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Implosion in Arizona

If you haven’t noticed, my former JTA-colleague-turned-Wandering-Jew-turned-organic-farmer Ben Harris is back wandering the far flung Jewish world for JTA for the next several months.

This week he is in Arizona, where he filed a dispatch about the implosion of the Jewish federation there.

Writes Farmer Ben:

Adam Schwartz’s office is on the second floor of the Valley of the Sun Jewish Community Center in Scottsdale, itself part of a 30-acre, 110,000 square foot campus that is home to two Jewish schools, a kosher cafe, and the typical assortment of community agencies. Less than ten years old, the campus has the same feel of much of the Phoenix metro area — capacious, gleaming, and new — artifacts, it now seems, of a more optimistic time.

The Federation CEO was coming off a tough stretch when we sat down Monday afternoon. The cascade of bad news began with the laying off of half the Federation staff due to fundraising shortfalls. Then the Jewish News of Greater Phoenix reported last week that funding allocations for November and December would be delayed, and accompanied that story with a harsh editorial criticizing the Federation for its lack of transparency. The paper also revealed that, for the last two years, Federation has not been able to pay its commitments to overseas funding.

In conversations last week, several Jewish Arizonians, speaking totally independently of each other, used the same word to describe what is happening to the Phoenix Jewish community: implosion.

When I asked Schwartz if that was an apt description, he paused for a very long time. He shifted in his chair, coughed, repeated the question to himself and let his eyes wander into the middle distance. "I have trouble with the word," he said finally, "because it implies to me no hope." If the imploders mean that the situation is "dangerous, risky, and requires extreme measures," — then, Schwartz said, he "can live with it." If they mean that Federation is going to collapse, then they’re wrong.

Read the rest on The Wandering Jew.