AN OPEN LETTER TO OUR COMMUNITY
To all members of our extended Anash family,
I am writing to you to bring to your attention my feelings and thoughts on something that I experienced this week, a distinctly unpleasant and most disturbing experience; namely the AGM of the YBRSL [Yeshivah Beth Rivkah Schools Limited]- the board who have, for the time being, been placed in the role of guiding our two schools towards creating the very best environment for our children and staff, and providing the type of chinuch that the Rebbe demands from an institution bearing his name.
In response to A REQUEST TO PASS A MOTION at the meeting, The chair announced that the board would not allow any motions to be passed, either ordinary or special resolutions. They claimed that proxies that had been issued were for the sole purpose of gaining entry to the meeting! And when requested to give notice to facilitate putting a resolution at a future date that the board claimed to be necessary, they refused point blank to do so.
This exasperated those members who came in good faith under the assumption that the meeting was called to allow their voices to be heard.
However there is one comment in particular which the chair made, which gave me much reason for concern. After being dismissive of the requests to pass resolutions at the meeting, he added, almost as an aside, the following comment:
"WE REALLY ARE NOT OBLIGED TO HAVE AN AGM". This was particularly galling for the members, as it indicates a total lack of respect towards them. In my opinion this remark stands on its own and deserves analysis.
We all know that the dramatic changes that have come to the school and its administration in the last few years have been brought about due to various shortcomings in the approach of earlier leadership. Ultimately this approach was recognised to no longer be appropriate, and the community was to become active stakeholders and members with rights and votes.
Decisions obviously have to be made, but "Representation" was the means to achieve this. Elections took place, (some) representatives were chosen. "Accountability" was to be the new frontier. This is what we ARE ENTITLED TO and began to expect. The silenced majority was no longer to be kept silent, and would be given a forum at which to speak. The AGM rightfully should have been this forum. A brave new world here we come! Or so we thought.
One would have been justified to think that an integral part of this new arrangement was the sense of responsibility that members of the YBRSL Board would feel not to repeat the shortcomings of the past and “board” themselves up in an ivory tower of isolation from the people who voted for them; to perceive them as their partners and EQUALS. Meet and greet should be the order of the day as much as practical, with the members of the board actively, AND WILLINGLY, seeking input from those that they represent, so as to be a legitimate representative, and the best representative.
But power can be a bit like the Heisenberg effect. Its' very presence has a way of changing people, sometimes giving a person a sense of self-importance that they may not be deserving of, and do I dare say, a sense of contemptuousness of the very people they were elected to represent. No longer do they see themselves as servants to the people, but rather as an entity unto itself, independent and unafilliated. No longer are they of the public service. It has arrogantly morphed into "THE PUBLIC SERVE US".
This attitude was unfortunately demonstrated by the remark, made in a moment at being challenged on something, that "WE REALLY ARE NOT REQUIRED TO HAVE AN AGM", referring to his understanding, correct or otherwise, of the legal requirements of the board vis a vis its members.
Legalities aside, we are not talking merely about the size of the dividend to be distributed this year. We are talking about the vested interest of the "stakeholders" in the chinuch, education and wellbeing of their most precious "possessions" - the children that Hashem has blessed them with.
And it is to these people you then question the need to communicate with, and take feedback from? To the parents of these children BECAUSE YOU MAY NOT BE LEGALLY BOUND TO DO SO???!!! If that is the attitude of the current board, I'm afraid that, to put it colloquially, YOU HAVE SIMPLY LOST THE PLOT.
"THERE WERE TWO REVIEWS"
The specific issue that I raised, which had given me great cause for concern, related to the following question that I put to the board.
And I quote:
"Last year in November 2017, you sent an email to some parents and staff inviting them to participate in, and quoting the subject line of that email: 'Rabbi Smukler Performance Review - your participation requested', signed by Rabbi Smukler and co-chairs Dr Shana Reuben and Dr Debbie Herbst.
To quote verbatim the relevant lines of that email: 'I am writing to invite you to participate in my annual performance review process in 2017. As part of my annual performance review, Mr Neville Lyngcoln and his associate Rosie Rowe will be visiting the school.. in late November/early December. At each meeting, Neville and Rosie will be asking about my leadership of our school. In particular these questions will focus on my strengths, and areas for further development.
However, in a letter from the 8th February 2018 to some members of PFYM - Parents and Friends of Yeshivah Melbourne - signed by the board of YBRSL, you specifically denied that a review of any such nature had ever taken place, choosing to describe it instead as something totally different, i.e. as a review concerning 'the structure and function of the schools'.
Some parents and teachers here tonight participated in that review, and have said that all the questions in their interview can only be described as being related to, once again quoting the original email: 'A review of the principal's performance and leadership'. My question to the board is: Why did you send out two contradictory emails, the second of which conflicted with the experience of those who participated?” End of question.
To avoid confusion, I want to clarify that my question at this time was NOT concerning the outcome of the performance review of Rabbi Smukler. The question was directed to the members of the board about its' own conduct, namely of apparently sending out two contradictory emails.
As the chair for the evening had only recently been reappointed to the board and was not on it when either of these emails were sent, he had to confer with the member of the board who was responsible for sending out the second email, and came back with the "explanation" that there was no contradiction between the two emails, as there had been two reviews conducted, one of Rabbi Smukler’s performance, and one about the "structure and function of the school, and it was this second review that the letter to PFYM referred. Question answered. Problem solved.
Except for one "minor" detail. The letter to PFYM didn't simply state that a review about "the structure and function of the school" had taken place. The full quote of the letter from the board to PFYM reads as follows:
"We would be interested to learn why you say, and from whence you sourced your information 'that an independent consultant was retained by the YBRSL Board to review the performance of the Principal'. That is simply not correct. [Emphasis added] Although we are not obliged [there is that word again!] to provide any such information, seeing that you have obviously been informed that interviews of stakeholders were conducted, in the circumstances we will advise you that a review was undertaken concerning the structure and function of the schools."
Simply put, the board is claiming that the interviews of the stakeholders by the independent consultants was NOT a review of the performance of the principal, but rather one of structure and function.
So now we have it unambiguously!
THERE WERE NOT TWO REVIEWS!! ONLY ONE REVIEW.
THERE WAS NO PERFORMANCE REVIEW!!
IT WAS ABOUT STRUCTURE AND FUNCTION!!
This letter blatantly contradicted the previous answer given to me by the chair, and clearly demonstrated that they chose to deliberately misrepresent to everyone in that meeting the truth that lay behind the REAL answer to my question. (In primary school before we got so sophisticated, we would call that “lying").
It's no trivial matter for a member of the board to 'misrepresent the truth' to the members at their AGM.
Furthermore, as this letter was signed "On behalf of The Board of Management per: The Procedures and Protocols Subcommittee", I very much wanted to clarify which, if any, of the other board members were aware of this misrepresentation, for I believe that EACH AND EVERY board member who was aware of the untruthful contents of this letter, and allowed that letter to go out in their name, regardless of what other qualifications they may have, HAS FORFEITED THEIR RIGHT TO REMAIN ON ANY BOARD CONNECTED TO OUR SCHOOLS.
Therefore, at the AGM, I stood and put a second question to the chair, asking, firstly, if the actual writer of that letter would be honest and decent enough to own up to it, and secondly, as the letter was signed in the name of the board, did this necessarily mean that each member of the board was aware of its content, and asking all the other board members to declare their knowledge or otherwise of the untruthful content of the letter.
At this point of the proceedings, Mr Dov Silberman, a member of the board, got out of his chair, strode to the centre of the hall, took the microphone from the chair, and in reply to my question, stated that any letter signed by the board represented the entire board. Subsequent to that, and despite my attempts to explain that the corollary of this statement was to indict every single member of the board of complicity of 'misrepresentation', he simply kept on SHOUTING through the microphone and merely repeating, time and time and time again, that "a letter signed by the board represents the entire board, a letter signed by the board represents the entire board", for the sole purpose of drowning out my attempts to hold him to task to the implications of his statement.
From an early age I began to understand that if someone refuses to answer a question, in most cases they don't need to. You already have your answer.
So my question to you, Anash, is simply stated. If there are current members of the board who feel so smug as to be blatantly dishonest towards us, or at least are not prepared to condemn such behaviour of their fellow board members, how can we as a community have any trust in their stewardship?
And one final thought.
The meeting concluded with another board member retelling a version of the well known parable about twigs and the power of unity, insofar as while it is very easy to break a single twig individually, when you unite all the twigs together into a single bunch, their combined strength imparts a resilience and strength far greater than each one is capable of individually and they cannot be broken so readily. The lesson for us was that we all need work together as one in order to maximise our accomplishments. Truly a wonderful sentiment, as unquestionably virtuous as 'motherhood and apple pie'.
However, in light of the apparent disdain that some members of the board displayed to the attendees of the AGM and to some of their questions, this notion of working together as one, while unquestionably well intentioned, was perhaps slightly naive. For it appears that within their closed ranks, some members of the board have their own different take on the lesson from the twigs.
The lesson that some board members apparently derive about the advantage in numbers goes like this. Were we to take individual ownership for the deviousness, and even deceit and outright lies, that have come out in our names, we would be too embarrassed to face our friends and neighbours, spouses and children.
But if we close ranks and allow ourselves as individuals, [and apparently our consciences too,] to disappear, we can be transformed into a new entity, one which is more powerful than a locomotive, capable of creating tall stories in a single email. We will become "THE BOARD". And we will allow ourselves to condone things that in our lives as individuals - as fathers or mothers, husbands or wives, sons or daughters - would find abhorrent and beneath us.
With my sincere hope and deepest prayer that our community will be able to have the calibre of leadership that it deserves.
Yitschok Tzvi Jedwab
Click here to listen to an edited version of the recent Yeshivah AGM, click here for the full version.