Saturday, November 18, 2017


A recent column in Chicago's Sun-Times reminded me of Polemarchus' challenge to Socrates in Plato's "Republic": "Could you persuade men who do not listen?" My conclusion: it's impossible today to persuade the women and men in leadership and on the Board of JFNA that transformational change is demanded -- not just needed, demanded -- to right the sinking ship of JFNA. Change cannot happen so long as Richard Sandler and his lay leadership team neither listen nor see.

Immediately after the demise of the New York Yankees to the Houston Astros in the American League Championship Series a few weeks ago, Yankees management began to examine whether to retain the team's highly successful manager, Joe Girardi, who had enjoyed a ten year tenure. While successful, Girardi had not led the Yankees to a World Championship since 2009 -- but, NB, he had led the Yankees to that one World Series win.

In discussing the evaluation that the lay leader of the Yankees would make in determining whether to bring Girardi back, Hal Steinbrenner observed:
"It's not money. It's performance, and I look from 10,000 feet and from the last two, three, four years. It is the same for all the employees."
How refreshing. A Board Chair (in this instance, the Managing General Partner) who will look at his CEO's (in this instance, his team's Manager's) performance. This is what's done in all of our businesses, what's done in all of the non-profits on whose Boards we sit. But this is exactly the measure that is not applied to the JFNA CEO; for if it were, if the Board Chair were to measure the CEO's performance, he would find nothing but failure writ large...nothing more.

Back at the World Series in Los Angeles, there was an illuminated sign board with a brief mandate: Leave a Mark. Wouldn't that be a great thing for the JFNA Board Chair and Board to do? Think they will? Other than a black mark that is.

So the question is as always: why does the JFNA Board, why do the leaders of our Federations, continue to abide a circumstance where there has been neither growth nor progress, neither vision nor express purpose -- year after year after year? A circumstance where 10s of millions have been wasted while the CEO has pocketed millions -- for what, exactly?

There are no satisfactory answers to these questions, no answers at all. There is no accountability anywhere within the JFNA organization. Compounding the lack of accountability is that it is/has been hidden behind a dark cloak of secrecy. Everything at JFNA is a secret and its lay leaders have made an implicit agreement never to question, never to object, never to shine a light on all that is hidden.

It's shameful. Pure and simple.


P.S. The Yankees fired Manager Joe Girardi even after a decade of success.

Thursday, November 16, 2017


I hope that those of you who attended the now completed GA 2017 had an opportunity to look around and think about the incredible strides that the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has taken since the last General Assembly in that great City. Under a succession of excellent Board Chairs there has been one constant, the terrific professional leadership of Jay Sanderson.

I think back to my first visit on behalf of UJA, to that Community, in the 90's -- at a time the Federation was millions of dollars in arrears on its allocations payments; a significant part of the historic communal leadership alienated from the Federation; so lacking in lay leader succession planning that a Campaign Chair was plucked from literally out of nowhere; at a time that the number of six figure gifts to the campaign could be counted on the fingers of two hands. 

And, today, under Jay's great professional-lay partnership: the development of a series of creative and pioneering young leadership efforts exemplified by YALA -- Young Adults of  Los Angeles; page after page in the Federation's Annual Report of major gifts and the contributors; a community revisioning in Federation 20/20 to increase engagement and resources; one terrific lay Board and Campaign Chair after another.; and a rededication to communal values.

To me, the JFGLA is a Phoenix  not just rising (not the Phoenix, mind you); the community has risen. And, with all on his plate, Jay Sanderson has taken the time to offer mentoring -- the mentoring he never received when he became LA's President and CEO -- to new colleagues. He has also taken the time to criticize -- often in the strongest terms -- this Blogger for my errors; for Jay does not suffer fools...and from my first meeting with him has always...always...let anyone within earshot know how he feels and what he believes.

Bottom line, Los Angeles is a remarkable example of the product of the best in lay-professional partnerships and what a strong partnership with visionary leadership can produce.

I wish we saw this in many more places.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017


We have heard and read so much over the past months about Trump "playing to his base." If you think about it, that's the same game that JFNA's leaders have been playing -- a shrinking "base" of insiders along with a few LCE -- and nobody else matters, nobody else is engaged, no one else's voice is sought or, G-d forbid, considered. In fact, in a New York Times report (on October 23, 2017) on the Soviet-style show trial of the once powerful Russian Economics Minister, quoting a keen observer of the Putin era: “We have a tsarist system. You cannot (in the sense of "you are not allowed to...") upset (leadership) by saying ‘Your plans are leading to disaster.'” I know, comparing JFNA to "a tsarist system" is odious but...there you are. 

John McCain's recent observations could easily be applied to JFNA as well. For example:

“To abandon the ideals we have advanced to build the federation system, to refuse the obligations of leadership for the sake of some half-baked, spurious support of the unsupportable cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems,”
Those of us (and, trust me, friends, I am not and have not been alone in criticism) who have raised issues of substance and issues of process (and substance and process are often the same at JFNA) have not just been ignored, we have been chastised and, ultimately, sent to azazel never to return. Surely I have earned my banishment and ostracism; others have not but  they, too, no matter how quietly they have raised their concerns, they have faced the "evil decree." On the other side of this equation are those who have demonstrated the value of sha sha, of playing the game, the kissing up, the tuches leckers as we called them in the old country -- they have been rewarded as they had hoped. (I have observed some even back to the CJF days and they have stayed true to form.) Congratulations to them.

Friends, a succession of JFNA leaders have been avatars of the Know-Nothings -- or, perhaps, it's the "Refuse to Know" or the "Don't Tell Me What I Don't Want to Know" crowd. It makes these leaders lives so much easier to know nothing and, thus, do nothing even as right in front of them is the stark reality that the organization they have been elected or selected to lead is going right down the drain. This leadership has been treating JFNA as if it were the Jenga game — removing the building blocks one at a time but clearly not realizing or ignoring the fact that at some point the entire building collapses.

This is the "hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil" leadership redefining "evil" to mean "criticism of any kind." Sure, if we ignore it, it doesn't exist does it? The millions wasted on the Global Planning Table? Ignore it. The collapse of the GA as the compelling annual event on the Jewish calendar? Ignore it. The disconnect from the federation owners? Forget it, ignore it, it doesn't exist.

Today's reality is that the connective tissue between the national organization — a strong fibre with CJF and, to the surprise of some back in the day, a strong sinew between UJA and the federations — that connective tissue just doesn’t exist any more. I would wager that no one in leadership of today's JFNA even knows what the hell I am talking about (or, in the unlikely event that they do know, they don't give a damn).

Bad...and getting worse day-by-day-by-day. That's JFNA.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017


On the cusp of the GA, Haaretz's Uri Blau published an anticipatory article:  Jewish Federations annual conference: What to expect.
I would guess that by now Uri has his answer: Expect Nothing. And that's a shame...but under promise and over deliver...for once.

The Prime Minister's Council Event used to be a GA highlight. I remember the days when the Event packed a ballroom wall-to-wall: 250-400 of the system's major donors and their communal professionals. And here was this year's: a little over 100 participants, maybe half from Los Angeles. Hosted by Peter Lowy's Westfield Mall in an outdoor setting. At no time during the evening was there a word about the system's overseas partners -- nothing about JAFI/JDC/WorldORT -- and the lay and pro leaders of those partners were not even introduced. These major donors, good sports all, listened with rapt (ok, not so "rapt") attention as the temperatures dropped into the 50s, and a local reporter interviewed Michael Milken and Peter Lowy -- for the first 50 minutes it was about these two philanthropists' life stories and their business genius. The last 10 minutes were about their philanthropy, with a few minutes for questions -- three of them, one about the role of federation.

And, at the end of the evening, the piece de resistance, the maraschino cherry on top of the sundae, as it were. Before these major donors left, Peter Lowy announced that each person present would receive a $50 gift certificate good at any Westfield Mall. So there's that...very unexpected. Just what $25,000-and above, way above, donors needed, but unexpected and, certainly, appreciated.

If the Westfield Mall gift was a pleasant surprise, the security lines before President Rivlin's Plenary address was an unexpected disaster. Friends advised of 45 minute and longer delays at the magnetometers apparently caused by JFNA's decision to have just two of those ever-present scanners in use for the one Plenary that attracted a crowd. Whether it was a lack of preparedness, sloppy planning (!!) or an effort to save some money we will never know.

Whether the wait was worth it, I'll leave to others to judge. Ruvi is a caring person who clearly values Israel-Diaspora Relations but in asking North American Jewry to understand the reality that in Israel, like Chicago I guess, "all politics is local," I would assume that our leaders were not comforted...and will say so directly. HaHaHaHaHa. They will leave a response to the Rabbis or to Natan Sharansky.

President Rivlin's keynote followed Richard Sandler's. Our Board Chair demonstrated once again that he is both a caring Jew and a caring leader in his address. He and Jerry will no doubt take advantage, as they should, of Rivlin's invite to a dialogue in the President's residence at some time in the vague future with an even more vague agenda.

On to Bibi on Video.



Many of you have written me off-line (and some on-line) to lament the sorry, sorry state of JFNA evidenced by the lack of an, any, audience for the 2017 LA GA. One of you wrote: "THERE IS NO ONE HERE" (Caps courtesy of the Commentator.) Apparently hoping that smaller meeting rooms would create the illusion of a packed house; Jerry Silverman and Richard Sandler fooled no one. 

Then, JFNA did what it does best, it drafted a Resolution ostensibly condemning the Prime Minister's actions vis-a-vis the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel and support for a Conversion Bill the effect of which, among many things, would be to further disenfranchise the non-Orthodox religious movements and their rabbinic leadership. One could tell from the language that this Resolution itself, the weakest of possible responses, was further weakened in the drafting and approval. Yes, instead of an action plan deploying federation leaders from across the Continent to the Prime Minister's Office and the Knesset in large numbers, JFNA approved a Resolution that indicated not our collective strength but our weakness -- and will be treated as such and sent it on. JFNA is the only organization I know that under this leadership is unwilling or unable to do the hard work in the trenches: to organize, to reach out, to advocate in person. Maybe JFNA leaders will pin their milquetost resolution (to be fair both JTA and Haaretz articles considered the Resolution as"slamming" the GOI) to the Prime Minister's Office door, then disappearing into the night like the organization they lead.

Meanwhile, those of you at the GA have reported that announcing 3,000 GA attendees, another of JFNA's annual exercises in hyperbole, just won't work this time if it ever did. Friends counted the house at the Opening Plenary and advised that "maybe 700, 800" were there -- and this after JFNA attempted to stock the venue -- and most of those there, professionals. Hell, the GA website identified 150 Speakers, which would seem to have offered a good start; many of those apparently chose to show up only for their sessions. If this is the new normal for GAs, the message ought to be received loud and clear: "stop wasting precious resources on an annual GA, make it biennial and make it exciting." 

I couldn't help but notice that JNF North America convened its annual conclave across the country as the same time as the GA. You could watch every Plenary gavel-to-gavel and see and sense to excitement, the large audience, the constant focus on JNF's mission, the shared passion, the inspiration, the tens of break-outs, the lay leadership featured throughout. Inasmuch as it is obvious that the GA leadership has ignored input from those of us who led prior, successful GAs, perhaps they will learn from the JNF model; probably not.

More to follow....


Monday, November 13, 2017


As I have often (too often??) compared the JFNA of today and the past 8+ years to the gang that couldn't shoot straight," the following story in the Chicago Sun-Times, November 3, rang a bell with me:
"No bond for man who shot himself in penis while robbing hot dog stand"
"A 19 year old man who shot himself in thepenis after allegedly holding up a South Side hot dog stand Tuesday won't be goin home when he's released from the hospital.
(The accused) was unable to run further (after the robbery) because of the pain of a self-inflicted gunshot wound suffered when he tried to adjust the.38 caliber pistol in his waistband as he ran off after robbing (the hot dog stand).
(The robber's) blood-stained boxers matched the underwear he had on in the surveillance video..." 

Perhaps this is just another example of "man plans; G-d laughs" -- perhaps it's the perfect parable for JFNA. 

Perhaps not.


Sunday, November 12, 2017



As you sit at the GA, the few of you who will be attending, each time you hear JFNA Jargon, please write me offline with this year's buzzword. I will then pick the best of show and publish it somewhere.

One Commentator to the Retropective Post last week suggested an option for your consideration:
"It has all been said. Now is the time to do something about it.
We need to make this GA in LA a historic event by disrupting it!
Change is not going to happen unless we stop being polite and begin to make it happen.
Nobody will miss anything if the GA program gets scrapped and is replaced by a series of
activities whose ultimate purpose is to save our communal institutions and to reaffirm our commitment to collective responsibility for each other and the Jewish People."
Probably will not happen even as it should. It has happened before.

So, start by pondering the new svelte Jerry Silverman. Never looked batter; I hear he has lost 65 pounds. So there's that. And while you consider the four "'hot topic' conversations"  that you have been promised (if you can discern them from a Program that appears to be sadly devoid of substance):

1. You might hear Jerry reiterate what he told the Jerusalem Post just months ago. He said he is:
“...the eternal optimist when it comes to the Jewish people, because I believe in the people of Israel...I believe that over time we’ll be able to bring this back together and focus on what is really key, which is the Jewish people.”
And, you can then spend a minute (or two) asking the relevant question: "WTF?"

2. Or, perhaps, you will reflect on the themes of the GA selected by these leaders and understand what the hell they meant. For example:
“The World is Our Backyard” (that was 2014)
"Think Forward" (2015)
or "Venture Further" (2017) -- my current favorite for absolute meaninglessness -- although on second and third thought, all are equally meaningless...totally.

3. You can read and reread The Forward 50 in amazement, awe and wonder -- actually wondering, how did they choose ___________________________? Or: how did they not select _________________________?

4. You can ponder crap like this: "Can good marketing save Judaism? Join the conversation at GA 17!"

5. As you sit, eyes glazing over, wondering "how much did it cost me for this"?, you will want to play "Bullshit Bingo:"

If you choose to play, I predict you will be screaming either "Bullshit" or "Bingo" or both before Jerry's speech ("Words of Wisdom" according to the GA Program) is completed; or, if not, your card will be completed by the time the Board Chair gives his address "on the Jewish future."

6. Maybe you will wish to consider why, with about 300 speakers (OK, so I exaggerate a bit) would the chachams of JFNA not ask Dr. Steven Windmueller or. Dr. Robert Hyfler, both students and practitioners, to present? 

7. While sitting there consider this: It was the brilliant Gary Shteygart who reported on watching 168 hours of Russian TV  in a single week in an incredible, hysterical and often scary article in The New York Times Magazine in 2015, "Out of My Mouth Comes Unimpeachable Manly Truth." "Incredible, hysterical and often scary" is how you may feel sitting, mouth agape at this year's GA. But, fear not, after the two days of the GA you may return home leaving the dystopian world of the GA behind. 

8. And, you can watch the Prime Minister on the big screen. Compare and contrast with Presient Rivlin's address. Decide if they really can't stand each other.

9. Finally, at the King David Event, did anyone ask Michael Milken about his annual gift to the Jewish Federation?

10. And, instead of nodding off while listening to pontification on the future of the Jewish People, rena\t a car and drive to one of those great LA Jewish delis,  and nosh until you are in a pastrami coma.

Plenty of rooms still available at the JW Marriott -- from plain vanilla Guest Rooms right on up to Junior Suites.

Have a GA!! 


Wednesday, November 8, 2017


                          "Plan B is firing whoever was responsible for Plan A"

As we are now on the cusp of another poorly attended and poorly programmed General Assembly and so many of you will be attending (wondering all the while: "why am I here?"), I thought it would be timely to engage in some serious retrospection and introspection. And, if you disagree with mine, please let me know why and how.

My take:

  • Under the so-called "leadership" of the past 8+ years, JFNA has become the institutional equivalent of the Black Knight in Monty Python and The Holy Grail -- you remember "no arms, no legs, a stump in the road yelling at people." True, JFNA leaders don't yell, they send letters, but they are but a stump.
  • JFNA disproves the absolute truth that even a broken clock is right twice a day.
  • As the Mayor of San Juan put it in an even more serious context: "You are killing us with indifference." And indifference is exactly what JFNA leadership shows 24/6 to its owners (except the privileged few) and to its own Board. As they think "all is great" there is no need to engage, to disclose, to reflect, to hold accountable.
  • In reviewing the disastrous first week of the new NBC show, Megyn Kelly TODAY, one critic observed: "The problem is that this show doesn't just need a renovation, it needs to be torn down to the foundation and rebuilt." AFTER ONE WEEK. And, here we are in the EIGHTH YEAR of this shitstorm and the GA is going to listen to "Words of Wisdom" as the Program describes them -- from the CEO.
  • Can anyone point to any evidence of the intellectual or management acuity anywhere at 25 Broadway necessary to turn JFNA around? Rhetorical question. JFNA has been in the process for 8 years of dying by a thousand self-imposed cuts.
  • We hear and read so much today about Donald Trump “playing only to his base.” If you think about it, that’s the same game that JFNA is playing — a shrinking “base” of insiders and a few LCE…and nobody else matters, nobody else is engaged, no one else’s voice is sought or, G-d forbid, considered. This has led to the death of engagement and support. 
  • Remarkably JFNA has achieved anonymity — what it does, other than the excellent work in Washington and on the ground in Houston, unknown beyond a thin veneer of lay and professional leadership; its work, if there is any, hidden from view, often behind a false claim of "confidentiality." I remember a GA in Toronto in 2005 when Howard Rieger, then the CEO, at a Consulting Services Committee meeting, provided the Committee with a brilliant and proud recitation of what was then UJC's annual achievements. I asked Howard to provide the Plenary with that list and, for reasons known only to him, he did not do so. Today, 12 years later, there is no list.
  • Why do JFNA's lay leaders and federation CEOs believe that their best practice in light of all of JFNA's problems and issues is to stick their collective head in the sand and leave it there?
  • Sadly JFNA is untethered to either purpose or vision. Its leaders, flitting from shiny object to shiny object, never completing a program or a "campaign," have no interest in the building blocks of successful communal organizations, the building blocks on which they built/sustained their home communities.
  • Healthy organizations -- for-profit or non-profit -- should operate in an environment of constant reassessment. At JFNA there is none. All of us know that were there, wholesale changes would follow.
Let me leave this topic with this: Do not go where the path may lead; go, instead, where there is no path and leave a trail. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Have a meaningful General Assembly. Do something. Demand accountability. DEMAND CHANGE. 


Sunday, November 5, 2017


1. As we have noted, in its wisdom, The Jerusalem Post named JFNA Jerry as on of its "50 Most Influential Jews in 2017." G-d bless them; and congrats to Jerry. However, to underscore the reality that the Post hasn't a clue, the paper gave Silverman credit for his management of "...the Jewish communities he presides over." If, in fact, Jerry did so, he might...just maybe...deserve the honorarium the Post gave him. But, no. In fact,it's pretty clesr that Jerry doesn't even "preside over" JFNA...nobody does.

2. As you faithful readers have been fully informed, the numbers crunchers at JFNA are always very busy inflating numbers to suit their needs -- the best example is the annual inflation of GA audiences to 3,000 no matter that attendance never reaches half that number (and they are about to do it again). And, now, this:
"HOW FEDERATIONS’ NEGEV NOW INITIATIVE IS INVESTING $2.5M+ to holistically promote wellness and arts-driven community development in Israel’s South — building on decades of Federation support — is detailed in this latest report."
This was how the daily fish wrapping FedWorld described the JFNA Negev effort. I went to the link and nowhere could I find $2,500,000 except, perhaps, as an FRD goal of JFNA's Negev Coalition. Either that or JFNA-Israel merely conflated the Negev Now Initiative or included within this number all of the P2Gether projects and programs in the Negev now funded independent of JFNA by the federations and federation consortiums. Or, perhaps, someone at JFNA just borrowed a million or so from JNF projects or those of Ben Gurion University. Please, friends, do not confuse the Negev Now Initiative with the Negev Creative Vitality Initiative or, for sure, the JFNA Negev Coalition or the Revitalizing the Negev Through Placemaking Initiative -- or, maybe/probably you should. 

Adding to conflation inflation is JFNA's purposeful confusion of "Federation" as in the investments of individual federations over the decades and "Federation" as in the way JFNA often describes itself. The reality is that the JFNA/Federation has made at most a de minimus Negev investment of any kind; nor has it been the catalyst for any such investment by the real "federations." 

So I went to the link so graciously provided by FedWorld inasmuch as my previous examination of JFNA's Negev "efforts" had disclosed such paltry investment over the years. Found nothing.

3. The Israeli media recently reported that an Israeli driver won the Euro-NASCAR event, the first Israeli to do so. My question: what took so long? All of us who have driven the roads in Israel have known for decades that almost every Israeli driver is fully capable of winning every NASCAR race and most think they are in one.

4. Like so many of you, immediately before the Chagim we received a direct mail solicitation from HIAS, once the critical agency for Jewish immigration, now...not so much..."standing with today's refugees." Now, I fully understand and appreciate our religious commitment to be there for others but I have to question the effectiveness of a solicitation of Jewish donations to support "refugees in need like Ahmed," seeking to escape "the violence of war-torn Syria." I sense, I know, that HIAS is a Jewish organization that no longer serves Jewish refugees, there are none; now, of course, the question is "does the Jewish community need HIAS?"


Thursday, November 2, 2017


Well, friends, here's the thing: instead of a thoughtful, planful process leading to the setting of priorities by the JFNA Board, what we have seen instead is an organization dying the death of a thousand cuts while having no priorities. The result is that we have an organization jumping from shiny object to shiny object budget to budget with the following sad, sad results:

  • Having abandoned the consulting services function for at least one year, Silverman pasted a bandage on this gaping void by patchwork -- expanding a modest FRD consulting team of 4 part-time consultants to 8 and calling them a comprehensive "Community Consulting Team" (or, in JFNA acronymicalese, the "CCT");
  • Having abandoned Mandel and its CEO Search function for the federations, we are now seeing the JCCA (those first three letters of this acronym represent the Jewish Communities Centers) beginning to fill the search void. (Note to those CEOs who refuse to allow the GA to become a biennial event for fear that others will step into that void; take note, JFNA's lunch is already being eaten)
  • Having abandoned advocacy for the core budgets of JAFI, JDC and WorldORT, JFNA killed the UIA's promising advocacy effort while its own embryonic Envoys Program under JFNA-Israel, has failed to gain traction and operates mainly as a one-person effort of David Brown, the Chair of JFNA-Israel;
  • Having abandoned the legacy National Agencies-Federations Alliance, which is now passing into oblivion, in its death throes with JFNA performing the last rites after Silverman demanded (and received) millions out of the National Agencies Funding Pool, , the orphaned National Agencies -- all of them -- will be knocking on Federation doors across the country seeking direct funding, exactly the result that the Alliance was created to avoid;
  • Having abandoned the national planning and research function that was a source of pride and strength under great pros from Norbert Fruehauf (for CJF) and Bob Hyfler (for JFNA), JFNA has now hired a professional (not even sure she is full-time, operating out of Philadelphia) to jump start the effort anew. And what is that professional's first assignment -- to staff the National Agencies Alliance on a part-time basis.
  • Having abandoned the FRD function, JFNA made what appeared to be a superb hire in Brian Abrahams as Senior V-P then emasculated him, refused to budget sufficiently to enable Brian to hire full-time staff, saddling him with a part-time Senior FRD Consultant who appears to be running that part-time CCT (see, above) given that that consultant hired and assigned the part-time consultants who make up that "team."
Look, there is so much more; it's head-spinning. You don't need a management consultant, you don't need a McKinsey, to know that JFNA isn't engaged in management by chaos, it's just in chaos. A change at the top might not turn this around...

...but it would be a damn good start.