The premature dismissal of Adam Bronstone from his post as Jewish Federation of Winnipeg CEO two months before his term was due to end is symptomatic of an organization in disarray. While the federation may applaud itself for its many considerable accomplishments, the kind of petty politics that often envelop it are not atypical of any bureaucratic organization, especially one whose lines of authority are so blurred.
Ostensibly the CEO of an organization takes direction from his or her board. But anyone who has studied bureaucratic organizations would understand that power emanates from two sources: information and connections.
A CEO who is fully aware of what is going on within an organization is in a much better position not to be outmanoeuvred by anyone who might be plotting to undermine that CEO’s authority and would be capable of circumventing board members who might be in disagreement.
Add to that knowledge connections to individuals who are the key holders of power within an organization, but who may or may not be board members themselves, and a CEO’s power base should be secure.
Winnipeg federation head resigns after 10 months in job
For the past 10 years, we have been hearing various members of our community congratulate themselves for having helped to “grow” Winnipeg’s Jewish population by a substantial amount. In fact, that accomplishment seemed to be at the heart of what the Jewish federation had been claiming for years was the key to “securing our future.”
The facts, however, completely contradicted those claims. When the results of the 2011 National Household Survey were released in 2013, the evidence clearly indicated that rather than having grown, Winnipeg’s Jewish population had, in fact, shrunk – and not by a small amount. According to the 2001 Census, our Jewish population was a little more than 14,000. But, by 2011, the NHS reported that our population was only slightly more than 12,000.
I had been writing articles questioning our federation’s claims that our population was growing, but it wasn’t until reporter Uriel Heilman of JTA wrote a piece in 2014 asking why Winnipeg had become a key destination for Russian Israeli immigrants did any of the movers and shakers in this community begin to ask themselves some serious questions about what was really going on here.
Yet the previous CEO of our community, who held his position for 28 years, had staked his reputation in large part on the premise that Winnipeg’s Jewish population had not only grown substantially, but that the influx of Israeli immigrants had all but insured our future.
What, then, are to we make of the fact that synagogue membership has plummeted in the past few years, that our only Jewish day school saw a decline in enrolment this past year from 600 to 510, that the Hebrew bilingual program offered at another (public) school was terminated and that the only Jewish seniors’ centre in the north end of the city was threatened with closure? Are those the signs of a growing and healthy Jewish population?
Yet, when it comes to the financial health of our Jewish community, things are relatively stable. For instance, our Jewish Foundation recently reported that its endowment has surpassed the $100-million mark – not bad for a community that is perhaps one-eighteenth the size of Toronto’s. And, while our Combined Jewish Appeal did not quite reach this year’s target of $5.9 million (it fell about $200,000 short), some 20 years ago – when Winnipeg’s Jewish population was much larger than it is today, the CJA campaign brought in only a little more than $3 million.
So how does this all relate to what’s been happening at the top levels of our Jewish federation? The previous CEO was unassailable in his power, and unquestioned even when he and others in the federation continued to promote the notion that Winnipeg had a strong and growing Jewish community – despite facts that would have tended to contradict that notion.
A new CEO came into office last August, someone who had no power base here and, despite the fact that he was a native Winnipegger, had not lived here for more than 25 years. Whether or not that individual was qualified to hold the position, the fact that he was not very good at shmoozing the machers who needed to be shmoozed undoubtedly played a key role in his undoing. At the same time, the current leadership of the Jewish federation all seem to subscribe to the myth that Winnipeg has a strong and secure Jewish community and seem incapable of asking any hard questions about whether there is the evidence for sustaining that myth.
Add to this mix the presence of one particular and powerful individual in the media here who uses her connections to undermine any official whose behaviour she disapproves of and you have a volatile recipe for organizational disarray.
Was Adam Bronstone the right person for the job of CEO? Perhaps not, but anyone who might succeed him might be well advised to make sure they have some solid connections with certain machers here and pay proper obeisance to one particular individual who works behind the scenes to undermine those whom she cares to target.
Bernie Bellan is editor of Winnipeg’s Jewish Post and News.