Monday, June 23, 2008


All of us want a national organization in which we can take pride, which strengthens its federation owners and builds Jewish unity upon the pillar that is the centrality of Israel in our lives. Last Friday the CEO in his weekly Howard's View determined to embark "...on a brief tour of a few keys areas at UJC in which we work to add value to your federation, strengthen our continental federation system, and collaborate with federations to build our community." (Forget the syntax, it's Howard's View.)

Then, Howard was off, first with an "updated (UJC) mission statement, distilling it to its essence for clarity and focus." The Mission statement that framed UJC's Mission is embodied in its governance, adopted by the federations at UJC's formation. Somehow, someone, or someones, at UJC unilaterally "distills," restates and reframes UJC's Mission with no governance engagement, no federation involvement, no study, no lay involvement (unless Joe and Kathy alone involved themselves). These kinds of things just happen at UJC....they just happen...constantly. I know of no other organization where this could happen...none.

Howard goes on to observe that the federation system is "(embracing) our new strategic budget plan" -- you know the reduced Budget forced on UJC by the federation owners late last month. That's good, but he goes on to conclude, unrelated to the Budget, that "...many communities are either maintaining or increasing their core allocations to Israel and Overseas needs." Sure, Chicago has, New York, Delaware, Miami, D.C....who else? When a lay leader urged that the Budget Resolution include a mandate that the Budget savings to federations be used to increase the core allocations, UJC's leaders gave him a pat on the head and were silent. When some of us continued to urge that UJC engage in real advocacy with the federations for the core allocation, we are told by the Board Chair (whose community's allocation is about 20%) that advocacy is nothing more than "yelling at the federations." Advocacy is UJC's moral imperative; its current leaders don't think so. Yet, even against all evidence to the contrary, the CEO can write that "UJC recently urged federations to consider" ("consider") converting their dues reductions to allocations. That "urge" appeared in an e-mail from Joe, Howard and Kathy? If wishing only made it so...

Howard's View catalogues some pretty exciting examples of UJC's connecting communities to federation best practices -- three of them. Bang for the buck? Return on the dues investment? I don't think so. How about some UJC best practices truly connected to its so-called "strategic plan." How about a Table of Organization that truly focuses UJC on what it does (or should be doing) best? I know that UJC lay and professional leadership were very focused on last week's Sheatufim Conference in Jerusalem -- a Conference of importance only to UJC's leaders -- but, soon they will be back to UJC's real business. strategies and programs that will implement the "distilled" Mission they have unilaterally dictated.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008


One of my great friends, a wonderful Jewish communal leader, wrote me this week of his fear that if he privately and confidentially criticized the actions of UJC's Chair and CEO directly and exclusively to them, he would become, in his word "wexlerized." I had the sense that I would not find the term in any dictionary but here's what I believe it means:

"wexlerized" -- within the United Jewish Communities, to be shunned, ostracized, publicly and privately stripped of all epaulets and emoluments, if any, undermined, ridiculed publicly and privately and whatever other bad stuff current UJC lay and professional leaders can conjure

I learned earlier this week that there is another federation leader with the same name -- Richard Wexler -- somewhere in Massachusetts. Learning this, my first instinct was to write him and warn him that in typical UJC "guilt by association," he may be "wexlerized" merely because we share the same name. But, I presume even these leaders can tell the difference. Then I began to worry about my children and grandchildren -- would they be "wexlerized," would my wife, my federation? And, what might happen to my sister, a leader in her own federation -- but, then I realized that her federation CEO would leap to her defense if an attempt at "wexlerizing" were made (although she has not been a "Wexler" by name for many years, might UJC leaders' paranoia drive them to locate her? Oy!!)

How far could the "wexlerization" by UJC go before this leadership leaves office? This may keep me up at night....then, again, probably not.



When you get back home after some time away, it's always good to catch up on your reading. In doing so this week, I read Tom Friedman's brilliant piece in The New York Times of Sunday, June 8: People vs. Dinosaurs -- about competing "bets" on Israel's future. In his column, Friedman noted how Eitan Wertheimer, the Israeli business leader, Warren Buffet's partner, and great philanthropist is "...famous for staying close to his customers." "If you sleep on the floor, you never have to worry about falling out of bed." This struck me as so apt to the present circumstance of United Jewish Communities as, in my experiences over 35 years, never had a representative organization been so out of touch with its customers -- with the distance growing day by day by day. I would wager that in his corporate life, the UJC Chair is "sleeping on the floor" but, in his UJC position, if he "fell out of bed," it would be a long way to the floor...a long, long way.

The current UJC leadership is very taken with consultants, they employ more for more diverse purposes than any other organization with which I am familiar -- marketing and research firms, community planners, management consultants, even what its CEO described as "white shoe Wall Street" law firms, among others. Lost in all the consulting are UJC's Mission and its purpose. Given the embrace by UJC of every form of consultant guru, I thought I would provide them with a bit of the wisdom of one of their historic favorites -- James Collins. Over the years of UJC's existence, Jimmy Collins has spoken at GA's (and met privately with UJC leaders there), his works could inspire thoughtful debate about UJC's and our system's future.

Years ago, Collins wrote: "Re-engineering and other prevailing management fads that urge dramatic change and fundamental transformation on all fronts are not only wrong; they are dangerous. Any great and enduring human institution must have an underpinning of core values and sense of timeless purpose that should never change." (Emphasis added.) Those organizations that have gone "from good to great," Collins observes, "...have done so by grasping the difference between timeless principles and daily practices." Collins concludes, citing examples in corporate practice, that "[A] true core value is something you would hold even if it became a competitive disadvantage (although that seldom happens)."

And Collins, while not knowing UJC when he wrote this challenge, spoke directly to the most critical issue facing UJC today -- its current lay and professional leaders have no understanding of or appreciation for"the bedrock principles -- the 'what we stand for' and 'why we exist'" -- that could make of UJC the moral bedrock and central address of our system. If they ever knew it, they have forgotten it in the pursuit of their own agendas and in their absolute belief that l'etat c'est moi. They seem not to understand or care about the the core values that ennoble our system and drive it forward in the pursuit of tikkun olam. They fail to understand that there is a vast gulf between the core values of Purell and those of the federation system -- and never is the gulf open to debate. When I told Joe Kanfer directly of my belief that the federation system and UJC are in an extremely fragile condition requiring examination and discussion and federation leadership's engagement and debate with and within UJC, he scoffed. When Howard Rieger has been challenged, or a federation has respectfully declined to participate in an UJC initiative unilaterally announced by UJC, he has angrily attacked even federation CEO's.

Winston Churchill, when asked the secret of success, answered with great sarcasm: " is moving from failure to failure with enthusiasm." Under that standard, absent Churchill's sarcasm, UJC's leaders have been eminently successful and its lay and professional leaders should be congratulated.


Monday, June 16, 2008


It's one thing to engage in vendettas, to act like children selfishly not letting anyone play in their sandbox, but what about the basic lack of common courtesy and even decency?

I do have a personal example of the lack of any sense of courtesy. Last October I, and my wife, Bobbi, were the national leaders of the last UJC Prime Minister's Mission. With other great lay leaders from around the country and, in particular, from Chicago and with some great pros led by Gail Reiss, now relocated to senior professional leadership at the New York UJA-Federation, and Beth Cherner and Barbara Gold, two of Chicago's best, we took 70 leaders to Paris and Israel. It was a great Mission, these great donors' raised their commitments by 15% for the 2008 Annual Campaign kick-off inspired by what they saw and felt. My Federation was effusive is its praise for the work of the Mission Co-Chairs. UJC leaders couldn't summon the courtesy to thank me or any of us -- not a note, not a call. I and the other leaders weren't looking for kavod; just common courtesy. A month passed; you know me, I sent Joe and Howard a note "suggesting" that a "thank you" might be in order...nothing...and that was well before this Blog...and nothing to this date. You think they might have a form letter somewhere, wouldn't you?

Amazing. But consistent. Consider this. UJC leaders asked one of the Washington federation's best lay leaders, to chair Israel@60. True to their word, these "leaders" offered no budget whatsoever and essentially left this great lay leader with an UJC professional, Gabe Most, to sink or swim on their own. And, they swam. They stitched together a multitude of Federation Israel@60 triumphs into a national label with no help other than their own. The Washington celebration, just two weeks ago, was so huge it merited coverage in the JTA this week. On his own, Washington's leader and other lay persons raised $100's of thousands to support this effort; notwithstanding the lack of support this lay Chair thanked UJC...he is a very gracious leader. I'm just guessing, but being a betting man I would wager that UJC has not yet thanked him for his leadership (or even acknowledged it).

As I write this, I am out of the country. All of us have had the experience of CNN International playing in the background...on what seems to be an endless loop...programs played over and over. In one interview, Carlos Ghosn, the Chairman-CEO of Nissan was asked to define the qualities of "leadership." Simple, he replied, "you have to really love people." Perfect. I really don't sense that love flowing from 111 Eighth Avenue -- without it can you have real leadership? A prime example. The Israel Emergency Campaign raised $362 million -- an incredible federation triumph for our People. Forget the fact that UJC's role in the IEC was minimal, cheer leading was important. As that incredible campaign wound down, a UJC Senior Professional meeting with Howard Rieger and his trusted sidekick, Sam Astrof, made the following suggestion: "Our UJC professionals and staff worked incredibly hard in this effort. Close the office at 3 p.m. and invite the entire staff to (a bar in Chelsea). You, Howard, can just briefly express your thanks to the whole staff for a job well done, and we will pop for some beer in celebration. It will be great for staff morale. If UJC can't pay for this, you do it or I will." Howard replied: "We'll think about it." The next day this senior pro was told by Howard (or maybe he delegated this to Astrof) that there would be no such celebration. Amazingly, this professional was told: "We don't thank people for doing their jobs." Not a lot of love there. Unreal. Is this how you run your businesses? Is this how, let alone a Jewish business, should be run?

Finally, this: before the UJC Budget & Finance Committee had made its recommendation to cut UJC's Budget by $3.2 million (all of you who think it should have been far deeper, raise your hands), the Chairman of the UJC Board announced in a JTA interview that UJC was planning to terminate 38 staff members even if the budget weren't cut. Is this the leadership our system deserves?

We desperately need leaders who love people.


Sunday, June 8, 2008


I was sitting at my Chicago Federation's Overall Planning and Allocations Committee meeting last week when the thought struck me that our federations often act toward UJC as does a parent to a spoiled child.

The federation "haves" respond to initiatives (frequently those they have themselves created) while UJC plays the role of "bill collector;" the federation "have nots" are not even given the consideration of consultation, process or discussion. All federations but the select few essentially are asked only to pay their dues, and to otherwise get out of the way. The national organization is not playing the role of convenor; it is not playing the role of consensus builder; in fact, too often it is playing no role whatsoever. UJC's Board Chair and CEO have their own agendas (almost bi-monthly reorganization, an expensive marketing/branding initiative, positioning UJC as a funding/social service provider in Israel, dreamers of large unarticulated Supplemental campaigns while the annual campaigns of so many federations suffer) while the federations themselves go about their business neither driving UJC to be the best it can be nor seemingly caring very much about what UJC does with its $37 million "hardship budget."

The wag who wrote "if you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there" knew that of which he/she wrote; we, unfortunately, are not only living the mantra through UJC, we are the enablers. Let me explain.

The Israel Advocacy Initiative, the "IAI," about which I have written recently, is a terrific program.UJC has declared, at its Board Retreat in Newport Beach last January, and, last month, at its Board and Assembly meetings, how critical is the role the IAI plays in framing our system's advocacy policies vis-a-vis Israel. Yet, other than federation leaders playing key roles, the so-called "partnership" between UJC and JCPA in the IAI is simple: federations are the funding partners, UJC sends out the bills, and the JCPA is the action/programmatic partner. So, UJC stresses the import of the IAI, parcels out the costs to the federations and that's it (well, not quite, to support the IAI, UJC went to the national agency Alliance funding pool [a pool of funds for the critical priorities of our funded national agencies] and strong-armed $80,000 for the IAI with no prior or post-discussion with the national agency leadership) -- after long presentations at Newport Beach (with [1] very few in attendance and [2] little discussion because, face it, UJC structures its meetings to avoid dialogue); and a "briefing" at its Executive Committee where a "budget" (nothing more than a single page summary of almost $3,000,000 in proposed expenses) was distributed with no line-by-line analysis of a three-year ask, three weeks ago prorated among the 159 federations as if some actual process and approval had taken place. My community was asked for and will pay its $300,000 IAI bill because we believe in the collective enterprise, we believe in the IAI and participate in it and we have the funds through our incredible IEC effort. But, others won't; and there continues to be no UJC advocacy for anything other than dues, disaster relief, etc.

A cause to which all of us must be deeply, deeply committed -- advocacy for sanctions and more against the terrorist regime in Iran -- is being converted into a multi-million dollar three-year bi-partisan not-for-profit effort: the creation of a broad-based advocacy organization for which the federations (or, at least, some of them) apparently have "accepted" a three-year multi-million "share." And, just where and how did this "acceptance" take place? Was there a national process? And, what's UJC's role in all of this? Apparently none -- no engagement, no leadership, certainly no discussion or vote. Or, maybe I missed it. Maybe a group of federations got together and agreed this was one of our highest priorities, as it should be. My federation will commit its 9% pro rata share -- other communities will/have been asked to pony up. It's one of if the most important efforts one can imagine; but, is this how our system is to work?

The seminal question: if these two critical advocacy efforts are among the highest priorities of the federations, why aren't these dollars, totalling some $2 million per year, in the UJC Budget paid by the federations of $37 million -- not over and above the budget, in it? I have asked this question before -- and after the "Harumphs" and the rolled eyes and the quizzical stares (or in UJC's case, the silence), I hear: "UJC had to cut its budget by $3.2 million...painful...38 people fired...painful." But, my friends, what are the federations' priorities for UJC? These are never discussed, never debated today -- priorities were debated passionately at UJA year after year; they were debated strongly at CJF, year after year. Today, the debate is over the dollars, not the priorities -- never the priorities. The owners' attitude today seems to be: "Just keep the costs down and we'll leave you alone." So, UJC proceeds in its unfocused way, in a multitude of directions at once. And, only rarely do the priorities of the two coincide: the federation-driven IEC, disaster relief, the bond program, peer yardstick, the collaborative model. (All that for $37 million, imagine.) But, not only is there not a dime available in the UJC Budget for the IAI or advocacy for sanctions against Iran, there's none for Israel@60, or Blue Knot or Limudim or emerging communities., and on and on.

When my beloved community, a model of what collective responsibility means in the 21st Century, and a few others act, as a terrific federation leader described it, as an ATM for UJC, without demanding that UJC focus, debate and then agree to national priorities and without demanding accountability and discipline from UJC, we are nothing, more or less,than enablers. By failing to insist on priority-setting by the federations for UJC, we embolden UJC's leadership to continue to go their own way without regard for the federations' priorities for UJC. And the federations continue to go their various ways independent of UJC. We have effectively and sadly turned the core concept of collective responsibility on its head.

When we choose blind cheer-leading as the support strategy for UJC as opposed to critical analysis and debate, at the end of the day we are contributing to weakening UJC leading to the eventual deconstruction of UJC not its potential or its strength. Requests for funding projects outside the UJC Budget have never been honored by more than an affluent few. The expectations created when not followed by success weaken our system and when federations, pressured to pay over and above, themselves use the allocation to JDC/JAFI (often with UJC's implicit encouragement), they, too, are forced to consider direct fund raising to support critical programs of human needs -- Jewish needs -- these actions by UJC and the federations are inconsistent with the "partnership" we claim to share with JAFI and JDC.

As long as we, as the owners of UJC, fail to require UJC to focus on its priorities as our national agent, we weaken UJC. And as long as UJC's lay and professional leaders believe that they can act with impunity with process, if at all, only following "facts on the ground," UJC cannot succeed as all of us want it to succeed.

When will they learn, when will they ever learn?

Chag Shavuot sameach.


Thursday, June 5, 2008


The GA set for Jerusalem in November 2008 may be a terrific one. UJC has been promoting it on its website for quite a while and UJC even sent an e-mail last week to its mailing list encouraging registration over the Internet (a labor intensive and rewarding process). Professionally, programming will be led by UJC's Nachman Shai who has demonstrated his ability to put together a great program -- be it on Missions or prior GA's -- time and again. Chairing the GA will be two terrific leaders -- Jane and Mark Wilf -- from a wonderful Central New Jersey philanthropic family. (The naming of Jane and Mark is itself a major step forward for UJC as its last three GA's have been chaired by UJC's two Chairs. Kal ha'kavod to them for recognizing it was time for them to let go.) Surely, the centrality of Israel in our lives will be a central focus.

But, if you haven't yet registered for the GA or planned your air travel, do so now before it's too late. (By the way, unlike other years, there is no discount for early Registration; there is apparently no discount for federation or agency professionals.) Registration is $600 per Registrant and, as one faithful reader corrected me, there is no additional...charge to register for the Jewish Agency Assembly or for the International Lion of Judah Conference which precede the GA. Tell you the truth, I didn't look to see if there was an additional registration for the International Lion of Judah Conference but I think there is an additional cost for those "Lion Kings." Are you still with me?

Hotel reservations are both costly and problematic. In my case, if I wanted to reserve a room on-line at the David Citadel, I couldn't unless I made a $1000 deposit for a Chicago Mission -- then I might be able to register for a David Citadel Room at an unreal cost. (Chicago's Israel@60 Mission just returned -- 400 strong, in Israel for Yom Ha-Atzmaut -- what an incredible idea!! Now, we will have another Mission for the GA. And, we raise money on them for the Annual Campaign, lots of money.) So, let's say I wanted to stay at the King David -- the cheapest...cheapest room with an Old City view -- $506.00. Or, maybe I would choose to stay at the Jerusalem Plaza -- $316. But, a double at the Crowne Plaza is available for $161.00 and the Inbal (only the Suites are available) -- $669.00. (That's per night, by the way.) Now, I know that the Shekel/dollar ratio reflects the general devaluation of our Dollar but, come on!!

Then there's air travel. Don't expect a deeply discounted seat this November. (Although two of my Chicago partners did get a terrific fare -- here is how I think it worked for them -- they bought a Coach seat on American, paid over $600 plus tens of thousands of miles to upgrade. One catch, they are returning through Moscow -- I am not making this up -- they fly Tel Aviv- Moscow on El Al, then Moscow-Chicago on American. From my travels to the FSU, I am willing to wager they will see their luggage in time for the 2010 GA wherever that may be.)

You remember the last GA in Jerusalem. It was great. Each participant, who also participated on a pre-GA Mission received a UJC subsidy of $1,000. (Where the Subsidy dollars were found -- ostensibly in a $2.5 million budget "surplus" -- we will never know.) (Not this year. UJC has made it clear that with a $37 million Budget, it can't find two nickels extra to rub together. What I fear is that in the coming months UJC, seeing minimal GA Registration will start pleading with communities to subsidize attendance at the GA -- and, as always, the JDC/JAFI Overseas allocations will be the federations' ATM.)

So, why am I writing this Post? It's not to scare you away. It's to encourage you to Register now and arrange your air travel. The GA is only 6 months away. Make your plans now. I will be there with my wife -- for the GA and the Jewish Agency Assembly and Board of Governors meetings. I figure our costs will be about $15,000 before food. Just right.

As the Yiddish phrase says (in English) -- "Men and women plan....and G-d laughs." Laughs hard.


Monday, June 2, 2008


Terry Leap is a guru of organizational management. He is a Professor of Management at Clemson University. In a December 1, 2007 special Section of The Wall Street Journal Professor Leap provided all of us with what was described as a "Test" in his front page article Keys to Spotting a Flawed CEO -- Before It's Too Late. This Post is offered as a public service -- without further commentary...because none is needed.

"It's easy to spot a bad chief executive once the damage is done...But how do you spot the flaws before it's too late, before that person is given the job of leading the (enterprise)?

Here are some warning signs that board members and search committees can look for in a prospective CEO's character, and measures they can take to reduce the likelihood of hiring a dysfunctional CEO.

The Warning Signs

  • An overt zeal for prestige, power and wealth. A manager's tendency to put his or her own success ahead of the (organization's) is evident long before that person is ready to assume the CEO post.

  • A reputation for shameless self-promotion. Executives who constantly seek publicity...trumpet their successes while quickly distancing themselves from setbacks are sending strong signals that their egotistical ways may eventually cause major problems.

  • A proclivity for developing grandiose strategies with little thought toward their implementation. These executives may assume that others at lower levels will magically turn strategy into reality.

  • A fondness for rules and numbers that overshadows or ignores a broader vision. This is the flip side of the preceding problem.

  • A reputation for implementing major strategic changes unilaterally or for forcing programs down the throats of reluctant managers. CEOs have to be consensus builders.

  • An impulsive, flippant decision-making style. CEOs who approach decision-making with clever one-liners rather than with balanced thoughtful and informed analysis can expect to encounter difficulty.

  • A penchant for inconsiderate acts. Individuals who exhibit rude behavior are apt to alienate the wrong person at the wrong time.

  • A love of monologues coupled with poor listening skills. Bad listeners rarely profit from the wisdom of their associates.

  • A tendency to display contempt for the ideas of others. Hypercritical executives often have few stellar achievements of their own.

  • A history of emphasizing activity, like hours worked or meetings attended, over accomplishment. Energy without objective rarely leads to improved organizational importance.

  • A career marked by numerous misunderstandings. There are two sides to every story, but frequent interpersonal problems shouldn't be overlooked.

  • A superb ability to compartmentalize and/or rationalize. Some executives have learned to separate, in their own minds, their bad behavior from their better qualities, so that their misdeeds don't diminish their opinions of themselves, An important internal check is missing. Others are always ready to cite a higher purpose to justify their bad decisions.

Hiring Tips.

  • Don't assume that past success is a predictor of future success. As CEO, an executive will face a whole new set of personalities and conditions...

  • Investigate a candidate's integrity and interpersonal skills as part of a thorough background check. Conduct extensive confidential discussions with former associates.

  • In interviews, ask candidates how they have handled setbacks and challenges in the past, as well as personal interaction. Let them know the Search Committee will check the veracity of their answers.

  • In examining the course of a candidate's promotions, pay close attention to how the candidate reacted when given responsibilities that significantly increased his or her power.

  • ....[O]ffer the new CEO a reasonable, but not extravagant, compensation package. Once the CEO has demonstrated a high level of competency and integrity, the compensation package can be improved."

copyright, 2007, Dow Jones & Company, The Wall Street Journal, December 1, 2007.

Yes, read it and weep. The damage is on-going.