Cynics, sceptics, and the reality

By Barry Frankfurt, June 19, 2014

A cynic, wrote Oscar Wilde, is someone "who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."

Thanks to the JC's recent article we know the cost of employing chief executives at over 40 communal organisations. Picking out the anomalies and questioning who deserves what level of remuneration has provided much Shabbat-table fodder and no small level of discomfort for some of the individuals listed.

Yet it also diverts us from the real conversation that needs to take place. We are more aware than before what price we pay for professional communal leadership. We are no closer to finding out what value that leadership and the organisations they represent, provides.

The world of Jewish charities and associated not-for-profits is an ecosystem that lives by its own rules. A barely sustainable environment in which market forces, rather than necessity, dictates communal priorities.

Salaries are often justifiable because they are just a fraction of the funds raised. Paying a CEO over £100,000 seems reasonable if voluntary income is north of £6m. Yet what this fails to address is need. More often than not the heart rules the head, when it comes to how we give charity. This is what leads to the vast discrepancies in the top salaries and consequentially the funds those charities raise.

A radical overhaul is needed in Anglo-Jewry

To remedy this, we must approach our giving more ruthlessly and ask far more searching questions. As a community, can we really justify donating three times more to one university in Israel than we do to our own cancer support service here in the UK? As a community do we appreciate the difference between the niceties and the necessities?

The communal landscape needs a radical overhaul towards a system which is part socialist, part capitalist.

As has proven so successful in America, the establishment of a UK Jewish federation should be mandated to ensure that the infrastructure we need to thrive and survive, such as welfare, education and security is both strategically planned for and commercially viable.

Where there is overlap and therefore wastage, organisations must be encouraged to merge. The funding for this must be the community's top priority.

Outside this centrally-funded pot, if donors wish to support causes and projects that may not directly benefit the community, then so be it. For these organisations we should apply the same rules that we would to any other business. If the "product" is good and it brings in donations, then it will survive. If not, it will disappear.

Could this happen here? Why not? And the best way to start the process would be for the only organisations that are capable of delivering this - the Jewish Leadership Council and the Board of Deputies - to lead by example and join forces. The former has already instigated its Community Chest to fund certain key communal projects, but this only operates on a fraction of the scale we require for real communal development.

For the long-term success of our community, there is no room for the preservation of institutions for the sake of history. Organisations cannot exist simply because they always have. After all, a sentimentalist, as Oscar Wilde went on to write, is someone "who sees an absurd value in everything, and doesn't know the market place of any single thing."

Last updated: 4:45pm, June 19 2014