Thursday, April 29, 2010


Way back when -- well before the name change to The Jewish Federations of North America, three of us -- Norman Goldstein of Washington, Richard Bernstein of Miami and your Blogger -- asked Jerry and Kathy if they would allow us to submit a paper we had written for their consideration. This Post is about how that Paper came about, the Paper itself, and how our work may have been used...or not.

Norman, Richard and I had been discussing the future of our national institution for some months -- mainly at Jewish Agency Board meetings but in e-mail exchanges and teleconferences as well. The three of us share a commitment with you to a strong federation system, a strong national organization to lead it and to the collective responsibilities that have been the hallmark of the American Jewish communities. In the late Spring and Summer of 2009, as a new chief professional officer was engaged and a reinvigorated lay leadership were nominated, we determined that the best we could offer them would be a paper in which we shared ideas and concerns. So, we initiated a series of drafts in late July and August.

The three of us were also concerned that my involvement with the paper might taint our effort in the eyes of some. So, as we polished the document. In September, I approached both Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman with that simple question: "Would you consider a paper that Norman, Richard and I co-authored?" Jerry and Kathy responded with a welcoming enthusiasm. We sent the Paper with great expectations.

Here is what we wrote:

Looking Toward the Next Ten Years:The Challenges Facing the United Jewish Communities

The formation of UJC was the result of a lengthy collaborative process undertaken by the lay and professional leadership of the North American Jewish Federation system beginning in the fall of 1996 and culminating in the historic merger of the United Jewish Appeal and the Council of Jewish Federations in December 1999.

UJC was born through compromises and agreements reached by people of goodwill sharing an unwavering commitment to the welfare of Jewish communities in North America and overseas. UJC undertook a bold restructuring of two of the most essential national Jewish organizations mindful that its path was uncharted. Every participant understood that some ideas would work and that others would not. Time, and circumstances, would test UJC’s new framework, mission, vision and service delivery models.

Ten years since formation, UJC has experienced both successes and failures. Moreover, the larger world has dramatically changed. The threats facing Israel and Jews in foreign lands today are complex and serious. Concurrently, the worst economic downturn in 70 years has significantly affected the North American Jewish community with the dual impact of (a) reduced fundraising campaigns and (b) greater demand for local needs and services.

The challenge facing the leadership of UJC and the Federation system today is to look forward. It is to envision the day, in the year 2020, when the Jewish communal leadership will look back on its preceding decade. What will they see? How will they have gotten there? Who will be at the table?

The time to face the issues that will bear upon this challenge is now. With a new Chief Professional Officer beginning his tenure, a transition of senior lay leadership completed and Federations across the continent making difficult decisions in response to new fiscal realities, the moment to act is now.

In an effort to frame constructive dialog on these questions, it is proposed that the following issues, while not exclusive, are ones that should be addressed by UJC with a sense of urgency and closure:

Overarching lssue: The Question of Mission

There remains an unsettled debate on the focus of UJC’s mission. There is a need for clarity, broad consensus and finality. Closure on this is a prerequisite to dealing with all other issues as it affects all other issues. A process that is transparent, inclusive and perceived as fair would be the most effective.

· Is UJC a “leader” or a “servant” of the Federation system? Alternatively, can it be both at different times and in different contexts?
· Is UJC a “trade association” dealing with a focused set of important issues including: (i) national product branding, (ii) national campaign strategy, production of creative and thematic materials adaptable by Federations; (iii) coordinator of emergency campaigns; (iv) long term professional development and best practices benchmarking and (v) national resource co-ordination? Or is UJC a strategic “thought leader” and “policy developer” with the capacity to speak on behalf of the national system the broad range of issues on the domestic and international agendas? Can UJC be part of both?
· How can UJC demonstrate its unique added-value to each of the large, intermediate, small and network communities constituencies? Can UJC serve all of these constituencies equally well?

Internal Issues:

· Engagement of lay leadership - how can there be created an extensive and diverse cadre of inspired, engaged and actively participating lay leadership? How can UJC shape the experience of lay leadership to be attractive, meaningful, stimulating and impactful? How can UJC expand its sphere of influence in communities, large and small, through positive experiences at GA’s, on missions or in UJC facilitated Federation coalitions or task forces addressing issue-oriented projects?

· Human Resource Development: Lay and Professional - what role does UJC have to identify, nurture, train and develop the men and women that will be sitting at the Federation and UJC lay leadership tables in 2020? What role does UJC have to identify, nurture, train and develop the men and women who will undertake the roles of the professional leadership of the Federation system and UJC in 2020? How can the “Lay/Professional” partnership be enhanced, supported and calibrated to face the challenges of the next decade?

· Budget and Dues - as the questions outlined herein are resolved, the development of meaningful and appropriate budgets must follow. Budgets should translate strategies and objectives into tangible work plans with financial metrics. It is unrealistic to project high expectations of UJC without providing the resources to accomplish them. Conversely, the criteria of funding alone should not blindly define the role and scope of UJC. Rather, once strategic decisions are made and a budget is determined, the method for the contributions to its funding must be fairly, but firmly, applied and administered. How do these competing priorities be determined?

· The Balance of City Size - Large city Federations and intermediate/small city Federations have different needs for UJC services and, generally, an inverse capacity to contribute to the UJC budget. What is the strategic balance, or correlation, between service needs and dues obligations?

External Issues:

· Relationship with JAFI and IDC - JAFI and IDC represent the cornerstone of UJC’s and the Federation system’s overseas agenda. But all partnerships evolve over time and need to be recommitted to at key intervals. This process is healthy and normal even when difficult or uncomfortable. Nonetheless, today is such a moment. What is an articulation of UJC’s relationship with JAFI and JDC that is clear, comprehensive and broadly accepted? Further, what are the fair expectations and promises of UJC to JAFI and JDC? And of JAFI and JDC to UJC?

· Mega-donors, Competition and Designated Giving - The marketplace of philanthropic alternatives has become increasingly competitive. Donors, (small, large or “mega”) have rapidly changing views on the role of the donor as compared to 10 or 20 years ago. How can UJC help Federations capture attention and support in this challenging marketplace? How can UJC reach out to, and partner with, leading independent philanthropists and private foundations? What are the creative structures and modalities which can bring UJC, the Federation system and mega-donors into alignment on shared goals and objectives? How can models of designated giving be embraced and pursued while maintaining core commitments to overseas partners?

· Washington Office - the success enjoyed by the Washington Office is widely acknowledged. What lessons can be learned from this success? What other specialized services or resources, which could have a broad impact on Federations, can or should be similarly organized and delivered?"


Rich, Norman and I had hoped that we might be part of the discussion -- having framed the questions, I, at least, thought that appropriate. The first "clue" that that would not be the case came in a note from Kathy thanking us and advising that she would be using the paper as a framing document for discussion with her "leadership team" at its meeting in September. Not having been invited, we understood that we were not part of Manning's "leadership team" even if our paper (which we transmitted without our signatures appearing on it) was!! So, we took solace that while we weren't there, our paper was.

Norman, Rich and I discussed the Paper from time-to-time -- usually in the context of "have you heard anything further from Kathy or Jerry?" None of us haD. As what is now The Jewish Federations of North America progressed toward its Winter Meetings in Dallas last January, I, for one, had lost hope that the "Issues" we raised would be considered let alone prioritized. We framed these issues with the hopes that they would be treated "...with a sense of urgency and closure."

Then, on February 8, Jerry and Kathy organized a call among the five of us. It was much appreciated. Certainly, we learned that much is happening within JFNA, almost all of which is flowing forth from the professional efforts of Jerry and his staff. Lay leadership appears to be relegated, willingly, to the sidelines -- consulting, perhaps, but far from leading. While a lot was happening, little of that seemed to be responsive to the questions we raised.

As we wrote: The challenge facing the leadership of UJC and the Federation system today is to look forward. It is to envision the day, in the year 2020, when the Jewish communal leadership will look back on the preceding decade. What will they see? How will they have gotten there? Who will be at the table? We continued: The time to face the issues that will bear upon this challenge is now. The Board Chair has stated time and again that she wishes to look forward; so did and do we.

De l'audace, encore de l'audace, et toujours l'audace.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010


This could only happen in an environment where there is a leadership vacuum. As the Forward will soon report (if it hasn't already), the Joint Distribution Committee has announced that it will "leave the system" as its demands for a change in the "split" of allocated dollars with JAFI has not been changed. Does any rational reader believe that JDC would put the system (this is premised on the fact that there is still a "system") at risk for its own motives if the system stood for anything; if JFNA's lay leaders had their respect? I don't.

Since the beginning of JFNA -- back to when it was but Newco -- leaders of the Joint and Agency have been looking for leadership, for the commitment to increased funding for both organizations. What have they gotten back from first UJC now JFNA, a deafening silence, then a plea to "trust us, we'll get to this next year," etc., etc., etc. And, then...nothing...nada...squat.

Do you think this would have happened if Bronfman or Tisch or Wexner or Crown were Chairs and willing to assert themselves? I don't. It certainly wouldn't have happened in the UJA era when that organization demonstrated its commitment to JAFI and JDC day in and day out. But, it's happening today.

I do wish that the Joint leadership, on a visit to Chicago a little over one month ago, had roiled out ithis "plan" to a community that has met its financial responsibilities to JDC year in and year out. I do wish that Joint leadership hadn't merely prepared a Memo filled with threats of what it "will do" when (and if) it leaves the system (most of which JDC is already doing) but prepared a Budget that explained in detail, line-by-line, how it spends its money. Then we all might have had something to discuss. But, I understand the Joint's leadership's frustration with the federations' national organization which appears to be cowering in a corner somewhere.

But, understand -- this is not an attack on JFNA, it is an attack on the federations, pure and simple. Has this attack been decided by the Joint's Board? Has this "plan," this "threat" been debated there? JFNA is viewed as irrelevant in JDC's threat to individual federations they have addressed demanding that those federations "change the split or else..."

The "split," my friends, is but, in Hitchcockian terms, a MacGuffin -- it is a decoy as federations have, in their ever-increasing designated allocations, paid it less and less attention. For the Joint to premise the deconstruction of a system that has provided it with $100's of millions in allocations over this flimsy plot device is just plain wrong. To threaten the federations with an ultimatum of this nature is worse. But it is what it is and we haven't leaders at JFNA who know what to do. So, absent JFNA, the burden once again falls on the federations who care to say to JDC this will not happen.

Stay tuned.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010


On April 20 Jacob Berkman, The Fundermentalist, published an "exclusive" an interview with Joe Kanfer, the immediate Past Chair of JFNA. Jacob, among other things, seemed to have endorsed Kanfer's deprecation of JAFI and JDC, and merely printed without probing or correction, Joe's fictional version of the "accomplishments" of his three year reign of terror at what is now JFNA. I have the sense that had Kanfer announced "the world is flat," it would have found its way into the Fundermentalist's "exclusive."

So, let's take a look at the results of this interview:

~ I guess Joe confused what he wanted to accomplish with what he actually achieved. Inasmuch as in the last year of his "service," Joe had appropriated not only the role of Chair of the Executive but CEO and President, and the federation condition could best be described vis-a-vis JFNA as one of deep lassitude, Joe could have accomplished anything he wanted. Yet, rather than frame a coherent set of priorities that would have represented transformational change, Kanfer threw one idea after another against the wall (most were, in this writer's view, inane) and not even waiting for them to slide down to the ground moved on to the next.

~ In the Kanfer land of make believe, he told Berkman who reported it as fact, that he was "...pressing the federations to eschew the notion that it should have only two partners because of an historical arrangement." JAFI and JDC had grown "complacent" and competition was the only answer (this may have been Berkman rather than Kanfer). "Instead of trying to get better, (JAFI and JDC) engage in backbiting and undercutting each other..." Preposterous -- these are two incredible organizations doing our work...the federations' work...while their budgets have been slashed because Kanfer and his acolytes undermined and bad-mouthed their holy work at every opportunity.

~ To read that Kanfer in this "interview" derided the work and commitment of Steve Nasatir and Chicago, John Ruskay and New York, Steve Hoffman and Cleveland, Mark Terrill and Baltimore and on and on as "irrationally protecting the old way of doing business" is shameful in itself (and suggests that Mr. Kanfer neither had nor has a clue of the values that drive the federation system...but couple that derision with the reality that Kanfer neither offered nor offers any viable, substantive alternatives beyond "planning tables" and musical chairs. To accuse these leaders (whose communities continue to be the main funders of JFNA) as being the ones who "inhibited change" and "irrationally protecting the old way of doing business" demonstrates, if further demonstration were necessary after three years of zero achievement, just how out of touch Grandpa Joe was and is.

~ Kanfer apparently cited, and Jacob the Fundermentalist faithfully transcribed, the Center for Jewish Philanthropy as some kind of success. Actually it was a non-starter. Kanfer quickly usurped the powers of the Chair causing a wonderful philanthropist to resign as the titular Chair; it was never properly staffed; and it produced...nothing. Coupling the Center with the $750,000 wasted on the so-called Sheatufim Partnership is nothing more than double-speak.

~ Joe properly points to the engagement of Jerry Silverman as JFNA CEO as a seminal achievement. Then, of course, Berkman or Kanfer fall into the idiocy of hyperbole, describing Jerry's work prior to JFNA as "...turning the Foundation for Jewish Camp into a major force in the Jewish non-profit world." OMG -- "hyperbole" doesn't come close to describing the overstatement.

~ Joe ended the "interview" with the following: "If there was any message I got across, it was that we needed change." Sorry, Joe, but because you rejected any and all dissent, and because of dissent you involved fewer and fewer of the same "players" in your "plans" -- a claque, if you will -- you failed to deliver the goods.

What Joe Kanfer could never understand, and clearly still doesn't, is that those who may have opposed his policies, his unilateral determination of what was "best" for 157 federations he never took the time to understand, were, in almost every instance, those who had achieved incredible change in their own federations, in our national system and with our international partners. Because they wanted debate where Kanfer wanted only acceptance, they would be characterized by Joe and still are as opposed to change. How sad.


Monday, April 26, 2010


Some new stuff:

1. Leonid Nevzlin was the International Chair of the 2009 General Assembly. It was not widely publicized, nor was Nevzlin ever publicly thanked, but this GA would have been an absolute financial disaster had Nevzlin not only financially supported it but essentially picked up the deficit -- a deficit that JFNA has not and will not disclose. So, good for JFNA. The 2010 General Assembly has been moved to New Orleans as you know. Who is in line to pick up the 2010 deficit -- one that is as sure to occur as is the sun rising in the East? Neither the federations nor, certainly JFNA, can afford a GA financial catastrophe. So, the recent announcement that the Israeli entrepreneur and thought leader, Eitan Wertheimer and his wife will be the International Co-Chairs, may be the best bail out plan for the 2010 GA. Have the Wertheimers been told what the GA cost Nevzlin? And when they learn, then what?

2. A great friend and senior federation professional took the time to write me in criticism of some of my comparisons between the Aipac Policy Conference and the GA. But, here is how he/she concluded his note: "The GA needs to be improved in many ways, but its success or failure, unlike Aipac's Conference, is a symptom of JFNA/Federation success or failure, not the direct product/cause of success or failure. That is, it is possible to have a great JFNA national system without a great GA; Aipac's trajectory today is so very much intertwined with its Policy Conference. They do recognize that and invest their resources appropriately. They know what their business is; our system doesn't."

3. On the subject of the GA, when many suggested strongly that the GA become a bi-annual event, one of the most telling responses was: we contract for the venues years in advance and to cancel would be cost-prohibitive. Then...bam...Houston canceled for D.C. in 2009 and...boom... Orlando canceled for New Orleans this year without batting an eye. Just tell us the truth...ok?

4. Then there is pandering. Telling 220 young leaders in Boston, as Jerry Silverman did a few weeks ago, that those of us over 40 years old "...are just guests in your century" asking them "[S]o how can we educate, learn, support and empower you to practice leadership..." he may have been asking the wrong people.

It appears that today JFNA has steered the Young Leadership Cabinets toward an annual "leadership effort" such as a "Habitat for Humanity-like" single day effort in New Orleans or a "Lead+Read=Succeed" effort in Boston and a Cabinet Retreat and a strained set of proposed YLC Alumni Missions or get-togethers at, e.g., the Aipac Conference. There is so much more that could be done if the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet (and Cabinet graduates) programs were "federation-centric." What about it, Jerry?

5. And on to patronizing. If you have read the JFNA stuff of late, as I am certain you do, you will learn that "NextGen" has been replaced with the strange designation of "emerging adults." What the hell does that mean? "Emerging" from, where? Is this an alien invasion? Who dreams this stuff up? One dictionary defines "emerging" as "coming to maturity" -- but is that what JFNA means? "Coming out into view from concealment" -- is that what JFNA means? Or did they mean to term our next generation as "the rising generation"? Or is jargon to be the new substitute for substance?


Friday, April 23, 2010


Our good friend, the past Chair of the Young Leadership Cabinet and the past National Campaign Chair, Mark Wilf, is, with his brother Zygi the owner of the Minnesota Vikings, the team that came so very close to this year's Super Bowl. Prior to that game Mark was asked why the Wilfs extended the contract of their saturnine and apparently uninspired Coach. Here is how Mark responded: "As an organization you have to stand up for what you believe in..." Words to lead by.

One Anonymous Commentator to a recent Post wished us "good luck in finding anyone at JFNA with the courage..." in that case to advocate on the conversion issue. My question is: where is the courage on anything? What are the red lines beyond which JFNA's lay leaders will not cross? At a recent Chicago meeting with Joint leadership, Chicagoans reviewed the merger agreement, the driving morality that said to Joint and JAFI leaders "we can give up our ownership of UJA because the new entity will be committed to the sharing of greater resources with us. They will be our advocates. They will lead the federations on our behalf." And, ten years later we find JFNA's leaders cowering in the corner fearful apparently of any advocacy on behalf of the organizations that made the merger that made their positions possible.

Oh, I know. It would be hard; it might even offend a few of the federation owners; there is no one who would predict its success. Many put-offs. What was it Mark Wilf said: "as an organization, you have to stand up for what you believe in..." And, just what is it that JFNA an an institution "believes in?" Well, there's Dues, JFNA "the brand," bond funding, Washington Office, new "partnerships in Israel," photo ops, special meetings with the President, the Conference of Presidents, Development (even as we do none), JFNA's constituencies and, did I mention Dues and "the brand?" I don't have a sense that JFNA's leaders are aware of the organization's own Mission as stated in the Merger documents that created the organization.

Months ago, on the eve of particularly important JFNA (then UJC) meetings, Gary Rosenblatt, in a magnificent and insight-filled editorial in The Jewish Week, called upon UJC, its leaders and federation leaders to seize the day. All they seized then and thereafter were the scruffs of their own necks as they ushered themselves away from their responsibilities and our values.

Jim Valvano, z'l, inspired all of us as he battled the cancer that would take his life. He challenged each of us and all of us to "do something extraordinary." That's all we have been trying to do -- to inspire the leadership of JFNA to be extraordinary. Instead what I see, and this is just me, the current leaders believe that the "extraordinary" for them is having achieved their positions. Having achieved that status they offer...nothing.

Friends, if you don't know what it is you believe in or what JFNA should stand for, and you lack the courage to stand tall for what JFNA should be doing, how would you respond to Mark Wilf's maxim: "as an organization you have to stand up for what you believe in?" The answer: you can't. We have a $30 million organization that stands for nothing today. None of us can afford that. But we do have a brand.


Thursday, April 22, 2010


Dear Jerry,

You recently sent an e-mail to Federation Executives (but, of course, not all of them) with an incredible attachment -- I-Philanthropy -- Operational Procedures Manual (Working Document). Two of the CEOs, independent of each other, sent it to me -- one indicating: "Enjoy;" the other: "You won't believe this." I didn't enjoy it but I sure believed it..

Apparently, Jerry, you have an absolute belief that if you rebrand dreck, we'll end up with roast chicken...or, maybe, Dockers. So if you rebrand the worthless Center for Jewish Philanthropy and call it I-Philanthropy, guess what, it's still...worthless. Jerry, I, and everyone else I know, wanted and want you to succeed as CEO. My hope was not for "repackaging," it was for boldness; for the courage to create anew, not "rebrand;" and it was the hope that you would understand the core principles and timeless values that brought federations to greatness, not to ignore or fail to learn them.

Maybe you can explain (although you owe me no explanation) what the "brand" I-Philanthropy means, if anything, and, worse, the acronym for the "concept," I P, and all that portends. And, maybe, you could help me understand what an Operational Procedures Manual is for this construct that has no apparent substance. In the "Overview" of I-P you state: "The I-Philanthropy council is the body responsible for philanthropic innovation, signature initiatives, and long-term strategy, as part of JFNA Development." And, somehow, you believe that this new body (and I don't read anywhere that the worthless Center for Jewish Philanthropy -- charged by the way with the identical functions -- is going away) will somehow succeed without any identification of the lay or staff leadership.

Maybe you believe that such an amorphous, vacuous construct will attract mega-donors into lay leadership. I seriously doubt it but applaud your optimism even if misplaced. This has been tried before you know. The use of the "I" preface may be a marketing ploy but it appears as meaningless as does the construct of the Operational Procedures Manual. The reduction of JFNA's work to jargon is so disappointing, so meaningless, so unnecessary.

But all that I read is that JFNA continues to mouth support for overseas needs and the partners who perform them while deprecating their work -- e.g., "Before proposing major initiatives, I-P and the key partners (i.e., an internal JFNA planning council [not even a table?] such as Global Operations, JAFI, JDC or new organizations) will research and develop background information on the suggested area..." Nice -- The Agency and Joint are just "such as" research components of unidentified and undefined and non-existent "major new initiatives."

And, while supposedly "part of...Development," Jerry, "I-P will have the authority to sign agreements" with federation coalitions and "...keep the Development Cabinet, Coordinating Council (is this some formal body) and the Executive Committee apprised." So, which is it: some independent, undefined entity or part of a broader but undefined Development activity...or don't we know or can't we really explain?

Many had hoped that innovation (and the I-P doesn't come close) would be paired with a "back to basics" approach at JFNA that would demonstrate the organization's commitment to both change and core principles. Instead we get more redecorating.

I am certain that the Federation CEOs that received this will have far better questions, but, really, what's this all about, Jerry? We expect better from you than stuff like this.

Best regards,


Tuesday, April 20, 2010


Back in the day -- make that last year -- I offered Kathy Manning then the Chair of the Executive some simple advice: "Please, act like it." Simple, right? Understand the powers of the Executive and exercise them. Ignored, right? Of course. Why the advice: well, her Board Chair was exercising the powers of the Chair of the Executive, preempting her role but for the honorific running Executive Committee meetings.

At the time, I reflected on how we no longer needed a Chair of the Executive. Kathy, when she so served, and now, Michael Gelman, seemed and seem to believe that the job is to shut up, speak only when spoken to and, thereby curry favor that will lead to succession as Chair of the Board. Well, it worked for Manning, so why not? We have seen the creation at JFNA a self-perpetuating oligarchy worse than any we were accused of perpetuating at the United Jewish Appeal. But, I appeal to Michael as I did to Kathy: "You were elected to be the Chair the Executive, so act like it."

Let's review: per the JFNA By-Laws, the Board Chair is responsible for coordinating policy, working with the owners directly and fund raising (at least that was the hope); the Chair of the Executive was to deal with operational matters through the Executive Committee (the Executive was created to be an "operating Executive" working with the CEO) and chair the infrequent Executive Committee meetings.

What's happening in practice? Kathy is now acting in the capacity of both Board and Executive Chair. Clearly she learned well from her predecessor -- you remember, when she was Chair of the Executive). Over the past weeks, she has convened often lengthy telephone conferences with her lay leadership to explain what the professional staff is doing, among other things, apparently reporting from a comprehensive script. She inquired as to what each member of "her" leadership was doing. All of this -- operational. (Perhaps, she even called Michael and asked him what he was doing. Shorter call.)

So, beyond replicating the mistakes of her predecessor, why is this happening? Well, read what one analyst has written about this type of behavior: "Most all of you have had to contend with (people who wish to control everything). ... Those people who insist on having their way in all interactions with you. They wish to set the agenda and decide what it is you will do and when you will do it...Lurking within the fabric of the conversation is the clear threat that if you do not accede to their needs and demands, they will be unhappy." Yep. Nailed it.

There's more, far more, but you get it. Control and the need for control matter most. Style is everything. But, what the heck, Kathy views JFNA as her world and we're just lucky to be living in it. For those who are so lucky.


Sunday, April 18, 2010


Has JFNA violated another JFNA's intellectual property rights, among other things? "Friends" sent me a Facebook page as follows:

"Sign Up

The Jewish Fig Newton alliance (JFNA) is on Facebook

Sign up for Facebook to connect with The Jewish Fig Newton Alliance (JFNA).


The JFNA was created in order to:

1) uphold the strong cultural bond between American Jews and its cookie of choice, the Fig Newton.

2) Raise a voice of opposition against those in our society who publicly deny this correlation

Privacy Type:
Open: All content is public to the Texas network.

There are no admins left in this group!

1 member

See All

Report Group

The Jewish Fig Newton alliance (JFNA)

This information can be found at:

Then there is the "Juvenile Furniture and Nursery Accessories (JFNA) at

I assume these were sent to me in response to a Post suggesting organization's need to know their purpose. Then again, who knows?


Friday, April 16, 2010


The Coen Brothers movie A Serious Man was an Academy Award nominee. I found it to be a wondrous film -- not everyone agreed. Those of you who saw the movie will recall one scene where the protagonist has filled a blackboard in the college lecture hall where he teaches ( I think it's physics) with formula after formula. He describes the formulae as proving "The Uncertainty Principle." The students are appropriately overwhelmed, disinterested or totally confused. Looking around as the students scramble to escape the lecture hall, Professor Lawrence "Larry" Gopnick shouts at them: "Even if you can't figure anything out, you will be responsible for it on the mid-term." My sentiments exactly.

Jewish leadership -- lay and professional -- today is staring at a blackboard on which are scrawled what appears to them, apparently, to be nothing more than gibberish and they are being held responsible. And they don't appear to know what to do. The lay leaders at JFNA don't appear to know how to explain JFNA's value to the, they don't. I guess it's a matter of "let Jerry do it"... if he can.

Look at these lay leaders squirm when you ask them -- what is our system getting for $30 million? The Washington Office's success -- o.k., but we got some of that when CJF ran the shop; branding and marketing help -- o.k., cool, what's the value-added to what my federation already does; Israel & Overseas -- o.k. you (or should I say, as before, UIA) do a good job with monitoring our allocations to JAFI, what about JDC, what about anything else; well, we have the Cabinets and Women's Philanthropy -- didn't those exist and thrive under UJA; etc., etc., etc. Instead of answers, you get blank stares and cliches.

To paraphrase Stanford University's Larry Diamond, quoted in Tom Friedman's New York Times column on March 24: "If you don't get governance right. It's very hard to get anything else right that (that governance) needs to deal with. We have to rethink in some basic ways how our ...institutions work, because they are increasingly incapable of delivering effective solutions any longer." At JFNA, we have a lay leadership with no apparent interest in "rethinking" because they fail to understand how the federations for which they have major responsibility and obligation work...or else they confuse marketing and branding with rethinking and change and purpose. So they make their public appearances and appoint Task Forces and Work Groups with little apparent interest in results. Folks, "Branding" is not a purpose; it's a strategy; it is not an end, it's a means. The same with Marketing.

$30 million, boys and girls, show us something. Much as I might be disappointed with the outcomes, show us at the least a "CJF of excellence." Show us some leadership.


Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Gene Ribakoff. a giant in Jewish philanthropy and our federation system, died last Friday. And with his death the Jewish People, with Gene's family, have suffered an irreplaceable loss. For Gene Ribakoff was not alone a leader of Community and People, he was a wonderful role model and mentor to so many of us.

I was fortunate to meet and to know Gene beginning with his days as Chair of the Worcester Federation when both of us served on the Board of UJA. From our first meeting to our last, I was "Richie" to Gene, an expression of the warmth that characterized all of Gene's relationships. Often over the next decade, at UJA meetings and by phone, we would commiserate about allocations issues confronting the United Jewish Appeal but we would always speak of our families as well.

During his 8 years as JDC Chair, we often found ourselves explaining the growing needs confronting the JDC and JAFI to federations around the country. We did so as partners not as adversaries -- in fact, I can't think of how anyone could have had an adversarial relationship with this great leader, this gentleman, this gentle man. He led the Joint with integrity and dignity, the same characteristics that defined his leadership of the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach.

I, with all those who worked with him, with all those whose lives intersected with Gene's, will miss him so much. Our condolences to the Ribakoff and Sheerr families. May Gene's memory be for a blessing.



Some trenchant insights have crossed my desk relating to a number of Posts and some JFNA "stuff." I want to share some of them with you.

1. I wrote about the unfortunate and untimely "Collapse" of Campaigns in two emerging communities that JFNA leaders decided to "abandon." I expressed the possibility that a continuing JFNA presence might have had a positive impact. A leader from one of those communities, said it far better when he/she wrote: "I am convinced that national could have had a dramatic influence for the better, not just 'maybe.' Right now there is no one offering guidance, mentoring and education on the collective responsibility issue. As long as (a) community has no one offering the balance there is no voice representing the needs overseas. These are basically good people who would understand the issue if it were brought to them in a way that was collaborative in spirit but as hard realistic truths that cannot be ignored. This is no longer done by either local lay leadership or local staff. It must come from leadership at national...'speaking truth to power.'"

In JFNA's Draft Budget (yes, as noted in my Budget Post, I have seen it, read it, such as it isn't) there is a plan to educate 50 communal leaders in the overseas/Israel "case." The "educators" will be from JFNA's failed Global Operations area where no one -- lay or professional -- has demonstrated any interest in, and certainly no knowledge of, the subject. One can always hope...but no apparent thought has been given to what will happy to these lonesome 50 when they return to their federations and get eaten alive.

There is a better way; we have suggested it time and again on these pages to no avail. JFNA leaders enthusiastically endorsed advocacy some months ago; in a meeting with JDC and JAFI leaders, Kathy committed herself and the institution to this moral cause; and, then...fade to black.

2. Then there is the annual attempt to make kosher chicken salad from chicken s__t -- the JFNA Annual Report. One Anonymous leader looked at this thing and noted:

" ~ Jewish Heroes -- JFNA claims 40,000 new e-mail addresses (ed. this seems to be down, down, down from the claims made at the time of the Award) presumably from voters which were turned over to the federations. As one of the voters (early and often) I wonder how many of these 40,000 had never before been know to the federation. It is highly unlikely that they are new or how would they have known (of the contest) to vote and why would they have voted? Certainly they were known to the Jewish organization that nominated the candidate for whom they voted (early and often probably). Exactly how much was the total cost to get 40,000 (mainly) duplicated e-mail addresses besides the $25,000 gift to the ultimate 'Hero'?

~ Women's Division -- what is the difference between 24% of 'all Jewish giving' and '22% of the annual campaign'? Does this mean that women give far more than men to other Jewish causes beyond the federation annual campaign> If so, why? What is or should JFNA be doing to capture a larger market share of women's philanthropy?

~ e-philanthropy -- 2605 gifts were made on-line totaling $7.1 million -- average gift of $2,725. This is huge compared to the average gift nationally (probably closer to $1,600 per gift), but how much did it replace from regular sources and how much of it was an increase. It looks like it was a decrease card-for-card -- there were 20% more donors but the total increase was only 10%..."

This correspondent identified the problem with the JFNA statistics. As one analyst has noted, "47% of all statistics are wrong." I sense that our friends at JFNA just threw some numbers at a page and used the ones that stuck.

I once offered Jerry's predecessor that, if he wished, I would act as an anonymous editor of some of the more preposterous stuff published and disseminated from what was then UJC. He, of course, ignored my offer. I make the same offer to JFNA today.

3. In my Post Netanyahu/Karzai...I expressed my disappointment and disillusionment with my President, the Obama Administration and most in the organized Jewish community who remain silent though they are our representatives. Some of you believe, based on your mailings to me that it is my time to .pile on and reprint some of the anti-Obama screed that is in circulation out there on a daily (hourly?) basis. Please know: that's not what I do.
4. With you I watched the brilliant PBS production Sunday night of The Diary of Anne Frank. Saw the 15 second JFNA ad before and after the film. It was a well-stated message for the federations and Network. What did those 30 seconds cost us?

5. Back in the day (just a few years ago), the Jewish Funders Network would not allow the Planned Giving and Endowment professionals from what is now JFNA (and, I believe, from the federations as well) to attend its annual Funders Conference. This year, among other leaders, Jerry Silverman was a speaker. How times change -- sometimes for the good. At one and the same time, the cynic in me suggests that the leaders of the JFN see JFNA as so weakened that a capacious void exists in the Jewish firmament and that the JFN can fill it. If my cynicism is in fact correct, JFN is being opportunistic while our Neros continue to fiddle away.

I think I hear a dirge.


Sunday, April 11, 2010


One of our readers suggested:

"I think Richard you should volunteer your Blog for an open mike contest (no pun intended):

'Identify a specific project JFNA should undertake and/or identify a specific activity from which JFNA should withdraw.'

All submissions in 4 sentences or less and to be published in a single day. (Lag B'omer falling this year on May 2 might have the right symbolism...)"

OK. Let's give it a try. No prizes but if there is a winner we will declare the winner to be our Hero. Help the system -- send your ideas to the Blog as a Comment or e-mail me directly at All submittals will be held in confidence.

Any ideas out there?


Saturday, April 10, 2010


It must be nice to know that you lead JFNA and can count on the federations and Network to supply you with $30.3 million (+/-) for your annual Budget. -- an amount greater than the Budgets of all but a handful of federations -- without a serious question. We are now in what passes for a "JFNA Budget Process." There is so much to comment upon...but let me be brief.

To begin, the machers at Jewish Federations of North America will want to know "how the hell did he get his hands on the Budget materials?" Well, I just can't say...but, wouldn't it be better if all Board members had a copy of the Draft? Having read it...maybe not.

Let's start with "Description by Program Activity:" The very first one...the very the top of Page 1 Exhibit D is Campaign Training Materials. Excellent program the "Outcomes" from which are as follows (and this is verbatim): "Leadership relies on JFNA to provide these materials to strenthen their leadship skills and provide resources and direction. Materiasl are both informative and perscriptive." OK, aside from the failure to proof read, the Budget is terribly flawed. These are not outcomes -- a fault in so much of the narrative. (The Budget Books, now in the mail, will no doubt be better proofed.)

But, worse than the lack of measurable outcomes (without them can there be accountability?), the Budget framework has no dollar values attached to any activity within broad Budget lines. You want to know what the investment in, e.g., those "Campaign Training Activities" will be? Sorry...apparently none of your business. I have never seen a Budget like this before -- not at my law firms, not at my Federation, not at UJA or CJF or the NCSJ or JAFI and not at UJC in the years up to this Budget. Yes, JDC's Budget is broken down by "Area" and little else, but even its Budget is more expansive and informative than this.

There is some good stuff in the Budget Draft. I was particularly impressed with the meat on the bones of Israel and Overseas' toe dip into the waters of Advocacy -- the orientation, education and training of 50 federation representatives who will then be the overseas advocates in their own federations. (While I think the concept itself is laughable [could a federation leader realistically be expected to argue forcefully and effectively for overseas allocations within her/his federation against the forces who believe that it is "us vs. them?"] at least it's something.)

But with this Budget, it is clear that JFNA still has no real focus. Some might argue that "yes, we have focus" (on Development, "Talent," and the other three areas of Silverman's focus) but merely lumping all JFNA programs into five subject areas isn't focus, its redecorating. Focus is identifying areas of federation need and matching those with that which JFNA can do with excellence. That would be a helluva a challenge but it would produce a meaningful Budget.

Will JFNA ever offer an analysis of its capacity in every area of its Budget that will allow those who pay for its activities and programs to judge just what it can do with assurance of value added and excellence? I have heard Jerry speak to the reality that JFNA must be an organization dedicated to excellence; we have heard rumors that JFNA leaders aspire to no more than to be a "CJF of excellence." Yet, we have a Draft Budget that in too many...way too many...areas we see funding directed to areas of JFNA's work that has to date, in far too many ways demonstrated no relevance to the federations and something far, far less than excellence.

One wag has suggested to me that JFNA reallocate the entire Budget to build a Hot Tub Time Machine. I would respectfully suggest that Jerry refocus (or just plain focus) on achievable goals, realistic impactful projections and honest outcomes (the ridiculous 40,000 e-mail addresses from Heroes, 50,000 new donors, the expectations from e-philanthropy, etc., etc., etc....) with full engagement and transparency.

Let's get back to basics. Let's assert a federation-centric set of priorities, not a JFNA-centric one. Let's see a Budget that allows the reader to understand that JFNA lay and professional leaders know the difference between a federation and a JCC. Just a personal plea to Heschel Raskes, Treasurer and Chair, the Budget & Finance Committee: your immediate predecessors as Committee Chair wholly abdicated their responsibilities; please don't allow the same to happen to you. Take charge.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010


For literally over a year I resisted the arguments of friends that, first, presidential Nominee Obama and, then, President Obama had been indoctrinated by his clergy, his virulently anti-Israel "friends" and acquaintances and by many of his advisers to a foreign policy position that would ultimately poison the historic friendship between Israel and the United States. I resist no longer; who could?

Certainly the announcement of the issuance of permits for the construction of over 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem as a "welcome to Israel" gift to the Vice-President was a major insult to the historic relationship, the use of that "gaffe" as an excuse by this Administration to unceasingly attack Israel in derogation of 62 years of history was and is unforgivable. This, after all, is a President who bent his knee to dictators, yet hides this country's only friend, the only democracy, in the Middle East, in a room at the White House while he dines with his family elsewhere. The insults delivered in a 45 minute diatribe by the Secretary of State apparently dictated by the President to Prime Minister Netanyahu in the aftermath of the PM's apology for his country's insulting behavior ("insulting" in the sense that the United States failed to understand that the neighborhood in which this housing would be built is within the historic borders of a united Jerusalem).

Contrast this behavior with President Obama's recent visit to Afghanistan where he met with President Karzai and the aftermath. Forget that Obama can't bring himself to visit Israel (even though he did so as a State Senator under the sponsorship of the Chicago community with no apparent impact); forget that Karzai may have been reelected in an election characterized by incredible corruption and was on the cusp of signing an executive order disbanding any inquiry into the corruption. And forget that Karzai almost immediately after the Presidential visit attacked the United States in a now notorious speech. This time Hillary Clinton would call Karzai as "...a friend and Secretary of State." No "condemnation" -- that is apparently left for friends of the United States.

There are those here and in Israel who point to the Obama "outrage" as the catalyst for a new Intifada...and in fact violence in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel has exploded since the verbal assault on Israel. We are witnessing the unintended consequences of misguided policy characterized by a bipolar disorder -- swinging from Clinton's characterization of the Netanyahu Administration's freeze on settlements as "unprecedented" to the unceasing assault on the Israeli Government these past weeks. If all of this -- starting with Obama's Cairo speech to today -- was meant to purchase some pan-Arab support for the peace process or to bring the Abbas "government" to the table; take a look at the results.

No, this is an Administration, after one year, that has no apparent foreign policy whatsoever. It is a Presidency that appears, in an effort to curry favor with radical, uncaring Arab states, dedicated to breaching the historic partnership between Israel and the United States without any understanding of the real issues in the Middle East. It is a policy doomed to failure by an Administration doomed to the same.

Under circumstances such as these, one has the right to expect that the organizations we support would speak truth to power, don't we? Think back to another era, where the Chair of the Conference of Presidents, Shoshana Cardin, confronted directly President George H. W. Bush upon his accusations that we American Jews and our organizations constitute a Fifth Column in our country; contrast her courage with that of the Conference today where a "Statement on US Israel Relations" on March 28 -- March 28 -- (a) failed to cite the President of the United States at all and (b) appeared to blame the media for the current state of affairs.

The Jewish Federations of North America has no voice on this subject whatsoever; its IAI "partnership" with JCPA remains in silence (and would probably argue that the subject matter is beyond the IAI "purpose.") Yes, more than 3/4's of our Congress have spoken on the subject directly in a letter to the Administration, but our own organizations -- zip. This at a time when only the ADL (and of course the ZOA) has had the courage of its convictions among the multitude of "defense" organizations. Shoshana Cardin didn't stick a finger in the air to see which way the wind was blowing when a President of the United States attacked us; today our leaders seem to not even know which finger to stick into the air coopted by an invitation to the White House, reporting on how "exciting" it is.

Our silence is our shame.


Sunday, April 4, 2010


Not long ago a great American observed: " just a word without the strength and experience to make it happen." (See the speaker's name below my signature.) As it turned out -- astute. What JFNA is learning is that "strength and experience" arise out of the doing, not the talking.

Jerry Silverman, even before his tenure at JFNA began, was engaged in "the doing." He has traveled to what must be by now over 50 federations, engaging community leaders on their turf and on their terms. Everywhere he has gone, he has been warmly embraced and he has responded by listening, by "getting it." Contrast his cross-country efforts with those of the Chairs of the Board and Executive. As to the latter, Michael has demonstrated that, as did his predecessors, much like the position of Lieutenant Governor in Illinois, there is no demonstrable reason to perpetuate the position of Chair of the Executive...none. Best I can tell, Michael has restricted himself to his vendettas, to "explaining" why JAFI and JDC received tens of millions less for their respective Core budgets in 2009, chairing irrelevant and hardly necessary Executive Committee meetings, interfering in the roles of UIA and kvetching to whomever might listen about, among other things, being rotated in the normal course from the JAFI Board.

Kathy has been more proactive, engaged with Silverman in focusing JFNA and staying in touch with her "leadership." But, visiting Federations to listen and learn doesn't appear to be on her agenda. Apparently Kathy either knows everything she needs to know or she is leaving the travel and the learning to Jerry -- although Manning did get to NYC for a meeting with the Samuel Bronfman Foundation to join Jerry in articulating JFNA goals (though when JAFI was erroneously and irresponsibly attacked at that meeting, neither she nor Jerry responded). There is nothing restraining Kathy from engaging with federation and JFNA leadership in their communities -- trips to communities just to discuss JFNA Dues are wasted opportunities to accomplish so much more for JFNA and the federations (and trips to, e.g., southeast Florida might have been an opportunity to dialogue with, e.g., Palm Beach or South Palm Beach or Broward Federation leaders -- or, maybe, from what I read, attend a real nice Hillel event).

It is probably unfair to compare Aipac and JFNA -- certainly given the stature of each today. 7,800 from across the country, so many of them federation leaders, just attended the Aipac Policy Conference. It was a conference where not only was activism on behalf of Israel front and center, but so was Financial Resource Development. As one friend put it, comparing Aipac to the Jewish Federations of North America: "'s the difference between an organization that knows what business it's in and one that doesn't." Can you guess which is which? Trust me, as many of you who have written me over the past days, there is so much that we could learn from Aipac about mission and focus and passion. Our leaders (who were spotted there) might have asked themselves the question: "Why? Why does Aipac draw three times the paid registrants for its Policy Conference than we, the federation system, draw for our annual seminal event?" Then, maybe they might agree that it is long past time to wholly deconstruct the GA and rebuild it. (Then again, as the Board Chair co-chaired a GA Study Committee several years ago, the outcomes from which seem to have been...none...maybe that requisite introspection won't come out of the current leadership. Maybe they think all is well.)

Every leader must know not only what she or he knows but also what they don't know and then they must know where to look for advice and counsel. I fear an extension of the prior five catastrophic years -- lay leaders who believe there is little they don't know looking down the same dead end alleys for advice and counsel.


The speaker was Hillary Clinton

Thursday, April 1, 2010


One correspondent, an astute observer of all things federation and the impact that JFNA could and should have on our system, but who must remain Anonymous because of his/her continuing engagement with both federation and the national organization, wrote in response to Priorities:

"The disconnect between the leaders of JFNA and the federations is due in large part to the fact that most of the leaders, both professional (not just the new CEO but in many of the senior positions) and lay have little experience with the communities and people in Large Cities, Large Intermediate cities and even Intermediate cities that comprise the vast majority of the North American Jewish population. Unfortunately, these very cities (I am speaking about the federations that have a good track record, a history of leadership, and quality professional leadership) have chosen to focus on their own priorities and let JFNA with its leadership void of this history and experience 'run with this ball.' This situation will not change until there is a leadership back in place that can bring the federation priorities and JFNA priorities back in sync."

I agree with much of the above. Jerry Silverman has learned from his federation visits, but even as quick a study as he is can only learn so much in a short time. And history has proven that great lay leaders can emerge form Small Cities and terrible ones from among the largest. But,. where the critical components of leadership -- which include the ability to listen, to inspire, consensus building and the experience to accomplish these, among others are missing, the organization -- whether it be a federation, a JCC or a national organization, it makes no difference -- suffers terribly.

Better minds than mine must start thinking about how to change the JFNA leadership cycle and they must do so now. Rather than more of the "Lunches with a Legend," our system needs to find a way to engage the "Legends" themselves for the long term. And it is Jerry who must do the "engaging." We need a national organization that will be taken seriously; and to get to that place we need leaders who are themselves taken seriously, engaged with serious priorities, who know and understand JFNA's owners, the federations...and we need to engage on this and with them immediately.

So, where are we today? Closer to where we need to be? Or farther away?