Monday, January 30, 2012


For some reason, JFNA's leaders decided to roll out the panoply of functions allegedly performed by its "Philanthropic Resources Support Services to Federations" in a lengthy presentation/discussion/program filler at the recently completed Board Retreat. And I am sure that Susie Stern presented it in a compelling manner. I am certain that more than one Board member was thinking -- "Why us? Why not bring together the Campaign Chairs and Directors?" The answer: "No, they would know this was all just a rehash of what was done 15 years ago even if we don't." They also know that if it looks like bullshit and smells like bullshit, it's probably bullshit. I found the recitation -- three whole pages worth -- in light of JFNA's walk away from its FRD responsibilities -- to be uproarious. Those with whom I shared the document found my conclusion to be overly generous. All I can figure is that given the venue, Disney World, that they moved this particular presentation to Fantasyland.

 It appeared to me that this Philanthropic Resources summary was culled almost completely from a paper that Eric Levine, then the professional leader of FRD at JFNA, prepared (and shared with me at the time) at least five years ago -- and that piece was itself culled from the real work of UJA some 15 years ago. Listed in the JFNA piece are some 97...that's right 97...programs in which its Philanthropic Resources Department is "engaged." And that preposterous number doesn't even include the subset of programs under a given individual heading. Susie Stern reported that the Department is working with 107 Federations -- another preposterous number.  This at a time when the Department has been deconstructed to such a great extent -- leaving behind some excellent professionals to be sure.  Surely not even the few of them left would claim that, e.g., they have "loaned" a JFNA "executive" to a "federation in urgent situations," since, maybe, David Saginaw, long since moved on to Birthright, when he assisted San Francisco three years ago, or that they are engaged in, horrors, "fund raising." 

Then there's the claim of an "invigorated national Missions program." Take a careful look at this example of the shell game. There is no budget for Mission subsidies; the shocking lack of continental participation in the 2011 Prime Minister's Mission was a direct result of the failure by JFNA leadership to recruit and an apparent disinterest in doing so; the scheduling of multiple Missions to South America at almost the same time was self-defeating; and so on, and so on.

Then, again, it's easy to ratchet up the "program count" if you're going to include the "NYL Cabinet Shabbaton at the GA" as a program or "Boutique Missions" of which there have been none, or Festivus as a "Philanthropic Resources" program. Or throw in, as an example, I guess, of "Consulting Services, the "...integration of the Collaborative Model, an interdisciplinary approach" or the Large City Investment Program as a Philanthropic Resources program.

This is the sorry state of JFNA today: in overstating what you claim to be doing, you just destroy the credibility of what you might actually be doing. Instead of being a center of excellence with priorities clear, JFNA is a center of nothing, without purpose or goals. Fantasyland.


Friday, January 27, 2012


Sigh. Is it the beginning of the end or just the end of the beginning?

~ As JTA reported just before the New Year, the Boston Globe wrote that "...Combined Jewish Philanthropies has hired a gay rabbi as its first interfaith ambassador, a role in which he runs interfaith parenting workshops and presides at interfaith marriages." I am going to assume that the Globe article was based on some Boston federation press release, otherwise why is the fact that the rabbi in question is gay relevant at all? The Boston federation has done some wonderful outreach to the interfaith community, now, you can answer the question: is one role of a federation in 2011 to "...preside at interfaith marriages?"

~ Many Israeli-based NGOs and non-profits were anxiously anticipating a meeting with Joanne Moore, JFNA's Sr. V-P for the GPT on her seven to ten visit to Israel immediately after the New Year (what travel agents would call a "fam trip"). Oooops, trip canceled with neither explanation or rescheduling. Your guess is as good as mine...or theirs.

~ But, speaking of travel to Israel, as his faithful aide, Becky Caspi, dutifully reported, in the first week of 2012, CEO/Pres Silverman, returned to his reported "triumphant" whirling dervish opposition to venal proposed changes to the "Law of Return" last year (a virtuoso Jerry one-man show that had no evident impact on the process), this time focused on responding to the ultra-Orthodox assault on tolerance and a civil society. Just as in his last intense expression of outrage on our behalf, inexplicably Jerry decided to go it more or less alone, with Caspi playing Ms. Sancho Panza to his Quixote.

You must think that there is no systemic "playbook" for just such a response to these types of activities in Israel that directly impact us. It's simple -- JFNA reaches out to the federations and asks for a contribution of lay (remember them) and professional leadership to a Mission of, say, 200 leaders from across North America to study and react to the current situation on the ground in Israel. Under the current leadership circumstances, JFNA asks the Crowns and, say, LA's Stanley Gold to lead the Mission. In Israel, JFNA-Israel isn't asked to play tour guide for CEO Jerry, but to arrange face-to-face meetings for the Mission with the Prime Minister (can they still arrange those after Itzik Shavit's, z'l. death?) and relevant Cabinet Ministers, the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, Rabbinic leaders of Israeli Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist leaders, the leaders of Beit Shemesh, women and children who have been the heroic subjects of the taunting and attempts at humiliation, leaders of Israel's media and members of Knesset.

But no. Jerry chooses to go it alone. End result? Same as in the "Who Is a Jew" legislation in 2010-today. Jerry comes home. We read the JFNA Daily Media Guide to learn what others are doing.

Aren't we just proud?


Thursday, January 26, 2012


It used to be said that the last refuge of scoundrels is patriotism but, after listening to the Board Chair try to enwrap herself in "lawyerspeak" in defense of JFNA's breach of its November 2010 Agreement with JAFI and JDC, I believe the new "last refuge" is the claim that "lawyers would agree that the language of the Agreement is subject to multiple interpretations." Sadly, specious in every possible way.

Here's the specific language drafted by the Board Chair herself: "Prior to the expiration of this agreement but as aoon as possible, JFNA will establish a second membership creiterion for member Federations in an effort to increase overseas allocations to support the important work of JAFI and JDC." There is neither ambiguity nor room for interpretation in this language.

First, the language was drafted by Ms. Manning. Surely she knows of the legal maxim that language will be interpreted against the draftsperson. (Now, I'm guessing that Manning turned to some other lawyers for her specious argument but didn't bother providing them with the facts.) Second, I was negotiating on behalf of the other parties to the Agreement and (1) I know what was meant by the cited clause and (2) I know that Manning and I discussed the meaning specifically.

Didn't the Board Chair tell others -- Large City Executives, the CEO, her lay leaders -- that "I blew it?" But, nonetheless, at the Board meeting in Orlando, she chose to hide behind the old "multiple interpretations" argument, specious as it is and was. She and Jerry had already reported to a group of Executives that JFNA could not get those who fail or refuse to allocate to JAFI/JDC to agree to a Second Membership Criterion. Instead of meeting the responsibilities and obligations of the contract they had drafted on the subject, they pleaded with responsible federation leaders to help them "hold the system together" (as if those who fail to allocate to JAFI/JDC care about "the system"). At the end of the day, once again, a group of leaders from caring and responsible communities appear to have agreed to a Second Membership Criterion that urges the lowest common denominator to meet a minimum so low as to be laughable "in the interest of keeping the system together."

But, with all of this, I have to tell you that I hold Kathy Manning in awe. Watching her outwit and overwhelm some of the best and brightest of the federation system with what they have to know is "whatever works," to me is like what it must have been like to walk into Picasso's studio and watching him paint. Yes, I am in awe.

By acquiescing to the least among us, we acknowledge that we have no system...and with that no hope. And we didn't need a specious, misleading and ultimately unnecessary argument to get us there.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Still don't know what is we're doing? Then we must be doing it well.

When it comes to the GPT and the Second Membership Criterion, you know my sense that the Board Chair and her Sancho Panza, the CEO and President, have been gaming the system from the get go -- (1) the bogus "mandate" from the February 2008 Retreat,(2) the constant push for a GPT nobody really wanted but them, an Agreement with JAFI/JDC that they never intended to observe, (3) a Second Membership Criterion that excluded JAFI and JDC allocations notwithstanding the express provisions in the November 2010 Agreement that they wrote, claiming they couldn't "sell" anything more, and (4) even though they had never tried in earnest to advocate for anything other than that which they intended from the start.

Then came the week of January 15. Leaders in more than one Large City Federation read, for the first time, the proposed JFNA By-Law Amendments, the November 2010 JFNA/JAFI/JDC Agreement and the Second Membership Criterion (unchanged since September 2010). They also received a passionate and reasoned letter from the JAFI Board and Executive Chairs, the former, a mega-donor highly respected for his leadership and the Executive Chair, the heroic leader of Soviet Jewry and a force within the Israel of today. All of these factored into a "discussion" with Manning by a few Federation leaders who left that "discussion" with the hope, even the expectation, that Manning would convince recalcitrant federation leaders of the need to refocus the Membership Criterion on the core allocations of JAFI/Joint.

It seemed to me that this would be no more than an exercise for Manning/Silverman. Earlier in the same week, Silverman had reported that the outliers were unwilling to consider any commitment to the Jewish Agency and Joint as a condition precedent to JFNA membership -- after all, these "leaders" in some cases literally had spent years divorcing their federations from any semblance of collective responsibility. Now, after the continuous, uninterrupted Manning/Silverman acquiescence -- after all, it's been far, far easier to play on those federations with a sense of systemic and collective responsibility ("do you want your federation to be responsible for the system deconstructing?") than to advocate among the outliers for any sense of responsibility whatsoever -- Manning would somehow change her tune? Come on. But, in an exercise I would characterize as "buying time," she claimed that she appeared to understand that her failed leadership had dictated the breach of the November 2010 Agreement ("I had no choice") and, once again, she would make the attempt. (Actually it would be the first time.) So, Manning, like a permissive parent who has favored one child over another for three years, was now going to impose discipline on that one at the behest of the other? Not really.

So, mirabile dictu indeed. The Board Chair's chances, if she took this charge seriously,  seemed to me to be as good as the chances that Gingrich would beat Romney in South Carolina. (oops!!)  And so it was. JDC and JAFI, the historic partners, and our continuing commitment to them, will be cited in some Preamble language to come. The Global Planning Table Partnership Committee will be comprised of those communities which allocate 20% or more to JAFI/JDC. But, that Committee, as opposed to the multiple other GPT Committees, will make recommendations to the GPT decision-making body where federations which may make no allocations to JAFI/JDC sit and vote. This represents a seminal shift between supporting JAFI/JDC and to a small extent ORT to supporting undefined "global Jewish needs." In other words, "we'll give you some hortatory language in a Preamble you haven't seen talking about the historic systemic support for the core allocations of JAFI/JDC and urging that that support continue and you give us support for the Second Membership Criterion" and...that's it?

At the JFNA Board Meeting, Manning actually stated that there are "differing interpretations" of the JFNA/JAFI/Joint November 2010 Agreement as it pertains to the Second Membership Criterion. THAT WOULD BE SO WRONG. The language is clear; the language was written by Manning; there can be no interpretation other than that the Second Membership Criterion was mandated by the November 2010 Agreement to support additional financial resources for JAFI/JDC.  And she knows it. But...can't let the facts stand in the way of progress, can we now?


Monday, January 23, 2012


Today the JFNA Board has the ability to take leadership's proposed By-Law Amendments and, by a Motion to Table, send them back for necessary revisions  that will reflect history and purpose. Some federation leaders have already suggested that JFNA's own leaders table these ill-considered, poorly thought through Amendments sending them back to the By-Laws Committee. In response, the Board Chair and President/CEO plow forward apparently ignorant of the further damage they are doing to an institution we all value.

Let's look at a few reasons for tabling:

     ~ The proposed elimination of the Delegate Assembly is another example of JFNA leaders failure to implement the merger requirements for meetings of the Assembly and then claiming that the Assembly hasn't met its responsibilities. The Assembly, aside from its governance responsibilities (which could be assumed by the Federation Members Corporation), was to be the one place where formal representatives of the Religious Streams, JAFI and the Joint, and thought leaders would come together with federation leaders. But, JFNA never bothered. So, their solution -- get rid of it.

     ~ Then there is the proposed elimination of the Chair of the Executive, folding that position into the Board Chair. We know how this Board Chair has chafed at watching this Chair of the Executive run Executive Committee meetings and sharing microphones at JFNA events. So, the current proposed solution would place some of the Chair of the Executive's responsibilities in a so-called  "Executive Vice-Chair of the Board" who would by By-Law report to the Board Chair. Like you, I have served on many non-profit Boards, even chaired a few; never...not once...have I seen a corporate officer relegated to reporting to another. Why not just replace all of the corporate officers and have just one -- a Chair of the Board? That appears to be the goal here.

     ~ And, finally, the Endowment Committee. The By-Law Amendments would emasculate it and, just as the Global Planning Table is designed to destroy the system's historic ties to and support of the work of JAFI and JDC, the amendments to the Endowment Grant process is a grab of dollars to seed the Global Planning Table with those same dollars. Let me explain: as a result of the merger that created JFNA the respective endowments of UJA (in the tens of millions) and CJF (in the millions) were placed in what is now the JFNA Endowment. To assure that purposes of the donors continued to be met, the Grants Committee was made up of a majority of members appointed by UIA and the Joint. This frustrated JFNA -- just think, they actually had to justify their grant requests; and the UIA and Joint representatives assured that the overseas grants supported JAFI/JDC needs and programs. If the proposed By-Law Amendments are approved, the UIA and Joint will no longer be represented as a matter of fiduciary responsibility, and the very purposes of the overseas endowments will no longer be observed. This is an egregious power grab, it is in ignorance of what fiduciary responsibility means but wholly consistent with the ever-expanding demand of this leadership for control...control...control. That's what it's all about; that's what it is only about.

Motion to Table, anyone?


Sunday, January 22, 2012


In response to my Post asking IS THERE SOMETHING IN THE WATER?, I received and published an Anonymous Comment:
"You should know that there are professionals at JFNA who work tirelessly in pursuit of our highest goals and aspirations, alongside many fine lay leaders, despite the lack of support from within -- and from you all on the outside. Keep attacking and they will just dig in their heels deeper, oppressing those of us who are there for the sanctity of the cause. If you really want to help, get involved in a constructive way. Stop saying they won't let you in, and just barge your way in, if you really care at all. There are enough good people worth this kind of time and effort.   
                               Or just don't really care at all."

Friends, I don't know if this plea/critique was directed at me or you or all of us, but I will respond. I have heard from many lay and professional leaders around the continent, from every City-size federation and from the Network, who fear, in this "go along to get along" organization, raising their voices -- fear "barging in" if you will. They have seen how leaders who have expressed privately constructive criticism have been ostracized and isolated.

There are great professionals at JFNA, but they are fewer and fewer. The favored are those who have curried and continue to curry favor with the CEO/President who speaks a great game about wanting the best and brightest on his staff but then fails in execution...and seemingly takes only the advice that confirms his own predetermination based on...what exactly? Jerry's seeming "confidence" is in only those few senior professionals who echo his views and opinions -- a dangerous way to run a $30.3 million business.

It's a sorry situation for those great young pros who joined JFNA to be part of a movement and find themselves stuck in a place without purpose or passion, often engaged in the frivolous (e.g., Registration [and discounts extended] is open for Tribefest 2 starring Rachel Dratch [??] and so very many others) ignoring the federations needs and wants.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


When I published SO MANY THINGS ARE NONE OF OUR BUSINESS on January 16, I didn't anticipate that so many leaders of the 400 non-federated Network communities would write to comment on the sorry state of JFNA-Network relationships and related matters. But, they did...and their voices need to be heard here because they are no longer heard there. I am saddened by what I've learned...because I had predicted these outcomes (though not nearly as dire) when I wrote two years ago about the Board Chair's "outreach" and promises to Network leadership after their "rebellion" upon learning how much of their raised funds were being applied by JFNA to its budget.

Here are just a few of the points raised by my friends in the Network:

     ~ The Network campaign has fallen from $10 million annually to $5.5 million under its new professional leadership. Close to a 50% drop is both unheard of and unacceptable, of course -- except at JFNA.

     ~ While the 2011 Network annual campaign (the only one run by JFNA) was cratering, the JFNA professional in charge gave the Network staff the last week in December off. Guess they had been working way too hard to achieve a close to a 50% reduction in campaign and all those Jewish and secular holidays and contractual vacation time just weren't enough.

     ~ As a "solution" to the issues raised by the Network leadership in 2008-2009, Kathy Manning appointed a Committee to study the Network and report her. The end product, the Network Executive Committee, a body of lay leaders elected by the Network and thoroughly committed to the Network and its goals -- men and women of character, leadership, commitment and high achievement -- was eliminated, substituting an "Advisory Committee" that she appointed out of her "vast experience" with the Network (uh, make that "none"). Presumably, this Advisory Committee is made up of those who are JFNA.

     ~ Steve Scheck is the new Network Chair. A terrific leader from a great leadership family in Miami, Steve had no experience in the Network, came from outside of it and is now expected to chair its work. This would be strange were it not JFNA where, you will recall, the immediate past Chair of Israel-Overseas was from a community that made no allocation to the core budgets of JAFI/JDC.

So, questions: who is running the Network -- the lay leadership (now defenestrated at Ms. Manning's direction) or the professional leadership (and just what is the CEO/President's role here -- does he even know what's going on?) where, I am told, more than 1/2 the professional staff has left since Rhea Attias's firing?

The treatment of the Network is wholly reflective of the "new culture" at JFNA. It's ugly.


Friday, January 20, 2012


Back in the early Fall of 2010 JFNA's Board Chair and its CEO and President began pressing the Jewish Agency and Joint to enter into a tri-party agreement that would bind each and all of them to certain underlying understandings. I know the terms of the resultant Agreement of November 2010 because the Jewish Agency and JDC asked me to represent both of them in the negotiations -- over the JFNA Board Chair's opposition, expressed in an ugly, angry and hostile way. I saw my role as both an advocate for JAFI/JDC and as one who would strive to find common ground with JFNA/Manning/Silverman.

You should know that the Board Chair, as is her style, in order to control the "process," dictated a Draft apparently expecting that it would be accepted by the Agency and Joint as she had determined in her sole discretion. Eventually, thanks in large measure to Cleveland's Steve Hoffman's playing the role of shuttle diplomat, an agreement was reached that, in the main, reflected Manning's original draft. There was to be a Global Planning Table in form and substance agreeable to the Jewish Agency and JDC and tied thereto would be a Second JFNA Membership Criterion that would by the express terms of the Agreement "...increase overseas allocations to support the important work of JAFI and JDC." 

Throughout, the JFNA Board Chair demanded a "Severability Clause" that in reality stood the contractual concept of "severability" on its head. Typically, such clauses are intended to assure that "[I]nvalidity or unenforceability of one or more provisions of this Agreement shall not affect any other provision of this Agreement." The Board Chair to the contrary demanded the following language: "The provisions of this Agreement are not severable. The parties have agreed to this Agreement in its entirety." Ooops. Now the Chair is hoisted on her own petard...arising directly out of her own leadership, or lack thereof. Thus, there can be no GPT without a viable Second Membership Criterion, among other things.

Yes, JFNA has brought forward for consideration (but not action) a Second Membership Criterion that assures that overseas allocations will not "increase the important work of JAFI and JDC." JFNA action on the Second Membership Criterion as drafted places JFNA in breach of its own Agreement -- nothing new there -- but also in breach of the fiduciary duties that were explicitly incorporated into the merger that created JFNA itself. From JFNA -- a shrug, a "so what; we tried." JFNA committed by its execution of its own dictated agreement to lead an effort in support of that to which it committed. It didn't.

The national system -- JFNA -- was created to protect, enhance and increase the resources of the federations and its partners. Instead, this leadership has dedicated itself to the deconstruction of that which we believed to be sacred. The fiduciary crisis that our system now faces is one created by the system itself...hoisted on its own petard.

This is not leadership. It's shameful.


Thursday, January 19, 2012


It was only a short while ago, while reviewing JFNA's By-Laws (something its leaders might consider doing but I admit its easier to ignore them if you have no idea what's in them and just want to change them so much), that I came upon an Amendment just one year old. You probably had forgotten it as had JFNA's leaders, The JFNA Resolution of December 16, 2010, provided, among other things, for the termination of ONAD  (surprise, it's back, only much, much worse), and, then in pertinent part: "...the agreement pursuant to which JFNA guarantees the UIA revolving term loan requiring consent by the lending banks to any change in the ONAD methodology..." continuing that "...this resolution shall be subject to referral of the proposed ONAD change to the lending banks to obtain the banks' consent."

OK? Simple, right? 

I sent the Resolution on to responsible leaders questioning whether the GPT change had likewise been referred for lender consent. Oooooops. Turned out the December 2010 termination of ONAD HAD NEVER BEEN REVIEWED WITH JFNA's BANKS, let alone the GPT Resolution. So, by the time my Post -- A Prescription for Chaos -- published on December 22, JFNA thought they could say "what's Wexler writing about? He's so wrong." After all, we live in what Paul Krugman has termed "the post-truth era." But, and this is big "but" -- having negotiated with so many Banks over the course of my law practice, in such a complex organizational environment, I would guess that all the lenders said, was, when they got JFNA's Cliff Notes explanation of the changes, "we want some times to look into this," no consent, just temporizing. The assumption is that the UIA loan will continue to be paid down out of whatever allocations to JAFI core remain after the devastation that the GPT will wreak.

But, there's the rub. The explicit intent of the GPT sponsors (and many federations, sadly) is to eradicate the federations' core allocations to JAFI and JDC. At the end of this calendar year, only those federations which have represented to the Joint and JAFI that they will continue core allocations at current levels will continue to do so (JFNA clearly will engage in no advocacy on the "partners'" behalf). But, if no other federations join them, those federations will be supporting the repayment of $53 million plus interest. And, where's JFNA? Out of touch, in the dark...CLUELESS.

This is how our system works today. And, yes, no one thanked me. Hard to believe, I know.


Monday, January 16, 2012


Since we returned to these pages one of the things about JFNA's constant lack of accountability and "new culture" that has concerned us the most has been that only a small group of "leaders" has been made privy to matters that should be the concern of all of us. Consider,  if you will, litigation against the organization.

As it turns out, in September 2010, Rhea Attias, once a respected professional who rose to the position of "Managing Director" of JFNA's Network of close to 400 non-federated communities constituting the Network of Independent Communities, filed a multi-count Complaint against JFNA in Federal Court in New York arising out of her 2009 termination. Among Attias' allegations were: "...(she was) paid lower wages and benefits than similarly situated male employees who performed the same job functions under similar working conditions;" additional discriminatory actions including age and sex; violation of agreed-upon pension benefits; and interfering with her job prospects " spreading false and misleading information...and by otherwise disparaging her accomplishments, abilities and employment history."

And, of course, JFNA's lawyers have filed what is basically a blanket denial to all of the allegations. Curiously, they have filed a motion to assure that a list of JFNA's employees' salaries be sealed, denying access to that info of which they want no one to know. This is JFNA's focus of course.

The more important fact is not that a lawsuit claiming sex and age discrimination has been filed. That can happen. The bottom line question is: have you ever heard anything about this lawsuit? Has there been any disclosure to the Board, to the federations, to JFNA's auditors? Are there other pending lawsuits against JFNA, its employees and officers? Or is this kind of thing none of our so much else at JFNA. 

This entire Post -- none of your business, of course.


Thursday, January 12, 2012


Yes, I was totally wrong. The current JFNA leaders have proved that you can fool all of the people all of the time. In fact, you can even fool those one thought would be the ones who would first argue that the Emperor/Empress wears no clothes. What am I writing about? Read on...

JFNA Board members just received the By-Law Amendments that will be considered at the February Retreat. In the main, these have nothing to do with the health or success of JFNA or making JFNA more critical to the best of our system, to those who contribute the most but, as always these days, about the accretion of power to the Chair.


    1. The Delegate Assembly was designed to create a check and balance on the JFNA Board. Thus, voting at the Board was one Board member one vote; at the Delegate Assembly, votes were distributed in a weighted fashion, thereby assuring that those who contribute the most to JFNA had the greatest number of votes on Budget and more. Now, no more Delegate Assembly; to these "leaders" it's but a vestige of the past. No check, no balance any more. And to justify themselves, they just rewrite history.

In the JFNA "explanatory" Memorandum on the By-Law changes, leadership wants you to believe that the Delegate Assembly was nothing more than a relic from the CJF era...that would be wrong. The Assembly was created at the time of the merger; what was incorporated from CJF was only...only...the formula used for weighted voting, a complex combination of campaign and Jewish population, (And, because JFNA was apparently too "busy" rewriting history, the formula was unchanged from 1999 even though governance required annual modification.)

The Assembly was also to be a place for representation in JFNA's work by representatives of our religious streams, our partners, academics, JAFI, JDC and others. This was discussed and debated at length -- the religious stream leaders considering this minimal representation insulting and worse. (I know because I spent hours in these discussions.) Now, as some argued at the time of the merger, JFNA's leaders have assured that there is no place for them at JFNA. Was this history ever discussed by JFNA leaders with anyone? (That's a rhetorical question.)

Yes, it's pitiful but, after all, they are JFNA.

     2. The Merger Agreement determined that there was to be a Board Chair and a Chair of the Executive. It seemed like a good idea at the time -- a Chair of the Board who would be a mega-donor (a Bronfman or, at the time, a Bobby Goldberg) offering not only the example of his/her generosity but new ideas and program proposals, and a Chair of the Executive who would be someone knowledgeable of our system (a Tauber, a Sonny Plant, z'l) who would lead an "operating Executive" dealing with JFNA operational matters. (had Manning understood her role as Chair of the Executive one has to wonder whether the morally bankrupt serial termination of women during her three years would have been tolerated.) Over time, the original concept was ignored and, in the current iteration of roles, with a self-described "full-time volunteer" as Board Chair, zealous to arrogate all matters JFNA to herself and not good about sharing with others, it has been evident that the Chair of the Executive was an appendix that required a By-Lawectomy. A Chairman of the Executive -- no more. After all, it's tough to have two microphones operating at the same time -- especially when one person wants both. I have to give Michael Gelman credit for his patience and leadership here, but not for his apparent acquiescence.

     3. And to those federations who were assured...promised...guaranteed...that there would be a "best we could get" Second Membership Criterion?  There is a "model" floating around out there; one so weak and pathetic it represents "the least" not the "best ." Remember JFNA's leaders told you that the November 2010 Agreement with the Joint and Jewish Agency promised a Second Membership Criterion that promised the two "partners" greater funding (" increase overseas allocations to support the important work of JAFI and JDC"); and are now proposing a Membership Criterion that promises the opposite. Seems JFNA promises, assurances and guarantees were as misleading as the JFNA signature to that Agreement with JAFI and JDC in November 2010. That is to say...MEANINGLESS.

     4. Finally, I have great respect for the lay and professional leaders of World ORT, but just exactly when did ORT (or is it World ORT, or ORT America or ORT Israel...who knows for sure) become a federation partner, a co-equal with the Jewish Agency and the Joint? Some friendship the Board Chair has with  an ORT-something Chair? There's no there there. One of those ORTs is being fooled -- not invited to the GPT meeting in Florida...but in these By-Laws a "partner?" Come on. What's up with this...and why? The cash to the ORT from federations allocations through JFNA in 2011 was 1.45% of the infinitely small aggregate of allocations to JAFI/JDC. Terming ORT a "partner" is terribly misleading to all, and especially ORT itself. JFNA -- handing out the title "partner" and making it meaningless.

Someone STAND UP!!



Monday, January 9, 2012


With many of you I received one of those JFNA e-vites that have become so ubiquitous. This one was addressed to Calling All NYL Young Leadership Alumni. Like many of you, I'm certain we had no idea what the NYL was or is. (I'm pretty sure these "branders" didn't really mean the duplicative "National Young Leadership Young Leadership.") Like the JFNA Board Chair, like so many of you, I served with great pride and passion on the UJA National Young Leadership Cabinet -- guess for the band of Jerryites, to call it what it was would be bad for "the JFNA brand." So, while I know we are living through 1984 all over again, I drifted into a  moment of nostalgia.

When the merger created what is today JFNA, the leaders of UJA, CJF and the Large City Federation Executives joined together to elect Charles Bronfman and Joel Tauber as the Board Chair and Chair of the Executive, respectively, of the new entity. Charles was a given -- his enthusiasm for the merger best evidenced by the loan of the President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies of its President, Jeffery Solomon. Jeff, in turn,  steered us through many difficulties to the "success" that emerged. Tauber was greeted with less enthusiasm -- no embrace from Bronfman and, in some minds, a vestige of the predecessor organizations. Many of us in leadership of the merger fought for Joel as one who knew our system as Charles did not. The Large City Execs concurred and so it went. As it turned out, not well. Joel seemed to have forgotten what our system was about and appeared more eager to forget the past than build upon it. By the time their two year terms were over (how did these terms now stretch out to three one year terms remains a mystery), Charles, certainly, had found this leadership experience frustrating -- Joel not so much.

So, why write about this now, you ask? Writing in the Wall Street Journal Daniel Henninger asked, in  another context, if it was time to Bring Back the Smoke-Filled Rooms? Under JFNA's circumstances, the question is both apt and timely. For a long time our national system has selected its Chairs and CEOs in those very "smoke-filled rooms" (sans smoke, of course). Back in the day, the UJA National Chair was selected in a closed process that, over the years, evolved from the selection of a preeminent philanthropist to those more closely connected to the federations. At the Council of Jewish Federations, the "smoke-filled rooms" selection process chose great leaders like Cardin, Goodman and Wishner but, at the end of its days, leaders were trading promises ("elect me this time and I promise we'll elect you next time") for excellence. Having participated in the first few Nominating Committees at JFNA, I can attest that superb candidates were too often rejected out of personal animus on the part of ex officio Committee members or the personal and public (albeit behind closed doors) virulent intervention of a JFNA CEO. The result has been that top leadership of JFNA has become more the captive of a self-perpetuating oligarchy than was ever the case at CJF or UJA.

I have always feared for the system when lay leadership was placed in the hands of the "full-time volunteer" -- that fear is exacerbated when the chief professional lacks systemic experience. The result is and has been a perceptible imbalance in the lay-professional partnership -- a partnership so vital to a successful non-profit enterprise; one that embodies the checks and balances necessary to responsible governance. Where the enterprise is governed by those lacking in well-rounded communal leadership experience, and when the organization's polity is disinterested or self-interested, the organization clearly will be driven here and there distracted too often by shiny new objects in what has been termed "raccoon management." That's what we are and have been experiencing; and we will continue to experience it at a cost of $30.3 million per year.

We're lost, wandering aimlessly, wasting donors' funds 24/6.


Friday, January 6, 2012


The question raised by the title to this Post relates to what appears to be a repetition of a disease that seems to afflict those in power in the corporate offices of JFNA, whether at 111 8th Avenue or, now, 25 Broadway, over the past six years. Comments sent anonymously to the Blog and phone calls demanding confidentiality have revealed that it appears that once again...
  • Those professionals not in favor are being subjected to the kind of tactics that would be impermissible in a private business let alone a public charity, let alone a Jewish workplace;
  • At the highest level of the organization, lay persons and professionals who are out of favor with the "powers that be" are subjected to scathing private ridicule behind closed doors, smiles outside of it;
  • Professionals who are out of favor are "frozen out" by the JFNA professional leadership. Worse, in some instances, JFNA has taken steps to undermine communal confidence in certain professional leaders around the country, no matter the City-size, while sometimes publicly embracing them.
Those who behave in this manner should, of course, be ashamed of themselves. Worse, they clearly fail to understand that in undermining "A" they threaten "B" through "Z." But, then again, maybe...maybe...they just don't care. After all, absolute power corrupts absolutely.


Tuesday, January 3, 2012


Back in the day, in 1996 or 1997, Tom Friedman, the same Israel basher then as he is today, wrote some particularly scathing attacks on the Israeli Prime Minister. They were not of the "bought and paid for" or "engineered" as recently, but ugly and harsh and unreasoned. Other than our protests to and in The New York Times and our public and private outrage, there was little that the organized Jewish community could do. I was the United Jewish Appeal National Chairman at the time.

I thought about the hundreds of thousands of dollars in speakers fees our system had paid to Friedman over the years. I called the professional responsible for UJA's Speakers Bureau and asked her for Tom Friedman's direct line at The Times. She said, as I recall, "why don't I give you his agent's number." I said that wouldn't do, and that I would call her back later. I then reached Friedman at his desk. "Tom," I said, "We met at (I think it was) the UJA Palm Beach Event last month. I am the UJA Chair. I wanted to call you personally to tell you directly that so long as I am Chair, you will not speak at another United Jewish Appeal Event." Friedman responded, "How did you get this number?" I then told him that if I had the power to do so, he would not speak at another Jewish Federation event as his then recent attacks on Israel and its Prime Minister were reprehensible, inexplicable and unforgivable. As I recall, he hung up on me.

Friedman did not speak at a UJA event ever again. My recollection is that the CJF issued a public rebuke of Friedman, an unusual act for the Council. Today, we have heard strong public admonitions from the American Jewish Committee and ADL and others, but JCPA, bought and paid for by the federations...nothing, even as The Jewish Week, in a strong and balanced editorial, accused Friedman and the NYT of dangerous words of delegitimization. And, from our JFNA? The organization that was constructed to be, at least in part,  our spokesperson...mute...can't find its voice.  Too busy with Tribefest or the GPT, (JFNA's "highest priority," we have been told). Tragic.

But, long after the fact, JFNA issued a strong statement against the increased fundamentalist violence in Israel itself -- what one of my friends characterized as "leading from behind." It was an excellent statement but how many fingers had to test the direction of the wind before these excellent strong words were written. Then, we are promised, by the Sr. V-P, Israel and Overseas, that she and Jerry "...will be meeting...with top government officials and political leaders to share our concerns about the damage that recent events can have on the Israel-Diaspora relationship and to offer our help and support to those seeking to heal these gaps." As was the case in JFNA's only confrontation with the political process in Israel over the "Who is a Jew" issue, the professionals, without a playbook want to go it alone. Not even a thought given to mobilizing JFNA let alone federation lay leadership on issues that affect us -- and, why? Because they don't know how. Is there still a JFNA Israel and Overseas Committee, Commission or Work Group? (We know there is a lay Chair...JFNA told us so.) If so, what is its function? Can it be mobilized? This is a terrible time for those who are sightless to be leading the blind...or presuming we are so.

The times cry out for leaders to lead...instead, we throw $30.3 million of our donors precious gifts in the air and hope it lands some place we might care about. We're the drunken sailors of Jewish communal life.