Sunday, January 15, 2017

DOES HE NEED TO KEEP ON CONGRATULATING HIMSELF?

Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, the President and driving force of his International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, is, as readers well know, a genius at both fund raising and self-promotion. Never satisfied with the mere glory of raising hundreds of millions from Evangelical Christians addressing the needs of the Jewish People, as Eckstein decides those needs; never reaching sufficient honors and publicity for his incredible good works; the Rabbi is always looking for new publicity worlds to conquer and, in doing so, to bring glory to his work and himself.

Back in 2001, Eckstein published a poorly reviewed autobiography, but, having expanded his philanthropic empire over the next 14 years, in 2015 he had his organization fund author Zeev Chafets's apparently made as instructed hagiography*: The Bridge Builder -- The Life and Continuing Legacy of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein. Here's the Kirkus Review:

"KIRKUS REVIEW


Celebrating a controversial rabbi’s life.
The problems with writing an authorized biography are glaringly evident in this life of Eckstein. Chafets (Roger Ailes: Off Camera, 2013, etc.) is forthcoming about his relationship to both his subject and this book. His advance was partly underwritten by the International Federation of Christians and Jews, an organization Eckstein founded and heads; and his royalties will go to that organization. Eckstein was the author’s major source, but, adds Chafets, “that is not the same as saying that this is an ‘as-told-to’ book,” noting that when Eckstein vetted the manuscript, he asked for only one change: the removal of “an unflattering remark he made about a relative.” Nevertheless, the book reads like an as-told-to biography, with Eckstein’s point of view and opinions dominating the narrative and with no attempt by Chafets to contextualize or analyze the man he so greatly admires. In the 1970s, Eckstein took a position with the Anti-Defamation League in Chicago, where he discovered, to his great surprise, that evangelical Christians harbored “unconditional love for God, Israel, and the Jewish people.” Like Eckstein, they believed that the “creation of a Jewish state in Israel (and its defense by the United States) was a sign of God acting in history and fulfilling biblical prophecy.” Eckstein immediately saw an opportunity for bridge building and, most crucially, fundraising. Supported by Pat Robertson, Jimmy Falwell, Pat Boone, and Billy Graham, Eckstein rose to prominence on televangelist programs and speaking tours. He founded the Holyland Fellowship of Christians and Jews, which eventually became the IFCJ, funneling major contributions to Jewish and Israeli causes. The author portrays Eckstein’s many critics (including his first wife) as narrow-minded, and he echoes Eckstein’s views about Israeli politics and Christian Zionists.
In 2001, Eckstein self-published a fictionalized autobiography; here, Chafets furthers the rabbi’s efforts to publicize and burnish his image."
I don't know if the book has been a best seller, though I doubt it, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if the IFCJ has purchased 1,000's of copies.

And, notwithstanding the reality that Rabbi Eckstein should be incredibly satisfied by the awesome results of his/IFCJ's remarkable charity, he felt compelled to invite a JTA correspondent to join him on some form of "junket" to France. The results were clearly not what the Rabbi might have expected exposing, as it did, his ego in fullest bloom. The article in The Jewish Week -- http://www.thejewishweek.com/special-sections/charitable-giving/yechiel-ecksteins-paris-blues  -- Raising Christian Money for Jewish Causes a Star Rabbi Earns Praise and Scorn was subtitled: Yechiel Eckstein's Paris Blues. 

One can only conclude from all of this that Yechiel Eckstein believes in the mantra "any publicity is good publicity" especially if one's picture is in it. And...so unnecessary. Because as Yechiel should know so well, his good works speak for themselves, if only he would let them.

Then, last month, JDC, pushing its financial "partnership" with Eckstein hard, offered:
"This year, on the third night of Chanukah at the local JDC Hesed social welfare center in Odessa, volunteers – many who receive assistance from the Hesed themselves – took to the stage, singing and dancing to help bring a little bit of that hope to local elderly residents. The community joined together to light the menorah and enjoy latkes as part of a holiday meal, which included a video blessing from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) – without whom there’d be a little less light this holiday season."
A "video blessing." Oh my.

I admire so much the accomplishments of the IFCJ, so much of which -- almost all, in fact -- is the direct result of Eckstein's vision and execution. One would think, however, that an Orthodox Rabbi would understand and live by Maimonidean principles of charity or, if he prefers given his donors, Jesus's. The constant and always insatiable demands that accompany Rabbi Eckstein's allocations of his donors' funds, always end badly -- for the then United Jewish Appeal, for Keren Ha'Yesod, for the Jewish Agency.

What organization will incur the wrath next? Just askin'.

Rwexler



* Curiously, Chafets was hired to polish Eckstein's image even after he wrote a scathing report on the Rabbi in 2005:http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/24/magazine/the-rabbi-who-loved-evangelicals-and-vice-versa.html?smprod=nytcore-ipad&smid=nytcore-ipad-share

Thursday, January 12, 2017

STUFF

1. The JFNA Executive Committee continues to meet monthly or bi-monthly or periodically, I'm not sure which; and that should be a good thing. These are JFNA's leaders; and the agenda might include discussion of, e.g., the continuing decline in annual campaigns and number of donors (matters that should be of concern to anyone and everyone who cares about the federation system); the potential impacts of the Trump Administration on grants critical to the federations; or how about whether to schedule a Cabinet Tel Aviv 2 (or would that be 2A) even though JFNA is already offering it (at least on the daily rag, er, FedCentral) -- does anyone on the Executive remember the discussions and conclusions reached years ago? If not, call me; the ever-expanding challenges faced by federations today; and other things of importance. All good topics, right? And, then, everybody goes home and not a damn thing happens. Is this normal? Are the senior professionals directed to prepare a set of actions on any matter? Name a single new, substantive initiative in the past 12 months...just one. (See 3. below) Guess at JFNA, our leaders just like the chat. 

2.Recently a cross-section of North American Jewish organizations declined to attend a Chanukah Party convened by the event's co-hosts: the Conference of Presidents of Jewish Organizations (used to be "of Major Jewish Organizations" but now, not so much...) and the Government of Azerbaijan at the brand spanking new Trump Hotel in Washington D.C. The organizations which chose not to be present ranged from left to center on the presumed liberal-conservative spectrum and their absence totally enraged those organizations whose leaders attended.

Some of the attendees were outraged, especially the most easily enrage-able, Morton Klein the overly well-paid apparent Chair for Life of the ZOA, who through his public utterances takes umbrage at every apparent sleight, real or imagined, to the new Administration. His fulminations will not surprise anyone. 

There were those organizations which publicly discussed their reasons for non-attendance in stark terms; and there were those, like our JFNA, which mumbled idiotic excuses -- "all our leaders were away," "couldn't find a leader to attend on such short notice" and the like.  The press characterized the non-attendance as a  "boycott"-forward.com/.../8-liberal-groups-boycott-presidents-conference-h... But that is an extreme 
characterization of the non-attendance isn't it? If one accepts the definition of "boycott" this
wasn't that:
"To abstain from or act together in abstaining from using, buying, dealing with, or participating in as an expression of protest or disfavor or as a means of coercion:"
The only "coercion" going on here was the Conference's attempt to "coerce" attendance by blaming its co-host, Azerbaijan, for...well, almost everything.

3. It truly befuddles me that there are elected leaders at JFNA who sincerely believe that the organization made "steady progress" in 2016, or believe that during this past calendar year there were "serious accomplishments." (None of them they can name.) Oh, you can express skepticism but, trust me, you will be met with a symbolic pat on the head and sent on your way. Ask for an enumeration of accomplishments and you might hear: 

  • Relations with JAFI and JDC "have never been better" -- laughable, of course, for if you ask any...any...leader of either organization in private they will dismiss JFNA as "totally irrelevant in our work" or worse;
  • Engagement with the federations "is better than ever" -- when in truth there is less engagement than at any time since the merger -- or before. In fact, with no Consulting Services Department, JFNA has been relegated to operating the pathetic FedCentral where federation pros go begging for answers to the most rudimentary of question;
  • The GAs are now "great...and better than ever" -- notwithstanding the continuing stasis in lay registrants to the point that once was the major national Jewish conference, it is today an expensive minor attraction, if that;
  • We have a great group of lay leaders "more engaged with JFNA than ever before" -- tell that to those who aren't on the Executive Committee, who don't Chair a Committee, who haven't participated in a Board meeting, who cry out for substantive engagement and get, in return, a pat on the head and a "we hear you."
Puhleeeze.


4. Congratulations to Richard Sandler and Jerry Silverman for the strong statement they published on January 10:  "We Must Fight Hate and Use Our Own Words Carefully." But reading it "carefully," "we" must assume that the multiplicity of "We" in the statement is the 
application of the "Royal 'We'" and it really means...here's what you have to do
5. And let's conclude with three more winning questions appearing on that "invaluable resource" (see above) FedCentral where federation professionals ask each other the most critical questions of the day. Here's are recent ones:
 "Did your community focus your campaign around the Beatles?
  "We are thinking about sending out birthday cards to community members who donate $5,000+. Does any other federations do this/what is an example of a birthday card you send out to the community?" 
"Does your Federation publish a community newsletter? If so, what is it called? We are launching a monthly e-newsletter with news from our partners and are searching for a name that's Jewish but not too Jewish."

 I'll omit the federation professionals who posed the question to protect the innocent.  Yep, the Beatles, birthday cards and "Jewish but not too Jewish." Anyone wishing to despair for our federations' future needs, read this FedCentral whenever possible.

Rwexler

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

BENEATH CONTEMPT

On Sunday night during her passionate and compelling speech to the Golden Globes, Meryl Streep condemned the President-elect without naming him for his despicable and indefensibly grotesque physical assault on a disabled reporter who had offended him by... reporting on just one of Trump's... "inconsistencies." Here is what Ms. Streep in accepting the Globes' Lifetime Achievement Award, said:
“There was one performance this year that stunned me,” she said. “It sank its hooks in my heart. Not because it was good. . . . There was nothing good about it. But it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter. Someone he outranked in privilege, power and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart when I saw it. And I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life."
Nothing that Meryl Streep said was factually incorrect...nothing...and her expressed opinion was hers. Not unexpectedly, President-Elect Trump as is his wont attacked Ms. Streep, adding her to the list of those condemned by his ranting Tweets; this one included that Meryl Streep, the most celebrated actress in the world today is "over-rated." (!!) That might have been the end of it, but it wasn't...

I can understand that Trump's hired flack, the Baghdad Bob of Trumpworld, Kellyanne Conway, denigrated Streep and her remarks; the mistress misdirection, she's paid to twist the facts. But I remain mystified as to why others situated in the Trump Amen Corner found this speech and its focus to be a matter of their concern, requiring them to adopt the Kellyanne approach. For example, Dennis Prager, who used to be a unifying force within the Jewish polity, chose to explain away, I guess one would call it, Trump's grotesque aping of the reporter, because he often made the same, or similar, gestures -- ignoring, of course, the context in which Trump did so in the matter at issue made his obscene intent perfectly clear -- and then condemned Streep for actions of hers, totally irrelevant to her speech and Trump's infantile display. A friend sent to his mailing list a video diatribe from a twosome calling themselves "Diamond and Silk" who condemned Streep's speech while acknowledging they hadn't seen it -- my friend characterized this as the "perfect response" to Meryl Streep!! Others, who apparently feel that any criticism of Mr. Trump is out of bounds and unacceptable, you know, like Tucker Carlson and Alex Jones, have spewed out similar garbage. Sadly, terribly sadly, these people feel it necessary to defend the indefensible.

As these critics and others have demonstrated over the past 8 years, to them and their ilk any and all criticism of President Obama was perfectly acceptable, no matter how ugly. In fact,  in certain instances, beyond ugly. Recently, upon the terrorist attack killing young soldiers on the streets of Jerusalem, some sent out a vicious pictorial, even before these beautiful young martyrs were laid to rest, accusing Obama and Kerry of having Israeli "blood on their hands." Yet, Meryl Streep's reasoned response to Donald Trump's unsparing mockery of a reporter with a disability draws these same people's unreasoned scorn.

Shame on them; shame on the President-elect.

Rwexler

Monday, January 9, 2017

THE SAD, SAD STATE OF NOW

A friend, a a leader in and student of North American Jewish organizations, recently wrote me:


"Unfortunately, as many commentators (sic) on your blog point out, we seem to have crossed the line and JFNA is now a lost cause.

The big question, will anything arise from the ashes."
Many would agree. But before we get to the "ashes," it's important to understand the "lost cause" that JFNA has become.

And we have to begin once again with an examination of Jerry Silverman's role in what has a been permitted to become the normalization of JFNA's irrelevance. 

When Jerry joined JFNA as its CEO and President 7+ years ago, he was, as one Congressman recently described a nominee to head a major government department, "as prepared as a pilot who never went to flight school." He was the paradigm for "the wrong person at the wrong time" for JFNA and he remains exactly that 7+ years later. And it is JFNA that has and continues to suffer at the terrible void that is this expensive and constant mistake. A literal thick fog over a winter dawn has settled over 25 Broadway and appears to be incapable of lifting. JFNA has become like Stonehenge: nobody can explain it and it is ugly.

Under Jerry's CEO-ship (it would be unfair to the concept of "leadership" to call it that), JFNA has found solace in silence on all matters relevant to the federations; it has seen the very silos which JFNA was created to eradicate reinforced and apparently impenetrable -- JFNA-Israel, JFNA-Washington, FRD; what was an historic responsibility to the communal professionals eradicated or delegated away; a Budget ignored as if it didn't exist; support for initiatives doomed from the outset yet perpetuated in the waste of millions -- #ishTribeFests, the Global Planning Table fiascos; "secret" consultant contracts. Friends, this list of failures just goes on and on and on. Add to these, the failed or inadequate fund raising efforts; the demand letters to, e.g., the Prime Minister or WZO leaders, unanswered and forgotten; the abject failure of the Federation/National Agencies Alliance; and JFNA's dipping into the National Agencies funding pool to the tune of $400,000 for its own, not the Agencies, budget needs with another $900,000 money grab scheduled for next year and for years thereafter.

And, there has been neither responsibility nor accountability.

Best I can guess, the federations have paid Silverman close to or more than $5,000,000 -- that's five million dollars -- over seven years without once seriously asking: "has there been any return on this investment?" And the answer if asked is so self-evident as to render the question rhetorical. As pundit Peggy Noonan described someone recently in words that truly capture our CEO: "[T]here's a clueless quality about him. It's not that he doesn't get advice; it's that he can't hear advice, can't process it or turn it into action." Or, as Orwell observed of others: "(he tries) to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." It is clear that with Jerry "doesn't get it" has taken on new meaning. He could not manage so Michael Siegal brought on board Mark Gurvis as COO, relegating Silverman to the role of public face of JFNA -- and just how has that worked out? -- while continuing to pay Jerry as if he were fully performing 100% of the roles of a CEO. Got that? Paid 100% for doing 50% of the job and not even doing that 50% well-paid at all..

But we also deserve better from the JFNA lay leadership. It certainly appears that the leadership of JFNA operate in a cocoon of their own making -- they apparently believe in all sincerity that all is well, that the federations are happy and proud of their membership and are getting value from it ("look, they pay their Dues, don't they?"), that the GAs of recent times have been increasingly impactful even as Lay registration languish at well below 1,000.

Here's what the great philanthropist and activist and leader Morton Mandel observed of the senior professional ranks:
"Those people...have to be the best in terms of intellectual firepower, values, passion, work ethic and experience. These kinds of employees are the A players. C players generally quit or are fired, while B players hang on—they're not so bad that you have justification for firing them, but 'they can't help you win the pennant. They cheat you from achieving all you could, thus preventing an organization from soaring to greater heights."
Chevre, JFNA is being cheated from achieving all that it could by the choices it has made and which it perpetuates. And the only reasons that can be ascribed to this perpetuation appear to be: (1) "he's a nice guy" and (2) laziness. To the JFNA lay leadership I have only one observation of my own: "I'm sorry, but leadership, real leadership, isn't just showing up, it's standing up." As Frank Bruni recently wrote, and I see embodied within JFNA: "Behold leadership at its most gelatinous." As Charles Bronfman opined: "A Board that swallows anything it is told...is no Board at all."

Is it even possible to contemplate after these years of waste and silence that the JFNA Board will suddenly "rise up;" will stop sitting there like potted plants and actually demand accountability and a return on investment from its umbrella organization and that organization's leadership? Where will the demands for change come from, if not from them? From the Large City Executives? Ha. Their preoccupation is with just being "left alone" by JFNA and the JFNA CEO's acknowledged subservience to them.

Yet, while I still believe that federations have an incredible role to play, chapters to write in Modern Jewish history, watching federations doing nothing about an their organization while it wastes millions of our donors' dollars one is forced to conclude that our system, our Movement, reached its pinnacle, its zenith in the expression of Jewish Peoplehood embodied in our Operation Exodus. And that it has gone downhill from there to the subterranean state in which it finds itself today. Note to the Board Chair: "When you find yourself in a deep hole, stop digging."

Friends, we find JFNA 2017 in an endless loop of ineptitude. Sadly, over these past 7+ years mediocrity at JFNA is now baked in. And its failures are mirrored in its Chief Executive Officer and President; for Jerry Silverman is the embodiment of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. It is this writer's view that as nice a guy I am assured that Jerry is JFNA will never emerge from the Stygian gloom into which he has led us until he is gone.

Whatever happened to the Jewish organizational exceptionalism with which we grew up?

Rwexler








Friday, January 6, 2017

ABANDONMENT AND THEFT

I first thought that if this weren't so pathetic, it would be funny. But on reflection, this sorry saga would never be funny...

On any number of these pages we have regularly raged with regard to the hot mess that JFNA and the federations have permitted the Federation-National Agencies Alliance (the "Alliance") to become. I have deemed this institutional disgrace the "mini-me" of JFNA -- it is JFNA in microcosm. Let's step back and then take a look at the present...

The Alliance,* the successor organization to the CJF-driven National Funding Council and the Large City Budgeting Conference arose out of a not fully thought through Report of the JFNA's Greilsheimer Commission (so named for Louise Greilsheimer, a past Chair of New York UJA-Federation who chaired the Commission) in the immediate aftermath of the merger. The Alliance was designed to be self-funding (thereby freeing JFNA of any financial assistance from its Budget) and self-governed by the federations which became its members with staffing provided by JFNA. While during the pre-JFNA years what was to become the Alliance was staffed full-time by a wonderful professional who walked the tightrope between the National Agencies' needs and the federations' desire to minimally fund, after the initial years of the Alliance, that pro, for no reason whatsoever, was succeeded by a professional in JFNA-Washington who has since provided only part-time service to Alliance work. 

In addition, almost from the onset of the Alliance, New York UJA, which was providing a huge share, some would think disproportionate, of the National Agencies Funding Pool -- 38% at last count -- began threatening to withdraw its funding (approximately $1.6 million so disclosed in a note to the Alliance members from its Chair and staff, June 16, 2016) when its demands to, among other matters, defund certain national agencies and to see other federations pick up the slack were not met. (Curiously, the loudest voice for defunding, delivering New York's position, was Louise Greilsheimer herself after she morphed from an outstanding New York lay leader to a New York-UJA senior professional. Louise has since retired from her position at New York UJA.)

In the last report I have, the Alliance allocated $4 million to 9 national agencies...a sad sum in the absolute. Were New York to eliminate its allocation the Fund would drop to about $2,500,000. That amount would be disgraceful. One national agency that had received 84% of its budget from the Alliance at its outset; has seen that percentage fall to 14%; were New York to eliminate its allocation, that percentage would reduce to less than 5% -- almost nothing. And neither JFNA leaders, most of whom have no idea what The Alliance is, nor those of the Alliance have any sense of shame or failure. This situation has gotten so bad that an annual face-to-face meeting with the member Alliance Agencies that had taken place from the get-go at every GA, was canceled this year without explanation; one supposes the decision was made to avoid potential confrontation and certain embarrassment.

And, though it was presumed at its creation that the Alliance leadership would immediately and constantly seek out both new members and increased funding from its members, they have spent most of their time vetting the national agencies with evermore convoluted annual reporting forms while some members significantly reduced their annual allocations to the Alliance and others just dropped out of this voluntary organization. 

And three other important matters:

  1. While membership and funding significantly diminished to the National Agency members, the Alliance, instead of examining the "whys" and doing something about them, invited two additional agencies to join -- the American Jewish World Service and BBYO, neither of which is a national agency of and for our system; and
  2. In violation of its own stated purposes, at JFNA's demand, with neither vetting nor explanation, The Alliance turned over $400,000 from the diminished National Agencies Funding Pool to JFNA itself to fund an "Education Unit" thereby alleviating what would have been JFNA's responsibility to raise the funds necessary to meet its own budget needs for that undefined purpose and to raise those funds itself. I call that theft -- taking funds for a Pool created for funding National Agencies for its own non-Agency purposes. What would you call it? JFNA calls it "business as usual."
  3. And, worse, much worse. That $400,000 "grant" extorted from The Alliance last year? The Alliance, attempting to bind its future membership. agreed to up that "grant" to $900,000 next fiscal year and into future years. Thus, without regard for its responsibilities to the National Agencies, should New York withdraw its funding and the Alliance not gain increased funding from somewhere, 40%...that's forty percent...of the reduced Funding Pool will have been pre-allocated to JFNA leaving $1.6 million for the National Agencies. 
Hot mess, anyone? JFNA in microcosm anyone? Oh, and it gets even worse...

I know of not a single national agency that has not hired either a full-time to part-time fundraiser in response to the drastic cuts to them from the Alliance and those Draconian cuts threatened by New York's withdrawal. Because of JFNA's neglect, pretending that the national agencies are not its concern but only that of the Alliance, the national agencies are being forced to raise dollars from within the federations themselves -- the absolute opposite of what was intended when the Alliance and its predecessor vetting and funding entities were created. 

Over its existence, the Alliance has seen two (and maybe my count is off) national agencies of undisputed value, disappear -- JESNA and the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The former now appears to be rising from the ashes as a JFNA Education and Community Engagement Unit with more assured funding than JESNA ever had...from the Alliance itself to the JFNA Budget. While there is irony here; isn't this really just insane? Isn't this simply theft? (It's what we call  "Silverman FRD.")

Sometime during the past few weeks, apparently giving up on JFNA doing something about this mess, the Large City Executives discussed the Alliance at length. Like almost everything else in Jewish organizational life, the LCE meetings are "confidential" but here's what I've pieced together. JFNA's COO, Mark Gurvis, will take a more active role in the Alliance administration and activities; New York UJA will "probably" continue at least a portion if not all of its disproportionate funding of the Alliance for one additional year -- FY 2017-2018; and the Large Cities will buttress their membership on the Alliance where leadership succession had seen the passage of the gavel from one excellent smaller community leader to another over the past few transitions. Whether the LCE directed Silverman/JFNA to find the annual support for JFNA's embryonic Education and Community Engagement Unit from their own resources is unknown (assuming the LCE even were aware of this misappropriation, this "grant").

If true, the LCE applied a short-term fix -- retaining all or part of New York's funding for one additional year -- to a longer-term problem -- the disinterest of most federations in funding those of the system's national agencies which continue to perform at the highest levels on behalf of the federations. 

As is par for the course at and with JFNA, things reach a crisis point, the LCE step in and, then, one can only hope for the best. Meanwhile JFNA goes on its way, not a concern at all. As if "it's not our problem" as with everything. In fact, I don not believe that the officers of JFNA have been briefed on this dereliction of responsibility.

Rwexler

* The Agencies "supported" by the Alliance are:  American Jewish World Service ∙ The Association of Jewish Family and Children’s Agencies ∙ BBYO ∙ The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) ∙ Hillel International ∙ The Jewish Community Centers Association of North America ∙ The Jewish Council for Public Affairs ∙ JTA, the Global News Service of the Jewish People (JTA/70 Faces Media) ∙ NCSEJ: National Coalition Supporting Eurasian Jewry.






Tuesday, January 3, 2017

JUST THINK ABOUT IT FOR A MOMENT

Most of us live within federated communities which pay Dues to JFNA without asking any questions -- because questions are so gauche, you know. You know, like questions of how are those funds spent? Like, what is JFNA doing for our community? In fact, very recently, when a responsible federation board member of one community pushed Jerry Silverman at a federation board meeting on that very question, Jerry was perplexed, then pointed to the new CEO and said: "we led the Search that brought you your new CEO." Jerry didn't mention that JFNA would no longer be providing such CEO searches through Mandel. But, never mind...never ever mind; that's all that Silverman could conjure up in the moment.

We know that JFNA has successfully continued the work of the Washington Office begun under CJF and enhanced through the brilliant leadership of William Daroff; it runs a few national Missions (as the National Campaign Chair pointed out, underpopulated); it provides leadership of National Women's Philanthropy and the Young Leadership Cabinet, the latter of which is but a shadow of its former self; it has begun to revive its moribund Financial Resource Development effort but in all areas, still terribly understaffed, operating at the moment with a cadre of consultants; and it runs a GA where the characters may change but which has become like Groundhog Day

And JFNA has a lot of staff; a lot, a helluva lot, of consultants; and it spends more than the $30.5 million of your budgeted Dues, and another $23 million, more or less, on top of that. Do you know what that $53.5 million is spent on every year because the Annual Budget your community and mine approved has been treated by the CEO as a mere guideline, nothing more. But, friends, really, just as important as what JFNA is doing, is what it is not doing; the areas of services to the federations that it has abandoned or delegated away (and in one instance has done both):

  • It has no functioning Consulting Services operation having left federation professionals to fend for themselves through the sad inanity that is FedCentral. No longer is JFNA capable of answering federations' questions. It must be kind of fun for federation staffers to just go on-line to ask questions like: "How do we run a Super Sunday;" "Any one have suggestions who would be a good campaign event speaker;" "How can we do Giving Tuesday;" "I'm looking for ways to co-brand with affiliates;" "How can my community engage Israelis in the community;" -- and these are but examples of the myriad of questions JFNA staff should have the capacity to be answering. But  it doesn't and it can't.
  • But it is searching for a V-P, Consulting -- one who will report to the Sr. V-P, Marketing and Communications. Insanity and chaos reign.
  • No FRD function for over 2 years --  then JFNA hands it over to a Senior Consultant who hires 2 part-time Consultants to serve communities she selects; then she hires a potentially excellent Senior Vice-President whose first act is to terminate the services of the recently hired V-P, Planned Giving and Endowments, retaining a consultant to run that Department; the Senior Consultant remains on the payroll...and so it goes.
  • It no longer engages in CEO Searches through Mandel or at all -- message to the Federations: "You're on your own."
  • But Mandel remains JFNA's major consultant on so many things...enough said
And, so much more. A succession of GAs that will be remembered for who wasn't there (lay leadership) and what wasn't the focus year-after-year; an Israel Office (P.S. By-Law changes eliminated the pretentious "Global Affairs" prefix reverting to "Israel and Overseas") that continues to be characterized by a bloated staff and a singular failure to offer any impact or, apparently, any guidance; the abandonment of the National Agencies and the theft, for there is no other name for it, of $400,000 from the National Agencies Funding Pool for JFNA's own budget "needs;" and. of course, a CEO/President who evidences all that that position should never be.

And, looking through the rosiest of rose-colored glasses, what does Richard Sandler see? Everything must look just great...just great.

Rwexler

Saturday, December 31, 2016

LIFT US OUT OF THIS HOLE

A Happy and healthy New Year to all. As we have reached the calendar year-end, maybe it's an appropriate time to take a careful look at where JFNA needs to go if it is ever to be the success we all once hoped it would be.

The JFNA of today is one hot mess characterized by a somnolent lay leadership and a CEO who just is not up to the job and who proves it every day. As one Commentator recently observed:
 "CEO's are supposed to lead their organizations and to work in partnership with the lay leaders. When the CEO doesn't lead, no one follows. And very few CEO's will have any accomplishments independent of the lay leadership that he/she leads. It's that simple."
It's that simple. Except, in the case of JFNA, the CEO has proved that he just can't lead; he is his eighth year of proving his inability to do so. And the JFNA lay ;leadership just look the other way.

When Silverman's contract was renewed during the last year of the Siegal terms, the only possible justification (and in this writer's view, remember, there was none) was that Siegal and those lay persons with whom he consulted were somehow convinced that Jerry had spent his first five years in office positioning JFNA for a transformational turnaround and, therefore, they must have rationalized, he was the one to lead JFNA through transformational change during an extended contract term. (Oh, yeah, he is also a "nice guy," whatever that has to do with it. So there was that.) That reasoning was as preposterous then as now.

And, now, well into his extended contract, there has been no change from the first five wasted years...no change at all. If Jerry Silverman's promise to Michael Siegal and Richard Sandler was "change," there is not one iota of evidence that he has delivered any or that he is capable of doing so. Anyone who believes otherwise is living in some sort of their own post-truth world.

As the Commentator above suggested, the JFNA CEO doesn't lead -- in my opinion he has proved over 7+ years that he is incapable of leading. In all of my roles in organized Jewish life, from my own community, to CJF, the NCESJ, UJA, the UJA-CJF partnership, to UIA within JFNA, I was blessed with the strongest of professional partners. The successes we experienced together, the successes we led, arose out of a partnership of equals. I learned so much from every one of the professionals with whom I worked, with whom I partnered. No one can say that that is the case today.

And it seems clear that not one lay leader has challenged Silverman to produce...anything. They have, instead, thrown money at him while cutting his organizational responsibilities in half, or more. He has received close to or more than $5 million in aggregate compensation for what exactly, you ask? Well, for continuing programs initiated by UJA and CJF including the great success of JFNA-Washington; he allowed JFNA to almost totally abandon FRD and community Consulting; terminated JFNA professional placement services; initiated the costly, wasteful and unproductive inanities of TribeFests and #ish and FedWorld; he confused repackaging effort after effort adding "Fed" as a prefix to old wine in new bottles such as FedOvation, FedCentral, FedEngagement, FedWorld, FedNarishkeit with actual change; and on and on. And no one says "enough."

Well, we have and we do so again.

Some of you have asked: "Who might succeed Jerry Silverman as CEO." One could look around: there's David Fisher, past Federation President, JFNA leader, a National Campaign Chair of incredible integrity, and, most recently a most successful President and CEO of Birthright. David would be perfect. Or, you might wish to consider an Interim CEO engaging an experienced federation leader for two years -- perhaps a recently retired leader like Max Kleinman, perhaps JFNA's strongest cheerleader during his era as CEO of MetroWest. Max, now a JFNA Consultant (who isn't at this point?), has seen JFNA from the inside; I would intuit that Max would know how to right the ship. I can think of three professionals at WorldORT, each of whom has experienced leading a community with creativity and success. Or a Larry Fine, the recently retired CEO of the Rochester Federation, which he led with distinction for decades. Or John Ruskay, so well known to all of us: could John be lured back for a defined and limited contractual period with a mandate to effect change. Or, perhaps, the full weight of JFNA leadership could be brought to bear to finally induce Miami's Jacob Solomon to take the job -- certainly Jacob has seen the total deterioration of JFNA while cheering for its success.

In other words, there are many potential superb "candidates" (admittedly I have no idea whether any would have any interest in turning the Titanic around) to succeed Silverman and who, if retained, could "hit the ground running." And, beyond my very short list, I have to believe there are many others any one of whom...any one of whom...could embrace this position in the tradition of the merged organization and break the current organizational gloom.

Then again, effecting change would require some heavy lifting by Richard Sandler and as good a man and leader as he may be, I'm not sure he's interested.

Rwexler


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

A TOTAL EMBARRASSMENT

We've written before about the inexplicable silence from our continental organization with regard to, e.g., the introduction of legislation in the Knesset by the Shas Party that, if enacted, would hammer nails into the coffin that is the egalitarian prayer space at  adjacent  to the Kotel. There is just no explaining it. Not even the usual letter to the Prime Minister. Nothing.

Instead we rely on and "endorse" the eloquence of Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Executive, in condemning this legislation:

“This bill makes a mockery of all the efforts made by recent governments to ensure that the Western Wall is a place that unites, rather than divides, the Jewish people. This bill's passage would have grave consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Based on the Prime Minister’s strong personal commitment to strengthening the Israel-Diaspora relationship, it is my fervent hope that this damaging bill will be summarily dismissed by a majority of the coalition and of the Knesset.”
Could not JFNA have said exactly the same thing? Given us some sense that the organization's leaders actually know what's going on? Is Sharansky wrong when he wrote of the "grave consequences for the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry" or does Aryeh Deri perceive our organization as the toothless tiger it has become? Instead, our JFNA, days after Sharansky's statement "endorsed" it -- oh, the courage.

Do the organization's leaders, if that is the best way to characterize them any more, somehow believe a strong statement might mean that their visits to the PM's offices might be curtailed? Or that the Prime Minister won't video his presentations to the GA any longer? Were it I, I would be more fearful about JFNA not be taken seriously arising out of its silence on a matter so important.

In the past, as in the 1990s when the "Who Is a Jew" issue showed its ugly head in the Knesset -- with legislation introduced by the same Party -- our organizations not only issued strong statements but mobilized our leadership to visit Knesset leaders to make it clear, face-to-face, that that legislation "will not pass." Today? Today? We can't even mobilize our leaders to say a damn thing let alone visit Knesset leadership, let alone sit with the Prime Minister. BTW, there's a playbook for our institutional confrontation on "Who Is A Jew?" but Jerry apparently can't find it.

We want an organization in which we can take pride, speaking for us. Richard Sandler wants the same thing. 

Why is JFNA where we find it today? You tell me.

Rwexler

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

A REQUEST

As we approach the New Year, I urge all of you who read this Blog to make a contribution of whatever size to honor the work of ejewishphilanthropy that incredible resource for all of us. 

If you will,  just travel to www.ejewishphilanthropy.com and make your gift on-line.

Thanks,

Rwexler

Sunday, December 25, 2016

WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING?

A Commentator recently wrote:

"So if JFNA has abandoned the collective and is not really advocating for our partner organizations in Israel anymore (maybe even advocating against them?), maybe the time has come to create an organization or an alliance of organizations that will do the job.
If I am not mistaken, the merger was supposed to further the goals and functions of all three of the organizations that entered into it. If that is not happening then it seems to me that those whose mission is not being addressed should be finding other vehicles to achieve their goals.
Are we really expecting things to get better without drastic measures, by avoiding conflict and "unpleasantness" etc?
"What were we thinking?" is now being replaced by "What are we thinking?"
From everything I read here and from everything I see happening, it seems to be that the time has come to say "enough!" and to act on our principles and beliefs.
This is not what we signed up for - at least not what we intended to sign up for!" 
Back in the day, during the first years of CEO Rieger, while Joe Kanfer Chaired JFNA, and while I served on the Jewish Agency Board, I approached leaders of both JDC and JAFI about nothing more than combining forces in an Overseas Advocacy effort independent of JFNA -- a JFNA which even at that time was doing nothing for its partners other than acting as a collection agency, and doing a damn poor job even at that. JAFI leaders were enthusiastic and the Joint leadership, while interested, ultimately decided, after some excellent discussions, that it had no interest in moving forward together. I had hoped that the common interest in advocacy might lead to more, as suggested by the Anonymous Commentator above, but that was not to be then and, probably not, now. 

This Post will try to focus on the parlous state of JFNA which has become the all talk, do-nothing $53 million/year organization with which its highest level leaders -- lay and professional -- seem perfectly happy. And, as long as the federations (and, in particular, the largest including, yes, my own) continue to "feed the beast," we can expect nothing to continue to be the annual result.

I was reminded of this sorry state by Jerry Silverman's speech at the close of the GA to a more or less half-empty ballroom. Jerry recited a series of achievements -- all of which were those of others: the federations themselves, JAFI, JDC, WorldORT -- and none of which were those of JFNA at all. And the shambolic operation at 25 Broadway exemplifies just another failure among many. Strangely, the singular (at JFNA) achievements of JFNA-Washington earned nothing more than a throwaway line in Silverman's speech.

Let's examine a few of JFNA's failed/failing/flailing efforts:

  • Consulting Services -- there are none. A Search is on-going for a Vice-President (without significant staff) who will report to the Senior Vice-President Marketing and Communications!! In lieu of an effort to consult with the federations, JFNA has concocted FedCentral. That's the mechanism where JFNA steps out of the picture and federation professionals ask questions (my most recent favorites: Do the Board Minutes have to be approved by the Board?; or What needs to be done when a Board Member passes away?*) and hope that other federation professionals answer them -- and answer them correctly. As I recall there was once a community consulting effort of such strength that Silverman's predecessor reorganized functions and placed FRD under the consulting banner; and today, under Silverman (who in his eighth year of service still hasn't a clue) Consulting Services doesn't exist. Conceived as "A Wikipedia of shared Federation knowledge" this has given Wikipedia a very bad name. It is in fact operating proof that JFNA itself has no such "knowledge."
  • FRD --  Under Vicki Agron as a part-time non-exclusive "Senior Consultant," FRD has shown signs of life. The FRD Cabinet has been revived; what the Cabinet is doing is, so far, hidden from view. Agron first hired two excellent albeit part-time non-exclusive consultants and determined which communities they would assist (shhhh, it's a secret -- as were the names of the Consultants) and, then she searched out and saw to it that Brian Abrahams would join the JFNA professional staff as Senior Vice-President FRD. Brian offices in Chicago (?) and reports to...well, unclear, it may be to Vicki Agron as she continues in the role of Senior Part-Time Consultant. How will this all work? Your guess is as good as anyone's. Brian has to fill a number of senior FRD positions -- Planned Giving (the previous department leader was hired by Agron and let go after less than 9 months), Major Gifts, you name it. (BTW, as we have written, only at JFNA could the "Senior Consultant" have an Executive Assistant who in turn has an Executive Assistant.)
  • Israel & Overseas. This bloated entity, operating more or less on its own from 6,000 miles away from JFNA HQ, continues to produce prodigious expense with minimal return on investment. Though the office monitors the Knesset, actions there that impact here -- such as the Shas bill that "...would make it illegal to hold pluralistic prayer services at the Western Wall plaza" -- seem to come as a constant surprise. Recommendations to return Israel & Overseas to 25 Broadway continue to be ignored, not even discussed. We have been advised by well-placed sources in both JAFI and JDC that relations between those two partners and JFNA have never been worse. But, of course, this year the Office did persuade The Jerusalem Post that Jerry Silverman was among the Top 50 Jewish Leaders worldwide -- a true miracle.
  • Consultants. Everyone who reads this Blog with any regularity knows of my disdain for "building" an organization on the backs of consultants. One of you advised me that Richard Sandler had "ended the practice" of loading up on consultants at JFNA -- if so, he missed a few...actually a lot of them JFNA FRD has more consultants in the Department than full-time FRD pros; JFNA HRD still has the extremely well-paid mystery person, Deborah K. Smith, doing what nobody knows, on the payroll; and JFNA is the conduit between a major philanthropist and the SS+K consulting firm on an undisclosed $1 million-plus consulting deal. One way to rid the organization of these consultants -- require disclosure of (a) whom they are, (2) what they are paid, and (3) what they do. Think that is going to happen? Me either. 
So, where do your Dues go? I mean, if there's no Consulting Services, an FRD operation that is but a shadow of once was, a meaningless over-staffed and unmanaged Israel-Overseas operation and a major Consultant force doing what and for whom we are not allowed to know, how is $53 million plus spent for the benefit of the federations?

Why don't you start asking.

Rwexler

* Hint: first, you bury him...(drum roll please). And here is the answer actually published on FedCentral: "When this has happened in the past with our boards/committees, we've kept their name where it is for the remainder of their term, added an asterisk, and at the bottom of the column added a note "of blessed memory" in italics. z"l would also work."