Tuesday, July 31, 2012


A parable: In a large office the occupant grew more and more annoyed with a tiny gnat which, at the most inopportune times, would buzz around disrupting the relative peace that the occupant enjoyed. It grew so annoying that, periodically, the occupant would call out: "Would someone kill this gnat?" The gnat continued to buzz. One day a spectral woman arrived wearing a crown. In the hands of her consort were two huge fly swatters -- one was labeled "UNTRUTHS," the other "HALF-TRUTHS." "Take these," she told the occupant, "they will surely kill the gnat." Then, friends of the occupant arrived and they, too, were handed huge fly-swatters with the same labels. "Kill the gnat!!!" they screamed. WHAM!! SPLAT!! OY!! were heard as the fly-swatters landed. The gnat observed from the ceiling as the melee below resulted often in the swatters hitting each other, but never hitting the spectral woman in the crown or her consort....or the gnat. Exhausted, the occupant and his colleagues fell to the floor while the gnat continued to buzz. The moral: if you are going to come after a gnat, try the swatter labeled "TRUTH."
Recently, your Blogger has been accused of all sorts of things. I will try to sort them out for you. But know, at the outset, that the Federations which have issued strong statements accepting a "version" of events that JFNA leaders have been peddling as "the truth" surrounding the refusal to include the word "zionism"  have accepted a fable completely at odds with the facts.
The truth, based on an actual investigation: At a Global Planning Table Working Group meeting, federation leaders suggested the inclusion of the core value of "zionism" (not, as alleged, "zionist entity" or "zionist enterprise" and not in substitution for "the State of Israel."). It was the JFNA Board Chair herself who publicly objected to the inclusion of "zionism" as "too controversial to be in a Global Planning Table Vision Statement." (This is impossible to deny; the entire Work Group heard this rant.)

No one knows whom my sources were (I never reveal my sources) or how many members of the Work Group spoke (or wrote) to me verifying what I had written; yet, JFNA reports, and the federations assert that they know that it was but one. They are wrong. My original Post on the subject did not suggest that the excision of "zionism" was JFNA "policy" -- I wrote of "JFNA's leaders insistence that the cherished concept of 'zionism'...be excised from a Global Planning Table Work Group Report" -- yet, all of us can reflect upon the number of non-policy decisions over the past three years and longer (e.g., the claimed "consensus" that gave rise to the GPT itself) that have suddenly become JFNA "Policy" before our eyes. And, suddenly, in the middle of the third (or fourth) JFNA "response" to the cause celebre that it created and now perpetuates, for the first time Jerry Silverman asserts that the same Working Group "...reaffirmed our deepest support for Israel and Zionist principles." If only it were so; if only that had been the permitted discussion at the GPT Work Group; but it wasn't.  And I am accused of having "...twisted what really happened into a version with no basis in reality." I think we know, from the ever-changing "explanations" just who is doing the "twisting" here...and why.

And, just for a gratuitous shot, I am accused in CEO Jerry's effort at deflecting the truth as "...hostile to the federations and the Global Planning Table." To the latter, I plead guilty; as I have written from the start, it is an evermore expensive approach to reordering historic priorities at a time of declining resources that will create chaos. As to the accusation that I am "hostile to federations," Jerry, who frets over and sermonizes about in personam attacks, makes one that is laughable. I am only "hostile" to actions that would deconstruct and harm federations -- as the excision of "zionism" would have done.
I have offered my apologies and reiterate them here for even having reported these facts on these pages without giving consideration that some would read them and use them as an excuse to reduce or eliminate their gifts to and through their federations. As a lifelong fund raiser and as a one who cherishes all federations, I am so sorry. I urge everyone who reads these pages to increase their federation pledges as I have done.

I have shared with you and others my sincere belief that the vast majority of federations, and, in particular, my own, include Zionism and the values inherent in Zionism in our words and our work every day; we are inspired by the values of Zionism; we don't fear the concept -- we should fear those who would have it disappear from our lexicon as "too controversial." Clearly her/their effort, reflected most vividly in the JFNA "misinformation campaign," is to shine the light away from themselves and shoot down the messenger. (Someone I love and respect suggested that I "...stop being the messenger." Good advice.) Sadly, they won't, in the midst of their revisionist history, let the facts get in the way.

Next time, if you want to kill this gnat, you had better come after me with the truth -- coming after me with cover-ups and untruths and half-truths as JFNA has done and continues just won't do it.


Sunday, July 29, 2012


In his e-mail to JFNA leaders and Federation Executive, and in the call on JFNA insiders to spread the word that "the blog is wrong," Jerry Silverman was so terribly misinformed and misinforming. He constructed an "explanation" of what occurred within the Global Planning Table Work Group process that defies reason -- what we did, he claims, was to rebut those who wanted to "substitute 'Zionist Entity' for the "State of Israel'" in a JFNA planning document. Come on. "Zionist entity" has been the phrase most often used by those who would destroy Israel -- What federation leader would ever use the very term that the hatemongers and anti-Israel forces have used to characterize our beloved Israel as a substitute for it?

Here is what JFNA should have done and still could -- issue a Leadership Briefing from Manning, Butler and Silverman simply stating: "We will take all steps in our power to assure that the core values of Zionism will be incorporated in the final work product of the Global Planning Table."

Would that be so hard?


As with so many if not all of you, I am so proud to come from a community, a federation, which embraces Zionism and the centrality of Israel in our lives as among the most cherished core values upon which our community has been built. I known that the federation lay and professional leadership in Chicago will continue to demand that the values embodied in Zionism will be at the forefront of our work because they understand that we build upon those values and principles not upon their negation or exclusion.

Surely Chicago's leaders will work with the leaders of other federations across the Continent and with those at JFNA to insure that our understanding of the meaning and values of Zionism continues to inform our national organization's work.


Saturday, July 28, 2012


As discussed below, I was recently reminded that five years ago, the Jewish Agency was under assault from a number of North American Jewish leaders, ironically "led" in a semi-coordinated way by leaders of the JDC, among others, with allegations of self-dealing, politicization,  violations of the IRS Revenue Rulings which allowed our donations through the federation to JAFI to be tax deductible, among other things. The then JFNA CFO, Board Chair and Treasurer (currently the JFNA Chair of the Executive) immediately recognized what was at stake not alone for the Jewish Agency but for our system and, to their credit, they sprang to JAFI's defense. As the then UIA Chair, I was enlisted in the effort. JFNA engaged among the most prestigious outside counsel to review the records, the Jewish Agency in another act of transparency further opened its books and counsel totally refuted the allegations directly.

What brought this to mind is the circulation of a 15 page single-spaced anonymous "indictment," for lack of a better word, of the Joint's practices in Russia in an internet attack titled The Fall of the House of Asher, JDC, Quo Vadis. (The "Asher" of the title references Asher Ostrin, the former Director of JDC-FSU.) The allegations are severe, accusatory of even criminal conduct, but that's not my point.

In today's JFNA, there is only silence from 25 Broadway (of course, there has been public silence from JDC, as well). No leaping to JDC's defense, not even, to my knowledge, the offer of assistance; no "independent investigation" by JFNA as was the case with JAFI five years ago. Yes, while JFNA continues to offer constant lip service to its "historic partners," there can't be a lay person or professional leader at JDC or JAFI who believes that JFNA has any interest in delivering on the promises of its "leaders'" supportive words. And in parallel, the JDC Board, one of the most supportive of its organization's goals to a person, is, at one and the same time, one of the most quiescent (you know, the kind of Board that JFNA's apparently aspires to be) -- "where never is heard a discouraging word, and the sky is not cloudy all day."

In fact, had the attacks on JAFI of five years ago occurred today, there can be no doubt that JFNA's leaders' support then would not be mirrored in support now. Today is the time of the Emperor's New Clothes and Humpty Dumpty and. of course, Alice in Wonderland and 1984.

Hello...any one home?


Friday, July 27, 2012


Today, after an article on the subject of JFNA and Zionism appearing in The Jewish Press, JFNA sent out its response:

"Dear GPT Committee Members,

This morning we learned about a misleading piece in the Jewish Press.  

Kathy Manning and I shared a statement with the Jewish Press which is included in the broader statement below. We encourage you to share this statement. 

On July 27, 2012, Lori Lowenthal Marcus wrote accusing the Jewish Federations of North America of moving away from its support of Israel and Zionism.  Nothing could be further from the truth. The ongoing support of Israel is fundamental to Federations and to JFNA. Our system sends hundreds of millions of dollars each year to Israel to support the vulnerable, to assist in education programs, to help new immigrants, to assist in job and skills development, and to provide concrete expressions of solidarity during Israel's darkest hours. We connect American Jews to Israel and Israelis by supporting birthright and other youth and young adult programs, community and national missions to Israel, and innovative partnerships between our communities and Israeli communities.  We are proud to be holding our 2013 General Assembly in Israel, where we will have an opportunity to highlight the important work we do with our partners in Israel."

An almost identical mailing was sent to Federation executives. 

It would serve no purpose to restate here all of that about which I and others have written before. Let the record show that over the past six years the "on-going support" from our system through the core budgets of our partners in Israel and overseas has been reduced by well over $100,000,000 and advocacy for these critical allocations "...to support the vulnerable, to assist in education programs, to assist in job and skills development..." to care for those of our People most in need, has not even been an after-thought.

Shabbat shalom,


Thursday, July 26, 2012


In light of recent revelations with regard to JFNA's leaders insistence that the cherished concept "zionism" -- the word that has inspired generations -- be excised from a Global Planning Table Work Group Report  because "zionism is too controversial," (something they will surely "deny," or argue "I knew nothing about this" or equivocate -- "I'll look into this and get back to you")  I reflected on just how far JFNA, under its current lay and professional leadership, has moved from the core values and historic principles that framed its creation, its Vision and its Mission. "The word 'zionism' is too controversial." Oh my G-d.

It was just a few years ago that, in one of its periodic "reorganizations," that JFNA's then leaders, who included some still around today, changed the name of its Israel and Overseas Department to "Global Operations." Just another rebranding without meaning. The hue and cry was loud and continental for both substantive and symbolic reasons. But JFNA was unmoved until...until... a group of federation CEOs from all City-sizes registered their objections to thus thoughtless change. Almost immediately, the Department's name was rebranded again -- to Global Operations: Israel and Overseas.

Over the next few years, JFNA gave only lip service to its historic commitments to the two organizations that actually gave to JFNA any semblance of a "global operation" -- the Joint and the Jewish Agency. After all, advocacy with the federations for core allocations for these "historic partners" would have disrupted the narrative that JFNA's leaders began six years ago. And, while CEO Jerry denied that he ever told any federation that "we at JFNA will never urge you to increase your allocations," the facts are very different. And, prior to and in the midst of recessionary times, JFNA stood by as core allocations to the system's Israel and overseas partners cratered, never lifting a finger in support and distancing itself as well from any direct campaign assistance to federations most in need.  

And, now, we have come so far that our national organization shuns even the appearance of "zionism" in one of its reports? What's wrong with this leadership; what's wrong with us? With Board Chair Manning and GPT Chair Butler in the room, "zionism" is out and efforts to direct the GPT to "engage with the Jewish People" out as well? We can and should debate whether our system's best way to engage North American Jewry with Israel is through JAFI and the Joint; what we cannot permit is an implicit denial of the centrality of Israel in our lives and a denial the absolute responsibility we as Diaspora Jewish leaders have to engage more Jews here with Israel. But, those denials are now being encouraged by an insipid leadership driven by concepts of "change" that they do not understand and which, if implemented, will destroy the very system they were elected to enhance and support.

It was Jim Collins, the author and management guru, whose philosophy guided many of us through the merger process that birthed the now-fatally floundering JFNA, who wrote: "Vision is simply a combination of three basic elements: (1) an organization's fundamental reason for existence...(often called its mission or purpose); (2) its timeless, unchanging core values; and (3) huge and audacious -- but ultimately achievable -- aspirations for its own future..." And, critically, Collins asserted that misalignment will ultimately bring organizational collapse. JFNA's leaders these past 6+ years have unilaterally decided that JFNA can totally skip/ignore (1) and (2) above jumping directly to what they believe to be "huge and audacious" (although far from it in reality) programs like the Global Planning Table.

Ask a federation leader what the "fundamental reason for federation existence" is today and you will get a variety of answers dependent on the community's level of success, history and the background of the leader himself/herself. Ask the same leader what the "fundamental reason for JFNA existence" and you get in return a blank stare, perhaps a "serve the federations" mantra. But, ask a JFNA leader the same question and you will receive back the vagaries of irrational notions made up out of whole cloth.

Ask a federation leader today what the "timeless, unchanging core values" that are at the foundation of the federation concept and construct and, sadly, in most instances...most, but not all...you will not get a response. And ask the same of JFNA's leaders and the response will be totally unrelated to those core values. Friends, our commitment to "zionism" as a cause and as a concept has been and remains one of the inspirations for our work and our philanthropy -- but to these "leaders," it is "too controversial" even for a Report from our own organization. Ask the leaders of the Refusenik Movement if "zionism" was "too controversial" for them, ask those of us who organized the movement that toppled the "Zionism is racism" UN Resolution, if "zionism" is "too controversial" to them. Ask those of our dearest Israeli friends? Ask those who support the ugliest of BDS actions whether they are happy that mainstream Jewish organizations, in particular the umbrella or our federation movement, reject the inclusion of "zionism" in their reports because it has become "too controversial."

When and where we have an uneducated laity and a silent majority unwilling to argue for that which is right, unwilling to fight for our values, those values disappear. It's happening before our very eyes...right now. And, we put up with this, with these, because....???


Wednesday, July 25, 2012


We know that at the JFNA, circa 2012, black is white and white, black. After spending millions...that's right, millions...to come up with Jewish Federations of North America, a name that Marty Kraar, z'l, came up with all by himself in 1999, $50,000 seemed like chump change...emphasis on the "chump"...for a "tagline." And neither expenditure was ever approved by the JFNA governance bodies. Today, time and time and time again, we have seen JFNA engage in what can only be described as Orwellian doublespeak day after day.

Orwellian doublespeak? You mean, as definitions would have it, "...the situation, idea or societal condition that George Orwell identified as being destructive of a free society. It connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda...misinformation, denial of the truth and manipulation of the past...?" Yes, that's what has been going on at JFNA for more than half of its existence. Orwell wrote about how the doublespeak created, among other things, the "non-person." And, we experience all of this in a day and day after day at 25 Broadway.

We are in the hands and power of the few at 25 Broadway. Where governance might get in the way, best to ignore it; where processing huge amounts of funding is done through Committee decisions, where lay leaders are told nothing more than what is believed that they "need to know." And where most of the flock just "...doesn't want to be bothered" further empowering potential and real abuse of process and worse.

Since the beginning, as we have pointed out on these pages time and again, the so-called Global Planning Table has been an Orwellian sham. Take, for example, the October 2010 JFNA/JAFI/JDC Agreement. Even though as we discussed he just weeks ago, the Agreement was breached by JFNA's actions before the ink was dry, JFNA's leaders proposed that the JFNA Board extend certain action dates. A conference call meeting of the JFNA Executive Committee was called for July 11, them canceled. It had been scheduled to consider...Orwell would have approved..."The Allocations Agreement Extension of 2012." This "rebranding" from the same leaders who have rejected the inclusion of the word "Zionism" in a GPT document as "too controversial." 

The Senior VP of Titles scored again!! And, so did Orwell.


Sunday, July 22, 2012


"Alliance" has been variously defined as "a union or association formed for the mutual benefit, especially between...organizations." But not when JFNA is involved. 

When last we took a look at JFNA's National Agency Alliance, its leaders were attempting to oust one of its historic members (they failed), federation allocations and membership were dropping, the outlook was poor to worse. So, what did JFNA do, you ask? Well, they went through a lengthy process (in which the national agencies did not participate -- "oh, them? HaHa") and emerged with (trumpets please) the National Federation (what's that?)/Agency Alliance Work Group Redesign Recommendation Executive Summary and Memo to the Field. And, guessing is not required to conclude that even though they have printed many more words, they have ended up exactly where they started and, financially, much worse.

And, while this Redesign was undertaken in good faith, no doubt, by late June, the JFNA-Washington Alliance staffer was advising the national agencies that in addition to four federations totally abandoning the Alliance, almost every other participating federation was cutting its collective allocations to the Alliance -- in most instances "significantly." The conclusion: "Last year's pool was $5,065,000...the pool this year will be around $4.16 million or a reduction of 17 and 3/4 percent." This professional concluded that "[O]bviously, I am sorry for this news." This calamitous information came just 36 days after the agencies had been advised that "...the pool stands at $5.065 million." JFNA is, today, just a collection agency for the national agencies...and not even a good one at that.

Now, these results -- a third (or is it fourth?) Redesign in a decade, while Rome (in the form of federation allocations) burns; no lay advocacy among member federations to maintain (or even increase) allocations while this Redesign is implemented (if it will be); the continuing suggestion that some national Agencies will be cast aside in a "planning process" that has not even begun; coupled with the "potential for adding new..." agencies to the Alliance; and the introduction, in the face of "drastically reduced allocations" of new levels of bureaucracy (more "surveys," more "Plans and Micro and Macro planning teams") with which the agencies will have to deal.  Sounds great to me. It's nothing more than the chaos of the Global Planning Table on a micro basis.

Illustrating the disregard of Alliance lay and professional leadership for the National Agencies they serve and allegedly partner with is the reality that the National Agencies themselves did not participate in framing the Redesign; they were asked to "comment" on the fait accompli presented to them in June in a single phone call. (JFNA treated the almost total silence it heard on the call with the national agencies as "...feedback [that] was overwhelming positive...")

So, I ask, other than maybe a shorthand presentation at a JFNA Board or Executive meeting, when have Alliance lay leaders visited federations and engaged federation leaders face-to-face on the value of the Alliance to them and the critical work of the national agencies on behalf of the federations? It's a rhetorical question, my friends, because I know the answer -- never. No the Alliance lay leadership, a small cadre at best, has busied itself with criticism of the roles and budgets of the national agencies with whom they agreed to be "allied." It has become a zero sum game.

If the national agencies were the stepchildren of the national federation system in the '90's under the National Funding Councils system, they have become the neglected and abandoned distant relatives under JFNA.

Shame on us.


Thursday, July 19, 2012


Earlier this week I wrote with sadness of what happens when our federations' national organization, out of indifference or ignorance or distraction by tiny shining objects, fails to comprehend that other organizations will be ready to step in and will in roles historically those of the federation system. In the last Post I wrote about JNF and Israel advocacy...today it is about the observation of the 25th Anniversary of the seminal federation-led event in our history -- the December 1987 Freedom Sunday Rally for Soviet Jewry. 

This void began two years ago when JFNA was called upon by a number of federations of all City-sizes to engage in a major way in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Operation Exodus. So what did JFNA do? It appointed a Committee, chaired by the ever-available Joel Tauber. Then, JFNA did nothing -- no celebration of the advocacy or the largest special campaign ever. No celebration of the leaders of the Refusenik Movement. Nothing. (Well, Tauber did give a speech in which he proved that even his prodigious memory fades, but he talked only about himself.) When numerous NCSJ leaders had urged JFNA to a bigger observance, even as many federations were reviving the inspirational memories of those days of advocacy, heroism and commitment, JFNA couldn't or wouldn't stir itself.

In part, that was the result of the almost total erasure of institutional memory.
That was also the past, of course, and JFNA was dedicated to the present and future. They had created a Committee, of course, wasn't that enough? They may have mentioned it at a GA; why can't they just leave us alone? That Committee chaired by Tauber? You've got to be kidding!!

Now, another opportunity. Not even after the formation of a wholly independent Freedom25 Rekindling the Soviet Jewry Movement did the chachams at 25 Broadway wake up. Yet, who, it turned out, were the "partners" in Freedom25 -- JCPA, the NCSJ, the Jewish Agency, HIAS, the JNF and on and on. Federation leaders themselves  were slow on the pick-up -- so sad because Freedom Sunday 25 years ago was the federations' seminal moment, it was our time...Operation Exodus was our success...but not now, not anymore. 

Now, prodded no doubt by Federation CEOs who remember that this was our event, our time, JFNA is trying to play catch up. Of course, there may be one professional still there with any institutional memory, if that's what is needed. My prediction: JFNA will now appoint another Committee, chaired by...Joel Tauber...and maybe put it on the agenda of the inevitable Festivus 3. That will be in March 2013? So what?

I despair. We have a tagline though. Today, it could never again be We Are One...I'm thinking maybe it's time for We Are Done.

What do you suggest?


Monday, July 16, 2012


The Jewish National Fund recently announced its pro-Israel Hasbara Campaign -- stepping into the void created by JFNA's apparent lack of interest in the subject. Yes, JFNA has lost its way, creating voids everywhere into which other organizations immediately (or slowly) step. The JNF campaign -- Positively Israel -- positivelyisrael.org is just one of the things JFNA should/could be doing if it weren't so intent on examining its own navel, promoting itself, its "brand," and narishkeit over the interests of the federations.

Take for example the mantra for continuing the GA, which is but a shadow of what it once was...one that has been constantly heard: "If the federations don't do it, some other organization will." I have become a believer...reluctantly... in the relegation of the GA to every other year, but making it a powerful, relevant meeting.  How can we as a system promote an annual event that had fewer full pay  Registrants -- 835 -- than at any point in its history? Remember the "new GA"? An outgrowth of an intensive study and plan flowing from...the Board Chair, vu den? Remember moving it to important and attractive tourist locations like Denver and Baltimore and away from Houston and Orlando? And, now we have drawn the fewest paid attendees two years running. But on it goes, year after year, as we trumpet its success in the social media because if we say it's a success, it is, right?

And, our new commitment to "new and better" Missions? JFNA attempts to create  and lead simultaneous high-end high cost Missions to Berlin (Ben Gurion Society) and Rome (with an audience with the Pope!!!! added in for the Prime Minister's level contributors). The former has been canceled for lack of interest; the latter hanging on totally dependent on the contingent Chicago can produce. Some leaders have told me that national missions now frequently proceed with the imprimatur of JFNA with no fund raising requirement.

We lack the strength, the power, the prestige of the organizations that preceded JFNA -- CJF and UJA. Even with the millions invested, we lack their brands' strength. Third party organizations so little respect JFNA (they may respect the federations, but less and less so) that they are on the cusp of a massive invasion with their strengthened professional financial resource development managers and huge fund raising budgets. And what does JFNA do: well, it fantasizes an "agreement" with JAFI and JDC that will ostensibly manage their entries into federation territory while shielding their collective eye from what is already happening. And while that fictional "management" is going on every organization from ORT to the ENP and beyond is poised for or actively engaged in invasion. The federations have expressly told JFNA to "stop this" from happening -- and JFNA, well it's busy worrying about "impure thoughts," Festivus and the irrelevant. Hasbara, heck, we've got the IAN. Irrelevant, us, no way, we get invited to the White House and to Democratic Committee hearings and look at all of our staffers who were at the President's Conference in Israel last month, and how we always visit with the Prime Minister.

We're important, just ask us.


Friday, July 13, 2012


CEO Jerry stepped in for the Rabbinic Cabinet in the June 24 Mekor Chaim from JFNA. Preaching about the message of the red heifer, CEO Jerry obsessed and ranted about "impurity" -- by which one can only assume he meant "impure thoughts." CEO Jerry seems to know a great deal about "impure thoughts" (or "impurity" as he puts it): everything, that is, except the definition.

In pertinent part, CEO Jerry wrote:

"In contemporary society, we are challenged each day to maintain our purity, in both our individual relationships and our collective actions. The opportunities for impurity are vast, especially with a wide array of technology at our fingertips. With the stroke of a key, our impure thoughts become words on a screen. With the click of a mouse, those impure words can be shared far and wide, in the span of just a few seconds. 

As leaders in today’s Jewish community, we have tremendous influence. No longer are our sermons confined to the congregations to which they were first spoken. (does CEO Jerry have smicha?) Our speeches have legs far beyond the stages from which we preach. As we address the challenges that face the Jewish people, or advise our communities on ways to make a difference in the world, we must choose our words wisely.

There is no shortage of opinions in the Jewish community, and we are fortunate to have so many diverse views and so much thoughtful dialogue. But there is a difference between the purity of creating debate and the impurity of casting stones. Debate solves problems and moves us forward. Casting stones divides us as a Jewish people and sets us back"

Here's the deal: as CEO Jerry never reads the Blog, he must be writing about one of you -- has any reader ever criticized JFNA for its leaderless, purposeless meandering?  Or maybe you have expressed some constructive criticism that might make JFNA purposeful, focused on federation needs? Whatever, it is as as clear as day that it is for CEO Jerry to unilaterally determine the "impure" and declare it to be so. (As an aside, since when is the CEO/President of a Jewish organization cloaked in Rabbinic garb [unless one is a Rabbi] and writing about "our sermons?" Or is this rant an example of "something borrowed?")

This reality creates a conundrum. I am reminded of a revered Chicago area Rabbi who condemned an "R"-rated movie playing near our town -- "blasphemy" he cried out from the pulpit; "close this theatre down." Later, he admitted that he hadn't seen the movie, nor would he. He and CEO Jerry have a lot in common. "Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil" -- then we can just go on with our work because any criticism is per se impure if I, CEO Jerry, deem it to be so. Sure.

And, CEO Jerry, just wanted you to know that your "sermon" inspired those "impure thoughts in me. 


Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Here's a good one. JFNA has scheduled a Board meeting for the (apparently) sole purpose of passing a Resolution that would extend the JFNA/JAFI/JDC Agreement of 2010. This extension, after multiple Preamble clauses, is needed so that JFNA has time to finalize its Global Planning Table Recommendations.

At least three things were left out of the Resolution:
  1. So typical of this leadership, the Resolution is framed as if it were necessary "...to provide greater certainty to JAFI and JDC for their programmatic planning" when, in fact, the totality of the GPT has been designed to deconstruct the historic core allocations to both historic partners. 
  2. One party to an Agreement cannot unilaterally amend or extend it. JFNA just cannot go it alone -- it just thinks that it can. This unilateral action is very much like another aspect of the Agreement -- there was to be agreement among the three parties to joint marketing and joint FRD with and within the federations. No agreement was ever reached --  JFNA after failing to impose its "solution" just unilaterally promulgated an announcement that there was such an agreement. You see, that's how this "works." 
  3. Immediately after the Agreement was signed, JFNA breached it -- in multiple ways. These breaches were pointed out to JFNA in multiple ways -- most directly in correspondence from the other parties. "Never mind," they were told. And, as evidenced by this preposterous Resolution, JFNA just pretends that all is well, all is in order, all is fine. Sure, all is well.
As I wrote above, here's a good one alright.


Saturday, July 7, 2012


In May JFNA convened an important Second Annual Professional Women's Leadership Conference. The Leadership Briefing on the subject got me to thinking (and not just about the Board Chair's presentation which offered such truisms as "ask for what you want, don't expect to just get recognized" and "make sure your passion matches your work") about women in lay positions of leadership at JFNA.

I went to the JFNA website where the 2011 Annual Report lags badly behind the 2012 reality. So, updating as best I could to reflect some portfolio changes, here's where we are: the Board Chair and Jewish Philanthropy Chair are women as are some of those Chairs elected by their constituencies (like National Women's Philanthropy and Women's Cabinet) and the Chair of the Disaster Relief Committee. Then, there are the Chair of the Executive, the Treasurer, the Secretary, the Chairs of Community Development Capacity Building, Global Operations: Israel and Overseas, Financial Relations, the Network,  Audit and Marketing/Communications -- all men.

I asked myself -- did these men "ask for they wanted, not expecting to just get recognized?" Were these men those who "made sure their passion matched their work?"  All the while did women lay leaders fail to do so? I don't think so. You would have thought there would have been greater sensitivity at JFNA after the initial storm of protest over the few women speakers then scheduled at the Denver GA.

It appears that, unlike JFNA when it was but Newco at its birth, when Charles Bronfman assured gender equity in lay positions by virtue of his personal commitment, something...someone...just got lost along the way. As with so many things. While women in lay leadership rightly aspire to leadership roles and are deserving of their equitable share of them, at JFNA, you get the Manning, so justifiably proud of being JFNA's first woman Board Chair, yet apparently doing nothing to elevate women to leadership roles. (And, she cannot claim to have had any role in Dede Feinberg's nomination to succeed Michael Gelman; Manning was actively supporting another... a man.)

Here is what I would strongly recommend to women lay persons who aspire to leadership roles: "ask for what you want, don't expect to just get recognized" and "make sure your passion matches your work."


Wednesday, July 4, 2012


Jerry Silverman has written a thoughtful response to Louis Feldstein's opinion piece which appeared in ejewishphilanthropy and was republished with commentary in the Blog in "Thinking Outside the Box" Indeed."  I  republish Jerry's commentary here without comment.

Finding the Best for the Jewish Communal World

by Jerry Silverman

We want to thank Rabbi Feldstein for his very thoughtful dialogue about the concept of Jewish talent and the development of Jewish community professionals. This issue is one that keeps me up at night. There are few topics of greater concern to our Jewish future.

The question Lou is asking is about internal versus external. We think the question should be about internal and external, what we as a community are doing to acquire, invest in, and prepare individuals to lead our communal organizations – to create succession. We have an opportunity to find the best men and women for both professional and volunteer leadership, no matter where they come from.
There is also a more fundamental question that organizations like the Jewish Communal Service Association and our JFNA Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence are asking: How can we build a culture across the Jewish communal sector that invests in talent, nurtures and rewards continuous growth and rewards and supports upward mobility across the entire spectrum. We want to ensure that the Jewish communal field is seen as truly desirable, on all fronts. We want to create a future where great Jewish Federations and Jewish organizations act as multipliers of candidates from all walks of life, because of their bold and inspiring culture and mission. We want to create a future where people who are seeking meaning and purpose clamor to be part of outstanding Jewish Federations and Jewish organizations.

Across Jewish Federations, we have been addressing the question of talent recruitment for some time. It is the same question being asked in the corporate world: are the best candidates those who have worked in a particular organization or career path throughout their careers, or candidates who come from the outside with different perspectives, approaches and ideas?

We find that the skills and results an individual demonstrates, not the place they developed those skills, sets the top candidates apart. In the Jewish Federation world, those skills are sometimes demonstrated within the context of a single Federation, or several Federations. Sometimes they are demonstrated in an agency, nonprofit or corporation. Some skills can also be developed – Federation processes, such as overseeing a budget or managing a Super Sunday. Other skills remain intrinsic, like personal warmth and sensitivity to others, the ability to be a good listener and an inspiring communicator.

JFNA’s Mandel Center for Leadership Excellent has developed the Success Factors, a competency model that identifies skills of excellent professionals. We know by experience that if our CEOs have proficiency in four key areas – business skills, people skills, personal qualities and style, and strategic and visionary leadership – if their style fits well with the Federation, and if they have a personal passion for and commitment to the Jewish people, they have a strong likelihood of succeeding. This emphasis focuses on the skills: has the candidate demonstrated the skills – in any context – that we need for our professional leaders to be successful? As we work with search committees, we prioritize these skills and then hire to those skills. We then use the success factors for performance feedback and evaluation, for coaching, for professional development and for evaluation.

It is important not to judge people by where they worked. What is important is what skills they demonstrated, what skills, attitudes, attributes and qualities they bring to their position in the Federation, and what each person can mean for the future of the Jewish Federation.

The other key factor is balance between knowledge and experience of the Federation world, and having someone who has been successful in complex, people-oriented environments. It is up to us to create the environment where we can maximize the contribution both of Federation staff, and those who wish to bring their skills and knowledge into the Federation world. We have a responsibility to our field to invest in and develop talent within, and recruit talent from the outside. One plus one can equal three.

The transition in Federations in the next decade will be dramatic. Time is not our friend. The question is not whether we choose from the inside or outside, but of challenging ourselves to think through how we enhance our Federations and raise the bar, to take advantage of people of a wide range of backgrounds, and to continue to challenge ourselves to deliver the results that history demands."

And, then, a brilliant Anonymous Comment analyzed Silverman's response perfectly:

"I was neither surprised by Jerry's well written response nor by the fact that upon careful examination he actually makes Feldstein's case.

The issue raised by Feldstein was simply that the complexity of the job of a federation executive in the larger cities requires not only skills that have been finely honed over a lifetime but also an expertise in the dynamics of building a Jewish community despite the diversity of the various stakeholders.  To simply possess the skills outlined by Jerry would be necessary to land a job at a federation but not sufficient to lead one.  The landscape is littered with failed executives who were chosen by communities whose communal leadership didn't respect the position of federation executive to the extent necessary.  In fact, with few exceptions, once these communities have chosen this unfortunate path, they rarely recover.

I am mystified why Jerry would not be able to see that successful chief executives in successful federations should serve as the leadership models into the future. These executives are innovative, inspiring, understand Jewish talent management within the federation system, motivate lay leadership, and work tirelessly to finely tune their vision of a vibrant Jewish community.  Jerry must not respect the job or the successful executives currently leading their federations if he believes that on the job training is a viable alternative.  What he describes is a person who ought to be a junior executive, not leading a large communal organization, and that is precisely Feldstein's point." 



We live in strange and unusual times...but they aren't the best of times. Many (most??) federations seeking a successor CEO today are looking outside the "system" -- they believe, as JFNA believed, that this represents thinking outside the box. In reality, the "box" today has been turned inside out and those with experience, in particular in raising dollars to meet Jewish needs, are rejected for what appears to be that very reason. 

Sadly, JFNA and its Mandel Center have been active participants in this turning away from experienced communal professionals who might lead federations, and, in many instances, are eminently qualified to do so. And this is nothing new. Back in mid-decade, JFNA's Consulting Services "worked with" consultants in numerous communities on "strategic plans" that moved communities away from the federation model to something vastly different. Look at the results in, e.g., Philadelphia and San Diego, where the federations are in worse than desperate shape (when the then JFNA CEO learned that he was listed as a "resource" in the Philadelphia "plan," he demanded that his name be removed). 

Below is an article appearing in ejewishphilanthropy, written by an experienced national and communal professional whose insights are far better than mine:

"The Times they are a Changing, but for the Better?

by Rabbi Louis Feldstein
Truth be told I don’t know Andrew Rehfeld, the law professor long active as a volunteer in the St. Louis Jewish community, who was just named the chief executive officer and president of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis. He may in fact be an incredibly talented and skilled individual with a great personality. He may be a deeply committed Jew and Zionist who truly believes in the purpose and need for Federation. He may be the next coming. He may be lots of things, but he is also the most recent sign and symbol of a deeply troubling trend.
Over the past several years more and more of the top local Federation and agency positions have been filled with people whose career trajectory traveled the road of volunteerism – not professional communal service. Is this because more and more committed Jewish professionals have decided they know too much about these jobs and have determined they are just not worth the trouble or headache? Or is it instead a reflection of a far more nefarious perspective – the continued devaluation of the expertise, wisdom and experience that comes from a lifelong commitment to professional Jewish communal service.
If I was the head of any of the academic programs that train communal professionals, or for that matter the programs that offer MBA’s in Nonprofit management I would be worried … very, very worried.
While few of us would ever consider going for medical treatment from a non trained professional, or being represented in court by someone whose training comes from regularly watching Law and Order, there appears to be an overwhelming belief that just because someone was a volunteer in the Jewish communal arena they have what it takes to be a successful professional. The record, in fact appears to be mixed, but the trend continues and raises challenging and perplexing questions.
If one doesn’t need to be trained to be a Jewish communal professional, then why keep such programs alive?
If quality training is imperative then who is training these new hires on the nuances of changing from volunteer to professional?
If “anyone” can do these jobs then are they truly positions of prestige and expertise that warrant such salaries?
These are just a few of the questions that demand consideration and debate.
Change can be good, and perhaps this is a change for the good. Our system clearly needs new thinking and innovative strategies and this may be the kind of seismic shift that propels us forward. If it is not, however, what will be both the short and long term impact to our communal institutions and our communities?
It is time to at least start to seriously study and debate the impact of this direction. It is neither too early nor too late. Now is the time. But, with that said, I wish Mr. Lehfeld only success and may he go from strength to strength. I know he will need it."
For a project I am working on, I happened to look at the list of Large City Executives the other day. The changes have been incredible in just the last two years. And, in each community that has gone in the direction of what was once considered "outside the box," you who live and work there, and who treasure federation, are the ones who can answer, have these changes been for the better? When a community engages as its lead professional, one who has never raised funds, what can the outcome possibly be? When our communities actually hire as CEO one who has never even made a capacity contribution to a Federation campaign, how can that person be entrusted with this leadership role? How can one have answers if they don't even understand the questions? This is not to say that there are not exceptions to the rule, but those exceptions are hard to find.
When JFNA was participating/leading with its consultants, those disastrous "strategic plans," some challenged JFNA's professionals with the thought that it was JFNA's obligation to assert Federation values and the centrality of federation and the annual campaign in these "processes." The response was "...we just do as we're told." ("Oh, and by the way, you're off the Committee.") The infamous "Mandel Executive Development" program was abandoned after two years -- sadly, a debacle, from which the professional leaders of the Program left JFNA (one of them had been a Federation CEO) and only one "graduate" has matriculated to federation CEO. 
Today, the Mandel Center's Executive Search arm, working as JFNA's, would give the same response: "...we just search for what the federations want." Just a simple change in philosophy would require nothing more than a single word change: "...we just search for what the federations need." Of course, this would require an understanding of federations' needs as well as their wants. 

Monday, July 2, 2012


A little while ago I, like you, received a classic Leadership Briefing announcing Jewish Federations Unveil New Tagline. If you haven't heard the fabulous news, see www.jewishfederations.org/page.aspx?id=255772

Within 10 minutes of its distribution, I received 93 e-mails off-line, none of them Anonymous, from Federation lay and professional leaders of every City-size. Comments ranged from what a waste, where was this processed?, how much was spent on this idiocy? to big deal!, where was a contract with Interbrand approved?, even _________ processed its new tagline through its Executive Committee and several just contained epithets.

I, like you, remember an historic tagline -- We Are One. UJA didn't engage Interbrand, it processed the tagline through its leadership and it didn't have to be explained. Your reading will disclose that The Strength of a People. The Power of a Community required two full paragraphs and 6 bullet points for us to understand it. Or, just maybe, the geniuses at JFNA just don't believe that anyone but they could possibly comprehend it.

The complaint here is not that JFNA developed a tagline: it's that they did so in the shadows, engaged a consultant in the shadows and some group at JFNA has now unilaterally imposed the tagline without any governance process. And the organization held a Board meeting just weeks ago filled with the obscure where this could have been fully presented and debated and, no doubt approved. And, somehow, "[I]mmediately, 20 federations began to use it..." Somehow, 20 federations found out about it!!

Friends, as so many of you pointed out, this is no way for our organization to proceed. Yes, the fiefdoms of old have been deconstructed -- and in their place, fiefdoms have been created that operate with no controls, no standards, unmanaged.

I would say that if this occurred at my federation or yours, heads would role...of course this couldn't have happened at my federation or yours.


Sunday, July 1, 2012


Another day, another punch line from JFNA. The organization continues to operate as if the Global Planning Table as it it is being implemented is a "really great thing." No so much, of course.

I felt that a respected professional's suggestions for "fixing" the already out of control Global Planning Table were so important, and so simple, and so ignored ("of course") that I put them directly in front of the one JFNA professional who might read them and make a difference. So I sent the May 18 Post directly to CEO Jerry. I indicated in my transmittal that I knew he did not read the Blog(sure!!??)  even though all evidence is that he and so many others locked up at 25 Broadway do so, but that this particular Comment, appearing in a Post was important and I urged CEO Jerry not just to read it but to share it.

Then, the strangeness. CEO Jerry refused to read the Post. He reassured me that he never reads the Blog (!!??) (Is it self-censorship or has the Board Chair issued a monarchic decree?). And if the "respected professional" wants to bring something to CEO Jerry's attention, he/she "...should bring it (to CEO Jerry) directly." (I explained that had this professional wanted to do so, he would have done so.)

After a brief response from me, so ended the correspondence. So ended hope. My conclusions: (1) the GPT will continue down a path to its own destruction, carrying with it the seeds of the deconstruction of JFNA and of our system's core relationships with our overseas partners; (2) JFNA's leaders once again will permit nothing to interfere with their own narrative, drafting a consultant over one year ago whose scorecard of success...not good; and (3) only want those vetted as "being JFNA" engaged in this head-nodding process. And we all know how "processes" run like these end up -- in abject failure.

So, CEO Jerry and your ilk, keep your heads buried deeply in the sand. That's the way to go. It's also why we have so few ostriches. How's the view from there by the way?

Oh, I forgot, you don't read this...