Saturday, September 20, 2014


It's time to revisit the farce that is and has been the Global Planning Table.

This was all so predictable -- from the beginning. And we predicted it on these very pages.The reality that the Global Planning Table was shoved down the throats of a super-majority of federations by the minority of the weak in the sway of Kathy Manning can no longer be denied. Those who played this sad game have the waste associated with this thing on their tab, and we have only ourselves to blame.

An abbreviated history is in order. The bare outline of what was to become the co-option of JFNA by the GPT was discussed in the final moments of a JFNA Retreat four+ years ago. From there, Manning and her acolytes claimed a "mandate" to move forward with what was to become a parallel governance to that for JFNA, controlled by the largest federations, and taking over, among other things: the "split" among JAFI, the Joint and World ORT; advocacy for core allocations; and defining a set of "Signature Initiatives." The fund raising and funding for the GPT and its "Initiatives" were left to the ineptitude of JFNA. There has been almost total failure in every aspect of this...thing.

Over the past four years: the creation of a "governance" structure so complex as to make Rube Goldberg proud; Manning had herself named Chair of the decision-making body of the GPT; unaccounted-for millions out of your Dues have been thrown at staff, consultants, studies, papers, you name it (in addition to overhead dedicated by JAFI/JDC/ORT to responding to never-ending demands by GPT for more, more, more); a significant professional hired by JFNA to run the GPT left after about 6 months for reasons never explained, the professional operation then turned over to the JFNA flacks and to Israel-Overseas in Jerusalem. The stench of failure can be smelled from here.

In its wisdom, the tiny cabal of GPT leaders with the curious acquiescence of JFNA's leaders and the total support of CEO Jerry ("if the Global Planning Table fails, then JFNA will be destroyed") determined that its two Initiatives could and would not proceed without a federation pre-commitment of $15,000,000 ($1,500,000 in the aggregate from each of 10 federations spread over three years) per Initiative. Some digging and my intuition tell me that JFNA is so far from those fund-raising goals for each and both Initiative that they cannot even be seen from here. 

The implications of this failure can be seen everywhere.

  1.  The "Signature Initiative" branded J-Quest (a brand announced with such fanfare by the GPT cheerleader-in-chief, David Butler, one might have thought the brand itself was the goal) was actually cobbled together by a small group of LCE, JAFI and the Joint; its creation wasn't dependent upon the existence of the GPT whatsoever. J-Quest was seized upon as the easy and ready answer to what role JFNA and the federations would play in the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative (G-d -- all these "Initiatives") -- itself in chaos. The Federations and other Diaspora organs committed to the Prime Minister that they would raise twice the amount dedicated by the GOI to this effort. Clearly, as detailed above, JFNA/GPT can't even raise $15,000,000 in "seed money" for J-Quest let alone the multiple tens of millions more that the World Jewry Initiative would require. 
  2. As a super-majority of federations have been excluded from the GPT decision-making "processes," they have no vested interest in the outcomes of these "Initiatives" considered so vital to JFNA's very existence. Thus, the engagement of all federations in their Continental organization is further distanced -- and JFNA "leadership" can't even understand this.
  3. JFNA isn't threatened by the failure of the Global Planning Table, as has been the case from the onset of this invidious cancer, JFNA is threatened by the existence of the Global Planning Table.
When Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg took on their Chairs at JFNA, at many meetings they were heard to ask the absolutely right questions about the continued existence of the Global Planning Table. Though they received no answers, eventually they capitulated to the interests of those so vested in that thing and stopped even asking questions.

And, here we are, left with the detritus of predictable failure. 


Friday, September 19, 2014


In a September 18 Leadership Briefing, JFNA CEO Silverman issued a call for help:
"Though there is no shortage of pain and suffering throughout the world, there is one tragic situation we can do something about. Right now, thousands are losing their lives and livelihoods in a region that once boasted a thriving Jewish population. Ongoing fighting between Ukrainians and pro-Russian rebels has imperiled tens of thousands of Jews in Ukraine – particularly the elderly and infirm – who need urgent aid now more than ever. The Jewish Federations of North America is in a position to help"
Yes, after ignoring the tragic situation confronting Ukrainian Jewry for weeks, the  poor folks at JFNA recite "[W]e are engaged in a campaign to raise $2 million to support our partners providing services to people in need." We are? Really? A "campaign." Really? And just what is that "campaign?" And where did the "goal" of $2 million come from? Is that on top of the earlier, abandoned "goal"? 

I call this pip-squeak fund raising -- it bears no resemblance to any campaign. It is the real embodiment of all that is wrong at JFNA. The core problem -- these guys don't even know what's wrong with themselves. 

We have written it before -- this circus needs a competent ringmaster; it is out of control. It is tragic comedy. It is shameful.


Wednesday, September 17, 2014


Let's start here...with an article from the L.A. Jewish Journal:

In each of Israel’s wars in recent years, as the country’s soldiers have been on the front lines and its civilians in the south have resided in bomb shelters, the Jewish social service establishment has consistently called upon Jews in the Diaspora to donate money to help. 
And the donations reliably flow in, usually totaling in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. During this summer’s seven-week war between Hamas and Israel, for example, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) raised $49 million — nearly $1 million for each day of the war — for its “Stop the Sirens” relief fund.
Here in Southern California, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles raised about $3.6 million during the summer’s war, of which $1.7 million was sent to JFNA’s fund. The balance, approximately $1.9 million, is yet to be distributed, said President and CEO Jay Sanderson. The funds remaining from JFNA’s $49 million come to about $30.7 million, according to a spokesperson.
Where exactly did all the money go? And what about funds that were raised but not yet spent? 
To the extent that these questions can be answered clearly, they are largely determined less than a mile west of the Jaffa Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City, inside the fortress-like walls of the Jewish Agency headquarters on King George Street, home to the offices of some of the world’s most influential and wide-reaching Jewish social service agencies.
In the midst of the recent conflict between Hamas and Israel, staff in that building were tasked with allocating the donations from Diaspora Jews to assist the injured people and damaged communities near Gaza.
And their work continues, even though the fighting has subsided. 
JFNA raised $42 million in the United States between July 8 and Aug. 26 for an emergency relief fund for residents of southern Israel. Another $7 million was raised in Canada.
Sanderson said that the $3.6 million raised in Los Angeles was “significantly more money than we expected” for this war’s relief fund. He said two donors donated about half the money, with $1 million coming from real-estate developer and former Federation president Bram Goldsmith, and $800,000 given by an anonymous donor.
Speaking with the Journal from New York on Aug. 26, the day a monthlong cease-fire was announced, JFNA CEO Jerry Silverman said its $49 million fund already had distributed about $18 million to the organization’s partner agencies in Israel, which “have the platform and infrastructure to move on a dime” to provide relief to the  hundreds of thousands of Israelis who live near Gaza.
Because JFNA does not make any direct contributions to recipients, its 16-member allocation committee, of which Sanderson is a member, based its spending decisions on what a select number of social service organizations in Israel said was most needed during any given day or week. That committee was assembled once the war began in July.
A report compiled by JFNA indicates that during the seven-week conflict, the group spent $5.4 million on respite activities for children (such as day trips); $5 million on therapy and trauma support; $3.4 million for “resilience” support; $3 million to deliver food, medicine and other necessities to elderly people who cannot safely leave their homes; $767,000 in loans and direct consumer spending for small businesses near Gaza; and $617,000 in therapy and “resiliency workshops” for hospital workers and Lone Soldiers. 
Working primarily in conjunction with the Jewish Agency, the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), and the Conservative and Reform religious movements in Israel, the more than $18 million spent by JFNA financed numerous programs that seem to have touched tens of thousands of Israelis, if not more.
JFNA was unable to specify how much money it sent to each of the handful of social service agencies that coordinated on-the-ground relief efforts in Israel. As of press time, the Journal was able to receive detailed figures from four of the five organizations that coordinated the vast majority of JFNA’s relief efforts.
Michael Geller, a spokesman for the JDC, wrote to the Journal that the group received $4 million from JFNA during the summer war, using the money for 11 different types of activities and support, including respite activities ($1.9 million), trauma support ($608,000), equipment and games for shelters ($241,000) and therapeutic plush dolls for traumatized children ($149,000).
The ITC, which counsels and trains individuals and cities in trauma support and recovery, reported that it spent about 5,000 hours during the war assisting in therapy and anxiety support. In addition to consulting with regional councils near Gaza on emergency management, ITC’s “emotional first-aid emergency hotlines” received 30,000 calls during the two-month war. The group did not specify as of press time how much money ITC received from JFNA.
The Masorti (Conservative) movement in Israel reported to the Journal that it received $517,600 from JFNA’s relief fund. Masorti spent $200,000 on relocating its Ramah-NOAM summer camp, which was within range of Hamas rockets, to a location near the Sea of Galilee in the north, another $104,500 on respite activities, $113,100 on counseling for remote communities and relatives of soldiers, and it plans to spend $100,000 on High Holy Days programming for underserved Jewish communities near Gaza.
David Bernstein, director of development for the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism, reported that his group received about $477,000 from JFNA as part of Stop the Sirens. Bernstein wrote in an email that beneficiaries of the funds included children from kibbutzim in the south and Bedouins from Rahat and other villages, who participated in respite activities. The Reform movement, according to Bernstein, also provided pastoral assistance for soldiers and traumatized civilians, and provided food and games for people in bomb shelters.
As of press time Sept. 9, the Journal had not received information from the Jewish Agency on how much it received from JFNA during the war.
Over the coming weeks and months, both JFNA and the local Federation will need to decide how to spend millions of unspent dollars from this summer’s campaign. At JFNA, about $24 million (plus the additional $7 million from Canada) remain in the emergency fund. Silverman said that because “the donor’s intent is to support Israel’s needs today,” JFNA intends to distribute these remaining funds as soon as possible. 
“The $24 million will be allocated appropriately and thoughtfully over the next month or six weeks, assuming something is worked out” with regard to a long-term cease-fire, Silverman said.
Aaron Goldberg, director of the Los Angeles Jewish Federation’s office in Israel, said during an Aug. 13 interview in Jerusalem that preparations for such emergency efforts began long before “the gun is being fired.” During times of calm, JFNA utilizes its seat on Israel’s National Emergency Authority (similar to FEMA in the United States) to help plan how it would allocate money raised for emergency war relief. 
“When a conflict begins, you don’t know how long it’s going to last,” Goldberg said. “People seemed to believe in the beginning it would probably be a week, which is what previous conflicts looked like.”
One of Goldberg’s roles as the L.A. Federation’s Israel liaison is to advise Sanderson on where Sanderson, as a voice on JFNA’s allocation committee, should recommend sending relief money. In his Jerusalem office, Goldberg repeatedly stressed one such need — Israelis’ psychological relief from the constant siren warnings in southern communities. 
“Day in and day out, for a period of three weeks, every 15 minutes, every 10 minutes with sirens — it screws people up,” Goldberg said. “This is a time when kids are supposed to be in the parks playing; they are supposed to be in day camps.”
In Los Angeles, Federation still has $1.9 million available to spend in Israel from the campaign. Sanderson said this surplus will not be filtered through JFNA’s fund, but  instead will be distributed according to needs identified by Federation staff in Los Angeles and Israel.
“[That’s] why we have an Israel office in the first place,” Sanderson said."


What Jay Sanderson neglects is "that (the allocation of emergency funds raised in an expression of our collective responsibilities) is why we have a continental organization." Only, of course, we do not have one that can be entrusted with the distribution of those funds, do we? And, no one is asking the seminal question: "WHY IS THAT?" Yet, this is not a criticism of those federations which have determined that they can individually better determine how the funds they have raised be spent 7,000 or 10,000 miles away; this is an attempt to explain this new reality and how and why we are here. 

Certainly our funds would have a far more dramatic impact were they collected and distributed collectively rather than be individually doled out by Los Angeles, Chicago or any other federation, whether or not that community has the resources to have an Israel representative on the communal payroll.

First, as we all know, it is a pathetic joke to state, as the Journal article author did, that "JFNA raised $49,000,000" for its Israel Emergency Fund; the reality is quite another thing. JFNA raised...NOTHING. JFNA is in the collection and distribution business and the results as they say speak for themselves -- a lower percentage of campaign dollars sent through our Continental enterprise than ever in our history. And, what factors have led us to this sorry state? Well, consider:

  • A distrust in JFNA borne of waste, redundancy, overstatement (there is no "$49 million fund" even as CEO Jerry recites the number as if it were real) and the reality that JFNA has not engaged in any fund raising (although it did distribute a kind of "case for giving" and some excellent "Q and A");
  • The real numbers of the JFNA "effort" are sobering, and found in Chair Siegal's plaintive plea for cash on Monday: only $4 million of unrestricted cash remained available for allocation on top of the woeful $18.9 million already received -- we all appreciate Siegal's candor and my suggestion to CEO I-Can't-Count remains: "stick a sock in it":
  • The growth of the "federation representative" movement since San Francisco created its Israel amutah in the early 90's;
  • The constant drumbeat of anti-Jewish Agency "advocacy" by a growing group of federation CEOs based on the assumption that the JAFI bureaucracy of twenty years ago (not today) and fed, if "feeding" were necessary, by many of those "federation representatives" for reasons self-evident. Couple those destructive efforts with the anti-JAFI rhetoric and actions of Michael Siegal's predecessor, which Siegal has attempted to overcome, and you have  a recipe for the very negative response to JAFI's efforts even during a time of war in Israel and its aftermath;
  • In the creation of the Israel Emergency Fund "targets" of, first, $10,000,000 and, then, $30,000,000, JFNA completely undersold the depth of American Jewish concern for the impact of the Terrorists' War on Israel on our Israeli mishpacha, leaving federations fro Los Angeles to Birmingham and so many others in the unique circumstance of raising far, far in excess of the "fair share" asked of the federations. These "outcomes" left those federations with a "surplus" to distribute, by their conclusions, reached separately, to distribute as they determined, but not to or through the collective;
  • The significant delay in the timeline between funds sent to JFNA and their distribution, The fact that JFNA had received, at the date of the Journal article, only $18,900,000 of $49,000,000 raised by the federations (with another $4 million "left to allocate") is telling commentary on the reality of our collective responsibilities in 2014 as expressed through JFNA.
  • An historic breakdown in the understanding of the exercise of our collective responsibilities and the impacts that collective response can have.
The historic high percentage of federation self-directed allocations is the culmination of the breakdown of self-imposed (because no continental institution could impose it) communal discipline accelerated by the breakdown of trust in JFNA as an entity deserving of trust. After all, who knows better how to distribute our donors' funds in an emergency than the federations themselves, in the opinion of those who raised the money?

We have seen our so-called "system" go from "donor choice" reflected in the designated gifts of more and more donors whose trust in the decisions of the central communal body has broken down, to "federation choice" reflected in the individual communal-designated allocations as the trust in the continental body -- JFNA -- has self-destructed. It is so dire that I would wager that no one at JFNA, including CEO We-Raised-$49-Million, knows how much federations raised -- the only  number we know for certain is the amount JFNA raised...$0.

During the last Israel Emergency Campaign, one Large City decided to distribute $150,000 away from the collective effort in $5,000 "allocations" to 30 different Israeli NGOs rather than send those dollars to the then UJC. When I asked the then Israeli representative of that Large City "why, what could the impact possibly be on any of those organizations?" he just shrugged his shoulders.

It appears that we now have a continental enterprise only to preserve the Lions of Judah and Young Leadership Cabinets and some nice professional education efforts -- for $30.5 million per year. JFNA is so diminished, it has made itself unnecessary...and it has done it to itself while we just watch and ignore what we are witnessing.


Sunday, September 14, 2014



  • One used to be able to access JFNA's current IRS Form 990 by link from its web page (well, it wasn't quite that easy, but there was a link, that would take you to another website, where you had to register...but, eventually, you would get there). If you go to the JFNA website right now, I challenge you to find the 990 link -- it, like Sam Astrof, has disappeared.
  • Then, there is this: if you go searching for the current 990 -- that is the 2013 990 which has been filed, if JFNA is following the legal requirements -- and go to, you will find the most recent filing that for 2012. I'd ask JFNA what it is trying to hide, but...why bother. (BTW, the 2012 990 went of record on July 17, 2013 -- check today's date.)
  • Then there is the 2014 GA. Renee Rothstein, JFNA's well-regarded flack-in-chief, has taken the reins, apparently dismissed the lay Co-Chairs, and has been sending out periodic updates that, if you read them, won't encourage you to attend the November GA in some place called National Harbor, Maryland ("you can see Washington, D.C. from there"). The Speakers List, so promising when first announced has added one speaker...that's ONE two months ("renowned TED speaker") -- for a fun exercise, go to the GA website and link to "Speakers;" then go to "See Full List" and watch the same speakers appear with those disappearing Co-Chairs, but listed in alphabetical order.
  • And, worse, these from the GA Website: Plenary Two: "Modern day Aristotle's share their observations of living Jewishly and explore how we organize as a society." So, forgetting the ridiculous use of the possessive in the reference to Aristotle, that's it, nothing more.  That evening there is something called the "Israeli Jewish Congress" but the subtext discloses that this should have been the European Jewish Congress. Oh my. Maybe the "planners" don't believe anyone reads this stuff...maybe they are correct.
  • As if these are the worst of what the GA scriveners have to offer, there is this beauty, planned for Sunday night: "ON Sunday evening Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is ours to explore! Visit Dorothy's ruby slippers..." Only this iteration of our continental organization could further reduce itself to a joke.
  • Then there are the JFNA Solidarity Missions -- I think the fifteenth or 20th just went or returned. I have never been on a national Mission (and I have been on, last count, 23 of them) that had no fund raising component; yet, the leaders of JFNA have now run whatever the number of Solidarity Missions is without any fund raising. How does that happen? How is that allowed to happen? I understand these Missions were short but, communal Missions of the same length, have raised significant dollars in light of the emergency. It should be noted that JFNA CEO Silverman has been on most if not all of these Missions -- guess he either didn't notice, was distracted while writing his summary of the success of the Missions or didn't understand that missions=fund raising...or did, once upon a time.
We at least had hoped that the national organization could rise to a crisis. A "target" for an Israel Emergency Fund was first $10 million, then $30 million. Last month the federations had raised $41 million but transmitted to JFNA only about 50% of that figure. What did JFNA contribute to the raising of this funds?? (That's just another rhetorical question, of course.) Folks are beginning to ask the inevitable -- "do we need a JFNA that costs us $30.5 million a year when we are getting about $5 million in value, if that?"

Well, do we?


Thursday, September 11, 2014


Look, I can rant (as I have) about the pathetic wanderings of JFNA's CEO and the passivity of top JFNA lay leadership that just lets it happen but seriously, friends, bottom line the real failure is ours. We ask for no return on investment, we don't demand transparency or engagement -- in fact, we demand nothing. And, we get exactly that and less. And, there's the rub. We have an organization that supposedly represents our interests, our concerns and those of the Jewish People that is as inept as our U.S. Congress.

This was all brought to mind by the Agenda of this week's JFNA Executive Committee -- which neither you nor, especially, I are supposed to even know about if at all, only in redacted fashion. The items included:

  1. Dues matters -- which federations have not paid and what's happening to them. (BTW, if a federation does not pay JFNA Dues, absent a hardship variation, membership automatically is terminated without further action.) So, the question: which federations have not paid their dues in full and how many are there? Answer: "none of your or anyone else's business."
  2. Something called "Israel, Ukraine and France" where among other things, the JFNA Executive apparently discussed "fund raising." (I suppose that means Federations FRD inasmuch as JFNA is doing none of its own.) But, really, until this moment, since the Terrorists' War on Israel began, the growing plight of Ukrainian Jewry has been forgotten and "France" -- mah zeh? Wish we were doing something -- probably a "Solidarity Mission" in the offing.
  3. Those Global Planning Table "Signature Initiatives" -- yes, how are those going? With the on-going confusion of the GOI role vs. JAFI's, JFNA would be the last party to try to figure out how the primary Initiative -- "Immersive Experiences" through something branded JQuest -- will fare. It was reported to JAFI that the $15 million being sought in federation commitments required by the GPT's own "rules" is "on hold."  (That means that we have not raised the money. Have you read anything from Chair Butler lately? Just asking.) The Director General of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs is spewing his own form of chaos and confusion, a JFNA specialty as it were, by attempting to end run JAFI, designated by Prime Minister Netanyahu to lead what was to be a GOI/World Jewry effort, reaching out directly to leaders in the Diaspora to "join him." Would it not be timely and appropriate for JFNA to assert that it and the federations which own it will work through the Jewish Agency on this Initiative -- as it has been doing up to this point in time? Sure -- but I wouldn't count on it. This is JFNA after all, already awash in the red ink of every fund raising "effort" (if only there were some); perhaps seeing a direct GOI/JFNA role as (1) easing the pain of failure and (b) enhancing its own institutional status in Israel.
  4. And in the midst of one failed lower case "initiative" after another, there is to be "discussion" about JFNA creating a "Jewish Education/Engagement Unit." Forgive me, but do you think that anyone...ANY ONE...within JFNA or on that Executive Committee uttered the words: "Are you kidding me, we are starting a new unit before we do one thing on our plate well?" Or words to that effect?
  5. AND, HERE'S THE TOPPER. YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE THIS. JFNA has what passes for a By-Laws Committee. It is made up of two Foundation CEOs, the ubiquitous Steve Hoffman (the fact that Steve's name appeared on the Memo so filled with this nonsense suggests that it might have been a forgery [but it wasn't]) and...Kathy Manning. It proposed to the JFNA Executive Committee that all JFNA "Business Committees" and more be considered for abolition.The rationale: it will allow JFNA professionals more time for...well, what exactly and, don't worry, they'll find a more streamlined and better means of lay participation (currently none)? They clearly would no longer be bothered with lay Chairs or, for that matter, laypersons in general. The intent is just so cleverly couched in bureaucratized jargon: "rationally streamlined," "support the organizational execution of...mission" and the like. I guess that these chachams believe that lay people just get in the way...and, of course, they do. In the clown car there is no need for the kind of engagement that Committee service means; there is no recognition or use for the checks and balances inherent in the work of Committees; and there is no understanding that Committee work is the nuts and bolts of a successful non-profit. Now, in any rational organization, like your federation, if this idea arose (and in a rational organization it would never, ever arise let alone be considered worthy of discussion), your CEO would simply say "are you f'in nuts?" and so would your Board Chair and an idea this bizarre and brazen would never see the light of day...but not at JFNA where the CEO apparently can't tell a bad idea from a good one and, quite obviously, the Board Chair has been supplanted by his predecessor.**
Do either the Board or Executive Chair have an opinion on any of this? We'll never know, will we?

For the love of G-d, can someone rescue this organization from itself?


* Other than, presumably, the Nominating, Budget and Finance and Audit Committees and certainly the Global Planning Table ..but, who knows?

** To be fair there are some decent ideas in this Committee's recommendation, including the potential discard of the Chair of the Executive and the Executive Committee.

Monday, September 8, 2014



balagan - definition of balagan by The Free Dictionary

Noun, 1. balagan - a word for chaos or fiasco borrowed from modern Hebrew 

When the Government of Israel Ministry of the Interior announced earlier this year that the Jewish Agency's historic role in aliyah was being severely reduced just as aliyah -- from France, from the Ukraine, from Germany -- was exponentially increasing, JAFI leaders were quick to issue denials. It was easy to convince JFNA CEO See-No-Evil-Hear-No-Evil that all was well -- and so he trumpeted to the press, brainwashed as he was. Now, the so-called Director General of the Ministry of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs (who rarely even talks to anyone relevant in the Diaspora), Dvir Kahana, has proposed to preempt and co-opt the JAFI/GOI Jewish People Initiative, thereby throwing that Initiative into the total chaos we have come to expect. And, no surprise, even though the Government will/may provide substantial funding, the Jewish Agency and JFNA pretend that nothing at all is amiss. Those blinders sure come in handy.

Once again, the Chair of the Jewish Agency Executive decided to strike back in the media, essentially challenging Kahana's public attempts to override the Prime Minister's alleged "decision" to vest the operation of the Initiative in JAFI just as he had determined that JAFI should frame the Initiative from braishit,, which it did.

Here's the sad result of this mess: Diaspora Jewry (viz, in North America, the Federations) are expected to raise twice the Government's funding commitment, or over $100 million to fund this Initiative (forget for the moment whether that is even feasible and remember if you will it, it is no dream) -- 1/3rd GOI, 1/3 funders and 1/3 program providers [e.g., Birthright]) -- but our fund raising cannot take place in a chaotic environment...and this is now a most chaotic environment. We have JAFI posturing, the Director General of an obscure Government Ministry, interfering and you have JFNA and the federations...wondering. To even imagine the GOI "operating" a critical program such as this, is to say: OMG. Natan Sharansky's characterization of Dvir Kahana's very personal and directed interference in JAFI's role as "petty games" isn't sufficient to define this kind of "pettiness."

But all of this became a battle taking place on the pages of e-jewishphilanthropy and the Jerusalem Post, among other publications of note. The ultimate article (so far) was an explanation of the consequences of a public battle on philanthropic choice grounded in an interview with Jay Ruderman, JFNA's favorite philanthropist in the Post  in which he explained the reality that this kind of public "pissing match" between the Minister of Diaspora Affairs and his Director and the Jewish Agency will mean that philanthropists will just walk away. And, though one might ask why would Ruderman use the media to deliver his message about using the media (and whether he would clear the interview with JFNA before doing so), he did it. And the balagan continues.

Bottom line, the Government budget for this Initiative has been "set" (whatever that means in Israel) at $50 million (that's dollars) through 2017 to be matched by an additional $100 million from the Diaspora over the same timeframe. I don't wish to appear cynical, just realistic, when I write that based on all of the accumulated evidence amassed over JFNA's sad history there is not a chance in hell that JFNA can raise its share of that number (hence the demand by some Large City Executives that the Jewish Agency and Joint have "skin in this game" [meaning pay most of the tab] while so many these LCE have overseen the draconian reduction in core allocations the past 14 years -- JFNA's idea of fund raising). 

Friends, while the Government of Israel may have legitimate concerns with whether the Jewish Agency has the capacity to implement the Initiative with the GOI and JFNA, there is no question that the Government itself is incapable of doing so. Nor should it. The manner in which Dvir Kahana is operating out of the glare of the media suggests the possibility that he has some deal in place with JAFI  on exactly the terms announced by Kahana and denied by Sharansky. Is that even possible...even in Israel?

It is time for the Prime Minister to step in and direct Mr. Kahana (and whomever is pulling his strings) to step out. To get to this place, might it be nice if the JFNA Board Chair, who has speaking privileges from a long-term relationship with the Prime Minister, were to call Bibi and seek his intervention. And, maybe, other lay leaders, here and in Israel, need to step up and in as well, in a planful, coordinated manner. Otherwise this thing is dead before it begins.


Friday, September 5, 2014


This week the NCESJ, our national organization, which has issued 47 Briefings on the evermore catastrophic circumstances in the Ukraine, published its Ukraine Update 47. In pertinent part, it read:

"Jewish refugees continue to arrive in Dnipropetrovsk, Cherkassy, Zhytomyr and elsewhere, fleeing the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. The Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community reported that while they are doing all they can to accommodate the refugees, hundreds more arrive every day, all in need of food, housing, and medical help. Refugees come from every social class and profession: engineers, lawyers, economists, factory workers, pregnant women, families with children, etc.

All community buildings, including a home for the Jewish elderly and boarding schools, have been turned into refugee centers, where refugees receive meals, accommodation, and psychological help. Forty children who fled the areas of unrest are now attending the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish school.

Due to the prolonged crisis, the resources of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community and the city in general are stretching thin. We have received reports that city's hospitals are overcrowded and unable to manage the influx of the sick and wounded.

The situation for those who stay in the areas of unrest is even more disturbing. Luhansk Jewish community said that the city is cut off from electricity and water supply. Pharmacies and banks are closed; purchasing food is becoming increasing difficult. Those who could leave the city have already done so, but the elderly and sick remain.

The situation in Donetsk is similarly alarming. The city is heavily damaged by shelling. Jewish community representatives reported that the local synagogue is still open, however the remaining Jewish community is shrinking every day, as more people are leaving to find a safer place.

NCSEJ also spoke with the Jewish community of Kharkiv, which is also dealing with an influx of refugees. Kharkiv residents are collecting clothes, food, and medical aid for the refugees, and the local government has organized refugee support programs. Close to 2,500 children from refugee families started their school year in Kharkiv's schools. The Jewish community is concentrating its activities on helping the displaced persons, which requires a significant amount of community funding."
Friends, these are entire communities living under threat. Our...that's OUR...JDC and Jewish Agency are doing their holy work but they are overwhelmed. And, after urging...not committing, urging...our communities to a minor fund raising effort. the Terrorists War on Israel rained down and, apparently, as far as JFNA was/is concerned, its responsibilities, if any, to the Ukrainian Jews were over. This week, as if stirred to action after its own inexplicable inactivity, JFNA has engaged in what passes for its version of FRD -- it meekly called some Large and Large-Intermediate Federation CEOs and begged for a hand-out for the Ukraine. Meanwhile, Yechiel Eckstein's International Fellowship of Christians and Jews has been fully engaged on the ground and in bringing Ukrainian Jews to Israel during this crisis -- doing our work.

It appears to this observer that JFNA's lay and professional leaders just don't comprehend that JDC and JAFI are working 24/7 on our behalf. They are performing our sacred responsibilities. And, when JFNA turns its back on the Jewish communities of the Ukraine, it is all of us turning our backs on them. 

This, my friends, is JFNA at its worst, at its nadir of neglect. Not even I can see it getting any lower. You know, JFNA has not even distributed the NCESJ Updates. Ukrainian Jewry...not our problem. Jews will die and the world will not care, but, until now, we always have; but, sadly, not any more.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014


It is easy to speculate the outcomes that on-going cataclysmic events might have on the Jewish People. Amb. Yoram Ettinger has recently done so in a dramatic fashion:
"The window of opportunity for the arrival of 500,000 Olim, during the next five years, is wide open – temporarily - in Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France, England, Belgium, Holland, Hungary, Argentina and other countries. It is wide open due to the intensification of anti-Semitism; non-democratic trends and instability in Russia and Ukraine; the expansion of aggressive (and soon terrorist) Islam in Europe; Israel's relative economic edge; and the impressive Jewish/Zionist education infrastructure in the aforementioned countries, which have cultivated pro-Aliyah sentiments. Additional tailwind to Aliyah from Russia and Ukraine would be provided by a formal conversion of the 300,000 Olim from the USSR, whose children serve in Israel's Defense Forces, who are targeted by Palestinian terrorism, contribute immensely to Israel's well-being, consider themselves Jews and are recognized as Jews by Israel's Law of Return, but not by Israel's Rabbinate.  The temporary nature of this window of opportunity requires immediate action, lest it would be forfeited.

In order to raise the substantial required funds– which grow scarce due to the cost of the war in Gaza – Israel's Prime Minister should convene an emergency session of leading Jewish businessmen from the USA, Canada and Australia (which are also a source of substantial Aliyah), Russia, Britain, France, Germany, Panama, Brazil and Argentina, reclaiming Aliyah as a permanent, top moral and strategic priority of the Jewish people and the Jewish State, irrespective of circumstances.  The Prime Minister should present a pro-active Aliyah policy, which responds to the growing predicament of Jewish communities, while inducing a game-changing enhancement of Israel's infrastructures of economy, transportation, telecommunications, education, medicine, science, technology and national security, catapulting Israel's posture of deterrence to unprecedented heights. Moreover, Israel Development Corporation is able to significantly expand the sale of the highly competitive Israel Bonds to local and state governments, unions, financial institutions and individuals, raising billions of dollars for an historical, job-creating, research and development-enhancing, export-increasing and national security-upgrading initiative." (emphasis added)<>
Ambassador Ettinger knows the global leadership of the Jewish People -- perhaps that is why he suggests that the Prime Minister be the convener of potential funders in the name of the State of Israel...perhaps. But, aside from the possibility of success of an effort led by the Prime Minister, think of the implications of such a direct outreach on our Continental institution and the federations themselves.

If such a concept were implemented, aside from causing a bunch of federation leaders to cry in pain, the very irrelevance of our Continental system would be more totally exposed than do the raw data which evidence, in the draconian decline of core allocations to our now "partners-in-name only," and would be the ultimate chickens coming home to roost. I can imagine the teeth-gnashing and, no doubt, "strong letters" to the Prime Minister asserting that the PM is somehow to blame for the destruction of our system -- for surely this couldn't possibly be our fault...never.

And, if you read Ettinger's piece you will also note that he omits the Jewish Agency altogether -- by his silence he is almost dismissive...totally. Is this the outcome of the decision, now months old, that makes JAFI just another vendor when it comes to aliyah, or is it by JAFI's own doing? Or is it something else?

Our own JFNA FRD abilities have been tested once again by the recent Terrorists' War and, the relative success of our effort, measured by a de minimis "goal" and an even more limited achievement, an inability to articulate the continuing trauma suffered by the Israeli People, an abandonment of the Jews of the Ukraine and a nonchalance approaching negligence about raising any funds themselves -- we have failed once again.

But we're used to that.


Saturday, August 30, 2014


                          God in his infinite wisdom
                          Did not make me very wise --

                          So when my actions are stupid
                          They hardly take God by surprise
                                              Langston Hughes

Reading David Remnick's typically brilliant article in the April 28, 2014 edition of The New Yorker, Putin and the Exile, inspired considerable thought on my part on my own exile from the organized Jewish community. For that's where I am and, in large measure, where I have been since this Blog began. Like the Russian economist, once "...a member of the credentialled, globalized Moscow elite," who told Remnick "[B]etter Paris than Krasnokamensk," Russian prison, I can attest that it is better to be in "exile" in Highland Park, Illinois than be a tuches kisser to 25 Broadway. 

I sense certain similarities to those who have exiled themselves (as opposed to having been exiled from) from Russia. The warning to the exiled from Putin was: "Stay out (of our way) and thrive. Push back, presume, overstep and you will meet a harsh fate." The warnings to me were similar. And so I did...and the "harsh fate" has befallen me; mainly because I stopped urging principled action in private and took to these pages to do so. 

Yes, I was promised my fate by true friends of mine, including "the destruction of (your) reputation." And, as I have pointed out on these pages (over and over and over again), how the values to which we (and I emphasize it was "we" not just "I") subscribed over a decade ago were being deconstructed at what is now 25 Broadway, I was scorned and attacked and directed explicitly and implicitly to "lech l'azazel."

And, why? Because I wrote truths that no leader wants "out there" among the kahal. It has become dogma that we hide behind carefully edited Leadership Briefings and redacted Minutes and that Wizard of Oz's darkened curtains. I was committing the worst sin -- exposing the darkened room machinations of failed leadership to the light of the day. "We can't have that," I was told. "Stop it." Sorry. But I am more sorry that I presided with others over a merger process that produced...this mess. Would I prefer the UJA and CJF frozen in the amber of their last decade over the debacle we observe today? Duh...let me think about that for a nano-second. But, my friends, I did not invest four years of my life, with so many others, in structuring a merger only to watch it being deconstructed while sitting by in silence nodding my head in approval at the disintegration of things we held holy in common.

We have seen the surrender of our collective responsibilities to the self-selection by the federations with capacity of a couple of "Signature Initiatives" that will not be fully funded and to a donor or few to a "Voluntary Initiative" because the current professional leaders don't/never have understand/understood collective responsibility and the current most senior lay leaders and CEOs who know better don't care or can't be bothered. We pay outrageous Dues to fund an annual $30+ million budget rather than reform a Continental entity that gives us less at greater cost than did the predecessor organizations, one that has become the captive of a small cabal of lay and professional leaders who truly and sincerely have convinced themselves that "all is well," going great, actually. Sure, we have failed to raise money promised to fund a series of approved Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution efforts, seriatim; we have no priorities...none...everything is a priority meaning that none is (add Detroit flood relief as the most recent), we permit abuses at the Continental level that we would never tolerate in our own federations.

Friends, over my time in Jewish organizational life, I have been nothing more than an ordinary man caught up in extraordinary circumstances. Circumstances that permitted me to be a participant in modern Jewish history as I could not have imagined when I first entered Jewish communal life and leadership in the early 1970s. I have been blessed to have worked side-by-side and hand-in-hand with the best and brightest of Jewish communal professionals and lay persons. I will not turn my back on them and their teachings even though life would be so much simpler were I to do so for turning my back to them would be a rejection of the sacred principles and core values that they have taught me.  

Friends, a Rabbi recently wrote me in support of my efforts telling me that "dissent is a Torah value." I feel that and yet I have known for a long time that it is not in our system. Our communal system is like the mantra of Chicago's old Daley political machine: "Don't make no waves; don't back no losers." 

Some have asked me whether I am "embarrassed" at having written this or that; and I have answered that I am truly embarrassed by what I have witnessed -- the continued deconstruction of institutions tasked with the sacred work of community and People by those who either should or do know better. Never in our history have our communal institutions been less capable of rallying us and themselves to greater achievement. And, though some would like to think otherwise, I am not the cause of that reality, I am only an astonished witness.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014


Michael Siegal
Board Chair

RE: Time for a new CEO

Dear Michael,

You are rapidly approaching the end of your first 2 year Term as Board Chair. You have been a personable and outgoing Chair, always willing to consider multiple points of view on the many issues confronting JFNA, your "door" is always open. Yet, in my humble opinion, you have been unwilling to come to terms with the most serious deficiency of JFNA -- a CEO unworthy of a complex Continental organization. And, unless you do so now, your two Terms, your ultimate four years as Board Chair will be as disastrous, perhaps worse, than those of your two immediate predecessors. You know better than anyone that JFNA is in need of total reform.

Michael, I listened with incredulity this past June to your recitation of Jerry Silverman's purported "achievements" over the five years of his contract. You deserve full credit for having read the script with an apparent straight face; that statement was a disgrace, a whitewash of almost five years of one failure after another. You know that there have been no achievements, Michael, and, since June, the failures have become all the more exaggerated and JFNA is all the worse for them. 

God, the past looks so much better, so much brighter, when set against the dark dystopia of the JFNA of today. Please don't let this continue. Even a free pass has an expiration date. Today's JFNA, at a time that we need it the most, in the midst of this Terrorists' War on Israel, is a train wreck, it is flailing and it has provided ample evidence that, other than a few meaningless events, some allocations and self-promotion, it hasn't a clue about how a great, complex organization responds to crisis or even is to operate in the day-to-day. You know have to know it. The question is not "what do you know;" it is "what are you going to do about it?" And, if the answer is "nothing;" then you will preside over the demise of our system while we continue to waste close to the $30.5 million a year (or $29 million) in Dues paid by the federations. 

We need someone to fix JFNA -- that requires someone who understands it and understands the federations and understands the sacred principles and core values of the federation system. After five futile years, Jerry Silverman has proved one thing above all others: he is someone who doesn't get it at all. The worst thing that you have done halfway through your Terms is to have perpetuated a professional leadership that still fails to understand what "federation" means or should mean. JFNA remains without purpose or vision. In a crisis it knows not where to start, what to do or how to lead. Stephen Sondheim described one of his great failures as having had: "No passion. No blood. No reason to be." That's where JFNA finds itself today. We need to start over. 

And, what does "starting over" mean? It means, first, of course, that Jerry Silverman must Then it means that those distractions -- most critically the Global Planning Table -- which will never meet their own financial thresholds must end and the lay persons who have been their sponsors must go as well.  These are the apologists and enablers who have assisted this CEO in the attempts, like the Global Planning Table, to create " alternate reality to the one he is responsible for." It is the one filled with Briefings and Memos filled with cotton candy and unicorns and... no relevance to the reality of a failing /failed JFNA. You know who they are.  It was John Stuart Mill who wrote: "With small men (and women), no great thing can really be accomplished." Then, Michael, let me ask, with great respect: name one "great thing" that has been accomplished by JFNA during your two years of leadership, or, more broadly, during the five years of Jerry Silverman's Presidency?

As one more perceptive than I put it just a few days ago:
"You can complain about Jerry's ineffectiveness and being out of his 'element', and you would be right.
However, as (another) has said, this is much more about the National Lay Leadership of JFNA.
Give Jerry credit: If JFNA Leadership is not complaining, why should he think he's not doing his job; let alone embarrassing himself and JFNA?
This falls in the lap of the then Search Committee members and the current JFNA Leadership.
The more telling question is why none of them are speaking up.
They all seem to have conveniently forgotten the definition of Leadership.
They all should be ashamed of themselves and the communities they represent."
Michael, you can continue to step away from confrontation but that's not leadership, is it? If you don't want to be criticized: say nothing, do nothing...but then you are nothing. A great statesman, who understood leaders and leadership, said: "Take your job seriously; but don't take yourself seriously." I know that you take your job seriously; you are a serious person. But my own experience has taught me time and again that any and every lay leader's success is dependent on the strengths of his chief professional in the best lay-professional partnerships in Jewish life. 

If you were to ask me for advice (which you haven't and. in all likelihood, won't), I would paraphrase Chicago's Mayor, Rahm Emanuel: "The (Board) didn't elect me to think about my next position, they elected me to think about (JFNA's) present and future." I don't believe that, unlike your predecessor, you were positioning yourself for years to become JFNA's Board Chair, Michael; I believe you were drafted to take this role to effect change and for that reason and others, you have the ability and the position to lead the polity in critical directions. I clearly do not understand why you have chosen not to do so but I join with others in urging you to take the action now that you know needs to be taken to right the ship and tack to new directions and new professional leadership. 

You do know how to do these things. Just do them.