Sunday, July 24, 2016


Recently, our friend, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, Founder and, apparently, sole "decider" for the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, announced that his organization (or, perhaps, he used the imperial "we"...or, more likely, just "I") would allocate $100 million to the JDC over the next, I think it was, five years, for programs, I would guess, that IFCJ Chairman for Life Eckstein determines. Don't get me wrong: it's a grand gift, and, if true, we'll see if the "deal" lasts five years without the Rabbi demanding "more" of something to continue.* Then, this week, Rabbi Eckstein began his assault on the Federation system in a puff piece appearing in Haaretz and an article in ejewishphilanthropy**

In all events, I'm sure that the Joint and American philanthropists will become aware that consorting with the IFCJ always and ultimately comes with a price. An organization called "Ministry Watch" did an analysis in 2013:

"Outrageously High Fundraising and Compensation Costs - What You Need Know About Those Emotional TV Commercials Asking You to Help Impoverished Jews

"In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain." 1 Timothy 3:8
Many have no doubt seen the rather frequent and emotion-laden advertisements on Fox News asking for your donations to help struggling Jewish people around the world. The ads come from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) founded and run by Rabbi Yeckiel Eckstein. Recent ads have featured what the ministry claimed were elderly holocaust survivors in the former Soviet Union and poor Jewish people in Israel. Rabbi Eckstein is said to now have a database of over 1 million Christians who donate to his ministry, so it is clear the ads are effective in stimulating well-intentioned people to donate their money. In the most recent year, the ministry raised over $113 million dollars and millions were indeed spent meeting the needs of Jews around the world. Unfortunately, television advertising is quite expensive, which is why few ministries utilize it. Using the ministry's audited financial statements, calculates the ministry's fundraising costs amount to 14% of its revenues, almost three times the level of the average ministry in our database. Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP), however, allow non-profits considerable leeway in how they handle fundraising expenses. Some observers put IFCJ's fundraising costs at as high as 39% after adjusting the accounting information to more realistically reflect the ministry's actual fundraising costs. This is an absurd amount of money being spent on fundraising and donors should be aware that so much of their gifts are being diverted from helping suffering Jews to instead raise more money for IFCJ.
Additionally, Rabbi Eckstein's total compensation in 2012 amounted to over $1.2 million! Moreover, compensation paid to two of Rabbi Eckstein's daughters and a son-in law amounts to over $250,000. Combining the adjusted fundraising costs noted above and his compensation, over 40% of a donor dollar goes to fundraising and Rabbi Eckstein's excessive compensation. While IFCJ clearly also does considerable good work, donors can certainly get a much better "bang for their buck" by supporting other ministries serving the Jewish people. We noted recently the good work of the Joshua Fund and would recommend donors consider it along with Bridges for Peace and Christians Friends of Israel. These are all much smaller ministries (largely because they do not use emotional TV advertising), but which send more of the donor's gift to help the actual needs that exist, while simultaneously avoiding paying their founders and CEO's exorbitant compensation. 
Given IFCJ's $116 million in annual revenues, almost all coming from small donors, it is clear that many kind-hearted Christians will respond to emotional appeals for funds believing their hard-earned money will be going mostly to good works. Unfortunately, Rabbi Eckstein's stewardship of IFCJ leaves much to be desired and over 1 million donors to IFCJ are currently being duped. Passionate pleas for help must be measured against a rational understanding of the full picture of any ministry's activities. This is where can help donors who wonder whether they should respond to such approaches that leave out important information, like the exorbitant compensation paid from donor's donations and the massive amounts spent on TV advertising and other methods of raising funds."
Could it really be true that Eckstein's compensation in 2012  "amounted to over $1.2 million?" I guess that it's possible under a comparative compensation argument that goes something like this: "If Jerry Silverman could earn $765,000, what's so bad about Yechiel stuffing his pockets to the tune of $1,200,000?" Or, as we've noted before, the old Babe Ruth story: when asked whether he felt badly that he earned more than the President of the United States, he answered: "Why? I had a better year." If the numbers are true, his IFCJ has 1 million donors -- our entire federation system -- a little over 300,000 (+/-). 

Shame on him, but shame on us. Oh, I forgot, neither Eckstein nor our leadership have any shame when it comes to compensation.


* Does JDC care where its money comes from? No more than most non-profits.
** It will be hard to believe but this Post was written over one month ago and merely scheduled for publication today.

Thursday, July 21, 2016


Unlike most of his senior staff, who seem to operate in a silo of his/her own, Jerry Silverman, purportedly JFNA's CEO, seems to spend a significant amount of time delivering sermons. I guess he calls that "work." Thus, the day after close to 100 people of every race and religion were slaughtered by an Islamic terrorist on the Nice beachfront, Jerry managed a sentence in passing on that horror while waxing non-poetically about race in America. The only parts of the message that had any resonance were lengthy parts of the work of two real Rabbis. The gist of Jerry's message?
"We cannot shy away from the immensity of the challenge before us or the depth of the pain we may feel. And as we grapple with the enormity of it all, let us not lose sight that members of our Jewish community also are touched personally by the issues at play, among them those who work in law enforcement, including police officers, and the growing numbers of Jews who are people of color."
Like most of us I have a spectacular Rabbi who inspires his congregants week in and week out. I don't need Mr. Dockers pontificating on matters best left to the Rabbinate, to ADL or the Committee. If, however, Jerry wants to preach to us on issues that pass through his mind from time-to-time, I'm all for him pursuing smicha, getting a pulpit from a congregation that, unlike those who hired Jerry, will actually examine the totality of Jerry's background and experience including these years at the helm of JFNA and going back to college, post-graduate and federation experience.

One might ask Richard Sandler: are things going that well at JFNA as to allow Silverman the distraction (I know Richard is concerned with "distractions") of a sermon or two every few weeks? Yes, I know, the operation is being "run" (if that's the word for it!!) by Mark Gurvis (and, Mark, if you're running JFNA-Israel, you're doing a helluva job), relieving Jerry of the "burden" of internal management (raising the question, once again, of what are we paying Jerry to do, exactly, for his $800,000 [+/-]?) We sure aren't paying him for what has become a fortnightly bloviation like this one, are we? (Yes, another reason the Smilin' One has that big grin on his punim.)

No one would object if Silverman, like his predecessor, would restrict himself to writing about the challenges facing the federation system but he seems not to comprehend those at all. Fundraising challenges, the precipitous drop in the system's donors on his watch, federation-agency relations, the collapse of the Federation-National Agency Alliance, the further collapse of the Global Planning Table, the further collapse of the Global Jewry Initiative, BDS and what JFNA is not doing about it, JFNA's failed internal fund-raising, the deterioration of JFNA relations with JAFI/JDC (while pretending that things are "so much better") -- any/all of these matters are relevant to JFNA's constituency -- but, what does Jerry write about -- "race...identity...equality...respect...and (something Jerry calls) 'assumptions.'" These are matters with which we are all concerned, of course, but none are matters of which Silverman possesses any greater knowledge or understanding than any of us and in Jerry's case, evidently, less.

Any time that this CEO wants to take his Board into a discussion on topics relevant to the federations, that would be a first. He can't. And it is equally clear that the highest levels of lay leadership are unwilling to "counsel" Jerry either.

Friends, with Smilin' Jerry the phrase "just doesn't get it" has taken on new meaning.


Monday, July 18, 2016


There are those who have written about organizations having a "sense of entitlement" that the organizations are alleged to believe exempts them from accountability and transparency, among other things. Among those accused is the Jewish Agency. Those of you who are regular readers (as I hope includes most of you) know that I have not been sparing in my criticism of JAFI hen I feel it deserved but I also appreciate the roles the Jewish Agency plays in implementing the goals not just of the federation system but of World Jewry.

So I admit to being bemused and confused at the proliferation of those who would posture themselves as "alternatives" to the Jewish Agency -- the "competition" if you will. Let's visit with them:

  • The Government of Israel, Ministry of the Diaspora -- and no better place to start than with this piece Yes, Naftali Bennett, a Minister of the Government of Israel, positions the GOI as not just an entity whose work would parallel that of JAFI, but as an entity performing identical functions. And, of course, the GOI, doing nothing but issuing well done on-line videos, has also engaged in sewing just this type of confusion for almost one year since torpedoing the JAFI plan for a JAFI-GOI-World Jewry Initiative.
  • The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews a/k/a Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein --whether out of jealousy, rage or ego, Eckstein has made clear that, not having received what he perceived as the kavod and recognition due him for the Christian allocations made to JAFI, he will engage in "competition" with the Agency (or by another description, a policy of "scorched earth") by redundant efforts in aliyah, serving impoverished Israeli Jews and other areas. In a recent article extolling the Fellowship's work, Eckstein is quoted: "“We just want to get the job done,” he said. “Our purpose is to increase aliyah."read more: (It has been rumored that when one of his senior professionals charged with Eckstein's aliyah suggested working in cooperation with the Agency that responsible professional was fired.)
  • The World Zionist Organization -- today, this once minor organization claims to be "Connecting Israel and the Jewish People." It is an entity, like Eckstein's, so totally opaque as to be impenetrable. The WZO has an Executive, an "Expanded Executive," a "Council" -- it even has a "Supreme Court." It's actions play right into the hands of those who opine that the concept of "Zionism" is "too controversial."
If these be "competitors," the Jewish Agency has lucked out -- for each of these "competitive" efforts is badly flawed -- politicized, or non-Jewish or unrepresentative. None brings together the totality of world Jewish leadership as does JAFI; none have programs with the reach of those of the Jewish Agency. But the Agency's "luck," if that's what it is, if JAFI fails the tests of inclusiveness and transparency -- concepts with which it appears to be continually unfamiliar.

One similarity among all -- JA, the GOI, IFCJ and WZO -- is the sense and the reality of being an insiders'/inside game. JAFI would appear to have the easiest time opening up to a true lay-professional partnership; yet, from efforts by many to cause JAFI to do so, it is evident that JAFI "ain't ready for reform." As one correspondent to this Blog has observed, it and its most fervent supporters operate out of a sense of "entitlement" -- mostly to ther financial support it demands but is no longer receiving.

My continuing sense is that a transparent and responsive JAFI will gain ever greater support. Maybe someday that organization's leaders, like those of JFNA, will awaken.


Friday, July 15, 2016


It's so rare these days to hear really great news from JFNA that I read Richard Sandler's announcement on July 13 of a new hire...a great hire...with incredulity:
"Dear Trustees,

Brian Abrahams, a former director of National Young Leadership Cabinet (YLC) for the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) is returning to JFNA as its new senior vice president of financial resource development.

His return follows a successful 12-year stint as director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)’s Midwest region, where, under his leadership, annual fundraising significantly increased.

Brian likes to say he “grew up” in Federation, having served in both lay and professional roles since his college days as a volunteer fundraiser for UJA. Two years after he graduated, he got a job in UJA’s Washington office. On his first day, he was assigned to work with the group that ultimately brought 250,000 people to the National Mall for the 1987 march and rally for Soviet Jewry.

Less than four years later, he joined Federation leadership to witness the historic Operation Solomon, which brought 14,500 Ethiopian Jews to Israel—what Brian calls “a powerful example of what the collective can achieve.”

From there, Brian moved to Chicago and became UJA’s Midwest regional director. Later, as YLC director, Brian remembers chartering a plane of Soviet Jews from Moscow to Warsaw so that young leaders on a mission to Poland could accompany them on the final leg of their aliyah to Israel. He also recruited and trained emerging leaders from around the country, including some who have gone on to hold top national leadership positions.

As a volunteer leader for the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Brian started its high-tech committee and was on the volunteer organization committee when Chicago hosted the General Assembly. He also served on the board of Jewish Child and Family Services, a local Federation agency.

I know you join me in welcoming Brian back.


Richard V. Sandler
Chair, Board of Trustees"
Brian is a treasure. He brings a skill-set and leadership skills to JFNA that have been sorely lacking since...well, forever. I have to congratulate Vicki Agron, JFNA's Senior FRD Consultant for this coup -- she has recruited a real winner. And, in so doing, and in the rumored recruitment of two Senior FRD Community Consultants yet to be announced, both with great federation experience, she has completed (??) her consulting task with brilliance. This is the first terrific hire at JFNA since Silverman brought back Mindy Hepner. Some day we'll learn what Brian was promised: and whether JFNA delivered.

There is one certainty -- by dint of timing, if not more, Brian comes into a position where he inherits a staff and consultants not of his choosing. This is like a situation Brian will remember -- when the NFL Chicago Bears hired Mike Ditka as their head in 1983, he was told by ownership that Buddy Ryan would remain as his Defensive coordinator; while they came to blows from time-to-time together they led the Bears to a Super Bowl in 1985. How Brian deals with this reality will be his first test of many. The next challenge may come in how Brian responds to a small group of lay and professional leaders who believe that "all fund raising is local" (more on that in an upcoming Post); who would relegate continental FRD to the margins. (Hopefully, Brian had just that conversation with Silverman and Sandler before he assumed the position.)

Now, it's fair to question why the announcement of a new Sr. V-P didn't come from the JFNA CEO inasmuch as staff hiring and firing is a professional function not a lay one but everything is so confused within JFNA that maybe no one knows the difference. Jerry did hire Brian, didn't he? Brian does report to Jerry, doesn't he? (And, Jerry would especially love the fact, not appearing in Richard Sandler's write-up, that Brian had left Jewish organizational life just this past February to join AvantCredit ,  a mass market lending start-up, as  VP of Communications and Government Relations -- meaning he comes to JFNA from private industry -- sort of like Jerry came via Dockers.)

So, congratulations to everyone and anyone involved in this hire, especially Vicki Agron. And to Brian Abrahams, every success.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016


You might share the indignation and mystification that members of the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee expressed with the mysterious Budget line for the mysterious and empty vessel that is JFNA "Institutional Advancement." This is how the Budget Category is "described" by those who created it:
"This represents the fundraising that covers programs within the general budget of JFNA. The fundraising revenue target has been adjusted downward by $300,000 to reflect a more realistic level of achievement for FY 2016-17." HUH??
That "target" has been reduced from $2,825,000 in '15-'16 to $2,486,000 for this fiscal year:

  • Some might ask -- make that me -- "If there was a fund raising failure to the tune of $300,000, is the professional responsible being held accountable?"
  • How were the funds raised for "Institutional Advancement" applied in 2015-2016?
  • The charged expenses to that "fundraising" are $461,000 -- or a fundraising expense of 18.5%. And this expense occurs with a "...reduction in staffing and in the fundraising revenue target." Who is watching this b.s.?
I mean, really. JFNA continues to reward and "like" the senior professional responsible for the mess.

And, once again, the question: inasmuch as it appears to be Silverman himself who is responsible for raising these funds, why is there any expense, let alone close to $500,000 in expense for "institutional advancement" let alone an overhead charge of 18.5%? So, let's ask the questions with no expectation that we will get any answers whatsoever:

  1. Did the "Institutional Advancement" FRD in 2015-2016 include grants from the Ruderman Foundation, JFNA's "own" endowments (which were created for specific purposes under UJA and CJF) and similar?
  2. Did that "FRD" include funds in excess of Dues contributed (or "advanced") by individual federations?
  3. Is there an operative definition of what "internal fundraising" means -- in other words what are we spending close to 1/2 a million dollars on -- staff, consultants, what and who and for what purpose(s)?
  4. Isn't there a Sr. V-P whose titular responsibility includes "Institutional Advancement?" And, just what does she do, exactly?
Without answers to these questions, I think most of us would have a different title for this budget line -- rather than "Institutional Advancement" may be "CEO Slush Fund"? 

I mean, really, how can the meager fundraising JFNA (make that Silverman) does to "support" JFNA's own budget result in an annual expense of $461,000? Am I the only one to raise this question? Has Jodi Schwartz been so coopted that she lets crap like this just slide; and if it's this sewage sliding by, what else?

It's beyond ridiculous...but, then again, what isn't?


Saturday, July 9, 2016


1. Which came first? I recently learned that a former Large City CEO, for whom I had great respect for the manner in which he tried to push his community to meet enormous challenges, and for whom I had tremendous affection as well, is now the CEO of a major funeral home. The logical questions: was one the best preparation for the other? Or were these one and the same jobs?

2. Note to the True Believers: if things are so good, why does it feel so bad?

3. Orwell wrote it, did he have JFNA in mind? "I understand the how; I just don't understand the why." Was Orwell writing about the hiring of Jerry; and then writing about his retention?

4. Is Smilin' Jerry really Chauncey Gardner? You needn't have seen Being There; just trust that JFNA is living it large. Has there been a character who has ever failed upward more than JFNA Jerry? OK, there was Chauncey Gardner, but he was fictional. Just askin'.

5. How does JFNA spend $30 (make that $53) million a year...alright, how are they spending it this year? I know it's impertinent of me; but how? Jodi Schwartz would remember, at least she should, that at UJA, in those days of yore, all  Board members received interim reports of expenditures by Department multiple times a writing. Correct me if I'm wrong but at the JFNA of today the Board receives nothing...and asks for less. 

6. How many consultants does it take to screw in a light bulb? I don't have an answer but, at JFNA, I guess it would be "a lot." We, the JFNA constituency, apparently, have no right to any information about the number of consultants on the payroll and the extent of their compensation and the purposes of their hiring. Transparency at JFNA? You've got to be kidding. More about the Consultants Kingdom coming soon.

7. At the recent JFNA Board meeting there was actually applause and back-slapping over the fact that 62...count 'em, 62...federations were represented at the meeting -- that's 62 of 151!! That's a whopping 41%!! That's not even a quorum approving a so-called "Budget," among other things. So, what the hell were they applauding?? BTW: The Minutes will probably (one never knows) disclose that a JFNA's leaders called this "great." Again, if this is "great," what's "bad?" Never has there been greater disengagement by more federations.

8. Really, what does Deborah K. Smith do for all of that money? Oh, and while you're at it, what does Jerry "Smilin" Silverman do for all of that money? Are we really paying close to $800,000 per year to him just for showing up? For now that Mark Gurvis has apparently taken on all internal management functions, including presenting the Budget to the JFNA Board, what's Jerry doing beyond what passes for "inspiration" JFNA-style? 

Just askin' But, like y'all, I have just read/heard that things at JFNA are just swell. Pass the Kool Aid, brothers and sisters.



Wednesday, July 6, 2016


                          ...AND THE SKIES ARE NOT CLOUDY ALL DAY

There are times, weekly, sometimes daily, where I just want to take the totality of JFNA leadership and calmly ask: "Can't you see what is right in front of you?" But, I know the answer: they see nothing amiss as the ship goes down. I still have faith that Richard Sandler will "see it," "get it" and do something about it. But...

There should be a widespread understanding that if a great organization fails to meet its aims, it ceases to be a great organization; so to many among this group of JFNA leaders
the answer is an organization with no aims...and, somehow, that's just fine. Thus, they reason, we cannot fail. And they are so wrong. Because while they have been doing nothing, the greatness has faded away; it is gone. There is no "there there" anymore. JFNA has become what Mencken called “…a carnival of bunkum," too many of its lay and professional leaders in a constant state of denial. Yes, we have a stupefying professional leadership in disarray and a stubborn lay leadership in denial -- a leadership that has tolerated and tolerates not just mediocrity but worse. 

And there appears to be no end to it. Those who believe JFNA is being professionally led at all must be the same folks who deny evolution and refute global warming. It is fair to ask is it not: Is there any muscle memory left in an organization that has been imploding for almost a decade now?? For if there is: it's time, long past time, to clean house. And, as was stated in the brilliant TV series Billions: “Principle doesn’t go away all at once; it’s a creeping erosion.”  Some don't see it happening.

The question has been asked and answered again and again: what do the federations have to show for their "investment" of close to $700,000,000 in Dues to JFNA since the merger that created it...just seeing that figure makes me sick. For I, like you, know full well what $700,000,000 million properly applied could have meant to those of our People most in need. 

And, at the very top of the pile, wallowing in the mess, he whose head is the deepest in the trough, sits Jerry Silverman. That's the Silverman who actually has told his leadership that he can drive transformational change after close to seven years -- that's SEVEN YEARS...of futility -- in which the only change he has led has been change for the worse. For Silverman to assert that suddenly he will be the catalyst for transformational change at JFNA rings “…as hollow as Donald Trump espousing the virtues of restraint.” Who’s kidding whom? And who believes it? Who could possibly believe it?

Jerry has become, if he was not always, a professional leader beyond meretricious; supported by a leadership that appears to have wholly endorsed his art of embellishment, his art of self-congratulations (for nothing or almost nothing). Look at the record of non-achievement and weep. To paraphrase Gore Vidal : "...those in power don't have to conspire because they all think alike." Never was that more true than at our JFNA. If you don't "think alike," you will soon be on the outside looking in. 

When Cicero said of Marcus Aemilius Lepidus he could have been speaking of our Jerry: "Lepidus was the luckiest politician he knew; every time he made a mess of something he was showered with rewards -- 'He is a sort of genius of mediocrity.'" And one has to ask with a certain degree of incredulity: after acknowledging that this should never have been allowed to occur, how can this possibly be allowed to continue? The question is whether, when leadership finally does what it should have done 7 years ago, will it be too late — will it be time for an autopsy…or a cremation. After all, federations have already incinerated close to $700,000,000 in Dues wasted on this thing.

So, friends, those of you who are, as am I, sick to your stomach about the cringe-worthy sclerotic mediocrity that JFNA has been permitted to become, don’t worry, you’re not really ill…it’s just the way things are. Not the way things need to be...just the way things are.


Sunday, July 3, 2016


Speaks volumes. Find in the Dictionary under "embarrassment."

Happy July 4.



Friends, I have written, admittedly ad nauseam, about JFNA's futility under its current CEO. Without even knowing of his competency or lack thereof, here is what one independent analysis concluded:


Institution Revenue: $184,707,017*
Institution Total Expenses: $132,898,135
Employees: 151
Salary: $672,358
Overpaid by: 31%"**
Yep, "overpaid by: 31%" -- but the reality is even worse than that... worse than 31% if you can believe it. Understand that The Forward accepted JFNA's recitation of its "Institutional Revenue;" but you and I know that that amount includes Federations' allocations for which JFNA is nothing more than a pass-through -- in fact, were the amount of the allocations deducted to yield a true picture of JFNA annual revenue, the "overpayment" to Silverman would be closer to 78% -- if 31% is an egregious overpayment, a 78% overpayment must violate IRS standards to such an extent as to expose JFNA Officers and Board members to potential financial liability --damages and penalties.

Every best practice analysis of executive compensation decisions by non-profits mandates:
"Ensuring that the board has approved "reasonable and not excessive" compensation for the executive director/CEO is one of the fiduciary responsibilities of every nonprofit board. ("Are the assets of this nonprofit being used prudently and to advance the mission?") Boards that engage in an annual process of reviewing and approving the compensation of the executive director/CEO and that document this process in the minutes of board meeting(s), will be protecting their nonprofit (and themselves)" (emphasis added)." - See more at:
Perhaps I have missed something (but I doubt it very much) but at no time has the JFNA Board even been advised of the compensation decisions of the "Compensation Committee" -- yes, friends, the egregious amounts paid Silverman are not recommendations to the JFNA Board, they are decisions never communicated to the JFNA Board. This is part of JFNA "tradition" -- the tradition that only a core group of insiders know what the CEO is or will be paid. As the Council of Non-Profits has pointed out, there can be serious financial consequences for non-profit Board members for the payment of excess compensation to it corporate officers. (And, if they believe that they, like the compensation committee members, are somehow immunized from any personal liability because the "decisions" were made based upon"comparable compensation," they should seriously review the decisions of the Internal Revenue Service in a series of Rulings.

I know of a number of non-profit Board members who have resigned over compensation decisions on which they have never voted. You?


Read more:

Thursday, June 30, 2016


           "Here friends, just drink a little bit more of this here Kool Aid..."

On the occasion of the six month anniversary of his Board Chairmanship, Richard Sandler, for whom we had the highest of hopes when he took office, sent the following message to the JFNA Board. There are some excellent things in it -- prioritization, the elimination of the imperial consultancies over the best professions, a hearkening back to our values as embodied in the federations, among others. its reliance on a chief professional officer who has not proved (and had consistently been unable to prove) he possesses the minimal competency to achieve the "new priorities" (has there ever been an organization with a new set of priorities very couple of years leaving the last set of priorities behind even though the old may be the identical to the "new"?) or, for that matter, any? Why is there any optimism at all that this CEO can lead the implementation of the "new" priorities?

Here is Richard Sandler's message in full:
"Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Dear Colleagues,

As I have recently completed the first six months of my term as chair of the Board of Trustees of The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), I wanted to take this opportunity to set forth some of my thoughts about this time, and our goals and responsibilities going forward. As I am sure we all know but sometimes forget, we live in not only interesting but extremely complex times, especially for the Jewish community. It is during such times that Federations and all of us as leaders, both lay and professional, must remain measured and knowledgeable. We must remember that we represent an important and diverse community held together by common values. 

Our primary responsibility at JFNA is to service and strengthen the Federation system. Federations are the only community organizations positioned to work with all other organizations affecting the Jewish People. Federations are about making our communities stronger. We must provide focus to address the most important issues we face and allocate resources where needed to take care of our fellow Jews at home, in Israel and throughout the world.  

Among the various roles Federations play in our communities, we need to be the catalyst for engagement to address complex and often emotionally charged problems in a balanced and constructive manner. In other words, Federations need to be the adult in the room at a time when there are very few adults in the room. This need surfaced dramatically this past year during the Iran nuclear agreement debate.

Susie Stern, Jodi Schwartz, Harold Gernsbacher and I are all in agreement that JFNA does a great job in so many areas, but still needs to better assist our Federations in utilizing best practices. As the title of Marshall Goldsmith’s book says, “What got you here won’t get you there.” Our JFNA professionals are extremely dedicated, knowledgeable and committed to serving and strengthening Federations. That is why the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 provides for certain reallocations of resources to make specific individuals responsible for regular contact with Federations. We have also identified seven areas of focus for JFNA, which were distributed in the board meeting materials. Read the document.  

We are aware that there are daily distractions from the major functions and responsibilities of JFNA. We are committed to keeping these distractions at a minimum while serving the Federation system. It is the responsibility of our professionals to ensure that the organization stays on topic and focused. The organization functions most effectively and productively with strong lay and professional partnerships. However, we must keep in mind that our professionals hold the ultimate responsibility for carrying out our mission. We have to let them do their job.  

In the past six months I have had the opportunity to chair two board meetings and two executive committee meetings, participate in nearly weekly calls with senior lay and professional leaders, and represent JFNA at a Jewish Agency Board of Governors Meeting in Israel and as the representative of North American Jewry at a special ceremony at the Knesset. I have also met with various organizations and individuals who care deeply about their Judaism and Jewish community. I have the privilege of serving on the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, where I have worked with its executive vice chairman and others. To hear different points of view and perspectives, I have met with representatives of ZOA, Israeli American Council, J Street U, AIPAC, StandWithUs, New Israel Fund, Hillel, World ORT, JDC, The Jewish Agency and the World Zionist Organization. Following these meetings and my ongoing work in the community, I suggest we all think about the following three items:
  • The engagement of young adults. The Jewish community is losing young people to assimilation. We need to engage them and listen to them. When we have done so in Los Angeles, we have found that most young people have very little understanding of their tradition. Once engaged, they are extremely interested and want to learn more about Judaism and how it might affect their lives. We need to continue to introduce successful programs to more communities through FEDovations and best practices. 
  • A better understanding of each other here in the United States. We saw last summer the personal attacks that took place within our own communities over the Iran deal. We have lost the ability to talk to one another, reason with one another and focus on the common values that unite us. We need to be the convener of serious discussions on important topics that are often complex and full of emotion. We need to regain the ability to listen to different points of view and try to gain as much knowledge as we can about different arguments around an issue. It is hard to disagree with a point of view without understanding why someone holds that perspective. Federations need to become the convening and calming influence in communities that brings different parties together to discuss issues and solutions that could benefit everyone.
  • A lack of understanding or appreciation of the importance of Israel to our communities. American Jewry really does not have a good grasp of the complex situation that the Israeli people and the Israeli government face on a daily basis. Likewise, Israelis do not appreciate the issues that we deal with as American Jews, and how what goes on in Israel affects us on a daily basis. We at JFNA are working very hard to build more bridges and promote better understanding, and will continue to do so.

I received one of the greatest honors of my life two weeks ago when, as chair of the Board of Trustees of JFNA, I was asked to represent American Jewry in a ceremony at the Knesset. Through the generosity of the Ruderman Family Foundation working with the University of Haifa, the Knesset displayed an exhibit commemorating 100 years of North American Jewry’s contributions to the Yishuv and the State of Israel. It is a tribute to Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi that JFNA was invited to speak for and represent North American Jewry at this ceremony. I thank you all for giving me the opportunity to represent you, and I encourage you to read my remarks

All in all, it has been an informative and interesting six months. I consider myself very fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such outstanding lay leaders and such a committed and talented professional staff led by Jerry and Mark Gurvis.  We have much to do and we are all dedicated to being successful. None of us shall ever forget why we are working so hard for our communities. The Jewish People have made incredible contributions to the world by living our value system and performing mitzvot. It makes the world better and gives life meaning. 

Finally, I am excited about two great upcoming Federation events: the International Lion of Judah Conference, September 11-13, and the 2016 General Assembly (GA), November 13-15, both in Washington, DC. 

Women's Philanthropy is one of Federations' strongest and most dedicated giving communities. At the 2014 conference alone, 1,500 Lions of Judah raised $27.1 million to support our work. I cannot wait to see what this strong sisterhood will achieve this year.

I have been extremely impressed with the quality of the GA over the past two years, and this year will be the best yet. The GA is our opportunity to come together as a community to discuss the important issues that affect us all and celebrate the tremendous work we do and the contributions we make. This year, the GA is right after the presidential election. I am sure there will be much to discuss about how that election affects our community, relations between the United States and Israel, and the important work we do every day.

The purpose of the GA is not only to bring us together to celebrate, but also to make us all more effective in our communities, both as lay and professional leaders. I ask each and every one of you to support, attend and reach out to your communities about the GA.

Please contact me with any thoughts or ideas you have at any time.


Richard V. Sandler"  

To my friend who once told me that Richard "gets it" -- guess not. I will not assume that Richard believes "if it's good for me, it must be great for all the rest of you." Rwexler