Wednesday, December 29, 2010


One of the more observant Friends of the Blog did some analysis and asked "how much has JFNA allocated from its Budget for the deficit? $400 for early bird registrants will yield $600,000." He notes if it's that cheap in Las Vegas, then he votes for all future GA's to be held there.

Here's the thing: there is something called "JFNA math." It's the calculation that includes: All federations will pay Dues so we'll spend $30.3 million even though there isn't a chance those Dues will be paid...ever; we need $3 million from the federations to resettle a few Yemenite families in Monsey, New York -- we collect $603,000 from our "appeal" (and say nothing more about it); we ask for millions from the federations for the Israel Action Network -- how much have we received -- in cash, in pledges, only we know...and on and on it goes.

Yep we had the "new math" and now we have "JFNA math."



On November 17, the New York Times reported that Playboy TV "a fading proposition...spent a year conducting focus groups and other research...If this (Playboy) channel could be anything, what should it be?" Hmmm, I thought, just a week earlier, CEO Jerry Silverman had reported to a departing GA audience that JFNA had conducted focus groups (1, 2 -- 10?) among the "unaffiliated" asking them, I guess, what would be an attractive venue for a JFNA event you would attend? The answer, CEO Jerry reported? "Las Vegas." And, so, Jerry concluded with enthusiasm to applause -- "we're going to Las Vegas!!!" Properly programmed at this point confetti would have been falling from the rafters and scenes of Vegas-style debauchery flashed on the screens. But what we observe is a faux deference to the evident smarts of the younger leaders who thirst for substance -- for JFNA has, once again, opted for glitz and numbers (sure Las Vegas should drive numbers to a party) over meaning and substance, appealing to the least of and in us. But it will sure be fun!!

So, "we're going to Vegas." For what? Tribefest. For what? To be in Las Vegas for Tribefest. It's such an exciting venue and event that, according to a JTA report 1,600 young men and women had signed on even before the registration opened. And, just what exactly is Tribefest -- we don't know. We do know that it will be March 6-8; we know it will be in Vegas; we know that it will be a place to "connect, explore & celebrate the richness of Jewish music, food, arts & culture," and it will be "...THE event for young Jewish adults. Over 1,800 Jewish young Jews will come together to explore why it matters to be Jewish, how they connect their Judaism and the larger community, and to have an amazing time....Tribefest will be THE place for networking, mingling and finding friends and peers..." The registration fee is $475 ($400 for you lucky early birds). And JFNA is looking for corporate sponsors -- Dockers per chance?

I heard from a senior professional at JFNA for whom I have great respect and admiration -- one who has some responsibility for Tribefest. She sent me some more detailed descriptions of the plans for the event that do suggest that there will be some serious programming there. The prospects for the Fest: "These young men and women need to discover their Judaism at their own pace and in their own manner, in ways that specifically resonate for them." OK, but is it fair to ask if this is JFNA's role -- and to do so " the chic and fun Mandalay Bay Resort...acknowledging that participating in Jewish communal life (this is "Jewish c
ommunal life?") can and should be about having fun as well." OMG!!

This week I went to the JFNA website to see what more we might learn about the Fest. The answer: not much. About "The Event" here is the description: "Tribefest 2011: Las Vegas is THE event for young Jewish adults. Over 1,800 young Jews will come together to explore why it matters to be Jewish, how they connect to their Judaism and the larger community, and to have an amazing time. Tribefest will offer inspiring programming, music, food, arts and entertainment, all celebrating the richness of our Jewish culture and heritage. Tribefest will be THE place for networking, mingling... yada, yada, yada" It appears to me that Tribefest will be, like the old Seinfeld show, about nothing. Sad.

But...speakers? There is a list -- We got a hip hop violinist, someone from, an actress. poet and playwright, an author, the Communications Director of the Hebrew Academy, the President of the Kraft Group (guess the writers didn't want to describe two of the speakers as owners of professional football teams), the Mayor of Las Vegas, and Mark Wilf, who is nowhere identified as a major federation leader or past National Campaign Chair, but in his role as "President Minnesota Vikings." It's all surreal.

Tribefest, in the words of a friend, "trivializes trivialization." How does one respect JFNA as an institution when it raises the trivial to the level of Tribefest; when it abandons the Washington or Tel Aviv Conferences for...this? Sorry, chevre, but with Tribefest JFNA leaders are making a clear statement -- to say they respect the next generation of leaders is like BP announcing that it respects the environment.

Have fun.


Sunday, December 26, 2010


In the last few months, JFNA and the federations determined to create the Israel Action Network (the "IAN") to confront issues of anti-Israel activity -- boycotts, divestment and sanctions. JFNA beat the marketing drums heavily in announcing its new partnership with JCPA, one the investment for which would exceed that for the continuing IAI -- the Israel Advocacy Initiative -- JFNA's other "partnership" with JCPA. In the past few weeks, something called the Seattle Mideast Awareness Initiative, for the paltry sum of a little over $1,500 determined to plaster twelve buses in Seattle with vicious anti-Israel screed, "Israeli War Crimes -- Your Tax Dollars at Work" -- among other ugly accusations. The County Commission banned the effort on December 23.

And where, in response, was the IAN (not yet really "up and running"), and where was the IAI (no where), where was JCPA (apparently holding conference calls), and where was our national "voice," JFNA (a rhetorical question -- issuing a belated Leadership Briefing)? So, into this void, the Seattle "chapter" of JStreet spoke up. How can our institutional voices be silent? These "voices" for which we pay so much, silent. The Seattle Metro Transit claims it must rent the sides of its buses because that's what free speech in this country demands; our national system couldn't bring itself to respond even while the Seattle Federation did. A poll on this subject indicated that those favoring the ads far outnumbered those opposed, and our communal institutions remain silent. From JFNA not even the now "traditional" response -- yes, not even a letter.

And, in the aftermath, upon the announcement that the ads would not appear, the Federation thanked the Seattle Jewish community, the ADL, the AJC and StandWithUs(!). Noticeably absent -- well, you can easily figure it out.

So I went to the JFNA website. And I did find, at the very top of the home page -- Tribefest, of course. And on aiding the Seattle Jewish community, on aiding ourselves -- not...a...word.



Thursday, December 23, 2010


It was inevitable that even those most in denial among JFNA's lay leaders would come to the conclusion we reached months ago -- that JFNA is facing a mounting budgetary crisis brought on by a continuing lack of relevance and a failure by a growing number of federations to pay Dues. I have reported on these pages the "avoidance technique" developed by this leadership that enabled them, in their minds, to deny that there was "any problem" with Dues payments. Let's look at the "technique" again.

The economic circumstances facing so many federations caused them (and others) to make informal hardship requests of the JFNA Financial Relations Committee. These federations were told that given the volume of these requests, JFNA would not offer "hardship" (even though that is what the Financial Relations Committee was charged to do under the JFNA-adopted Dues Resolution) but instead what came to be known under JFNA jargon as "a deferral." If you couldn't pay your Dues or objected to the amount, the difference between what you could/would pay would be "deferred" -- evidenced by a promissory note and/or a payment plan. In some instances, JFNA would help a federation reconstruct its fund raising results so as to result in a reduced Dues amount. In other instances, JFNA leaders let federation leaders know that JFNA Dues had a priority over overseas allocations -- and that "membership" was more important than funding those of our people most in need. In all events, "deferrals" multiplied.

You will recall that JFNA lay and professional leaders operated under one assumption -- that by each calendar year-end, all Dues would be paid. JFNA's annual spend rate was based on that assumption. Even had reserves been created, it is doubtful that the reserves would have approached the amounts of the deferrals at calendar year-end 2010. Even though I and others warned that the day would soon come when there would be no year-end "catch up," we were ignored, the mounting evidence notwithstanding.

This "deferral technique" not only allowed JFNA leaders to misstate the true circumstances -- "we have no Dues federation hardship requests have been made" -- it allowed them to ignore the reality of the organization's failing cash flow...until now. All the years of denials to the contrary notwithstanding, the Board Chair has admitted that JFNA has applied federation transmittals for JAFI/JDC to JFNA's budget, "truing up" at year end. Those days have to be over.

At no time were there mid-year corrections, operating budget reductions -- JFNA blithely ignored the facts and spent itself into the financial crisis in which it now finds itself. It would be fair to ask where the money was coming from? A line of credit or "as a loan" out of overseas allocations? Either way, where was the accountability and where was the monitoring?

With no advance warning, the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee was confronted with this financial crisis of the moment at its recent meeting. While that Committee has some excellent federation members, it has also been populated with the usual JFNA cheerleaders -- those never afraid to speak up in support of failed plans. Six years ago, while the now Board Chair served as Chair of Budget and Finance, I recommended that the membership of the Committee be reorganized to consist solely of sitting Federation Chairs and CEOs arguing that only in that way would a strongly supported Budget emerge from the JFNA "process." The rejoinder -- I was "rotated off" the Committee (not only for that suggestion), replaced by a past Chair of a far smaller community. The Committee was not repopulated with sitting Federation Chairs and CEOs (that might have eliminated the then Budget Chair and successors now that I think about it) but with fine people some of whom are not even members of their own federation Boards.

Now you may have some members of the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee who believe that those on the Committee take an oath that their Federations will pay their Dues -- there are probably others who believe in fairies. JFNA leaders state that they will assure that JAFI and JDC are made whole at year's end by eating into the JFNA line of credit themselves if necessary -- did it ever occur to this small group to apply the line of credit to meet the organization's monthly requirements so as to to avoid this reckoning? What is needed remains as true now as it has always been -- transparency and real lay engagement in the Budget process (you know, an open meeting with questions permitted) -- and a Budget that demonstrates the synchronicity of JFNA's Budget with federations needs. How great would that be? How about trying it?

There was a cartoon The New Yorker at year-end that is appropriate to this discussion. Two middle-aged men sitting at what is clearly a corporate Board or Committee meeting. One says simply: "Sage nodding got me where I am today." That's not leadership; but it's what we've got. Nod sagely if you agree.


Monday, December 20, 2010


I have been informed that there was a non-presentation on Operation Exodus at the General Assembly in New Orleans that eventually was delivered by Joel Tauber. Joel became the UJA National Chair in the middle of the Exodus Campaign, and spoke before a few hundred people who lingered on at the Opening Plenary after a 50 minute delay occasioned by the Vice-President's belated arrival. Quite a tribute.

It didn't surprise me to learn that Joel (not UJA, not the Federations) raised what he called "over a billion dollars" (it was actually an equally incredible $960 million). Of course, those of us who were there remember that it was Marvin Lender who led this effort -- kick-started the fund-raising with what became known as the $58 million Breakfast of Champions, initiated a series of Missions which all of us remember for their and his inspiration and with Max Fisher, z'l, the Bronfmans, Les Wexner, the Crown Family and other mega-donors, created the momentum that carried all of us forward. Marvin inspired every one with his self-effacing leadership and his 24/7 dedication to the cause.

I was honored when Joel, having succeeded Marvin as National Campaign Chair in the midst of the Exodus, asked me to Chair what became known as Exodus II, the closing two years of the Exodus Campaign. It was Joel's business acumen that was the catalyst for hiring Ron Friedman away from American Express as the Marketing Director for the Special Campaign and the lay and professional team worked with me to turn that great Campaign on its head, converting it from a major gifts imperative into the federation-driven effort for the final three years.

It was a joy-filled time culminating in a Mission to Uzbekistan and Israel that I led with Richie Pearlstone, who was on the cusp of his service as UJA National Chair, and Carole Solomon, who would succeed me as National Chair, at my side, accompanied by an incredible group of lay and professional leaders -- Shoshana Cardin and Rani Garfinkel, Marty Stein, z'l, Lois Zoller Mills, Dede Feinberg, Steve Rakitt, Julie and Henry Koschitzky, Alan Shulman, Rabbi Irwin Kula, Brian Lurie, Nechemia Dagan and Gerry Nagel, z'l, and so many other spectacular federation leaders -- culminating in a freedom flight with 400 new olim from Tashkent to Jerusalem. No one who traveled with us will ever forget that trip that embodied so much of the Exodus and our philanthropy. Joel wasn't with us.

At the end of the Exodus Campaign, I had the chance to thank Joel Tauber for his leadership and for giving me the opportunity to be part of the historic philanthropic chapter that we -- all 1,250,000 donors to Operation Exodus, the leadership of United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the JDC, and the National Conference for Soviet Jewry --wrote together. But thee chapters weren't written by any one of us -- they were written by the Prisoners of Zion, the Refuseniks, the 400,000 Soviet Jews who applied for visa to Israel in the late 80's and early 90's, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Union Of council and the National Conference for Soviet Jewry, the UJA and CJF, JAFI and, most critically, the Government of Israel. Joel was no doubt taking credit on behalf of all of them and all of us. Of course.

I have questioned whether JFNA could mount such an effort today; heck, they couldn't even put together an appropriate event to honor that history.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


And things were going so well. Commentators to the Blog were engaged in substance and then...this intelligent and of course Anonymous Comment appeared from the netherworld:

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "AFTER SIX MONTHS OF SILENCE...CONT'D":

Perhaps the entire world shouldn't know the JFNA Conversion Bill strategy. Perhaps there was a time when JFNA could share such information with key leaders -- but how to do so now, when 30 seconds later it will end up on your blog? Does MK Rotem read your "I've been sent out to pasteur but am too darn fickle to acknowledge it" blog? It wouldn't surprise me if all those who seek to destroy American Jewry's connection to eretz Israel have you in the browser bookmarks.

Like WikiLeaks, you make it difficult for real leaders to communicate. I am sure you are proud."

Many of you who regularly read the Blog will readily recognize the sad prose above and most can assume the name of the author. The Comment asserts, believe it or not, that the reason that JFNA doesn't communicate with even its own leadership is that such communication would somehow reach me and then I would let "the entire world know" JFNA's strategy, if it had one....and when apparently "confidential information" is released to JFNA leaders "...30 seconds later it will end up on (the) blog." Is this the warped mind of JFNA speaking...or just a warped mind?

Then come the clinchers: I am accused of being one with "...all those who seek to destroy American Jewry's connection to eretz Israel...(and) [L]ike WikiLeaks, (I) make it difficult for real leaders to communicate." And all of this after I "..was sent out to pasteur." (emphasis added)

So, there you have it -- the real reason that JFNA only communicates with the privileged few and not with its own Board is that the information it is communicating is too confidential for its own Board to have. All this from one so courageous that he/she is hiding behind his/her anonymity. As I wrote, tsk...tsk...tsk.


Friday, December 17, 2010


Excellent sources who have studied the matter closely have told me a story that, if true, is worthy of the Forward or JTA, not this little Blog. It is a strange tale, indeed, and, again, if true, reflects on the very sad state of due diligence in our system today. Our story begins in New York City, travels to Israel and ends witrh the federations and JFNA. It travels from the floods of Katrina to the forest fires of Northern Israel. And, at the end of the day, if true, it is the story of marketing and form over substance.

Let's begin at the New York UJA-Federation in 2001. Federation decided that notwithstanding the existence of the hospital driven Trauma Coalition in Israel, or the University-driven Trauma Coalition is Israel, it was necessary to assist our Israeli mishpacha, traumatized by intifadas and Wars, by the formation of the ITC, bringing together the work of 60 organizations steeped in trauma assistance in Israel and, no doubt, brought together by New York-UJA's Israel Office "...helping individuals and communities cope with unrelenting violence." In reality, this was the coupling of New York-UJA with the work of a dedicated doctor at Herzog Hospital outside Jerusalem. And that doctor, under the auspices of the ITC flew to New Orleans and offered the Coalition's service to JFNA in the aftermath of Katrina.


Let's start with an acknowledgment: World ORT's Robert Singer, Jeff Kaye and Harry Nadler are men that I have worked with over many years and for whom I have the greatest respect. Their work and leadership have elevated World ORT in important ways -- in North America and elsewhere. (That work is not to be confused with the critical efforts of ORT Israel, but one can readily understand the confusion, can't one?) They tell a compelling story. But, to hear World ORT raised to a level of co-equal partnership status with JAFI and JDC? That could only be accomplished through the hocus pocus of JFNA. Today we will ask two questions: how...and...why...and what does it mean? And how much cynicism can our system really stand?

The legerdemain of which I speak? In his closing at the recently completed General Assembly it was CEO Jerry Silverman who expressly referenced "our three great partners: JAFI, JDC and ORT." I went to The Jewish Federations of North America website and right there, on the homepage, there are links to, sequentially, JDC/JAFI/ORT, our "partners." I recalled that in their own negotiations over 18 months ago JAFI and the Joint reached an agreement without the intervention of JFNA, only to find that agreement rejected by JFNA because one federation, and one only, thought the five year term too long and didn't like the way ORT "was treated." Then, in the drafting and negotiation of the JFNA/JDC/JAFI Agreement, JFNA appeared obsessed with including ORT (as some form of third pa rty beneficiary). But you still have to ask: why the elevation of ORT? Can you begin to sense the cynicism?

There neither is nor has there ever been, until this JFNA administration, any sense of parity or equality among the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee on the one hand and ORT on the other. Nor should there be. For years ORT received its allocation through a contractual relationship with the JDC -- an allocation "off the top" of the Joint's core allocation. As its core allocations dropped without reason or national advocacy, the JDC ultimately ended that funding and JFNA began to deduct the ORT allocation from the federations allocations to JAFI/JDC as if this had been agreed to by the "partners." Without consultation with either the Agency or Joint, JFNA unilaterally determined to allocate to ORT a flat amount in disregard of the fact that core allocations to JAFI and JDC were falling precipitously. The allocation of $3.6 million became frozen as if in amber. (Proving, one again, that it is good to have friends in "high" places.)

Then Chicago's Betsy Gidwitz, a great philanthropist and our system's leading Sovietologist, was asked to undertake a study of ORT's work and recommend with regard to the future funding. Betsey's Report recommended, among other things, that the ORT allocation "float" with the decrease (or increase if ever) of the JAFI/Joint annual allocations. Thus, ORT learned the"benefit" of "partnership JFNA-style" as its allocation will reduce by $500,000 over time. "Welcome, partner."

So, here we have ORT, a truly minor recipient of federation allocations, a minor beneficiary as it were, raised to the same level of "partnership" as JAFI and JDC share. This yields at least one conclusion -- to JFNA's lay and professional leaders the concept of "partnership" has no meaning. None. Squadoosh. "Partner," being merely an empty term, when used is just a caution sign, even a "stop" sign. (And it is used frequently in the JAFI/JDC/JFNA Agreement.) Why -- much like new titles for professionals rather than increased compensation, it just sounds so important. but, on further isn't.

What does this "elevation" of ORT's status mean? Well, certainly not money -- unless of course ORT's brilliant fund raisers can play on ORT's newfound status in their fund raising activities across the continent. To JAFI and the Joint it means that ORT, unencumbered with the demand for guidelines on FRD and co-branding, and the like, incorporated in the Agreement by and among JFNA, JAFI and the Joint but applying only to the Agency and JDC, will not be subject to the same terms. It means that a small organization with major ambition may act as the "other partners" may not. Why? Your guess is as good as anyone's.

The term "partner" can mean many things. To the current JFNA leadership I am afraid that it means absolutely nothing. And, even "better," it costs JFNA nothing to keep using the term "partner" so why not keep throwing it out there; it feels sooooo good even if it means so little. Now JFNA will be challenged to give meaning to the term, if it can. Of one thing I am certain, World ORT's leaders understand how meaningless the term "partner" is in the JFNA context.


Thursday, December 16, 2010


Yesterday afternoon, following my morning Post expressing dismay over the JFNA silence on the Conversion legislation -- lo and behold, a LEADERSHP BRIEFING yesterday afternoon The Conversion Debate: An Update. I am not suggesting in any way that the Post was the catalyst for the Briefing. And that is just as well, for were it so intended, the lawyer's response would be "move to strike, non-responsive."

The Briefing offered an excellent summary of status, emphasizing support for the IDF Conversion Bill (for it) and the "general Conversion Bill (against it). The Briefing emphasized JFNA's support of compromise, and cited JFNA's letter to the Prime Minister last week.

I kept turn the two pages of the Briefing over, hoping I had missed something -- you know, maybe a game plan; perhaps an announcement that Manning and Silverman were flying to Israel with a large contingent of North American Jewish leaders to express strong opposition and to again explain the implications for Israel-Diaspora relations should the "general conversion bill" pass in its current form. But, none of that -- too busy with year-end cash, perhaps; or Resolutions?


Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The self-imposed "moratorium" on JFNA engagement with the venal portions of the Conversion legislation in Israel, our leaders are back in the game, JFNA style. They wrote a letter. It appears below. You might not know about it because it wasn't copied to you -- as with so many things, it was sent to your federation chief professional...but not to you.

Here is the letter:

"December 10, 2010

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Office of the Prime Minister
Kiryat Hamemshala
Jerusalem, Israel
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

On behalf of the Jewish Federations of North America, we are writing to you once again regarding proposed conversion legislation before the Knesset.

As you will recall, our movement, indeed Jews across North America, were very grateful when you publically (sic.) expressed your opposition to MK David Rotem’s bill last August. We welcomed your call for a “freeze” on the legislation and supported your appointment of Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky to lead efforts in finding a solution to this problem that is acceptable to all sides.

Your thoughts were also echoed in your strong words when you honored us with your presence at the General Assembly in New Orleans last month. We know that the thousands of Jewish leaders who were in attendance at the GA were appreciative of your words and impressed by your stand on this issue.

With the freeze on Rotem’s bill drawing to an end, we understand that there is some pressure to reintroduce this bill in the coming months. We urge you to extend the freeze on the legislation, allowing JAFI Chair Sharansky to complete the process of finding a just solution.
We have been most thankful that thus far you were able to stand firm in your beliefs in Jewish unity and freedom and firmly oppose this bill. Your public statements have sent a strong message to the Israeli public, to members of the Government and the Knesset, and importantly, to Jews across the world.

We trust that you will be able to oppose the bill in its current form, institute an extension of the freeze on any legislation on this issue and continue this path that cements Jewish unity.


Kathy Manning Jerry Silverman
Chair of the Board President & CEO

Nice letter, right? The fact that it follows by a month an article in the November 12 Forward -- All Conversions Now Under Review in Israel as Crisis Escalates -- and a Summer and Fall in which JFNA maintained disciplined silence while the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements in Israel were under assault, doesn't merely suggest that JFNA has left the crisis in the hands of JAFI's Natan Sharansky and the Prime Minister, but that JFNA has abandoned (albeit maybe just temporarily) a most critical responsibility. Yes, yes, I know as you do that we had a big GA and then the horrific fires, but we also have a playbook sitting on a shelf about how this crisis should be met (and being totally ignored) and we have a $7 million Israel Office doing...what, exactly?

JFNA leaders ought to know that federation leaders have placed this issue squarely on JFNA's desk for the last 8 months since the Rotem legislation was first introduced. What exactly has JFNA done since Silverman did his best one man show in the Knesset, the PM's office and the media? As promised, they did nothing...but now, they are back, engaged...they sent a letter.

Every reader knows from your communal experience that if, for example, there is a serious issue with a Jewish Community Center, it is the federation and its beneficiaries which will suffer any consequences and be held responsible. What this nice letter evidences to me is that our leaders believe that in the event this legislation passes intact, they can point their fingers and shout "it wasn't us, it was them." Sorry, that won't work.


Monday, December 13, 2010


If you are like me, the mere thought of a discussion of changes to your federation's By-Laws cause your eyes to glaze over with an order that day-dreaming begin. I remember one Chicago Federation Board member who used to take up hours (seemed like days) in dotting every "i" of each and "every" proposed change. These were mind-numbing discussions but a failure to discuss the seemingly innocuous can devastate a non-profit. Take, for example, the proposed By-Law changes to be voted on December 16 by the JFNA Board.

They are seemingly innocuous -- some ostensibly designed to put an end to the ONAD "era" once and for all. But that's not all. As written, these changes would assure without more that at some point in the future no matter how your federation or mine, your donors or ours, wish the funds they send to JFNA to be distributed, it will be JFNA, through some undefined "Global Planning Table," which will determine where and how the core funds heretofore to flow to JAFI and JDC will be allocated. In other words, ONAD goes away on December 16 (it actually was put to sleep forever several years ago) only to be revived "rebranded" with all of its faults, its failure guaranteed. More about that in a moment.

Further, it appears that the draftspersons (or has it been just dictation?) overreached further. Another By-Law change could be interpreted to result in the JFNA run Overseas Endowment, if JFNA collapsed and dissolved, the funds therein applied to pay off the debts of JFNA -- available to JFNA's creditors as if the donors to that endowment intended it that way. Terrible.

One sign of insanity, best evidenced (as I often remind myself) on the pages of this Blog, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Add to that this other sign of insanity: taking something that failed, rebranding it and expecting a different result. So, erase ONAD and then construct something called the "Global Planning Table" on its ashes -- with the same goals, the same participants, probably the same lead professional and tell everyone "this time things will be different." Given that the JFNA leaders of this effort had no involvement in ONAD and, apparently, haven't studied the 5 years of ONAD's failure, the millions of dollars in costs imposed upon JAFI and JDC in the ONAD "process." What these leaders want and see is a "new evolution" to allocations dictated by JFNA no matter the cost and the replication of a failed effort that almost destroyed our system.

So, bottom line, By-Laws are important. I figure these will be approved on December 16 without discussion.


Friday, December 10, 2010


An article in the New York Times on Sunday, November 28 -- New Jersey's Tiniest Towns Fight Push to Merge -- reminded me that for the federation system, the proliferation of federations in New Jersey, has been a matter of concern to federation leaders across that State -- and JFNA can (or could) usually be found somewhere in the corner of the room when federations have met to discuss the merger issue. By my count, there are 11 federations in New Jersey of varying sizes. There has been at least one merger in the past decade -- Northern New Jersey and Bergen County -- and "discussions" between Metro West and Clifton-Passaic -- and that's it. Does JFNA lack the professional capacity and expertise to offer guidance? (What do we spend $30.3 million on again?)

The NYT article pointed out: "To avoid duplication and waste, consolidation with neighbors is encouraged." For federations this seems self-evident, particularly in a time of significant reduced resources. I recall the effort that was made in JFNA's early years by excellent professionals working side-by-side with lay leaders (I among them) in the effort to achieve a successful merger of the Broward and Hollywood Federations as both those communities saw their annual campaigns sliding away. With a great local leader, Herb Katz, z'l, JFNA helped the communities accomplish the merger -- one where the emerging Broward Federation, still struggling under massive debt and a horrific real estate economy along with some bad choices since the merger, continues to struggle for success. In Northern New Jersey, the merger is also struggling for a common culture and a strong campaign, and its founding CEO has resigned.

In the midst of a multi-federation environment in New Jersey, one finds two outstanding, strong community builders in CEOs Max Kleinman in MetroWest, and Stanley Stone in Central New Jersey. (There may be more, I just don't know them).

Then there is Connecticut with nine federations. As I understood it some if not all of the Connecticut federations engaged a consultant to review the potential of merger, the benefits and costs. I seem to recall that this was a federation initiative -- one to which JFNA was an invitee but neither a convener nor an active participant. More's the pity.

One just has to ask whether JFNA should have a role as convener, as catalyst, in situations where merger or functional consolidation could effect positive change. And if the answer was "yes," could JFNA execute the assignment? The answer so far is, as in so many things, "no."


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Each time that JFNA publishes its annual IRS required 990 I have expressed my astonishment, amazement and chagrin. The 2009 IRS 990 for JFNA ought to create the identical reaction and more from each of you. THIS IS MORE SERIOUS THAN EVEN I HAD THOUGHT. Sam Astrof had to explain to me how to find it on the JFNA website where it is buried: go to, then find "About Us" and link, then track down to the 990, and link again. (That is if you are not one of the favored few who received a copy directly.) I urge you to read it for yourselves.

Among the things you will find:

~ Of course there is the incredible and outrageous compensation paid the then President and CEO -- unless you believe that $802,000 was merited by performance. (N.B., Former New York Attorney General and Governor, Eliot Spitzer, has opined that New York state not-for-profit law requires that the compensation of a CEO of a non-profit must be commensurate with the value of the services provided to withstand scrutiny.) In a year in which countless federation CEOs took cuts in compensation, this CEO took none.

~ Responsible management? Look at the compensation paid to the two...that's due...that's's of what was UJC-Israel...$593,000. And, "Global Operations: Israel and Overseas" sucked $7.8 million out of the JFNA Budget. Has anyone asked "for what?"

~ Then there is the even more alarming $8 million "deficit" in JFNA's pension fund. Those that I trust to understand this far more than I suggest that this alarming amount may reflect nothing more than an "actuarial" deficit occasioned by the impact of the stock market drop on the JFNA pension fund. No liability to the pension fund was reflected on the JFNA financial statement -- just -$8,000,000. And how far did that fund fall in the following year -- 2009-2010? But, my concern is the lack of transparency; make that the continuing lack of transparency in how JFNA conducts its affairs, financial and otherwise. The 990 identifies the <$8 million> as "additional minimum pension liability." And no one asks any questions?

~ The GA/ILOJE cost of $4.1 million. Worth it? You be the judge.

~ Then there was the move to 25 Broadway. JFNA negotiated well and received a $4 million lease buy-out at 111. Did it save any of that money? Did it spread the buy-out over say a decade to reduce its 25 Broadway rent? No. It used it all and more " fund new construction at 25 Broadway" where leasehold improvements totalled $6.6 million and "equipment" another $4.6 million. Recession -- never mind.

It's a mess. knew that. I think it's past time for those at 25 Broadway to collect non-perishables and barricade themselves in...if they haven't done so already.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


The horrific Carmel forest fire which cost so many Israeli lives is a tragedy deeply felt. The idiot, Jeffrey Goldberg, used the occasion to state that our philanthropy has no place in these circumstances -- clearly Goldberg failed to understand at all the costs imposed on our partners in their work moving thousands to places of respite while the flames threatened them. And, quite clearly, Goldberg gave not a whit.

At one and the same time, there emerged a "parade of funds" and at least ten mailboxes opened -- often in duplication and redundancy -- each seeking our contributions. Sure, the Jewish National Fund did so, as did ZAKA, Mizrachi (?), American Friends of Magen David Adom, the JDC, the Haifa Foundation, JAFI, and the World Zionist Organization (the WZO???), something called AMEINU and OMG, J Street... while multiple federations sought funds, independently, not to be outdone, the JFNA created a Fund.

There used to be a Coordinating Committee. Then again, there used to be discipline and a national organization. Today?
Each "Fund" is out there seeking donors. Do I give through my federation, through JFNA, through JNF, JAFI, J Street, the JDC? Or the ones that will surely follow? Proof that multiple appeals end up producing fewer dollars? Proof that when organizations are weak, they grasp for purpose...while the cause, the tragedy get lost in the "process?"


Saturday, December 4, 2010


~ It has amazed me that some would choose recently to elevate Glenn Beck by "comparing" him with George Soros. Soros, who seems to wear his antipathy to Israel on his sleeve, but still a Holocaust survivor; Beck, because he voices unequivocal support for Israel (and for whom some of his best friends are Jewish), it is argued, deserves the Jewish polity's support even while he otherwise preaches a screed that "validates" the most extreme among the Tea Party. Men and women for whom I otherwise have the greatest respect now choose those they support based on one criterion -- unequivocal support for Israel. Nothing more and nothing less. Now, if you want those you support to stand for Jewish values, you are condemned as some sort of "liberal." When I hear or read this stuff, I cringe for my parents of blessed memory, for my family, liberals all, and fervent supporters of our Jewish State.

Soros deserves our scorn -- he deserves it for the positions he has espoused, for his constant demonization of Israel, but he deservesneither because some will compare him to Glenn Beck nor, certainly, because Beck has attacked him in Beck's "someof my best friends" way. For the definitive response to the Beck-Soros matter, read Hendrik Hertzberg's superb piece in the November 29 New Yorker. Amazing that in their zeal to find support for Israel, some correspondents and writers have almost...almost...made Soros a figure of sympathy.

And, please don't write to challenge my pro-Israel credentials. I will match them with anyone's -- even Glenn Beck's.

~ In the Blog Post pre-Thanksgiving, students who attended the General Assembly commented on their attendance at the New Orleans General Assembly. Their Comments are illustrative of what happens when our organizations stress numbers over content -- "[W]e heard a lot about how we're the future...but then we're left to our own devices;" there was a failure " let us feel more involved;" "[I]t didn't seem that the follow-through was well thought-out;" and similar. Can't say I am surprised.

Now there we heard the CEO pander to applause that "we had 600 students here and at the next GA we'll have1,000..." And, maybe...just next November someone on the JFNA staff will be tasked with creating a sense of engagement and involvement for these students who appear to have been viewed in New Orleans as nothing more than a cheering section -- something our leaders clearly love.

~ The Forward's Gal Beckerman has written the definitive history of the Soviet Jewry Movement: When They Come For Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry. In an incredibly well-researched book Beckerman describes in vivid detail these heroes of modern Jewish history in the then Soviet Union and across the continents. There is frustration in these pages...and, of course, inspiration as well. For the definitive review, read Yossi Klein Halevi's Glory in the Thanksgiving edition of The New Republic ( As a participant in the Student Struggle and as an "activist" at age 17 with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, Halevi's commentary is further enlightening. I recommend Beckerman's book as a wonderful Chanukah present.

~ On a "what not to read" note...There are those bloggers and e-mailers out there, joined by Commentators to this Blog, who stridently criticize those North Americans who "criticize" policies of the Government of Israel. As all of us know, there are literally 100's of Israeli writers who do so daily or weekly. Let's take the Michele Bachmann of Israeli columnists, the Jerusalem Post's unhappy Caroline Glick, as an example. She has published numerous columns condemning the Israeli government and IDF leaders for any policy that "smells like a peace move" but she saves her special venom for the Obama Administration. Her oopinion pieces only infrequently cite any sources, but are sent around by her followers as if she utters a special brand of "truth." Now the question: if you, who demand total support for the policies of Israel republish a Glickscreed aren't you violating your very strict unyielding limitations?

Just asking.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It's probably just me (although a number of you have written me privately to raise the question). I ought to be happy that JFNA has chosen to eulogize and offer epitaphs for many great leaders on their passing. But I find it outrageous that these tributes usually include a statement from a JFNA lay or professional leader who knew them not extolling the virtues of the deceased as if they were the closest of friends. OK, so it's nice that the deceased are recognized in this way but, when there are those who were either the professional partners of these leaders or the closest of friends still living and leading wouldn't it be more appropriate for those to be quoted?

Examples abound -- when Marty Kraar, z'l, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer last month, there was a very generous quote from Jerry Silverman about Marty's lifelong dedication (and how he was a mentor to Jerry) to community and people when, among so many others, Connie Giles, the JCPA Chair, who chaired CJF during Marty's service, would have been delighted, I'm certain, to have offered his praise. And the month before, when the beloved Lester Rosenberg, z'l, passed away, it was Kathy Manning who extolled his many virtues (and Kathy knew Lester to a small degree compared with so many others) in the JFNA message when, for example, Steve Nasatir or Beth Cherner, Lester's closest professional partners and great friends in Chicago, could have done so in a far more personal way. Even more recent is the tribute to the great San Francisco philanthropist and communal leader, Richard Goldman, And, these are but three examples of many.

Maybe this is the way these things have to be done. I am certain that JFNA would retort that they just don't have time to discover who knew whom and that it's more important to get the message of love and caring out. They would be wrong.