Tuesday, April 22, 2014

WEATHER AT 25 BROADWAY

      "I may not have my life put together, but at least I never made a Harlem Shake video"
                                         (A Tweet reflecting a recurring theme on Twitter )

While Spring has finally arrived in Chicago, it's abundantly clear that that polar vortex that destroyed our Winter has descended upon 25 Broadway like a blanket of wet snow, darkness and wind....lots and lots of wind...and it's not leaving. If you visit the Jewish Federations of North America website, you will join me in scratching your head and, perhaps, howling at the wind, inasmuch as there is literally no there there. It is truly all so sad.

No doubt there is much going on that can't be revealed to the North American Jewish polity -- the machinations of the Global Planning Table, for example; or those Working Groups on which serve not a single lay leader. There are also the continuing programs of UJA and CJF which are still the core work of our system but oh, so diminished. For example the Campaign Chairs/Directors Mission. Used to be fully subsidized as an investment of UJA in the federation Annual Campaigns, now JFNA has reduced its participation to $1500 per leader -- another example of the failure of continental priorities; measure the ROI of the CC/CD Mission against the non-return from $3 million (+/-) thrown away on three miserable failed Festivii and, in a nutshell, you have captured JFNA. 

You will recall that at the close of her terms as JFNA Board Chair, Kathy Manning couldn't come up with any "successes" over her 8 years -- first as Chair of the Executive and, then, based upon that success, as Board Chair -- other than these offered up as "success": (1) the hiring of Jerry Silverman and (2) the GPT. Even as she trumpeted those "triumphs," they were crumbling around her, bringing JFNA further down to its knees. The GPT, as predicted on these pages and elsewhere is sucking the marrow from the bones of the overseas core allocations; and Silverman...well, a continuing zero. (Listening to CEO Silverman extol the value of one or another failed thing -- the GA, TribeFests, you name it -- is like watching the "spin room" after a political candidate's failed debate or Baghdad Bob or whomever.) It has become clear, if it wasn't before, that it's damn hard, nigh impossible, to run an organization and give yourself the Heimlich Maneuver at one and the same time.

But, this twosome (and, no, I am not including the Kool-Aid chugging Global Planning Table Cheerleader-in-Chief, David Butler, who appears to have sacrificed the leadership cojones I know he once had for a shot at higher office) -- Past JFNA Chair Kathy, who appointed herself as Chair of the decision-making body of the GPT, and CEO Jerry -- have "succeeded," if one may call it that, at two things: (1) celebrating JFNA's failures as successes, the thing they do best; and (2) creating a small cadre of lay persons, many of whom know far better, who beat their breasts and are part of what one observer in another context called the "fake umbrage" crowd -- those who rise up in anger against any suggestion that JFNA is in a self-induced coma, against any attempt to end Silverman's term, and, apparently, against any attempt to get JFNA on track.

That "fake umbrage" crowd include the folks who most resemble barnacles -- affixed to a dead hull like it offered them something other than the opportunity to go down with the ship. Had these same leaders, among them wonderful leaders in their own communities, taken a serious look at the trail of failures behind them and, then, done something about it, think of where we might be after wasting so much of $650,000,000. But, they have deluded convinced themselves, against all proof, that they are attached to a winner not the hull of the Titanic. 

As Prime Minister Netanyahu recently observed: "People have historical memory that goes back to breakfast." He was not referring to our friends at JFNA -- they have "succeeded" in eradicating both historical memory (and current memory as well) -- but he could have been. We are not supposed to remember how JFNA has presided over the last 8 years in the abandonment of its historical partners, its merger obligations or the meaning of collective responsibility. We're not supposed to comment on the fact that JFNA has become the City of Detroit -- bankrupt, Detroit has lost 2/3rds of its population while JFNA has presided over the loss of close to 2/3rds of our system's donors. (Yet, Detroit recognizes its crisis, while JFNA ignores its responsibilities.)

It's all so sad. It's a long, long, long way down from Phil Bernstein, Carmi Schwartz and Marty Kraar and Irving Bernstein, Stanley Horowitz and Brian Lurie to You've Got to be Kidding. Just as it's a long, long, long way down from UJA and CJF, sacrificed to the demand of the LCE for control, to the JFNA of today. And, no, I haven't forgotten my role in all of this.  As the recently deceased historian and social commentator Jonathan Schell wrote in a different context: some actions "...reveal a kind of bankruptcy...of many of the things we placed our faith in..." And, yet, there is no one -- not an LCE not a Michael Siegal -- no one -- who is "blazing with anger" or even a little upset over what is and what isn't happening even in the face of an institutional catastrophe unlike any other. No, they continue to present failure as success.

Yes, while we in the Midwest have seen Spring overtake the polar vortex at long last, 25 Broadway remains in the Ice Age and, so obviously, with no relief in the offing.


Rwexler


Sunday, April 20, 2014

SUCH A HUGE SUCCESS?? AN ADDENDUM

When we first published the fable of TribeFest 3's "success," we failed to focus on what a Commentator picked up on quickly -- that the "heroic" Lobos for Israel" who attended the Fest were college students. Then another Comment offered insights:
"JFNA needs to clearly articulate who TribeFest is for -- a 22-30 or older crowd. Once determined, who can best deliver the program. If for a younger cohort, then why not partner with Moishe House or Birthright...and if for older crowd then JFNA's YL efforts may work."
These Comments reminded me that the first failed Fest was focused on attracting unaffiliated young adults -- those out of college; failed Fest 2 expanded the focus to affiliated young adults -- again, those out of college; and Fest 3...anybody who would take a subsidy and come. 

Once again, JFNA offered an event driven by numbers -- didn't achieve them, but TribeFest 3 was all about numbers. Adults -- bring 'em; Cabinet members -- y'all come; college kids -- welcome. Purpose of TribeFest 3 -- who knows? One thing we know, TribeFest, like a JFNA National "Soul" Mission, has been about nothing, like, as well, the Seinfeld Show.

Rwexler


Saturday, April 19, 2014

SUCH A HUGE SUCCESS!!!!!

One of JFNA's lay leaders for whom I have only great affection and respect wrote me the other day. She sent me some very positive correspondence about TribeFest. I want to share that with you. The following was sent to JFNA in response to a post-Fest 3 "outreach" by the "Associate Director, Community and Professional Relations" asking those communities which received "grants" ("subsidies") to "help (JFNA) report back on the impact the national subsidy program has!" And, back came the following:
"Dear Julia,

Thank you for emailing me in Sam's absence.  Actually, we have quite an amazing post-Tribefest report for you!

On Wednesday, April 2nd, the University of New Mexico's student senate heard a resolution to divest from six companies who do business in Israel.  It was brought forward by Students for Justice in Palestine.  The hearing room was full to capacity, perhaps as many as 150 people were present.  There were perhaps 30 people present who were against the resolution and only seven students of the 30.  

Led by Sarah Abonyi, founder of Lobos for Israel, six other students spoke in a careful and polished manner against the resolution.  Half of the students had never spoken in public previously -- other than at their b'nai mitzvah ceremonies.  None had spoken in front of such a hostile crowd.  

Of the seven students who spoke, three attended Tribefest: Ezra Rabinsky, Rose Davenport and Jacob Goldstein. They did beautifully, despite the tension and the animosity of the crowd. 

Of the other three Tribefest attendees, Gabe Zambello would have spoken, but he had to attend class, Julian Lesnevich suffered a death in his family the previous day, and Dan Majewski is no longer a student. 

The student senators did not know much about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they knew that they didn't like the animosity shown.  After a difficult three hour meeting, they rejected the resolution (7-12), after unanimously striking all reference to Israeli companies first.  

It was extraordinary, and perhaps the first time a BDS resolution has been unanimously rejected at a US university.  After the meeting, I went through 750 tweets that occurred during the meeting.  The vast majority were hostile to Israel, often sarcastic to our students, and some veered straight into old-fashioned anti-Semitism. I have never experienced anything like this before.

Our young people were very brave.

I know that Tribefest made a real difference for them, as all three, Ezra, Rose and  Jacob, were immediately willing to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people, despite the real difficulties.

Thank you for enabling them to attend the event.  I know it gave them the strength to face the BDS movement head on.

All the best,"

And, kal ha'kavod to New Mexico. 

But, really. Is this exemplary experience worthy of the encomium offered by the JFNA Vice-President, Institutional Advancement (and kudos of course to the JFNA Senior V-P for Titles): "This is extraordinary. Should be used somewhere to demonstrate so many facets of what we do..."

Well, here's the thing...or a few things:

  • Does the New Mexico experience (or even 4 or 5 like it) rationalize the expenditure of over $3 million on a succession of what can only be described as failed Fests?
  • In the letter transmitting the New Mexico success, my friend asserted that "TribeFest came out of Young Leadership Cabinet's desire to offer a low entry outreach and engagement event for young people." Having heard from Cabinet leaders, I can tell you that that assertion is merely the rationalization for the triple failures of the three Fests. The Fests were imposed upon the Cabinets, pure and simple.
  • Other than the few operational federations, each of which is struggling, anyone who knows federation and its continental organization knows that these institutions...our institutions, should not be engaged in direct programming. In fact John Ruskay seriously questioned why JFNA was engaging in the Fests (when almost identical programming was being provided to the same "intended constituency" by others) -- there was no answer, of course. And, so it has continued with different audiences but the same dismal results year-after-year.
So, of course congrats to New Mexico and to its six heavily subsidized Festers for their good works. But....really?

Rwexler


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

UPDATES

1. The apparent abdication of his responsibilities as JFNA Board Chair has inspired a number of Comments. Some have appeared on these pages, others have been sent to me off-line. The theme that runs through them all can be summarized as follows: "This wouldn't be happening if Michael Siegal were still the Chairman of the Board."

2. Remember Matt Freedman? Back in 2011 we applauded his hire away from The Associated, the Baltimore federation, as JFNA's Associated Vice-President for Philanthropic Resources. Imagine, an experienced campaigner from a great federation now on the staff of JFNA. And, then...as with all things JFNA...nothing. It was as if Matt had been swallowed up in the black hole that JFNA had become. First, perhaps the cause of the mysterious disappearance, Paul Kane, hired by Silverman to do...almost nothing it appeared...seems to have tasked to Matt the impossible job of collecting non-binding federation non-commitments to the Ethiopian National Project, and, then, similar, the non-binding non-commitments to "Completing the Journey." Then, JFNA hired another New York UJA pro to "succeed" Kane upon his retirement. And, now, Matt has resigned...or been forced out. Another example of Silverman's managerial acumen.

3. Writing of Paul Kane reminded me -- has he really retired? What is the amount of his consulting contract that sees him at 25 Broadway almost more than when he was a full-time employee? What is he doing beyond the non-performing Millionaires Round Table? Any answers will be appreciated, of course.

4. Looking for CEO Jerry? A friend of the Blog tried to reach Mr. Silverman by e-mail on April 10 (the date is important). Here is what that correspondent received as a reply:
"I will be out of the office from November 22nd through December 1st. I will not be checking e-mail during this time. Please feel free to contact my assistant..."
I often think that JFNA would be far ahead of where it is were Jerry's assistant (and Howard's before him) in charge.

5. And on April 9, Globes reported that an Israeli Government Committee recommended that Hadassah Hospital be "taken away" from the control of WZOA ("It's not our fault") Hadassah.

And so it goes here in Lake Woebegone.

Rwexler

Sunday, April 13, 2014

ALL KOOL-AID, ALL THE TIME

 "It is not an arrogant organization that chooses priorities, it's an irresponsible organization that fails to choose."
JFNA Chair, Michael Siegal, sent out "An Update on Our Work" (3/26) that focused, if one can call it that, on five, count 'em...5, what I guess he would call "systemic priorities" in which JFNA has (or is) engaged. I will summarize them for you in my own way (but, trust me, the entire list fails to justify a budget of $10 million let alone $30.5):

  1. Ukraine. Emphasizing a meeting that CEO Jerry had with Eduard Dolinsky the very excellent chief pro of one of so many Ukrainian Jewish organizations (whose lay Chair, during the Ukrainian Revolution, gave public support to the now deposed Putin Puppet President, Yanukovych...but, never mind), Michael wrote of the creation of the JFNA Ukraine Assistance Fund Allocations Committee (with two superb Co-Chairs) -- but never mentioned what the "ask" JFNA has made of the federations or whether JFNA is leading the FRD effort. But, he wrote, the new Committee will "...make appropriate grants as new needs emerge." (Makes you wonder who writes this stuff?
  2. The Kotel. You will be reassured by the fact that someone(s) from JFNA "participated in a group discussion" on the management of the "egalitarian section" of the Wall. Things, as they say, are moving in a positive direction...but it is Israel and it is the Kotel, after all.
  3. Conversions in Israel. On this one there has been "deep discussion" by federations and the religious movements that "encouraged Knesset leaders" to reject legislation that would detrimentally impact on progress on religious diversity in Israel. "Discussion will continue."
  4. Disabilities Advocacy. With thanks to the Ruderman Family Foundation, JFNA has been trumpeting its leadership in the area of internships for Jewish people (I assume) with disabilities. Kal ha'kavod to the Ruderman Family. 
  5. TribeFest 2014. The Kool-Aid cup runneth over. 1,200 party-goers from  85 communities. Someone, maybe many, saw something that "excites and inspires us for the future of our People." G-d, let's for sure do it again for another $1 million plus.
There you have it -- a "meeting" with the chief pro of a small Ukrainian Jewish group, a "group discussion" on matters related to the Wall, a "deep discussion" by someone with someone on Conversion legislation, thanks to the Ruderman Foundation, the catalyst for assistance the the disabled community and, of course, the "buzz" from another TribeFest. Insipidity to some, Kool-Aid to others.

Your JFNA at work.

Chag Pesach Sameach to you and your families.

Rwexler

Thursday, April 10, 2014

WHEN THEY JUST MAKE IT UP

What would you suggest be done?

1. Shortly after Silverman was anointed as CEO, he began a trek from federation to federation, something I thought welcome and long overdue. Then I learned that in a meeting with lay leadership in a Large Intermediate Federation in the Southwest, he was asked point blank by a lay leader whether JFNA would lead an effort to build the core allocations. His answer: "JFNA will never ask a federation to increase those allocations." I checked with two other communal leaders who were present; they confirmed that Jerry said exactly that or words to that effect. I called Silverman and asked him point blank; he not only denied saying it; he said he would never say such a thing.

I know pandering when I hear it; I also know that the communal lay leaders heard exactly what Jerry said. And this was when I stopped giving Mr. Silverman the benefit of the doubt.

2. Some two years ago Chair Manning demanded that a GPT group delete references to support of Zionism as "too controversial." When I printed that fact, Jerry denied it, certain LCE denied it, Manning denied it. Yet, even though it was true, no one cared about the facts. Falsehoods all around. Ultimately Manning apologized to those federation leaders she had accused of spreading this fact, effectively acknowledging that she said it. (She hasn't apologized to me.) Jerry, who led the assault, hasn't to my knowledge, apologized to anyone.

3. In February 2013, a few of us spent time with the incoming Chair of the Executive. She wanted to know our concerns and we spelled them out to her. Later that same day, she came up to me and told me that our list was filled with misinformation and that Jerry had given her the true facts. He just patronized her with stuff he made up on the spot, I think she knows that all those things that we had listed for her were, in fact, true.

4. And, most recently, in the face of LCE "strong reservations" about TribeFest, CEO Jerry claimed to them, outrageously, that TribeFest, from the beginning was demanded by the Young Leadership Cabinets. Patently false.

There's more...much, much more. Can you imagine what would happen were your CEO to just misrepresent the facts to your lay leadership? But, at JFNA it's part of the DNA. The apparent JFNA formula for success: have no qualifying credentials, if you don't know the answer to a question, make one up. Not only are you hired, we'll pay you $700,000 to keep doing whatever it is you're doing.


Rwexler

Monday, April 7, 2014

WHAT'S TRENDING

Well, around the country some bad stuff is happening. To-wit:

    1. In one Large City an undisclosed conflict between the Federation President and the CEO resulted in the lay President's resignation. Does anyone remember when, first, CJF and, then, JFNA, conducted an annual 2 day seminar for federation presidents and execs. Does anyone recall when the national organization would attempt to mediate situations like these so that they would never reach the "it's him/her or me" stage? Well those days appear to be so over. Does this federation explosion "out" the reality that many CEOs neither know how to work with lay leaders or just find them to be an unnecessary annoyance that they would like to just give their money and get out of the way and, also, that many lay leaders are faced with circumstances for which they, too, are unprepared?
    2. At another federation the outgoing CEO announced that the community was innovating a major Women's Foundation to focus their grants, apparently, on communal issues and programs related to women philanthropists. Big innovation -- Chicago, among many other federations, has had a Women's Foundation for at least a decade. Were JFNA to have a functioning FRD  (oops, Philanthropic Resources) Department would't such an effort be promoted continentally as a federation "best practice?" 
    3. Remember the "Ukraine Initiative?" JFNA established what was nothing more than a "Mailbox" and, then...a Task Force. Excellent Co-Chairs, allocating money as it arrives. Oh, there was a $1 million "ask" of the Large Cities on a Fair Share basis -- then JFNA sat back and waited for the money.  This is the JFNA way -- cowardice where a little courage, a little real initiative, a real commitment would be appropriate. If not, as many have argued, why do it? Did some LCE demand it or did the facts on the ground cry out for it? Is there one instance...one...where JFNA asked the federations for funding and then actually raised the money? Instead, CEO Jerry is writing paeans of praise for the wonderful PJ Library. http://www.thejewishweek.com/editorial-opinion/opinion/expanding-concept-and-reality-jewish-community  Guess there's either no crisis in the Ukraine or JFNA has no time for it if there is one. Who's driving the Clown Car? Is someone at 25 Broadway driving this bus while the Co-Chairs pretend that all is well?
    4. When was the last time that JFNA offered a set of funding priorities for  federation consideration, deliberation and decision? Well, maybe never. Today, with funding "Signature Initiatives" in conflict with increasing core allocations, etc., out of the blue arrived on your Federation CEO's desk a request directly from the Ethiopian National Project -- not even through JFNA although the folks there have known about it since at least last December. "The leadership of the Representatives of Ethiopian Jewish Community Organizations in Israel has asked the Ethiopian National Project to share the attached letter with you, the leadership of North American Jewry." (But, you can be assured that JFNA supplied the ENP with your e-mail address.) Where does this request fit within communal priorities? One thing is for certain: JFNA doesn't have a clue. And, later the same day as the ENP request, in a Memo from the Chairs and Silverman, the same mailing list was advised that a Task Force was appointed on "the same subject" back at year-end -- "within a matter of days" of the ENP request back then. That apparently secret Task Force has met three times and will report back by May -- that will be over 5 months after the request made of JFNA. (Imagine with me the conversation at 25 Broadway on March 25: "Mr. Silverman, the ENP has sent a letter to every federation seeking that funding of its work." Jerry: "They did WHAT? Get 'em on the phone. Don't they know that we have a Task Force working on this at our leisure [We do have a Task Force, don't we?]") Those ingrates.") But, rest assured that's as quickly as our JFNA can respond to what the ENP identified as "critical needs."
    5. This should probably be #1 on the "trending" list. JFNA reported the Festivus results and, as usual, they were spectacular. One of the co-Chairs wrote of how great and meaningful it was: 1,200 participants, lots of wonderful stuff, inspiration and, though not mentioned, eating and drinking beyond "Kosher gumbo" and some kind of Black and White Ball. But, taking JFNA's count (always questionable because always inflated) of 1,200 (have you noticed how certain events seem to have a JFNA-assigned number to them? 1,200 for TribeFest, 3,000 for every GA -- and they are always vastly overstated?), that works out to a cost to you of $833 per participant. ($1,000,000 budget/1,200 participants) If you believe that there will be a positive return on that "investment," I have a bridge to sell you. This was the third time, down for the count.
If you like things the way they are, raise your hand.

Rwexler

Thursday, April 3, 2014

THE JFNA HEAD FAKE

You will recall, as I do, that the "culmination" of the 2014 Jerusalem GA, occurred when about 1,000 (wow!!) participants marched in an expression of unity with the Women of the Wall to Robinson's Arch or thereabouts, to celebrate the historic compromise in which JFNA claimed a piece of this "victory." Well, it seems that JFNA has marked this as just another moment in time as its leaders turned their attention to but another shiny object -- legislation to liberalize conversions in Israel.

While all of us who read the Israeli press know that the "deal" with regard to open prayer on an extension of the Western Wall has fallen apart, you would never know it from the Briefings that JFNA supplies us so often. Since that ga March, other than over-stating the numbers, JFNA has written nothing -- not even one of its periodic inane letters to the Prime Minister. Perhaps they are awaiting instructions from Jewish Agency Executive Chair, Natan Sharansky, whose historic compromise appears to be on life support. JFNA's "partner" in this Jewish unity effort was the courageous organization of Women of the Wall; they are now objecting to the compromise because the Government's "company" has turned over Wall "operations" to an ultra-Orthodox entity that does not appear to support gender equality. JFNA apparently can't find the words.

But, onto the barricades on the conversion issue. You may recall that just a few weeks ago, JFNA sent out a "briefing" on the subject along with a "strong letter" to the P.M. using support for piece of legislation introduced by a member of the minority in the Knesset that would "open up" the conversion process beyond a tightly controlled Ultra-Orthodox Rabbinate. Then, a few weeks later, apparently JFNA "got religion." 

On March 15, JFNA published an epic Leadership Briefing. First, it read:
"Member of Knesset Elazar Stern from Tzippy Livni’s Hatnua Party), has proposed a bill that attempts to liberalize the process of conversions in Israel. Creating more options for conversion is a high priority and can impact directly the lives of hundreds of thousands of Israelis whom we helped make aliyah from the Russian-speaking world as well as many others. So, of course, we welcome such moves and are pleased that it looks likely that the bill will come up for second and final readings in the Knesset as early as this Tuesday."
OK so far? "we welcome" yada yada yada. (Except, of course, that it's Tzipi not "Tzippy" and Hatnuah not Hatnua but, so what?) But, then, same Briefing, new paragraph:
"When we were in Israel two weeks ago, we led an extensive series of meetings with Israel’s top political leadership on this issue. Our message was singular – no bill is better than a bad bill. A bad bill could even jeopardize moderate Orthodox efforts."
You may be as confused as I. Could our chachams not have anticipated that other Knesset members who do not look upon religious tolerance as we do or as Member Stern does might introduce their own amendments to Stern's Bill and piggyback it into the night? Are our leaders so naive? Do we support the Bill or not? Do we want it withdrawn?

Anyone with any sense of institutional memory knows that the "Who Is A Jew" issue can be the most corrosive and volatile one; one that has and can again divide North American Jewry from our Israeli mishpacha. But, there is that shiny object out there pulling our "leadership" in, apparently, two directions at once.

If it weren't so potentially explosive, it would be funny. Keystone Kops anyone?

Rwexler

Monday, March 31, 2014

L.A. RISING

Let's take a refreshing break from the woes of JFNA.

A recent article in Time was titled "Can He Write a New L.A. Story?" (March 31, 2014), and featured the new Los Angeles Mayor, Eric Garcetti. For our purposes that story could just as easily featured a photo of Jay Sanderson, L.A.'s CEO and framed the identical question about that City's Jewish community. I recently visited Los Angeles and what I found was the emergence of the L.A. Federation as the communal central address. And was I surprised for the good.

Why the surprise? My visits to the Los Angeles federation date back over four decades. Even before the first visit, when I would commute to our Loop offices with my dear friend, Joel Shinsky, z'l, Chicago's Campaign Director, I would look at the UJA communal campaign stats and complain: "Look at LA's campaign, Joel, they are eating our lunch." "Patience, Richard," Joel would respond, "wait until year-end and let's compare." And, sure enough, by year-end, year-after-year-after year, the Los Angeles campaign was in the crapper. By the 90's, UJA had to send in its CFO to review the Los Angeles financials, so far behind had the community fallen in paying its annual allocations. I followed, negotiating an allocations payment plan with the community that was honored in the breach. And, I followed periodically with meetings to discuss overseas allocations -- which had dwindled to almost nothing. In the 80s, I had worked with communal leadership to assure that its now historic partnership with Tel Aviv was "approved" by a recalcitrant JAFI (which had been pushing communities to partner only in the Israel periphery) and in the mid-90s Los Angeles' lay and professional leaders called me in on an emergency basis to explain to the federation's leaders the work the national system had undertaken in response to the flare-up of the "Who Is A Jew?" issue in Israel. Over time I developed a great respect and affection for a succession of the community's lay and professional leaders but I watched them struggle to gain any traction in campaign, in allocations, in executing their myriad plans even with a history oof great lay and influential lay leadership.

And, then the community chose Jay Sanderson as its CEO some 4+ years ago. While Jay had led the Jewish Television Network for years, I had my doubts as to whether his experience and success there could translate into communal success. And, when I first met Jay shortly after he was seated in the CEO Chair, I admit to surprise at Jay's articulation of strong opinions about the Jewish Agency, the Joint, the community and about JFNA. Little did I realize what a quick learner Sanderson was, how much he knew or the reach of his contacts through-out not just the Jewish but the general community. And is he ever leading Los Angeles. He is proof that strong, visionary professional leadership can effect transformational change, not just talk about it.

The Annual Campaign of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has emerged from years of flat or negative to have grown by 7% over the last year and is growing again. The number of donors in a community characterized by a lack of affiliation is growing in percentages greater than any other Large City. Best, the LA Annual Campaign is centered on the Jewish values and timeless principles that have been at the center of the best campaigns in the country. When Sanderson first took the helm of the L.A. Federation he discovered a $6 million dollar deficit, one that he confronted in part by bringing on board as CFO a work-out specialist. The Federation's Young Leadership programs are the envy of most federations around the Continent. 

And Jay has jumped in to serve JFNA. He, like Nasatir, Hoffman and Ruskay, has been one of Jerry Silverman's "go to" professional leaders. This year Jay is the leader of the LCE. Jay doesn't appear to tolerate fools, his influence will be felt continentally and internationally.

From my first meeting with Jay to the last one just days ago, I appreciated his sense of humor, his sarcasm, his candor. I even appreciated his willingness to meet with someone who had been critical (and who met with me against the advice of "friends" of mine who cautioned him that such a meeting would be at best "a waste of his time.") But Jay knew he had a great story to tell and he tells it so well. But it is a story supported by facts, by data, by growth unheard of in my decades of visiting the community. I congratulate Jay Sanderson and his lay and professional leadership.

In that Time hagiography about Mayor Eric Garcetti, coincidentally a long-time Sanderson friend who will co-officiate a communal Seder at the Federation, the Mayor said: "L.A. has never been afraid to reinvent itself and we have to do that at this moment." Jay Sanderson might have said those very words about the JFGLA -- he has certainly lived them. And there are still mountains to climb.

Rwexler


Friday, March 28, 2014

YOU CAN CALL ME A PILOT; THAT DOESN'T MEAN I CAN FLY A PLANE

             "There's No Success Like Failure; and Failure's No Success at All"
                                        Bob Dylan

Enough "insiders" have hinted to me that Jerry Silverman has been (or soon will be) given a contract extension that I have to believe it's true. The reasons are no doubt far more complex than "there's no one out there other than Jerry who would take this job;" but that's the sole reason that has been articulated. This extension if true is the ultimate abdication of lay leadership responsibility; for certainly this Board Chair knows that this decision is not in the best interests of JFNA, not in the best interests of the federations and not in the best interests of the Jewish People. As our friend Daniel Gordis recently wrote (in a far more sobering context): "Masks and pretense were for Purim, but Purim is behind us." I, like you, want a CEO who is filled with Big Ideas and the management skills necessary to the office -- instead we have...

As you regular readers know full well, it was not difficult to predict almost 5 years ago that Jerry Silverman would struggle mightily in the role of JFNA CEO. And to say that he has struggled would be a gross understatement. Clearly, he relishes the paths down which he has taken the organization but, rather than putting an end to the professional debacle he inherited, CEO Jerry has merely continued the downward spiral unabated. Rather than a paradigm for all of the positives that one hired from outside the federation professional ranks might (emphasis on "might") bring to the this most critical role, Silverman has evidenced all that can go wrong when the person hired as the lead professional in an organization of such complexity has neither any familiarity with that complexity nor, apparently, the ability to comprehend it.

I was reminded of the values experience can bring several weeks ago by a piece on 60 Minutes Sports on Larry Brown, a proven winner as basketball coach supreme, who returned to coaching at age 73 as the Head Basketball Coach at Southern Methodist University where he resurrected a moribund college program to the level of a Top 25 team. One of his SMU players attested: "...he has been there before. I understand now that if I just listen to him, great things will happen." When Larry Brown arrived at SMU, the cupboard wasn't bare but close, SMU had been on an epic run of losing seasons...and within two years an experienced professional and a proven winner did what almost everyone thought impossible. Rooting for JFNA's success at this point isn't like rooting for SMU; it's far more like being a fan of the Chicago Cubs. It's the clash of reality vs. hopelessness. JFNA has proved over the past 8+ years to be beyond hope without new professional leadership. Year-by-year I have watched as the future of JFNA, the promise of JFNA has receded from us until there is neither future nor promise, only the failure of the present. Friends, what has emerged is a dystopian version of CJF or UJA, take your pick. It sure isn't what any of us who voted for the merger ever intended.

The current CEO was/is no Larry Brown. From interviews with many who served on the JFNA Search Committee back then, Silverman was hired because (a) he gave "a spectacular interview;" (b) the Search Committee Chair (and Chair of the Executive at the time) demanded the hire as Jerry was an "outside the box" candidate and she wanted to "break the stranglehold" that the LCE held on the position; (c) the cadre of federation executives (I think we all know who they are) offered no alternatives; and (d) there was no experienced candidate with whom to compare Silverman. Jerry's credentials -- a successful term as CEO of a small national agency, the Foundation for Jewish Camp, and a successful sales and marketing executive at Dockers. Even today I am not familiar with Jerry's educational background. All in all, these experiences that the Search Committee believed were sufficient to rationalize hiring Jerry have proved to be a flimsy foundation for someone being paid close to $700,000 a year to lead our complex organization with almost no return on an investment in him of about $3,000,000 after 4+ years. And, now, without any real hope that things will be better, without any hope that he will be better, he is granted an extension.

I don't know about you but the rationale that "no one else would take this job" just doesn't fly. Who was asked? The usual group of "best and brightest" -- Nasatir, Hoffman, the retiring Ruskay, Jay Sanderson, Jacob Solomon, Mark Terrell (some or all of whom may believe that they are already "running" JFNA without any need for accountability inasmuch as their fingerprints rarely appear)? And, among the Large Intermediate and Intermediate City CEOs are many women and men, brilliant professional leaders, schooled in all that federations of every City-size need from their Continental organization -- none considered? What about an interim CEO who has proven leadership credentials who might, for a two year period, step in on an interim basis and attempt to right the sinking ship? A Darrell Friedman, a Bob Aronson, Bobby Pearlman or a Mel Bloom? And, what about the professional leader of another organization who has demonstrated that he is at the top of his game -- Russell Robinson, David Fisher, Jeffrey Solomon? And, surely, there are women and men in addition to these. Yes, I know that these leaders may have no interest and that all may have the fatal flaw of being their own person. of not being totally beholden to or subject to the control of the LCE, but do we want an organization in which we can take pride? Or do we want a continuation of the failure that JFNA is today?

What the Co-Chairs have done is to create some greater professional depth -- the hiring of Matt Gurvis and Renee Rothstein was done at their demand, certainly not at Silverman's initiative. Yet, as many who Comment on these Posts have observed, these two fine and exciting professionals are now mismanaged by the mismanager in chief. We are all aware of the mantra we hear in every quadrennial -- "...are you better off today than you were four years ago?" If you frame that question in the context of our national organization, the question suggests its own answer: "JFNA is in a worse place by far today than it was four-plus years ago." In fact,  JFNA is in such a terrible place -- there is a Stygian gloom over 25 Broadway.

 Isn't extending Jerry's contract a statement that we're happy with the status quo? And, why would that be? When the best (only??) reason to renew the CEO's contract is that "we can't find anyone else to take the job," doesn't that tell you all you need to know about the organization in which we have invested about $650,000,000 to date?  What is required today is a professional leadership capable of "unleashing the greatness" that is within the federation system. If all we are about is the "brand" without reference to either the values or the core principles that the "brand" must be about, we will continue to fail and fail and fails.

While I say with you that we can do better; that we can be better, our leaders have determined to take the easy way out and reward failure.  Yes, in the face of constant failure and embarrassment, our leaders have decided to reward CEO Jerry with a new contract. Shame on them; and shame on us.

Rwexler