On Winners and Losers

Watching reality TV shows makes me wonder if the losers are really losers. We all know about the winners. But, it is not unusual for an eliminated contestant to break out of “loser” status and make it to – or close to – the top. A few years back, the reputed top American Idol contestant was eliminated, only to be reassured that she would still land “on top.”

Many non-first place contestants receive recording contracts. Several receive movie, television and Broadway show roles. Some are hosting shows on cable networks (that I did not even know existed). Several have received better positions in their companies and law firms. A few have received business employment opportunities. Many have seen their 15 minutes of fame easily doubled or tripled.

When I grew up in Nashville, I was involved with the JCC’s basketball and football programs. I know we had a league. I know they kept scores. But the strongest memory I have is that everyone received a trophy at the annual sports banquet. You could not distinguish the winners from the losers.

And then there is the Federation’s annual allocations process, this year chaired by Gary Fromer. The process consists of a committee of committed Jewish community volunteers who meet with agencies and organizations to determine how to best divide the monies raised in the Federation’s annual campaign. Unfortunately, there will be winners and losers. But not the kind of losers who get recording contracts, promotions and trophies. Real losers.

I have been doing this work for over 30 years, and frankly, I enjoy raising the money more than spending the money. Don’t get me wrong; I do marvel in the impact of our funding on our community and in Israel. But, since there is not enough money to go around, and most – if not all – of the requests deserve funding, the prospect of winners and losers leaves me wanting. Our losers do not get a recording contract or a movie deal. They simply go unfunded. Our losers don’t get a bump in popularity and face the coming year in a better position than before. They simply go unfunded.

I did not become a Jewish communal professional to decide what we are not going to do. What drives me – what should drive all of us – is how we can grow and strengthen our community and improve the lives for Jews in Israel and around the world. We should struggle with how many more scholarships we will give to support children going to Jewish camps, not how many fewer we can provide. We should grapple with growing our counseling programs and senior transportation program, not concluding on a maximum number of trips that still leave our seniors wanting, and needing more.

I really hate the thought that there are winners and losers. But there are; some very deserving programs in our Jewish community go unfunded each year. And, as costs rise and needs increase, the gap between funded and unfunded grows at an uncomfortable pace.

But you have a role in this.

Our Allocations Committee will finish its deliberations by the end of May. You can participate by making your annual contribution now so the dollars can be counted in the allocations process. Your contribution can help reduce the number of losers this year. Increasing your gift will help us provide funding to needed programs and services. (We only need your pledge commitment at this time; payment arrangements can be flexible.)

Unfortunately, having losers affects us all. We are less of a community if less of our teens are engaged in Jewish life. We are less of a community if students are turned away from Jewish educational opportunities or if we let the quality wane. We are less of a community if we underfund the needs of Jews in Israel and the growing humanitarian needs of Jews in Ukraine. We are less of a community if more of our elders’ needs go unmet. We are less of a community if we ignore the programming needs of young Jewish adults and families. And what does it say about us if we ignore the plight of hungry Jews in our own community, in Israel, or in the former Soviet Union?

Let’s be winners. Our gifts count and they count now