Monday, March 2, 2015


While The Forward reported that the Jewish non-profit world in New York City was being rocked by scandals and "...are falling like dominoes," New York UJA-Federation seemed to be falling back, at least in part, on the fact that after the first of these corrupt practices was exposed in 2013 -- William Rapfogel's years of thefts and fraud at the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty -- UJA-Federation "drew up new governance guidelines." As if the mere adoption of "governance guidelines" was sufficient to protect the community and donors from the corruption that has overtaken agency after agency ever since. 

A true story: at the time that I was Chair of the United Jewish Appeal Board, I had a meeting with John Ruskay and one of his sitting New York UJA-Chairs at the Federation's offices. when the meeting ended, I took the elevator down with that lay Chair (whose name I will not use in deference to that person's proven commitment to leadership). Making small talk, I asked if this chairmanship was taking up a great deal of the leader's time. I will never forget the response: "Actually not that much. I took the position based on a deal with John -- any time he really needs me, he should call. Otherwise, I've delegated everything to John." My response: "I should have talked to you before I chaired Chicago." It might have just been a funny conversation, meaning nothing, were the potential -- and, indeed, often real -- disastrous results of this laissez faire approach to what are sacred responsibilities so consequential.

Josh Nathan-Kazis, in his excellent in-depth article in The Forward, summarizes the pride of New York UJA-Federation leadership in Guidelines they describe as "best practices," the interlocking nature of New York agency board leadership with that of UJA, and the like. At the end of the day, however, Guidelines are worthless without accompanying accountability and monitoring -- and those two minima just weren't happening in New York. Ask yourselves: in my community, are I...demanding accountability; are I...assuring that lay leadership is playing its fiduciary role vis-a-vis the professional staff or is it -- "they're such great pros, I have total confidence in them. They're my friends."

And, then, of course, there is JFNA...our JFNA. Governance, conflict of interest policy, bright lay leaders lining up for positions, Audit Committees...and disasters just waiting to happen. Do you know how much was spent on consultants last year? $2 million?? $4 million? Who knows? And to whom those contracts were awarded? And on what basis? Do you know how much was spent on...the Global Planning Mistake? (Yes, I have rebranded the GPT as this "GPM.") Do you know who has authorized the creation of 27 staff positions at JFNA-Israel; and how much is spent on them?  Those are just a starter set. Friends, no one is watching the store.

The sorry state of lay oversight at a slew of New York UJA-Federation funded agencies is laid bare in an excellent article by Stewart Ain, "New Fiscal Guidelines Failed to Sound Alarm," in the February 13, 2015 edition of The Jewish Week. ( There are so many lessons to be learned by sifting through the ashes of FEGS, the Metropolitan Council on Poverty, the New York Legal Assistance Fund, the 92nd Street Y, etc., etc., but, of course, those lessons require a lay leadership willing to get their hands dirty in the business of the agencies they fund and, of course, in their own organizations.

There have been many reasons ascribed to the corruption running like an epidemic in the world of Jewish non-profits in New York City but they can be distilled into five words: "a failure of fiduciary responsibility." New York UJA, as Ain underscored, passed serious agency Guidelines which, in some instances, were after the corrupt practices were on-going, and, in all instances, appear to have been nothing more than words on paper. For, as we have written, "Guidelines" are meaningless without constant reference and follow-up and an active and educated laity.

In the New York Jewish media, one respected observer (and Board member) of the New York non-profits appeared to offer, as an excuse for the nonfeasance that has reached epidemic state the complexity of agencies' budgets and operations when funded in part by government resources and in part by the donor community. I think that conclusion offers an excuse that just doesn't ring true. We have way, way too many non-profit Board members who believe their service is nothing more than honorific, requiring them to just "show up" once in a while and smile as if they are actually paying attention. Guidelines are worthless, aren't they, if no lay persons are monitoring the agencies' performance; Guidelines are just words on paper, a checklist if you will, if the laity, charged with the ultimate fiduciary responsibilities, are "leaving it to the professionals" to assure them that "all is well." 

Well, guess what, all is not well...not nearly well. It's long past time for non-profit Board Members to step up and just "do your jobs."


Friday, February 27, 2015


In back-to-back Anonymous Comments following the Posts related to the Jewish Agency, two readers* (or, maybe, it was just one) went after me for my perceived negativity, for going beyond my field of vision in examining the woeful state of JAFI's administration (rather than JFNA's, I guess), for focusing on "personalities" and for, in those writers' opinions, offering nothing positive, failing in what they believe should be my unequivocal support for JFNA and the Jewish Agency, or, if not support, then my silence. The thrust of the complaints is -- go write about JFNA and leave "us" alone -- or, better, just stop writing. I will accept some, but not all, of that criticism and know that I take all criticism seriously.

My problem with the two Comments (beyond the fact that these friends decided to hide behind their anonymity in going after me), is that they ignore two realities:

  1. The problems and challenges facing JFNA are not structural -- except insofar as leaders have modified the structure they were handed to concentrate power among fewer and fewer -- they are problems created by a failure of lay and professional leadership especially over the last decade. This failure, with all due respect, could be cured with a leadership dedicated to doing so. There is a great Coach here in Chicago whose mantra is identical to that of the late Herb Brooks, Coach of the "miracle" US Hockey team that defeated Russia so long ago -- it is "do your job." My criticism flows from (a) the ridiculous choice made by lay leaders to hire someone ill-equipped to professionally lead JFNA, a federation-driven entity, and, then, after that person proved incapable of running the organization, rewarding him with an extended contract; and (b) a lay leadership willing to delegate away its fiduciary responsibilities to anyone else but themselves. Pleas to them to "just do your job" have been totally ignored to the point that I question whether they even understand what the "job" is.
  2. The problems and challenges at JAFI, which some Commentators wish me to ignore as they do -- as if these problems and challenges do not exist or are not worthy of examination, let alone confrontation -- are both structural and managerial -- and have arisen at a time when North American federation financial support and, thereby, influence are at an all-time low. JAFI governance is so byzantine, its processes so Babel-like (for example, who among the many dedicated leaders who attended the JAFI Board meetings just concluded knows how many "companies" JAFI "runs" and/or what they do or cost), that the most senior professionals who have been there way too long can manipulate the governance, the budget and the processes, and have, with a push of a piece of paper.
  3. On these many, many pages I have, time and again, suggested solutions to these challenges and problems that seem so self-evident: lay leaders must assert and exercise the powers they have to effect change at the professional/managerial level -- I have even suggested names -- and I have urged a succession of lay leaders to "do your jobs." Too many of us -- and I include any number of my friends in this -- fear demanding action from our leaders as such a demand might be an obstacle or, worse, a bar to their aspirations for higher position. I would like to think that a little courage on all of our parts would be respected -- but, based upon personal experience, I am no doubt wrong.

The fault dear friends is not in the stars, it is in ourselves. Do I believe that an educated laity will rise up -- be it at JFNA or JAFI or wherever a rising up is necessary? My heart says yes; experience and my head say uh uh.

So stop kvetching about me (or continue if you wish) and start doing something about the issues we have identified together. As the Toronto Maple Leafs coach demanded after another loss: "It starts with, the 'give a s__t meter' has to be higher." If we all just "do our jobs," think of where we could be. I do -- about every three days.


* It is evident to me exactly whom this/these Anonymous Commentator(s) is/ are. It saddens me that there is a belief among smart people that this Blog, the Posts, are the problem not the issues the Posts address.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015


During some quiet moments recently I turned to my bookshelves for some needed solace and inspiration. 

The first volume I pulled from the shelves is almost an antique: The United Jewish Appeal: 1939-1982. Yes, an ancient volume filled with the history of a great organization created (and owned until the merger that created JFNA) by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the United Israel (Palestine) Appeal. The decades covered not only included the horrors of the Holocaust and post-Holocaust but the birth and sustenance of the State of Israel, its survival against all odds, its heroic wars and our role -- as donors and communities and national organizations -- in the building of the nation we love. And, oh, the great lay and professional leaders of those decades; men and women whose philanthropy inspired my generations of Jews and still do. Reading it made me long for the heroes of those days; in particular in comparison with the lack of heroes in our national organizational life today.

That tome ended before almost...almost...all of our involvement. And that history of the UJA was written from the outside in; and has the perspective of only an outsider.  It was paralleled by the work of one of the system's (when there was, in fact, a "system") greatest professional leaders, the late Philip Bernstein's, z'l, To Dwell in Unity -- The Jewish Federation Movement in America Since 1960 (published in 1983). That book is what we would call today a "tutorial" offering, as it does, the fullest explanation I had ever read of the interlocking nature of our local, national and overseas agencies. Phil was a mentor and friend to so many of us -- a professional for whom all, lay and pro alike, had total respect. And I would have been remiss if I hadn't returned to my bookshelves for Irving Bernstein's, z'l, Living UJA History, a true insider's story of the historic work of the United Jewish Appeal published in 1997. Irving was one of the inspirational Executive Vice-Chairmen who led the UJA -- he inspired me and a generation of lay persons.

But, of all of the histories (and there were and are far more than the three I have cited), the most exciting and incisive was and is Jonathan Woocher's seminal work: Sacred Survival - The Civil Religion of American Jews, published in 1986, just as the North American federation system approached its zenith in the Operation Exodus campaign and the Rally that was its preamble. Jonathan captured so perfectly "...the religion of America's Jewish federations and the powerful communal system of which they are the heart." Sadly, this was a book that was once living history and is now no more than the past and, thanks to the leaders of our Continental system in 2015, there is no longer the passion, the vision or the energy that once drove us to great achievements -- achievements that we never thought, we were never permitted to think, were beyond our capacity.

And, finally, I decided to reread my own work of a decade ago, United Jewish Catastrophes -- A Love Story. This was a very personal work, a diary of my frustrations and our achievements during the merger process, the fiasco of the hiring of the first CEO (that was but a precursor to the worse fiascos which have followed) and the first years of what was once called "United Jewish Communities." I thought that the founding years of what is now JFNA had gone so badly but, in truth, on re-reading, I now think that those first years were actually the halcyon era of JFNA, years that I would gladly trade straight up for the incoherent mess we have today and have had for the last nine years. That doesn't mean that those first years were what the merger's founders had dreamed or for which they had hoped, but the nadir of today is too much to bear. 

But while the past may look terrific in retrospect, it's still the past.


Saturday, February 21, 2015


1. Choosing to characterize the Posts that have appeared here and, maybe, that on ejp, Natan Sharansky corresponded with JAFI as follows:
"In light of certain communications that have been circulating which seek to tarnish the reputation of The Jewish Agency and the entire Jewish Agency team, I invite you to review, together with me, our accomplishments and achievements during 2014 as a result of the changes that have taken place in our organization over recent years."
While it may make some at JAFI feel so much better to characterize what has been written as merely "communication...which seek to tarnish the reputation of The Jewish Agency and the entire Jewish Agency Team," those who have read these Posts know that that was neither the case nor the intent. In all events, Natan's letter, which, of course, chose not to respond whatsoever to the facts appearing on these pages, did provide an impressive list of Jewish Agency accomplishments. 

Sad, but this is clearly another laity unwilling to come to grips with the sorry state of its management and administration.
2. A whole bunch of questions arise out of the JFNA Solidarity Mission to Paris earlier this month. 

  • Why? The Jewish Agency convened its own Mission one week earlier. JAFI had invited JFNA to join in that Mission. JFNA demurred. The more "solidarity" the better no doubt.
  • And on the JFNA Mission, among the 45 listed participants were: 7 (or more) JFNA staff members (someone, anyone, explain that ridiculous over-staffing to me, please), including p.r., a videographer  (for about 5 minutes total of "David Brown Reports") and the ubiquitous Becky Caspi, at least another 8 federation CEOs or senior staffers (the CEOs all from federations whose overseas allocations are far below even the sorry national average percentage); and 8 Chicagoans -- a great percentage and appropriate inasmuch as Chicago had raised $156,000 by mid-January to what we understand to be a paltry, embarrassing $675,000 "non-campaign" to assist French Jewry -- almost 25% of the paltry continental total. (Oh, there was also someone called "Rabbi Bob" Alper -- a Rabbi and, yes, a comedian. [On purpose, and heard to be a good one, unlike "CEO Jerry," accidental and a bad one -- comedian that is.] On this serious occasion, according to the excellent summaries from UIA Chair Rich Bernstein, Rabbi Bob performed at least part of his act [he frequently performs with a colleague -- a Palestinian stand-up]-- and what's funny about that?)
  • The Mission videos reminded me of that time -- in the 1970s if memory serves me -- when, in advance of serving as UJA's National Missions Chair, I authored (on my own IBM Selectric) a Mission Leaders Manual that UJA used for at least a decade. I recall that among my suggestions for those who Chair Missions were: stay flexible, have a great sense of humor and share the spotlight with all those who have joined you.
  • Why, in public venues has CEO Silverman actually stated that the "purpose" of this Mission was to consult with Paris Jewry on security measures at Jewish schools and institutions based on what we do in our communities here in North America when that is clearly and unequivocally false? As one Anonymous Commentator observed, "Solidarity" means "presence" -- I would say it means an expression of unity -- either way, a valid premise not requiring Jerry's ridiculous hyperbole.
  • Both Missions had incredible Itineraries -- UIA's Chair, Rich Bernstein, a JFNA Mission participant, has provided superb Summaries of the JFNA Mission in his Memos from Paris. 
  • At the end of the day I am certain that the JFNA Mission was a valuable experience for the participants and proved that JFNA can run a Mission that educates, even inspires, while at one and the same time raises not a dime to assist the Jews of Paris, of France. 
  • So, what will be the next "triumph?" On to Denmark, anyone? 
3. The situation for the Jewish communities of the Ukraine worsen, especially in East Ukraine where war is raging...and JFNA's silence is deafening. Having raised ("raised" is really the wrong word -- JFNA "raised" nothing) less than $3 million, this woeful leadership has turned its back on Jews in the worst distress imaginable. Lives are at risk and JFNA is busy asking for donations to assist French Jewry (on its website). Sounds just like JFNA.

And, while on the subject, last week  the NCSEJ organized meetings in D.C. for the President and Executive Director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee. Jerry was somewhere else -- touring cities in the South East -- and no one at JFNA participated -- just like no one at JFNA seems very interested at all in doing anything about the fate of the Jews of the Ukraine.

4. I have written on these pages of the corruption affecting a number of New York Jewish agencies, a number of them affiliated with the UJA-Federation of New York. Now, another has been revealed to be impacted with the resignation of the well-regarded Yis Schulman from the leadership of the New York Legal Assistance Group. One looks at the Board of this NYLAG, a roster of the best and brightest from almost every major New York law firm and you have to wonder -- don't these leaders, of all possible leaders, understand Board responsibilities? Is New York UJA-Federation ready to step into this unholy mess in its midst or is it trying its damnedest to distance itself from the collateral and real damages? We have written frequently that absent trust our non-profits are doomed to failure -- what is being done to restore trust in New York City?

5. My granddaughter participated in a massive BBYO/BBG-NFTY Teen Conference in Atlanta. The attendance was conservatively estimated at 3,000. That being the case, CEO I-Can't-Count-That-High, who was rumored to be on a southern "tour" at that time, was heard to report that "there were 6,000 people there."

6. Beyond these subjects there is the omnipresent low comedy of JFNA's stretches at relevancy -- especially in social media. Here's a recent entry of JFNA's Facebook page:
"Today, on National Bagel Day, check out the parallel timelines of how bagels have grown as North America's favorite food and the Jewish Federations have grown as North America's largest Jewish philanthropic engines."
"Philanthropic engine" -- sure. Sounds just like nothin'...JFNA.


Wednesday, February 18, 2015


I just received the following e-mail from "Jacob Levy". This is a voice, these are voices that deserve to be heard unedited and unfiltered:

Since I began sending my few e-mail blasts, people have sent me dozens of e-mails asking "who is Jacob Levy?"
Well it is time for the truth.
I am Jacob Levy. You may or may not have met me.
But I am only the sender and scribe of these emails.
These emails and these efforts have been organized by a group of mostly past and some currents employees of the Sochnut.  Some people have sent emails accuses Misha Galperin of being part of the group because of the timing of his leaving - he isn't part of the group who sends these mails. We wish he was.  Or even more truth, we wish there was no group and no emails or blogs articles.
Many of us are unhappy of Misha leaving but only because we think it shows that things are not good in the Sochnut. and none of us are from New York.  We think if Misha leaves we will have to cut more programs. We would ask him to stay.
There is no "Whistle Blower Law" in Israel that would protect us. We would lose our jobs if our names were public. Those of us who already left would be destroyed by the political system and we have families to support.  
We are not angry people.and this is not "sour grapes". These efforts have been in our pains. Our problems is we love Sochnut and we are in pains over what happening. We know telling people bad things about the Sochnut can also hurt the Sochnut. We did not take this step without a great amount of thought. We decided that only by telling the truth could we have any hope of helping the Sochnut. There is so much dirty laundry that no one just hide it anymore. Everyone sees it everyday.
There are more good things going on everyday then bad things in the Sochnut.  There are many many programs worthy of donors money.
But we can and must go go back to who we are and stop lying about who we are going to be or who we pretend to be.  We must stand up for the Sochnut proudly and without apology and also fix our problems with fast surgery where it is required. We have said where we think the surgery is required. We can only hope that the leadership has the courage to make hard decisions. They should know that they will have everyone's support when they do the right thing.
If you are going to Board Governors or received a letter form the Chairman you are going to hear that all we did is lie. You are going to hear that under fire the Sochnut saved lives and could not do everything it said it was going to do because of the work in Ukraine or because of the war in Gaza. It is very painful to hear because this pattern of propaganda and good PowerPoint prevails. The leadership that we attacked was not under fire. You will hear that every good thing that was done - was done because of the new strategic plan - even if they are the same things we have done for over 50 years.  The fact is that you are going to hear even more lies as leadership tries to cover up what we laid bare.
You will hear that of the 12,000 MASA participants only 3,000 are Yeshiva students. You will hear that one of the Yeshivot that Dan Brown pointed out is actually very Zionist, despite the fact that its Shas member Rosh Yeshiva led the demonstration of 500,000 last year, closing Jerusalem, protesting against drafting Yeshiva students into the Israel Defense Forces. This Rabbi is now free from his sentence of 8 months probation for corruption and arranging bribes of public officials. 
You will hear that everything is good... It is not.
Someone wrote on Mr. Wexler Blog:
We are all Jacob Levy."
 Friends, let us all be Jacob Levy.



Eli Broad, business baron and mega-philanthropist,  and, now, active in Jewish federation philanthropy in Los Angeles, has many causes that he supports with both his time and money -- in particular modern art and education. So why speculate what Mr. Broad might do were he engaged with our system in addition to those causes he holds so dear and to which he has contributed with such generosity? Simple...

Last month the New York Times and Los Angeles newspapers reported that Broad had "suspended" an annual multi-million dollar grant from his Foundation to multiple low income school districts across the country because "...he cannot find school districts doing enough good work to merit the award." Tens of millions of dollars will no longer be awarded, the papers reported.

Hmmm. Just think if Eli Broad were the JFNA Chair. You think he would tolerate a leadership that sustains professional leaders who have achieved a level of mediocrity and worse? Does anyone believe that Eli Broad would have renewed Jerry Silverman's contract after 5 years without accountability or accomplishment? It strikes me from his history that Mr. Broad is an impatient man... in his businesses and in his philanthropy. Does anyone believe that Mr. Broad would tolerate the annual waste of almost $30,000.000 of donors' funds on an entity that once preached "more dollars and more donors" but now and for the past 5 years has done almost nothing to grow the donor base as more and more dollars leave our system while the system itself -- at least at the Continental level -- wastes millions 24/7? Of course Eli Broad wouldn't...but Michael Siegal would and does.

Of course, in Eli Broad's support of education grants, his Foundation was allocating his money, not donors' or federations'. But that's the point isn't it? That point being that we, as fiduciaries, are charged with allocating donors' and federations' funds as if those dollars were our own. Jerry Silverman seems not to understand that, Steve Silverman (JFNA's Budget Chair) seems not to understand that, and Michael Siegal seems not to care. 

The end result at JFNA is so obvious -- no one appears to be watching the store, and we know from the experience of other organizations what are too often the consequences of such neglect -- from FEGS to the New York Legal Assistance Foundation, from the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty and beyond. We need a lay leadership that actually performs their fiduciary responsibilities; we don't have one.

Instead, we have seen JFNA leaders, time and again, stifle even the little debate that takes place within JFNA. For example: during a Budget and Finance Committee meeting three or more years ago, when basic line item questions were raised by federation lay leaders, John Ruskay, then the NY UJA-Federation CEO argued that these questions were impermissible because the budget had been vetted by the professional staff. Debate was stifled; questions quashed. Then, at the January 2015 Board meeting, when debate over a change to JFNA's governance that ultimately eliminated 5 Vice Chairs and the Chair of Executive position actually was taking place among men and women leaders of good will, they were told that the questions were inappropriate because the rubber stamp JFNA Executive Committee had already approved the changes. These are but examples of the deplorable state of JFNA governance today.

Sure, were Eli Broad to Chair JFNA we might expect different outcomes than we have experienced; however, I will be the first to admit, I expected the very same from Michael Siegal -- so did many others. And I admit to the frustrations and disappointments that I have poured out on these pages. And, I am certain that were Mr. Broad the JFNA Chair i am certain he would have acted out peremptorily in ways I would have found to have been highly objectionable, worthy of a Blog. Nonetheless, having suffered through the leadership JFNA has offered  us...

Oh, for what might have been.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015


I awakened to read Rich Bernstein's email apology to me. He had not read the Post  before our correspondence began; now he has. He understands that I did deny being "Jacob Levy" and that I do not know who he is, if he exists at all. I responded that of course I accepted his apology with the hope that we can work together toward make Jewish organizational life better.

Shortly thereafter I read Dan Brown's superb expose in today's ejewishphilanthropy that should be required reading for all those who are charged with responsibility for monitoring the expenditure of donors' funds in Israel -- that's UIA/JFNA and JAFI itself. Dan has analyzed what a failure to monitor might mean and just how, in the instance of MASA, a program of such promise is being abused.


Monday, February 16, 2015


When I wrote the Posts "JAFI CIRCLES THE DRAIN PARTS 1 and 2," not only did a new person, unknown to me, possibly not even real, one "Jacob Levy" enter our lives, but so did another -- more about him later. Under the name "Levy," this person appeared to forward my Posts to the JAFI Board mailing list as I so noted in an Addendum to "Part 1." Please note as you read the following that when I learned of "Jacob Levy's" distributions I stated quite clearly in the Blog itself that I did not know who "Jacob Levy is."

Subsequent to my publication of Levy's own reconstruction of the facts and circumstances confronting JAFI, I then became the new "pen pal" of Rich Bernstein, UIA's Chair. Our correspondence follows:

Bernstein's first missive:


Cut the crap.

No one knows who “Jacob Levy” of “The Worldwide Friends of JAFI
48/5 King George Street, City Of WestminsterWsm W10 4” is. Why could that be?


Jacob: please tell me who you are within the next 24 hours or I will assume you are Richard W.

And tell everyone, everywhere, the true unless you fess up now. 

I am not kidding.

So I responded:

Now that I have read your e-mails more carefully, I have to ask: did you really write: “And tell everyone, everywhere, the true unless you fess up now. I am not kidding”?

I know, I know, my font choice failed in comparison to Rich's. But, heck, I know Rich to be a lawyer, and expected better use of the English language.

Not satisfied, Rich chose to go down the "when did you start beating your wife" track:
"Yes. I did."
Followed by:
"Richard, that is not a denial."
So I responded: "“Cut the crap” seems the appropriate response. Reach out to Jacob Levy yourself."

But Bernstein was unabashed:

You still have not denied my accusation.

I am waiting.

And I responded:
"See if you understand this, Rich. As I have written in my Blog — I have no idea who Jacob Levy is or whether, even, a “Jacob Levy” exists. For all I know you may be “Jacob Levy.”"

This seemed to anger Mr. Bernstein:
 "I did.

       I will await his reply.



      (And, for the record, no denial. Richard: bad move.)"

Followed by:

So is that a denial that you are *not* Jacob Levy?

Yes or no?

Simple question."

So I told Rich Bernstein, lawyer, Chair of UIA, that this dialogue was too good not to be published on these pages. After uttering a "J'Accuse" (really, J'Accuse!!), he continued with the following, copying everyone from Michael Siegal to, no doubt, G-d almighty:
Cool beans.

And, for what it is  worth, you have yet to say the simple words : “yes” or “no” to the question whether you are, or aren’t,  “Jacob Levy”.

Real simple. Just  reply to all.

But please:

Right now I am in the ring trying to fight the fight along with many, many other good people.

You are not.

You are being neither helpful nor constructive. I, for one, am tired of your self-absorbed dribble.

Things are not simple or easy in the Jewish world.

I suspect they never were.

(Think back to when you were in the leadership chair, if you can.)

Take a breath.

Or go see a doctor.


Believe or not – with love……..


(p.s. if you threaten me that you are going to print this is your blog, that’s is fine. But, please, do it in full as there are a lot of people cc’ed on this.)" *
So, Rich, pleased to oblige -- I have printed the entire correspondence -- whereas you did not. 

And, days ago, I addended the Part 1 Post as follows:
"Apparently, many of you who do not read this Blog regularly and others who do received a copy of this Post by email from a "Jacob Levy." Quite a few have asked me "who is this person?" The answer is simply "I do not know who Jacob Levy is." I must admit, however, that I appreciate the efforts of one and all who increase the circulation of this Blog."
As I always do, I signed this. Having claimed to have read it, Rich Bernstein chose to ignore it , inasmuch as that would not have fit within his narrative, his inflamed rhetoric, or his so evident aspirations. BTW, before his final diatribe -- the Rich Bernstein version of Emile Zola's J'Accuse, Rich accused me, of being a "cyber-bully."

"Cool beans."


* Rich Bernstein copied 21 leaders with his J'Accuse diatribe.


Friends, I don't know whom "Jacob Levy" is -- but he has distributed and redistributed the "JAFI CIRCLES THE DRAIN" Posts and now has offered the expansive Comment which follows:

"Mr. Wexler's blog is true everything that is written. One could talk to any senior Agency employee in private and hear all the same things.  Everyone knows what Mr. Wexler wrote.  But, the Blog article misses the point. The main thing about Alan Hoffmann is not his contempt, lack of support and undermining the most capable and dedicated employees. It is not about his extravagant and wasteful spending, excess travel, and ugly pet names for everyone who works at the agency, like "the dwarf" or the witch.

The main thing is that he fails systematically in every mission he touches. When Alan became Director General the Agency were three very well running departments of knowledge people. Some said they (were) too strong.  Alan was unable to put together a reasonable alternative organizational structure.  His structure (has) more than doubled or tripled the silos within the agency and created total confusion in the structure of authority and responsibility for some tasks, and there are too many hands managing others, and many tasks (are) just falling through the cracks. That is the real balagan.

Alan announce a new strategic plan?  And after an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

There were 4 pillars to the plan. Lets look:

Pillar One: Jewish Experience and Israel Experience in Israel. The result: Birthright/Taglit already existed; MASA/Israel Journey already existed in one way or another for over 60 years.  After the Strategic Plan then Agency adds another program in between - ONWARD - and after a huge investment in public relations, marketing and investing money to develop new jobs to a successful program last year of about 1,000 young people in these programs. It is a beautiful and an important program. But is that the scale of strategic revolution? The largest global Jewish organization can only succeed at making do with influencing 1000 young adults to forgo long term programs and come for 4-8 weeks? This (was) described by the Agency as great earthquake of strategic move but in truth is a nice program of almost negligible magnitude!!!!!! 

Pillar Two: Young Activism in Israel: After a lot of noise and public relations, new jobs, more money, development budgets and the result? Project TEN - a few dozen beautiful young Israelis in volunteer programs, it was promised as Jewish young people from around the world working and studying Jewish subjects together. Israelis and Non-Israelis. (Except) for the Center in Kibbutz HarDuf in Israel, which by the way is at Director Lahavs kibbutz on a no bid basis, there have almost never been any non-Israelis in attendance. First Center in India  closed.  Center in Ghana  never opened.  Mexico  barely functioning.  A success story only on paper and in presentations. This is a failure in all of its promises. Jewish kids from all over the world working and studying Torah together. That was Alans promise  NEVER HAPPENED.  There have been several cycles of excellent Pre-army Academy Programs.  A small drop in the ocean that is totally incompatible with the definition of a revolution in strategic organization that costs hundreds of millions of dollars

Pillar Three: Immigration and Absorption. Result: A total loss of exclusivity. Nefesh bNefesh taking credit for Immigrants that Sochnut brings from the Former Soviet Union. The humiliation by the Government changing the Ministry of Absorption to the Ministry of Absorption and Aliyah, the Government creating a company for the Public Benefit for Aliyah, closing great programs like the Student Authority that brought and college education tens of thousands of young new Immigrants at a time that it would bring huge numbers from the Former Soviet Union, the wholesale closing of successful Ulpans all over the country. 

The Government was told the Jewish Agency was changing from Aliyah to Education by Alan Hoffmann.  They believed him and were angry that the Agency was breaking its agreement with the Government. This is what has led the government of Israel to not want to work with the Jewish Agency and not trust the Agency on matters of Immigration. 

Pillar Four: Significant Growth in Shlichim (Emissaries). Results: Evaporated into thin air. What was before is what remains. The only big change is on College Campuses. And this successful initiative is led by Natan Sharansky himself with money raised from Sheldon Adelson.

The truth of the Strategic Plan is that it is like a sword and a shield. Alan is the sole person who carries both weapons. He decides what is in the plan or out of the plan.  Lay leadership is forgotten and not informed.  For Alan they are just an audience to be educated/entertained. Lay people are just in the way.  So after four or five years of the new strategic plan, the question what has actually happened?  What has changed?  What represents the expression of the new strategic moves of this huge organization? Why did we close the previously successful programs that served us so well in the past? 

And where the hell went all the money invested in all this extravagant process?? 

In fact, what one would expect?  Alan Hoffmann is the same Alan that followed this pattern as well when he was Director General of the SOCHNUT Education Department.  Great Power Points. No results. Does anyone remember NACIE? - A would be coalition of North American Federations for Israel Education???? No one remembers it  it never happened.  

Makom - a think-practice tank focused on re-imagining the place of Israel in Jewish life, and a grand global center for the development and training programs for educators about Israel.  Several talented Israel educators doing what they did before and after the Strategic plan. No success or growth anywhere in sight.  Just another brilliant Power Point with lots of circles. There are a few minor and isolated Pilot Programs" that were there in the first place...

This all sounds harsh and nasty but the claims of Alans victory in the faces of his failures are...offensive to all those that have worked so hard at the Agency.  Every time Alan gets a job as Director General  he has to hire a director general.  Ayelet Shilo Tamir and Gerda Feuerstein in the Education Department and again now Ayelet Shilo Tamir at the Agency.

Jewish Agency web bio claims Alan developed MASA/Israel Journey  not true. These programs were mostly all in existence  some of them for over 60 years.  Alan created the umbrella organization to channel the Government of Israel funding brought by Sallai Meridor.  A careful reading of the MASA program book is embarrassment.  The Jewish Agency is funding some completely inappropriate programs, some of them in direct opposition to SOCHNUTs core Zionist values for the sole purpose of artificially inflating the number of participants  and maybe only for the purpose of inflating an ego?  If the donors only understood it, they would be humiliated. 

Alan has a habit of finding work and international travel for his friends. The circle of Alan trust that Mr. Wexler spoke about.  It is possible that Alan is not deserving of as much trust. The Jewish Agency has a Youth Travel company (The Israel Experience). When some SOCHNUT programs need travel services the Jewish Agency owned company is not always allowed to match bid the services, we are sure that Alan must have disclosed his family relationship and connection to the competing company that keeps winning the bids.

When Mr. Wexler wrote about the, all but dead, Government of Israel Initiative, he left off it was Alan that supported the initiative moving from the Prime Ministers Office to Diaspora Affairs Director General Dvir Kahana because Dvir was his close friend and a great friend of the Jewish Agency  the rest is too pain for comment.  Except another waste of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The promise of the Strategic plan was to also improve the Agencys position and perceived role in Israeli society. Today it could not be worse. Better to tell your neighbors that you work anywhere than tell them you work at the Jewish Agency.

Vast amounts of money spent on the process of change but failed in realizing any meaningful ideas! 

The major point that we all agree on with Mr. Wexler, is that it is time for Alan Hoffmann to go home."

I still do not know whom Jacob is...wish I did.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


I look at the place of Avrum Burg today and just sigh. Among the saddest words in the English language are "what might have been." Over a decade, like a comet streaking across the sky that burned out as it hits Earth's atmosphere, Arum was a dear friend; then there was a different Arum falling to the Arum of today. It's a sad story.

Avraham Burg, the son of National Religious Party leader, the venerated Yosef Burg, was, with the Meridor brothers -- Dan and Sallai -- Yossi Beilin, Yoni Netanyahu, Ehud Olmert and others, one of the so-called "Princes" of a new generation of Israelis. All of them sabras, although of differing (often polar opposite) political leanings, all served in the IDF, they were expected to become the young Turks who would ultimately govern Israel. Burg was at the vanguard of these young men -- having served in the paratroops brigade, first entered the public scene as an activist in left-wing organizations, including Peace Now.

In 1985, then Prime Minister Shimon Peres appointed Avrum as his Diaspora Affairs advisor -- a role in which Burg flourished and in which he developed his most close personal relationship with Rabbi Brian Lurie, then the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Francisco, a professional and philanthropist with similar engagement with left wing organizations. In 1988, Avrum was elected to the Knesset; and a few years later Brian became the CEO of the United Jewish Appeal.

Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency flourished with the mass aliyah from the Former Soviet Union, only to become embroiled in controversy when the Chair of its Executive and the Chair of the World Zionist Organization, Simcha Dinitz, was indicted on claims he used JAFI credit cards for personal purposes (he was later found not guilty). While combating these charges and others, Dinitz was forced to step down. Enter Avrum Burg into Jewish organizational life. 

It was 1994. The massive aliyah was winding down; Dinitz was out. As JAFI leaders looked around for a successor as its Executive Chair, the obvious candidate was Yechiel Leket, a longtime Zionist leader and entrenched Israeli politician, who was serving as acting Chair of the JAFI Executive and WZO after Dinitz's resignation. Brian Lurie, now the CEO of the United Jewish Appeal, rallied support among the LCE (yes, there they were...again) for a "fresh face with new ideas" and they, with Lurie, in turn lobbied the North American lay leadership. My recollection today is that the venerated Max Fisher, z'l, the patriarch of North American Jewry, and others, were less than impressed with Burg but they were overwhelmed by Federation leadership anxious for someone "younger, new and different." Burg, in a close vote at the Search Committee level, was elected the new Chair of the JAFI Executive and the WZO.

Over the next four years, Burg, in his new positions, worked assiduously for the Jewish People. I had great admiration for his creativity, but, like the rest of us, was aghast at his lack of management skills -- something vitally needed in an organization that, as allocations seriously declined, still suffered from the reality and the perception of personnel bloat and politicization. To his credit, Burg began to cut the budget and with those cuts, the personnel and, at the initiative of his lay Board Chair, Corky Goodman, the organization started to professionalize over the constant entrenched and vocal opposition of Leket and his cronies. All the while he was in office, Burg continued to chart a course in Israeli political life.

Over those years, Avrum and I grew close. I loved his sharp wit and intelligence; I loved the arguments we in UJA leadership had with him b'shem ha'shamayim. I had a number of beautiful Shabbat lunches at the Burg home on a hilltop in the wilderness of Nataf outside of Yerushalayim -- where all of us just enjoyed each others company with the Burg family, his wonderful wife, Yael, their six children (among them those they had adopted), various dogs...and us. It was not difficult, sitting their in the Burg hilltop home, learning of his personal charitable activities conducted quietly, and exploring his dreams, to picture Avrum Burg as the future Prime Minister of Israel.

But two years into his tenure, it was becoming clear that Burg was growing frustrated with the constant pulls of his positions -- frustrations that boiled over. For example, in a speech to the Los Angeles Federation Board where he shocked those communal leaders with a broadside attack on their woeful lack of support for the needs served by JAFI; and, in another meeting, after weeks of negotiations, Avrum "agreed" quite reluctantly to meet with the ubiquitous, even then, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, leader of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a meeting that began with Burg refusing to shake Eckstein's hand and then telling him that, were it up to him, JAFI wouldn't accept Evangelical Christian money. We ushered the Rabbi out, insisted that the JAFI Executive Chair be a little more gracious and the meeting reconvened with a handshake and the delivery of a check to JAFI from the IFCJ.*

By 1999, it was time for Avrum Burg to move on. His departure was best characterized as uncivil -- in a heated negotiation over severance and perquisites (including a 10 year use of car and driver). He was again elected to the Knesset on Ehud Barak's One Israel ticket, and was elected Speaker, a position he filled for four years. 

His ambition unquenched, Avrum ran for the head of the Labor Party, won in a vote that was overturned after fraud allegations, and then lost in the second vote. Then he seemed to spiral out of control. In 2003, after a British newspaper published his op-ed advocating both "[T]he end of Zionism" and demanding Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, Burg published another broadside, this time in Yediot Ahronot seemingly rationalizing Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.

He resigned from the Knesset in 2004 and led the failed acquisitions of two Israeli businesses accompanied with allegations of fraud. Controversy followed Burg everywhere. His public diatribes continued -- in 2007 his book, Defeating Hitler, claimed that Israelis had become a violent, fascist State, followed by an interview in Haaretz in which he advocated the rescission of the Law of Return and the end of Israel as "a Jewish State" (he later retracted this advocacy...somewhat) and disclosed that he had obtained French citizenship. A year later he went public with his support for J-Street and, thereafter, took a leadership position at the New Israel Fund.

In a debate at Georgetown in 2009, Burg articulated his opinion that " is time for the U.S. to get tough on Israel." He has been a constant critic of the Government of Israel as undemocratic while arguing that a "one-state solution" could bring greater democracy while writing in The Independent in 2012 that Israel is "...the last colonial occupier in the Western world."

And, only months after announcing his intent to initiate a new Jewish-Arab Party, last month, Avraham Burg, the once and former Prince, announced that he had decided to join the Arab dominated Hadash Party. Hadash, born in the embers of Israel's Communists, has been described as follows:
"Hadash is a Jewish and Arab party, but has a mainly Arab electorate. The main points of its platform include the complete Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, recognition of the PLO, the separation of religion and state, the Palestinian "right of return" to Israeli territory, lobbying for workers' rights, encouraging Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, and full equality for Israel's Arab citizens."
Burg announced that he planned to run, once again, for the Knesset. His late father, a lifelong patriot for and leader of Israel, would not have been proud. But, at the end of the day, not even the Hadash Party would place the once and former Prince on its Knesset "list."

All of us who once knew Avrum as the future are confounded. But, he is still young. Round and round he goes, where he stops nobody knows...especially Burg.


* Ironically, Eckstein's organization has now funded a Burg-related Soccer company to the tune of $1 million. Avrum accepted that check.