Tuesday, July 29, 2008


In his column one week ago, the brilliant Bret Stephens, writing in The Wall Street Journal, quoted Eric Hoffer, commenting on the fallacies of "true believers:" they assert their ideas "...by claiming that the ultimate and absolute truth is already embodied in their doctrine and that there is no truth nor certitude outside of it...it is startling to realize how much unbelief is necessary to make belief possible." For these "true believers" in some settings, no harm no foul; in a consensual environment, however, the refusal to entertain others' ideas or criticism is a fatal flaw. And that, my friends, is where UJC is today -- in the hands of a sorry few "true believers."

This is not how it had to be. When Howard Rieger went to work as UJC's CEO, he held out the promise of being a different chief professional officer than he would turn out to be. In a JTA interview with reporter Rachel Pomerance, upon his hiring, it was asserted that "...one of Rieger's key attributes is humility which makes it easy for him to share credit with others." She wrote: "Rieger says that lay leaders aren't meant to be 'window dressing' in federation decisions' and, remarkably in light of his history from that day forward: "[W]ith lay leaders and employees, his management strategy revolves around empowerment, openness and rewards for good work." "'I love to give people the authority and respect to do their thing and take their risks,' he says. "If they make a mistake. You know what. I've made a few mistakes in my life.'" Continuing, as Howard is wont to do: "As for openness.'We live in a world now where you can get 90% of what you need to know out there anyway.' Rieger says. 'Why act as though there's anything that's incapable of seeing the light of day." And, then, that Howard Rieger disappeared.

In an environment with the checks and balances demanded of the lay-professional partnership, with lay leaders inculcated in the core values of our federation-driven lay-professional partnership, perhaps the best of Howard Rieger's intentions might have been realized. But, with the void created, first by Sonny Plant's, z'l, untimely and tragic death followed by the election of Chairs from inside UJC but essentially outside the federation consensus-building experience, it was everyone in leadership, every man and woman, for himself/herself. No checks or balances. Howard always behind closed doors at 111; Akron's Kanfer pursuing an inappropriate corporate model apparently based on his Purell family-owned business; Greenboro's Kathy Manning asking the right questions but never pursuing the answers; Michael Gelman, ever the good soldier; Delaware's Toni Young not bothering to learn much about things which don't interest her -- like JAFI or JDC pointing UJC's Israel work toward Arab-Israeli relations (a mini-New Israel Fund). And, that was it -- that was leadership. The senior professionals driven out were those who pushed back, those who questioned; those that replaced them, fine men and women of integrity, predisposed to taking Howard's (or Joe's) orders as Torah.

This was to prove to be the perfect storm for UJC's deconstruction. And, the storm is predicted by these weathermen to continue -- one of Rieger's acolytes told JTA Reporter Jacob Berkman (who has started a terrific Blog on the JTA website -- The Fundermentalist) "...now he going to get even tougher." Does that mean he might fire someone himself m-- face to face, or is it macho posturing to avoid the stigma of being a lame duck? Or, most likely, both?

I have written before about the cut in UJC's Budget (and, thereby Dues) to $37 Million for the Fiscal Year accompanied by anguished cries from UJC's leaders without regard for the pain of those fired as an alleged "consequence" but with no plan for "what's next." While the UJC lay leaders frolic in their individual sandboxes, with no prior discussion about priorities with the federations, and quite possibly without consultation with their own "leaders," UJC has made a series of financial "asks" that now exceed on an annual basis the $3.2 Million Budget cut. Worse, it appears to this writer that a decision had been reached by staff with not even consideration of lay involvement, that the Ethiopian National Project has been elevated as the highest priority among all of the "asks." Great program, a population most in need -- but, who makes these decisions...and where...and when?

That's the way the Absolutists operate -- no discussion among anyone but themselves, if that. No priority-setting process with the owners of the corporation. L'etat c'est moi. Let them eat cake. And all of that and more.

And we continue to let it happen.


Friday, July 25, 2008


One of those right wing TV talking heads has created what he has called the "No Spin Zone;" at UJC they tend to spin the truth like a dreidel, hoping no one will notice -- or will be willing to accept fiction as fact. It's the "Spin Zone." Hence, the news that Howard Rieger "will depart the organization when his five year contract ends" couldn't possibly have been accompanied by the very brief summary of the very few "accomplishments" of a 4 year (to date) regime, but, instead, must be filled to overflowing with gross hyperbole without regard to the facts. Let's briefly summarize as we wish Howard every success..and soon.

When Steve Hoffman turned UJC's professional reins over to Howard Rieger, UJC was literally on the cusp of organizational success. Hoffman had developed a strong team of senior professionals who worked toward institutional success without regard to the "silos" that may have remained as obstacles in the minds of some. Lay leaders were functioning well together and the hopes for a succession of men and women of the next generation to lead the organization were strong. Relationships between UJC and JDC and JAFI were never better thanks to Hoffman's abilities to articulate support for these organizations by his deep engagement with them. Steve did not suffer fools lightly and he was possessed of strong opinions and never hesitated to articulate them -- often strongly; but, he also listened and understood that criticism could have value. He brought exemplary professional leadership to UJC.

At the time of the "transfer of power" from Steve to Howard Rieger, the Development area in which I was then particularly involved, had developed a set of strategies that were already playing out in NextGen programming, in a strong effort to partner with "emerging communities." and in the development of the "collaborative model." A Task Force Hoffman and Goldberg had engineered in response to the federation owners to develop resource development guidelines was working on its final report to attempt to bring discipline to national and international beneficiaries of our federation system. Within four years Rieger and Company had deep-sixed all of these programs without process or explanation. other than the "collaborative model" -- even then without crediting Vicki Agron or Cleveland's Berinthia Levine who collaboratively developed the concept. NextGen's premier effort -- Flyte -- would never have emerged had Agron not collaborated with the eminent philanthropist Jane Sherman and her family to assure its funding. (Agron was among the senior professional women forced out of UJC.) And Development was relegated to a minor function within UJC's hapless Rieger-driven "organizational structuring."

In spinning UJC's "accomplishments" under the now-retiring CEO, Howard is quoted with pride "...that a strategic planning process is being launched" this week. Hmmm, didn't the current Chairs, then aspiring to higher office, co-chair a "strategic planning process" in 2005-2006? What and where did that end up? Is this more of the same? And what kind of successor will it be who will agree in advance to be bound to "...an agreed-upon approach" that no one yet has seen?
Accomplishments -- there have been a few...too few...but Howard deserves his share of credit for them. But to state that "Rieger...spearheaded the $360 million Israel Emergency Campaign" is Emperor's New Clothes stuff. The IEC was a tremendous success -- it was the federations' success. It was the first Special Campaign in organizational history in which the national organization was but a by-stander. UJC did a great job cheer-leading and monitoring the expenditure of the federations' fund raising achievements, but it "spearheaded" nothing other than to end it too soon...while the terrorists' bombs continued to fall. Operation Promise might have been a success but it was spun out by UJC before it was ready... without the support of key federations and like everything else about UJC during these past few years, without even the priorities with which Rieger and most of the Large Cities had agreed -- until Rieger eliminated any semblance of the priorities without advance discussion. Operation Promise is a case study in what happens to a fund raising effort without a clear message. (Think it's over -- if you look at the UJC website, Operation Promise remains right there.)

Disaster Relief and the continued successes of the UJC Washington Office effort are surely accomplishments -- those mirrored the achievements or exceeded those of the predecessor organizations.

The meagre accomplishments have been offset by the lack of any capacity to understand criticism, an inability to listen, the elimination of tens of dedicated women professionals and support staff, secrecy and an ever-tightening Nixonian "enemies list," an ever-smaller "circle of trust" shutting out the owners from participation in the framing of decisions -- delivering UJC to a point of real crisis. The point it is at today. These are the deficits created by the current lay and professional leadership...and by the owners' acquiescence by silence.

Here we are, in the same week as Howard Rieger's announced intent to retire asked to reflect upon federations' Annual Campaign successes while Development/FRD has been so marginalized by the Rieger-Kanfer reorganization(s) that no matter the pressure placed on lay leaders to accept the positions, there is no National Campaign Chair and no Chair of the vaunted Center for Jewish Philanthropy. Friends who have written me about the recently completed Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Mission noted both the Herculean effort of the UJC staff ("two standing ovations" -- great) and the lack of a National Campaign Chair. UJC's terrific remaining professionals can have an impact...up to a point....and that point requires lay leaders as partners.

Without any consultation with the owners or with federation executives, the Board Chair didn't wait for the ink to dry on Rieger's retirement to appoint his Co-Chair to Search Committee Chair. (How's that for expanding leadership roles?) While Kathy Manning is a fine person, those who have partnered in the deconstruction of UJC, or stood by in silence as it was (and is) happening on their watch would hardly seem to be the best choice to lead this effort. The owners need to take charge of this process to give credibility to it. As the Search has been framed by the retiring CEO, his successor, as indicated above, will be expected to sign on to a strategic plan in advance, one in which he or she has had no input and with which he or she may or may not agree. It's the Land of Oz with no one behind the curtain.

Spin is everything. Spin, spin, spin around, all spin around...

Shabbat shalom,


Tuesday, July 22, 2008


It is clear that the current leadership of UJC believe that when they were hired or elected, as the case may be, they were thereby immunized from criticism and, at one and the same time, fully empowered to criticize others while they act unilaterally. Now, really, this is neither a healthy circumstance nor appropriate to their leadership roles. But, this attitude results in matters beyond comprehension like the double-barreled assault on Federation core values in last Friday's Howard's View coupled to an almost simultaneous UJC "ask" of the federations for millions of dollars in additional funding for the Ethiopian National Project.

UJC's "leaders," apparently believing that in doing so I was somehow being "punished," months ago removed my name from the Board mailing list for Howard's View. Nonetheless, I frequently receive it, recycled by federation leaders who typically forward it on to me, as with last Friday's, with the observation: "You won't believe this one." Let's examine last Friday's View and compare it in a new feature of this Blog -- Howard's View vs. UJC's Actions.

As United Jewish Appeal's National Campaign Chair, I was privileged to be part of a leadership group that, with our professional partners, conceived of and implemented the Campaign Chairs and Campaign Directors Mission. As was so often the case, the national campaign learned from the experiences of the UJA National Women's Campaign the value of bringing these lay and professional leaders first to see the work of the JDC and JAFI on the ground in the Former Soviet Union, or in Eastern Europe and then in Israel, and to use the opportunity of being together to engage with federation campaign leadership. From the first co-Chairs that I asked to lead the CC/CD Mission, Neil Moss of Columbus, and Chicago's Lois Zoller, we saw this Mission as the Campaign's kick-off event -- not only building the Campaigns momentum but building the engagement of the then national system with the federations as well.

Wherevere I travel in our great federation system, federation lay and professional leaders constantly remind me of the joy, learning and passion they experienced on the Campaign Chairs and Director Missions -- I am absolutely certain that my successors as National Campaign Chair hear the same thing. When I participated on these great Missions, I was always energized and the Campaigns which followed, led by the Mission participants, were energized as well. Last year, then National Campaign Chair, David Fisher, had to withstand UJC's leadership efforts to reorient this Mission, which had been carefully planned, away from a visit to Poland as a first stop. UJC Leadership did so by trying to move this Mission itinerary decision away from the Campaign Executive Committee to the embryonic Center for Jewish Philanthropy. David won the day -- Eric Levine's evocation of the Mission experience in Poland in Howard's View proved the meaning of the experience. Clearly, the CEO has forgotten his attempt to deep-six the Poland pre-Mission. And let us not forget that David Fisher declined a second year as National Campaign Chair, and UJC leaders have been unable to persuade a succession of lay leaders to accept this incredibly important position for our system.

Or perhaps the position is no longer important in an organization where all decisions are being dictated by the very few without regard for the criticality of Campaign/Development to federations' -- the owners, after all -- work. Remember, at the time of the merger, the expectation was that the National Campaign Chair would be the "first among equals." If any of you asked a succession of UJC National Campaign Chairs whether the position retained its status, you would not be surprised by the answer of those who served in the current administration . In the typical logic of the weekly View. the Annual Campaign is , in the same paragraph, first exalted as "...our primary philanthropic force," and then relegated to but one of "...a menu of choices..." for "our donors." As with most things UJC, when and where was that decision made and by whom? By the federations? No. By the federation Campaign leadership? No. By UJC Development lay leadership? No. This decision, if that's what it was, was made by the same leaders who have deprecated the Annual Campaign from their first public pronouncements right up to and through last week's View.

Then that View wandered off to bemoan the impact of declining core allocations -- an important acknowledgment by UJC leadership which has shied away from any...any...core allocations advocacy since they took office. Yet, even in this View UJC's confusion is self-evident. First, the CEO unilaterally elevates the Ethiopian National Project to co-equal partnership status with JDC and JAFI, then he goes off on the financial needs of the Israel Advocacy Initiative and the ENP, never returning to the massive deficits faced by our system's historic partners -- JAFI and JDC. We will never know whether the core allocations could increase with UJC advocacy because there has been none.

I have served on the Ethiopian National Project Board (as a Jewish Agency representative) from its outset. I have seen the pride of the Israeli Ethiopian community leaders who sit at the ENP leadership table, and I have shared their frustration with the lack of available funding to continue let alone grow these remarkable efforts at integration and communal growth. At one and the same time, it our funds -- federations' and Keren HaYesod's and donors' -- through JAFI and JDC and UJC that have enabled the efforts to date. As core funding to JAFI and JDC drop, they will be forced to fund less. With UJC's massive "ask" for ENP, there seems to be no recognition that those dollars will come from JAFI/JDC core -- a vicious cycle now blindly encouraged by UJC. In the second year of the ONAD process, of not so blessed memory, federations were asked to increase their core allocations by, as I recall, 5% solely for the ENP. It is also my recollection that two federations did so -- Houston and Chicago. Later the same day as the View under discussion, Federation leaders received not one but two e-mails requesting $5 million in total for ENP -- one from UJC's leaders and the second from the UJC Senior Professional who led the ONAD effort even dating back to the second year 5% increase over core that was not forthcoming. Sad...but consistent... is the comment that "[W]e will shortly also detail a plan for the ENP." Sure...and in the meantime send us $5 million.

I have written about UJC's incessant and growing number of "asks" of the federations both before the Budget reduction and since. There is no worse example of UJC's lack of focus or priority. The "need" for $1 million in funding for each of the next three years for the Israel Advocacy Initiative outside of and over and above UJC's budget of course found its way into this View. The CEO therein totally confused advocacy for Israel (through, e.g., the IAI, a program of JCPA, funded by UJC -- which, rather than any reorientation of its budget, merely drops unvetted numbers on the federations and claims "it's your obligation") with advocacy for the core budgets of our partners -- JAFI and JDC -- for their work in Israel.

And, finally, this View concluded on a totally different note, summarizing some Washington Office successes.

It truly boggles the mind that in one Howard's View the total confusion of UJC's aimless wanderings, lack of strategic direction (when its last two Budgets were accompanied by a narrative stating unequivocally that they were designed to fund UJC's strategic directions), and lack of priorities can be viewed in just three pages. Read it and all you can do is weep.


Friday, July 18, 2008


When the very patient IT staff at my law firm respond to my periodic cries for help with my laptop, if all else fails their advice is simple: "try a reboot." That is exactly what our national system needs -- a full and complete and immediate reboot. In this Post I will suggest both why and what is needed, in my opinion, to reset UJC as the federations' vehicle for the expression of their will, their vision and their passion.

UJC is at a crossroads -- continuing down the same unfocused path that leads away from the owners or finding real focus through new, responsive leadership. While UJC has done fine work in its Washington Office, in Disaster Relief, in the integrity of its Finance & Administration Department, in federation bench-marking and in creating the "collaborative model," consider the following:

  • Acronyms presented as programs (I-LEED, IO:GO, CJP, PCC, and new ones added seemingly weekly);
  • Unilateral actions characterized as "administrative" excluding lay governance participation or engagement reflecting leadership's "ends justify the means" attitude;
  • The constant deprecation of the annual campaign without regard for the impacts such public disparagement would have on the lifeblood of our system. Even today, the CEO writes that the Annual Campaign, at least for UJC, becomes part of "...a menu of choices";
  • A professional leadership that has pushed out senior professional women time and time again while UJC lay leaders ignored or chose to turn a blind eye toward what was and is clearly a management problem with enormous negative implications for 50% of the donors to and leaders of the federation owners. In an incisive article accompanying the executive search firm, DRG,Inc.'s, monthly message -- It's All in How You Treat People -- the authors, a clinical psychologist and a human resources consultant, conclude: "..people don't leave their jobs, they leave their bosses;"
  • Outsourcing core functions without process;
  • Continuing acts of character assassination of lay and professional leaders who expressed even principled disagreement with a leadership who mistakenly appear to view themselves as the ownership rather than as ownership's representatives;
  • An overwhelming set of "asks" for funding over and above Dues without any discussion or debate with the federation owners as to priorities. "Asks" that arise without approval by the federations -- and the list keeps growing; and
  • While firing 38 loyal, dedicated and, in the main long-term, professionals and support staff, no thought appears to have been given to reducing senior management compensation while, for example, JAFI management initiated the reduction of the compensation of their senior managers at a time of reduced revenues and increasing deficits.

What more needs be said -- UJC requires new, inclusionary leaders whose vision is that of the federations and it requires them now.

The best/worst example of this UJC lay and professional leaderships' failure to comprehend their proper roles, and their refusal to even entertain the input of UJC's owners, was evidenced in the "roll-out" of their so-called Reorganization Strategy in March 2007. A group of lay leaders were "invited" to travel to a meeting in New York for a "head's-up" on the contemplated changes. At the outset of the meeting, the Board Chair advised the group about like this: "After our presentation, you can ask any questions you want but no changes will be made and we will have no discussion." Who can even imagine that such a thing could take place anywhere else in our system? But, that's how it is at our UJC.

It is past time for the owners to take the difficult challenging steps to restore trust and integrity to and confidence in our national institution.

In my past role as UJC's Chair of Emerging Communities, as the immediate past Chair of the Jewish Agency North America Council and as Chair of the United Israel Appeal, I have been privileged to have visited with so many lay and professional leaders in so many federations across North America. When I have engaged with them, I have listened carefully. At a time when my reports were welcome, I consistently advised UJC's Board Chair and CEO of communal concerns with UJC -- bloated budgets, a lack of engagement, lack of priorities, top-down programmatic dictation and a lack of focus on the things federations care most about. I was a reporter of federation discontent not a provocateur. UJC's leaders chose to "shoot the messenger" -- and ignored the message.

Even when this Spring the Large City Executives presented their gently stated but comprehensive and telling critique of UJC in an expansive Paper Refining UJC's Vision, these UJC leaders (1) refused (and continue to refuse) to distribute the Paper beyond their tiny "Circle of Trust" to even UJC's own Executive Committee; and (2) instead, rewrote the Paper, severely editing it to their liking, and circulated the now "acceptable" emasculated report under the identical title with the promise of a "leadership retreat" in January '09. Worst of all, in my years of experiences with the predecessor organizations and with UJC since its birth, never have I witnessed the lay leadership and donor disengagement from the national system as it is today...never. As UJC's leadership have deconstructed UJC at continuing great cost to the system with little return on federations' investment, it is time for a change at the top. Now.

A New Search Committee. We have learned from experience that not all federation professionals can readily transfer the skill set that made them so successful locally to the national institution. In the Baseball Major Leagues, I'm told, they talk about "the Thing." "The Thing" is an affliction that has driven many excellent baseball players from the the "Big Leagues." Steve Sax, Chuck Knoblach, Steve Blass and Mackie Sasser, among others, caught "the Thing"(also called "Steve Sax Syndrome,""Steve Blass Disease," etc.) -- they were fabulous players who suddenly couldn't throw the ball. And when they threw it. it was way off target. It appears that UJC's CEO upon his move to UJC caught "the Thing." While I could provide a list of examples, I choose not to because they are known to all of you. I have heard from so many lay leaders of their experiences with Howard or their opinion of him after observing or interacting with him, that it is not necessary to compare the criteria in Professor of Management Terry Leap's Wall Street Journal article "Spotting a Flawed CEO..." reprinted in an earlier Post with this CEO's actions over his time in the position. The facts, as they say, speak for themselves.

It is time for a new Search Committee of federation lay leaders to seek out the best and brightest to lead UJC into the future -- a Search Committee comprised of Federation Chairs from each City-size; a Blue Ribbon Search Committee that, under New York's Susie Stern's leadership, must be expanded away from the small group of UJC Officers who with this CEO have led UJC down the paths to where it is today. And, where to look?

First, some examples of what UJC needs: the incomparable management skills of Stanley Horowitz, the inspiration of Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, the dignity and integrity of Phil Bernstein, z'l, the creative genius of Brian Lurie, the brilliance and vision of a John Ruskay, a Misha Galperin, a Jeffrey Solomon, a Jon Woocher and a Steve Hoffman, the fund raising skills, charisma and creativity of a Mark Terrill, a Jeff Klein and a Bob Aronson and the comprehension by all of them of our lay-professional partnership and the core values embodied in our federations' collective responsibility. Among the professional leaders in the other City-size groupings are women and men of equally great commitment, creativity, integrity and enthusiasm. Of course, of them all, I continue to believe that Steve Nasatir embodies all of the requisite characteristics along with the skill to build consensus, unite our communities and lead. There are those who still lead their federations who have made it known that they are not interested. If one of them cannot be convinced that it his time, then this new Search Committee must reach beyond the Large City Executive "pool" and seek a professional leader without regard to gender with an understanding of our system and the skills of those listed above...without the "flaws."

A New Nominating Committee. In the past, the UJC Nominating process has been, for lack of a better word, "corrupted" by the active participation of the CEO in its deliberations. This time, the Nominating Committee needs to find its "independence" and seek out the best Chairs for UJC going forward without the often invidious influence of the sitting Chairs or CEO. We have some terrific models from the life examples of those who are past leaders of our system: the passion, understanding of the federation system and caring of Shoshana Cardin, the warmth, magnetism and inspiration of Marvin Lender, the humor and wisdom of Maynard Wishner, the inspired creativity of Carole Solomon, the enthusiasm, leadership legacy and youthful exuberance of Richie Pearlstone, the examples of their own commitments of a Bill Berman and Alex Grass, the warmth and love of Herschel Blumberg, the ability to forge consensus of Conrad Giles, the humor, cynicism and humanity of Sonny Plant, z'l, the commanding presence and integrity of Corky Goodman. Every one of these men and women loved people and the interaction with them. They loved, as well, the give and take over ideas and embraced the reality that better ideas come from real engagement, debate and criticism. Each of these leaders left a lasting and positive imprint on modern Jewish organizational history -- and each still does. We need to find the person(s) who will do so as well under the UJC banner.

Are such persons out there? Of course there are. Instead of talking about the "NextGen" as if they are not yet ready to lead, we have such young leaders in our midst who are ready to assume UJC's leadership -- they are not only our future, they can be our present. We have business leaders engaged with our federations and our international partners who must be persuaded to take on the incredible challenge of rebuilding UJC from the ground up in partnership with a new Chief Professional Officer. These leaders need to be sought out, recruited, convinced.

Why Now? Some will suggest that it wouldn't be "nice" to act now. The Chairs' Terms, were they renominated, will be up in 16 months; the CEO's contract expires next year. Why not wait? Because UJC can't afford another 16 months. As I write, a growing number of federations have already concluded that the value-added of UJC to them is not measurable and contemplate not paying their allocated "fair share" dues even after the mandated budget reduction to $37 million. Each day the gulf between what federations want from UJC and what UJC is delivering grows wider and the sense that no one at 111 Eighth Avenue is listening grows apace. Because the Jewish Agency and JDC and our national agencies operate on fumes while these UJC leaders push for their pet projects and additional asks for critical needs without any prioritization of needs, our entire system is being deconstructed. More and more, federation leaders and UJC Board members are pointing out that the Emperors' New Clothes are non-existent. And on and on. We can't afford to wait as United Jewish Communities collapses under the weight of unfulfilled promise.

Yes, the immediate actions called for here are strong medicine. UJC is broken; but it is not beyond repair. But, the federations, the owners of UJC, need to fix it, need to get the train back on the tracks, to, as it were, "put Humpty-Dumpty together again." At its onset, UJC was pointed in the direction of transformational change; today, the transformational change must be of UJC itself. The enterprise is truly at risk -- only UJC's lay and professional leaders, hermetically sealed from reality, refuse to acknowledge the reality. We need a strong, vibrant, compelling and focused United Jewish Communities as the central address and rallying point for our federations and donors. We need to find the leaders who can take us there; leaders who love people; leaders who welcome with respect and consideration ideas other than their own; leaders who can rally the professional staff at 111 Eighth Avenue and lay and professional leadership around North America to great achievements

From all of those of you who have communicated with me, I know how many believe the time is ripe for change. Now, dear friends, it is up to you; it is up to all of us. Time to reboot.

Let me know how I may help.

Shabbat shalom,


Wednesday, July 16, 2008


In a brilliant Shai from Jerusalem today, Nachman Shai, UJC's Director General, External Affairs, UJC Israel, wrote of Our Family, Our Sons observing once again that "Israel is weeping." And we are weeping as well -- for the grief that our extended family feels right now, is a grief that we, all of us, share as part of the extended family that is the Jewish People. We grieve with the Goldwasser and Regev families in particular and we grieve with and for our Israeli mishpacha.

But we also cry real tears for Smadar Haran, whose family was so viciously murdered by a terrorist almost 30 years ago -- a terrorist who will be welcomed as a "hero" by the terrorists in Lebanon who will welcome him today. I remember leading a Mission to Israel in 1979, our group saying Kaddish at the Haran family graves freshly dug. We pray for them again today and added to our prayers are those for Ehud Goldwasser, z'l, and Eldad Regev, z'l.

We who, as a People, value life before all else, will never understand those who extol death, and, in particular Jewish deaths, before all else. Some day...some day...those who value life will, must, prevail.


Friday, July 11, 2008


When I began this Blog, I committed to admit when I was wrong. Well. with an announced 75-1 vote in favor of the UJC relocation to 25 Broadway, i was far off the mark in asserting that the closeness of the vote and UJC's efforts to change votes were evidence that ownership had reached the Tipping Point in the federations relationship with UJC under the current leadership. My apologies -- I was far, far off the mark.

UJC leaders will have to detremine if the participation of only 60% of its Trustees in an emergency meeting called with repeated reminders of the importance of attendance is satisfactory and an endorsement.

While I know they can neither tolerate nor accept criticism, my hope is that those in leadership to whom this apology is addressed can accept this apology.

Shabbat shalom.



Unlike some, I don't profess to know all and I even entertain that on many issues I could be wrong -- emphasis on "could be." There are those within the lay and professional leadership of UJC who constantly complain to others -- but never directly to me -- inside and outside the walls of 111 Eighth Avenue that my facts are wrong. As they say, you know where to find me -- if I have my facts wrong (as opposed to my opinions which in their view, no doubt, are always "wrong" [although I would welcome their criticisms of those, as well]), let me know and, if I have my facts wrong, I will post a correction. Write to the Blog using your name or some fictitious one, or e-mail me directly at rwexler@lockelord.com

I would love to hear from you.

Shabbat shalom to all.


Thursday, July 10, 2008


In a Leadership Briefing yesterday, UJC trumpeted UJC Board Overwhelmingly Approves Move..., contrary to my Tipping Point? Post which asserted that UJC professionals were calling around the country trying to reverse "no" votes to gain the required majority. I speculated in my Post that UJC would be successful in its pursuit of the requisite majority for a very favorable deal; apparently they were. It should be noted that on the Board call, the Chair stated that the vote totals couldn't be announced until it was determined whether those who cast votes were eligible to do so. Then, as if by magic, but without any detail on the votes cast, abracadabra, it's "overwhelming." It's particularly unfortunate that those voting against the deal were able to be identified by name (I would have thought that in UJC's democracy, such a vote would have been a "secret ballot") given leadership's proclivity for stigmatizing those who oppose their "will." More's the pity.

It was also not unexpected, given my conclusion that the closeness of the vote reflected not a rejection of a real estate deal, but an expression of "no confidence" in how UJC is being run by these leaders, that they would assert that the so-called "overwhelming majority" (maybe the original tally was wrong) was an expression of support: "The Board's vote reinforces its confidence in UJC's future." Exactly as my Post predicted would be UJC's reaction.

Time will tell. We need UJC or, even better, a central address for the North American federation system that reflects and embodies the federations' will and vision for it. All of us must work toward that goal...and, we will, in new space with leaders who share our passion and our dreams.

See you Downtown, soon.


Wednesday, July 9, 2008


Decide in Haste, Repent at Leisure

With complex financials and background materials distributed four hours before its meeting on July 2, UJC's Executive Committee unanimously recommended that UJC agree to a buy-out of its Lease at 111 Eighth Avenue and enter into a new long-term Lease south of Wall Street (at 25 Broadway) in downtown Manhattan as well as renew a $25 million line of credit. $7 million of the Line would be drawn "...as bridge financing required for the move" even though the existing 111 Lease would be bought out for $4 million. (It seems that UJC's leaders have determined that the 65,000 square feet will require an $8,000,000 build-out.) The leased premises will accommodate no employee growth...none. Further, UJC will be required to move out, and, therefore, in, by year-end. The buyout and new Lease negotiations, other than as follows, were very well done. Seems simple -- an expert Lease Task Force, chaired by Chattanooga's Michael Lebovitz, but appointed without any notice...none...to either the UJC Executive Committee or the Board, studied and recommended the deal and UJC's leaders strongly supported it. But, as with all things UJC, things are never as simple as they seem.

The UJC Board decision to approve the transaction (At least I believe that ultimately it was approved. The results were not announced on the call very. Actually the Resolution approving the transaction was rejected initially by a single vote. UJC leaders -- somehow knowing how each Board member voted -- attempted to strongarm a few to change their vote. I have no doubt they will succeed.) was made on the same day that the Chicago Tribune published an article: Suburban office space losing occupancy and value. A little over one year ago, I wrote and asked UJC's leaders that UJC examine, as one real estate alternative, moving the enterprise to....Chicago (or, even, New Jersey). The Chicago O'Hare Corridor here had (and has) experienced major vacancies and represents a depressed market for high quality office buildings; brokers here (with offices in New York City as well) estimated a potential savings to the federations from such a move to Chicago at $1.5 million per year over the life of a ten year lease (at the time based on same square footage UJC presently occupies.) The savings per year would be greater the longer the Term. Further, the opportunity to lease in a single user building in the O'Hare area could readily result in a Lease exempt from real estate taxes with further major savings. Other major savings (common area, maintenance, etc.) would be available in such a scenario. (Or, in a multi-tenant building, UJC might negotiate an ownership structure of its space as the Chicago Federation did for its new offices, exempting their space from taxes.) But, as I pointed out, it was not just the dollars -- a move to Chicago would bring UJC closer to its constituency, to its owners -- as they say in those ads: "priceless." (I should add that on yesterday's Board meeting conference call I was in the queue to ask some of these questions. As time was running out and the Chairs were anxious...extremely anxious...to bring these matters to a vote, I was shut out by a Motion to Call the Question raised by a past UJC Chair.)

In response, I received a nasty note from Chairman Kanfer including a sarcastic reference to JAFI's North American location in mid-town Manhattan. A move out of New York City would not be considered...period. It appeared from Kanfer's letter that UJC's relevance to other national and international agencies was more important than its relevance to the federations that own it. There is no denying the reality that any move out of the NYC metropolitan area would have a tremendous impact on staff.

But, the Chairman missed my point: I wasn't arguing that UJC must move to Chicago; only that in any consideration of the entity's move out of 111, that consideration be given to the cost savings and engagement opportunities of a move out of NYC compared and contrasted with the "disruptions" such a move might create. That consideration was not to be even though one might have thought that UJC's leaders' fiduciary responsibilities would have included examining every significant potential reduction of its costs -- particularly at a time UJC was (and is) experiencing extreme budgetary pressures and work force reductions. But...no. Maybe it is a terrible idea, at one and the same time, to potentially save tens of millions of federation dollars and come closer to the federation lay and professional leaders with whom engagement barely exists, but why not discuss and debate, why not compare and contrast?

As UJC has determined to remain in New York City, it appears the deal now approved by the owners (I think) is a good one even as the process was, as usual, a terrible one... Manhattan... Manhattan, New York, New York, now and forever. Kal ha'kavod.


Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Today the UJC Board was presented with what appeared to be a set of simple Resolutions -- to approve a buy-out of its current Lease, a relocation within Manhattan, and an $8 million build-out of 65,000 square feet of space secured by a portion of a $25 million Line of Credit. The vote required a majority of all Board members eligible to vote; originally, the Board rejected the Lease Resolution by a single vote -- no doubt UJC leaders will twist at least one arm, if not more, and get the vote it needs, but the message of "no confidence" is clear.

This was, for all intents and purposes, a well-negotiated deal (more about that tomorrow), but it failed, at least initially, because enough Board Members have concluded that they will no longer support secret deals from secret Committees or Task Forces recommended by a small group of lay and professional leaders who talk and listen only to themselves. Here's what I believe pushed the membership over the "tipping point." UJC's Chair had appointed a blue ribbon Lease Task Force -- instead of even revealing the Task Force's existence to the Executive Committee let alone the UJC Board, these "leaders" decided among themselves that this was their Task Force, not ours -- no reason to tell the owners. We'll let them know what they need to know when we think they need to know it. And, now the Board has told these leaders -- no more -- no more "reorganization strategies" presented to the owners by the leaders as a fait accompli ("you can ask us questions but there will be no changes") and then proferred as UJC's "Strategic Plan:" no more to intolerance of debate or rejection of all criticism and critics; no more to the end justifies the means tactics stated in Orwellian terms as "principled;" no more to these leaders' refusal to engage except on their terms; no more to the rewriting of UJC's Vision and Mission with no discussion or vote. This vote was the Owners rejection of a small circle of leadership making all decisions as if UJC were their corporation not ours.

By the time you read this Post, no doubt the necessary "Yes" votes will have been found; the initial vote results might even be denied by these "leaders;" but the message is clear; "you, our lay and professional leaders have lost our confidence. And, you have done so through arrogance, a refusal to engage, an unwillingness to build consensus, a belief that the only good ideas are yours and yours alone." Today, the UJC Board lived up to its fiduciary responsibilities.


Saturday, July 5, 2008


When I posted "Deconstruction" on the 4th of July, I wasn't aware that the "asks" by UJC had gone far beyond even the list I offered as evidence of the lack of priorities at UJC. Friends of the Blog ("FOTB") have written me from their federations around the country to let me know that I have missed other examples of the continuing deconstruction of our national system.

Last week, I learned, UJC's excellent Planned Giving & Endowment Department sent not one but two pleas to federation endowment directors: one seeking further funding from Federation endowment and foundation budgets for UJC's PG&E work, the second seeking Federation endowment funding of the annual PG&E Institute. And, it appears that these additional asks were made without prior consultation with Federation CEO's. (I'm guessing there is a line item in UJC's Budget for "Costs of Asking for More Money to Fund Our Programs and Activities....$50,000.") There appears to be no limit to UJC's chutzpah. (My experience with UJC in similar albeit not identical matters that generated federation criticism of UJC is that the UJC CEO will claim "I have no idea how this happened" and then "I'll look into it and get back to you." Don't believe that denial of executive responsibility for a minute.)

So, will PG&E's outreach to Federation Endowments and Community Foundations to support its Departmental overhead and activities be followed by more of the same? Will UJC Development send its own letter seeking FRD for its FRD; will UJC Consulting Services once again engage in a fee for services effort after abandoning that embryonic effort only last year; will UJC Israel make an ask for additional funds for the next Sheatufim Conference to enable Kanfer(s), Rieger and Young to speak/participate on panels? Where does this opera bouffe end? When do the federation Executives who have been writing in blind support of what is this paradigm of a failing operation finally...finally...put their allegiance to their own federation, to our federation system above the one-way friendship they have with the CEO? Is it now fair to ask "when?" Let's restate the ever-growing list of UJC "asks" once again":

  • Dues -- $37 million

  • IAI -- Israel Advocacy Initiative

  • ACANI - the American Coalition Against a Nuclear Iran

  • Overseas allocations and an additional IEC "ask" for $13.6 million allocated against no available IEC funds

  • Secular school in Ethiopia

  • Tax Lawyer in D.C.

  • Federation Endowment/Foundation Support for PG&E programs/activities

  • PG&E ask for Conference support

  • Support beyond dues for the Ethiopian National Project

  • Midwest Disaster Relief
And, no doubt more to come. So, is it fair to ask once again: What in UJC's $37 million Budget supports a more critical priority than any one (well, almost any one) of these?

Look, friends, what did you intend when you voted to reduce UJC's Budget by $3.2 million -- that UJC would sit down with the federations and work out the system's priorities for the $37 million in expenditures or that UJC would immediately follow that vote with a series of independent "asks" for high priority matters and programs over and above the Budget but never...never...within it? That UJC leaders would brazenly make a mockery of the Budget process itself within barely days/weeks of its passage? That UJC would be so devoid of any process to set its priorities by and with you, the Federations, as to make the very concept of a rational UJC priority setting process nothing more than a joke? And, at the end of the day, the joke is on us, my friends, because we continue to enable the the chaotic mess that our system has become under this leadership. THIS HAS TO END. The wonderful professionals who remain at UJC trying to work to benefit our system deserve better; our federations deserve better; our partners in Israel and Overseas deserve better; and our donors deserve far, far better.

Shavua tov.


Friday, July 4, 2008


Almost one month ago, on June 8, I posted The Enablers. In that Post I cited just two examples of how the Federations are treated by UJC as ATM's -- constantly asking for ever more dollars for ever more programs, the CEO being driven to spasms of anger when turned down. I expressed my opinion that the federation owners have failed to impose any discipline on UJC's leaders thereby feeding their sense that they can continue to ask for more and more and more...and not caring a whit that the source for those funds will be, for most federations, a draw-down on the "line of credit" that is the annual core allocation to JDC and JAFI.

I congratulate Joe Kanfer, Kathy Manning and Howard Rieger on their letter last week to the federation owners emphasizing the need for greater allocations to JAFI/JDC in light of reduced dues occasioned by a reduced UJC Budget; if an e-mail is UJC's answer to the cry for advocacy, we would all agree that's pretty....pardon me, really...weak. Let's review the bidding:

~ UJC Dues...mandatory for continued membership

~ Rieger asks his pals for three years of additional funding for a tax attorney in D.C. over and above dues

~ Rieger asks his pals for multi-year funding for a non-Jewish school in Ethiopia over and above dues

~ UJC bills federations for funding for the Israel Advocacy Initiative (IAI) over and above dues

~ UJC asks federations for additional funding for the Ethiopian National Project (ENP) over and above dues

~ Chicago's Steven Nasatir asks the federations to fund a pro rata share of the American Coalition Against a Nuclear Iran (ACANI) -- UJC prepares the formula supporting the "ask" but otherwise is disengaged from this critical effort over and above dues

~ Kanfer, Rieger and Manning in an e-mail request increased allocations to JAFI and JDC while all of the above has or is happening.

Does UJC prioritize any of the above other than its dues? Does it provide any leadership? Does it lead or drive any debate on priorities...on anything? At a time like no other, when our donors and our federations have never needed to join in the setting of priorities more, our UJC -- it is ours after all -- merely sends on the bills...for everything and, it often appears, for anything. If one assumes that UJC's Budget, as the Budget narrative states, supports UJC's self-defined priorities, can you, my dear readers, state just what those priorities are, for that matter could UJC's Chairs or CEO? And, if they could, would anyone state that UJC's self-defined priorities are of greater importance than the ENP, the IAI, the ACANI, the core allocations of JAFI and JDC? That debate over priorities never takes place. We should have learned by now, from our collective experiences, that where everything is a priority, nothing is.

What does it say about UJC when a vital cause such as a national bipartisan support effort for sanctions against a nuclear Iran is driven by Chicago? What will happen when, e.g., New York believes the system must raise major dollars to bring more Falash Mura to Israel, or Miami believes it vital to bring the remnant of Cuban Jewry there? And on and on it will go spinning out of control. At least before the failed Operation Promise Special Campaign was begun, UJC and federation leadership gathered in New York to debate and vote; now, we get letters and e-mails and references to discussions at a poorly attended Board Retreat last January as the basis for serial requests for funding of one important need after another. Never...never...is there a discussion of reorienting the UJC's still bloated Budget to prioritize these critical programmatic activities. G-d forbid!!

UJC conducts a valuable program for federation professionals-- the UJC Planners Learning Series conference calls. This month's topic is "Determining Strategic Priorities." Perhaps, it would be valuable if UJC's own leaders listened in...in fact, perhaps, all of us should be invited. Clearly neither they -- UJC's lay and professional leaders -- nor we -- the owners of the enterprise -- have a real clue.

I fear for our system as never before. The failure of UJC's lay and/or professional leadership to grasp the deconstruction that its errors of omission and commission are bringing about may be its most critical failing of all.

Happy Independence Day and a meaningful Shabbat.


Tuesday, July 1, 2008


The lay and professional leaders of UJC have raised sophistry to an art form. They are so great at it that if awards were given for sophistry, trust me, they would retire the trophy.

An example. last week, the Jewish Agency held its painful Board of Governors meetings in Jerusalem. At its Executive Committee meeting -- JAFI has a vibrant Executive -- there was heartfelt discussion of the impending multi-million dollar deficit, and the awful decisions that would have to be made to reduce staff and pare programs already stripped to the bone. While UJC's failure to even attempt to rally the federations to meet their overseas funding responsibilities, and its failure to deliver its projected cash to JAFI (and JDC) at year-end 2007 (or even to mount a lay driven cash collection effort) have been major factors in creating JAFI's deficits, Howard Rieger decided that the JAFI Executive was the appropriate place for him to advise JAFI"s leaders that UJC "...shares JAFI's pain" as UJC just went through its own wrenching process with its $3.2 million Budget cut. For reasons unclear, Rieger spoke about 2 Missions to Israel and the need to increase those (even as UJC will run no Missions in conjunction with the November GA; plans a Prime Minister's Mission only to New York City [!!]; and has totally imploded its Missions staff with the intent to "privatize" that program that was the gold standard for Israel fund raising experiences). Then he talked about how " as JAFI's financial resource development capacity...mirrors UJC's FRD capacity; so let's work more closely together." Huh? Just what is "UJC's FRD capacity?" It has no National Campaign Chair as of today; the lay leadership that at one time was the foundation on which its national FRD efforts were built has been deconstructed -- more lay leaders dedicated to raising more money have left or been dismissed by UJC's CEO and Chair than those who remain; the Development Budget has been picked clean to beef up efforts like UJC Israel that have borne no fruit. And UJC's leaders have constantly reiterated a mantra that the Annual Campaign is moribund; thereby demonstrating that they are out of touch with the reality that it is the Annual Campaign that funds our federations' ability to serve as the central communal addresses and central communal planning instruments. Finally. the Chair of Israel/Overseas announced in one of those periodic, hyperbolic UJC releases that Sheatufim is the most important philanthropic initiative in Israel today-- one with no philanthropic success and no relationship to JAFI or JDC. Sophistry.

UJC has asked JAFI (and, I assume JDC) for a 5 year Plan. But, what is UJC's one year Plan? UJC has proven itself very capable in defining the problems facing itself according to UJC's very limited leadership's own very limited perceptions. Yet, what is UJC's own plan for addressing even the problems/issues it has identified? To UJC, the seminal problem is its lack of money; to those of us who have observed what has happened at UJC over the past three years, our conclusion would be that its major problem...its seminal issue...is a lack of leadership capable of realizing that UJC's problems...its issues...should be those of the federation owners, not those that they may have chosen to identify in their "reorganization strategies" (which, apparently, have now been redefined in another act of sophistry, as UJC's "strategic plan"), so-called "principled actions" and a growing number of consultant studies. Sophistry.

On Monday one week ago, the members of JDC's Board received a copy of JDC's Chair's, Judge Ellen Heller's, Memo to JDC Employees expressing her "...sadness and regret as respected, capable and committed members of the JDC staff were laid off due to the dire financial situation..." faced by the organization. Contrast that with the UJC Board Chair's expressions at the time 38 UJC employees were terminated just four weeks ago -- not only did he express neither sadness nor regret, Joe Kanfer told the JTA that even if UJC had not been "forced" (my word, not his) to cut its Budget by 8%, it was planning to fire 38 employees; contrast Ellen's expression of compassion coupled with grace with Kanfer's expression of arrogance and indifference.

So, look up "sophistry" in any Dictionary and see whose pictures accompany the definitions.