seems to me, as a community member and a reporter, that Federation often "conducts its business" behind closed doors.

While there's financial transparency, motives and relationships seem intentionally opaque. It seems there's always some privileged information the rest of us hoi polloi don't know about and which affects Federation business. Not being privileged, we can only accept the assurance that if we knew what they -- the presidents and directors and big donors -- knew, we'd agree with them completely. And thank them for their wisdom.

From urban

(Euclid & 18th St.)

to suburban

(Richmond & S. Woodland)

Click to enlarge

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