Thursday, December 31, 2009

CASH

The Jewish Federations of North America has reported that its data evidence that the aggregate of federation 2009 annual campaigns will drop by $100 million. That wipes out at least five years of increases. JFNA reports...when it comes to the Annual Campaign, that's what it does. In these catastrophic circumstances there was at least the hope, generated by a mid-September meeting (NOT JUST A GOOD START...A GREAT START) among UJC, JAFI and JDC leadership. The hope of that meeting has been dashed by a failure to follow up.

Jerry Silverman made cash pleas in his message on December 24 and in a follow-up to Federation CEOs. The pleas were based on the projection of even more pathetic results -- $100 million to JAFI -- a 25% reduction in core funding from the prior year -- and only $31 million to JDC for core, down $8 million. This is catastrophic. In The Jewish Federations of North America's first year, JAFI received $185 million to core; ten years later, this amount had reduced down by 46%. And there remains no real advocacy effort. Remember, the merger that created UJC was purchased in part with the promise of greater resources for the historic partners.

And what did The Jewish Federations of North America do? Well, Jerry made his pleas -- a week before year-end. And, while there appeared to be a commitment was made to organize a tripartite cash collections effort in which lay and professional leaders of JFNA, JDC and JAFI would target communities and engage in intensive cash collection efforts through the last quarter 2009 -- didn't happen. None of the organizations wanted to be caught up short again as they were at year-end 2008 when cash collections fell $17 million less than UJC had projected.

When 2008 ended on such a disastrous note, it was clear to so many that 2009 would see a further precipitous drop. On these pages I pled that the then UJC start the year with a new cash and allocations focus. I and others urged that a lay-driven cash effort start in January 2009, not in September and certainly not at all. There was no response until September when Jerry arrived and Kathy Manning appeared determined to refocus JFNA efforts.

And just what happened since that September meeting? NOTHING. ZERO. NADA. Not one lay or professional leader of JAFI or JDC was called on to help in a planful meaningful way. The promise of September wiped out in the reality of December 31.

Why? Do the new leaders believe that they can go it alone...that they need no help? Then they must prove it. Jerry already knows better. But...if they truly believe in the power of the partnership to which they rededicated themselves in words, then they must show that rededication in their actions. My fear is that while JFNA leaders are personally pained in their hearts by the drop in Campaign and the impact of that failure on cash collections, and while they are personally pained by the realities, they have a sense of noblesse oblige as to all things federation, they don't consider this (a) their problem or (b) a JFNA responsibility or (c) that intervention could possibly help. If they did they would have done something about it. So, here we are again. And, "here' is a bad place to be.

Some have suggested, independent of the recommendations in prior Posts and in Comments thereto, that peer pressure be brought to bear by publicizing each individual federation's annual campaign results, cash payments and allocations. My cynicism suggests that this won't happen -- the federations that fail in their responsibilities will not permit it. And, even were this transparency to occur, when would it -- in 2010, a year that could be even worse?

We once had a powerful cash collections effort - not just in halcyon days of yore at UJA but in the more recent past of the Jewish Federations of North America when the lay and professional leaders of the Financial Relations Committee worked together in an annual partnership on year-end collections. There is a playbook for that collections effort. Why that effort has cratered as if it never existed only those responsible can possibly attest. All I can attest to is that over history that Cash effort worked (if anyone wants to know how, give me a call); the reality of today is that it doesn't and we knew it and we did nothing about it.
A Happy 2010!

Rwexler

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

THE NATIONAL CAMPAIGN CHAIR

First, a little look back (and to all of you who tell me "we can't look backward, only forward" my apologies in advance) my friends. The UJA National Chair used to be the "bully pulpit," those who served in the position were welcomed across the Continent and in the inner sanctum of the Joint and Jewish Agency. The men and woman who took this position, did so as keepers of a precious flame.

Present company excluded, from Max Fisher through David Fisher, to Michael Lebovitz today, these were true leaders who loved our communities and our People, all of them. When we created what is now The Jewish Federations of North America, it was conceived that there would be three...not two, not one...three leaders at the top of the officer triangle -- the Board Chair, the Chair of the Executive and the National Campaign Chair. That idea didn't last. Carole Solomon, Bob Schrayer, z'l, Mark Wilf, Steve Selig, Joel Alperson and David Fisher, each an incredible leader, often had to struggle to have their voices heard above the creaking bureaucracy being built beneath them. They wished to continue to be the face of the national organization as communities clamored to have them speak, visit, solicit, but, progressively, less and less so -- and, as the national organization chose to diminish the role of the annual campaign, even deprecated it, so the role of the National Chair was diminished as well. They were writing their own chapters of modern Jewish history as had their predecessors, try as others within what was UJC tried to reduce their voice, their presence, their role.

But, five and, then three, years ago, in came a new UJC CEO and Board Chair, and somewhere...where I don't know...a decision was made to marginalize not just Financial Resource Development but, further, the role of the National Campaign Chair. And, this effort proved successful: invitations through the staff to invite the National Campaign Chair to speak or solicit were neither sought nor passed on; the Development budget was slashed and the Department (for that is what it had become) was subsumed within the failed construct of Consulting Services; and the SVP for Development relegated to reporting to the UJC SVP for Consulting and something called "community building." Promises made to David Fisher who succeeded Joel Alperson as National Campaign Chair were breached with regularity and David resigned. The role of the National Campaign Chair was being erased along with its illustrious history under the guise of an ill-fated "Reorganization Strategy."

In 2009, promises were once again made to induce a wonderful leader, Michael Lebovitz of Chattanooga, to accept the role of National Campaign Chair. Michael reported that "leadership" wanted to restore the position to its former prominence. That's what he heard -- of course, many of those representations had been made to his predecessor and, further, the role had been sliced and diced into a smaller piece with the bifurcation of FRD into Development and the still-born Center for Jewish Philanthropy which was chaired by a fine person and significant donor who had no visible FRD leadership experience. I suggested to Michael that he condition his acceptance on, among other things, the restoration of the functions of the Center under his National Chair portfolio -- he didn't.

And there has been some "re-elevation" to be sure: the National Chair is part of this Board Chair's "small leadership team;" the Campaign Chair is heading up the JAFI/JDC Work Group which has the potential to lead to real national advocacy (See Posts on this Blog on the subject); the National Chair has been visiting a small number of federations for solicitation and inspiration, a very good thing; there is a more aggressive bringing together of Campaign professionals and lay leaders to engage with the National Campaign Chair; among other steps forward. Past National Chairs convene by phone periodically and have heard not only from Jerry Silverman but Kathy Manning as well.

But there are also indications that the new lay leadership is slow to return power to the Office of the National Campaign Chair: at the Prime Minister's Council Dinner at the General Assembly, it was the Board Chair who "interviewed" the Keynote speaker; the National Campaign Chair introduced the Sapir Awards at a Plenary, and little more (while the Chair of the illusory Center for Jewish Philanthropy had a more prominent Plenary role); and no steps have yet to be taken to take down that Center For Jewish Philanthropy and subsume that time- and dollar-waster under the Office of the National Campaign Chair along with Supplemental Giving and Planned Giving and Endowment. Until the Center is so rethought and restructured, the National Campaign Chair's role will remain but a shadow of its former self. Michael, being a gracious team player, goes along.

At a time that the aggregate of federation 2009 annual campaigns has dropped by $100,000,000, there is no time to waste. Let's hope that Manning, Gelman, Silverman and Lebovitz insist on doing the right thing here...quickly.


Rwexler



Sunday, December 27, 2009

AN UNHOLY ALLIANCE

An alliance is an agreement between two or more parties made in order to advance common goals and to secure common interests.

Of all of the ideas that arose over the past five plus years, it is probable that none has been more poorly executed than the creation and implementation of the so-called "Alliance" of The Jewish Federations of North America. Many of you probably are unaware of what "the Alliance" is, or how it came about. So, let me provide my admittedly biased history....

Over the first few years of UJC the national agencies were nothing more than the abandoned stepchildren of our system. Hard as it may be to believe, less attention was paid the national agencies funded by the federations -- all or any of them -- than was paid to JAFI or JDC. In other words, abandoned to the Large City Budgeting Council, a federation-owned entity, staffed by, first, CJF and then UJC, where large federations aggregated allocations and divided those among the federation-funded national agencies. The New York UJA-Federation allocated almost 1/3rd of the total LCBC funds by a now-forgotten formula. The LCBC had a staff of one dedicated professional who worked on allocations and budget matters full-time. The LCBC was, as if its successor, the Alliance, a "coaltion of the willing" (and, in certain instances, the unwilling who recognized their collective responsibility).

The creation of United Jewish Communities promised greater collective funding of the national agencies; a promise never kept. At its outset, UJC appointed the "Greilsheimer Commission" as it waas called (Chaired by Louise Greilsheimer, then a past Chair of the New York UJA-Federation; now that Federation's SVP Agency and External Relations whose portfolio, by her title, includes the national agencies) to study the relationship of the federations to the national agencies. After months of "study," a Report issued recommending...further study. The Report, the study, were meaningless processes and a waste.

Remember, the LCBC and its "sister," the National Funding Council, were voluntary bodies. As federations more and more moved further and further away from their collective responsibilities, and the national agencies lacked a real voice (and had no advocates within the leadership of UJC), a number of LCBC and NFC members indicated their intent to either reduce their allocations through the LCBC/NFC to the funded national agencies or to leave the LCBC/NFC altogether. New York had grown weary of its disproportionate commitment to the LCBC/NFC; but couched its determination to reduce its allocation to what it claimed was "a lack of planning." Something, anything, had to be done. And, indeed, "anything" emerged in the guise of what would come to be known as "the Alliance."

The LCBC and NFC were staffed by a single dedicated UJC professional. He was the first sacrifice to the Alliance process which was now and forever to be lodged in The Jewish Federations of North America's Washington Office where it became just one of a number of important matters on the desk of William Daroff's second-in-command (with some over-arching [if that's the word] input from Barry Swartz. then UJC's community consulting professional leader). So from the sole priority of a committed pro in New York, the Alliance became one of a number of assignments to a professional in D.C.

My own federation characterizes the Alliance as follows: the galvanizing principle for the Alliance is to bring together national Jewish agencies and Jewish federations into a common space, promoting deeper relationships and creating synergy among them. If only this were so.

The then UJC staffers began an extensive "prioritization process" among the members of the Alliance. Much like the discredited ONAD "process," the Alliance prioritization imposed a significant paperwork load on the funded national agencies -- at a time that all of them certainly recognized that federation allocations through the Alliance would be reducing regardless of the prioritization outcome. And those outcomes appeared to focus Alliance funding on domestic agencies even as Israel, Jewish identity and education were among the highest priorities. Could not all of the national agencies envision that they were implementing these priorities on a daily basis? Apparently not. And, were the national agencies themselves participants in the prioriy-setting process? Only as informants, nothing more, Chicago's definition of the Alliance notwithstanding.

With federations having left or reduced their financial commitments to the LCBC and National Funding Councils in numbers and New York threatening to withhold its allocation unless the "planning process" were quickly concluded, the Alliance "findings" were published. The Alliance, without more, began to measure national agency mandates and purposes against the "priorities" with little discussion with them. So far, it appears that some agencies preserved their status by sophistry, e.g., one national organization created a young leadership effort that seemed to satisfy the Alliance of its future.

Then the Alliance, steered by its part-time professionals, focused on ending funding to one national agency; one whose work, in this writer's opinion, remains not only vital, but increasing on behalf of the federations and other national and international organizations confronting, among other things, the Iranian nuclear crisis. The Alliance, measuring that agency's work against its four criteria, determined, without the participation of the national agency itself, that the agency must merge -- no direct dialogue or input from the lay leadership of the affected agency with the Alliance lay members -- that was something contemplated for some future date. Nice. Back in the day --a kangaroo court proceeding. I have urged that there be a face-to-face meeting between the lay leadership of the Alliance and those of the target national agency, no such meeting has been forthcoming.

So, here we have it, The Jewish Federations of North America, itself an example of a good merger gone sour, where the parties were (mostly) favorably disposed to merger, through its Alliance, now attempts to strong arm a merger on an unwilling party. Makes no sense at all. We have proved to be bad at merger.

Now, Alliance funding of this targeted national agency had fallen to a paltry $300,000 -- or about 35% of its budget from in excess of 50% at the birth of UJC. With no evident advocacy by The Jewish Federations of North America for its funded national agencies, for the collective response, it can only be concluded that the Alliance has embarked on a "plan" to eliminate over time allocations to the less favored and use those federation dollars to minimally increase the allocations to the favored. This isn't planning; it's survival of the fittest -- only the favored survive.

At the end of the day, what have we here? The national agencies, rather than being assured of stable core funding, are thrown into battle for marginal dollars against each other. More and more, the national agencies are being encouraged, even forced, to engage in more and more direct fund raising or, at the best, to direct approaches to federations in total contravention of the collective responsibilities of, if not the Alliance, then The Jewish Federations of North America. Where will this ultimately lead us -- into the chaos of multiple organizations approaching federation donors. Is that a priority of the Alliance -- or don't they even care? Is this the direction The Jewish Federations of North America has determined to follow?

Reread the definition of "alliance" cited as I opened this Post. Best I can tell the "common interests" served by this Alliance...our Alliance...are the exclusive interests of federations seeking to cut costs in the guise of a planning process. The "common interests" of the federations and the national agencies together have been shoved aside, ignored. It's not pretty.

Rwexler

The author is a past Chair of the NCSJ and collaborated in the creation of the LCBC and NFC.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

JUST WHEN YOU MAY HAVE THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE...

I had hopes that with the charges against the rotund "hedge-fund titan." Raj Rajaratnam last month, that the year-long cycle of crimes spearheaded by Jews was at an end. Ehhhh, not so soon. What a year it has been...

Starting with Madoff, charges over 2009 escalated against Madoff investors, Orthodox Rabbis selling body parts, immigration violations and worse in Iowa, insider traders, and on and on. Even Rajaratnam was alleged to be the critical player in an insider trading schemed by two brothers with vaguely Israeli names. Then, near year-end came the news that a Florida Ponzi scheme was alleged to have been implemented by high flying Ft. Lauderdale lawyer, Scott Rothstein; an an LA "philanthropist," Elliot Broidy, pled guilty to massive bribery of government officials in New York; and, post-Madoff some of his most significant investors have been alleged to have been part of his chicanery. Then, just last week Canada's National Post reported on the alleged swindle perpetrated by one Tzvi Erez. Will the list ever stop?

We need to take a careful look at ourselves, our values. In the confluence of a failing economy and the desire to be rich quick, too many have disregarded them. As it turned out, the failing economy, and nothing else -- not a guilty conscience, not a return to piety -- exposed so many of the fraudulent among us. Ponzi schemes collapsed, witnessed came forward, government stings succeeded. Does anyone have any doubt that Madoff and so many of the others would still be operating had the economy continued to burn brightly?

Rob Eshman, writing in this week's The Jewish Journal, stated it best when writing about the criminals in our midst with a focus on LA's Broidy: "The best response I can offer to all these men is one Rabbi Steven Weil gave in a fiery speech from his pulpit in January 2008, after a benefactor of his then synagogue, Beth Jacob, was indicted in the Spinka case. 'You call yourself a tzadik, you're a liar!" Weil said, using the Jewish term for a saintly person. Weil said that when non-Jews look at Jewish behavior, they don't look at whether we keep Shabbat or keep kosher -- they look at how we treat our employees, how we deal with the government, whether we are honest and straightforward." Continuing, Eshman concluded: "The Beverly Hills synagogue removed the indicted donor's name from the places it appeared: on the study hall he funded, on the Torahs and the prayer books his monies helped buy. The Jewish community doesn't have fines or jails. Its main enforcement tool, after the fact, is the kind of public opprobrium that helps put others on notice about what values we hold dear, and what lines cannot be crossed."

There are too many of us dedicated to "get rich quick" schemes; who ignore or Jewish values and Jewish responsibilities. Too many of us, so intelligent in so many things, seem totally unaware of the reality that "if it sounds too good to be true, it is." If we only can resist the schemers and the crooks, they will no longer be able to prey on the worst in us. In 2010 and beyond, our obligations must be to the best in us; as a People to be the reflection of the values we have been taught.

Rwexler






Tuesday, December 22, 2009

WHEN THINGS GO BAD

If the federation system is in need of overhaul, as many have suggested, the evidence may be found in the following:

There is a federated community out there where things have gone horribly wrong -- no doubt more than one but I have a specific community in mind. The Annual Campaign there has cratered, big time; the Jewish communal infrastructure is in disarray. Historic leaders of the community and donors both historic and of demonstrated potential have been ushered off the Federation Board often in ways too demeaning to be believed -- and, with them, their family members, next generation leaders, etc. And, with all of this, the lay leadership has not only perpetuated an unconscionably low overseas allocation, it has encouraged a fractious, divisive competition within the community about the small share of those dollars going to JAFI and JDC. And, the CEO has managed a compensation package for himself and his right arm at levels that bring judgment into question. All the while, the Annual Campaign continues to fall beyond the national average.
In a federation environment where FRD is increasing dramatically, the scenario painted above would never be tolerated in almost any other place. Where FRD is sinking, where this no safety net, how could this happen? Simple -- lay leadership have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities; they have turned the federation over, lock, stock and barrel, to a small group of lay leaders in the sway of the professionals. In so doing, they not only put the enterprise at risk -- we have already seen, too often, the impact of absolute power corrupting absolutely -- the entire Board have exposed themselves, as Board members, as the stewards of the communal dollars, the communal enterprise, to liability -- to personal liability -- for their decisions; if not in the legal sense, the moral sense.

I was reminded of all of this by an article recently in The New York Times headed: Executives kept wealth while firms failed. If you wonder why there are those out there who make the increasingly rational rational argument that the federation system needs to be rebuilt, here is but one reason why. Of course, I may have made this all up.

And The Jewish Federations of North America stands by in neutral. We...we...allow these circumstances to happen. And we...we...are obligated to act.

Rwexler

P.S. Do not write to ask which Federation is this...and no speculation allowed!!

Monday, December 21, 2009

ADVOCACY LITE -- PART II

After publishing ADVOCACY LIGHT, a local and national leader wrote me. He allowed me to publish his Comment anonymously. This is what he wrote:

"Your comment on advocacy misses a key concept. In today's federation world, lay and professional leadership often appear to only focus on the size of the annual campaign. Allocations, whether local or overseas or even designated, are just a result of the amount of available dollars. In other words, and I realize this is a generalization, too few in most communities even know where there money goes; and even fewer leaders know the percentage of funds that are sent overseas. On the other hand, I have spoken with major donors in many federations who believe that 'about 40-50%' of their contributions 'go to Israel.' As those few who have access to the numbers know, the amount most large cities allocate is less than 30% of net revenues (in the best cases and with a few outliers). Reconciling this apparent disconnect with the actual allocations isn't an issue of advocacy; it is a matter of transparency and integrity. Masking the amount of JFNA Dues (the very significant percentage of annual campaign that is a national organizational tax) is just another element in this issue that is usually aggregated in the amount communities report as their 'overseas allocation.'

Unless the focus of local federation leadership shifts to measuring its success by the amount of funds allocated overseas, and I don't think anyone believes that this is possible, urging advocacy is fruitless. I have a simple suggestion: Publish each community's overseas allocation for the past 3 years, net of JFNA Dues, so that donors, leadership and beneficiaries can have a meaningful, informed debate. Only when this has occurred will advocacy be effective."

What my friend may not know is how his suggestion has been anticipated by several Large City CEOs -- with no response from the then UJC. Further, his surmise as to the "impression" of most donors, was tested by then UJA and found to be true. What would lead donors to believe that "around 50%" of their pledge amount was "going to Israel" when, in fact, in some places less than 20% is. And what impact would there be if donors knew the facts?

Just asking.

Rwexler

Sunday, December 20, 2009

ADVOCACY LITE

After almost a decade of neglect of its moral responsibility to serve as an advocate for federation collective responsibility, it appears as if The Jewish Federations of North America is about to dip its toes in the shallowest of waters of that advocacy. Is it another chapter in "too little, too late" or nothing at all, or actually something? Draw your own conclusions.

From inside The Jewish Feds of NA, I have learned how our national organization contemplates its engagement in this effort asof right now. At a meeting with some professional leaders of JAFI and JDC convened at the Washington General Assembly (a follow-up to the "secret September 23 meeting" of the same organizations), JFNA had clearly delegated responsibility for a "plan" to its Development lay and professional leadership. But the "plan" that this arm of The Jewish Federations of North America has developed to date suggests that its leaders don't really want their fingerprints to be found in its implementation.

What has emerged to date is a JFNA "stealth" advocacy plan. Here is what I have pieced together:

The advocacy burden is expected to be carried forward by individuals within each federation who will serve as "liaisons" to advocate locally. The Jewish Federations of North America's role will be to train and "educate" these leaders through materials and missions. And, as to advocacy, that appears to be it. JFNA won't be getting its hands dirty with what is and has been one of its key responsibilities. It's "advocacy lite." Has any one with any experience in overseas advocacy been involved in this "planning effort?" No.

As I see it, JFNA remains reluctant to dirty its hands in meeting what is its moral responsibility. The "plan" (and how demeaning to the concept of "planning") seems to sense that "advocacy" is a potential source of conflict with the federations so JFNA shies away from the moral course, suggesting, at least at present, that advocacy will best be done from the inside. JAFI and JDC (and anyone with any experience) leaders have already learned that that just hasn't worked -- the best that can be achieved through this methodology is to hold the allocation at current levels -- not a bad thing, but not the best thing -- and even that is doubtful.

So, what could be done? Why not revisit the UJC Global Accountability effort with a serious commitment of JFNA professional attention. Let the Agency and Joint do the planning and programming with The Jewish Federations of North America assuming responsibility for scheduling and managing community visits. Using the power of the purse, JFNA leaders would mandate that JAFI/JDC work together in this effort and that they fund it according to the "split." Representatives of JFNA, the Agency and Joint would be assigned communities with which they would work over the course of the year -- not just, as was the case with the brief experiment in Global Accountability, once a year. JFNA must evidence a real commitment acknowledging in the process that it has a responsibility to lead this effort not merely inform it.

The lack of national advocacy has created a void -- one that absent a commitment from JFNA the beneficiaries of that advocacy will fill -- and that potentially destructive process has already begun. But, it's not too late...just getting there.

Rwexler







Friday, December 18, 2009

NEEDS ASSESSMENT -- A PLANNING PROCESS OR A POLITICAL PROCESS

JDC leadership has asked, in a variety of venues and correspondence, for an "overseas needs assessment process." Perhaps, the recommendations for a less than fully thought-through "planning table" emanating from the Federation Leadership Institute, was a call for the same thing. What the Smokler-Schwager letter demanded was nothing less than a revivification of the ONAD process -- another five year failure.

Let's look at the history of ONAD -- starting at the finish. At the end of the day, the only positive aspect of ONAD was that multiple federations created Israel & Overseas Committees which never had them before. That's it. The needs served by JAFI and JDC were validated (as they had been before ONAD and since); and the unserved needs assessed. Literally thousands of professional hours were spent by the two partners responding to a cascading series of "asks" of them by UJC professionals and consultants. What was to be a planning process turned into nothing more than a political one -- ONAD had the unintended consequence of turning JAFI and JDC into competitors for every marginal dollar. (Not unlike the Alliance has done to our national agencies.) A process which mandated that JAFI and JDC be "at the table" deteriorated into a free-for-all with our "partners" excluded from the room. And over the entire time frame of the ONAD process, federations reduced their allocations to Israel and Overseas.

For anyone to recommend a return to the years of ONAD, let alone to read that demand (for that is what it was) coming from JDC, is to foresee a return to a process that produced less dollars and great disunity. Who would want that at this time when unity has to be the watchword of all of us?

Perhaps, there are those who believe that this time an ONAD-like process would not be politicized -- those people need to get a grip on reality. When ONAD was conceived in the merger process and its first year-plus, under Alan Jaffe's leadership, there was the hope for a process that would be pure. That hope did not last long. As ONAD, under Jaffe's Chair, concluded, the needs overwhelmed the available allocated resources, and the ONAD Committee initially dedicated itself to raising more. As federations rejected funding over and above the prior year's allocation, e.g., the Ethiopian National Project, the ONAD process began its steady (or precipitous) decline. This was a process that, ultimately, demonstrated only mistrust of the Joint and Agency and was given its merciful burial about five years ago. Sonny Plant's, z'l, Report effectively buried ONAD reiterating that Committeee's conclusion under Alan Jaffe's leadership. Unfortunately what followed were a series of statements of non-support for the Joint and Agency from the then UJC leadership.

Today it is vital that The Jewish Federations of North America work to restore communal trust in the work of Joint and Agency. It can't do so, however, in an environment where one of those powerful partners is the federations' constant critic.

Rwexler





Wednesday, December 16, 2009

WHAT I AM READING NOW

First, I should mention how much I miss the weekly Howard's View. (Actually, not so much.) But there is still some great stuff out there:


~ Rabbi Daniel Gordis provides the brilliant, sharp and poignant in -- Dispatches from an Anxious State. http://danielgordis.org/

~ Seth Cohen explores the perceptions of a young communal leader in -- Boundless Drama of Creation. http://boundlessdrama.wordpress.com/

~ Laughs desperately needed found by Daniel Ashkenazy in-- Chelm-on-the-Med Online. http://www.chelm-on-the-med.com/

~ My friend Todd Warnick reports from Israel at www.jerusalemcentral.com

And, of course, don't forget The Fundermentalist or e-jewish philanthropy.

What are you reading?

Rwexler

















Monday, December 14, 2009

INSPIRATION

Our good friend and great communal leader, John Ruskay, was honored by the New York UJA-Federation last week. His entire address to his friends and communal leaders can be found in e-jewishphilanthropy.com and portions were reprinted in Jerry Silverman's tribute in a JFNA Leadership Briefing. As one would expect of John, it was a speech both brilliant and inspirational; it deserves to be read in its entirety. John spoke of his goals and the achievements and challenges during his ten years and into the future. Here are portions of that speech that focused on all of us and all of our communities:

"Here at UJA-Federation, I am able to bring these lifelong passions together: to nurture and encourage participation in inspired Jewish communities so larger numbers can experience the ability of Jewish life to sanctify life and to invest life with meaning and purpose. And to extend care to all in need: the isolated elderly in Brooklyn and the former Soviet Union; the new immigrant in Israel; the recently unemployed. To care for both the Jewish community and the entire community.

But above all, we will continue to hold high the banner of Jewish communal collective responsibility. In a culture too often defined by rampant individualism, including in philanthropy, we affirm that we are indeed part of a people and community that promotes the axiomatic value of our responsibility for one another, of the shared and mutual responsibility of each and every member of the house of Israel. We do this not only because it is the core foundation on which the work of Federation rests. We do this because it is a core principle on which the entire enterprise of the Jewish people rests. Our reciprocal responsibility is not a gimmick, it is not a technique. It is who and what we are about.

We will do so building on the accomplishments and learnings of the past decade and the progress we have made to create communities that beckon young and old not on the basis of guilt or obligation but on the basis of what they offer; modeling care for all both within our community and beyond; strengthening the commitment to areyvut – responsibility – for the whole community, our city, and our people. As we do this, we will improve the likelihood of a strong and secure Jewish future and model for our own people and all of America what it means to live lives of sacred responsibility. As we do this, we can be, yet again, or l’goyim – a light unto the nations."

John was speaking to each of us from his heart. For his message we owe him the deepest gratitude; for his work and his Federation even more so. His speech was a Chanukah gift to all of us.

Rwexler

Sunday, December 13, 2009

"IF I WERE A NACH MAN" AND OTHER SONGS

Sing that to the tune of "if I were a rich man..." A recent expose in Haaretz (http://haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1132490.html) alleged that UJC's Nachman Shai gamed the IDF pension system to enrich himself to the tune of about 3 million NIS. The article suggested that the person who was once the Director General of UJC's Israel Office acted as if he were part of Chicago's political machine, deploying his contacts on the road to apparent unjust enrichment. I hope the story isn't true because of my affection and respect for Nachman. But...

In addition to the pension issue, this article raised the question, the serious question of what severance deal Nachman negotiated with UJC when he left his position at UJC Israel? Was it a lot of money or a little? Was the pension deal Nachman had with the IDF disclosed? Or, in its wisdom, in another non-negotiation did UJC just hand over a lot of money...your money. Was it one year's salary, two years, more? I will hazard a guess, no one asked and no one told. So I'm asking -- how much was it and what is The Jewish Federations of North America going to do about it? Let me guess -- "...it's past history; we're looking forward, not backward. High road. Next question." And, the reality -- it wasn't their money.

One commentator to the Jerusalem Post story merely wrote "shameful" -- that correspondent could have been referring to Nachman and a whole group of people.

"If I were a rich man," "if I were a Nach man," indeed he is.

Rwexler

Thursday, December 10, 2009

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF A COUNTRY

Now for something completely different. The following is excerpted from my soon to be published Memoir -- Musings of a Wandering Jew.

"The day Steven Nasatir, the CEO of the Chicago Federation, and two of his colleagues were almost struck by Qassam rockets fired by terrorists into the Southern Israeli settlement town of Sderot, and the day Israeli media leaked that the criminal charges against the past President of the State of Israel would be diminished to charges of sexual harassment, not rape, the Israeli Knesset focused on far more important and critical matters in the national interest as reported in Haaretz:

Miniskirts, but no shorts? Knesset ethics committee debates MKs' attire

By Shahar Ilan

A parliament in sandals.

The committee that recently met to draft an ethical code for the Knesset devoted special attention to the subject of sandals. Likud party faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar asked whether wearing sandals was accepted practice in other parliaments. "Yes," replied former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud). "In Yemen." Sa'ar said, "In this respect, I wouldn't consider Yemen a role model."

Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am-Ta'al): "Sandals are more accepted in the United Arab Emirates."

A coalition for sandals.

Labor MK Shelly Yachimovitz said the so-called "biblical" sandals were representative of Israeli culture and were therefore more acceptable "than luxury brand shoes manufactured by children in a sweatshop in China." Chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee Haim Oron (Meretz) described his personal dress code to the assembled panel: When the plenum is in session, he wears shoes; on other days, he wears sandals. Some say chairman of the National Union faction, Uri Ariel, wears sandals to the Knesset even during the winter.

Appropriate dress.

Paragraph 11 of the draft of the new Knesset ethical code states: "Knesset members will appear in the Knesset building in clothing that speaks to the dignity of the parliament and the dignity of its members." An argument broke out yesterday among the committee members as to whether this paragraph was necessary. Israel's best parliamentarians - those who take pains to be present at ethical code meetings - participated in the discussion. Kadima MK Amira Dotan claimed that the paragraph relating to a dress code should be erased, because its very existence "embarrasses and humiliates me." Sa'ar responded that a dress code existed in various parliaments around the world.

Miniskirts and shorts.

Aside from sandals, different types of clothing were raised during the discussion. Yachimovitz asked whether flip-flops would be acceptable. Ahmed Tibi, who supports the paragraph on a dress code, asked sarcastically: "Why should people who enjoy sports not come in shorts?" Yachimovitz said: "Really, why not? A miniskirt, yes. But shorts, no?" For his part, Tibi proposed that MKs should wear neither leather nor fur coats, because these are manufactured from animal skins.

And what about Ciccolina?

In the previous Knesset, certain female MKs wore tight and revealing clothing. "In the previous Knesset, the clothes were shameless. We witnessed cases in which people came with exposed bellies," Rivlin said. "Ciccolina [a former Italian MP who was also a porn star] has not yet visited the Knesset, but I'm telling you the day has come when there could be plenty of Ciccolinas here."

The kibbutznik and the settler.

Special attention was devoted to the appearance of two Knesset members: Haim Oron, the kibbutznik, and Uri Ariel, the settler. Yachimovitz pointed out: "There are perhaps parliaments where they would have thrown Jumas [Oron] out because of his shirt, but we will not get rid of Jumas." "But this is my best shirt," retorted Oron. Yachimovitz said she also likes the settler-type clothing worn by Uri Ariel - sandals, jeans and a simple shirt. Ariel asked whether it was possible to hold a vote about this remark. "
____________


Let’s see, children were screaming in fear in bomb shelters and classrooms in Sderot; three soldiers had spent over two years as kidnap victims, one in Hamastan, two in the grip of the Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon (who it was later learned were dead); the Holocaust-denying President of Iran threatened not only genocide but the world with acts of terror; the Prime Minister of Israel’s poll approval ratings (at the time) were exceeded by the margin of error … and the Knesset debated …. sandals.

This almost … almost … makes our Congress look responsible -- if that is possible!"

Happy Chanukah.

Rwexler

copyright, Chicago, IL., 2009

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

NEITHER AGE NOR INFIRMITY

The following is based on a true story. I became a member of the Jewish Agency Executive Committee by reason of my service as Chair of our United Israel Appeal. I learned recently that JAFI's counsel has opined that while one may have began one's service on the JAFI Executive as the representative of an organization, once one's service commences, we sit in personam and, therefore, as JAFI has no term limits, we may serve, theoretically, forever.

Unfortunately, this can happen...

Jake Shanker was now 105. He had already been featured on a Willard Scott "he's 100 years old" segment on the Today show -- twice. He could no longer travel. He continued to serve on the Jewish Agency Executive Committee. How did this happen you ask?

Well, back in '09, Jake, having already served on the Jewish Agency Board for a quarter century (there are no term limits) decided to resign as a Board Member. He, of course, had assurances that he would be elected to a new office almost immediately -- that of Honorary Board Member -- a position that offered the same "benefits" as the more traditional Board Member position, with, apparently, none of the responsibilities. So, Jake Shanker was no longer an elected JAFI Board Member. But Jake, in 2009, was also a member of the Jewish Agency Executive Committee at the time of his resignation as a JAFI Board Member. And, given the sorry state of JAFI's governance, once one is appointed to the JAFI Executive (other than those who serve by virtue of their position --e.g., the UJC Board Chair) one ceases to serve only by death or resignation. Yes, unbelievable though it may be, one needn't be a member of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors to serve on its most critical governance body.

Sure, when Jake Shanker resigned from the JAFI Board, The Jewish Federations of North America approached Jake: "So, Jake, we assume you'll give up your seat on the Executive as well given your expressed desire to spend more time with your great-grandchildren." "Nope," Jake said, "I like the Executive. Learn a lot of stuff. I'm staying on." This conversation continued annually for the next 25 years. Jake Shanker's response was always the same: "Nope." Jake started to attend the meetings by phone. He expressed a great interest in getting what he called "new blood" on the JAFI Board (but apparently not on the Executive). When amendments to the Reconstitution Agreement were proposed for Board Member Term limits, Jake was totally supportive; when amendments were proposed that would require "real" (as opposed to Honorary) Board membership as a precondition to service on the Executive, Jake was totally opposed.

At an Executive meeting that coincided with Jake turning 105, Jake Shanker attended in person -- he was flown on a hospital plane to Jerusalem. With doctors on either side of him at the JAFI Executive Meeting, Jake asked to speak. "Friends, I know some of you expect that I have asked to speak so that finally I could announce my retirement from the Executive." A murmur of anticipation echoed through the Bistro Room at the Inbal Hotel. "Well," Jake said, "I am not going to give you the satisfaction. I will continue to serve until I die at my place." And then he did.

In Jake Shanker's memory JAFI's Board approved an Amendment to the Reconstitution Agreement -- forever to be known as the "Jake Shanker Amendment" -- requiring that service on the JAFI Executive would require that one be a Member of the JAFI Board with term limits. Gee, what a great idea!!

See you at the JAFI Executive Committee meeting in February.

Rwexler

Monday, December 7, 2009

"YE'LL TAKE THE HIGH ROAD..."

One Anonymous correspondent sent the Comment below in response t6o the HIGH ROAD, LOW ROAD AND NO ROAD Post. I reprint it here in the hope that JDC leaders will respond to the factual allegations raised in this Comment.



"Oh! ye'll take the high road and
I'll take the low road,
And I'll be in Scotland afore ye;
But me and my true love
Will never meet again
On the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond.

Steve Schwager of JDC Says:



“Specifically in the absence of adequate resources, we have been forced to curtail or eliminate food, medicine, and other material needs to 60,000 poor elderly Jews.”

The Facts Say:



2009 JDC FSU Budget $113,501,969
2010 JDC FSU Budget $111,231,014

$2,270,955 reduction to feed 60,000?? Must be feeding 3.3 million??

Steve Schwager of JDC Says:



“In addition, we have no resources to serve 20,000 poor Jewish children and their families. We would be derelict in our responsibilities to our constituents if we did not seek more resources for them.”

The Facts Say:



2010 JDC Africa Budget $7, 248,113

Does “dereliction of duty” include slandering JAFI and JFNA??

Steve Schwager of JDC Says:



“The current split of 75 percent for JAFI and 25 percent for JDC came into being in 1952 when Israel was ready to accept large numbers of immigrants and JDC had declining welfare roles in Europe as a result of the closing of the DP camps. The world has changed significantly and the funding formula must reflect this new reality.”

The Facts Say:



JAFI has resettled over 3 million Olim. Need to check with the JDC Center for International Migration and Integration as experts on such issues.

Does JDC need to find a mission??

Steve Schwager of JDC Says:



“I refer to the other Jews - those who do not live in Israel or North America… I am not trying to be a party spoiler, but 20 percent - one fifth! -of the Jewish people today live outside of the US and Israel. “

“We know them well: For us they are not statistics, but rather Jewish men, women and children who are struggling to live Jewish lives in their historic communities. JDC is often their only guardian, their daily lifeline, their friend and support. We help them in Mumbai and in Buenos Aires, in Warsaw and Riga, in Djerba and Bucharest.



The elderly Jews in the former Soviet Union today are the poorest Jews in the world, and their situation is painfully serious. We struggle to feed them, to keep them warm, to supply their vital medicines - paid for in part by declining American Jewish charitable funds.“
“… Can we - the more comfortable, more secure 80% of the Jewish people - cut off the neediest 20% of our brethren? “

The Facts Say:



JDC 2010 FSU Budget $111,231,014
JDC 2010 Israel Budget $130,117,391

Apparently for JDC - Israel is more important than the “neediest 20% of our brethren”

The following JDC Israel programs appear to be more important to JDC than feeding poor Jews:



Rebuilding the Galilee
Responding to Crisis
Supporting Communities in the Southern Conflict Zone
Programs for Children and Youth At Risk JDC-ESHEL:

Services for the Elderly Employment and Entrepreneurship Immigrant Integration

Israelis with Disabilities Volunteerism and Philanthropy in IsraelNew Galilee Initiative

Is it appropriate to ask that JDC re-set it own priorities before it slams every other organization in the system??

To quote Jonah Goldberg:



“…if moral hypocrisy is saying what values people should live by while failing to follow them yourself, intellectual hypocrisy is believing you are smart enough to run other peoples' lives when you can barely run your own.”


At the very moment that Jewish Federations of North America (UJC) is working assiduously to rebuild its overseas engagement through its traditional partners, just at the moment when JFNA has brought the partners together at the same table to talk and work out their issues, just as new leadership works to bring back to life a damaged national system, along comes JDC and throws a stumbling block in JFNA’s path. Blind siding JFNA, with no warning, after sitting in the same room meeting cooperatively, JDC sends out its missive of triumphant, self righteous, factually incoherent cry for help.

JDC does wonderful work. JDC needs to be proud of its budget and partners. But I have a news flash – Jews are not starving to death anywhere on this planet. JDC will have to find its real mission and stop touting hunger as its raison d’ĂȘtre.

But me and my true love Will never meet again"




____________________



Another Anonymous commentator raised the following issues:



"Anonymous said...


While both JAFI and JDC do amazing work for the Jewish people, worthy of our Federation dollars, JDC has a better track record/image in working well and playing with others both in terms of NGO's in Israel, where their footprints grows from year to year, and individual Federations in the US. JAFI has been downright shoot in the foot bad at its organizational relationship building. This is not a comment on the quality or priority of either agency's work but the frustration many have felt over the years in regards to JAFI's "political" obtuseness and JDC's "political" smarts. You might want to address that issue as well Richard at some point."



______________



Both of these insightful writers raise critical questions. The Jewish Agency has, for years, been painted with a broad brush of criticism for "being politicized." That may have been true when I first began my service on its Board, but over the past 20 years, a succession of JAFI Chairs have worked assiduously to reduce and, in most places, assure that politicization be minimized and eliminated. Under Chairs from Mendel Kaplan, z'l, Corky Goodman, Alex Grass, z'l, Carole Solomon and Richie Pearlstone, the Agency's work has been professionalized, centered in the Ofifce of Directors General from Shimshon Shoshani to Giora Romm to, today, Moshe Vigdor. There remain those who use the "politics" argument as a sledgehammer to isolate JAFI -- they are unwilling or unable to see the change that has taken place and the rality that JAFI leaders today are prepared to move to even greater change.



If "politicized" means "dealing with the Government of Israel" as a partner, leveraging dollars, then JAFI must plead guilty -- and so must JDC, Birthright, and on an on.



As to JDC, the Commentators reflect upon the opaque nature of the Joint's Budget. To the extent that the analysis above is accurate, then in light of recent attacks on the federation system from JDC's leaders, there must be answers. If the analysis is incorrect, then JFNA is owed the courtesy of that explanation as well.



Rwexler


Saturday, December 5, 2009

PERFECT CHOICE AND OTHER MATTERS

~ In light of recent statements, the Jewish Agency for Israel announced today that Sarah Palin has been named the Diaspora Co-Chair of its Aliyah Committee succeeding Jay Sarver. "She seems to have a lot of creative ideas," a Jewish Agency spokesperson said. Leaders of Nefesh B'Nefesh announced: "If Palin really accepts this position, we're going out of business."

~ In Israel, as the joke (but not by much) goes "every person a Prime Minister." Certainly every leader in the Netanyahu Cabinet believes that their opinion about anything, the more outrageous the better, will get them a mention in the press. So it was not surprising to read the following headline in israel.jpost.com a couple of weeks ago: Livnat: US administration is 'horrible.' Limor Livnat is the Sports and Culture Minister. When the PM disputed the attack, Livnat "backed down;" she "wasn't sure which words she had chosen." Oy yoy yoy.

~ From the "When I am wrong, I am really wrong" Department. Immediately after the first meeting convened by Kathy, Jerry and Michael with JAFI and JDC leaders, I wrote a Post (September 24, 2009) -- "A GOOD START" -- AN UPDATE." Therein I wrote: "From all I have learned about this morning's meeting...among UJC's leaders, representatives of JAFI and JDC, today was not a 'good start'...it was a great start. There was a sense that UJC, JAFI and JDC have begun a process of rededicating themselves to the great unifying partnership among the Federations of North America, the Joint and Agency.." Ehhhh, wrong. The Joint, by its coordinated communications strategy rejecting its own agreement with JAFI immediately post-GA demonstrated how wrongfully optimistic I was. JFNA leaders continue to deserve plaudits for their efforts to "bring us together." It ain't easy.


~ Then there are those who can't accept an apology. You may recall that on December 1 I Posted an apology for an earlier Post when I found that the facts that I had in hand on Dues payment and non-payment were contradicted by The Jewish Federations of North America's records. This caused some lay leader(s) at JFNA within minutes to circulate both the offending Post (which I had deleted from this Blog) and the apology as if these were some form of "evidence" that, when it came to mischief, I was a recidivist unworthy of...something. Whomever it was or they were, it/they sent these to other lay and pro leaders, some in my federation and others around the country, and to at least...at the least...one federation CEO. (I assume that the senders identified themselves rather than in the "anonymous" manner some correspond with the Blog.)

What can I say? Having placed 365 Posts on this Blog over two years, I made an error for which I apologized. I promised from the first Posts forward that if I erred on these pages and was corrected, an apology would be forthcoming. I think that's a better record than those who have been circulating that Apology have over the time of their leadership, don't you? (Oh, and to the sender[s] -- thanks for increasing my circulation!!)

Rwexler

Thursday, December 3, 2009

THE HIGH ROAD, THE LOW ROAD AND THE NO ROAD

Over the last two weeks, time and again we have heard or read the phrase "...we are taking the high road on this" from leaders of JAFI, JDC and The Federations of North America so often that the organizations they represented kind of bled into each other. (What an idea, huh?) Everybody is on that "high road" which, of course, means only one thing -- ain't no one on the low road. This merely proves, at least to me, that too few know what (or where) the road is.

JDC thinks it "took the high road" by stating its intent to go it alone, to refuse to consummate the agreement it had already reached with JAFI. JAFI "took the no road" by telling The Jewish Federations of North America that the issues with JDC were JFNA's problem. And The Jewish Federations of North America "took the high road" by letting JDC and JAFI know that unless those two organizations reached agreement on how non-designated federation allocations were to be divided, the funds would be distributed to the two partners according to their prior agreement.
So here's how I see it: JDC -- "low road"; JAFI -- "no road"; and The Jewish Feds of N.A. -- "really high road." And the issues raised by JDC -- ignored. Of course, the facts suggest that the JAFI/JDC contract issue could have and should have been resolved many months ago when the parties first reached agreement. Then, the parties themselves had reached agreement on every issue in an agreement with a five year term. On their review, what I have heard was that a single major federation objected to the length of the agreement -- thought a five year term agreed to by the affected parties too long. And from there...we are here. Why did that single federation substitute its judgment for the parties? We will probably never know. I'll speculate that it was purely a power play, an act of hubris. Probably believe that they (or was it just "he"?) were "taking the high road." Doesn't everyone?

And, then there is the road least taken -- the road that one takes a chance on in order to succeed. The one that requires risk but offers the potential for incredible rewards. Who is taking that one?

And, from there, we are here. To the high road, to the low road, to the no road. I think it was my philosopher-in-chief, Yogi Berra, who observed "if you don't know where you're going, any road will take you there." Wanna bet?

Rwexler

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

IS THERE A PENALTY...? AN APOLOGY

An apology is due.

Some of you may note that I have deleted my Post Is There A Penalty For Only Some For a Failure to pay Dues? from the Blog. I have done so because those at The Jewish Federations of North America in whom I have absolute trust have assured me that I was 100% incorrect about the unnamed federation I cited in that Post. I deeply regret that the Post appeared to some to have impugned a number of federations and officers of our national system. I mistakenly and regretfully trusted in the data I had been sent and that was stupid and wrong on my part in every possible way.

The federation about which I wrote is and has been current in its dues payments since the Financial Relations Committee and that federation entered into an agreement with regard to Dues, allocations and receivables earlier this century.

Rwexler

INTERESTING QUESTIONS

A reader sent this Comment to the Blog:



Richard, your post raises a couple of questions both factual and historical:

Does the JFNA by laws explicitly say that officers must be from communities in good standing?

What is the vetting process used by national agencies to ensure nominees of the highest communal and interpersonal standards?

In the old days how did national UJA vet its officers for personal standing in their home communities? As an out to pasture old timer I seem to recall a UJA player or two who where not on the best of terms with their local Federations.

These questions are relevant to a number of issues and deserve response. While I could speculate as to whom sent this list, given the "slant" of the questions, several names suggest themselves, but..never mind.

The Fair Share Dues Resolution adopted (I think unanimously) by the then UJC almost six years ago provided in pertinent part that a federation failing to pay dues that has not received hardship relief from the Financial Relations Committee after receiving notice of default "loses all benefits of membership." Among those "benefits" is service of any of its federation members on The Jewish Federations of North America Board, Committee or as an officer. When a number of federations (i.e., Detroit, South Palm Beach) threatened a unilateral reduction of Dues or non-payment, they were themselves explicitly threatened with the expulsion of their sitting Board members, Women's Philanthropy and Young Leadership Cabinet participants and more.

But, even absent the Fair Share Dues Resolution, would it make sense to have officers serving The Jewish Federations of North America whose federations fail to pay Dues? That would merely serve to discredit the organization, wouldn't it?

This Commentator then used curious phraseology in posing the next question: "What is the vetting process used by national agencies to ensure nominees of the highest communal and interpersonal standards?" (emphasis added) Did our correspondent mean to suggest that national agency Board members had to meet his or her subjective "highest communal and interpersonal standards" (whatever those may be)? Or was the reference to the common definition of "interpersonal standards" -- a reference to levels of competence? I will assume that the question was a serious one. I have served on the Boards of four national agencies; and on three of their nominating committees. Each made and makes a serious effort to engage men and women on their Board who have been (a) recommended by their local federation; (b) have some influence within their federations; and (3) will serve as advocates for the agency within the community. If by "the highest...interpersonal standards," our correspondent meant "someone who will quietly go along," that has neither been a criterion for agency Board service nor a qualifying competence in my experience.

Over my decades of involvement, I knew of no UJA officer who was "...not on the best of terms with their local Federations." To the contrary, UJA officers over the quarter-century of my involvement were to a person men and women who were leaders in their own federations first and UJA officers second. To imply otherwise, in an Anonymous Comment of all things, is just plain wrong. I vividly remember so many meetings, looking around the UJA Board room from my unique position and seeing it filled with federation leaders, men and women, young and old, who shared common passion, mutual respect and common commitment to those of our People most in need.

What might be better than that?

Rwexler




Friday, November 27, 2009

THIS BLOG...A REPORT

Let us review the status of this Blog:

~ During the Rieger-Kanfer "period" an edict was issued from on high at 111 Eighth Avenue continuing on to the current address that no one at The Jewish Federations of North America f/k/a UJC was permitted to read UJThee and Me. (This was to apparently exclude the then President and CEO, who had been an "avid reader.") I thank the "leaders" who attempted to censor the professional staff for making this Blog the daily most widely read within the four walls of the organization -- and in the D.C. and Sherman Oaks offices. My thanks to each of you who risked some form of retribution by even reading what I've written and, even more so, those of you who have written and called me in confidence with your insights, encouragement, corrections and observations. We will continue.

~ We have chronicled the failures of the past ("what we have here is a failure to communicate" among other failures) and our hopes for the future "under new management." Last year, when one federation leader, among others, told the then Chair of the Executive, now the "new" Board Chair, that he learned most of what he knew of UJC's activities in the Posts of this Blog, Kathy replied, with good sarcasm and real humor: "...then you must be completely misinformed." We'll try to do better, Kathy. We promise.

~ Over the past weeks many of those who have sent Comments to the Posts, in anonymity or by name, have offered some important insights and critical thinking (not the Anonymous mailer [who really isn't very anonymous at all] who offers nothing but personal insults, most of which I have rejected). I have brought some of these Comments directly to the attention of UJC's new professional and lay leaders because I want them to succeed to the same extent, and more, than their predecessors failed us...and themselves.

~ In a TIME Magazine cover story -- Why Main Street Hates Wall Street -- the writers offered a characterization that would fit squarely with the prior leadership: "Too many people (were) acting in an arrogant, clueless and tone-deaf way." That leadership, now in our collective rear-view mirror, paid no price for their actions which now encumber The Jewish Federations of North America; the price was paid and is being paid by the federations, our donors and the new leadership "team" and by those who were the consequential victims -- long-time employees terminated, dedicated professionals terminated, lay and professional leaders from the federations pushed out for nothing more than raising questions.

Those who constructively criticize this Blog -- please continue. Those who criticize this Blog by misconstruing it to their own ends -- remember my motto comes from Bill Parcells and is, therefore, a football adage equally applicable to this Blog: "You are what the record says you are."

We look to the new present and to the future with confidence that the new lay and professional leaders of The Jewish Federations of North America will seize the day. May the day soon arrive when I have no more about which to write.

Rwexler

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

MENDEL KAPLAN, z'l

A great leader passed away last week -- not just a great leader, a great philanthropist, a great Zionist. a mensch. As the Jewish Agency's Chairs described him: "Mendel was a giant among men, an innovative industrialist who used his wealth for the betterment of his fellow Jews, countrymen and the State of Israel. At the young age of 73, Mendel was taken from his family and all of us who loved and respected him.

Mendel not only talked the talk -- and he could, with devastating wit and insight, truly do the talking -- he walked the walk as so few have. He made aliyah and maintained homes in South Africa, Jerusalem and Caesaria. He made his mark everywhere he went. With Max Fisher, z'l, he leaves behind not only a great record of achievement but a beautiful family dedicated as well to the creative survival of our People.

Mendel did not suffer fools gladly...or at all. I remember our public and private debates over what Mendel perceived as the Jewish communities of the United States failures to support JAFI. But, as my friend Bruce Arbit also remembered, Mendel was always willing to engage, to listen and always was appreciative of those who dedicated themselves to the Zionist dream and to the building of a strong Israel.

If there was a way to spice up debate at a JAFI Executive or Board Meeting, Mendel, with a remark or a brief speech could always find that path. He provoked us, he urged us on and he led by the example of his own life and his love of family and Israel and the Jewish People. All of us who knew Mendel were strengthened by his strengths, infused with his enthusiasm and love. He will be missed by all of us who crossed his path.

May Jill and his family be blessed by their memories of Mendel, as are we all.

Rwexler

Sunday, November 22, 2009

MYTHIC FRD AND TRANSPARENCY

The UJA-Federation of New York announced that its October 2009 Greenberg Event was the most successful fund-raising event in its history raising $43 million in pledges. And, don't take this the wrong way, that is a major achievement worthy of accolades under any circumstance -- but, especially this year. However, the $43 million in pledges was identical to the mount announced last year -- no more, no less.

Whether it is fund raising achievement or attendance at GA's, or at federation events, we are a People who seem taken with hyperbole. This caused me to think back to a different time. Before his tragic and sudden death, our incredible Chicago Campaign Director, Joel Shinsky, z'l, and I would drive into downtown Chicago together every day. I used to get the monthly UJA city-by-city campaign data. One Large City federation used to amaze me with their monthly announcements of card-by-card increases -- 18%-20% weren't unusual. I used to harass Joel -- "How could _________ be doing so well and we are showing a paltry 8% increase?" Between puffs on his ever-present cigarette, Joel would dismiss me with a "Wait until the end of the year." "But," I would brilliantly rejoin. "Just wait," Joel would say, biting into his morning doughnut. And, the year-end would come, Chicago would be up 8% and __________ would announce a flat campaign (and later we would learn that "flat" meant "down"). "Any questions?" Joel would ask me. "No," I would whisper back.

What does all of this suggest? To me, transparency, truth-telling. Is there a manual some where that dictates that our system must hide or embellish the facts? I doubt it, but some continue to behave that way. Remember "the truth will set you free."

Rwexler

Friday, November 20, 2009

FORGET THE FACTS

Sometimes a reporter, sometimes a critical columnist, Caroline Glick is always an Obama hater. If the facts don't fit her anger, she ignores them as she did in a vicious attack on Obama in something called Jewish World Review (November 13, 2009). After accusing Obama of forcing Prime Minister Netanyahu to enter the White House under cover of darkness from an anonymous van and barring the "regular" photo op for the PM with the President, she went off as follows

"Obama's hostility was evident as well during his meeting with fifty Jewish leaders at the White House this week.

In an obvious bid to split American Jewry away from Israel, Obama refused to discuss Israel or Iran with the concerned American Jewish leaders. As far as Obama was concerned, all they deserved from him was a primer on the brilliance of his economic policies and the worthiness of his plan to socialize the American healthcare industry. His foreign policy is none of their business.

Obama's meeting with American Jewish leaders was supposed to be a consolation prize for American Jews after Obama cancelled his first public address to American Jews since taking office. The White House claimed that he cancelled the speech because his visit to the Fort Hood memorial service made it impossible for him to attend. But then the conference was a three-day affair. The organizers would probably have been happy to reschedule.

Instead, as Iran races to the nuclear finish line, America's Jewish leaders were forced to sit through White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel's kitschy Borscht Belt schmooze about his bar mitzvah."

Having spoken with several federation leaders who were present, none of Glick's allegations...none...appear to be true. I have every confidence that had American Jewish leaders been told that they could not discuss Israel with the President, they would have politely declined the meeting. The problem, of course, is that none of these leaders has discussed with their leadership what were the subjects discussed with the President (and prior to that meeting with his key aides); leaving Glick an open field to offer speculation as fact. Do we ever learn?

Now, Caroline Glick may be brilliant. She grew up, some years later than I, in my old neighborhood of Hyde Park, which she describes in her bio as ultra-liberal(true), anti-Israel (false) and, of all things, "anti-American" (unbelievable). She described her alma mater, Columbia University, as "Beir Zeit on the Hudson." She pals around with Michelle Malkin. She is an Israeli. She is apparently an expert on all things. Just has some apparent trouble with the facts. and is rabid in her criticism of our President. Her screed, including the Obama-haters references to Reverend Wright, et al., is Sarah Palin on steroids.

While no more is needed, on 19 November, Glick outdid herself, supporting the mendacity of Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh and others in their unreasoned rabble-rousing against anything and all Obama by attacking the ADL's report on the growing anti-semitism that these hooligans have helped to rouse and attacking the small number of Hillels which have influenced their campuses against Israeli policies. Maybe Ms. Glick ought to return to Chicago (and other venues as well) where the Jewish campus movement has been strong, even brave, in confronting the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic attacks of Arabists and some Jews alike. But, that would get in the face of her narrative, wouldn't it?

Relying on Caroline Glick as an authority on how American Jewry is being treated by this Administration would be wrong.

Rwexler





Thursday, November 19, 2009

BUZZ KILL...AND, WORSE

Well, it sure didn't take long for the spirit of the collective and the good will generated by the GA to be doused by a single letter from the JDC to The Jewish Federations of North America. About a nano-second, actually. For on Thursday, November 12, less than two days after the GA closed, Irv Smokler, the Joint's Chair, advised Kathy Manning that JDC would not be bound by the agreement it had reached with JAFI on the allocations "split" only weeks earlier.

This writer is on the Board of the Jewish Agency but, as my friends at the Joint know, the work of JDC has been an inspiration for me and has enabled me, coupled with the work of the Jewish Agency, hopefully to inspire others. But the substance of the JDC letter and its timing, and an almost simultaneous Op-Ed written by its CEO, Steve Schwager in The Jerusalem Post, and a clearly planted article in The Forward and another in the JTA, are matters that bring no honor and, worse, suggest a JDC-inspired communications strategy the effect of which, if not stopped now, threatens the system that JDC once helped to create and once helped to sustain.

For over a decade, the JDC's efforts to feed hungry Jews, to provide them with basic needs -- shelter, drugs -- have been heroic. And the federations have stepped forward to fund these needs -- inadequately and on a declining basis to be sure. And during this time, until the financial catastrophe that affected everyone, the Joint grew its endowment which stands today at...what, exactly? And if that endowment is for a "rainy day," how can the Joint argue that we are inundated, but fail to use all of the resources at its command and in its total control to meet the needs it has identified in the midst of the storm. But the Joint has a different strategy in mind.

Sure, JDC should receive more in allocations; so, of course, must JAFI. Now, JDC's leaders appear to ask, in writing, for a reinstitution of the infamous failed ONAD process (in a different guise, of course) in place of the terms to which they had just agreed. (I think that's what a request that JFNA "develop a needs-based allocations system" means.) Just how did the prior process help the Joint or the federations? The answer is simple: it didn't, it hurt everyone, and a new process mirroring the prior one will have the same negative impact. It is past time for JAFI and JDC to join together in a common effort, coordinated by The Jewish Federations of North America, to help federations raise more money and to advocate for the vital, underfunded needs they represent.

Steve Schwager, in his Op-Ed, Guess who did not come to the party?, makes a strong and compelling argument. He wrote: "WHAT ELSE worries us? The UJA -- the grandfather of today's newly created JFNA -- was formed in the wake of Kristallnacht...precisely 71 years ago. Numerous speakers at the GA last week made references to this historic event that catapulted American Jewish philanthropy into a superpower world army (sic), bringing rescue and relief to every Jew. UJA was always a relentless and indefatigable advocate of Jewish needs in Israel and overseas. Seventy-one years later, will we abdicate this moral commitment under the pressure of domestic issues and needs? Can we -- the more secure 80% of the Jewish people -- cut off the neediest 20% of our brethren? Since when has a hungry Jew anywhere become an 'overseas issue' marked as less urgent compared to local needs?" That is the Steve Schwager I was proud to partner with in visits to our communities on behalf of our national system, the Joint and Jewish Agency. That is the call to The Jewish Federations of North America to assert its proper...its moral...role to lead our system and to join hands with JAFI and JDC...not tomorrow, but now.

At the GA just concluded, we heard our new Board Chair and CEO commit themselves and us to a reinvigorated, resuscitated partnership with JAFI and JDC -- a recognition that the collective is what ennobles our federation system. And, with clear forethought, two days later, leaders of one of those partners, not liking the deal they had made just weeks (or was it just days) earlier, pulled the rug out from under not just JAFI, but the federations and The Jewish Federations of North America. After five years of a leadership who either neglected the partners -- JDC and JAFI -- or deprecated their work and value, the new JFNA leaders -- Manning, Gelman, Silverman -- appeared prepared to work in a robust partnership with them. Now what?

Why, at a time that JDC and JAFI appeared to be working closer than ever before, when a direct approach by either or both organizations to the federations separately plants the seeds of systemic disintegration, when new national leadership has already demonstrated a renewed commitment to the historic partnership on which our system was built, would the Joint's leaders, so many of whom I know and deeply respect, and who understand all of this, threaten this emerging unity? Is it that at the GA just passed. Joint leaders saw the federations poised to embrace not only Natan Sharansky but his agenda for JAFI and they simply overreacted, or is it something else?

Why now, you might ask? In fact, you should.

Rwexler

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

STUFF

~ After watching all of the GA Plenary speeches on the Web a second time -- and they were, in the main, uniformly excellent -- putting politics aside, if that's possible in this era of partisanship and, let's face it, outright hate in some quarters, the absolute best speech by far was Rahm Emanuel's. It was "Jewish;" and it captured the essence of our work with humor of all things -- this from a guy who had no real relationship with our community in all the years he lived here in Chicago. He spoke of the "(values) central to our faith and experience" and thanked us for our "...advocacy for those most in need" wherever they may live. He was gracious and self-deprecating. Good stuff. From a surprising source.

~ So, a regular reader wrote: "After reading the fawning adoration of Jerry Silverman in your Blog and in the article in the JTA, Silverman looking golden, and in eJewishphilanthropy.com, I don't have to eat anything with sugar in it for weeks. Don't you realize that anyone would look better in light of what went on, or didn't, over the prior half decade?" My answer: "Yes."

~ I continue to wonder what the public and private role is of the National Campaign Chair. I saw Michael Lebovitz co-introduce the Sapir (is it time to [a] retire that award now that Chicago has won it five straight years; and [b] change the name?) Award but so many others of lesser positions be given greater exposure and honor at the podium. If the National Chair's role is to be elevated, as it should be, my suggestion (made on these pages before): get rid of the still- born and truly superfluous Center for Jewish Philanthropy and consolidate all FRD under the National Campaign Chair -- for starters.

~ I know the visit to the White House for a GA meeting with the President and key staff was last minute but...could there be some thought given at the highest levels of The Jewish Federations of North America to inviting high level donors to such gatherings? I mean having senior JFNA staff there is a nice "gift" and having some federation CEOs there may be good hasbara for the JFNA, but what about using such events as a catalyst to fund raising? Were there some institutional memory, it might help. Hello??!!

Rwexler

Monday, November 16, 2009

PASSIVE OBSERVATION

Should we just remain passive observers when that which we created, that which we contribute to, fails to serve the interests of its owners? This is, of course, a rhetorical question. The results of passive observation these past five years are crystal clear. The antidote is insistence by the owners -- be they the owners of federation or The Jewish Federations of North America -- on active engagement...NOW. There are, as always in Jewish life, precedents.

First and foremost, there was, before my time, the emergence, within the Council of Jewish Federations, of those who became known as the "Young Turks." These then young leaders, most of whom were graduates of the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet, demanded a seat at the leadership table. The establishment blanched in horror -- and gave them seats. Those young leaders became the leaders of their federations and the national organization. Today, we have no perceptible group of "Young Turks." We have men and women who have stood up for principle, but too few...too few. We have more of a "get along to go along" generations of passive observers. These are men and women, not only fully capable of demanding a seat at the table but those who have already earned those seats. But, unlike their predecessors, the potential "Young Turks" of 2010 believe in (a) a leadership gentility -- if we don't rock your boat today, you won't rock our boat tomorrow and (b) letting the few others do the heavy lifting.

I fear for any organization where those who aspire to leadership actually articulate that "this (and it makes no difference what "this" is) isn't worth fighting for" and when challenged as to "what would be worth fighting for" respond with a shrug. Trust me, a good fight over matters of principle is energizing and can actually bring an organization together; because when the argument is resolved, after healthy, respectful debate, the organization will coalesce behind the decision and move forward...yachad.

Try it; you may like it.

Rwexler