Monday, September 18, 2017


What follows is not an indictment of any national agency that finds itself required by the realities discussed below to engage in direct fund-raising. Instead, what follows is an indictment of a Continental system that has failed both its federation members and the national agencies which it had expressly commited to support.

It required no genius to understand that with the imminent collapse of the National Agencies-Jewish Federations Alliance the once-funded national agencies would be forced to engage in serious direct fund raising. I thought that that FRD would take place with federations or within the Board members of the formerly funded -- at least funded in part -- legacy national agencies. So, imagine my surprise, one that many if not all of you shared, when I received a fund raising letter* from Cheryl Fishbein, Chair, and David Bernstein, Executive Director, of the JCPA seeking funding for one of their core purposes -- one presumably already funded out of its budget.

The suggested minimum gift in the JCPA direct mail campaign is $250, ramping up to... $5000!! I don't know of a single federation which would not require the names of such an individual solicitation to be cleared through it and, further, would limit the amount of the direct mail donation sought. One might even have an expectation that a viable national/continental umbrella organization would manage such a solicitation effort -- but, as is the norm, there is no JFNA anywhere to be found. One might also have expected that Cheryl Fishbein, JCPA President, a leader in her Federation, a leader in JFNA...oh, never mind.

Back a little over 14 years ago Steve Hoffman, then the UJC CEO, tasked me to chair an effort, with Yitzchak Shavit, z'l, the UIA Executive Vice-Chair, to create a Resource Development Task Force and determine if we could devise a plan to manage fund raising in our communities by overseas and national agencies. Our Committee, composed of federation CEOs and Chairs was extremely supportive. Itzik and I met in Jerusalem with the professional and lay leaders of JDC and JAFI as well as the leaders of the Government effort to register the exponentially multiplying number of Israeli NGOs. The Agency and Joint generously agreed to a plan that would have enabled JFNA to manage direct communal (and, thereby individual) solicitations: we proposed no regulatory control, merely a process of notification and clearance through what would become JFNA. It was simple; it was clean; it created neither bureaucracy nor bureaucratic burdens.

Steve Hoffman went back to Cleveland as we sought approval from what today would be the JFNA (then the UJC) Board. Itzik and I believed we would have the support of Hoffman's successor and the new Board Chair. Never assume. At the meeting, at one of those Board Retreats, several JFNA leaders, also leaders of major/minor agencies objected (never citing their clear conflicts) and the vote was tabled -- a few months later the process passed the Board. When I called Itzik a few months later to move the implementation forward, he told me that JFNA's leaders were "shelving" this management process. "Were they planning to tell me?" Tasked. "Not these chamors," was Shavit's reply. That Plan still sits on a shelf somewhere at 25 Broadway.

Forgive my digression.

From the start, the Federations-National Agencies Alliance was the abandoned stepchild of JFNA. JFNA wanted nothing to do with it from the start evidenced by the elimination of the dedicated professional to the effort, substituting a fine JFNA-Washington pro but one who had a myriad of other responsibilities. In addition, the Chair of the eponymous Commission which designed the Alliance, Louise Greilsheimer, moved from her lay role to that of a senior New York UJA professional where, it appeared, one of her responsibilities was to lead the effort to destabilize and deconstruct the Alliance; no effort was put into gaining further federation members of the Alliance or to increase allocations to it. Allocations dwindled over time to the point that some national agencies saw their Alliance funding shrink from 80% of budget to 20% and, further, to the point that two national agencies -- the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and the beloved JESNA -- went out of business for lack of financial resources. And, never was a voice of support arguing for greater resources for the national agencies heard from the leaders of JFNA.

Then, in 2015-2016, JFNA showed a sudden interest, not in the National agencies, but in the National Agencies Funding Pool of the Alliance. Silverman demanded that the Alliance agree to transfer, as I recall, $900,000 designated to the Agencies -- their funds, really -- to the JFNA Budget to fund a new JFNA Education and Planning Unit to make up for Silverman's own failed internal FRD effort. Then $600,000 more reduced to $400,000 was snatched for 2017-2018. (It goes without saying that had funds in those amounts been allocated to JESNA, that organization, providing vital services at the time it was forced out of business would still be doing so and JFNA would not have found it "necessary" to create a Planning Unit out of whole cloth.)

And, now, it has come to this. Every national agency has hired a Development Director of FRD Consultant; every National Agency will soon be at your federation doorstep or in your mailbox; and all of this courtesy of your JFNA -- doing nothing and doing nothing well. The Alliance is on its way out of business.

Doing nothing and doing nothing very, very well.


* This letter was also cited (for other reasons) in

Friday, September 15, 2017


Image result for alfred e neuman images

If you are, as am I, of a vintage that remembers Mad Magazine, z'l, with the same affection and reverence as I remember the United Jewish Appeal, you will recall the strange grinning face of the immortal Alfred E. Neuman, and his signature phrase "What, Me Worry?" That likeness and that phrase capture Jerry Silverman to a "T" (although Jerry certainly doesn't look anything like the fictional Alfred.) For it has been clear that with a laity who should all be wearing "Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil" tee-shirts, even a non-performing CEO has nothing to "worry" about.

As I mused about Alfred E. Neuman Jerry Silverman's great good fortune to be unaccountable to anyone, I saw a full page magazine ad for "Hunger Action Month." Perhaps, you saw it as well; the tagline: "Nothing runs on empty." And, that line is so wrong as JFNA proves that at least one thing "runs on empty." Nothing runs on empty more that JFNA. 

One of my personal philosophy gurus, Casey Stengel, watching the earliest version of the  New York Mets was heard to utter the immortal question: "Doesn't anyone here know how to play this thing?" It appears more and more that this question has become seminal when asked of those at 25 Broadway. Casey ultimately proved that the right leader can turn a disaster around; JFNA's CEO has proved that he can no more do that for our continental organization than could Alfred E. Neuman (and Alfred was a a fiction; Jerry appears to be real.)

We have catalogued on these pages the pathetic history of a leaderless JFNA but it's not necessary to have read it here (after all JFNA leaders disbelieve anything written on these pages to the same extent as President Trump disbelieves polls -- FAKE NEWS anyone?); Richard Sandler and his claque can read it all on JFNA's own Year End Progress Report. For JFNA leaders to claim "process" on any front, demonstrates what a recent Newsweek article termed "...the perils of faking it." And JFNA's fakery only works when its leadership is willing to ignore the failure that is right in front of their eyes.

Before Richard Sandler took his seat as JFNA's Board Chair, he made it abundantly clear that his vision of his role was to "let the professionals do their job," and just "get out of the way." It appeared to me that this vision didn't accommodate the lay leader's proper role in a co-equal partnership with the professional leader but Sandler's accommodation might still have worked had JFNA had as its CEO a professional leader of even minimal competence. It didn't; it doesn't. Had Sandler any interest in assuring accountability by the CEO to the organization; change would have already happened...years ago. 

To me, chevre, Sandler has faced/faces a true Hobson's Choice: "...a situation in which it seems that you can choose between different things or actions, but there is really only one thing that you can take or do." There is no real alternative to replacing Silverman; the only choice is whether to seek out an interim CEO to right the ship and position it for a permanent replacement with the promise of institutional excellence or leave the position open while engaging in a lengthy CEO search process.

Some will argue "leave it be, there remain less than 18 months for Silverman's contract to expire." The obvious response: "JFNA cannot afford even one month more of the now baked-in failure of the Silverman regime." If any of you can offer a single reason for retaining Jerry as CEO at this time, please write us, give us that reason(s). 

In the meantime, all of us can understand why Jerry Silverman is smiling...all the way to the bank.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017


1. The JFNA Third International Negev Summit is being, September 12. What were the JFNA-cited "highlights," you ask:
  • "Keynote from Jamie Bennett, executive director of ArtPlace America, a U.S.-based partnership among 16 foundations, eight federal agencies, and six financial institutions working to position art and culture as a core sector of community planning and development by investing in, researching, and supporting those who lead and execute creative placemaking projects.
  • Tour Philadelphia, an award-winning city in placemaking and urban innovation, and share an interactive experience hosted by the Drexel University Innovation Hub, which connects academic excellence to community engagement."
I don't make this stuff up; only JFNA does; only JFNA possibly can. I remember a day about a decade ago when a JFNA leader suggested that "virtual Missions" take the place of Missions to Israel; this Negev in Philadelphia thing is of the same ilk. Brilliant stuff.

2. Someone -- I think we can guess who (yes -- at JFNA) -- released its mailing list to The Israel Trauma Coalition (the latest overseas "partner" apparently added by JFNA-Israel) which sent out its fully transparent report to the entire JFNA Board. Does any federation release its Board list to a beneficiary? I can think of no one who does not admire the work of the ITC but...really? Then how about releasing the same list to JAFI, JDC, WorldORT. Or how about to the national agencies JFNA has abandoned?

3. I rarely do this but the following screed from ZOA's Morton Klein must be read in full to be believed. I found what follows to be hysterical and frightening. Seeing as we all need a good laugh, read this and weep (the underscoring is exactly at it appears in the original):

ZOA's Klein Agrees to Amb. Friedman's Request- Listen to Concerns About ZOA Opposition to McMaster/Tillerson Policies and Actions

For more information contact Morton A. Klein 212-481-1500 
Follow @mortonaklein7 on Twitter 
NEW YORK, August 14, 2017

Supporters of McMaster include the radical Islamic anti-Israel group CAIR, left wing, Trump-hating, Soros-funded anti Israel group Media Matters, anti-Israel TV commentator Van Jones and others. CAIR was formally an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land  Foundation trial and Hamas financing case that resulted in the FBI discontinuing working with CAIR. CAIR has tried to end any discussion by calling those opposed to McMaster  “Islamophobes and White Supremacists,” while stating nothing of substance. Van Jones has been harshly critical of Israel. He signed a letter calling on Pres. Obama to “impose a final settlement” on Israel backed by sanctions. Van Jones supports the “right of return of the Palestinian people” which would destroy Israel as a Jewish State. And he  clearly opposes Israel’s very existence by condemning in 2002 its “occupation for 54 years,” meaning since Israel’s reestablishment in 1948! Moreover, Jones also, on CNN, tried to end any discussion of criticism of McMaster by calling his critics “the dirty right” without offering any substantive issues. And Democrat Dan Shapiro, far left wing Obama appointment as Ambassador to Israel, has defended Trump appointee McMaster by going on a name calling rampage of McMaster critics with virtually no facts. Yet, he never defended David Friedman when his nomination was bitterly attacked by extremists. One should recall that Shapiro, as a top Aide to Senator Feinstein strongly urged and supported including a security waiver in the 1995 Jerusalem Bill to move the Embassy there- thereby making it possible to stop this most appropriate relocation even when passed by overwhelming numbers in the House and Senate. (In terms of full disclosure I must state that because Dan Shapiro, with whom I had many long respectful debates on Obama’s harsh policies on Israel, pleaded with me to endorse him for US Ambassador, I reluctantly agreed with the qualification in a strong public statement that I disagreed with most of his Israel positions.)
OMG!! This was not a Purim spiel -- but it could have been.

4. The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington announced that the EVP of  Boston's CJP has been hired as its new CEO. This was an Executive Search come full circle inasmuch as D.C. had offered this position to this same professional (And, we are advised he had accepted until CJP promised him that he would succeed Barry Shrage upon Shrage's retirement and he chose to remain there> Guess that didn't work out.) before hiring Steve Rakitt. We wish Gil Preuss well.

5. Finally, last month JTA reported that "Marijuana may Revive the Kibbutz Movement." Someone should send some to 25 Broadway...immediately."


Saturday, September 9, 2017


Before we begin...make a donation for Hurrican Harvey Relief. Go to and make your gift directly or to your local Jewish federation.

A recent Anonymous Comment read:
"Why not write something positive like how NY and LA immediately sent their top program pros to Houston and they are leading the way.? LA's stepped into to help run their JFS and NY's is moving mountains to get help in. A real sign that the collective is stronger than you think."
I thought that the anonymous author had identified a strength of the federations and how, in the midst of and in the aftermath of Harvey, individual federations responded to crisis, especially the devastating disaster that was and remains Harvey, as well as a total misunderstanding of the very nature of collective response. All of us applaud those who stand tall with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston, its JFS and JCC, the local agencies whose leaders acted with immediacy and heroically -- those of us who know those professional and lay leaders are not surprised by their actions.

I think it appropriate, as the floodwaters continue to recede revealing the extent of the tragedy that Harvey inflicted on the Houston Metroplex, to see if there is anything we can learn from the federation and JFNA's response to this natural disaster. Here is what we learned:

  • JFNA responded quickly by opening a Mailbox -- some federations, like Chicago and New York, each of which immediately allocated and transmitted $100,000, a portion of which was designated to the Mailbox, stepped up. The Los Angeles Federation should be commended for lending Becky Sobelman Stern, once the leader of JFNA's Community Consultant work, to the relief effort. (Houston's JFS did not require Becky "to help run" it; let alone "to help run" this critical local agency.) New York UJA sent one of its senior professionals whose expertise extends to the kind of logistical issues Houston's Jewish community faces.
  • As we know, today, JFNA's response to disaster emergencies is (1) to open a Mailbox and invite -- not solicit, invite -- contributions; and then to use its Emergency Committee to allocate the funds raised; and (2) to mobilize two excellent JFNA-Washington professionals-- one whose focus is on Tax Policy, the other on Grant making, each with nothing more than a part-time assignment to disaster relief -- to consult with affected communities -- this time, Houston, a federation and its agencies with an experience unmatched in dealing with the impacts of flooding on community institutions and the damages to community institutions and members from prior disasters. Next time?
  • Given the severity of Harvey's impacts on the Houston Jewish community, the JFNA Emergency Committee, in consultation with JFNA leaders, determined to immediately transmit the first funds received directly to the Houston federation. All those involved in that decision should be applauded --in fact, all funds received by JFNA for Harvey relief should betransmitted directly to Houston. Yesterday JFNA's daily broadsheet asserted That "Jewish Federations" had "allocated $1.6 million" for Harvey relief -- have those funds been received by Houston? That we don't know.
  • Some thought must be given as to why JFNA's Committee should determine how Mailbox funds should be applied when the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston and its JFS are uniquely qualified, by past experience, to identify the needs and where best funds be applied? It appears that JFNA, which eliminated its own internal expertise immediately after Katrina, should do nothing more than continuously empty its Mailbox and transmit the funds to the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. JFNA Leaders: Interposing yourselves through an allocations "process" merely would  delay the application of funds to meet desperate needs. That is not help.
  • Yes, in the aftermath of Katrina, JFNA, which had one of its best, most experienced professionals dedicated to coordinating and managing the continental response to that Hurricane's devastation, decided, for reasons known only to those who made the decision, to eliminate that full-time position, leaving the organization to scramble with part-timers in an attempt to frame an ad hoc response to each devastation.To his credit, the former full-time JFNA professional has been actively sought out and engaged with the Houston communal response to prior Houston flood emergencies. 
The JFNA Mailbox is the collective Continental response to the devastation that Harvey has wrought. The individual actions of the LA Federation in deploying its Chief Program Officer to assist Houston or those of the New York UJA (whatever they may be) beyond its $100,000 transmittal of emergency funds will no doubt be of great assistance.

On September 4, JFNA COO, Mark Gurvis, posted a message on Facebook:
"This morning I head down to Houston as part of our second team of Federation movement professionals assisting the Houston Jewish Federation and community address their many challenges in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. Our team this week includes planners, operations staff and an IT specialist. We are working with local leadership and colleagues from our national partners in human services, education, synagogue movements and more to build a comprehensive picture of needs and priority responses. The financial needs are enormous. Please give generously and share this post."
Many communities across the country have mobilized volunteers and professionals in addition to raiing dollars. For example, Chicagoans have respoonded with over $300,000 in pledges and:
"In addition to the financial support Chicago's Jewish community is providing through Federation, JUF's TOV Volunteer Network is coordinating the first of several missions of volunteers that will head to Texas in the next few weeks to provide hands-on help with the cleanup and rebuilding.
And 11 JCFS and J-CERT clinicians are staffing the Houston Jewish Family Service's "warmline" from Chicago. The phone line provides counseling and support to residents dealing with the emotional impact of the crisis."
There is so much good being done it is a real omission that JFNA is not reporting daily if not more frequently to highlight the facts on the ground and "the need to support (the responders) and the victims." That constant messaging was exactly what was done during Katrina when Gail Hyman, then the senior JFNA (f/k/a UJC) marketing and communications professional, was assigned to the team on the ground to help "build a comprehensive picture of needs and priority responses." Maybe Renee Rothstein is doing so but I, like all of you, sense that we remain in the dark -- a social media post from time-to-time doesn't compensate and neither does a letter from Silverman. Daily information at the least is required; as Comments to an unrelated Post on this Blog evidenced, there is too much, an overwhelming amount of misinformation out there.

There has been an incredible outpouring of both human and financial support from Jewish organizations and individuals during and after Harvey -- from Michael Dell's incredible $36,000,000 gift and huge commitments from the Wilf and Arison families, to the possible $1 million that may be granted through the Government of Israel's Diaspora Affairs Ministry, as JAFI prepares a financial aid package and federations have joined or are potentially joining Chicago and New York in allocating significant funds. Then there are the charities like Hands on Tzedaka, Chabad, ZAKA, JVOAD and so many others engaged in holy work confronting this disaster in sacred ways joining with NECHAMA - Jewish Response to Disaster, ZAKA, the Israel Trauma Coalition and IsraAid, along with shlichim from the Jewish Agency, among others. Charity Navigator published its list this week of the highly rated charitable organizations engaged in Hurrican Harvey relief naming Chicago's JUF and New Yrok UJA -- absent...JFNA. (I would guess someone is intensively working on that.)

Lee Wunsch, the brilliant Houston Federation CEO, who has led the local federation response to prior flooding has characterized Harvey as "Houston's Katrina." All of us must join hands in applauding JFNA's continental responses -- the Mailbox, the convening of JVOAD, dispatching staff to the scene and, surely, recognizing that the Houston agencies' -- Federation, JFS, JCC, synagogues -- responses that need to be better communicated to all of us, not just to "Dear Colleagues" or just to "JFNA Board" every one. As one friend has written me:
"JFNA doesn't need to manage Houston and isn't going to.It does need to manage everyone else out there and give Houston the space to operate. Again, it's still pretty chaotic right now, and those who are primed to criticize need to keep this in mind: JFNA does know its strengths and weaknesses here. Handling money and information is the main value brought to bear, and by doing so gives the people on the ground the time and space to do what they need to do. If Houston needs more resources, whether financial or human, (Houston will) ask...Better we should all be ready with the cash before it happens..."
We join with all others in thanks for the heroic efforts of all those on the scene and all those everywhere who are responding in such beautiful, Jewish, sacred ways. Kal ha'kavod.

And, with wind speeds of 150-185 miles per hour, there is the horrific prospect of devastation from Hurricane Irma. We pray for the safety of all those in Irma's ultimate path.


Wednesday, September 6, 2017


Just when you think that JFNA has hit bottom under Sandler/Silverman, it just gets worse. And all of it the result of incompetence and a lack of accountability visible to all. A few examples:

  • While the Envoys Program of JFNA-Israel continues to flounder, it operates in some sort of bubble without regard for the new reality -- New York UJA-Federation plans to/is planning to cut its overseas allocations to the core budgets of JFNA's historical partners while JFNA fiddles. Not only will New York's abandonment of its historic collective responsibilities be catastrophic in the absolute; that unilateral act will set the dominoes tumbling as federation after federation will be stating "if New York did it, so will we." I am reminded that a decade ago the Detroit Federation stated that JFNA's Dues being unconscionable, that federation would no longer pay them. JFNA under its then lay and professional leaders organized a meeting with Detroit's leaders face-to-face and, while contentious, the end result was that Detroit remained a member in good standing, a leadership community. And, today? There are few if any Continental leaders of stature to sit with New York-UJA's leaders; no doubt, there will be letters and tearful pleas.
  • Then, there is the Young Leadership Cabinet, once a diamond now a zircon; a mere shadow of what it once was and what it was intended to be. Two years ago the line of leaders objecting to a Cabinet restructuring plan preferred by, what else, consultants, stretched out the door of the room in which the draft document was discussed. No one stood in support. The articulated "we are going back to the drawing board" offered hope. And, then, two years later, with the blessing of JFNA leadership (actually it was far more than a blessing, it was kumbaya and hosannas as if the Cabinet had delivered Torah), the plan that emerged was, but for word-smithing, the same plan so strongly rejected when first presented. (NB, the exact same thing happened in the development of the ultimately failed Global Planning Table -- an almost unanimous rejection of a draft GPT "Plan" reappeared at the end of the "planning process" essentially unchanged...and the disaster that some of us predicted would be.)
  • Consulting Services, once the  JFNA "hub" from which all spokes emanated, is now a consultant-driven FRD effort thoughtlessly expanded to be the system's outreach to all communities because...well because it was "there." FRD consultants, even the talented part-timers JFNA is now deploying, can't offer comprehensive advice and counsel to the federations beyond FRD any more than superb litigators can offer real estate law advice. So federation professionals will still be force-fed into FedCentral for advice from each other while JFNA will term this failure as "victory."
  • JFNA-Israel continues to be totally ineffective -- whether it be as the failed canary in the mineshaft when it came to Netanyahu's abandonment of the Diaspora, the struggle to fund and to make of I-Rep a meaningful effort on the ground in the hope to have a meaningful impact on Israel's civil society let alone to dramatically increase the resources available from a small group of participating federations -- the so-called "coalition of the willing" -- and a small, ambitious group of philanthropists who wish to control the entire "Initiative." 
And, we could go on in detail with the failure that The Network became after Silverman and a Board Chair dismissed the indigenous leadership from these small communities and substituted their "judgment;" FRD where an ambitious "Senior Consultant" (who is now identified at FRD events as the "Philanthropic Scholar") appears to be dictating all FRD activities; where national Missions have fallen on such hard times that even those most effective in the past have been canceled; the General Assemblies where, if trend lines continue, may soon be held for professionals only or in a phone booth; and on and on.

In Casey Stengel's immortal words: "Doesn't anyone here know how to play this game?"

We all know the answer.


Sunday, September 3, 2017


1. It's really hard to keep up with Yechiel Eckstein, founder and President, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Not satisfied with raising and allocating $140 million a year for good works and significant (make that amazing) compensation and controversy, our friend Yechiel now has a foreign policy!! Yes, The Forward bannered a headline: Yechiel Eckstein Sides with Saudis Against Qatar.  In my last face-to-face meeting with Yechiel he told me he had no further interest in publicity for himself. 

2. Two months ago the World Champion Chicago Cubs sent one of their heroes of the 2016 World Series to the minor leagues. At the time Kyle Schwarber was hitting .174. Schwarber agreed he needed to be "sent down." Contrast and compare with JFNA hanging on to its CEO and President who has remained a minor leaguer struggling in the big leagues since his engagement eight years ago. Trust me, believe what you have seen, Jerry Silverman isn't even batting .174.

3. In the aftermath of the public outcry over the Prime Minister's decision to breach the agreement that would have created an egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall and to support an egregious power grab by the ultra-Orthodox parties that would impact on conversions performed by any other than Haredi-appointed Rabbis, strange pronouncements flowed from the the creative pens of JFNA and Federation media. For example: in the ever more ridiculous FedWorld a headline trumpeted: "Agreement may have been reached on conversions in Israel:" and in a federation on-line update: "After Diaspora outcry, Israeli conversion bill on hold" -- the former, hopeful hyperbole, the latter a prime example of self-congratulatory hyperbole. This kind of bloviation suggests that the federations and their supposed Continental organization are ready to "declare victory and withdraw from the field." If so, shame on us...again. If we as a North American Jewish polity don't keep our eye on the ball, then the fingers will point at us and our relevance will be nonexistent, the place JFNA appears to have been aiming for anyway. (More on this subject in a sad commentary on JFNA's fearless silence on our behalf.)

4. Maybe it's just me but were I running JFNA (!!??) here are two of many things I would have done: 

  • Organized a small Solidarity visit to the Jewish community of Charlottesville, Virginia after the atrocities of the weekend of August 12;
  • Seen to it that there was a celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem and a Mission there to observe the occasion -- 
Yep, two things instead of -- NOTHING!! 

5. While JFNA fiddled federations, national anf international agencies eloquently rejected the President's allegation that there was some bizarre moral equivalency between the Nazis, KKK and White Supremacists and their victims. One of the best responses , I'm proud to report, came from the NCESJ in the following Statement:

WASHINGTON, D.C. August 18, 2017

TO: NCSEJ Leadership and Interested Parties

FROM: Daniel Rubin, Chairman;
Alexander Smukler, President;
Mark B. Levin, Executive Vice-Chairman & CEO
Dear Friend,

The tragic events in Charlottesville last weekend have shown us that the ideologies of Nazism and radical hate groups are very much alive in the United States today. As an organization that confronts Holocaust denial, historic revisionism, and the rise of neo-Nazi and ultra-right political groups in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, NCSEJ is deeply disturbed by last week’s display of neo-Nazi symbols, speech, and violence in our own country.

There is no form of moral equivalency that can downplay the severity of the history of Nazism and the spread of neo-Nazi ideology. This is a problem NCSEJ confronts when working with foreign governments to take an honest assessment of their own history with Nazi Germany. We insist these governments recognize that there is no acceptable form of moral equivalency when trying to rationalize or justify past governments' or citizens' collaboration with the Nazis. The same is true when facing neo-Nazism in the United States today.

There was no moral equivalency then, there is no moral equivalency today; it was immoral after the Holocaust and it is immoral today.

Our country has been a global standard-bearer for human rights. America must neither deploy a misguided understanding of history nor abdicate its responsibility to stand up to all forms of hatred and bigotry."
If JFNA had any sense of shame, its leaders would be ashamed.

6. I was amused disappointed to read the Itinerary for the poorly attended FRD Leadership Mission and learn that the multiple JFNA presentations to the Community Campaign Chairs and FRD lead professionals were conducted by a part-time JFNA consultant described as a "philanthropic scholar" -- and I mused "couldn't these have been led by someone who has actually solicited major gifts from lay leaders?" And, then, I thought: "No."

7. And one can always rely on FedCentral for an amusing ask or two. Recently one question raised a critical issue that I had never thought about:  what pre-Mission reading would one suggest to "keep donors engaged on mission flights?" Think about how you would answer this question...


Friday, August 25, 2017


"Silence becomes cowardice when the occasion demands speaking out the whole truth and acting accordingly."
The continuing silence from JFNA lay leadership in the face of JFNA's lack of any, let alone effective, professional leadership, raises institutional cowardice to levels never before experienced. It is as if the small cabal at the top of the JFNA food chain believe that the institution's Board members are like a Greta Garbo -- the cabal believes that the Board members only desire is "to be left alone." In that these leaders are so wrong -- the Board members want to engage and they want to be led. What they get back is nothing -- or worse than nothing (think of all those table discussions where results are promised; and, then, nothing.)

We all can see in JFNA an institution in such terrible decline that it appears to be in a death spiral from which, under the extant professional leadership, it cannot emerge. And, because we can see, as apparently they cannot, we all know this is the objective truth even as those in leadership are in continuous denial.

These leaders look at the heap of garbage that is JFNA (except in the excellence of its Washington work and its self-adulation) and they see art. I am at a loss, as you are, that a small self-perpetuating group of proven lay and professional leaders at the federation level can continue to deny what's indisputably true -- that JFNA is stuck on some form of hamster wheel of perpetual mediocrity -- but deny is what they do. I know that I don't have to trot out a further dissection of JFNA's desiccated state -- the facts cry out to every reader and, I expect, to every JFNA Board member when they look at themselves in the mirror. And, yet, they do nothing, and they say nothing in fear of leadership's retribution were they to point out that the emperor has no clothes.

And, so, the failures continue as if ineluctable. It is as if the leaders have chosen to compensate the CEO by the misstep. The brilliant journalist, Mark Leibovich, recently described another dysfunctional operation in words that so perfectly describe what is happening within JFNA when he wrote: "...the interests of self-perpetuation drive nearly everything." In this environment there is no striving for the excellent, no assurance that any effort once initiated will be followed up, that any prioritization is ever set -- at all times the next bright shiny object will distract the entire organization from any thing it was pursuing until the latest distraction.

I have begged so many times for a laity that would take a careful look at the organization; a careful look at what we expected JFNA to be when it was formed compared to what it has become today. AND THEN TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. If the current leadership can't or won't they should resign. If their attitude is "let someone else do it;" then they must let someone else do it and get out of the way.

I see an almost ready willingness to abandon the basic principles on which we have built our communal institutions -- and this both amazes me and disappoints me terribly. How can one explain a Board whose members would not permit this dysfunction to perpetuate in their own home communities but tolerate it without even comment at the Continental level. And how can one explain the apparent disinterest on the part of the Large City Executives who, as a collective, in an earlier iteration of JFNA stood tall and helped expedite a change in its professional leadership when they saw that the then sitting CEO was not up to the job. Today -- they are silent.

Friends, if you believe that outside of JFNA-Washington, JFNA has pursued and achieved excellence in any endeavor, write me (name attached or anonymously) citing the success. I would welcome your input. And don't hide behind the claim that you, JFNA leaders, don't read this Blog for those denials are in the same category as President Trump denying that he watches Morning Joe. I welcome your critique and...that list of achievements.


Tuesday, August 22, 2017


This Post first appeared in ejewishphilanthropy on August 17

I am with those who share the belief that if we didn't have a JFNA we would have to recreate one; but I also believe that recent events have highlighted the reality that today we don't have the strong continental organization that can lead us, collaborate with us and offer us excellence.  Events of the last two months offer all of us the worst of examples of how this iteration of JFNA has failed us, the federations and the the Jewish People.

First there is the lack of any coherent approach to the decisions of Prime Minister Netanyahu and the GOI Cabinet to breach the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space adjacent to the Western Wall and to support legislation in the Knesset that would vest all power to conduct and approve conversions in the hands of the Ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. As we've written, on the Sunday these actions were taken by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet, JFNA's leaders happened to be in Jerusalem; and piggybacked themselves on to a Jewish Agency meeting with the PM, seemingly approved of JAFI's decision to cancel a Knesset Dinner Gala that Sunday evening, saw UIA JAFI Board members deploy to lobby in the Knesset and were open to interviews. It appears that as Bibi ordered that consideration of the Conversion legislation be "suspended" for 6 months, and that construction of the prayer space would consider (but under the aegis of a governance controlled by the Ultra-Orthodox), JFNA determined that it would sit by (oh, wait, JFNA-Israel pros are intensively visiting the Knesset maybe daily) and await outcomes -- because it has done nothing further; the Diaspora Jewish laity doesn't know what the position of JFNA is let alone strategy and tactics. 

Let's face it: these GOI actions impact upon the Jewish Diaspora; they are at the same level, if not worse, than the challenges to World Jewry embodied in the "Who Is A Jew?" challenges in the 1980s and 1990s. The difference: in response to those challenges, the system was represented by UJA and CJF which mounted a planned, constant pressure on the then Government of Israel and members of the Knesset -- and Diaspora Jewry prevailed. Today -- nothing. Example: on two Missions to Israel less than one month after the Cabinet actions, no apparent thought was given to educate and then send those lay and professional leaders to buttonhole Knesset members and/or meet with the PM and emphasize the necessity of reconsideration of these actions which threaten the vital relationship between Diaspora Jewry and Israel. And there appear to be no plans to send North American Jewish leaders to Israel weekly to do the same; or to do anything else.

Then, there is this. On July 20, JTA reported: Uganda's Jews are down to one meal a day because of East Africa's famine.
As reported by Ben Sales, 2,000 Ugandan Jews are at immediate risk of starvation (two
have already died) as  confirmed by the United Nations. There has been to date a "trickle of dollars" from the organized Jewish community -- from synagogues , a coalition organized by the JDC, American Jewish World Service. And what has been JFNA's response: has it 
even opened a Mailbox, JFNA's "regular" response to emergencies? Has it done a damned thing? No: it has been silent. Not even a mailbox.

And two other things that I found astonishing:

  1. JFNA couldn't rouse itself to send a delegation to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Reunification of Jerusalem; and
  2. Worse, not even a small delegation of JFNA lay leaders were convened by JFNA in Charlottesville after the terrorists' anti-semitic attacks there to express our collective solidarity with the Charlottesville Jewish community. Read:
I have no doubt that in the era of UJA and CJF these 2 omissions -- omissions which disgrace JFNA and our federations even further -- would not have occurred for these expressions of Jewish Peoplehood were responses that were baked-into the n'shama of both organizations. Not any more.

JFNA's tagline -- Touching More Jewish Lives Than Any Organization in the World -- blares in huge font on the sad JFNA home page, might be true if JFNA were doing its job with excellence anywhere in the World. It isn't...anywhere. 

It is the worst of times -- leadership's willing indifference to all that is so wrong at 25 Broadway is more than unacceptable. What is amazing, sickening to me is that these events that so transparently prove the ultimate collapse of JFNA into embarrassment is that 
they have taken place in the full view of everyone -- and continues to be. 



Saturday, August 19, 2017


Bob Hyfler, whose professional leadership has included his many years of service as Planning Director and COO at the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Senior Vice-President Research and Development at what is now JFNA, offered an insightful Comment to a recent Post on this Blog:
"Throughout the Jewish nonprofit world we have seen the withering of the authority of boards and volunteer leadership - a systemic phenomenon hardly unique to JFNA or Federations. The question of course is whether this is a result of coup or abdication and what needs to be done about it."
In the JFNA context this "withering of authority" of the JFNA Board (a) has been self-imposed and (b) with others, as discussed below, has effectively allowed the organization to "wither away." Today, we'll look at the symptoms, the effect, and what can be done about it even as it appears to be too late..and the leadership disinterested..

Friends, failure at Jewish Federations of North America isn't the fault of the structure emerging from the merger now so long ago. but the "[A]lmost two decades of mostly failure have been about the process, the execution." There should be no need to repeat that which is so patently true -- JFNA has failed, it continues to operate because no one gives a tinker's damn about it or is willing to give voice to the need or the time to turning it around. 

The lay leadership of JFNA -- this oligarchy which resists all efforts to penetrate the high walls they have built -- have demonstrated a constant willingness to abandon the basic principles on which we have built our communal institutions. This reality amazes me as it also disappoints me terribly. At some of our communal organizations clearly lay leaders have deferred to a strong professional leader; at JFNA that patent and undeniable deferral has not been to the strong but to the weak and it has wreaked havoc to both the potential and the reality, the very existence, of JFNA.

All of us should be able to see that JFNA is today an institution in such terrible decline that it appears to be in a death spiral from which it will be unable to emerge without intervention. And because we can see, we know this is an objective and undeniable truth even as so many in leadership are in denial. It is almost impossible to believe that a small group of proven communal leaders who have matriculated to JFNA leadership can continue to deny that which is indisputably true; but deny is what they do. And all one can ask is:"WHY?" 

Maybe the answer to "WHY?" can be found in the story of a pollster who asked a respondent what the reasons are for the apparent ignorance and apathy of the American voter. The response: "I don't know and I don't care." Yet, I know that the Board Chair and Board Members of JFNA care and care deeply, and yet...and yet...

We see a laity that humiliates itself every day of their inaction with an abject inability to take the steps necessary to change the paradigm that it has allowed to perpetuate deluding themselves into believing that all is well. And what is most amazing to me is that the collapse -- and there is no other word for it -- of JFNA has taken place in the full view of everyone. And "everyone" (well, almost everyone) has stood by in silence.

The worst of what all of us surely see is the requisite symbiotic relationship between strong professional leadership and strong lay leadership turned upside down. At JFNA we have the worst of that relationship: a weak laity so willing to hand over its responsibilities to a professional, who, in the person of Jerry Silverman, has proved to be incapable in all substantive ways. So it is that a relationship dependent upon coequal partners that would propel JFNA forward and upward is, in fact, destroying it. The effect? Jerry has been protected by a complacent, somnolent, soporific laity.

There has been no demand by JFNA's Board for accountability -- the annual lip service in Budget after Budget for monitoring and some/any form of that accountability has been just one more throw away line -- and where there is no accountability we have a professional kakistocracy, we have rule by the worst, one that is now in an obvious death spiral as lay leadership just runs out the clock until they are succeeded by the next group.

I don't think that there is really much in the way of intentionality to the shambolic JFNA of now; I continue to believe that the best of Federation lay and professional leaders will find their way to make the necessary changes that might rescue the organization from failure. But...but..what that will take is strong direction from a Board Chair and Vice-Chair and the catalyst that the Federation CEOs could and should provide. I know that the comfortable protect  their own; that too many believe their service in JFNA leadership is some form of honorarium; that having achieved that Board membership they can leave it to others to do the heavy lifting. It's evident that committing to and executing a change of CEO is a perceived Sisyphean burden that JFNA's highest level of leadership and the Large City CEOs (or any group of CEOs) appear unable or unwilling to lift -- or feel that such a change is unnecessary and/or unwise because everything is just "swell."

Look, I really wish I could write that Jerry has lived up to the demands of the job; that upon his contract extension he did some form of "pivot" into the professional leader he wants to be and which JFNA needs and requires. But that's not the case. From Jerry's hiring forward he has never demonstrated the skillset for this very complex job -- he demonstrates that sad reality 24/7 -- but he clearly has a singular ability to survive, one that by now rivals the tardigrade. Jerry has become like the rooster who believes his crowing causes the sun to rise. 

So, here is where change must begin. Pay off Jerry's contract; and move forward. Engage an Interim CEO/President on a two year contract; one who can and will work with the lay leadership to right the ship, to turn it around beginning the process that will lead to institutional excellence. During that two year term the lay leadership will conduct a Continental search for a CEO with the vision and skillset once demonstrated by a Marty Kraar or a Stanley Horowitz, the inspiration of an Irving Bernstein and the creativity of a Rabbi Herb Friedman. And, trust me, that person is out there.

Time has been wasting for over a decade while JFNA has slipped into an institutional coma. There is no more time to waste.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017


My grandparents and, perhaps, yours left, even fled, their homes in Eastern Europe for the welcoming arms of America so that they might provide my/our parents and the generations to come with all of the opportunities offered by "the land of the free and the home of the brave." America has been a place where we could worship freely and live in a place of tolerance, a place that promised tolerance and a society that rejected the institutional anti-semitism that characterized the places that they had left. My parents and, perhaps, yours suffered an anti-Jewish discrimination both blatant and latent, but they fought it side-by-side with non-Jews so that our generations would experience none of it -- we are the beneficiaries of the fights our parents and grandparent made on our behalf.

Then there was Charlottesville, where neo-Nazis, KKK, white supremacists and others marched in the dark of night, torches aflame, screaming in their rage anti-semitic screed -- "Jews shall not succeed us" -- before one of them killed an innocent counter-protestor and injured score of others. Charlottesville wasn't the act of an individual anti-semite defacing a synagogue in the dark of night, this was anti-semitism, anti-Americanism right in our faces, right in the face of America -- this was hatred and violence. It was no different than a Nazi rally in Berlin in the 1930"s. And, then, there was the President of the United States not alone finding some insane moral equivalency between those who espoused violence, anti-semitic and anti-American attacks and those who were the victims. Because of what the President in so doing endorsed, America will now reap the wild wind.

Where are the voices of those Jews so vocal in support of Donald Trump -- where are Sheldon Adelson, Gary Cohn, Jared Kushner and others? Where are the voices demanding that Trump withdraw his strident moral equivalency or at least understand that if he does not he has forfeited the moral authority that we believe is part and parcel of the Presidency -- where are their voices? To its credit, the Republican Jewish Coalition issued a statement after the tragedy of Charlottesville but before the President's raging insanity on Tuesday: "We mourn the loss of life at Charlottesville this weekend, and will continue to pray for all those impacted. Anti-Semitism and all forms of hate are anti-American, anti-Jewish, and antithetical to any sense of decency. We regret that we continue to be faced with these issues, but the RJC will never shy away from our role of standing up to racists, fascists, and Nazis." Where is the RJC now, after Tuesday? (N.B., the RJC issued a strong challenge toTrump in a subsequent statement on Wednesday.)

Ohio Governor John Kasich made it clear when he said that  there is “no moral equivalency between neo-Nazis and the KKK and “anybody else” and says “the president needs to condemn this.” Clearly outraged as he spoke from Ohio, he added, “There is no place for politics here.” And the CEO of Wal-Mart spoke for me as he resigned from a presidential advisory council:
"As wewatched the events and the response from President Trump...we too felt that he missed a critical opportunity to help bring our country together by unequivocally rejecting the appalling actions of white supremacists..."

I have chosen to try to avoid the political on these pages and when I have "strayed," some of you have pointed it out, often stridently. But what the President said yesterday was not politics for me, for us, this was about our America, about our civil society. No organization that purports to represent me/us can now stand silent in the face of the green light that the President of the United States has given to hatred -- Jew hatred, immigrant hatred...hatred -- in America. Silence in the face of this hatred cannot be tolerated. If we stand silent, we are complicit.

As the brilliant historian Jon Meecham said yesterday:
"I think that you have these moments where the extremes — the hate, the people who are giving Nazi salutes after we have spent so much blood and treasure trying to liberate the world from the form of tyranny — ... it's an extreme manifestation of an underlying reality."
This is the moment in which our generations of American Jews will be tested against the "reality" that Meecham described. History will judge us by what we say and what we do...or by our silence.