Sunday, February 19, 2017


For what seemed like the third or fourth or fifth time, JFNA Board Chair Richard Sandler has tried to rationalize JFNA's inability (refusal?) to speak out on behalf of its federation owners behind a claim that to do so at a time of incivility would be, I guess, a distraction. The incivility impacting on our discourse or lack thereof has recently been a focus, as well, in an excellent piece by Spertus College CEO and President Hal Lewis in ejewishphilanthropy, Dysfunctional Discourse and Internecine Invective, and that great chronicler of Jewish life and leadership, J.J. Goldberg in The Forward,  Can Squabbling Jews Still Hear Each Other? Neither author called for an end to the "Discourse;" Richard Sandler doesn't feel it should even begin.

A terrific, thoughtful federation professional leader recently wrote: "The Rambam, in his commentary on Pirkei Avot, explains that the righteous (tzadikim) “say little but do much.” It strikes me that JFNA's Board Chair and its CEO practice a different version; theirs is that recommendation from Hamilton: "Talk less; smile more." And, by characterizing all issues as "political," unable to separately address Jewish values impacted by political decisions JFNA and some federations are unable and/or unwilling to even articulate those values

All of us would agree that we live at a time of heightened political partisanship which too often plays out in self-righteous anger. We have seen that anger expressed in Comments to this Blog and more certainly in far more important places. The question is: does that hyper-partisanship excuse our communal instruments -- local or continental -- from articulating positions on issues impacting on our historic communal values?  To me the answer is no; we must assert our position on those matters in the public space that place our long-established values in question; to JFNA's leaders the answer is -- we must remain silent until in their subjective judgment an undefined "civility" reigns.

The JFNA posture was most recently articulated by Sandler in his statement (14 February 2017): Reflections on Bringing Back Civility.* Therein, he attempts to dismiss any and all responsibility of our Continental organization to speak out on our behalf as follows: "Note that nowhere in my discussion of Federations' mission or responsibilities do I mention making statements or getting involved in political issues, either in the U.S. or in Israel." Following Richard's "logic:" in today's volatile environment (1) all issues are political and (2) therefore, JFNA will not speak out on any issue." Sandler's false premise may satisfy him, but it shouldn't. 

And, this position of "statements are a distraction" is a far cry from the position he and his LA CEO took when they rushed out a statement on the "Iran Deal" with no process and were badly burned. In an article in the Jewish Journal, Richard seemed to preview his position on JFNA backing away from taking any position on almost anything:  The contretemps in LA arose when the members of the Federation"s Rautenberg New Leaders Project objected, privately and respectfully, to the community's articulated non-position on the plight of refugees: We must express our profound disappointment — for some of us, even anger and shame — at ‘Our Commitment to Immigration and Resettlement,’ ” they wrote, adding their voice to a chorus of donors and community members airing their grievances internally." Sandler attended a meeting with the New Leaders and expressed his own strong opinion:
“Federations really should not get involved in making statements one way or another, because they need not get distracted from the work Federations are supposed to do,” he said, adding that political statements inevitably upset some Federation donors."
It's clear that the Los Angeles discussion helped frame Sandler's posture vis-a-vis "Statements" -- yet, that very discussion should have demonstrated how discussions leading to public positions on matters related to Jewish and communal values can take place among leaders of good will in an environment of civility. 

Communities are facing the challenge in different ways: there's Chicago's strong statement, mirrored in other communities', Los Angeles' backing off, and another large city, after its leaders wrote they were "..most surprised and disturbed about the divisions in our community," announced: "[W]e are not going to make another statement on behalf of the Jewish community who we represent because we can't..." (!!) And, should the federations look to JFNA for guidance? Forget it. 

By the time Richard turned his attention to JFNA's (and, presumably, other Federation) Boards, the "distraction" theme was supplemented with a focus on "civility."
Sandler believes that what he identifies as "[T]he lack of civility around controversial issues within our own community" is but another excuse for JFNA's continuing silence on all issues. I guess his hope is that JFNA will lead "...a concerted effort to respect different points of view" and having achieved that wholly amorphous goal of "bringing back civility," JFNA will be able to go forward and speak for us on issues it determines are not "political." With respect, give me a break -- the constant JFNA drumbeat of "civility" from Richard and JFNA Jerry is nothing more than another excuse for doing nothing, and doing nothing all of the time.  Nowhere in JFNA's thinking on this matter is there any acknowledgment that silence also has a "cost" -- a cost in donors and sometimes sure at great cost to our values.

Nowhere in the Board Chair's Statement nor anywhere in that FedWorld rag was there any comment on the brilliant Friend of the Court brief filed in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals by the Seattle Jewish Federation-- apparently, and thankfully, the Seattle Federation didn't consider supporting Jewish and Jewish communal values a "distraction" or, somehow, "uncivil."

I admit that I may be wrong on this matter; but shouldn't JFNA's role in the public square be debated by its Board? You know, by the federations which own this thing? It's all well and good that the Board Chair and CEO have their opinions well- and often-expressed but their opinions are not those of the organization they are supposedly leading. I would respectfully suggest that JFNA's Board Chair lead a public Board discussion on whether JFNA has any...any...responsibility to speak on behalf of the federations and on what matters and, if so, how the public statements will be managed and processed. And, no more sermonettes on "civility," please. And, if developing and processing a Statement on, e.g., the communal values expressed in our historic Torah-driven caring for the stranger would somehow be a "distraction" for JFNA, pray tell what JFNA would be distracted from? It's a real shame that the Board Chair and CEO do not trust the leaders of the federations who serve on the JFNA Board and the CEOs to even engage in such a discussion.

Sometimes you just have to do the right thing...even JFNA...and that means that sometimes you just have to say the right things, even though that may be hard.


* I won't use this Post to respond to Sandler's specious assertion that Federations are "think tanks." More on that in a later Post.

Thursday, February 16, 2017


There's always something...

1. I was pleased to read that President Trump's daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law and Middle East peace negotiator, Jared Kushner, received Rabbinic permission to travel to the January Inauguration parties and balls on Shabbat. The Times of Israel reported:
"The special permission was given based on the Jewish principle of placing the preservation of life over religious observance, known as 'pikuah nefesh,'"
Parties and Balls = preservation of life. I got it. I don't understand it, but I got it. Actually, maybe the President threatened their lives if they didn't attend the parties celebrating his election -- as in "if you're not at the parties, you're dead (to me)." 

2. After years of active resistance, the WZO has entered into a settlement ordered by the Israeli courts that will provide 250,000,000 Israeli shekels for Israeli Holocaust survivors. Is this enough? Is this equitable? JFNA has been advised of the settlement -- perhaps, it's trying to figure out how to take credit for it, having done nothing to secure this result. 

3. To its shame, JFNA has disclosed that allocations to the core budgets of the Jewish Agency, the JDC and WorldORT have fallen to the lowest levels in history -- or, as JFNA's Treasurer recently reported, the 2016 year-end results "were off a little." Shrug; let's move on; the federations let you down, not us. Let's be clear JFNA has failed its overseas partners as never before. Period.

4. JFNA  convened its 2017 Investment Institute in Florida last weekend. The Institute leaders gathered about the most impressive roster of speakers that I have ever seen listed for any organization and they should be congratulated. That was the list I first downloaded. Then several of you brought to my attention that JFNA Jerry had added himself to this incredible list. Many of you asked me "Why?" I do too. 

5. Last month Chicago's Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation closed the 2016 Annual Campaign at $84,282,000, a record of unsurpassed achievement. Many ask me "how is this possible?" Well, you combine an incredible professional staff with not just Steve Nasatir's indefatigable leadership but the example of his own face-to-face FRD, a dedicated and committed laity, creativity, hard, hard work and a communal tradition and a wonderful esprit de corps. "Leadership," you know, it really works.

6. When JFNA ceased its CEO Search services, dropping that federation benefit (such as it was in the implementation), I have been waiting for the next shoe to drop. It has:

"To Apply

JCC Association is conducting the search on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul. Qualified candidates can apply for this position at – please include a resume, cover letter and salary requirements. 

Deadline to apply: February 17, 2017"
Perhaps, the St. Paul Federation has decided it's just a JCC in all events; certainly it could have used this moment, while the Minneapolis Jewish Federation is seeking a CEO as well, to explore a merger; or, most likely, this is a Hatfields and McCoys deal up there. 

There was time, a few years ago, when JCCA, seeing the void at JFNA, actually discussed providing services to federations. Perhaps, inasmuch as the void just keeps growing, they are revisiting that "plan."

7. Finally, with the assistance of a number of you, as we do from time-to-time, we wish to highlight a couple of entries from FedCentral:
"Looking for best practices on notes of condolence -- specific language. Thank you."
"Hello, I'm looking for a platform to manage integrated online & live auctions. Does anyone have any recommendations?"
It's hard to comment when you're speechless.

Monday, February 13, 2017


As I've written -- too often, I'm sure -- JFNA is operated (if one may call it that) with an over-abundance of consultants. It is a place where in one area alone -- FRD -- part-time consultants appear to outnumber full-time  professional staff. Perhaps, as a means to ameliorate criticism on this score, Jerry and his crony (a consultant, no less), Deborah K. Smith, have now created a new, new thing -- calling those who live and work away from HQ "non-resident employees." Well, in truth, nobody calls them that but me.

What do I mean? Well, and this is purely speculative, why would a bright and accomplished professional leave her position as President and CEO of a Jewish college -- in this case, Gratz College -- to assume the title of Associate Vice-President for Planning and Research at JFNA. Then, in JFNA COO Mark Gurvis' announcement of Joy Goldstein's hiring, in almost a footnote, he recited that Ms. Goldstein will be working from Philadelphia, where she lives. 

OK, then...

...When Brian Abrahams was hired as Senior Vice-President, FRD last year, that engagement was clearly made contingent on Brian  working from Chicago, where he and his family reside. Perhaps, had JFNA Jerry agreed to compensate Brian at a level commensurate with the responsibility of the position, Brian would have been able have afforded to move his family -- but we all know that Silverman is all about taking care of Number One, and only Numero Uno.

So, here's that new, new normal -- senior professionals now can work from wherever they may live. The concept of building a cohesive professional staff has been lost somewhere along the way; probably lost along with that sense of purpose, mission and vision. To me, there is but a little difference, if any, between part-time consultants and "home work" senior professionals. Are they reporting to Jerry, to Mark? Is Brian reporting to Vicki Agron, a part-time consultant herself? Is this nuts? Just look through the JFNA "employment roster" and you will find consultant after consultant after consultant.

Back in the UJA days, the United Jewish Appeal leadership hired Rabbi Brian Lurie away from the San Francisco Federation. Brian was a brilliant CEO, a constant font of ideas, a spectacular speaker, fund raiser and an inspiration to me and so many others. He still is. Brian was a weekly commuter from his home in SF to UJA's New York offices and, often, very often, to Jerusalem. He was indefatigable but it became clear that over the years of his UJA service he grew worn travel, by being away from his family. And Brian Lurie was full-time. It seemed to me that any fair analysis of Lurie's service to the United Jewish Appeal would lead to the conclusion that senior non-profit managers must live where they work; not where they would rather that Chicago or Philadelphia or Jerusalem. And, to live in the New York City Metropolitan area, they need to be compensated so as to be abe to do so.

Clearly there are instances where being at HQ isn't a prerequisite. William Daroff's JFNA effort is focused on behalf of our communities in Washington where he works, directs a D.C.-focused staff and where he lives. That works. Yet, Becky Caspi's residence and leadership of JFNA Israel and Overseas from Jerusalem does not...except for her air mileage account.

As one of those Commenting on the Sad, Sad State of Now Post observed "...there is no sense of community and purpose" at 25 Broadway. A real CEO, not the faux CEO ensconced there today and for the past 7+ years, would insist that the organization's senior staff be in residence with him/her, building that "community" of professionals within 25 Broadway. You cannot have "a sense of community and purpose" when your CEO has none. That is just one of the sad realities that absentee lay leadership has permitted,

And so it is at JFNA Camp Worbegone.


Friday, February 10, 2017


A few weeks ago the Boston Globe, among other media, reported that the lay leaders of Boston's Combined Jewish Philanthropies determined that its CEO, the long-term Boston professional leader, Barry Shrage, had been "severely underpaid" for years in comparison with others "similarly situated" and provided Barry with a "make right" payment of $1,340,000. Now, Barry was "only" making $563,000 in total compensation (including benefits) in the year of this nice "gift,"* and Barry wasn't going anywhere, but, as the Globe reported:
"...the payment was authorized after the board compared Shrage's compensation over the past decade with that of leaders of similar nonprofits and determined he had been consistently underpaid."
One "compensation consultant to nonprofits" advised that the IRS "...permits nonprofits to do a 'look back' to determine if their executives have been underpaid, and to make up the possible difference."

OK, then. If CJP leaders don't mind that, as one expert noted, "Shrage's payment 'has very negative optics for the organization,'" and I'm sure they could not care less, and assuming that few believe, as did the Director of Georgetown's Center for Public and Nonprofit Leadership, who told The Forward that this $1.34 million payment was "'ridiculous' and 'above and beyond what is normal,'" what are the potential implications?

  • While I don't see this "look back" as creating an avalanche of the same or more by a multitude of federations (after all, whose compensation and benefits numbers did CJP's leaders look at if not those some of the Large City Executives and, of course, the leader of the pack, JFNA), one never knows. I continue to believe that when the Large City Executives meet at some golf resort for their annual "retreat," one of the off-line discussions must always be who is making what and what more in the way of benefits might they enjoy? Who knows.
  • For example, Barry also enjoys "chauffeur services" in addition to "an auto allowance or leased vehicle." We know about the City clubs, the Country Clubs, the business or first class air travel, etc. What's next -- a parsonage?
  • My personal experience suggests that nothing angers donors within our system more than when CEO compensation numbers are revealed in The Forward or local business journals. No one can possibly quantify the donor and dollar losses attributable to donors disgusted with the compensation and benefits disclosures but system-wide they must be in the millions over time.
  • Then there is the reality that in too many instances, not with Shrage whose value to Boston's federation is deemed by that leadership to be beyond measure, where compensation has no relationship to performance. Enter Jerry Silverman. Certainly the Boston compensation consultant entered Jerry's "package" into the mix; and just as certainly, no one noticed that Silverman is and has been among the most egregiously overpaid within the nonprofit world. Were I a federation CEO, I would view Silverman's compensation as the paradigm for which I would strive -- oh, to be overpaid in such an outrageous manner.
Yet, at some point there is certain only the possibility that CJP's action here will become the canary in the coal mine; that federation (and, unlikely, JFNA) lay leaders will look at the totality of what is being paid to their top professional leaders and say: "what the hell are we doing? This has to stop." 

OK, so that probably won't happen. But a guy can dream, can't he?


The newspaper stories revealed that "[O]ver the past decade, (Shrage) has generally earned between $400,000 and $500,000 a year," not exactly chump change, and, arguably, at an appropriate compensation for the years in question

Tuesday, February 7, 2017


The Mission Statement still reads:
"Inspired by Jewish values, we broaden and deepen engagement in Jewish life to strengthen Jewish identity, foster dynamic connections with Israel, and care for all Jews in need.

We mobilize our community’s resources, leaders, and organizations to address the community’s most critical needs, creating profound impact locally, in Israel, and around the world."
Sadly, for the authors of that Statement, at the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, it's now "never mind." In an article in the San Diego Jewish World, brought to our attention by a Friend of the Blog, the entire rationale underlying the sorry scheme to effectively de-federate was made clear:
"In an interview, Jewish Federation CEO Michael Sonduck explained that the change is a reflection of how much fundraising has changed in the Jewish community since the 1930s when the Federation first got started.  In the early days, he said, donors would send their checks to the Federation which then would parcel out the money based on its assessment of community needs.  It was a one-stop shopping arrangement with the various schools and agencies refraining from independent fundraising.
That changed over the years, however, with most schools and agencies mounting independent fundraising efforts including gala dinners, golf and tennis tournaments, raffles, and direct solicitation for major contributions.
Sonduck said major donors to the Jewish Federation by and large are the same people who are supporting the agencies and the schools.  In discussions with Federation staff, he said, donors said that Federation grants to these agencies and schools duplicate the contributions they already make.  They urged the Federation to focus instead on building collaborations within the community to respond to unmet needs.
For example, said Sonduck, as a result of a matching grant made to the Federation by the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Federation has encouraged the development of an outreach program to Jewish teenagers.  This program is administered by Lawrence Family JCC and will involve encouraging high school students to connect with the Jewish community via various mitzvah projects.  The grant for this program is considered a “restricted fund” because it must be used for the Teen Initiative."
Michael Sonduck is a lifelong Jewish professional; promoted to Federation CEO after a series of communal roles. He knows what a federation should be; he knows the basic purposes a federation (and, thereby a federation gift) must serve -- he's no doubt well aware of his Federation Mission statement that expresses communal values. Yet, the action that the Jewish Federation of San Diego will now take,  moving over a brief period from a grant-making, central communal planning body, to effectively the status of a conduit for donor-designated gifts, means...well, it has abandoned the federation model. 

This has been a conclusion that has been coming down the road in San Diego for a while...

  • The San Diego Federation's work has been overshadowed within the community by its separately incorporated Jewish Community Foundation San Diego for the past two decades. Even though, as is true in so many federated communities, the Foundation Board os comprised mainly, almost entirely, by former and present Federation leaders, it has postured itself as an alternative to the Federation, in competition in many ways with Federation. It has been successful in all ways -- the Foundation is the model for designated, focused funding -- this Federation is now morphing into a donor-driven foundation and what community really needs two of those;
  • In the early-1990s, Federation, already feeling the pressure driven by failing annual campaigns, entered into a comprehensive community planning process, staffed by a consultant (who knew little of federation values) and JFNA's Community Consulting Department (which should have articulated a federation-centric vision for the community but did not) and which resulted in a "federation as conduit" plan which was then not implemented but which planted the seeds for that which has emerged a little over a decade later;
  • This Federation has not grown the leadership (or educated the leaders it has -- excellent and dedicated as they are) that could and would articulate the case for communal philanthropy that would exist side-by-side with donor-driven designated philanthropy. Instead, lacking vision and will, San Diego's leaders merely set the table for the end result that is now being implemented. A continental organization worthy of the Dues it is paid would have worked with communal lay leaders as UJA did decades ago -- one might fairly ask: "what has JFNA done for the Jewish Federation of San Diego County" other than watch it (1) diminish and, (2) now, disappear....and, of course, accept the Dues San Diego has paid...?
As one Commentator to another Post observed: "I think we need to call the phenomenon for what it is - the privatization of Jewish philanthropy and the slow negation of the concept of community." It's a shame and shameful when Federation leaders themselves preside over the passing of their federation into oblivion. In this community and others -- for San Diego is not alone certainly -- inspiring the passion that drove the community's founders just stopped long ago.

And, where was JFNA you might ask? It's a good question. In its 2015 Annual Report JFNA proudly boasted:
"Growing and nurturing strong communities is the essence of Federation’s work. So when it comes to giving back, there’s no need to go it alone. Our affinity groups harness the power of the collective to connect community members to the movement and help them develop strong personal networks and leadership skills."
My guess would be that JFNA's highest level of professional and lay leadership either (1) has no clue what has happened and what was happening in San Diego; or (2) knew, shrugged, their collective shoulder and said "too bad, nothing we could possibly do to help." And, the reality is clear: those beautiful words in the Annual Report were just that...words...and nothing more. And, we know, at JFNA that's all there is.

Sadly the reality for San Diego is self-evident in the experience of others. For it is a fact that every community -- and there are some -- that has got down the road San Diego is now traveling, has failed, either becoming totally irrelevant or well on their way to total irrelevance. Irrelevant to its donors who have many places to put their gifts; irrelevant to their own leadership, because if all federation leadership is doing is watching funds flowing (indirectly) to local agencies, what is left for their passion and commitment? 

Building federation, building community is damn hard work. San Diego just wasn't up to it and had nowhere to turn for consultation, guidance and inspiration. JFNA doesn't exist.


Saturday, February 4, 2017


Anyone who reads this Blog thing regularly knows of my continuing pride to live within the boundaries of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. One of my great joys was to have played a leadership role there. Now I have the greatest pride and joy in seeing how the great tradition and values that were passed on to me and my generation of leadership continue to reside dor l'dor. Friends, it's so beautiful to behold.

In the wake of the actions of the Trump Administration that brought tens of 1000s out in protest, and saw many of my former partners to airports to assist those unlawfully denied entry to the United States or at risk of deportation, the Chicago Federation issued a statement built upon more than a century of assisting immigrants regardless of religion or country of origin. That statement read in pertinent part:
"The Federation has encountered--and overcome--policy, budget, and other obstacles over the decades, but has never wavered in its commitment to fulfill this sacred Jewish and American task.  On behalf of the Jewish community, the Federation is proud of this accomplishment and pledges to continue this important work. 

The Federation welcomes America's refugees who have passed the most thorough vetting process of any group of foreigners seeking to come to our country and applauds the statements from many Jewish and non-Jewish groups that are now speaking out on this issue.

Every public policy should be reviewed and strengthened, especially when it involves our security.  However, the administration's sweeping, sudden, and uncoordinated executive order undermines the noble ideal of our nation serving as a safe harbor for those fleeing persecution and directly imperils the Federation's work on their behalf.  The Federation opposes policies that bar or privilege certain groups of refugees solely because of their religion or country of origin.  It is the well-founded fear of persecution by any country against any minority that has long inspired America to provide refuge."
I commend this Statement of principles and values to every federation and, of course, to JFNA. I know that many federations have already spoken out as has Chicago. I see no reason whatsoever that our Continental body, speaking on behalf of all of the communities doesn't rouse from its slumber to assert our continental commitment to our national, continental and communal values embodied in "caring for the strangers" among us. And, in keeping with its steadfast commitment to silence, even its captive FedWorld has failed to link the readers to federations which have spoken out on our values.

Chicago, and, likely, your federation as well, "has never wavered in its commitment;" yet, our umbrella organization, the one that should have absorbed all...all...of our values and should be able to assert them, lacks any commitment to anything whatsoever.

Yes, the fact...the very fact...that a Statement was not adopted, was not even considered, by the JFNA Board at its Retreat a little more than one week ago, on the heals of the President's Executive Order that impacted on 1000's of refugee families.  We either have values or we don't; we either stand up or we don't. There's just no explaining the continuing institutional silence in the face of...everything and anything.

Everything and anything.


Wednesday, February 1, 2017


We have many serious issues within the federated communities and, beyond them, in Jewish organizational life generally. Within federations inside and outside of the largest, and in too many organizations to count, there have been too frequent examples of the most wealthy and generous philanthropists demanding sometimes absolute control of and power over communal/organizational decisions that have had the effect of rending the communal/organizational fabric. One leader deeply engaged with and in our Jewish organizational world has described this "phenomenon" as "the tyranny of the mega-donor,"

First, way back when, in so many places, at a much simpler time, a small group of men (and they were all men back then) would gather in a room, determine the community's needs and divide up the costs and fund them. It was, so obviously, a much, much simpler time. No longer.

In an extremely insight-filled Report, the Institute for Policy Studies and recently published Gilded Giving: Top-Heavy Philanthropy in an Age of Extreme Inequality. Therein, the authors cited the "risks...of a philanthropic sector dominated by wealthy mega-donors and their foundations..." These are risks to communal democracy and, thereby, to "charitable sector organizations," e.g., federations.

But, to us, this is not a new phenomenon. And, prior to the merger (which is a date fading more and more into the past), there were examples -- e.g., the North Shore Massachusetts Federation and the Tidewater Virginia Federation, among others -- of the most wealthy demanding that communities cease paying their CJF Dues and the communities doing so. And, over the years many communities, under pressure from significant donors, demanded significant changes in allocation percentages reducing the Jewish Agency share often unrelated to needs. The threat, and we have all heard it in one form or another, is something like this: "Either do this, or I will never make another gift." 

And, these are but examples of the deterioration in the concept of "community" -- of the deconstruction of community into the paradigm of "bowling alone;" into the exercise of personal power where the greater good is sacrificed to personal aggrandizement. Few communities, few organizations can ever recover. The ultimate examples of this can be found in the more recent past -- and even the present...

We have seen one southern/southwestern federation, once a true partner in every way that a federation could be, with a strong lay and professional leadership cadre, a significant allocation to overseas needs, coopted by the community's largest and most influential philanthropist, one dedicated totally to that philanthropist's personal agenda and generosity. The CEO left and a large measure of the lay leadership who objected, loudly or quietly, it made no difference...out. The community never recovered. (If you go to this Federation's website, you cannot even link to the community's Board of Directors, if there is one any more.)*

Then, there is a Federation in the West, at one-time the fastest growing Jewish community in North America, with a cadre of young philanthropists, cultivated by a terrific professional leader, who were beginning to realize the great communal potential in a partnership with JFNA -- a partnership, like most with JFNA, abandoned by our inept umbrella organization at the worst possible time. That federated community always seemed to be under the dark cloud of one of the most major philanthropists. In my experience with the community, I watched as this donor threatened to forever withdraw his support (which had not then been realized upon, if it has been, sort of, today) if, first, the federation did not force out its CEO (who had built the community and its lay leadership in dramatic ways) and, second, if its then Chair and most significant and thoughtful leader, who, with his wife, a dedicated philanthropist and communal leader in her own right, did not withdraw from their lay leadership roles (which they did in the supposed "best interests of the community"). CEO...gone. And that CEO, it turned out, would not be the last -- there and elsewhere.

A new CEO was hired in the midst of the economic crisis that impacted this community as badly or worse than others. Inasmuch as there was no tradition of federation giving in the community, the annual campaign quickly cratered and the new CEO, an energetic and creative campaigner like his predecessor, had to start anew -- which he did. Even this philanthropist was persuaded to make a significant gift (most, if not all, of which was designated to the philanthropist's projects in and outside the community). but three years in, this donor demanded that this CEO must go or, once again, the community would lose its largest gift. (This was not the first time that this donor made similar demands -- at one of our most-cherished charities, dedicated to bringing tens of thousand of young Jews to Israel for a one week experience -- the same philanthropist demanded that the sitting CEO, one of our system's most creative fund raising leaders, be forced out; the implication being that the alternative would be that the donor would terminate his contributions of tens of millions annually. In short order, this CEO was out.) And, so it was, in this growing community, a CEO driving to rebuild an extremely complex community was gone at the whim of a mercurial mega-donor. 

There is also one of the Large Cities where the lay chairs, among the community's largest donors, along with a small cabal of fellow travelers, were known to either suppress or overrule Federation Committee recommendation with which they disagreed with no further process. And, if rumors are true, they have joined in the recent force-out of their sitting CEO...and not for the first time...a CEO they themselves had hired.

And there is the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, an "institutional" mega-donor, if you will, whose incredibly generous annual gift has been withdrawn from organization after organization if the ever-increasing demands of its "sole decider" could not be met -- and met immediately.

And we saw an invitation to Rabbi Lord Sacks to speak at the 2016 GA dictated by a JFNA lay leader who clearly has her eyes focused on the Board Chair position and who ignored the staff's warnings that this choice would prove not just controversial but tremendously divisive. Over the years, present and immediate past-Chairs excluded, a succession of Board Chairs became frustrated when their personal agendas weren't immediately implemented, but those frustrations ended with the imposition of the GPT, something that would not have happened had there been a true lay-professional partnership and Board members with the courage to speak out.

When things like these happen, when personal agendas prevail over the communal agenda or when a single donor, or even a small group, convinces himself/herself/themselves that his/her/their agenda is and shall be the community's/organization's agenda, the sense of community and the community itself are lost. The same thing can occur (and has) when a small cabal "captures" the organization's leadership believing that the small group goals trump communal goals. (Yes, I'm talking about the epic failure that was JFNA's Global Planning Table). And, of course, there are even more federations and other Jewish organizations where the CEO dominates assuring that the CEO is "protected" by a captive, acquiescent lay leadership. All of these circumstances are characterized by an attitude of "...let ___________ do it" -- a delegating away, a failure of fiduciary duty.

Be assured, as a former Presidential candidate said of one incredible Jewish philanthropist, himself a past Chair of a Large City Federation who put community first, in the instances cited above, there are so many men and women have "used...(their philanthropy) enrich the lives of so many people whose names you will never know." At the same time, in the instances cited above, men and women who should know better, but are never told, have confused personal agendas with those of the community...and the end result has not been to the detriment of the philanthropists/the "deciders" themselves but to the detriment of their communities/organizations. More and more we have sold our communal souls to the highest bidder -- and, after all, if great Jewish wealth can "buy" presidential candidates, why not a community, an organization or two or three or...

And we have come to learn, too many times, just where this "practice" can lead. The chances of the resurrection of collective responsibility under these circumstances are nil.


* Yes, I have identified neither the philanthropists nor the communities/organizatiions. Please neither ask nor speculate.

Saturday, January 28, 2017


 Next on your plate? The amazing food and wine of Argentina!

Our mission starts in Mendoza, home of the world’s best Malbec. We’ll indulge in tastings at renowned wineries and dine at the restaurants of famous chefs like Francis Mallmann, whose unique open-fire cooking style was featured on the Netflix series Chef’s Table.  

Then in Buenos Aires, we'll sample the best of the city’s nightlife scene, and meet its vibrant Jewish community up close and personal with cozy, home-hosted dinners. 

Check out our complete itinerary. Want more? Stay and explore beautiful Bariloche in the foothills of the Andes, or take an outdoor adventure to IguazĂș Falls.
This was the latest marketing "tease" for the JFNA King David Society Mission scheduled for March 2017, being led, apparently, by the incoming National Campaign Chair. 

Now, don't get me wrong, this is going to be a wonderful vacation -- great winery visits, wonderful traif restaurants, fabulous 5 star hotels (the Park Hyatt in Mendoza and the Alvear Palace in Buenos Aires), some wonderful tours and shopping...oh the shopping..oh the sipping of a world class Malbec. 

Yes, there will be some Jewish moments -- a couple of hours with JAFI, a couple more with the Joint, a memorial visit to the Amia memorial to the devastating 1994 terrorist attack and home hospitality with leaders of the very vibrant Argentinian Jewish community -- inserted into these seven days. BTW, the Jewish Agency held a quarterly meeting in Buenos Aires just a few years ago and packed solid Jewish experiences into three days -- the planners of this Mission could have asked CEO Jerry about those three days...3 days...he was there...and given his predisposition for padding his mileage account, he's probably going on this one.

I know, I know, we have to attract the new generation of Jewish leaders onto Missions by offering high-end travel experiences. Israel is played out...yada, yada, yada. And, now, we market, we sell, the sizzle. I remember our Prime Minister's Mission in 2007, which my wife and I led to Paris and Israel. With a great partnership with other leaders, including, as always, a large Chicago contingent, we recruited two buses of wonderful donors from across the country -- we loved being in Israel after Paris. But...of course, that was a decade ago. And, I know, it's really hard to get to Ben Gurion from Buenos Aires. 

If you want to get to Mendoza from Chicago to start the Mission, you can fly United, let's say, from O'Hare to Houston, Houston to Lima, Lima to Mendoza. You fly for 24 hours and, if you want to fly Business, it's a little less than $5,000. The Mission cost in Argentina is $5,100 per person double occupancy (and there's a single supplement of $1,100) on top of the minimum KDS gift of $25,000.

If JFNA can recruit a full bus -- say 45 participants (not including staff or the National Campaign and KDS Chairs)-- would it validate selecting Argentina for this very special travel experience with a Jewish component? 

It will be great. Why not just tease "take a vacation with JFNA?"

And, an Addendum...pre-Chanukah the JFNA Missions Department inserted a couple of sentences in that brilliant FedWorld inviting inquiries about an October 2017 (this is an important year -- see below) Israel Mission focused on Tel Aviv. Well, just read the thing: 
SAVE THE DATE: NATIONAL MISSION TO ISRAEL before Federations’ first-ever GA in Tel Aviv will connect your community leaders with top innovators and newsmakers. For more information about the Oct. 17-24 journey, contact  Hannah Schwartz or Tikva Mahlab in Missions. 
After I noted that this year's GA is in LA, friends explained to me that that Tel Aviv GA will be in 2018.

Oh, JFNA you never let us down. And, proving the title to this Post -- the Mission to Argentina is rumored to be close to sold out.


Wednesday, January 25, 2017


One thing you can always count on at JFNA, the one constant, is a total lack of follow-through...on anything and everything. We can (and have) look back at overseas allocations, the National Agencies-Federation Alliance, any and all Special Campaigns, the issues with WZO and Survivors funding, the Global Planning Table (where organizational failure was a welcome condition precedent to its demise) -- the list of failure after failure just goes on and on and on, ad infinitum. At 25 Broadway there is an institutional attention deficit disorder that has become self-evident in all things. And, as JFNA flits from issue to issue, failed program to new program assured to fail, no one...not a single JFNA leader is holding the staff to account. Irresponsibility has led to unaccountability. 

Nowhere has JFNA's lack of follow-through been more evident than in its failed  substantive advocacy for religious pluralism in Israel. In 2012, and even earlier, JFNA claimed to have been a partner with the non-Orthodox religious Movements, Women of the Wall and the Jewish Agency in pushing a deal through the Netanyahu Cabinet in January 2016, that was to assure egalitarian prayer space by the Kotel. JFNA was one of the greatest of cheerleaders for the deal in which had played no role whatsoever but for which it attempted to grab as much credit as possible. Why it even organized a "march" of 100's in Jerusalem in support of these efforts in conjunction with the last Israel GA. And, while claiming "victory" last January, JFNA leaders put on their blinders against the reality that the deal was falling apart, killed, as are so many things in Jerusalem, by coalition politics; or, maybe, these, our leaders, will claim they have put their faith in Israel's Supreme Court -- but I don't recall any "friend of the court" brief on behalf of our claimed "partners." The Court has acted but, as with so many things in Israel, few expect that the Court's actions will be the final word on the subject.

And so it came to pass that at the GA last November, the JFNA Board -- the Board -- spent  most of its meeting redrafting a letter to the Prime Minister that from its draft state to its final wording was what JFNA leaders termed "strong" but most felt to be obsequious. Even the vote on approval has yet to be disclosed to the Board where we have learned at least two Large Cities voted "no" and the Minutes of that meeting recited a "approved by majority vote." The "letter" approval process required the intervention of the Wall Deal's main architect, JAFI's Natan Sharansky, to push for language that would not upset the Prime Minister. JFNA, as is its practice in matters of this kind  -- i.e., any matter of controversy -- satisfied itself that was doing something by writing a letter. 

And, then, JFNA just moved on. Our organization sent a letter and moved on. When Women of the Wall and others supporting the implementation of the agreement received death threats, maybe JFNA organized a conference call; maybe it's drafting another letter, And maybe it's doing nothing at all.

I have heard in Comments from some friends of this Blog, and off-line, that JFNA is wise to never take a stand on any matter because doing so would further divide the North American Jewish polity. Those intelligent and well-meaning leaders ignore the reality that for our continental organization there must be certain basic principles on which it must "rise up" or be perceived as ineffectual, even spineless. Thus, if religious pluralism is a cause worth fighting for, then fight for it, mobilize for it and do more than give it lip service and agonize over a letter...a the Prime Minister who has a radar detector against weakness in all events. If we have convictions -- even if they are few -- don't we need to stand up for them? Our friend, MK Nachman Shai, who directed the JFNA Israel Office when it was actually effective, forwarded an incisive article in The Jerusalem Post that stated clearly that the Shas "Western Wall Bill will drive away Aerican Jews."  Apparently, the organization that is presumed to represent American Jews, JFNA, can only bring itself to write a periodic letter.

I expressed my pride in JFNA's immediate and public response to the Obama Administration's refusal to veto the UNSC Resolution 2334. (JFNA Rises Up, 24 December 2016) Days later I learned that the organization only did so at the "urging" of Israeli government officials and the Conference of Presidents suggesting that a failure to publicly object to the abstention might result in the Prime Minister no longer being available for, e.g.,  Mission meetings and GA videos among other things. Now we at least understand what will get JFNA to speak out.

Inasmuch as the leaders of JFNA have no shame, by their silence on the Shas legislation they are stating: this isn't our issue. Even though it is.


Sunday, January 22, 2017


Sometimes, well, perhaps often, I feel as if I am the simple child at the Seder forced to ask questions because I just don't understand. And, in JFNA's case, of course, you don't get answers.

I was very upset when Jerry Silverman ordered the Federation-National Agencies Alliance to transfer $400,000 of national agencies' money-- not JFNA's, the National Agencies' money -- to JFNA's Budget for the creation of a Jewish Education Unit. There was crap spewed about the terrible void left when JESNA (once one of those national agencies) shut down and how JFNA was best-positioned to til in the vineyards of community education. It was, to paraphrase what Salieri said of Mozart: "too many...words." The whole idea seemed less than thought through as with so many if not all things JFNA: the theft of $400,000, the need for JFNA to "create" such a "Unit," etc

And, so it has proved to be.

Yes, while no one was looking this Education Unit has, before it has even gotten off the ground, vamped into the JFNA Education and Community Engagement Unit and it's a farce. Here's how JFNA describes this new "Department's" purpose:
"The Jewish Education and Engagement department empowers and supports Federations as they reach out to Jews wherever they are, giving them the tools they need to live more vibrant and meaningful Jewish lives. It’s an investment in enriching our people and our communities, now and in the future."
Yes, in other words -- theirs not mine -- that $400,000  wasn't for Jewish Education at all. The money was stolen from the national agencies under false pretenses; the Budget Committee approved $400,000 for Jewish Education which JFNA has taken and applied to: well, let's call it what it is...bullshit. And, in 2017-2018 and beyond the Alliance has pre-agreed to up the ante to $900,000 per year not even knowing on what the hell the money will be spent. Friends, this is what passes for responsibility and accountability at JFNA.

Yes, I know, who could possibly be against "...reach(ing) out to Jews wherever they are, giving them the tools they need to live more vibrant and meaningful Jewish lives?" But, seriously, does anyone at 25 Broadway, anyone on the JFNA Executive Committee, anyone on the JFNA Board, does the Board Chair or the one Vice-Chair -- do any of these lay or professional leaders ever ask the simple, seminal question: "What specifically are we proposing to be spending, e.g., $400,000 and, then, $900,000 times  x years on?" And when the answer is a bunch of eye rolls. say "come back to us with specifics and we'll consider it."

In this case, the system's National Agencies are living off fumes and JFNA Jerry has the temerity to grab $400,000 and then $900,000 x x years  of their money for this? Oh, maybe no one is paying attention. 

This cannot be permitted -- even at JFNA at its lowest, theft is theft. 

It just makes you cry out for adult leadership.