Tuesday, March 29, 2011


~ The Board Chair has issued a Tribe ("I hardly remember Friday") Fest Report (March 24, 2011). Of course, it extols this self-described seminal event in Jewish communal life concluding that "...TribeFest was a huge success and surpassed all expectations..." Although not included in the Chair's glowing summary, that's not all the Fest surpassed... This will come as no surprise to most of you. Whilst JFNA's leaders are still hurting from the back-patting over Festivus, after extensive cross-examination by some federation leaders (G-d forbid JFNA's "leaders" ask any questions), JFNA sheepishly and reluctantly revealed that TribeFest net costs (that's cost after income from Registrations and sponsorships) exceeded $250,000... yes, that's a quarter of a million dollar deficit...and that's before staff overhead and staff travel. This for a Fest that was promised to be "revenue neutral." The obvious question to many: should JFNA, which may be good at something, be conducting, running, direct programming. For a far lesser investment, JFNA could have invested with one of its 40 Festivus "partners" in an event they ran. But, then, we couldn't congratulate ourselves, could we? And, another question, which JFNA governance body approved the expenditures that resulted in a loss of $250,000? Oh, I forgot, the Board and Executive Chairs have determined that they are a governance body. Yes, quite the success. ~ How about this one. A major federation organized a great effort to attract the next generation of the best and brightest into a major, focused leadership development effort. It was exemplary, funded by a major donor. But, after these future leaders began to ask questions about the community, the federation shut the program down -- effectively alienating the next generation and ignoring the investment of a major donor. All the while, at 25 Broadway, thumbs twiddle. ~ And, then, at another large federation the search was on for the "Next Big Jewish Idea" -- with the promise of a significant dollar award to the winner. Last I looked, the leading candidate has garnered all of 3,292 votes at this point, 60 days after the jackpot was announced. Oh, the award -- $100,000!! My next big Jewish idea is never, ever run a Next Big Jewish Idea contest. Ka-ching. I win. It must be a disappointment that since the announcement the "Leaderboard" reflects only 3292 votes for the current top Big Idea -- Hebrewheroes.com -- actually a great idea (albeit hardly could be valued at $100,000) "...an online Jewish Values based interactive game and social networking site for Children." In second place is a proposal to engage Los Angelinos with African Jews. Elsewhere is Amir where "...through experiential environmental education, specifically gardening, Amir provides children with an enlightened perspective on their relationship with others..." And, ideas fall off from there -- garnering 1249 votes is Rugelachhhhh! -- "an idea for a kiosk or small bakery to be located in a high traffic area..." to "JEWWW in a box" and more, many more. In other words, it's fun...but $100,000??? (And I am not making any of this up.) Then I read in JTA that the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland (one of my favorite federations) "...is looking for one or more programs worth $300,000" in its Community Impact Grant Funds. That "reward" represents 10% of the JFGP's annual revenue. Where's the money going to come from -- need you ask? Way back in 1995 I was privileged to Chair Chicago's Priorities Task Force. Working with brilliant Chicago professionals and a wonderful consultant, Art Naperstak, z'l, from Cleveland (who went on to UJC where he tried to make a real difference), our Federation ultimately approved a plan to award local agencies priority grants for innovative projects and encouraged these then unique ideas of agencies working together for the communal good. After two years, worthy programs would be absorbed in the agencies' annual core budgets and the award funds would be "recirculated" to new strategic programs. To date millions have been invested in Chicago for creative programs and projects without negative impact on our community's allocations. But, G-d forbid, JFNA offer any guidance to LA or Portland or others. Too busy twiddling thumbs and doing table arrangements for the Global Planning Table, I guess. ~ Then my head almost exploded. I have been reminded often enough that I am of the wrong demographic; please don't write in response to this that I have once again proved it. Someone(s) in the appropriate demographic, so clever, must have believed they were providing a public service of some kind when they published a piece for or by Jewlicious -- The Unofficial Guide to Sex on Birthright Israel. If you're 12 years old, it's so, soooo funny...and so chock full of information on everything from condoms, to preferred spermacides to sex with soldiers and just whom might lose their jobs if you have sex with them. The tutorial ends with this: "[I]f in the midst of it all, you manage some sex, try to make sure it is good and please make it safe." Words to live by. (The full article can be found at http://www.jewlicious.com/2011/02/the-unofficial-guide-to-sex-on-birthright-israel/) Rwexler

Saturday, March 26, 2011


So, I was just thinking about organizations without identity or purpose...and one organization that just throws $30.3 million of our money up in the air and watches where it lands to determine goals and objectives...or maybe, just maybe, to determine...nothing at all. Let's pull the heavy drapes back and take a look...

In six years the organization has undergone a name change, four "strategic plans" (each one of which ended up in the "Trash"), a Heroes, an #ish and a TribeFest, a $2,583,000 operating deficit and a disinterested, disengaged laity. Oh, we are clearly ready for a Katrina-like catastrophe (G-d forbid), and we have formed an IAI, an ACANI, an SCN, an IAN -- all underfunded -- while we have watched the "Alliance" wither, our national agencies underfunded and ignored (except to demand they prove their value -- ironic in that no one appears to be asking our national organization to evidence its value), the Network under attack for suggesting the Emperor has no clothes. We are about to begin Regional meetings to kick off a "Global Planning Table" with pre-cooked outcomes forgetting or not caring about the disaster that its progenitor, ONAD, was. This is not to say there have not been successes -- JFNA-Washington continues to shine, the "New Moves" Program shows promise (but one has to question why, in its announcement of the Program, JFNA felt compelled to have a federation CEO literally shill for a Program that has that promise -- does Dockers oversell?) and the embryonic Donor Management System, to name three.

We have a national organization whose leaders over the past 6 years have gone out of their way to erase the history, the core values and timeless principles that drove the predecessor organizations, leaving JFNA with no institutional memory enabling these "leaders" to say by their actions -- "...we aren't repeating the mistakes of the past; we don't even know what they were."

I would speak with Itzik Shavit, z'l, frequently over many, many years, many times daily. I loved those conversations because Itzik in private was totally direct at all times. As anyone who knew him will recall, he had wonderful, often devastating insights, into all of the organizations and leaders who benefited so greatly from his professional leadership. I was not exempt. As Bruce Arbit remembered in his beautiful tribute, Itzik, time and again, bemoaned of an organizational leadership -- "why don't they shut up and just go out and raise money?" But, they didn't.

These views are and have been shared with me by any number of professionals and lay leaders in our national system and at our local federations, as well. (The group is so numerous that it remains a mystery why so much time is spent by JFNA leaders blindly accusing multiple lay leaders as my so-called "sources." I do, however, get a kick out of this laughable effort, just one of many. But, I do understand that from a group of "leaders" who hide their every act within the "Cone of Silence" they think they have created, these Posts must drive them nuts. I take their quest for "sources" as an admission of the truths of that which I have written.

Yeah, I'll take that.

So, I was just thinking. JFNA has sent out a beautiful Invitation on behalf of Barbara and the Shavit Family to a Memorial Service next month in Itzik's memory and "...to honor his legacy." Wouldn't one way to honor that legacy be for JFNA to rededicate itself to its forgotten (ignored?) core purpose -- to that to which Itzik Shavit dedicated his entire professional life -- to building the resources to care for those of our People most in need? Wouldn't it?


Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Well, no sooner do I Post The Network than the leaders of the Network receive a "concerned" Memo from JFNA's twosome at the top, Jerry and Kathy, promising big changes (maybe) and a study by a noted North Carolina Professor(!). Yes, like the Alliance (whose member agencies appear to be promised more dollars through allocations from the Global Planning Table even as those national agencies which serve the federations' needs overseas were excluded from consideration in JFNA's own surveys), the Network will somehow be promised that the 400 communities which are its membership will have JFNA's real attention.

You think that the wonderful donors and leaders in the Network haven't learned by now that they have been abandoned by a JFNA interested in the funds they raise solely for purposes of JFNA's budgetary support? If not, certainly yesterday's Manning/Silverman Memo -- both paternalistic and controlling, as is this leadership's bent -- was a reminder to the Network of all that is wrong in the Network/JFNA "relationship." The Memo suggests that every issue plaguing the "relationship" is the fault of the Network, none can be attributed to JFNA's abandonment of the Network through the assignment of a senior JFNA professional with no apparent interest in the Network on a part-time basis while that professional once again enters the "new ONAD" process more or less full-time.

Now JFNA will hire, with no consultation with the Network, a University of North Carolina(!!) professor (of Maternal and Child Health) to study the Network (probably at the Network's cost). "Until then," the JFNA Memo states, "the Network campaign efforts and community support will continue under the able supervision of our professional financial resource development department...We will be in contact with you during the review process to get your input..." but the ultimate determination of the Network's fate, will be in the hands of the JFNA Executive Committee. OMG!!

It's hard to believe, isn't it, that Network leaders might be up in arms? Maybe there is comfort in knowing that every one at JFNA is likewise treated. "Go along to get along or else" -- JFNA's tag line.




When the United Jewish Appeal began the Network of non-federated communities two decades ago, under the great lay-professional partners Marty Stein, z'l, and Russell Robinson, it was with great hope that the Network would be fully serviced by the national system and increased FRD, allocations and involvement would be the results. Sadly, the Network today is more neglected than it has ever been and JFNA has viewed the Network's allocated funds as a source of Budget support more disproportionate to funds raised than is any...any...federation's Dues.

At its conception the Network was seen as a source of leadership of UJA -- and the women and men who led the Network were among the many UJA Vice-Chairs who contributed so much to the vitality and passion that drove the United Jewish Appeal -- and additional financial resource development. Our hopes for significant Network campaign growth were never realized at UJA -- Federation pressure to reduce the UJA Budget reduced the amount of professional support UJA could offer. The hope was that with an invigorated cadre of lay and professional leaders under JFNA the Network leaders would be involved in the work of its national institution and that that involvement would drive the Network campaigns. That would prove a faulty assumption in all ways.

A little over two years ago the Network's new leaders learned for the first time just how much of the funds raised in these 400 (?) small communities were being grabbed by JFNA for its Budget. They appropriately "objected strongly" and equally strongly suggested that they would pull the Network out of JFNA. In fact, the Network could have engaged a professional staff and emerged as a strengthened "community" had they done so -- all at a significantly lower cost than the "cost" of JFNA membership. But, instead they were placated by a position for the Network on the JFNA Executive Committee and a few promises from the current Board Chair of lower costs, better JFNA behavior and more attention.

We already have learned of the limited worth of Executive Committee service; certainly the Network has. And has the amount of the JFNA grab of Network's allocated dollars actually reduced? Are the Network communities receiving greater attention? In a way the answer to the last question is "Yes." ORT has raised significant project dollars from within the Network donor base; so has the Joint; and to a lesser extent JAFI. But increased support for the core budgets of JAFI/JDC has not been found.

The Network remains a place of great potential -- for leadership and Campaign. Someday JFNA might figure that out...but I doubt it.


Monday, March 21, 2011


~ It is apparent that JFNA was in the Purim holiday spirit when it went on-line with a list of funding achievements for JAFI/JDC, including the designated and supplemental funding by federations, none of which JFNA has a thing to do with. The list should speak to the great work of our federations' partners but, alas, that was not the case. Even more so, JFNA might have advised the federation recipients that since its creation JFNA has presided over a precipitous drop in allocations that now exceeds over <$100,000,000>, but, of course "what's that got to do with us?"

To spread the holiday cheer, I offer you the whole sad self-promotion at http://jewishfederations.org/page.aspx?id=238062 (but, as I was cautioned by the FOB who sent this to me -- do not read before or after a meal). I anticipate the next Briefing to read something like this:



~ But, in this moment of self-congratulations at JFNA flooding the net with tweets and Briefings of the success of the Festivus, a moment of cold reality was sent to me by another FOB from http://www.oychicago/blog.aspx?id=9034 -- "No team like the Jewish people" an otherwise generally favorable report on the Fest. From it, this excerpt:

Where I think JFNA fell a little short, however, is identifying exactly who they are. As the central address of the Jewish people (yes, I work at JUF, but no, they did not make me say this), I truly felt that the connection to the Federation was missing. Federation is no longer our grandfathers' organization, and we should be proud of our support and relationship with our local federations. In Chicago, we raise about $80 million annually to provide critical services for the most needy in our society --both locally and abroad. Why should we shy away from this while we highlight every other organization? Isn't this also an amazing thing to be a part of?

It is so sorry that JFNA just doesn't get it. But can they throw a party!!

~ And then there was the absolutely brilliant Purimshpiel at http://pjewishmianthropy.wordpress.com/2011/03/19/what's-your-itch: What's your #ITCH?

"The Hebrew Organization of Billionaires Networking With Other Billionaires (HOBNOB) has announced the three finalists in its contest, 'What's Your Idea to Transform our Common Heritage(ITCH)?' The web-based contest invited submissions of projects that would address a pressing issue confronting the Jewish community.

One finalist, Jared Mandelbaum, proposed a new website called UDate, whose purpose is to engage unaffiliated Jews through dating. Mandelbaum, reached at his home on Columbus Avenue at 96th Street in Manhattan, explained: "I've never met an unaffiliated Jew, so I thought I'd start this site. Dating an unaffiliated girl would be awesome.' The selection committee praised this proposal saying 'the power of social networking is a great tool for the transformation of Jewish life.'

A second finalist, Mindy Bloom, studies Occupational Therapy at Stern College. She suggested an essay contest about how to perfect the world. 'To me, when I think of the days of the Moshiach, I picture a world where every single unaffiliated Jew has been reached out to,' said the Teaneck native,

The third idea to reach the finals of the competition, from Florida grad student William Smith, is called Groucho House. 'You know how Groucho Marx said he'd never any club that would have him as a member?' asked Smith. 'I thought we should have a home for unaffiliated Jews who want to be with other unaffiliated Jews, not with the Jews who want them as members.'

A HOBNOB Program Officer, Rabbi Aliza-Cohen-Levi-Israel, was asked if she had expected so many ideas relating to unaffiliated Jews. 'We were all surprised by that,' she told a reporter. 'I don't know where all these entrants got the idea that billionaires are interested in the unaffiliated.'

Dr. Isaac Zahn, a retired oral surgeon who also blogged about Jewish philanthropy as the Funder Dentalist, was asked his view of the 'What's Your #ITCH' initiative. 'The Funder Dentalist's take?" he began. 'There's a lot to chew on. It's too early to draw any conclusions.'"

I hope you all had a wonderful Holiday. And kippot off to JFNA where every day is Purim.


Saturday, March 19, 2011


If what follows (the names have been changed to protect the innocent) weren't true, it would make one helluva Purim shpiel. Let's say you are a Federation Chair or CEO who, the night before, met with your leadership to discuss massive budget cuts and hard, hard allocations decisions. Then you are your desk and receive the following (I am not making this up!!):


The below invitation will be sent to our updated Next Gen/Breakthrough lists next week.
If there are names you would like to be included, that you have not already sent us, please do so as soon as possible.
This is going to be an amazing opportunity and we are limiting the number of participants to 20.
I am happy to share the mission itinerary or answer any questions you may have.


____________, UJC

"On May 17, I will travel to Tel Aviv to participate in a once-in-a-lifetime experience: Lunch with the Legends of Israel. I invite you to join me and a small group of Jewish leaders from across North America as we meet Israel's top philanthropists: Raya Strauss, Eitan Wertheimer and Benny Landa. These three individuals have accomplished amazing things, and we have a truly remarkable opportunity to meet with them in their homes, their boardrooms and at the projects they support. This is unparalleled access that only UJC can provide. While I am not going to reveal everything we have in store for you, rest assured that our itinerary involves excellent food and drink, good conversation and, of course, an opportunity for playing around with off-road vehicles.

For this exclusive visit, we are inviting only select individuals with a capacity for significant participation in Jewish philanthropy and leadership. There will be no solicitations or caucuses. .
Recognizing that all of us lead busy lives, this will be a short trip, beginning on May 17 in Tel Aviv and ending on the evening of May 20..... I look forward to meeting you.

______" (Emphasis added)


Abnormal circumstances call for unique opportunities. "There will be no solicitations or caucuses" -- our motto. Not "One People One Destiny." Not "We Are One." Not even "The Voice of One. The Power of Many." nope. It's "There will be no solicitations or caucuses."

Friends, JFNA has completely and absolutely lost its way.

Chag sameach. It is Purim after all. And no one does Purim like JFNA.


Wednesday, March 16, 2011


A reader suggested that I dedicate a Post to FIVE SUCCESSFUL LOCAL FEDERATION INITIATIVES JFNA NEVER TALKS ABOUT. This is easy...as JFNA never...never...talks about Federation Initiatives (except, perhaps, to cite them if they appear in the press) because, as you know, JFNA is only about...JFNA.

1. Chicago's Nachshon Missions. This incredibly successful Chicago Program is neither new nor unknown to JFNA. (I personally discussed it with the current National "Philanthropic Resources" Chair as recently as late 2010 in Chicago.) Young Chicago Federation campaign leaders expressed a belief that they could recruit a group from among their peers, non- or minor contributors, take them to Israel to touch the needs our Federation serves and from that group expand their campaign commitments and their leadership service. Nachson recently returned from its ninth Mission -- $408,000 in new money raised (a 35% increase)and a total of $1,352,000 to the 2011 Annual Campaign -- a 21% increase gift-for-gift. Even more impressive, our current Board Chair formulated the concept and executed it; the Immediate Past Board Chair created what is essentially Nachson II with equally compelling results. From these groups are multiple Board members, Chairs, Committee Chairs and our Overall Planning and Allocations Chair. JFNA's response to this readily adaptable idea, one that could be so easily replicated nationally -- a yawn and a shrug of the shoulders.

2 New York UJA-Federation's Belonging in 2020: The Nature of the Jewish Community of Tomorrow. Our largest community brought together leaders from around the country "...to explore...revolutionary change..." in the ways that "...long-established institutions as synagogues can adjust to a younger generation whose experiences and expectations are far different from those who came before them." The challenges were spelled out and the participants urged to take ownership through every possible entry portal.

3. The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles' School Twinning Program. A remarkably ambitious Program that has grown out of Federation's Tel Aviv/Los Angeles Partnership 2000 relationship, my LA friends tell me it is the only initiative that connects schools in a North American City with schools in Tel Aviv. This is a program that has supported 60,000 students, parents and faculty with jointly prepared curricula, teacher institutes and student/faculty exchange programs wherein students from the partner cities travel to the other living with host families and studying history, literature, pluralism and more at a partner school. LA's support has created "...a shared Jewish identity and destiny." This is a great program, it is a great new Jewish idea -- not the next but the current.

4. Baltimore's THE ASSOCIATED has created a series of across the board Leadership Development Programs that may be unmatched. I'll cite two programs directly focused on young women leaders: Chapter Two is a 10-month educational/engagement program that "...recruits women who are at a stage in their lives when they are looking to grow as Jewish women who are exposed through experiential programs and hands-on social action to "capture their passion and turn it into action. Then there is Dor Tikva a two year leadership development program aimed at women 25-45 "...who aspire to hold key positions within THE ASSOCIATED." These are no TribeFest, these are substantive programs for women of substance.

5. The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta offers the widest range of Community Impact Programs for every stage of the Jewish life cycle -- from l'mazel tov childbirth classes to Pathways, an interfaith family network, through Caregiver Care to direct those who need it, to appropriates support services -- and so many more.

Friends, it's not a challenge to identify brilliant, cutting-edge Federation initiatives around North America -- I could have picked 20-50 more. The 5 I chose are but examples of what federations are doing every day, 24/6. These represent what should be among JFNA's daily obligations. And they could be replicated so readily and so easily. The shame is that they aren't and won't be so long as JFNA's leaders focus on the trivial...and we let them do so.


Sunday, March 13, 2011


~ I don't believe it is a breach of confidentiality to congratulate Kathy Manning for communicating with the JFNA Board in a confidential manner her sense of the meeting of Jewish leaders with President Obama the first week of March. Without disclosing the substance of her communication, suffice it to say that it was pitch perfect and wholly in keeping with the fact that she attended that meeting as our Chair. Kal ha'kavod.

~ Yet, there is actually someone at JFNA writing things like the following -- "...we're Jewish, we're newish and we're YOU-ish..." And even more -- all to show how "hip" we are. Someone is paid to write drivel like this. Aren't we proud?

~ Want to know how Jimmy Carter became both our worst President (I know, I know) coupled with being the worst Ex-President? Well, for a mere $70,000 charitable contribution (I don't think it is to your federation, J Street or Jewlicious), you can go fly-fishing with Carter and ask him. Probably won't be worth it.

~ Alan Dershowitz has brilliantly dissected some basic causes of the outbreak of anti-semitism worldwide. A relevant question would seem to be: why does the ADL not totally focus on these issues as is its mandate and purpose? We don't need Abe Foxman's opinions on every "Jewish" subject, do we? For example, do we need Foxman's (are they really those of the ADL?) pronouncements on Israel, on mosques? I don't think so.

~ I am still waiting for a list of JFNA's five highest priorities. Have any of you a list? OK, how about three? (And, don't kid us, we know that financial resource development isn't one of them.)

~ Do you think we will ever receive an accounting of how much was/has been raised by JFNA from the federations for: ACANI (or whatever it's called now); the IAN; Falash Mura aliyah; SCN; etc. These "asks" seem never to be subject to accountability or transparency. Just asking...but do you think that Jerry knows? That Kathy knows? That Heschel knows? But I would bet that Sam Astrof knows.

~ Finally, one Commentator objected that a JFNA senior pro observed that TribeFest was not about "...hitting people up for money." That JFNA flack, like most at JFNA, apparently never learned the values of our philanthropy or even the sacred work his fellow professionals are doing. But the professional who uttered those words for publication was reflecting the prevalent JFNA lay and professional opinion on the campaign work of federations. They ought to be ashamed...but they're not. It's not that it's not their business, it's more that they don't know what their business is or what it should be. And that's pitiful.


Thursday, March 10, 2011


Have you ever heard of Kolenu: Global Forum? I'm pretty certain you're not alone. It's, no surprise here, another new "partnership" in which JFNA is a..."partner." This particular "Global Forum" was held in London...that's London in the United Kingdom...and Paul Kane, Jerry's Senior Advisor and undisclosed head of Philanthropic Resources was among (or the only) the JFNA representatives. As Paul is steeped with knowledge of how New York-UJA raised money when he was there, I am certain he had much to offer. (I have noticed, haven't you, that for an organization that raises almost no...that's zero...money, JFNA sure likes to talk about it -- a lot!!) Anyway, JFNA was listed as a "partner" in this Global Forum with: Keren Ha'Yesod (whose Chair and CEO are listed as speakers [as did Paul] but didn't appear on the program), UIA-Federations Canada, UJIA, the host federation in London (someone should ask their leaders where oh where have your allocated funds gone), and, from the Kolenu letterhead, "West End Travel?"

The participants were an approximate 75 lay leaders under 40 years old (hence the selection of Paul to represent JFNA was even more incredible) from 16...yeah, all of 16...countries around the Jewish world -- that's "lay leaders," my friends. Who and how many represented our federations? Detroit was there. Chicago was represented. Others?

Yet, at this time of the Festivus, it is worth noting that the topics were quite comprehensive and relevant to federations work: Outreach and Engagement, Campaign, Israel and Our Evolving Relationship, Technology and Upcoming Trends. Some of the presenters were terrific role models -- Michael Brooks, The University of Michigan's brilliant, long-time Hillel Director who will warm up the "crowd," Sir Trevor Chinn, England's preeminent Jewish philanthropist, Hal Lewis, nationally acclaimed expert on leadership development (and the CEO of Spertus Institute), Aluf Benn, Haaretz' Diplomatic Editor, the Chair of KH and the KH Chief Professional, the now ubiquitous Paul Kane from JFNA, members of Israel's philanthropic Strauss family and a couple of others.

So I'm thinking -- were it capable of doing so, might it not be great if JFNA convened a federation-driven conference on these identical topics? Not in London but in Regional meetings across the Continent -- with academics, cutting edge Foundation leaders and Federation thought leaders. While JFNA lay and professional leaders appear content to examine only their own ideas (and how great are #ish and TribeFest and the like after all with the claque cheering them on uncritically), federations are engaged in cutting edge community building and rebuilding that represent the new best practices -- and the word needs to spread like wildfire. But JFNA appears indifferent to the ideas of even its owners. It promoted 4 federations' FRD plans at the Board meeting last month -- FRD plans in which this iteration of JFNA professional leadership played no part.

Kolenu means, I think, "our voices" -- just the voices our leaders appear not to want to hear. All they hear are the sounds that emanate from patting themselves on the back. It's all so sad.


Wednesday, March 9, 2011


Received an e-mail from The Desk of Paul Kane (who if he attended TribeFest, was the oldest one in the room -- uh, "mash pit"), JFNA's Senior Advisor to the President/CEO, on Tuesday announcing that the Festivus as a "...truly unprecedented and transformational event." On behalf of JFNA Paul reported: "Tribefest has exceeded even our expectations, generating intense buzz as a pivotal shift in how we create new Jewish touchpoints (Trust me, Kane did not write this) to engage a much broader group of younger Jews and -- ultimately -- build our community."

I was most taken, in Paul's applause, with the Las Vegas Chair's shout-out to "... the assembled, to huge cheers, 'We are the future of the Jewish world." Echoes James Cameron. Less cynical folks than I (and that may be almost anyone)present sensed the great ruach and the seats filled with young enthusiastic men and women. That is worthy of some congratulations.

I received this e-mail from inside the Fest: "I have snuck into the Fest. Like everyone else I have my head down as I Tweet madly trying to keep up with the guy with the grey hair and a kippah. He's typing so madly his thumbs are a blur. My fiend -- who is in the "emergency care" line, points his casted hands toward the grey-haired guy, and in reverent tones, he whispered in awe: 'That's Daroff. He's the Prince of Twitters.'" Wow, I thought, this must be a transformational event if Daroff, Prince of the Twitters, is here."

Yes, TribeFest could have been a portal of entry into any part of the Jewish world. But, and I doubt that JFNA, in the orgy of self-congratulations is now engaged, will bother itself with either of the following: intended for the "unaffiliated," as the JTA reported, "an informal survey of participants revealed...[E]leven of the 12 attendees interviewed by JTA reported that they already are active members and donors in their local federations." This should be no surprise given the subsidies encouraged by JFNA of the federations, should it?

Then compare and contrast with this: MASA, the wonderful semester in Israel program for Jewish college students, announced that, on the same day on which Festivus began, that 500 students began an extensive Mission in Israel in a MASA Intensive Leadership Program. That's 500 serious young men and women in Israel chosen from 10,000 for more than a three day "transformational" experience in Las Vegas. The MASA Building Future Program "partners" with AVI CHAIL, Hillel, Israel on Campus Coalition, PresenTense and the ubiquitous "we're everywhere" JFNA. Yes, compare and contrast.

Over at 25 Broadway, as I predicted on these pages days and weeks ago, the patting of their own backs is in full swing. Wow, what an occasion. Let's do it again, just like Jewlicious does, and make it an annual event. After all, unlike the MASA participants or those engaged in serious communal work through federations' leadership development programs, the Festivus participants "...are the future of the Jewish world."


Monday, March 7, 2011


Here is JFNA at the peak of its powers evidencing its relevance:

"Jewish Federations of North America JFNA Poll: Natalie Portman has been making headlines recently. She is pregnant by and engaged to a non-Jewish man, won an Oscar, reprimanded John Galliano for his anti-semitic remarks, and fell under scrutiny by politician Mike Huckabee. Ms. Portman was born in Israel and has publicly acknowledged her Jewish heritage....How do you feel about Ms. Portman and/or any of her recent headlines?"

Just so sad. And we pay for this stuff.



We had some hope -- minimal though it was -- that when JFNA brought Paul Kane, the "seasoned" campaigner from New York UJA-Federation, that he might energize JFNA's Development (or, pardon me, Philanthropic Resources) activity for and on behalf of the federations. We were wrong. Question: does Paul even communicate with federations like mine...or yours? (Does he return your calls?) Paul appears to view his main function, at least in his public appearances, as extolling the virtues of his CEO and President. In fact, JFNA appears to be less engaged in any aspect of financial resource development than at any time in the history of our national institution and its predecessors.

Best I could tell, senior Philanthropic Resources professionals were "dedicated," more or less full time, to the "success" of the TribeFest -- a curious reassignment at best. Now, at least one (to Birthright Israel), and perhaps more, of the best FRD pros has or will be leaving JFNA altogether. Oh, we'll be hearing about how he/she/they had an offer he/she/they could not refuse, but, trust your instincts here my readers, dedicated professionals are leaving, at least in part, because they see no commitment to FRD at JFNA. (And, you might ask, where is the voice of lay leadership on the lack of FRD focus at JFNA? Silent, of course -- sad...very sad)

One of the contributions that JFNA has made in the area of FRD, albeit as an outgrowth of the excellent FRD Study of seven or eight years ago, was the development and schooling of federation professional staffs in the implementation of the "collaborative fund raising model." In fact, as recently as the JFNA Board Retreat, Max Kleinman, MetroWest's terrific CEO and President, reported on the success of his federation in the area of collaboration. Yet, at the recent Endowment Professionals confab, there was significant objection to any and every mention of the annual campaign effort -- even to the use of the word "campaign" itself. And even though collaboration had been at the heart of JFNA's FRD work with Federations, at that meeting of professionals, the JFNA endowment pros offered no defense of the value of collaboration...none. Silent and intimidated, of course.

The prior JFNA administration amused itself with deprecating the federation annual campaigns --you know, the very campaigns that produce the money for, e.g., JFNA Dues. The current version of JFNA leadership has made the "annual campaign" nothing more than a couple of bad words -- words they rarely if ever utter. I am not sure if these folks can even connect the dots between annual campaign and allocations.

This is what it has come to, chevre. JFNA has reduced itself into a senseless set of exercises in the trivial -- #ish, Heroes, TribeFest, Global Planning Table (ONAD revisited) and the like. Its lay and professional leaders have wholly failed to define the organization's five top priorities. Their self-definition of JFNA as a "network" of social welfare and hands-on volunteer efforts isn't close to reality. My youngest son, many years ago, stood up in the midst of a horrible and loooong movie we had dragged him to and screamed: "WHAT IS THIS THING ALL ABOUT????" EXACTLY. May we have your share of $30.3 million please?

Let me make this crystal clear if I haven't in previous Posts: the vast majority of Federations want JFNA's help with their annual campaign and endowment efforts. And...they aren't getting that help. If we aren't about that help, we are about nothing.

Pretty sad.


Friday, March 4, 2011


So I read the p.r. on the Fest in The Huffington Post and The NY Jewish Week. It sounds far removed from any reality; if only wishing made it so. If only.

My sense is that a few months back, with Festivus approaching disaster status, JFNA decided to hand over the bulk of the programming to the generation for whom the Fest was intended -- with wholly predictable results. I don't pretend to comprehend, given my senior status, what the purpose of the TribeFest really is or ever was. It appears to be far more ambitious than the attendance could possibly justify -- in the press, JFNA decribes Festivus in advance as a "life altering experience" somehow comparable to Birthright. I truly believe that few at JFNA can describe how this could be in any real sense at all -- and that many lay leaders and professionals at 25 Broadway are embarrassed and concerned about what Festivus says about JFNA and, thereby, about all of us.

What started out with internal estimates that the Las Vegas venue and non-traditional programming and marketing would draw 3,000 young men and women to TribeFest. Now, Silverman projects 1,200 and others suggest numbers as low as 850. (With over 100 "speakers" on the Program, the numbers of attendees are more easily inflated -- one "speaker" for every 10 registrants is a ridiculous ratio.) With 40 "partners" and the encouragement JFNA gave federations to subsidize, 800 or 1200 or 3000 would seem to signal a lack of appealing content.

The Program itself -- whether on the "Main Stage" or in the "mash ups" (vayezmir) -- is beyond schizophrenic -- ranging from "Lunch with a Legend" to this: "'Door Prize' is the story of a trans, two spirit, butch-boi lesbians for whom public restrooms are always an adventure." I don't deprecate the focus -- and I know it's a discussion after viewing a short film; I guess it's my age, I don't understand the topic or its description -- "trans" I think I get, but "butch-boi" -- is it a typo? -- "two spirit?" (But I am certain that presenter Zsa Zsa Gershick will explain in full.) And, for certain, the game show parody "Jewpardy" should pack them in. This week Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman presided over the opening of The Mob Experience at the Tropicana Hotel -- coincidence...or new venue?

And, speaking of the need to explain, JFNA describes itself in the promotional materials for Festivus as: "...a network for doing good, through meaningful philanthropy and hands on volunteerism." Really? Festivus? Is this what we have become? Really? I remain convinced that the target generations crave real engagement and substance -- instead they get this? (Remember the negative reviews the Hillel attendees gave to the GA.)

There are a variety of Fest programs offering everything from the sublime to the...not so much...from organizations hip and newish -- e.g., PresentTense, Bikkurim, SUDIN -- to not so hip but Jewish -- e.g., the Jewish Federation of San Antonio's Howard Feinberg to the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and more. A veritable potpourri of organizational self-promotion. Pulling it all together? Best I can tell -- Nothing.

Jerry S has publicized the positive press -- articles pre-Fest in USA Today and The Jewish Week. It is clear from those quoted and from the missives JFNA Board members have received that there has been a major dedication of senior professionals from Development -- er, Philanthropic Resources -- from their fund-raising and constituency responsibilities to the Fest. Will press releases and staff comments mean the Fest is a success? Will 1,200 attendees ipso facto make Fest a success? Will a post-Fest survey affirming that everyone had a swell time make it a success? Or, none of the above?

Maybe the Fest shouldn't have been held in Las Vegas after all -- perhaps Fantasyland at Disneyland would have been more appropriate. This is how we present our system to the generations that follow ours? And, JFNA is already hard at work "planning next year's event."


Tuesday, March 1, 2011


It is so sad to see an organization with such great potential reduce itself to irrelevance. Each time it has an opportunity to act for the good of the federations Murphy's Law strikes. Viz....

The meetings of the Jewish Agency Board of Governors last week brought the leaders of JFNA to Israel. Rather than totally focus on the critical work to be done there (where it appears the JFNA leaders' main focus is once again on attempts to accrete power and position), inasmuch as they were in Jerusalem, they turned their attention to the Conversion Issue -- where, in thew aftermath of their "announcement" of the discussions and "results," they may have undermined months of work toward compromise and resolution.

You may recall that we have argued since the introduction of the Rotem Conversion legislation that JFNA take the playbook for vigorously opposing such legislation off the shelf, dust it off and implement it for our federations and donors. We begged for a comprehensive plan. What we got instead was the positive from Jerry Silverman's one-man show last year, a six month "moratorium" and nothing more than an expression of trust in the work and efforts of Natan Sharansky who sought to work out the very compromise that JFNA's leaders desired. Yet, inasmuch as they were in Jerusalem last month with little, apparently, to do, as they announced in a Leadership Briefing last week, and, in doing so, they wreaked havoc in their self-promoting way, may have set back the efforts at compromise and resolution.

JAFI invited the CEO and the Board Chair to attend a confidential meeting with the Interior Ministry. JFNA decided to publicize the meeting as if they made any contributions there. While Natan Sharansky has been the Prime Minister's and our system's designee for negotiations with all of those engaged on the conversion issue in the search for compromise, JFNA took it upon itself to condemn the Chief Rabbi curiously while extolling the virtues of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who has gone out of his way to attack non-Orthodox Diaspora Jewry, among so many others, over the past decades. The same Chief Rabbi who has called women "stupid" and "deviants" and condemned all Arabs...that's all of them...to death and disparaged all non-Jews as "existing solely to serve Jews!!" One would need Rashi to explain why Jerry and Kathy decided to act and speak unilaterally after almost 9 months of nothing more than "reporting" on the actions of others? These leaders demand that JAFI coordinate with them; but give no thought to acting unilaterally themselves. They, after all, "...are JFNA."

You remember: the legislation was introduced camouflaging total control of conversion, marriage and other civil actions in amendments to progressive legislation with regard to the conversion of olim. JFNA-Israel was totally surprised. Luckily, its CEO and President was in Jerusalem on a Mission and he did a great job of "presenting the case" against the amendments. Then JFNA leaders decided to declare a six month moratorium on its activities on the legislation over the course of which it could have planned an aggressive campaign, mobilizing major donors and the federations, revising Israel Mission content, etc. Instead, from all appearances, JFNA...did...nothing.(Correction, bringing Israeli Knesset staff and others to the States was an excellent idea -- almost as if JFNA decided to read one page of the "playbook.".) No plan, no mobilization...a big nothing as in squadoosh. And no plan going forward as the legislation returns to the Knesset. So here were the Chair and CEO in Jerusalem so why not do nothing (really nothing) but immediately thereafter, with no clearance with its "partner" issue a self-congratulatory, inflammatory press release -- its Leadership Briefing!! Why?

Why? My guess: "boredom." Our leaders are so much like the dinosaurs -- silent, quiescent animals who periodically would be stimulated to action. And, when stirred into action, they would flail around, destroying everything in their paths. The dinosaurs are, of course, extinct.