Sunday, December 4, 2016

UNRELATED OBSERVATIONS

1. JFNA is victimized at all times by the "Law of Unintended Consequences." The latest example arose out of the "secret" JFNA Board Meeting convened on October 26, which was to "...center on a proposed adjustment to JFNA's historic policy which prohibits mission travel to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority." Well, as became clear from the JFNA Resolution presented to and approved by the "Voting Members" of the Board, sometime between the call of the meeting and the conference call meeting itself, some/many(?) leaders intervened and the watered down result was that all that was approved was that travel of Missions of the Israel Action Network, not community Missions and not JFNA Missions, would be "permitted" to visit not just "Ariel or Gush Etzion, etc." as promised in the call of the meeting by Jerry Silverman, but, specifically, to Ramallah to meet with officials of the PLO, Fatah and whomever else.

Ignoring the JFNA Resolution itself, or unaware of it, Morton Klein the Zionist Organization of America issued a Press Release -- "ZOA Praises Jewish Federations For Lifting Ban On Contacts with Jewish Communities in Judea/Samaria." So, it came to pass that Mort  Klein "praised" JFNA for that which it hadn't, in fact, done.

Maybe next time...maybe not.

2. Birthright Israel, at one time one of the most cutting-edge of organizations, first announced, kind of sub rosa, that its wonderful chief professional officer, David Fisher, was leaving the position after literally turning the organization around. Then, confounding all speculation, the Birthright leadership announced that David would be succeeded by Israel Tapoohi, at one time the CEO of the Development Corporation for Israel/Israel Bonds. Izzie has a great set of leadership experiences, but...really...is an organization dedicated to bringing the Jewish youth of the World to Israel best served by a 70 year old? Far be it for me, age 75, to be an ageist, but...huh? Who engineered this thing? And, why? 

3. Is it possible that an organization can have no working relationship with the truth? Well, check out JFNA. Not too long ago, you remember, and, if not, see 1. above, it called a secret Board meeting for the express purpose of determining if a long-standing "policy" precluding Missions beyond the Green Line should be overturned; and, then. adopted a resolution permitting the Israel Action Network to visit Ramallah. (One humorous side affect, the ZOA's Mort Klein published a broadside congratulating JFNA for doing what it hadn't done!!) This followed JFNA (a) claiming a $1 million conduit contract was confidential and (b) claiming a Board member could not review that or other consultant contracts -- all "confidential" you see. As the respected commentator Bill Moyers has said: “Secrecy is the freedom zealots dream of: no watchman to check the door, no accountant to check the books, no judge to check the law. The secret government has no constitution. The rules it follows are the rules it makes up.”  Others have noted that "secrecy" and "lying" are the same side of the coin. 

4. Then, in a description of its Israeli "partners" efforts in assisting displaced and damaged Israelis in the midst and the wake of the forest fires, created partner equivalence among JAFI, JDC and the Israel Trauma Coalition. You might ask "the Israeli Trauma Coalition?"* Huh? Now, the ITC does great work but where was some action taken by the JFNA Board that cloaked the ITC with a partnership equivalency to JAFI and JDC? I recall, as some of you might,  that a few years ago the Jewish Agency entered into an agreement with the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews that would have placed the IFCJ, the largest single annual contributor to JAFI (other than the federations) "on the JAFI letterhead" creating a sense of equivalency for the Eckstein organization with the Federation system and Keren Ha'Yesod. Back then, the hue and cry from the federations (you might guess just which) put the kibosh on that deal and that blackball became the proximate cause for the IFCJ walking away from and going into competition with the Jewish Agency. Now, the federations name the ITC a "partner." Explain this to us, please; if you can.

JFNA's Three Card Monte.

Rwexler

* The ITC became a favored agency of JFNA because the New York UJA-Federation demanded it, pure and simple, at the time that New UJA was cutting back its funding..

Thursday, December 1, 2016

TRANSITIONS

1. When in doubt...Parachute?  A parachute normally serves as an emergency de3vice as all of us know. So, too, in Jewish organizational life -- as in "Jim Tisch was parachuted in as the Jewish Agency Board Chair." Now, that happened years ago, and, perhaps, even served that organization well. No waves made and all of that. Now, and once again, JAFI appears to be headed toward another "aviation experience." As I understand it, after two very experienced and respected North American lay leaders tuned down the JAFI Board Chairmanship, leadership has turned to the affable Michael Siegal, with almost no hands-on work at JAFI beyond is Chair of JAFI's Legislative Affairs, a post to which he has recently assumed, to pull his parachute cord and jump in to the most complex organization in the Jewish World.

Michael has some great gifts -- an incredible philanthropy, a person of great good will, a friendship with Bibi and a willingness to take on/jump into  leadership roles when prevailed upon as evidenced by his past Chairmanship of Israel Bonds and, then, JFNA. It was wholly appropriate that Michael was named a "2016 Difference Maker" in Cleveland. Of course there is that one negative -- his chairmanship of JFNA -- three years of organizational drift and malaise and worse. There is no doubt that Michael will do his best and that coming from Cleveland he will have the benefit of the constant advice and direction from that Federation's CEO, Steve Hoffman, who has been more or less (and probably even more) directing/dictating the positions of American Jewry within JAFI for...well, for a long time. But is this the way our organizational leadership should be chosen -- no succession plans, no in depth involvement? 

We wish Michael well, every success, G-dspeed, just as we did on his election as JFNA Chair.

2. Ethiopian Aliyah. We all remember with pride those incredible chapters in Modern Jewish History when World Jewry took responsibility for aliyah. Nowadays...not so much. Recently, as we've written on these pages, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews began its own aliyah operation, apparently out of the personal pique of its Chair, Yechiel Eckstein, who, for reasons known only to him, has turned his great financial support for JAFI into what appears to be a scorched earth policy. Then we read of the work of the ICEJ (not to be confused with  Eckstein's IFCJ) has stepped up its own immigration work. As reported in The Jerusalem Post:
"The ICEJ, which belongs to the evangelical denomination of Christianity, said it had handed over $500,000 to Keren Hayesod to cover the cost of flights for 523 Ethiopian Jews, as well as to sponsor flights for another 104 Jewish immigrants due to make aliya soon from France and the Ukraine." 
The difference -- the ICEJ effort funds Aliyah through JAFI not in competition with it; just as Eckstein once did. But, World Jewry's role: we accept the money offered by the ICEJ and pass it on to JAFI.  The ICEJ funding has enable 120,000 Jews to make aliyah though JAFI. World Jewry's funding of JAFI's work, of JDC's work, of World ORT's work has fallen through the floor breaking all records for futility.

Yep, let's leave it to the Evangelicals. Let's leave it to others.

3. The Israel Action Network. Since its creation in 2010 as a kind of "joint venture" of JFNA and JCPA, the annually underfunded Israel Action Network has done some very good things with a small staff, a terrific lay Chair* and, apparently, no Board whatsoever. Given the Missions the IAN runs, which often require visits to areas of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinians, and visits with Palestinian leadership, and its important activities, one might question why the IAN isn't spun off to its independence with minimum long-term funding guaranteed? The IAN's actions are often political, no one would argue that, just look at its website ("IAN Presented by JFNA..." Jeeez). Having a Board might be good -- adding lay support to Chair David Sherman's efforts, and now those of his successor, Skip Schrayer; continued "ownership" by JFNA may not be good for either entity. 

But, to JFNA it's all about (1) control and (2) out of that control the ability to bask in light of the accomplishments of IAN as if those were JFNA's own. 

Because, remember JFNA has no accomplishments of its own.

Rwexler

* As at November 10, Chicago's Skip Schrayer succeeded Chicago's David Sherman.

Monday, November 28, 2016

JFNA FIDDLES WHILE ISRAEL BURNS

You, as I, have read in the past days of the horrific outbreak of literally hundreds of forest fires in Israel, destroying not alone 1000's of acres of forest lands, but the homes and workplaces of so many of our families; 60,000 Israelis have taken flight according to the report in The Times of Israel on our Thanksgiving Day. 60,000 Israelis: the equivalent of 2,400,000 Americans fleeing the most catastrophic forest fires, many apparently are the scourge of arsonists/terrorists, ever eager to strike Israel. 

It seems fair to ask whether there are still millions left in the JFNA Victims of Terror Fund created out of the donations to federations in the last Special Campaigns. If there are millions unspent, and inasmuch as terrorists appear to have set many of these fires, then those funds should be immediately allocated to the victims of this eco-terrorism. The Times of Israel has reported that countries unfriendly to Israel -- among them Russia and Turkey,  -- and those among Israel's friends -- France, Egypt and Jordan -- have sent physical assistance -- firefighting equipment and personnel, among other things -- to Israel. A private U.S. company dispatched a 747 Supertanker to aid in fighting these fires. Even the PA assisted. The New York Times reported that while the fires burned, Israel was asking for more assistance. www.nytimes.com/2016/11/24/world/middleeast/israel-fires.html  But our Continental organization appeared to be...well, fiddling. 

Now it appears that the major fires may have been contained, but the devastation left behind represents a continuing tragedy for Israel's citizens; for our extended mishpacha. As the Prime Minister explained to Israel's citizens, the fires will not "...be out today; and not tomorrow." And, as always, JFNA under what passes for its "leadership" remains more cautious than it has been for domestic weather emergencies. We all know what UJA would have done under these dire circumstances, don't we? It would have reached for a playbook, it would have mobilized and it would have acted.  JFNA opened a Mailbox five days after the fire began.** https://fedweb.fedwebpreview.org/emergency-funds/israel-fire-emergency-fund

Was 25 Broadway waiting for an on the scene report from its bloated Israel Office? Has 25 Broadway recruited and mobilized a lay-led Solidarity Mission? Is JFNA demanding, at this time of Draconian declining core allocations -- reaching the lowest levels in history -- that JAFI and JDC reallocate resources to meet these emergency needs? Maybe someday we will  find out. Or is 25 Broadway waiting, waiting, waiting, for some form of green light from its largest Dues payers? JFNA opened a Mailbox and published a report from David Brown, Chair, Israel and Overseas, restating what others were/are doing.*

But, really, there is nothing that explains the delay in doing something beyond another Mailbox...nothing.

One day after this destruction began, the JNF announced a Special Campaign offering a dollar for dollar match. And JFNA you ask? It was able to rouse itself to do what it always does...JFNA opened a Mailbox

We hang our heads in shame.

Rwexler

* The Chicago Federation has already advanced $500,000 to JFNA "...for immediate distribution to JAFI and JDC." No doubt many, many federations are doing their share. NB, were Chicago's $500,000 part of a fair share effort, of which Chicago's share would be about $500,000, that would yield a national total of $5 million -- but that goal would be (a) non-binding and (b) require a real campaign leadership effort from JFNA. The evidence suggests that most communities will be seeking contributions rather than advancing funds.

** ...and a Web Page

Friday, November 25, 2016

IN ALL THINGS, A SHAMEFUL SILENCE

Not to mix metaphors or anything, can an organization with its head in the sand also be afraid of its own shadow? For JFNA the answer is a clear..."sure." 

This is not a plea for JFNA to speak out about a politician or a President-elect's Senior Strategist, etc. We will leave it to others to do that. This is a plea that JFNA stand for something on issues of the greatest importance to us, our communities, our values. 

I'm proud of my own federation whose Board Chair and CEO/President issued a call against hatred just days ago:
"As Jews, we take seriously our responsibility to speak out against hatred, not only because the security of our own community is intertwined with that of other minority communities, but also because our moral values, as Jews and as Americans, demand it,”
And, one day later the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago issued A Statement: We Condemn White Nationalist Rhetoric.  And JFNA, my friends? It can't even bring itself to condemn hate speech...silence.

Another federation, which shall remain unnamed as it goes through a thoughtful and purpose-driven process, has articulated a basic principle. Its CEO wrote communal leadership and included the following:
"Here’s the most important thing I want to reiterate: we’re a divided community. If we write off significant numbers of our community and alienate them without discussion and without inclusive dialogue we don’t get to call ourselves pluralistic, diverse and tolerant. Does that mean we never make statements on things that matter? No. It means that we’re respectful, careful, and mindful of the impact of what we say.  And before we make those statements we remember their impact, and we talk with those who disagree with us."
All organizations should surely have a process with which to engage on issues impacting on Jewish, on communal values...and having followed that process, "...make statements on things that matter" as an expression of inclusion, as an expression of our values. At JFNA, we debate the words in a letter, otherwise...silence.

Many federations and federation leaders have spoken publicly and in a wholly civil manner against bigotry, bias and hatred passing for "political speech" today. But, JFNA being JFNA...silence. 

This is not to suggest that our institutions express a constant outrage but to urge that they do so at those matters that demean Jewish values and the things we value as a Jewish polity. 


The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum did not remain silent.Museum statement called on all Americans “to confront racist thinking and divisive hateful speech,” reminding all of us of an undeniable truth — “[T]he Holocaust did not begin with killing; it began with words.” But, from JFNA...silence.


I don't know about you, but I expect my/our organization to not rely upon others to speak on my/our behalf. When the New York Times reports that at an “alt-right”  Washington rally held in a government building on November 18, the crowd screamed “Heil…Victory” amid Nazi salutes and cries of "Sieg Heil," don't we have an expectation that our organization will say "this is intolerable." and speak out against hate, not expect others to do so on their behalf? But, from JFNA, our JFNA...silence.


Friends, opposition to hatred and bigotry isn't a matter of controversy...except, apparently, at JFNA. I expect JFNA TO SPEAK FOR US...US...when hatred and bigotry raise their ugliness in the public space. 


There is no explaining this silence at this time...at any time...when our values are threatened, when they are under attack. No explanation at all. How can we take pride in an organization that believes it's best to sit on the sidelines when action is needed.
 


Rwexler


P.S. This Post is neither intended to encourage JFNA to issue statements condemning individuals where inappropriate nor to refrain from doing so where appropriate. In that light, I never read the JTA piece attributed to JFNA a quote which allegedly "attacked" Bannon; I did read the "retraction" wherein JFNA threw an unnamed "consultant" under the bus for speaking where unauthorized to do so.


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Friends, the system that brought so many of us into leadership roles is in, at best, disarray, and, at worst, its death throes. As Gertrude Stein would have repeated, "there is no there there" anymore; just look around. Blame can be cast in so many different directions, but I'll start where I always do.

A Commentator with real insight and experience wrote:

"I do believe in the past JFNA and it's predecessor organizations did a positive job of identifying and placing talent at all levels of federations. The old adage "you have to move to move up." People were being recruited and wooed to other communities. FEREP (graduates) were a "big deal."


All of that changed when you have people in charge (Jerry and Deborah Smith -- that is her name?) who have, as you point out, no Federation history or understanding. The most successful federations have 'insiders and lifers' (some albeit too comfortable and too long in their roles) running the operation -- while those suffering (you mentioned two above) bring people with mainly outside experience.


I believe that the Mandel Center professionals and communities got blinded by the idea that we need outsiders to 'fix' our issues. And the Mandel Center even encouraged it.


I know of 2 cases where solid pros went through search processes and lost out to 'outsiders.' In each case the Mandel Center people told these individuals (highly successful in their long-term Federation work) that maybe they should leave the field for a few years and come back with outside experience. That says it all.


Finally, people always question who the customer was for the Mandel Center -- the community Federation looking to hire a person or the individuals searching for opportunities. They wanted to do both -- but you cannot. And thus the Mandel Center was just happy to fill the position no matter what happened to that person placed (yep, check that one off the list) and at the same time always told people we are here to advance your career. Too many good pros are now gone."
A friend wrote to tell me, in pertinent part: "More to the point, even if it weren’t true originally, Mandel became a placement service for the execs. Represented their interests, not those of the federations.  Period, end of sentence."  JFNA has now dropped out of the search field entirely (didn't want to pay for Mandel's work; not because Mandel had proved to be  inadequate), much attention is being paid to the embryonic  LeadingEdge, the creative creation of major foundations, and its so-called "CEO on-boarding." But, LeadingEdge CEO, Gali Cooks, who may be (and probably is) brilliant, has vast experience but not a moment spent in a federation work environment. You can go to the LeadingEdge website -- http://leadingedge.org -- and examine its professional  its leadership, almost none of whom with significant federation background or experience, and ask how can this become anything more than the blind once again leading the blind (one merely need note that Silverman serves on its "Advisory Board").*

A superb comprehensive and daunting article was shared with me by a great professional leader: "In Search of a New Generation of Jewish Leaders" in Hadassah Magazine. You should read it in full at http://www.hadassahmagazine.org/2016/09/28/search-new-generation-jewish-leaders/.  The author, Uriel Hellman, offered us an array of the options and opinions of that "new generation," some of which are astounding. The first, a young woman who was inspired to follow her dream when as a college student she interacted with Kathy Manning. Now, at 32, a senior professional at Hillel International, she concluded: “Most Hillel directors 10 years ago were rabbis and men and older. Now we have people leading who are women, openly gay, not Jewish, have disabilities, millennials.” And, I would agree that some those of those characteristics -- women, gay, disabled, millennials -- are great. But, in the words of our President: "C'mon man."

Hellman offers some sobering statistics and conclusions but no real explanation of why, as our Anonymous Commentator above has concluded, the federation system itself has, through its agents at JFNA and the federations themselves, discouraged so many of its best and brightest one the past decade, from their aspirations to move up the organizational charts and even aspire to communal and organizational leadership. And my finger points, as it often does, at those who have taken on the role of stewards of our communal values. And you know who you are.

You are the ones who sat idly by while a single lay leader mustered overwhelming support for Jerry Silverman's -- he so ill-equipped then and now for the position -- hiring as JFNA CEO. You are the ones who have watched in silence (except amongst yourselves) while community after community in their CEO searches have turned away from the best and brightest our system has produced to outsiders not even understanding that they themselves, all of whom came from inside the system, would not themselves have been hired today. While JFNA's selected Search firm, instead of offering the system's values -- values they never bothered to understand -- for those seeking to become CEOs of our communities turned the communities away from the system's best to outsiders, so many of whom, absent any and all support from JFNA, failed and failed quickly...and will continue to do so.

Because no one is talking about what has happened, one can only intuit the following: After the wrong-headed dictation of Silverman as CEO, the well-paid elusive Deborah K. Smith and her ilk at Mandel, none of whom had spent a day working inside a Jewish Federation, decided that the crumbling system would be best-served by ignoring (see the quote with which I opened this piece) the best and brightest of the next wave of federation professionals (or in the main, experienced federation lay leaders aspiring to "turn pro"). In addition, if a federation Search Committee actually stated they wished to "go outside the system" that's all Mandel needed to hear; if the federation didn't go in that direction, they were often steered there. I know of at least four instances where great federation pros were told "you need not apply; you won't be considered." The deconstruction of the federation professional cadre was underway.

I was reminded in all of this of a quote from the late, brilliant Chicago newspaper columnist Mike Royko:
Mike Royko, jokingly suggesting the city motto be changed from "Urbs in horto" -- ("city in a garden") To:`Ubi Est Mea' -- `where's mine?'
Yep, these leaders got "theirs" and almost none of them has actively intervened to assure that trained professionals now "get theirs." The system is dying and it is an entire generation of CEOs, through their ambivalence, their lack of interest, their federation brand of introversion, who are performing the last rites. If they had any shame they would be ashamed, but they have none. Meanwhile four great professionals, leaders of their national organization, JPro, have begun to rally fellow professionals to join in a community of interest building on their call, their cri de coeur for their profession in ejewishphilanthropy

There was a time, now pretty long ago, when a lay leader was in the running to be the first CEO of JFNA. A supporter, a major federation lay leader himself, asked Steve Hoffman, even back then the Cleveland Federation CEO, whether he might support this lay candidate. Hoffman's response: "I like _______ but it  will be over my dead body when anyone other than a Federation CEO gets that position." 

I guess that Steve died 7 years ago.

Rwexler

* It should be noted that Ted Farber, served as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, for a long time until he was succeeded by Dr. Misha Galperin. Ted serves a consultant to Leading Edge through his firm. You may judge Ted's effectiveness as a Federation CEO on your own; someday we will be able to judge his work for LeadingEdge when we know what it is/was. I do know this: certainly Farber has  probably forgotten more about the federation system than almost every other participant knows about federation in this process.

    


Saturday, November 19, 2016

COMPARE AND CONTRAST

It is that most respected measure of non-profit performance, Charity Navigator, which analyzed Executive Compensation in depth and then warned:


"Consider the performance of the charity in relation to the CEO's pay. If you come across a charity whose CEO pay is higher than other similar charities, don't immediately dismiss that charity's request for funding. You're better off supporting a charity that is fiscally efficient, accountable and transparent, achieving its programmatic goals and paying its CEO well, than a charity that has substandard fiscal health, fails to live up to its mission, but under-pays its CEO. Charity Navigator’s ratings can be of help in your research into the charity’s Financial Health and commitment to being Accountable & Transparent. If possible, also conduct your own review of the charity’s performance to determine if it is delivering on its intended results."
https://s3.amazonaws.com/cn-web-site/2016+CEO+Comp+Study/2016+CEO+Compensation+Study.pdf
Imagine, an independent source actually recommends that executive compensation be based upon the non-profit's (1) performance, (2) living up to its mission and (3) "delivering on its intended results." Friends, can any leader at JFNA, its Board Chair, any member of its Compensation Committee look you in the eye and tell you that Jerry Silverman's compensation is in any way whatsoever related to these criteria -- or any one of them? 

Please bear with me here while I rant a bit. The lay leaders of federations of every City-size do not know what the CEO of their organization, JFNA, earns until the 990 is published 2 years after the fact. That's remarkable; and wholly inconsistent with best governance practice for non-profits. The best estimate one can make of Jerry's current compensation based upon the latest filed 990 is somewhere between $700,000 and $800,000; but I would be complaining, I have to admit, if he were paid $400,000. You see, Jerry's responsibilities even before that 990, had been drastically reduced: remember, Mark Gurvis was hired to perform what were until that engagement the entity's management and operation responsibilities -- in other words, the CEO's responsibilities were cut in half and he received a raise!! (I guess it could be argued that Jerry wasn't performing those responsibilities anyway, so what the heck...or something.)

And, how's Silverman performing in the role that he was left to perform? You tell me -- be it as our representative at the State Funeral for Shimon Peres, z'l;  being named one of the Jerusalem Post's 2016 Top 50 Jewish personalities; to his many invites to the White House; to his many visits and speeches to federations and constituencies around North America. Then there was the pies de resistance -- he showed up at a ribbon cutting for a new JDC JCC in Kiyuv!! Friends, I'm not making this up.
http://www.jdc.org/jdc-field-blog/2016/life-is-but-a-dream-at-new.html  (Nice photo-op) Are we really getting bang for the buck...any bang for the huge amount paid for these aimless travels, for these photo ops? It's a rhetorical question. 


Remember, Jerry Silverman was hired to be JFNA's CEO and President. He was hired to both manage the organization and be its public face (!!). He was hired at an annual compensation paid his predecessor (and, no matter how one felt about Howard Rieger's execution  of his CEO responsibilities, it can't be denied that he was performing both of the functions for which he was hired). And, within the first term of his contract, his responsibilities were halved (or more than halved) and he continued to be paid as if he were still engaged with both areas -- management/public face -- of the responsibilities for which he had been hired. Where in non-profit history has something like this happened? To my knowledge -- only at our JFNA.

Only at our JFNA.

Rwexler




Thursday, November 17, 2016

FROM OUR CONTACTS IN THE FIELD -- GA 2016

Let's reboot this Post with the positive culled from your Comments:
"I also thought that the attendance was small (and a lot of staff). But this is also a reflection of the growing professionalization of our federations. We don't have to play the AIPAC numbers game. It's fine if we don't have tens of thousands coming to the GA. AIPAC's convention is all about the numbers and trying to show off, and not about the content and the context. What I witnessed at the GA however was truly inspiring--a new generation of young Cabinet leaders, new Execs coming into their roles, new ideas about engagement and philanthropy." 
OK:

1. The Opening Plenary. With Chuck Todd moderating important Roundtables offering critical post-election analysis in a ballroom with a maximum capacity of 900, multiple rows are empty. Where are the promised 3,000 attendees? Well, really the same place they were last years and the three years before that -- not there. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, who, as we have reported, has sowed the seeds of inter-denominational discord in Great Britain, roused the crowd with a call for Jewish unity, Kind of a "do as I say, not as I do" -- quite appropriate to JFNA.

2. Institutional Ineptitude. At the Prime Minister's Council Event, normally a major moment for the communities' largest donor group. Congressman John Lewis and Suzanne Heschel were reminiscing about that moment in the Civil Rights Movement when Jews and African Americans joined arms in Selma. JFNA at that moment flashed a photo on the large screen and Abraham Joshua Heschel's daughter said, "Uh, that's a scene of Rabbis at the Vietnam Memorial." Yep, some would call this hysterical, others, pathetic...but, it's really just JFNA. Sad and inept.

3. Speaking of Sad and Inept. You will recall that JFNA often confuses its letters with actual substance. At the JFNA Board meeting, the Board and Fed Members Corp were actually asked to vote on sending another letter to the Prime Minister (and the language thereof) with regard to, what else, the implementation or, more correctly, the PM's obvious "problem" in implementing the now 1-1/2 year-old enacted Resolution to provide egalitarian space adjacent to the Western Wall for non-Orthodox Prayer. Those Trustees participating in the Board Meeting by phone had yet to see the letter (although asked to vote on it) and the brief discussion of the letter suggested it was as weak as were its predecessors (but, according to Jerry, it just had to be that way). We heard that JFNA "has been working" with the Movements and "working with JAFI" on this but we all know what that means by now, don't we?

So, here is the letter, you be the judge of its worth and whether it's weak or compelling:


"Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

As leaders of Jewish Federations from across North America, we are writing to affirm our unwavering love for the State of Israel as well as to convey our collective appreciation for all you have done to advance the establishment of an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and to make room for a diversity of Jewish religious practice and expression.   We recognize that no Israeli leader understands the importance of religious pluralism or has done more in this area than you have.

We are as committed to Israel’s strength and security as we are to her economic and social prosperity. We are sure you can understand the concerns we hear from many in our communities who struggle to understand why the implementation of the historic government resolution to create a space at the Kotel where all Jews are free to worship appears stalled.  

We know you recognize the growing sense of urgency to fully implement the Government Resolution, which resulted from the work of your office together with Natan Sharansky’s leading of the parties to a compromise. Your declaration at last year’s General Assembly that there is “one Wall for one People” has become a statement that our communities truly believe and expect to see come true.  

On behalf of the Federation movement we represent, we thank you for your leadership on this matter and look forward to your ongoing efforts to make clear to millions of Jews in Israel and around the world that, in spite of our differences, we are one People."*
BTW, there is a playbook on issues like this -- it's called the "Law of Return" Playbook. But, unfortunately, it's a "book." And, today, we don't read and we don't mobilize.

So, now, JFNA will apparently be processing all of its "letters" through its Board aend Federation Members Corporation -- a bizarre way of doing business.

P.S. The inane processing of this JFNA "letter" through the JFNA Board should be compared with the organization's statement on Presidential election -- a statement that seemed to be published just after the GA with no process whatsoever. Read the story here: http://www.jta.org/2016/11/17/news-opinion/politics/jewish-federations-bannon-trump  And, of course, later in the day, an unnamed "consultant" fell on his/her sword (for whom) I have a sense we all know) for this whole mess.

As we have noted before, almost every action this organization takes is ad hoc ...and senseless.

4. Oh, and that Board Meeting. Nothing Happened. But there was a two sentence plea for cash and a brief admission that core allocations to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT will reach new lows this calendar year. And Harold Gernsbacher delivered a passionate upbeat report on FRD while announcing a magnificent personal gift to a vital program of the Ethiopian National Project. If I get this correctly, the Board must approve letters but the National Campaign Chair can unilaterally announce a new Special Campaign. Interesting. 

There was a stirring address from JDC's Outgoing CEO, Alan Gill, and I confess I hung up before the presentation by the head of the Israel Government Tourist Office, Northeast Region, whom, I assume, is related to someone on the Board.

5. Monday Night. You ulta kachers, like me will remember that Monday nights when GAs were real went something like this: we would join our friends from our federations or our constituencies for a raucous dinner, then we would rush back to GA HQ for an always provocative and important speaker, then, or us Chicagoans, we would repair to the suite shared by our Chair and CEO and shmoooze, drink and share experiences. At this GA, there are those same dinners, then buses to an Israeli-Ethiopian film and "Hip Hop Party." Compare and Contrast.

6. The Message of The Forward 50. It appears traditional that The Forward publishes its 50 over the days of the GA. This year those fifty do not include a single Federation Movement leader -- not a single one. This is more than a little shocking but, perhaps, it is one major Jewish publication's determination on the system's growing irrelevance. I can think of several LCE who would merit inclusion; I would have cited JFNA's William Daroff within "the 50." But The Forward has made its selections and federation leaders ought to being paying attention.

7. The Closing Plenary. Maybe it was appropriate, symbolic even, that as this GA approached its end Tuesday morning, Jerry Silverman spoke to a 1/2 empty (at best) room. Even Jerry should now "get it" -- the GA needs a complete overhaul and, at the least, a serious discussion as to whether it should continue to be an annual event. I know, I know, the arguments will be made: (1) if JFNA doesn't do it, others will step into the void; (2) we contract with hotels years in advance and would be at risk for substantial damages for termination; and (3) we've already announced the time and place of the 2017 GA in LA. But, of course the responses are simple: (1) the GA itself is a "void" -- attendance has fallen much like allocations; (2) let JFNA's hotel consultants negotiate a deferral of the LA GA to a year in the future; and (3) just move all of it back. Use the year hiatus for a hands-on examination of the GA by lay leaders with experience Chairing GA's. 

And, of course, see you in LA.

Rwexler





* Some of you have suggested that my Post on November 10 in which I "pointed out" that JFNA had totally dropped the ball on the Wall issue was the catalyst for this "letter" suddenly being placed on he Board Agenda (It did not appear on the Agenda distributed to the Board before the meeting. You're welcome.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

THERE'S A PATTERN HERE

Some of you may recall a little over one year ago when the Young Leadership Cabinet made a presentation to the JFNA Board on the Cabinet's "plans," they were confronted with Board members public expressions of disbelief, disappointment and pushback. The response was something like this: "We hear you. We'll go back to the drawing board and come back to you reflecting what we've heard from the Board members." 

So, it was back to a rethink and, with the aid of two consultants with insights into the Cabinet, last month the YLC issued a "Strategic Planning Update:"https://fedweb-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/fed-42/1997/NYLCabinet_StrategicPlanningUpdate_Oct2016.pdf
Now, you really have to read it for yourselves but I can tell you two things: (1) it's wholly uninformative (other than "we have so much more work to do"); and (2) nothing...nada...zip... reflects what the Cabinet leaders heard from the JFNA Board over one year ago.

Somewhere our great friend, the late Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, is crying. 

Yet, this Cabinet "thing" is wholly consistent with the JFNA "thing."

One needn't travel too far back in the history of JFNA to remember the fiasco of the birth of the Global Planning Table. Pursuing the personal dream nightmare of Kathy Manning, JFNA hired Karen Barth as its Global Planning Table "consultant" (why have so many of JFNA's most costly mistakes been framed by consultants is a question others should be asking). Barth prepared an expansive (and expensive) Draft plan for the GPT and she and Silverman took it on the road to "get the input" of federation leaders at regional meetings around the country. At each one of these "hearings," Silverman and Barth heard these federation leaders of every City-size reject, sometimes with the laying down of "red lines" ( "if this goes forward as the Draft suggests, that will be a red line for federation X"), but, always, with the assertion that if the Draft materialized into a final product it could not be approved because the "solutions" it offered ("Signature Initiatives," "Coalitions of the Willing") were an express rejection of collective responsibility. At the end of each regional meeting, federation leaders were assured that "we hear you" and "we are going back to the drawing board to assure that what we heard will be reflected going forward."  Given the opposition at the regional meeting I attended, I didn't have to say a word.

And, what happened? Well...nothing...changed. The Draft Plan with some minor "tweaks" became the Global Planning Table Plan. No substantive changes; no reflection of any of the criticism leveled at the regional meetings by federation leaders. For JFNA, this was business as usual. Unfortunately, for the federations this was business as usual, as well -- "red lines," meaningless; the deconstruction of collective responsibility, ignored.

And, in the end, after the investment waste of unaccounted-for millions on this thing, after the diversion of staff from work that might have actually helped the federations, after JFNA failed to raise the funds that might have made the GPT relevant in some ways -- after all of that the Global Planning Table was collapsed at the last moments of the Siegal administration. (Would that be considered an "accomplishment?") Maybe you remember Silverman's frequent statements to the effect that "if the Global Planning Table fails then it will mean the end of JFNA." Maybe he was right.

Oh, there's more, way more!! How many millions lost in the wake of multiple TribeFests?  The aimless wanderings and underperforming of the National Agencies-Federations Alliance. Failed allocations. Unpaid Dues. Failed internal fund rising. Hidden consultant contracts.The list may actually be endless.

But, who cares?

Rwexler






Sunday, November 13, 2016

WHAT WERE WE THINKING?

I often find myself revisiting the merger that created what is now JFNA. I probably should stop beating myself up over my role in it; but...not so easy, not easy at all. For the leadership of UJA the turning point toward commitment to the merger took place very late one night and early morning in Max Fisher's, z'l, suite at the King David Hotel where UJA's and the Jewish Agency's top lay leadership gathered to weigh the implications of a potential merger with the Council of Jewish Federations on those matters to which the United Jewish Appeal was historically committed and for which we felt great responsibility.

Our discussion was respectful and impassioned, many expressed the conflict they felt; it went on for hours. Finally, Chicago's Corky Goodman said, simply: "We have to trust the federations." These are words I will never forget. Never. In what and whom did we trust?

  1. Obviously we trusted that the federations (and, specifically, the Large City Executives and their lay leadership) were committed to the two foundational principles of the merger critical to the UJA: the commitment to raise "more donors and more dollars" and to allocate from those increased dollars greater funding for the work of the Jewish Agency and the JDC.
  2. We trusted that the federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were committed to the principle embodied in the mantra: "With ownership comes responsibility."
And, what did we learn?
  1. That the federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were only interested in the "control" that came with ownership and not at all with the "responsibilities" that were thought to be concomitant with ownership. 
  2. Examples abound: when the federations could not control the "Trust" created within the FRD function of the new entity, they abandoned it; when the ONAD "process" ranged beyond the federations' control, it was abandoned; when the Global Planning Table grew out of control, the federations walked away. 
  3. That the federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were never committed to increasing the annual campaign or the number of donors with a reciprocal increase in resources to JAFI/JDC or, for that matter, World ORT. In fact, allocations to those "partners" from the aggregate annual campaigns have dropped by in excess of $200,000,000 since the merger, an unbelievable, even horrific amount..
  4. The federations (and, specifically, the LCE) were interested in assuring through their ownership of the merged entity that never would there be another Operation Exodus -- the ultimate expression of collective responsibility in our lifetimes; one created by a group of lay leaders (UJA) and implemented by them, would never ever take place again absent their creation and control. The end result: since the merger, not one special campaign for which JFNA had leadership responsibility met either the goals or the needs...that's not a single one.
There are clearly many at fault here: those of us in leadership of UJA who placed our trust that those who would lead the merged entity would share our values; those who would lead JFNA from the merger forward without regard for the mission and purpose ascribed to the merged entity by both UJA and CJF (to its credit, the leaders of UIA presciently saw the potential for the disaster that JFNA has become; they were the only ones other than Jerry Bubis, z'l, and Steve Windmueller who, after exhaustive research, post-merger, determined, inter alia, that JFNA's leaders did not share a common commitment that promised any success).

So what? Exactly. Can this patient be saved? While any fair prognosis would suggest not, I remain with a constant albeit fading optimism that federation and JFNA leaders will recognize that drastic surgery is required and fast. Change will have to originate from inside JFNA's senior leadership and from within the Federations themselves -- and that will only happen if New York UJA, in its evaluation of how its millions in JFNA Dues are being misspent annually says, in the words of a great philanthropist -- "Enough."

Enough.

Rwexler


Thursday, November 10, 2016

JFNA: THE POTEMKIN VILLAGE OF JEWISH ORGANIZATIONS -- UPDATES

1. Boy, that JFNA, never runs out of creative ways to self-promote about...nothing. It's always stimulating to read a JFNA publication; it requires analysis and understanding to know the difference between fact and fiction, fantasy and reality. One thing is for sure: those who have been by/at JFNA to assemble its reports can no longer distinguish between those polar opposites: they can no longer distinguish fact from fiction. 

You may recall that a few months ago JFNA published a glossy pamphlet titled: 2016 Financial Resource Development Directory of Programs and Services. It was sure pretty, 33 pages of mainly Missions and calendars and a staff directory (one of the most amusing reads -- it included an Executive Assistant to the Senior FRD Consultant who herself then has her own Executive Assistant). Maybe Brian Abrahams will lend some real substance to the non-existent FRD effort of the last few years; then, maybe Brian will report to Vicki Agron who is still listed in the JFNA Staff Directory as "Senior Consultant."

OK, so that "Directory" must have proved very attractive, at least to its authors, because lo and behold just prior to Rosh Ha'Shana 2016 you received an even thicker, glossy publication, the 2016 JFNA Directory of Support Services and Programs. This one -- 76 pages of fact and fiction deserving of reading and derision...or, at the least, serious questions.

2. You may remember the brouhaha over the WZO's refusal to support assistance for Holocaust Survivors -- you may remember, but, clearly, JFNA has forgotten. As in all things, JFNA summoned the strength to send a pathetic letter to WZO leadership "kind of" demanding pleading that that organization stop sitting on its hands. And, since. After the WZO leadership apparently chose to ignore the JFNA letter -- it seems clear they never responded, JFNA not only did nothing, JFNA didn't even follow up, forgot about it. Yep, just as its support of, e.g., Women of the Wall, dissipated after a feeble, poorly attended but much-hyped  march in Jerusalem in conjunction with a GA; just as what used to be collective responsibility today takes the form of a letter or a Mailbox; just as...nothing happens...no follow-up. You recall, I recall...JFNA forgets, neglects, ignores.

3. You will also remember that there once was a functioning, even vital National Agencies-Federations Alliance which succeeded the Large Cities Budgeting Conference at the onset of JFNA and then the organization just watched it collapse. Its original purpose, to vet the validity and budgets of the system's created National Agencies ignored; its assigned staff member, a great professional, solely dedicated to The Alliance terminated as The Alliance's work became the part-time function of a JFNA-Washington staffer; its membership shrunken as federations withdrew their support; and the obligation to recruit additional federation participants to expand the funding pool, ignored. Since the merger, The Alliance has shrunk to a parody of itself in its import, in its relevance -- it is the JFNA-Mini Me. Now, New York-UJA, which for years had pressed The Alliance to expand its federation membership so as to relieve New York from the burden of being the disproportionally largest National Agencies funder, has said: "no more." Yet, with no plan for doing so, The Alliance has proceeded to:

  • Bring new Agency members into The Alliance -- members from outside the Federation system -- American Jewish World Service and the BBYO. Both superb organizations in their fields of interest...but...really? Needing Alliance financial support? Really?
  • Allocate $400,000 to JFNA itself -- not a national Agency -- said The Alliance became the JFNA ATM to fund the "new" and undefined Jewish Education and Planning Unit. And, of courser, since JFNA further drained the already shrunken Alliance National Agency Funding Pool:
    • The National Agencies the funding for which the Alliance was created will receive less funds;
    • JFNA need not raise any money for its own Unit inasmuch as JFNA has found a "new source" to drain; and
    • How's that new "Unit" doing? Well, there's this: a Mandel professional heads the "Unit;" and, though it must be a secret, the Chicago Federation staff was raided by JFNA cherry-picking a superb young professional whom I can only presume is hard at work in this "Unit" -- on what? We aren't supposed to know.
4. And, finally, testing our memory once again, last week Prime Minister Netanyahu, reacting to a major protest at the Kotel of his Government's failure to implement the compromise approved by his Government last January to create a space adjacent to the Western Wall that assured egalitarian access for prayer, strongly criticized leaders of the non-Orthodox Movements in America. We all recall that this was a cause embraced by JFNA, including a  supportive march to the Wall in conjunction with a Jerusalem GA (a March by the way that attracted a few hundred people but did get CEO Jerry's photo in Israeli newspapers [so it was a "success"]). But that was before JFNA turned as always to the next bright. shiny object and just marched away. Its embrace of Women of the Wall all but forgotten.

Yes, it's nuts. it's sad...but it is JFNA 

Be proud.

Rwexler