Home New mexico united New Mexico Jewish Federation on the brink of collapse without staff or funding for programs

New Mexico Jewish Federation on the brink of collapse without staff or funding for programs

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(JTA) – The Jewish Federation of New Mexico is nearly cash-strapped and short-staffed, and all of its programs have been suspended or are being transferred to other community entities, according to interviews and court records.

The dysfunction is the result of growing acrimony at a 74-year-old institution charged with serving the state’s roughly 24,000 Jews. After board resignations, lawsuits, and the flight of many long-time donors over the past two years, the board discussed disbanding the federation altogether.

“All the programs are gone,” said federation board member Marina Rabinowitz, who agreed to join the struggling board in January in hopes of turning things around. “The federation provided grants to almost all Jewish institutions in the state. But not anymore.”

Among the programs and beneficiaries involved are the Jewish Care Program, which helps the elderly, including Holocaust survivors, and is moving to the Jewish Community Center of Greater Albuquerque; PJ Library, which provides free books to Jewish families; the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival; and the University of New Mexico Hillel Chapter.

“The situation in New Mexico is unacceptable and we will do everything in our power to ensure that the federation can continue to serve the Jewish community, support Jewish infrastructure, elevate Jewish life and serve the most vulnerable, said Eric. Fingerhut, President. and CEO of Jewish Federations of North America, which represents 450 communities across North America.

What the future holds for New Mexico’s Jewish community is unclear. For now, all “core” programs traditionally supported by federation funding are still operating, according to a JFNA spokesperson.

But even if the federation folds, donors could materialize to keep programs afloat independently and programs that have lost staff could be staffed again under new arrangements.

The dispute in New Mexico, which the Jewish Telegraphic Agency first revealed in March, centers on the tenure of Rob Lennick, the federation’s former executive director, who recently left. He has since been hired to lead the Jewish Federation of Volusia and Flagler Counties, serving the Daytona Beach, Florida area, a JFNA spokesperson confirmed.

Several staff members began complaining in late 2020 that Lennick was prone to fits of rage and was intimidating and hostile at times. Lennick denied the allegations, finding support in the executive committee of the federation’s board of directors.

The executive committee offered to offer Lennick a loan and a contract extension and the board approved the offer in a vote in February 2021. But soon after, several board members accused the executive committee of concealing the complaints against Lennick before the vote.

About half of the board quickly resigned, and four members who remained sued. They are now asking a New Mexico court to take over the federation to ensure its management structure can be overhauled.

Lennick is now considering filing his own lawsuit because he says he has been unfairly slandered, according to his attorney, Daymon Ely, who declined to say who might be targeted in the lawsuit.

“I’m not going to name names, but you have people who have a bit of power and, in my opinion, have abused that power,” Ely said. “We’re considering taking legal action because he’s gone and they keep blaming him for things that aren’t his fault. They always talk about acrimony being his responsibility, but I think he really tried to lower the volume and I think the facts will show that he tried to do a good job.

Current members of the executive committee did not respond to requests for comment. David Blacher, who resigned as president of the federation, declined to comment.

In January, with many board seats vacant, the executive committee recruited Rabinowitz. An economist by profession, she agreed and saw an opportunity to help sort through what appeared to be messy financial accounting.

But she says that when she asked for access to the federation’s books, she was rebuffed by the executive committee. After repeatedly “begging” she says she was eventually given numbers, like a profit and loss statement, but no documentation that would validate the numbers.

“I have no confidence in the veracity of anything presented there,” Rabinowitz told JTA.

What she was able to establish was that federation coffers recently dwindled to around $22,000, a miniscule amount for an organization with a proposed budget of around $1 million in 2020, and a massive drop compared to three years ago, when the federation reported that it had 18 months of operating expenses on its reserves.

Rabinowitz doesn’t know where the money went. At least one party will pay for the lawyer representing the executive committee members in court, according to court records.

“I don’t know what mismanagement is and what fraud is,” Rabinowitz said. “The only thing I can tell you is that an organization that has been around for over 70 years has been destroyed in the last three years.”

Shelly Prant, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of Albuquerque, said she believes the community will rally together to ensure essential programs continue and that her organization and others are ready to pick up the slack created by the issues of the Federation.

“There’s a core group of people in Albuquerque and across the state who are truly caring, passionate and philanthropic,” Prant said. “And they really take it all very seriously and try to help, and so at the end of the day it’s going to be fine even if right now it’s difficult.”