Friday, April 20, 2018


My friends, one of the fatal flaws of JFNA under spineless leadership is the one that apparently mandates that "you shall be silent on all matters;" unless you are at the top of the JFNA food chain, you are only entitled to such information as "we" deem necessary. It's pretty damn hard to be proud of JFNA in any event, impossible when the organization views almost all matters as "none of our business." We wrote about this shameful quietude just a few weeks ago in our  Post Speechless; I didn't expect JFNA's leaders to break into song, and I also should have realized that nothing would change. 

A few examples since that March 24 Post:

  • 20 major Jewish organizations joined together to protest gun violence in the United States, They issued a strong statement and JCPA must be congratulated for its role. JFNA: "none of our business."
  • On April 17, JTA reported: "In a slap at Israel, the City Council in Durham, North Carolina, voted unanimously to bar its police department from taking part in 'military-style training' progarms abroad" -- a "ban" clearly directed at Israel training even though there was no planned participation by Durham's Police Department in any such activity. The advocacy for this "ban" was the work of the growing group of pro-BDS agitators led by the wretched Jewish Voices for Peace. They and their fellow travelers  may consider this an "achievement" -- it will be all the more significant if the organized Jewish community -- through JFNA or JCPA or another -- says and does nothing. JFNA:"not our business," apparently.
  • A pet peeve -- According to the Jewish Insider, JFNA "leaders" were among those who met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed ben Salman on the Prince's "charm tour" of the United States. There have been many meetings of this nature that we discover through Facebook photos of, e.g., CEO Jerry at the U.N. and other places. Sure, back in the UJA days, when these opportunities arose we made them available to significant donors -- we knew the impact these photo ops could have -- but JFNA leaders don't have a clue; they appear to think they are invited because they themselves are so important.  But, that's only one of my complaints; at no time do these leaders advise their Board of:
    • The purpose of the meetings; or
    • What was discussed at these meetings
    • Wouldn't it be interesting, for example, to know if these Jewish leaders raised with MBS (this Crown Prince is known by his initials) the denial to El Al and Israel the right to overfly Saudi airspace on flights from, e.g., India...or anything else for that matter.
In other words: there seems to be no understanding that Silverman, Sandler, et al.,were invited to these things as our representatives; no understanding that they have 
no standing on their own. But, of course, it's: "None of our business."

All who read these Posts regularly know that this so-called "leadership" has built a wall separating the facts from the ownership. And, so long as that ownership doesn't care, the wall just gets thicker and higher (and, I know what you're thinking, no, Mexico has not paid for this wall). 

The lack of transparency violates every principle of non -profit governance but...and this is the major thing...totally controlling the information flow offers this lay and professional leadership comfort -- they can sit and state that those who raise questions about actions just don't have "the facts" ignoring the reality that those who questions don't have/can't have the facts because the facts are denied to them by the very leaders who denied amcha the facts.

Thus, the argument would go: "if we provide no facts, we're safe." But, my G-d, even Facebook announced "we must do more to keep people informed;" that was Facebook, not JFNA. 

And, so, "None of our business" -- ever. And, with each brick in the opaque wall its leaders have been allowed to build, JFNA grows more distant from its owners.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018


Friends, I join with all of you in celebration of Israel's 70th Birthday.

If you will it, it is no dream. Eem tirtzu, ein zo agada.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018


1. If it's something (or someone) recommended by Caroline Glick or Morton Klein, I know it will be both unreasoned and unreasonable. I am never disappointed.

2. When the Israeli Chief Rabbi -- N.B. the Chief Rabbi -- calls African-Americans "Monkeys," as Tablet reported he did in a sermon, no less, on March 17, you might think that that would merit condemnation from JFNA. Nope.

3. The following appeared on a major Federation website (I have omitted that community's name):
"Twenty+ Exciting Prototypes Emerge from Innovation Platform
We had a terrific two days with the Innovation Platform last week, resulting in over 20 exciting prototypes and great insight about leverage points for innovation. This followed the very important work of the (community)  platform the week before laying out a vision, framework for action and key elements of strategy for Jewish (community) going forward. The group zeroed in on what the Jewish community needs most, and determined how innovation can deliver meaningful change. Specifically, they asked, how can we stimulate authentic collaborations that will benefit the entire community; how can we distribute resources more broadly across the community?
A prototype is a tangible expression of an idea. The purpose of prototyping is to allow the Front Porch to explore our future by testing ideas that align with our biggest community goals, then putting them into action on a small scale. Another way to think about it is that a prototype is like a “landing strip” for an idea. Some prototypes will take off, others will fizzle, but our goal is to learn by experimenting. The Front Porch Prototype Boot Camp, a session in which teams will work together to map out potential ideas, and plan their launch and roll out,.."
If any of you can decipher the meaning of all this, please explain it to me. I have intuited that this was written by intelligent people. Don't ask me how. It seems like a long and complicated route to the emergence of new ideas.

I am reminded by this of an old non-PC joke. Helen Keller is invited to a seder. During the readings the hostess sees Ms. Keller vigorously rubbing a piece of matzah with a deepening frown on her face. The hostess finally asks: "Helen, is there something wrong?" And Keller responded, holding up the matzah: "Who writes this crap?"

4. And, then there was that "Gala" at Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago convened by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews at the end of March to celebrate...well, to celebrate Founder Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein and his achievements in leadership of the IFCJ. We had written of Eckstein's evident hope that the President would attend the "Together in Fellowship" thing, or, that at least Eckstein could bring his greetings to the President personally and directly. It wasn't to be, As reported in JNS ("At Mar-a-Lago, Christians and Jews celebrate Israel, unity and a strong partnership"), Trump "had to depart" for Washington but left behind a video (the story and the video can be found at: ) where he appeared in a white golf cap ("USA") and an open collar golf shirt; apparently right off a Trump golf course. I'm not really certain after viewing the video that the President knew the organization he was addressing. I'll leave it to you to judge: here is a portion of Trump's remarks:
"It’s a great honor to have everybody at Mar-a-Lago, a special place for a special group of people,” Trump told the gathering in a video message recorded shortly before the gala. The president left his weekend retreat several hours before the start of the event to head back to Washington, D.C. “I wanted to be there so badly. I had to leave—we have some pretty big things going on with our country, but our country is doing really well. Your taxes are down, your regulations are down, a lot of good things are happening, we’re appointing a lot of fantastic federal judges, and I think you are all very happy with the results. So I’ll see you next time. I hope you have a fantastic evening.”
Then, I will leave it to you to judge whether, at the end of the day, retaining Mar-a-Lago at great, great cost compared to other venues was worth the "investment" even as a "strategic decision." (BTW, it didn't appear that President Trump mentioned Rabbi Eckstein by name in his brief remarks. Wait 'Til Next Year.)

5. Pesach must be thought to be a high point on the annual Calendar for Jewish organizations (and HIAS) to engage in an orgy of Direct Mail solicitations. (I have expressed on these pages that Direct Mail is not going to raise most organizations a significant amount, but so what, the assault continues.) In any event one of the solicitations I received (from an organization which I won't support) tried to personalize its message. The envelope was well-addressed, but the solicitation letter started "Dear Ronit."

OK then.


Saturday, April 14, 2018


One of you, a perceptive leader, recently wrote anonymously (of course) about JFNA:

"Why do the big federations and their leadership allow this waste of money to persist? 

Don't they know that the national organization is what the new millennial donors will see and become disaffected to supporting Federations?
 The catchwords today...transparency, accountability and effectiveness." (emphasis added)
If an organization's "transparency, accountability and effectiveness" are the measures of an organization's relevance -- and I would agree that they are among the most critical measures along with values and purpose -- how would you measure JFNA by those few criteria?"

I agree with the Commentator -- measure JFNA by its "transparency, accountability and effectiveness," and I wager that anyone and everyone would agree that JFNA fails in every...each and every...area. 

  • Transparency? You have to be kidding. One only has to recall that upon my inquiry (which I renew right here, right now) as to the parties to what has proved to be a multi-year, multi-million dollar pass through "consultancy," I was told "it's confidential and none of your business." In response to a further inquiry as to the terms of JFNA's then 22 (probably more today) consultant contracts, I was told "it's confidential and none of your business." Or you can look at JFNA's Budget, overseen by Budget Chair, Jodi Schwartz, New York-UJA's long-term lay leader, of whom more responsibility and transparency might have been expected, which Silverman treats like an ATM to redirect funds willy-nilly with neither oversight nor accountability;
  • Speaking of Accountability -- there is none. The best/worst proof? Jerry is still on the job. It does not appear to the naked eye that any...any...JFNA program is ever reviewed, that any professional effort is ever measured for its value to the federations, for meeting its intended results. Thus, no goals are ever set for JFNA's FRD, because, then someone might more readily evaluate success or failure. And, where accountability has been promised...never happens;
  • And, then there is Effectiveness. At JFNA, where is effectiveness. JFNA-Washington, sure; elsewhere, nothing. JFNA-Israel, to every Federation professional with whom I have spoken, the Israel outpost is, as several put it, "a joke." FRD? Not a single Special fundraising effort (we used to call them "campaigns" but, no longer), not a single Mailbox has achieved its goals in the past 15 years, so the results are buried. JFNA has become nothing more, really, than an "allocator" in an age when more and more and more federations believe that they can do a better job of allocating.
Friends, failure at 25 Broadway is writ large.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018


These are the worst of times for JFNA, the continental organization that was created to reflect the strength of the federation Movement but has been driven to reflect only the failures of its institutional leadership. If, as Jimmy Collins, once our guru of Good to Great, has written, "Good is the evil of great," how evil is mediocrity, how evil is constant failure?

I have always decried on these pages JFNA leaders, lay and professional, who have walked back the organization they were supposed to lead...walked it back and away from its historic role leading collective responsibility, These leaders have walked it back in the ridiculous, wasteful and so expensive Global Planning Table which made no effort -- none -- to steward systemic collective response, planning, if it could be called that, for "coalitions of the willing" to support its Signature Initiatives, which themselves failed; walked away from successful collective response by reducing critical needs to Mailboxes, serving only in the role as an "allocator." 

In every Facebook office there are signs: "Move Fast and Break Things." At JFNA, were there signs at all, they would read: "Don't Move At All and don't break anything." As Winston Churchill described some British leaders as "Sheep in sheep's clothing," that would be the perfect description of JFNA's leaders who have proved best at fiddling while the system burns.

How can one not look at JFNA and not see that that/or bloated non-entity conjures up the image of what a whale committing suicide must look like. But this is the post-shame JFNA, the model for anarchic governance.

Where are the lay and professional leaders to remind us that we are better together than we ever are alone? We used to fight to stay true to our institutional values: we could state them and then we could set forth the steps to "stay true." Today we have had a succession of leaders who can't articulate what values drive the institution they purportedly lead. As a Chicago Sun-Times columnist recently observed: "You can't teach failing at failing. You either have the gift or you don't." At JFNA these leaders have this "gift" in over-abundance.

One "gift" the JFNA laity don't possess is the fiduciary obligation of accountability. Accountability isn't demanded of the CEO, it isn't even demanded of themselves. We knew, because he gave speeches about it, that Sandler would delegate away his fiduciary obligations to Jerry Silverman ignoring for all time that Jerry could not execute. Richard busied himself with sending out Memos over his name, decrying criticism as challenging his integrity, and giving voice to beautiful thoughts on NextGen, the future of Diaspora Jewry and the like. 

In their spare time I'd suggest to every Board member, every senior professional, a thorough immersion in Jimmy Collins. 


Sunday, April 8, 2018


One of you, anonymously of course, clearly much smarter than I, recently commented on my Post decrying the JFNA murder of the National Agencies/Jewish Federations Alliance, as follows:

"Ah...another lament for the end of something that wasn't working anymore for anyone. Please stop measuring success as the funding of things that "used to be oh so great." (Similarly, please stop judging the system by how much money JAFI and JDC and ORT get.) JFNA does need to figure out what Federations can/should/are willing to do together -- and it's done a lousy job of that, but ending the Alliance was a necessary thing to do because times have changed. So many things that you, Richard, count as major JFNA failings would have died no matter the national structure (merger or no merger) because Federations, communities and the giving landscape are so different now. The question to tackle is -- what can and should be done collectively now given today's realities?"
This was certainly fair commentary even as it excuses all -- that's all -- of JFNA's failures over its existence and then suggests that it's up to JFNA " figure out what Federations can/should/are willing to do." Up to JFNA -- really? This formulation reminds me of the story of the child who murders his parents and then asks for mercy as the murderer is now an orphan. 

"Times have changed" is an unassailable fact but that fact is not an excuse for doing absolutely nothing but sitting back, sighing and, well...doing nothing. No advocacy for the federations, no firing up the troops, no passion, no purpose. One of you recently challenged my readers to identify a single JFNA accomplishment over Jerry's 9 years of work. Other than the work of JFNA-Washington I have heard none...none loud and clear. 

Was the National Agencies Alliance "not working?" Probably, but that failure was not the fault of the National Agencies, that was clearly the fault of the Federation members of the Alliance who failed in their responsibilities, and the fault of JFNA leaders who not only did nothing to support the Alliance, they looked the other way as Jerry drew down over $1 million in funds belonging to the Agencies and already allocated to them.

And, have I been guilty of "judging the system by how much money" the overseas partners have received -- an amount in the aggregate that has reached record lows in each and every year of Silverman's tenure. What I have done is measure JFNA's commitment to its core purposes -- among them marshalling the system's commitment to collective responsibility -- by this collapse of the overseas core allocations.

My Anonymous friend opined that many, if not all, of these commitments would have collapsed no matter what JFNA would have done. One thing I am certain of is that none of us can know what the outcomes would have been had JFNA met its responsibilities because JFNA has done nothing to influence those outcomes in a positive way. 

Perhaps, one of you said it best in responding to the above critique:
"Times are indeed changing and things are getting worse and worse. The problem is that nobody is doing anything about it. 
If indeed what is happening would have happened anyway what does that tell us about the obscene waste of hundreds of millions of dollars to fund an organization that is supposed to be doing something about it?
We are wasting so much of our valuable resources, yet Federations get no value at all. With no leadership, no accountability and no supervision or oversight, our presence in Israel does more damage than good while wasting still more millions of Dollars under more than a decade of Becky Caspi's decadent regime.
The whole thing is a total mess and current leadership will go down in history as being responsible for the death of our collective Jewish organizational life. 
Does anybody care?"
We are in the midst of systemic failure while JFNA Jerry continues to be distracted by the next shiny object he may see...or thinks he sees.

And, as always, the seminal question: DOES ANYBODY CARE?


Thursday, April 5, 2018


Friends, what do you think of this?

Richard Sandler appointed a fellow Angeleno, Sharon Janks, as Chair of the Nominating Committee* that will, among other offices, nominate Sandler's successor. Sharon is a strong appointment, a person of demonstrated integrity; so you won't be surprised that Sandler appointed the following to the Nominating Committee (maybe to assure that Janks doesn't "go rogue?):"

  • Michael Gelman, a past Chair of the Executive
  • Dede Feinberg, likewise
  • Kathy Manning, Past Board Chair
  • Michael Siegal, likewise
No doubt Sandler himself serves ex officio as well. That officio gang of four with Sandler led JFNA to exactly the desperate place it is in today through commission and omission, nonfeasance and malfeasance. They should not be permitted to serve on this Nominating Committee but, inasmuch as they have already been named, they should be ignored.

So, Sharon, be strong. Remember, as Malcolm Muggeridge once wrote: "...only dead fish swim with the stream;" the last thing JFNA needs in its ultimate leadership positions is another "dead fish."

It should be remembered that many of these leaders served on the Search Committee that foisted Jerry Silverman on JFNA. One would have thought that embarrassment alone from this horrific mistake would have caused those involved to slink away offering their apologies. But, no.

There are other members of the Committee worthy of respect -- I fear that they will be overwhelmed by the very people who ignored their leadership obligations, their fiduciary duties in either pursuit of their own goals (Manning and Gelman) or through a refusal to lead (Siegal, Feinberg and Sandler) leaving Silverman to vividly demonstrate his inability to do so time and time again. As a system, we cannot abide another set of JFNA leaders who have already demonstrated that they live in denial of objective reality. I fear that's what we will get.

Friends, this process is an opportunity to begin the process that could lead to real change at JFNA. Change will only happen if the incoming Board Chair understands where JFNA is today. 

Ya' think that's going to be allowed to happen?


* Loyal readers will want to know that, yes, add Sharon Janks to the ranks of those at JFNA who have a Chair -- as in "From the Desk of..."

Monday, April 2, 2018


I have the sense that JFNA's Board Chair, Richard Sandler, now in the last months of his terms, looked around and suddenly realized that over those three years JFNA had, at best, accomplished nothing and, at worst, just circled the drain. So, Richard decided to use his bully pulpit (which has remained almost totally vacant) to promote what he believes is some kind of new initiative. In an article in ejewishphilanthropy, Richard laid it out: JFNA's Deep Dive Into Next Gen Jewish Engagement. You can find the entire piece here: It's silly. Old wine in another new bottle.

Some have already described this effort as deja vu all over again...but it's worse than that. 

JFNA needs a signature accomplishment; Sandler wants the one accomplishment that might distinguish (rescue?) his Chairmanship years. If only. Perhaps Richard (and the granting Jim Joseph Foundation) is unaware of Jerry Silverman's incredibly wasteful "investment" in one TribeFest after another as his signature initiative year-after-year -- it was only after wasting hundreds of thousands of the system's precious resources on this frolic that someone (the LCE, perhaps) demanded that these "Fests" come to an end. Designed to attract and engage the Next Gen, they didn't attract flies let alone future leaders.

Maybe Sandler finally realizes that for the last two years five months he has delegated away his leadership responsibilities down the ultimate black hole -- down to a professional void; to a place where, other than in D.C., nothing is happening. Yeah, maybe Sandler has come to realize this...nah, he doesn't. And, other than on these pages, it appears that nobody is going to tell him. Apparently it wouldn't be a good thing for the person who might tell him doing so.

If any grants-maker thinks that JFNA has the ability to direct the system's engagement with the next leadership generation, they must have forgotten or be unaware (as Richard Sandler apparently is) that Silverman led the organization through those Three Festivi. These total failures to connect the system with the Next Gen reminded me of that scene from the movie Animal House -- you'll remember -- where the boys of Delta House explode the City's parade and one of those fraternity boys (Doug Kenny, z'l), knocks the marching band's drum major out of the parade, grabs the huge baton and takes over the leadership and marches the entire band into a dead end alley up against a wall. Welcome to the precursor to Silverman's TribeFest -- all three of them. 

Bottom line, for the 6 years since the burial of the last Fest, JFNA convinced itself that the Young Leadership Cabinets were the Next Gen. And, now...this.

And, I don't know, but the organization introduced a Next Gen cohort of young professional leaders -- 14 wonderful future CEOs should they pursue that path...14 terrific women. Was this the plan; or is this our system today? There used to be valid criticism as our system seemed to ignore the best and brightest women professionals in our midst. Not one man today?

I think all of us, other than Richard Sandler, know what happens when one takes a deep dive into a shallow pool. #SAD.


Friday, March 30, 2018


There are times when I marvel at the genius of our organizations -- local, continental and international. An announcement in a recent transmittal -- an Update -- from the Jewish Agency for Israel raised some serious, maybe even existential, matters for me.

The announcement of a new JAFI Campaign Chair, succeeding our friend Richie Pearlstone, raised serious questions in my mind -- certainly not in JAFI's, but so be it. Let me be clear, I'm certain that the new Campaign Chair is a wonderful leader, probably inspirational and, certainly, committed. But that alone doesn't trump the serious questions:

  • Can a leader be separated from the comunity from which he/she comes? The question arose when I read the bio of the new JAFI Campaign Chair who comes from a federation, one of which she is a Past Chair, whose allocation to the Jewish Agency is almost non-existent...according to its last 990 of record, almost nothing at all. In each leadership role I was privileged to play in organized Jewish life, I always felt that I was serving because of my community. Clearly that's not the case today; but, should it be?
  • This is not the first time I have raised this question. Back in our respective youths, a dear friend, a terrific communal, national and international leader, called me to tell me how thrilled he was to have been named the "Allocations Advocacy Chair" for UIA. After congratulating him, I told him the truth from my perspective: UIA could not have named a better leader or a more articulate spokesperson. Then came the "but..." "But, you come from a community that is reducing its allocations to JAFI and JDC by 20% a year. How are you going to respond if you come to Chicago or Miami or Baltimore and are asked 'what is your federation doing with allocations?'"
  • And, then, there was another communal leader, a great, dedicated philanthropist who called to ask me what I thought. He had been asked to Chair the infamous JFNA Overseas Needs and Assessment process back in the day. He would have been brilliant at the job. Then came the "but." "But, as we discussed at the last GA, your federation is over $1 million in arrears in the payment of its allocations. It just doesn't compute." He thanked me with a "I thought that's what you might say."
In my communal leadership career, I was so fortunate. I came from Chicago. I learned the values of and from my community. I tried my damnedest to pass them on. At times and in some places, I succeeded; in other times, in other places, I failed...but never from a lack of trying or caring.

I have suggested to JFNA that its "Envoys" be challenged to advocate for increased allocations for Overseas needs in their own communities. (Inasmuch as no community to my knowledge is allocating more to meet the core budgets of our partners today than the communities allocated 5 years ago, it strikes me as having "potential.") I would wager that my suggestion, as with most (all?), made a quick detour to the wastebasket.

I wish JAFI's new Campaign Chair great success.


Tuesday, March 27, 2018


In the course of one of our discussions on these pages, I was asked if there was a framing statement of Mission for what was to become the Jewish Federations of North America at the time of its creation. Here it is:

"Jewish federations across North America commit themselves to the renaissance of the Jewish people in North America, in Israel, and throughout the world. Thus, we articulate, in word and deed, the mission of this new entity to: Utilize our financial and human resources to improve the quality of Jewish life worldwide--honoring the covenant that 'All Jews are Responsible One for the Other,' and that only through unified action can we solve our community's most pressing problems; Nurture vital experiences of Jewish life and learning in North America to create a compelling culture of shared meaning, shared responsibility, and shared values as Klal Yisrael, one people in all its diversity, with a shared commitment to its future; join in partnership with our fellow Jews in Israel in building unity and mutual respect and solidifying Israel's central role in our Jewish identity and future; Inspire Jews to fulfill the mitzvah of Tzedakah, securing the financial and human resources necessary to achieve our mission of caring for those in need, rescuing Jews in danger, and ensuring the continuity of our people; provide the strategic resources, assistance, and direction to help local federations fulfill their individual, regional, and collective responsibilities of Tikkun Olam, community building and Jewish renaissance; and Involve more of our fellow Jews in the work of our community and provide opportunities for a new generation of leaders to continue our sacred work of caring for one another."
I think it is a pretty safe bet that the current leaders -- lay and professional alike -- have no idea this Mission ever existed; it is even a safer bet that if they did know of it they have discarded it, ignored it, disregarded it.

I was so proud to be part of the process, the discussion, that led to this Mission statement that framed the merger. I was so proud that the "system" then -- lay leaders of the United Jewish Appeal and the federations --- sat together and committed to a Mission of such breadth and depth.

As proud as I was then, I am now filled with disgust at the manner in which the current iteration of the Continental organization bears no resemblance to what had been intended for it. 

We are all responsible, each of us to the other for what might have been....and for what is.