asset squandering, DUBIOUS EXECUTIVE, financial mismanagement, fraud, Ina Levine Jewish Community Campus, JCA, Jewish Community Association of Greater Phoenix, Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix, Jewish Federations of North America, JFNA, Phoenix Jewish Community, Stuart Wachs, Valley of the Sun JCC, Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Association, VOSJCC
I have been asked many times why I write this Blog and why my colleagues and I spend time researching the perpetual disgrace that is our Jewish Community Association (and the Jewish Federation before it). I have been asked what my agenda is and what I hope to accomplish. The answer to why I have written this Blog since 2011 is because there must be voices in our community that shine a light on organizations that operate in the dark shadows. I write this Blog because it is unforgivable for the professional and volunteer leadership of our woefully underperforming JCA to have repeatedly driven this Jewish community into the ditch.
And the answer to what I hope to accomplish is simple. I want to create enough concern on the part of good and decent Jewish Phoenicians that they demand change. I want Jews in the Valley to do what Howard Beale (Peter Finch) did in the 1976 movie Network when he implored people to: “get up right now, sit up, go to your windows, open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!“ And as for the question of where my motivation and my passion comes from I thought it would be helpful to share some very personal history. After all, the readers of this Blog who have read these articles more than 15,000 times deserve to know what’s behind all of this. So a little insight into my personal story might just help answer these questions.
During the Yom Kippur War in 1973, I was just a kid and a few years shy of heading off to boarding school. I remember sneaking out of services to listen to the reports of the war with my father that were being broadcast on the radio. Although my recollection is most likely faulty, it seemed to be a bizarre play-by-play type of report of the different battles that were being waged at the war’s initiation on the various different fronts. I had no idea what was going on in schul and less of an idea of what was going on in that war. I think this is because there might have been twenty Jewish families in the town of 24,000 people that I grew up in, and I did not even really have a Jewish identity until I started getting my ass kicked for being Jewish when I went to boarding school at age 12.
My extended family is and was very small, and closer in age than is typical. My mother’s uncle was just my uncle, and her cousins were just my cousins. The concept of first and second cousins was simply unknown to me, they were just the only family I had.
My uncle was the town’s pediatrician, the only pediatrician. He made house calls, delivered babies – the whole nine yards in an era and geography where that was commonplace. He was a very stern man, or at least he appeared stern to me, and I am sure that it was a combination of his coming up hard, having seen what he had seen in the second World War (where he served as a flight surgeon), and the fact that I was most likely a spoiled kid. No one gave him anything, and he had seen quite a bit of killing. A house call from him inspired fear, not because he would ever do anything other than what was best for me, but it would be accompanied by a lecture to clean my room, to do better in school, and there were probably so many things I was deficient at it is just impossible for me to remember them all. I do not think I have ever met anyone who worked harder than my uncle, and although I am sure I disappointed him, he never stopped pushing me to do better.
As devoted as he was to his work and his family, I would have to say he was equally devoted to the State of Israel. His office was adorned with photos of him with Golda Meir, Finance Minister Pinhas Sapir, Defense Minister Moshe Dayan, and Foreign Affairs Minister Abba Eban. By 1972 he had already made 10 lengthy visits to Israel and was an extremely significant purchaser of Israel Bonds. He was on the National Board of Governors of the State of Israel Bonds at a time when the influence and importance of Israel Bonds was extremely significant to the survival and well being of the State.
On the afternoon of October 25th, 1973, he called his daughters (we are about a decade apart in age) to inform them that the Yom Kippur War would be over that evening, that a truce would be announced. The purpose of the call was to inform them that he and 29 other Americans had been summoned by Golda Meir and that he would be leaving immediately for Israel. He informed none of his daughters about the nature of the trip and only said that we would be back home in two days and that he would call upon his return. He was met at the Greater Pittsburgh International Airport by an agent of the Israeli Government and they flew to New York, on to Frankfurt, and then to Ben Gurion Airport. When he arrived at Ben Gurion, they were loaded onto military helicopters and flown to the Golan Heights, to a battlefield littered with fresh corpses of Israeli soldiers that were being attended to by the ZAKA Units. The corpses that he saw were of the mutilated bodies of Israeli soldiers, soldiers whose bodies were cut apart with axes, burned, with their fingernails removed, with their hands tied behind their backs, and shot at point blank range, executed.
After their tour of the battlefield in the Golan, they were airlifted to Jerusalem to meet with Golda Meir. The meeting was of necessity brief, and they were simply told that it was their job to go back to the United States and make it known what they had witnessed, because there would be no way the international press would ever believe this if the reports came from the Israeli government. My cousins, to whom he told this story upon his return, told me that it was the first and only time they ever saw him cry, and that he was unable to ever again speak of the atrocities he witnessed. I learned of his trip when they gave me access to his notes in 2006.
My uncle died in 1983, having made more than 42 trips to Israel and having received the Prime Minister’s Award for significant contributions in philanthropy to the State of Israel. He was able to enjoy the arrival of his youngest grandson, David, one year before he died. On the 30th anniversary of the start of the Yom Kippur War in 2003, David was killed by a Hezbollah sniper while on his last day of service to the IDF.
When I first started focusing on the Jewish Federation, their default on their commitments to Israel was of great concern to me and perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back. Unfortunately, their re-constituted efforts as the JCA, under dubious and disgraceful leadership, is simply an example of putting lipstick on a pig. There are so many people who have sacrificed everything for the Jewish community and for the State of Israel and I stand in awe of them. Our so-called JCA leaders continue to humiliate our community by denying services to the elderly, by not increasing their commitment to education, by sending a pittance of the money they feebly raise to support Israel, and by squandering our precious community assets while propping up a failing health club that few in the community use.
Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying “The government you elect is the government you deserve.” In a very real sense the weak communal leadership we tolerate is the leadership we deserve. So the choice is ours. We can either continue to put up with a failing organization run by failed leaders or we can each raise our voice in protest and demand better. After all, the future of our Jewish community is hanging in the balance and we all deserve much better.
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