Thursday, September 30, 2010


I just learned that our dear friend and great leader, Lester Rosenberg, passed away in his sleep last night after contracting pneumonia. He will be missed so much not only by Norma, Steve and Lee, his daughters-in-law and grandchildren, but by every one of us who knew him and loved him so dearly.

It was just in the last few weeks that my wife, Bobbi, and I were invited by Carolyn and Steve Nasatir to join them with Norma and Lester for dinner. We had a beautiful evening as I watched the love that so many in the country club dining room shared with us for him. We are in Steve's and Carolyn's debt for affording us the opportunity to be with the Rosenbergs that night. He loved people; he had a remarkable capacity, typical of all great leaders, of extending his arms to embrace all those with whom he came in contact. He made certain that no one was a stranger to him. Next week the annual Chicago Prime Minister's Mission will depart. Lester loved those Missions; he loved the camaraderie, the shared passion; the good humor; the laughs and tears. His leadership, always present, bloomed like a beautiful flower on those missions. I am so honored to have shared some of them with Norma and Lester.

Norma, Lester's beloved partner and fierce protector since the catastrophic accident that, even after what appeared to be a recovery in all ways but physical, that took Lester's life, assured that Lester experienced as much of life and his family's love as he possibly could. Over the years that Lester and I sat together, traveled together, his love of his mishpacha was everything, his pride in his boys, his men, manifest. He gloried in their achievements as the proudest of fathers, was devoted to his daughters-in-law and his grandchildren.

And in his love of his extended family -- our community, the Israel Tennis Centers, UIA, JAFI and JFNA -- he glowed with pride as he attended our Federation Board meetings over the past months by phone and, as he told Beth Cherner, his professional partner, the Campaign Director of our Jewish United Fund, and dear friend, the happiest day of life post-accident was his attendance just two weeks ago at our Jewish Federation Annual Meeting -- the last opportunity I had to share a kiss and a moment together.

Lester's passing is a great loss but our memories are full of wonderful moments together, memories of a gentle leader, of a man with a fierce passion for all things community, and one who loved his/our Israel. This is our z'man simchateinu, and while it is a day now tinged with sadness, let us all remember the joy and courage with which Lester Rosenberg lived his life...and let our memories of Lester inspire all of us.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010


On August 22 The New York Times published an article that suggested today's Post theme -- Nonprofit Fund Faces Questions About Conflicts and Selection Procedures -- that disclosed serious abuses of process in federally-funded grant making by a single non-Jewish non-profit. I began to think about JFNA's turn to one consultant after another with no apparent lay Board vetting, review or approval.

When over two years ago JFNA selected a marketing and branding consultant in what would become close to a $2 million contract, the then UJC Executive Committee was asked to approve the initial contract (some $650,000 as I recall). Only through questions, clearly discomfiting to the then Board Chair, was it disclosed that he had been negotiating with only this single consultant for months prior to submittal to the Executive Committee. Notwithstanding an express promise to return to the Executive Committee before any additional funding...the contract expanded and expanded with no further governance review.

Today, in almost every area of JFNA's work, consultants are the norm even as JFNA has a team of competent, often brilliant, professionals ostensibly to do its work.

Then there is the August 2010 selection and vetting references of a consultant to the Global Planning Table (f/k/a ONAD) in advance of any decision to even have a "Global Planning Table" (f/k/a ONAD). Some questions: What authorization was there to hire a consultant? Who selected the consultant? What other consultants were interviewed? What were the criteria for hiring a consultant? Who negotiated the contract? Who approved the contract...and so it goes. It seems to this observer that operating in this way in this instance discredits the "Summit" discussions as if they weren't even necessary.

It just goes on and on. A consultant for the YLC Retreat. Why not? A consultant for e-philanthropy? Absolutely. Etc., etc., etc.

Thus, the questions: (a) who are these consultants, (b) who authorized the hiring? (c) through what process have they been hired, (d) who has reviewed the multi-millions in contracts or (e) questioned why these consultants are needed? Well, the apparent answers are (a) who knows, (b) no one, (c) none, (d) no one and (e) no one. As in all areas, the top lay leaders of JFNA remain disengaged from their fiduciary responsibilities. "We'll leave it to the CEO" seems to be the refrain.

It's not just JFNA which is the loser here, my friends, it is the federations and it is us.


Sunday, September 26, 2010


In response to our Post earlier today, a past lay President of the Orlando federation wrote us. His story of a federation's total lack of support from JFNA is the sad example of futility of the $30.3 million invested annually by the federations in...what, exactly? Here is the Comment we received:

"I am a past president of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando, and my family and I have been involved in the Orlando Jewish Community for more than 50 years (my personal involvement goes back to 1990). Central Florida is still a vibrant Jewish community. It has, however, suffered greatly due to the ongoing recession, in large part because Central Florida is ground zero for the economic downturn with a housing market that will take years to get back on its feet.

That being said, the truth is the national parent organization, by whatever name you call it, has done nothing in the entire time I have been involved but let Orlando down. After years of promises to help with counsel, staff, fundraising efforts, organizational strategies, we were left, time and time again, with nothing but hot air and vapid talk. Emerging communities? The only thing that emerged for us was idle chatter from above. There was never real assistance. Never additional staff to help, never anything concrete. So why, after years of empty promises, should this community have turned once again to a parent whose only constant, whose only quality we could count on was abandonment, and whose only historic record was one of failure. If the Orlando Federation falls, it will fall alone. It will fall without ever having received real guidance or support from any national organization.

The lessons learned? Don't count on anyone besides yourself. Help yourself. There is no rescue from above. Sad but real. The Orlando Jewish community plods on, one step at a time, and it does so on its own. "

"Hot air and vapid talk." "Idle chatter." It appears as if the only action JFNA took with the Orlando Federation was to move November's GA to New Orleans. Where was JFNA while a Federation sought its help? Planning a Tribefest, promoting "the Brand?" Where were its professional and lay leaders? Did no one hear the cries for help or understand the implications? Does this iteration of the federation system, with "Jewish Federations" in its name to remind itself even recognize its responsibility to its owners

Paul Jeser, informed by insights drawn from his years as CEO in Orlando and from his many professional roles in Jewish life, offered the observation that pre-merger, UJA and CJF were more or less constant presences in Orlando. We have learned that JFNA hasn't been "there" at all. Does JFNA sense that this isn't its responsibility? If not Orlando...what, where?

I can't wait to hear JFNA's "explanation" for what a past Orlando President has characterized as "abandonment." I have heard from a number of federation leaders from communities across North America over the last five hours all echoing the sense that they, like Orlando, are alone. All I hear now is JFNA's coda.

Shame on us.



"We must kill the patient to save it." An interesting attitude to say the least. Estimates of the Jewish population of Orlando, Florida range from 23,000 (1993) to 35,000 today. Yet, as disclosed on the wonderful eJewish philanthropy website based on an article in the Orlando Sentinel, after 50 years of allocations, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando eliminated all allocations to Jewish organizations (except for a contractual obligation to the Rosen JCC campus of $125,000.(A more extensive albeit confusing explanation of the federation debt that created the crisis appeared in the Heritage Florida Jewish News.) While the JFGO's message to the community was "[T]his is a new day for the federation," for all intents and purposes, the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando is but a shell, a federation in name only.

If ever there was a place for JFNA to have offered advice, counsel and person-power, would not this have been the place? I am not certain whether consultation and guidance could have helped but not to have provided consultation/guidance/intervention was impermissible. I know: tachlis is so 90's; the community should have reached out to us; yada, yada, yada.

Just four years ago, JFNA had in place an Emerging Communities initiative under the auspices of its Development Department. It was a lay/professional partnership effort with excellent professional leadership, some of whom are still on the JFNA Development staff. The entire program, which could have played an important part of a JFNA effort in, e.g., Orlando was scuttled by the then Chairs and CEO. The national effort had partnered with first Las Vegas and, then, Phoenix, and was planned to grow its engagement when it was unceremoniously axed... dropped with no consultation with the lay or professional leaders engaged in it. Those of us involved in the partnerships with the high potential high growth communities were welcomed; we viewed the partnerships we had created or were on the verge of creating as positive signs of the potential of JFNA to make a difference. Someone or ones apparently disagreed.

Could some form of intense engagement by JFNA leadership with Orlando made a difference? Obviously, I don't know...but it couldn't have hurt. The reality is that in the CJF/UJA era, the organizations would have attempted to partner with the community in creative triage...not content to merely sit by and observe as is the sad case today.

I still believe that Mike Lebovitz and his lay team twinned with Jerry, Paul Kane and others in Development could make a difference. But, they have turned the organization's focus to Regional Ignitions with no follow-up, branding, e-philanthropy, Tribefest and #ish, vendettas and, did I mention, branding? Can our national system afford the loss of a federation in a community the size of Orlando? Can we learn from this catastrophe -- for that is what it is. Or do we continue down the path of $30.3 million of programs the vast majority of which are of no apparent value-added to the federations?

Unfortunately, I think I know the answer.


Thursday, September 23, 2010


There are many stories of disappointment over the past 6 years, now going on seven, of mismanagement and maladministration at, first, UJC and, now, JFNA ... too many...way too many. In terms of poignancy, however, in my mind none match the heartbreak of a single professional's history of her departure from the then UJC and the total insensitivity of a leader who believes she is sensitive to what was/is going on behind the four walls of then 111 and now 25 Broadway.

During the so-called "administration" of the immediate past CEO and President, in 2007 and 2008, it appeared that so many of the women professionals within the organization were going to be purged. This started long before this Blog began. When I saw what was happening -- a purge of many accompanied by incredible cruelty and a total lack of professional treatment to so many who had literally given their professional lives to our system, some to the predecessor organizations and all to then UJC, I privately raised my voice in protest. I called the former CEO and President and questioned how an organization premised in Torah could act in such a heartless and unprofessional manner. All I succeeded in doing was to further enrage the already enraged.

So I called the then Chair of the Executive, now the Board Chair. I asked her to intervene -- specifically, I asked: "Have you done an exit interview with _____ _____ or ____ _____ or any of the other women who have been forced out or fired by this regime which you Co-Chair to learn what is going on the organization of which you are one of its two most important lay leaders?" Her answer was both lawyer-like and revelatory: "I have spoken with some of them." (I learned shortly thereafter that she had called one or two of the worst treated, told them how sorry she was they were leaving and wished them well. No questions. No answers wanted.) I asked if she were going to do anything about what she had learned. She did not reply...because she had learned nothing...she had refused to ask, refused to get involved. No, in the choice between principle and ambition...well, you know...

But this is a story about repercussions. One young, brilliant Ukrainian Jewish woman with her family was given refugee status in the United States during the Exodus.She came here and excelled in all that she did and does. She wanted to give back to the communities that brought her here. Post-college, less than a decade after coming to America as a refugee, this wonderful young woman interviewed and gained a position at the then United Jewish Communities. Simultaneously she sought a Master's in Non-Profit Management. Her superiors at UJC and her colleagues knew her to be a "professional superstar."

And, then came the purges. This young superstar was not swept out with others but she could not stand the treatment she saw her mentors and friends receive. She could not abide this breach of her ideals...she resigned. And no one at UJC/JFNA seemed to care. No call from the Board or Executive Chair; no "I'm so sorry..." No, "why did this happen?" (If they read this, they would no doubt ask "who the heck is he writing about?") It was/is an organization both uncaring and unknowing. It was as it is...feckless.

Our young superstar was only temporarily disillusioned. She wanted to stay in the field, to "give back" as she would put it. And she has. She is now a senior professional of one of the great partners of the federations where she is and will be treated as the superstar she remains. She celebrates the 20th anniversary of Operation Exodus as a proud Jewish professional.

Her story broke my heart and, at the same time, inspired me. A wonderful history for the New Year.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010


There have been a number of times over the past 6 years when I came to believe that what is now JFNA had "jumped the shark" evidencing that the end was at hand or, at the least, near. Three "strategic plans," 57 pages of programs in a Budget, demands for federation dollars over and above allocations to support the whims of a CEO, the constant changing of the organizational agenda, the "rescue" of Yemeni Jews not to Israel but to Monsey, NY, the constant requests for more dollars over and above Dues without any prioritization, and on and on. But, if you want a specific event, try this on for size:

When the Conversion Bill was initially modified to include significant provisions that would impact on Diaspora Jews, the Reform and Conservative Rabbinate, and conversions performed even in the IDF by Orthodox Rabbis, JFNA spoke for all of us in a frenzy of opposition. Letters to Prime Minister Netanyahu were as much of a constant as was Jerry Silverman's presence in the halls of the Knesset. Ultimately, the Prime Minister, clearly recognizing the need for the support of World Jewry on matters of vital national interest, was able to both obtain a six month moratorium on consideration of the legislation and hold his coalition together. Effusive letters in praise of the Prime Minister flowed from 25 Broadway, where, you will recall, the Board Chair characterized the delay as a "major victory." I think that any rational person would recognize that the Prime Minister's continued support in this opposition is vital.

So, what happened? The Prime Minister sent Ms. Manning a letter on 6 September. It had a very simple message:

"I affirmed my government's commitment to strengthening the connection between Diaspora Jewry and the State of Israel. I also pledged to increase my government's support for these efforts...Given our common objectives of strengthening Jewish identity, promoting Aliyah and fighting the deligitimization of Israel, I believe that now is the time to forge an even stronger partnership between us."

Then the Prime Minister got to it:

"That is why I hope that the Jewish Federations will decide not to change the basis by which funds are allocated to the Jewish Agency. I believe that continuing your level of support for the Jewish Agency will send an important message about the strength of of our continued partnership..."

Leaders for whom I have great respect argue that the Israeli Prime Minister has attempted to insert the Government of Israel in a matter -- allocations -- in which it has no interest. I disagree -- the fiscal health of the federations' partners who leverage significant dollars in their work on the federations' behalf is a matter in which all of us have a stake.

Now it was time for our JFNA's leaders to respond. And, they didn't. They totally ignored the crux of the message from the Prime Minister of Israel in Ms. Manning's return letter...just ignored it as if it hadn't even appeared in the PM's letter. I can think of nothing worse, nothing more insulting and nothing that more exemplifies this lack of leadership, the instituional weakness.

This is after all the Prime Minister who so appreciated the importance of the support of World Jewry that he stood with us and he, alone, confronted his own coalition to gain a 6 month moratorium on the Conversion Bill -- yes, that Prime Minister. Now that Prime Minister asks us for support and we don't respond at all? And, by our lack of response, we insult the elected leader of our beloved Israel.

What might Ms. Manning and Silverman have written? Well as one leader for whom I have the greatest respect suggested in a similar circumstance: "You don't insult the Prime Minister of Israel in this way. You respond by saying something like this: 'Mr. Prime Minister, we hear you loud and clear. You have our commitments, as the leaders of JFNA, to take your message to our federation leaders and owners with our unequivocal support.'" But, not these leaders...uh-uh. That would require leaders who understand leadership and their roles on our behalf.

Six months are almost up...and so is JFNA's time. They've jumped the shark.


Monday, September 20, 2010


Annually during these yomim nora'im we are called upon to do penance and to engage in meaningful introspection. Two recent e-mails -- of over 100 -- that were "inspired" by my Post on JFNA Secrecy:

"When did we abdicate all of our (lay) power and influence?" This from a respected federation leader who serves in a leadership role at JFNA.

"I simply don’t get it. Really! How did we get to this point, leaderless, rudderless, without vision, action and a plan? It is so frustrating out here in the real world to know that we have an umbrella with a huge budget doing what? And yet here on the ground we are busting our asses, doing more with less and without benefit of real help or assistance." This from a Federation CEO who is working day and night in his federation professional role.

The frustration grows with every secret consultant deal, with every secret meeting, every "Summit" to which so many are excluded and haven't even any knowledge of before it takes place (or after). In part, the frustration grows from a leadership culture of secrecy that has overspread an organization that should be wholly transparent. But...there's so much more.

JFNA the Brand. In the immediate aftermath of the merger, Charles Bronfman, our first Board Chair, directed the UJC Communications and Marketing Department to refocus its energies on "marketing" the federations qua federations. It was an appropriate recognition that UJC was not only owned by the federations but was to be about the federations. Today, everything is about JFNA -- we must establish and support the JFNA brand as the priority to the apparent practical exclusion of the federations that own it. This thrust is as if the federations would not exist but for the existence of JFNA; it is the proverbial tail wagging the dog.

This leadership sincerely believes that it is "JFNA first and only." They resent the reality that, as examples, JAFI and Joint Board members consider JAFI and Joint first and foremost, yet see nothing wrong that they, the leaders of JFNA, see JFNA first and foremost, even as they sit in most critical councils of the Jewish Agency, placing JFNA "interests" (without anyone, even they, knowing what those are -- other than "control") and even ahead of the interests of the federations JFNA serves.

"They are not JFNA." If you are a sitting Federation Chair, you "...aren't JFNA" unless JFNA's leaders deem you to be. If you are a sitting Federation CEO, you "...aren't JFNA" unless JFNA's leaders deem you to be. And if you are deemed "...not JFNA," as determined by (but never defined by) JFNA's leaders, you may not serve on the JAFI Board and, if they could control it as they wish to, you would not be able to serve on the Joint Board. Only those who "are JFNA" as determined in the sole discretion of JFNA's leaders are eligible.

Allocations? "It's JFNA's money." Many of us have heard the Chairs refer to your donors and your JAFI and JDC allocations as "JFNA's money." One of the "outcomes" of the small group that met three weeks ago in a "Summit" was to recommend (to whom, to what) that a significant portion of a declining core allocation (10% !!) be reallocated to JFNA's non-existent "global planning table (f/k/a ONAD)" But, it's not "JFNA's money," is yours. And your donors believe they contributed the money, based on an annual case for giving, to meet the needs of the JDC and Agency, federations and local agencies.

Confusion to our Friends...and "Enemies." I would guess that if JFNA's leaders ever asked their Governance and By-Laws Chairs about the continuing creation of new (sometimes "secret") Coordinating Councils, Committees, Task Forces, Summits, they might be advised that the current By-Laws set forth with specificity how JFNA is to conduct its business. But, never mind: here's how it works: we have an Executive Committee with specific membership, forget 'em and create a "Coordinating Council" that I, the Board Chair, will run. We have an ad hoc "Coordinating Council" and an Executive Committee, but I, the Board Chair, will call a "Summit" and invite neither (although maybe I will invite some) the Coordinating Council nor the Executive Committee as we recommend drastic changes in how we (that's the imperial "We") do our Israel and Overseas business -- returning to a "rebranded ONAD." We have a Governance-authorized Israel and Overseas Committee, I will create an Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council what exactly? Confused? Then we have succeeded.

Federation Values? When your leaders reject the service of lay leaders as not being current Federation Chairs, they fail in their obligation to engage in introspection. They articulate a view that you can't serve JFNA because you were a Federation Chair some years or, even, a decade or more ago, but these same leaders' service to their federations was long the past, as well. In practice we see nothing that evidences our JFNA's leaders familiarity with federation values; we do see an obeisance to "JFNA the Brand" as if the national organization is all. If these leaders truly cared about the owners, about the shareholders, about the core values and sacred principles that underpin the work of federations, they would be one with them. They would be visiting with federations and learning from them instead of "...leaving that to Jerry."

So it is that they pay scant attention to federations' needs and wants as they pursue an unfocused agenda that has so little to do, in too many instances, with federations but so much to do with promoting "JFNA the Brand" (and, in so doing, attempting to elevate themselves). Let's have an open debate about federation values...a debate between the Board Chair and any Federation Chair focused upon federations' needs and wants framed against JFNA's goals. The disconnect would be self-evident.

This may not read like any introspection on my part. But I have engaged in a great deal of it. I revisited our goals and hopes and dreams when we went through the merger. Tragically, I see absolutely no connection between those hopes and dreams and goals and the JFNA of today.

As I conceived this Post, I had been looking at a photo forwarded on to me by my Federation of a picture taken of a Mission group that I led in 1995 at the end of the Operation Exodus Campaign. It was such a great Mission filled to the overflowing with leaders of our federations and our system and overflowing, as well, with incredible memories. Sadly, a small number of the participants have since passed away, their memories are forever a blessing; of the rest of these participants, all still active leaders of their federations and serving on the Boards of JAFI and JDC, among others. Except for one beautiful leader, not one of the 50 on that Mission today serves in any meaningful role in JFNA. This calls for some introspection among JFNA's leaders but there will not be any. This is one of the organization's most fatal flaws.

I plead for the forgiveness of all those whom I may have offended in 5770. I hope you had an easy fast, my friends.


Friday, September 17, 2010


One of my friends posed the question above to me. He did so after he and others heard a sad mantra time and again at JFNA meetings: "It's JFNA's money." How wrong they are.

In my neck of the woods (and that's your neck of the woods as well, my sisters and brothers), the dollars sent to New York by the federations are, first and foremost, our donors' money; and, secondarily, those dollars are the federations' money. In most communities, as measured in the last national surveys on the subject, our donors continue to believe that at least 50% of the dollars they entrust to the federations are being sent to JFNA for ORT, the Jewish Agency and the Joint. Yet, the current JFNA leadership has articulated this strange sense that they and they alone have that "it's JFNA's money" to distribute, in addition to reduced allocations to JAFI/JDC and now ORT, to the pet projects of a few.

No accounting has ever been provided to the system for the collection and distribution of the Special Campaign to assist those of our People who suffered in Operation Cast Lead. What accounting have you received of the federation dollars sent to relocate a few Yemenite families from their homes to Monsey, New York? How has the $800,000 (+/-) allocated to Sheatufim been spent -- on what, by whom? Do any of us even know what Sheatufim is? (These should be the most simple questions to answer inasmuch as the JFNA Israel CEO is the Sheatufim Treasurer!!) And, now, this leadership wants you and me to entrust them to decide how to "reallocate" $13,000,000 (+/-) desperately needed for their core activities by the Agency, the Joint and ORT. Are you kidding me?

Consistent with these past practices, at the Summit recently concluded, a JFNA Co-Chair argued that 10% of the federation allocations for JAFI/JDC be set aside for...Birthright. This is the leadership which next Monday and Tuesday will confront JAFI/JDC leadership with a "new construct" -- set aside another 10% from a drastically diminished allocation to a JFNA-run "global planning table" (viz, ONAD-again) to be reallocated from the organizations' core activities to designated projects to be determined "at the table." I suppose it could be argued that if JFNA had demonstrated any support for JAFI or the Joint these past five years, or if a base allocation were guaranteed in some manner, there might be some basis for discussion. But...make that BUT...we have an organizational leadership determined today to make its bones on the backs of JAFI/JDC with no knowledge whatsoever of how to do so. JAFI and Joint leaders will be told this is good for them..."trust us." Uh-huh.

Friends, we all know of examples of communities, once strong, now weak, where trust in the federation as the central communal institution has been lost. That trust, so fundamental to communal success, has been lost in so many places in large measure because of leadership who have lost their way. At JFNA, this basic trust was never constructed, only demanded...constantly demanded. Now, once again, lay leaders ask for our trust while having earned none. We already entrust these folk with $30.3 million dollars for a Budget -- only to see that $30.3 million treated as fungible dollars spent without focus or articulated purpose -- probably because "it's JFNA's money."

It's time for those whose money it really is to say "this is over." Then, let's begin again -- after all, the New Year is a time for new beginnings.

G'mar tov.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Some updates...

~ Resolution. To assure that in the New Year I will offend fewer, I have resolved to eliminate from all future Posts the following colloquialisms: It's not over until the Fat Lady sings, An elephant never forgets, A camel is a horse designed by a Committee, A cow jumped over the moon, A pig in a poke, You can lead a horse to water....But I am going to add a new one: All's well that ends....

~ Now for something completely sort of different. This will merely reinforce the knowledge you have that I am, among other things, a dinosaur. Anyone else out there remember when the General Assembly was among the most exciting days of the year? When it was about the federations? Now, I read that Jerry has invited a variety of social justice organizations (G-d bless 'em) to create an agenda, and, surely, the social media will be the preoccupation of some. The federations? Oh, them. Never mind.

~ The GA/LOJE Costs. Let's say that you are a leader in your federation's Women's Philanthropy, a Lion of Judah, and you would like to attend the ILOJE Conference and the GA. It will cost you $900 at the "early bird" rate (that expires momentarily if it hasn't already). Yes, it's totally insane. One would have to evaluate the return on investment and question, is this the best way to invest my philanthropic dollar? While JFNA's leaders may think so, what is effectively happening is that the "event" begins to override financial commitment to the "cause" for which our federations and JFNA were created. Those who fail to understand this just don't comprehend that the costs of the ILOJE Conference (plus the GA), going in (including conservatively $350 for air, and $750 for hotel for three nights, plus meals) is $2500. And where does that $2500 come from? I think we know; I don't believe JFNA's leaders care.

On the subject of the GA. Have you looked at the Draft Program lately? Name speakers? Scintillating scholarship? Anything excite you? I hear that a "comedian" has been invited.

~ Heroes and Branding. The #ish "scoreboard" seems to be stuck at 2800 or so. Is this success? Not even Chabad seems the least bit interested. But, no doubt, there will be great interest at Chabad in unleashing its social network to chase down the Second Annual JFNA Heroes Award. And, all of this, after no disclosure by JFNA's expert "marketeers" of the value to the federations of the First Annual JFNA Heroes Award. 500,000 "votes" -- and, just what did that mean? Ask your federation just how many new e-mail addresses they have received from JFNA from the pursuit of Heroes. You know, e-mail addresses of those other than Chabadniks? But, Heroes marches on. Now it is -- apparently a subsidiary of JFNA. In fact, while JFNA has been all about the brand, now it is all about...Heroes. You can't be serious!! (And, 70,000 "votes" and counting!!)

~ One of the Friends of the Blog with great insights into our Federation system responded to the Post Could We Stage Operation Exodus Today?:

"They (JFNA's leaders) haven't been able to host a Board meeting with more than 1/3 of the 'owners' (at best). How could they launch a national campaign? Now 'staging', that has many different meanings."

Touche. Should have substituted "Mount" for "Stage" because these leaders can "stage" anything.

~ One can but wonder at the purposes and goals of the New Israel Fund. The Forward reported in its August 27 edition that the NIF currently funds organization(s) "...that do not accept...the notion of Israel as a Jewish state" but, now, may no longer wish to do so. The NIF was reported to be "considering" new conditions for its grant-making. Remarkable.

~ I won't disclose the "recommendations" emanating from the JFNA "Summit" on Israel and overseas needs in part because JFNA's leadres, as part of their lack of transparency have demanded "confidentiality" with the implicit threat of expulsion.. But I can disclose the futility of the Chairs' "selection process" for the two-day meeting. Dissatisfied, apparently, with the JFNA Executive Committee membership -- after all, it's membership is established by JFNA's By-Laws but deploying the Executive Committee for this purpose would have meant that the Chair of the Executive would have presided. Never mind. So, at the meeting you had alongside responsible federations those which allocated 16.7%, 14.3%, 6.7%, one so low it's not even reported. Then, one invitee, a terrific leader, was listed as a Vice-Chair of the federation that person "represented," is not even on its Board. Another attempt to create "consensus" out of nothing instead of driving consensus toward something.

Just keep paying your Dues, folks, demanding nothing and getting less.


Saturday, September 11, 2010


While the Jewish Federations of North America dithers and withers in the face of actually being challenged to develop a consensus on how to deal with federations which fail to allocate a significant, minimal percentage of their annual campaigns for overseas needs, the organization's leaders -- lay and professional alike -- refuse to acknowledge that the allocations process on their watch has become a zero sum game. JAFI, JDC (and, now, ORT) see their federation allocations drop precipitously while the dollars which once funded them are reallocated to other "needs."

How do I know this to be the fact? Well, I reviewed the data shared with the small group gathered by JFNA for its so-called "Summit." And the data reveal that which we knew intuitively: while JFNA's leaders these past five years have sat idly by or worse, the allocations to Joint and JAFI core needs dropped like the proverbial stone. JFNA assured, to some extent, that its Dues were paid, ignoring the reality that those Dues were being paid out of reduced Israel and Overseas allocations. When pressed, JFNA's loudest cry was a "tsk, tsk," a criticism of the partners for the temerity of preparing out of necessity and a soupcon of desperation for independent fund raising while JFNA's leadership looked around uttering "Who, me?"

A few weeks ago, Rabbi Robert Eisen of Tucson, began a Mekor Chaim from the JFNA Rabbinic Cabinet with this: How do you know where it is you want to go if you do not know where you are already? Really the seminal question for the ill-fated "Summit." Our JFNA leaders continually, habitually, ignore "where they are" as they go off in multiple directions like a pin ball machine with a short circuit.

After committing to those federations which represent the model for overseas allocations to support and advocacy for a "minimum acceptable level" of core allocation, these self-same leaders framed "discussion questions" for the Summit that suggested that "an 'aspirational level'" of allocations commitment (something that failed at least three times before) was worthy of discussion. To the JFNA "leaders" this represented fair discussion, to me it meant a "sell out" of those federations counting on some, any, leadership, pure and simple. And, this was not all that evidenced that this leadership is prepared to once again ignore or twist history to its own ends.

For example, the small group assembled for the Summit was told that federations, under the discredited ONAD process, had the ability to divert 10% of their annual allocations to JAFI and the Joint to electives. Not so. The ability to direct 10% of the annual allocation was offered only to those federations increasing or maintaining the previous year's core allocation. The fact that more and more dollars have been reallocated to designated projects ever since, by federations decreasing their core allocation, is both a reflection of federation reality and JFNA's refusal to get its hands "dirty" in allocations advocacy. The written false conclusion evidences how dismissive JFNA's current leaders are of the organization's own history when that historical record conflicts with their intent and current narrative. The result is reflected in part in the dramatic devastation of the core allocation with which JFNA's leaders still refuse to come to grips.

Carpe diem? Not these guys.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010


One year ago today, I opened a Post (HOPE RISES) with the words: "[T]oday is the first day of the rest of Jerry Silverman's professional life." This Post is not only to wish him a Happy Anniversary but to catalogue the many pluses and few minuses of a first year -- one I predicted in which "Jerry will need all the strengths he demonstrated to the Search Committee...and more." I admit to some prescience.

Jerrry hit the ground running. He didn't merely presume to understand our federation system. He embarked on a "listening tour" that continues and that has now taken him to 61(+) federations around North America. He listened and he learned. (It continues to fascinate and vex that the Board Chair who gleaned her knowledge from growing up in Detroit, leading her home federation, Greensboro, and from leading the JFNA Small Cities group, hadn't done likewise. She must believe in learning by osmosis or, more likely, that there is nothing left to learn.) His sales and marketing experience obviously informs so much of what he does and what he would have JFNA do. He has emphasized the need to "build the brand" that is JFNA -- it remains an open question as to what is really to be found inside the box he has rebranded. Today, the brand is devoid of real substance.

There have been lows -- like #ish and Heroes and undeserved attacks on the leaders of JAFI and the Joint -- and highs -- his leadership in articulating North American Jewry's message on the Conversion Bill, his participation on Missions and at Regional Meetings and JFNA events (participation that eluded all of his predecessors). Silverman is a leader filled with boundless energy and optimism -- something desperately needed during these tough times for the federation owners. But, Year Two will demand, and the federations desperately need, substance, meat on the bones, and the application of what he has learned to the times federations face. Cheerleading is not enough.

In his speeches and in private meetings, Jerry's message has been one of boundless enthusiasm and good will. As a lover of a good aphorism, I can appreciate Jerry saying that "we must leverage together the power of the collective..." even when, in candor, while I know it sounds great, I don't know what it means when there is no evidence of JFNA even attempting, beyond disaster relief, to "harness the collective" or anything else. Often the salesman's jargon eludes me as well. As I wrote above, there is a real need for substance and substantive action. For. while Jerry has had a good year, JFNA hasn't, unless one believes that 1937 was a good year for the Hindenburg.

Jerry has been totally and publicly supportive of his lay leadership no matter the circumstances. One can clearly see in his conduct that there are those federation CEOs to whom Jerry is always deferential, others, to hom less important (Dues ya' know) for whom he has developed a distance and others who, in practice, are ignored. That is not a positive. His support for his lay leadership is commendable -- yet, hopefully, in private he has urged them to keep their eyes on the prize rather than divert the organization for their own purposes so often irrelevant to JFNA's goals. He has been supportive, as well, of the professional staff and has made some, albeit very few, important hires -- perhaps there will be more to come in his second year as he reorganizes and cleans house in an effort to focus JFNA on what it must be doing to lead our system in continenetal North America and in Israel.

Now, Jerry must turn his attention toward gaining that vital focus for the organization he leads. 57 pages of Budget narrative of the literally100's of programs JFNA "plans" evidence an organization that continues to lack any focus whatsoever. Driving the organization through exercises in "branding" and marketing, emergency relief (done by others) and the superb efforts in Washington does not a valued organization make. There appears to be a natural tendency to fall back on a group of advisers from Camp plus a small cadre of knowledgeable federation CEOs (whose own focus is on bringing their communities out of the economic crisis from which we are still looking up). There has been too much reliance on "FOJs" and consultants who themselves have little knowledge of or care for the federations' core values and principles offset by Jerry's continuing travels to our communities, his commitment to learn and understand.

In Year One, Silverman has proved to be a dynamic and energetic professional. Now come even greater challenges -- focus the organization on what it should do best, staff up to meet that focus with the best and brightest, build a new cadre of lay leaders who themselves understand how to build consensus and focus on the big picture. Jerry likes to quote Leslie Wexner (whom, Jerry tells audiences, he has "met with five times"): "what got us here, won't get us there." That simple axiom can be interpreted in so many ways, can't it? Right now we have a brand without content -- a toothpaste tube, if you will, without toothpaste. Let's hope that trying to get the toothpaste into the tube won't prove impossible.

So, Jerry, you're not in Camp any more and, certainly, not at Dockers.

Kal ha'kavod, Jerry. Good luck in Year Two.

And a l'shana tovah u'metukah to each of you and your families.


Tuesday, September 7, 2010


On the eve of the New Year, one of JFNA's leaders offered me best wishes in response to the Post on the epidemic of "Sychophanticism."

"You are aware that your blog reads like an 8 year-olds missive against the other "mean" kids who don't want to play with you anymore, right?? What a sad way to go out, Richard. Kind of pathetic, actually.

Seeing as your years of blogging have admittedly had zero positive effect on what you see as JFNA's wayward course, why don't you give up the ghost and find something more constructive to do with your free time?

Just wondering what makes you tick, because you must know that this blog does nothing to enhance your image in the community."

It saddens me that one who demanded absolute fealty from those in UJC/JFNA leadership to be "on the team," would continue to harshly criticize those who push back while still hiding behind the worn cloak of anonymity. In this season of introspection, I have examined my conscience and regret the minimal impact I have had. You and your claque, my friend, ought to examine the organization that has emerged -- unfocused when it should be focused, exclusive when it must be inclusive, and irrelevant to its owners when it should be relevant. (If you disagree, please write.) "Pathetic" indeed.

In response came two public Anonymous Comments:

"Your exchange with the previous Anonymous might explain why I can't recall the last time a Federation/UJA/UJC/JFNA board member or staff person tried something truly innovative or courageous and survived? We veterans have an extra al chayt this week -- for the sin of not speaking out in time forcefully when we could have made a difference or were faced with nareshkeit. (Guess this comment also makes me another bullied 8 year old - hope my "seniors only" condo development doesn't complain!)"

"... as another longtime veteran I disagree. We don't owe anyone an apology for not speaking up because many of us have in one way or the other. The problem has more to do with the question - Does a falling tree make any noise if there is no one in the forest to hear the sound? For roughly the first 4 years (plus or minus) of UJC there were people in the forest. For the past 6 years (plus or minus) everyone has left the forest and they aren't hearing the sounds being made."

Yes, the first Anonymous Commentator has a lot, a whole lot to be proud of. One thing is certain -- that leader truly understands the word "pathetic" -- it describes the organization and the culture created by that leader and that leader's ilk.


Monday, September 6, 2010


In Illinois we know all about sycophants. After all our former Governor, the epically comic defendant, now convicted felon, Rod Blagojevich (hereinafter "Blago"), surrounded himself with "yes men" and women, leading inexorably to a federal indictment and trial. As Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown wrote a few weeks ago: "Time after time (Blago's appointed Deputy Governor) said he made statements to the Governor that he didn't actually believe were true because he thought it would help him stay in good standing with Blago. You know the type. You've worked with them."

Brown continued: "In explaining one embarrassing conversation captured on the wiretaps, (the Deputy Governor) offered this interpretation: 'I was just trying to figure out where he was going so I could understand what he wanted so I could tell him what he wanted to hear.'"

Welcome to The Jewish Federations of North America lay leadership of the last six years, my friends. It is as if the immediate past and current Board Chairs posted a sign -- "LAY LEADERS WANTED -- ONLY SYCOPHANTS NEED APPLY" in determining who would serve in the highest "councils" of the organization. Those who aspire to inclusion in the minuscule group of JFNA "insiders" know that they will only be tolerated if they suppress their own opinions, try to figure out where the "leaders" are going and, even if they are steering the JFNA bus over a cliff, cheer them on. And the louder they cheer, the more the chance they advance, but with certitude they remain "inside."

These are women and men who, in their business lives, in their families and in their federation work, have never been shrinking violets never shying away from the expression of their strong opinions strongly. In not doing so at JFNA they have failed the organization, failed the federations they represent and fail the fiduciary principles that brought them to the JFNA table.

It is tragic when an aspirant to higher office at JFNA told me in confidence: "I know what they're doing is wrong. But I also know that if I open my mouth in opposition, they will shun me and my lay career at JFNA will be over." These "leaders" talk about the "new culture" they have created at JFNA -- and this is it!! You want to be part of JFNA leadership? Then be sure you read the virtual sign at the entrance doors at 25 Broadway: "ABANDON PRINCIPLE, ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE." Welcome.

They/we can be very proud.


Friday, September 3, 2010


Today let's focus on one of the major problems facing JFNA -- an organization whose top lay leaders appear not to have the ability to achieve the goals set for JFNA 11 years ago; instead the focus is too often on narishkeit, on minutia. They thereby ignore their responsibilities as our leaders. Or, more to the point, as we have come to learn, with the acquiescence of a very small group of federation lay and professional leaders, the revival of the disgraceful and discredited ONAD process -- with a different name: now the "Global Planning Table" with a budget of $250,000 and a consultant in tow, the JFNA-consultant negotiations, if not hiring, preceded the "Summit." (Sort of a "rebranding" in the worst sense, as it were.) Worse, in so doing, our leaders tie up critical JFNA professionals with this nonsense, failing to recognize how demoralizing their demands to elevate "JFNA the brand" at the expense of the federations and our partners themselves often become.

Instead of insisting that JFNA's work be focused, or that the JFNA Budget process be meaningful, or that there be good faith follow-up to the baby steps taken into the waters of collective responsibility, these "leaders" instead focus on...themselves...their positioning, their conduct of meetings, claims that he or she or you is "not JFNA," claims that your allocations are "JFNA's money," and on and on and on. And then they wonder why JFNA has no credibility with the federations -- even so many of those which continue to pay full Dues.

So what might awaken these "leaders" to their responsibilities? A Vuvuzela blown close to their ears; or, better yet, in this season, a Shofar? Or, as happened with the first group of then UJC leaders, a face-to-face visit with the lay and professional leaders of the federations (that fell through for reasons explored elsewhere). Or, a direct demand by the CEO and President that they stop -- Charles Bronfman used to employ the demand "ENOUGH" to great effect. I, like you, respect excellence; and I, like you, respect achievement. Maybe someday we will have both. But, really, haven't we had ENOUGH?