Monday, November 30, 2015


It was an organization that, at one time, was institutionally heroic -- if an entity can be such. In its first iteration, it was the pre-State government of Israel. Post-Independence, it was a partner in building the country and the nation. In one five year period, its work, propelled by our incredible philanthropy, prepared and delivered 1,000,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union to Israel. Its leaders, from Ben Gurion forward were our leaders...Max Fisher, z'l, Chuck Hoffberger, z'l, Corky Goodman, Alex Grass, z'l, Richie Pearlstone, Carole Solomon to Chuck Ratner...our leaders.

But, somewhere along the line, somewhere in its most modern history, the Jewish Agency for Israel lost its way. And, today, the evidence is in that JAFI has lost sight of its core purposes. (Sound familiar?) To those of us who fought the successful fight side-by-side with lay and professional leaders worldwide: to depoliticize the Agency, to make its annual budget among the most transparent in Jewish organizational life -- more so, certainly, than those of the JDC and JFNA, to name but two -- to maintain and increase allocations to JAFI's core budget; and to assure that its programs were not just funded but monitored and evaluated -- to us these are the saddest of days.

Not so long ago JAFI's lay leaders -- at the time, Richie Pearlstone and Natan Sharansky, the latter more of a hybrid lay-professional as Chair of the JAFI Executive -- had determined to invigorate a worldwide financial resource development effort. With Sharansky's support and encouragement, the organization sought out Misha Galperin, then in the process of negotiating an extension of his contract as CEO/President of the Washington D.C. Federation, to lead this world-wide effort. Galperin, who knew something about chain of command from his work at first the New York UJA-Federation and then D.C., had but few requirements for this new position -- that his JAFI contract mirror his contract with Washington with adjustments for relocation to New York; that severance conditions be unequivocal; and, most critically, that his reporting path  be directly and expressly to Natan and the Board Chair. It was this last "demand" that caused the greatest issues.

Even before Misha's contract was executed, the JAFI Director General, Alan Hoffmann, attempted both directly and in the shadows, to either modify the reporting inserting himself in the process or, in the alternative, to kill the deal. Ultimately, Galperin agreed to a modified reporting outline, with Hoffmann in the mix. But the die had been already cast -- relations between Alan and Misha were bad from the beginning and only got worse.

JAID -- the Jewish Agency International Development -- was essentially a one man band with Galperin the band leader with few if any instruments. Although Misha staffed up with the some wonderful professionals in the New York HQ, it was he, almost alone, who solicited $10s of millions for JAFI's coffers. His annual successes exceeded even the most optimistic of estimates. But, still, it appeared that the JAFI Director General did all that he could to undermine Galperin's efforts. When Chuck Ratner, an inspired lay Board Chair for whom Alan Hoffmann had been his JAFI guru, succeeded Pearlstone, an active Galperin supporter, the die was cast. Slowly but surely, even Sharansky's support for Misha eroded -- ultimately, Misha was pushed to the ledge. His contract was not renewed. 

JAFI, Alan Hoffman, Chuck Ratner, Natan Sharansky, in their collective "brilliance," were willing to put at risk, if not absolutely sacrifice, those $10s of  millions which they knew Misha raised through his personal efforts, for what appeared to have been nothing more than a power play the outcome of which was Alan Hoffmann "winning" a bureaucratic victory -- the price be damned.  What a "victory." JAID today languishes with a new professional leader about to join. That leader, Josh Fogelson, once the CEO of the Minneapolis Federation (where, during the days in which the JFNA Financial Relations leadership engaged in core allocations advocacy, kept us out and the JAFI allocation cratered in that community), will now need to build/rebuild an entire structure from the ground up . (One of Galperin's failings was his apparent belief that a lay cohort was unnecessary to the JAID efforts across the Continents. None was really implemented and the lay structure which many of us had built at JAFI North America, essentially abandoned by the end of Misha's term.) JAID/JAFI requires great lay/professional leadership; JAID/JAFI requires greater coordination with UIA. A 2014 outline of the "division of overseas responsibilities among UIA and JFNA-Global Operations  (and JFNA-Israel, one and the same) has ruptured given Silverman's inattention, UIA leadership's apparent lack of interest, and Becky Caspi's continued empire-building.

So, the search for Galperin's successor has been completed. Josh Fogelson  will be in place by January 1, 2016. Several things are certain: the new JAID CEO will report directly and exclusively to the JAFI Director General for better or, more likely, for worse; the marketing function for JAID will not be a JAID function run from New York HQ but will be run out of Jerusalem, also under Hoffmann's thumb. As good as Josh Fogelson may be, the new CEO will be a lesser Misha Galperin. Anyone who has led an FRD effort understands that marketing and FRD require coordination and direction, by FRD for FRD -- that will not be the case at JAID/JAFI.

Total it up -- Alan Hoffmann has "won" an illusory victory while JAFI is the loser. Big time loser.


Friday, November 27, 2015


Michael Goldblatt, Stanley Benzel, Mel Rubin, Ben Chouake, Harvey Friedman, Leonard Getz, Joshua Landes, Irwin Hochberg -- these are just a few of the Officers and Board Members of the Zionist Organization of America.* If you know these men or any of the men and women and women who serve as Officers or Board Members of the ZOA, my suggestion is, warn them: run, run very fast, from ZOA Board service (whatever that means in the ZOA context) because you may incur personal liability for the excess compensation being paid Morton Klein, your President for life. Let me explain...

Guidestar has explained:

"The IRS is charged with enforcing the Federal Private Inurement Prohibition, which strictly forbids a tax-exempt organization’s decision makers—board members, trustees, officers, or key employees—from receiving unreasonable benefits from the nonprofit’s income or assets. Excessive compensation paid to nonprofit executives is the most common violation of this prohibition,  and it can cause the IRS to levy hefty fines on the persons involved."
And, "persons involved" includes far more "persons" than the recipient of excessive compensation -- to Board Members and officers who have approved or ignored the compensation paid.

Why should this be of concern at the ZOA? Hmmmm. As The Jewish Voice of New York disclosed:
"In early 2014, during the campaign for the election of the President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), there was much controversy about the compensation paid to President Mort Klein in recent years. The Form 990s that were filed and publicly available showed that Klein had been paid more than $3.4 million for the five year period from 2008 through 2012, an average of almost $700,000 per year. This was extraordinary both in absolute and relative terms, as Klein's compensation exceeded 30% of total donations received by the ZOA during that time period. 
The Jewish Voice of New York has now seen the Form 990 filed by the ZOA at the end of 2014 for calendar year 2013. It shows that Klein had his most lucrative year yet, with total compensation of more than $1.5 million, out of total donations to the ZOA of only approximately $5 million."
I have written about the Zionist Organization of America before -- when the IRS revoked its charitable status after the organization failed to file its requisite tax returns for some years while its continued to raise the small amount of contributions it does apparently deploying those to pay and promote the same Morton Klein.

For purposes of this Post I will assume that the Internal Revenue Service will conclusively determine that the compensation paid Morton Klein has been as excessive as it has been egregious. Again, Guidestar:
"Penalties for excess compensation range from fines to revocation of an organization’s tax-exempt status. Fines are the more likely consequence. Known formally as excess benefit transaction excise taxes and informally as intermediate sanctions, the fines can be levied on both the executive who received the overpayment and the board members who approved it or who knew about the excess but did nothing to prevent it. For example:

Say the executive director of ABCD Charity received a compensation package of $250,000 in FY 2008. After an examination (or, in layperson terms, an audit) of the organization, the IRS establishes that $150,000 was the appropriate compensation for the position at that time. As a result of this determination:
  • The IRS requires the executive director to repay the $100,000 overpayment to the organization—with interest. If the executive director fails to repay this amount, or repays only part of it, a 200 percent excise tax may be imposed on the amount yet to be repaid.
  • The IRS may require the executive director to pay an excise tax equal to 25 percent of the overpayment. In this example, the excise tax would be $25,000.
  • The IRS may require each board member who approved the excess compensation, or any board member who knew about the excess but failed to prevent the overpayment, to pay an excise tax equal to 10 percent of the overpayment, not to exceed $20,000 per transaction. In this example, should the IRS decide to impose the excise tax, each board member would owe $10,000. "
Then there is the $1.6 million "bonus" just granted Richard Joel by Yeshiva University. As The Forward disclosed less than one month ago:
"As his college's finances continued to crumble last year, Yeshiva University's president, Richard Joel, publicly took a pay cut. Then months later, he privately pocketed a deferred compensation payment of $1.6 million (which)...took Joel's total compensation for 2014 to $2.8 million, among the highest packages for college presidents nationwide."
An anonymous faculty member was quoted as expressing "wonderment and concern" about the payment -- a sentiment to which I would add "disgust." Wonder what the IRS will think.

We have noted on these pages the excessive compensation paid at least one other non-profit CEO -- that, however, reflected upon excessive compensation based upon performance. What we have referenced here is something else entirely.

Yet another example of a failure of fiduciary responsibility. I can guarantee that in our Jewish non-profit world, CEOs and CEO-applicants will be using Morton Klein's and Richard Joel's compensation figures in attempting to rationalize their own. 

No wonder our donors have lost trust in our organizations.


Tuesday, November 24, 2015


The monitoring organizations that evaluate non-profits, like GuideStar or Charity Navigator, do the best job that they can with information that is often inadequate, out-of-date and manipulated. Take a look at JFNA if you would (and if you can bear it)...

If you merely take a surface look at JFNA's reporting of its "income" and activities, one might believe that JFNA "raises" (as your federation and mine actually raises) hundreds of millions of dollars. The reality, of course, is something far different. As you and I know, JFNA raises maybe a trickle, has no FRD staff, and, more likely, raises nothing. JFNA does "allocate;" it is conduit of dollars. So, if GuideStar, Charity Navigator and other evaluating organizations had the staffing to do so, it would know that JFNA's actual cost is effectively close to 100% of income -- a disqualifying reality for a non-profit. 

But GuideStar and Charity Navigator, et al. don't have the staff to make inquiry of the thousands of non-profits they review annually. They can do no more than cursorily review the IRS 990 filings and compare the data they receive to other non-profits. It's truly "garbage in-garbage out" when it comes to JFNA, in any event. 

So, if you take Silverman's CEO compensation and measure that against JFNA's fictional "revenues" in excess of $184,000,000 -- measuring fact against fiction, if you will -- that comparison doesn't look so bad. Of course, most of that "revenue" merely passes through JFNA's hands on its way to others. When you take Jerry's (and his predecessors) annual compensation, against the true JFNA income, it...well, it stinks...not as badly as does that of Morton Klein at ZOA, but stinks still, And, then, if you measure that compensation against achievement...well, forget about it. I am certain that GuideStar/Charity Navigator would agree were the reporting not so impenetrable. And, further, if Guidestar/Charity Navigator were able to measure that compensation against both real income and lack of achievement, JFNA's ranking would be downgraded to the point of our embarrassment. 

We hear talk of "transparency" all the time. In the Orwellian world in which our JFNA resides, "transparency" really means "opacity." I think we all know that. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that there are those at 25 Broadway who actually believe that they raise $184 million + per year (or that $184 million+ would not be raised without them). This kind of delusional thinking is what keeps JFNA going, doesn't it?

Doesn't it?


Saturday, November 21, 2015


We have written before about JFNA's institutional inability to concentrate on any...any...subject for very long with the resultant failure to achieve any ephemeral goal that it may have articulated, then abandoned. So when a FOB sent me a Jerusalem Post article of a session that President Ruby Rivlin convened with a small Prime Minister's Mission group last month, I was intrigued with the article's tagline and Rivlin's theme: "One of the greatest challenges today is strengthening the relationship between Israel and diaspora Jewish communities." 

We have all watched as JFNA is blinded by bright, shiny objects, flitting from thing to thing, goal to goal, with neither plan nor purpose. And while the immediate past Chair imagined that JFNA actually had brought the North American federation system closer to its overseas partners, the exact opposite had occurred on his and his Smilin' Jerry's watch as core allocations from the North American communities have cratered as never before -- reaching a new low each and every year of Michael Siegal's Terms and a further low will be reached at the end of this calendar year. Delegating the Israel-Diaspora relationship to a futile, bloated JFNA:Global Operations - Israel/Overseas Office and Council has had the affect of abandonment. And no one at 25 Broadway has proved capable of managing its own Jerusalem office.

It's failure on every front. There is no focus, no identification of a single issue upon which JFNA-Israel and the federations agree would coalesce real action and momentum. JFNA-Israel embodies the broader failure of JFNA itself. We rightfully brag on the positive results of JFNA-Washington's focus on grant assistance on behalf of the federations (when federations assert that they can no longer pay full Dues, one of the JFNA threats is "do you want our help with federal funding any more?")* while ignoring the abysmal lack of focus everywhere else at 25 Broadway and in Jerusalem. 

The cause is simple: a woeful lack of professional leadership providing organizational focus. And why? Because the current leadership has no idea of how to focus and is being given no direction by a lay leadership that appears itself more focused on smiling and grabbing the microphone. Part of the failure has been the multi-year distraction and waste that was the Global Planning Table coupled to a CEO/President totally lost in space -- a GPT to which the the CEO attached himself as his savior as well as JFNA's. And look at 'em now.

Were Jerry Silverman a visionary, perhaps his lack of any evident management skills after 5+ years could be ignored, but he clearly lacks vision; were Jerry a skilled manager, his lack of organizational vision might be excused by some, but he isn't.Until there is change at the top, JFNA will continue to wander aimlessly, talking big ideas but not even accomplishing small ones.


* While the JFNA Washington Office deserves all the praise its has received for its lobbying efforts and grantsmanship, in other areas -- Emergency Management, the National Agency Alliance -- JFNA-Washington has been almost as deficient as every other effort of JFNA itself.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015


As I write this Post 5 days have passed since the streets of Paris were filled with the blood of the victims of Terrorists once again. My own community reacted with the immediacy, expressing the grief, the anger, the solidarity and the sorrow all of us feel:

"The Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago and its Jewish Community Relations Council stand with the people of Paris and with all people of conscience who wish to defend the principles of pluralism, freedom, and democracy. 

We mourn for those who were savagely murdered at the hands of Islamist terrorists, and pray for the speedy recovery of the injured.
The jihadist attacks in Paris, like those that preceded them, are part of a global onslaught waged by extremists and fanatics, who aim to sow chaos, death and the destruction of social and political order.  

We call on elected officials, civil society institutions, and security forces of all nations to fight the scourge of extremism and terrorism at home and abroad. Here in Chicago, we call on the communal representatives of every religion, race, and ethnicity, to work together to defend the fundamental values that form the bedrock of our open, pluralistic American society. 

Only through unity will we foil the terrorists’ evil designs."
Chicago's statement was titled "We Stand Together Against Terror."

Have you heard a word from those who supposedly represent us, from those who are supposed to know how to build consensus but do not...from JFNA? No, of course not. As the brilliant mimic, Dana Carvey, used to paraphrase George H. W. Bush ("41") -- "wouldn't be prudent, not prudent at all." We're a fault. Surely, someone at 25 Broadway has their thumb in the air (and thereby removed from somewhere else for the purpose) checking which way the wind is blowing.

The Chair of Chicago's Jewish Community Relations Council, the co-sponsor of the Chicago resolution above, Chairs JFNA's Global Operations" Israel and Overseas Council. David Brown led the JFNA Solidarity Mission to Paris after the terrorists' attacks in January. I had hoped that David would be as vigorous a proponent for JFNA action when he assumed this newest position as he is in the Chicago community. It hasn't worked out that way.

JFNA took its own curated silence during the Iran Deal contretemps and attempted to conflate its silence into some sort of leadership. In fact the silence then was such an imagined triumph that Smilin' Jerry has converted that silence into an "achievement." And, so there are those at 25 Broadway who are seeking a way to replicate that "triumph" at this time of Paris's, France's. the world's tragedy.

And, so, at JFNA the silence is deafening. How pathetic it is and remains.


Some of you have already commented reiterating a strongly held view first expressed on these pages in opposition to JFNA taking any position other than neutrality/silence in response to the Iran Deal. I came to understand that position given the divisions in our community/communities on that highly controversial deal. If you, however, believe that JFNA should remain silent on any and every matter -- including, but not limited to, "standing together against terror" as my federation and yours put it -- one has to question when you would have JFNA, which arguably represents us all, speak at all. 

Apparently some of you no longer believe in what was once a true representative democracy embodied in our membership organization. Enjoy yourselves bowling alone. It's just what Smilin' Jerry wants.


Monday, November 16, 2015


I recently rejected a moronic Anonymous Comment from a GA attendee that closed with the following gem:
           "That's what leadership is -- being present."
It was so stupid and, yet, it reflected so well what has been going on at JFNA for the past years -- "leadership is showing up" and nothing more. I reflected on this absurdity after Dan Brown published his in-depth and damning eulogy to the failed JFNA Global Planning Table in ejewishphilanthropy --  Failing to 'Make the Case,' JFNA's Big Gamble is Closed Down. Therein Brown exposed the greater/broader failings of JFNA -- a total lack of integrity coupled with a total lack of accountability. That Smilin' Jerry is still walking the halls of 25 Broadway as CEO after the debacle of the GPT and the facile misrepresentation of its real costs evidence so clearly that this Commentator in his/her stupidity was correct in his/her conclusion: want to be a leader at JFNA -- just show up, do nothing, demand nothing. 

The most senior JFNA staff has been making up the answers for so long, they obviously believed they could just throw a fictional number as the expenses of the GPT at Dan Brown and he would accept it. They forgot that Dan is neither a Board member nor officer of JFNA. Dan looked further as a great reporter would and determined that the JFNA number was farcically misrepresented. And no lay leader of JFNA apparently gave a Tinker's Damn.

One of my dear friends in communal leadership, after reading Dan Brown's article wrote me with a single question, the seminal question: "How much longer can the charade go on?" His was more than a query, it was a sincere expression of one communal professional's pain and outrage. And, yet, the evidence is that the Board of JFNA views itself as a social club of some kind, demanding neither accountability nor transparency from the organization that swallows up $30 million of our dollars per year hiding, for example, $7 million dollars plus on the misbegotten Global Planning Table without being called to account once. 

In any other place, there would be a sense of outrage at the waste and the hiding of it. At JFNA, in the last GPT meeting, a lay leader, rather than challenging Jerry Silverman for these millions misspent, said that the waste had to be "hidden" from prying eyes because so much was wasted. She needn't have feared -- not a single JFNA Board member has stepped up with a single question; not one has had the temerity to suggest that Smilin' Jerry Silverman and his crowd have long outlasted their shelf lives and must be gone. No, we just move shame, no apologies, no pride.

Yes, this is a group that truly believes what that Anonymous Commentator wrote: "That's wh
at leadership is -- being present." As another friend wrote me: "All along, the JFNA leadership and Board have had their heads in the sand, with nobody asking questions since 2009." Heck, that's just 6 years of silence. Here's how it works: give countless people, lay and professional alike, bima visibility at a succession of GAs, hugs for them and others, sic a "leader" at anyone pushing back with a subtle warning to "back off," etc. Accuse the critics of somehow lacking a love of the Jewish People.

One philosopher has written: "The wise man doesn't give the right answers, he poses the right questions." At JFNA the "wise person" asks no questions, makes no waves, demands no answers, let alone the "right" ones. The organization withers but everyone has a great time. Just keep just "showing up" -- oh, and "Thinking Forward" while doing nothing and questioning nothing.

When do responsible adults take charge? Let's hope now!!


Friday, November 13, 2015

FEDEverything or FEDNothing -- YOUR CALL

So, there's FEDeration, there's FEDovation, there's FEDCentral...yes, there's now FEDeverything...and, sadly...FEDnothing when it comes to JFNA.

All of us know, every single one of us, that JFNA today is in the branding...the rebranding, really...of everything and doing nothing. Or, make that, more accurately, almost nothing. There seems to be a belief at 25 Broadway, that "if you brand it, if you rebrand it, they/we will come." But, they/we don't.

Reflecting upon the past three years at JFNA all I see are three years wasted. Going into their terms one had great hope for accomplishments from Michael Siegal as Board Chair, Dede Feinberg, Chair of the Executive, and Steve Silverman, as Treasurer. Each of them deserves our thanks for their dedicated service, for taking on often thankless leadership roles, and for the time they gave in trying to make JFNA a better organization. They must be, as all of us must be, sorry that these three years turned out to have been three years of stasis and worse of an organization that has been in a permanent institutional coma.

All three of these leaders are wonderful Jews, and leaders who took on their roles with no personal agendas. They knew our system well. So, why failure? Why did Michael, who quickly saw, from the perspective of a great businessman and as a Jewish leader, perpetuate in place a CEO unworthy of the title, tying his administration and the next to an anchor that has dragged down the institution? We will never know the answer. Why did Dede not act proactively to develop programs that would have, at a minimum, enhanced the GA and increased federation engagement with JFNA -- areas of leadership that were right in Dede's wheelhouse? Was she waiting for someone to ask? Was she just shoved aside by Michael/Jerry? We will never know the answer. And why did Steve not insist on a Budget process that tied expenditures to budget line items, the same "best practice" that I am certain is applied in his Jacksonville federation? We will never know the answers.

One thing we do know, one thing that each of these leaders demonstrated -- an organization does not advance, does not grow, when its most senior lay leaders view their jobs as strictly reading the scripts and cheerleading, especially when the scripts are wrong and the cheers echo in silence.

All of us wanted Michael, Dede and Steve to succeed. All of us now place our hopes on Richard Sandler and Jodi Schwartz. We wish them every success.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015


In the October 19 The New Yorker there appeared a cartoon that captured the GA: A group of people are sitting around looking bored; the Chair announces "I know we didn't accomplish anything, but that's what meetings are for." Unfortunately, so it is with the GAs of today.

Recently, 10 days or so before the General Assembly, the woebegone FedWorld headlined that GA attendance is booming -- the small print revealed:

GA15 BUZZ: REGISTRATION MORE THAN DOUBLED from Federations in Ann Arbor, Buffalo, Calgary, Detroit, Heart of NJ, Los Angeles, Northern NJ, Toronto and Utah.
Should the article have included: "...and one upstate NY Federation has tripled its attendance -- to 3"? 

I dunno. Shouldn't the GA in 2016, as in the early days of JFNA, sell itself without the need for the constant begging for attendance with "pitches" like this one? (And, which of the chachams scheduled this year's GA in conflict with the previously scheduled 5,000-strong URJ Convention? Remember the days of CJF publishing an annual Calendar that helped to assure that conflicts like these would not occur? No more. JFNA...too busy.) Shouldn't content be the draw? And, it should be noted, content at the Plenaries at this GA has been uniformly good, with the usual exceptions, of course.

But, tradition demands that JFNA annually state as fact the fiction that there will be 3,000 registrants. Yes, each and every year...3000. Not 2,999; not 3001; not even the 713 it actually registered last year. (Neither I nor you was supposed to know that.) BTW, the 3,000 registrants number is such a fiction that it springs forth annually with no basis in fact. Here is how attendance has been reported to me by a source, a great pro in whom I have great trust but who shall remain anonymous;
"3000?  The ballroom (in which the Plenary 1 was located) has a capacity of 900. The press and film stage has eliminated at least 10 rows. There is a terrace around the main floor which I assume could seat a couple of hundred. There are no chairs on the terrace. There are about 40 chairs in each row and at best 15-16 rows of chairs not all filled."
3,000? Sounds more like 600 attendees to me. Why fabricate? Why continuously fabricate? It's all so sad.

Let me a propose some suggestions to push GA attendance: JFNA must advise the national agencies supported by the system that they must hold their annual meetings contemporary with and at the General Assembly. Offer a discount to the agency Board members and staff. Instead of subsidizing Vendors with GA discounts, provide registration discounts to Federation Board members (not the "early registration" "discount" but, say, half). Then require all of JFNA's constituencies to hold their annual gatherings at the GA as well, integrating them into the GA program. If the GA is as important as we wish it to be, make it so.

So, perhaps to hype JFNA's importance in Jewish life, outgoing Board Chair, Michael Siegal, gave an "eve of the GA" interview to The Jerusalem Post. You may recall that Siegal gave a similar interview on another "cusp of the GA" with the ever-present CEO Jerry at his side, calling for a $1 Billion Special Campaign to provide a free Jewish Day School Education to all. A noble cause, certainly, but one without any substance whatsoever just tossed out there and never followed up upon. And, of course, neither Siegal nor Jerry Silverman did a thing to implement a proposal unheard of before or since. Now, as he departed his office without a single JFNA achievement to show for his tenure plus the irrational reengagement of Silverman (quite an unbelievable achievement that one), he has surpassed, if possible, the $1 Billion Special Campaign non-starter with the announcement that apparently the greatest challenge facing North American Jewry is to dramatically increase the number of "non-Orthodox Jewish babies." Let's throw billions at that one, shall we? Michael, a fine person, had been sitting as JFNA Board Chair for three years and this is where he ends up -- underscoring the laughingstock that the organization he led has become. (Oh, to prove the value of this JFNA FEDovation, Siegal cited a new "Miracle Babies" fertility program at work in Miami, maybe providing fertility drugs and counsel to 85 year old and more Jewish Snowbirds. Ohhhh G-d.) 

But, Michael wasn't done. I have written before about the alternative universe in which Michael Siegal lived and led when he extended Silverman's tenor re citing Jerry's supposed "achievements" -- of which all of us know were and are none. Now, in this excellent Post piece, Siegal's alternate universe was there for all to see and read. As in:
"Asked what he had achieved in his three years as chairman, Siegal pointed to what he saw as significant advances made by JFNA in working together with other Jewish organizations...
“When I got to the role, we had some issues with our partners. We have created a much more open dialogue with our partners at the Jewish Agency and Joint Distribution Committee,” he said. “There is now what I’d call ‘shalom bayit,’ respect for everybody’s role. I think we’ve created organizational structure to support the communities of North America, which is our role.”
Sure. Only the leader who extended that awful contract could assert, let alone believe, that JFNA relations with our partners were "significantly advanced" during his 3 years as Chair when in each of those three years -- as will be the case this year as well -- allocations to JAFI/JDC core reached a new abysmal historic low. Statements like Michael's here are reflected throughout JFNA's work and throughout the Agenda of this GA. Its leaders live in a fictional world of their own creation. And I don't get it. Michael Siegal is a fine person, a great philanthropist, bright, energetic and, I thought, committed to effecting substantive changes at JFNA. Then...nothing. 

My cynicism tells me that no one among the failed leadership was listening to pioneering mega-philanthropist Les Wexner's Plenary address in which he observed that to lead one must understand "where we have been, where we come from and where we are" and commit to your organization's values and purposes -- surely Jerry Silverman if he was listening couldn't possibly have understood what this great philanthropist was telling us. Les didn't offer his views as criticism; instead we as a Jewish polity should take them that way.*

Friends, it's time for transformational change; in fact, it's way past time. Do we have the right people in place to effect real change? On the lay side, quite possibly; on the professional side -- well, you know my strong, strong sense that for change to occur at JFNA, first, there must be change at the top of JFNA's professional pyramid.

Then again, so long as the GA has become nothing more than TribeFest, that Festivus for None of Us, or old Best Practices rebranded as FEDovations for lay leaders and a gathering place for communal professionals, would any of this work? With no one there and no one listening...

...It is JFNA after all...Thinking Forward/Acting Backward.


BTW, that JFNA Executive Committee that was "killed off" earlier this year. It no longer exists but THERE IT WAS, Chaired by the Board Chair, of course. I must admit, I thought this was just a typo -- then I figured it out -- just JFNA being JFNA.

* Visit the Times of Israel rebroadcast of the Plenaries and watch them in their entirety. A great service.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


Dear Richard,

I recognize this letter to you upon your assuming the lay leadership of JFNA is presumptuous...but that's me!! I wish you well and every success. You come to this position with a perspective denied to your predecessor -- an experience with JFNA that Michael Siegal lacked; I know that you will use that experience well.

I recently read the following: A great American leader "...said that the only safe ship in a storm is leadership. In a crisis, leaders need to know what they stand for, and they need the guidance that comes from being clear about their own values." Knowing you from your accomplished leadership and learning from you of your leadership values, forgive me but I, all of us, expect great leadership from you from Day 1 of your Terms. You know what you stand for; and you know what JFNA can/must be...but isn't. I have walked proudly in your shoes. Before I assumed my years of Chairmanship, I watched my predecessors in one instance mismanage the lay-professional relationship. I learned the wrong way and determined that I would lead the right way. Please lead us in the right way. Over the last decade I have seen one ill-advised hiring decision after another...and I have observed the consequences of those decisions for an organization that must succeed. And, nothing is done.

Richard, effecting change at JFNA should not be the Sisyphean task that it has appeared to be. It's not impossible; it's merely that some have made it appear so. Among UJA leadership way back when we had a commitment; we would debate all things, and then we would unite behind our Chair. Under Siegal, leaders might debate -- but always behind closed doors ("breach the pact of Confidentiality and you are dead to us") -- but then it became clear that the Chair lacked the necessary support to, e.g., do anything of substance. So, Michael abandoned his own values and did nothing.

The so-called "JFNA Advisory Council" appears to be the Jewish organizational equivalent of the Congressional "Freedom Caucus" -- they have arrogated the power of JFNA governance to themselves and then have done nothing with it other than to frustrate change. With great respect, Richard, I would urge you, should you choose to perpetuate the "Advisory Council" that has replaced, for all intents and purposes, the now dead never to be revived, JFNA Executive Committee, to interview each member prior to their appointment or reappointment and assure that they commit to support the changes you know have to be made for JFNA to succeed. Then proceed.

There are many fantasists among JFNA lay and professional leadership -- preferring to believe that all is well rather than face up to the reality of daily failure. These fantasists have not only learned nothing from the mistakes of the past; they were determined to repeat them. And have. You can put a stop to this practice, first by bringing your sense of reality to JFNA and, then, acting to change that reality for the better and forever.

Sadly, you are going to quickly find, if you have not already, that JFNA is a place where mediocrity has become the aspiration; where excellence -- the standard that you will insist upon -- is not in the lexicon of JFNA's current professional leaders -- because they do not understand how to achieve it. At the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, working with a bright, energetic, aggressive  and visionary CEO, together you began to implement the transformational changes necessary to communal growth and creative engagement. From what I understand some of those changes were painful, wrenching, but they were done in the interests of the community, its present and future. Now is your opportunity to begin that process on a continental level. I ask you to look at the waste of the last 5+ years, at the sclerotic organization that you will now lead...and take the steps necessary to make change possible and to do so quickly, as you did in Los Angeles. There is no time to wait.

Can't wait to see you lead you us forward.




Wednesday, November 4, 2015


After years of a Presidency of Yeshiva University over which every step forward (and there were many) seemed to be overtaken with steps in reverse -- sex scandal charges, fiscal crises -- Richard Joel, f/k/a the hero of the Hillel movement, announced that he will step down. This raises the question, what will it take for CEO Jerry Silverman to do the same? 

Here is a thought:
"It’s no secret that the United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella organization of the North American Jewish federation system, has been viewed as a sinking ship for some time now, plagued by a shrinking budget, low morale after large-scale staff reductions and a persistent concern among many professionals and lay leaders in the community that a decade after its creation, the organization still lacks a clearly defined mission.So Jerry Silverman, named this week to succeed Howard Rieger as top executive of UJC on Sept. 30, was prepared for friends asking him why he would want to become captain of The Titanic. His response was that he believes the community deserves and is capable of supporting a strong national entity, adding that he was “humbled” by and “passionate” about the opportunity to lead." (The Jewish Week, September 2009)
Since that date way back when, at a time of hope, however slim, for the future, Silverman has taken the "sinking ship" of 2009 and made of it well...sunk. In fact, it is clear that Jerry's appointment as CEO/President accelerated JFNA'S ineluctable slide into irrelevance. As the JFNA (f/k/a "UJC") Board Chair apparently will not take the one step necessary to end Jerry's/JFNA's misery and negotiate Jerry's severance (if, in fact, Silverman's contract, which remains hidden in the black hole that Silverman himself has helped to create, has a severance provision), then Jerry needs to acknowledge publicly, that which he must do privately (surely he must), that he needs to step aside. That which he should have done years ago.

What went wrong? There are probably as many explanations as there are examples at 25 Broadway. I am convinced by the evidence offered by social psychologist and Stanford Business School Professor Deborah Gruenfield:
"Individuals in positions of power can be seen to exhibit behavior that is idiosyncratic, and at times even contrary to reason. Dr. Gruenfeld explains how the lack of consequences for their actions can allow powerful people to make serious errors in judgment that have far-reaching impacts on themselves and on their organizations. Her research explains the psychological effects of power: single-mindedness in decision making, an orientation to action, disinhibition, and depersonalization of others."
We can see all of the characteristics of bad leadership behavior in the hiring of Jerry Silverman and in his perpetuation in an office to which he has proved to be so ill-suited, and in JFNA's treatment of all others, lay and professional, who have (or will) push back against pre-cooked decisions and ill-informed judgment.

We all remember (and will soon hear again if not already in the political campaigns that we are watching, engaged in or trying to avoid), the mantra of every Presidential election: "Ask yourself, are you better off today than you were four years ago?" Then put that in the context of JFNA: "Is JFNA in a better position today than it was 5+ years ago, when Jerry Silverman was hired?" And the answer to that question, by even Silverman's most fervid supporters (if there are any of those) must be, can only be, a resounding NO!!! Our federation system and its umbrella, JFNA, have never been at a lower point. If, as The Jewish Week observed in its 2009 editorial, that "the organization still lacks a clearly defined mission," what would it write today? As Silverman endorsed a JFNA that would be "a strong national entity," name a single action he initiated or brought to his Board that would have or did make it so? If JFNA was "The Titanic" five years ago, what has Admiral Jerry done other than to move the deck chairs? What was a great senior professional staff when JFNA was born by merger, is today and over the past 5+ years a home for less than a handful of the best today and a larger number of "consultants" whose contracts and purposes appear to be known only to Silverman and the consultant himself/herself -- among them Karen Barth, Deborah K. Smith, Paul Kane and Max Kleinman. The organization's costs are hidden behind an opaque, impenetrable wall of non-disclosure.

A viable non-profit system requires all those things that Jerry Silverman's JFNA has, perhaps, thought about but done nothing about -- transparency, purpose, vision, among others. What we have seen over the last five years has been egregious, impermissible waste, no progress and an utter lack of accountability.

When does this stop? When would it be the time to step down? How about today? How about at this 2015 GA? Let's get JFNA moving again...

AN ADDENDUM...Today the Owner of the Detroit Lions, a woeful example of a football team at 1-7 (the "1" a win over the Chicago Bears BTW), stated: "We can't take it any more" and terminated the team CEO. Got it? "We can't take it any more" and terminated the team CEO. I'm just sayin'