Saturday, August 31, 2013


You are a federation CEO and Chair. You realize that for the $50,000 or $6,800,000 your community is paying JFNA in Dues, your community is getting back...almost nothing. What a conundrum. What do you do? If your national Dues are literally buried in the "Overseas Allocation" category of your annual Budget or your community fully discloses the Dues that are paid religiously albeit with both eyes closed and fists clenched, you know in your heart that 50%, 60%, 70% of those Dues are just plain wasted. And, yet...and, pay and pay and pay some more.

Let's consider the question: WHY???

Sadly, it really comes down to this -- the only thing binding the vast number of federations to their national organization is the threat of termination of membership-- the massive threat, really -- of a federation, it could be Chicago, it could be the Berkshires, and any and all in between. And, what does this mean in practical terms, this "threat? It's pretty simple -- you want to just cut your Dues payments, you want to stop paying Dues altogether without some special hardship? Here's what will happen to your community -- we'll take away your Lions, your National Women's Philanthropy members, no more GA registration for you, no more professional development, no more national Missions...and on and on.

What your community will be threatened with will be the loss of participation in every holdover program from CJF and UJA (there isn't a single JFNA creation with which to threaten a federation [other than TribeFest, what a loss that would be!!, or the GPT, likewise]). Yep, all a threat -- there is nothing positive that JFNA, that Chairs Siegal or Feinberg or, certainly, CEO Jerry have to offer a community to keep them paying Dues.

In the past -- the evermore distant past -- every federation could view its Dues obligation could view its Dues obligation as part of its sacred collective responsibility; we in Chicago, for example, knew intuitively that if our annual Dues were, say, $2.6 million that we were not receiving anywhere near that in direct services but we knew that whatever the dollar difference between our Dues and JFNA services was, the remainder was being applied to the needs of federations continentally. No more. Today we have seen that difference between direct service to Chicago and the "rest" literally going down that inexplicable black hole to the nowhere of JFNA self-promotion and unquestioning obeisance.

Friends, there are so few "positives" holding us to the payment of full Dues; but the negative sanctions hold like Velcro. And when the hold is just plain negative, resentments build and, ultimately, the fabric is torn asunder.What we need are simply these: those positive things that would bind us to the national organization, that would compel the continued payment of Dues, the passion of a Movement, the Big Ideas that flow from collaboration, debate and discussion not from dictation. If we find those, we will have rediscovered our system and our bearings.


Wednesday, August 28, 2013


If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And, contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?

So, in this month of Elul, in this time of reflection and introspection, we return to the evermore bizarro-world of the JFNA Global Planning Table, perfectly characterized by Lewis Carroll in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The more the GPT goes on the deeper down the hole goes JFNA. Oh, if only the leaders of JFNA were capable of some introspection and reflection.

From the beginning, over three years ago, JFNA's leaders have been getting the same message from the federations -- this thing has no traction; it flies in the face of historic values and the core concept of collective responsibility; "we're not interested." But, JFNA? It listens (maybe) but it does not hear. Of course not.

Remember, that before the organization of the GPT as a separate governance body, the GPT consultant and CEO Jerry went on a "regional tour" where there was virtual unanimity in opposition to the GPT Draft Plan; even the then JFNA Executive Committee, so quiescent as to be unheard, registered its strong objections. Changes were promised but the end product was virtually identical to that which had been literally rejected across the Continent. JFNA's leaders' attitude could be summed up in that historic rejection "let them eat cake" and they went forward as if they had the support they would ultimately garner from a polity apparently exhausted by their earlier objections.

And, as recently as meetings with Federation city-size groups in June and August, federation lay and professional leaders articulated a clear and unequivocal message -- let's stop this thing. Let's move on. And, what do JFNA's lay and professional leaders hear? "This GPT is great; if we just 'tweak' it it will be embraced." Or, they roll out the threat that if the GPT is not implemented as its leaders have literally dictated, like Humpty Dumpty, down will go JFNA. Let's get real here, friends -- it is far more likely that the implementation of the Global Planning Table would do more to deconstruct JFNA and the collective system that the federations have created, built and of which we have been so proud, will be deconstructed right with it than the opposite.

Don't be shocked. Some have heard Ms. Manning, now the self-appointed Chair of the decision-making body of the Global Planning Table (hmmmm, how did that happen??), threaten dire consequences if anyone interferes with "her" GPT. Well, hasn't that been the threat from day one of this thing?

If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is, because everything would be what it isn't. And, contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be. And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?

Uh, huh.


Sunday, August 25, 2013


By the time we published our Post expressing concern and frustration over the woebegone registration for the November GA, the JFNA Chairs had already begun all all-out press for attendance. Was the catalyst the "disclosure under cross-examination" of the depressed numbers of Registrants by CEO Jerry to the Chairs; or did they come to realize that the GA program (or at least as much of it as had been made public) lacked any buzz and any names; or was it something else?

Doesn't matter. There has been almost a daily drumbeat of announcements about programmatic changes (excellent), new speakers (not so much), and the like. It's all probably too little and too late but it's something, ya' know. And something is better than the nothing that was on the plate up to this point in time. And it didn't have to be this way.

About seven years ago, JFNA had in hand a set of recommendations for reviving the GA. It appeared on the cusp of implementing them, when the then "leaders" -- Kanfer, Manning, Rieger -- for reasons known only to them, shut down the "implementation," and shelved the recommendations. I would make a small wager that no one knows where that Report is: I have a copy should anyone ask. And, the most incredible thing? Manning was party to the Report and Recommendations just as she was a party to its suppression. This is all so JFNA, isn't it? Those Recommendations were not earth-shattering, but they were planful, thoughtful and would have put JFNA in a different place today than on the cusp of lowest Registration in the modern history of GAs.

We have reprinted suggestions from many of you on how to make the GA more attractive, more exciting and more meaningful. And, I have welcomed your suggestions on this matter more than most inasmuch as the one GA I chaired, back in 2002, while a financial "success," with a number of superb "name" presenters and panelists, important campaign events and excellent attendance, lacked that same "buzz," in my recollection as this one might without more. And, to think that a Jerusalem GA could lack "buzz" is unthinkable.

So I am gratified that the JFNA Chairs appear to have taken charge. And, certainly, the GA is not the only place where their intervention could have positive and lasting impact.


Thursday, August 22, 2013


In a recent article in The New York Times -- BlackBerry Sends a Message -- the reporter suggests a new "unforgiving law of modern business" -- "adapt fast -- or die even faster." I am certain that in growing his business this is a maxim that Michael Siegal has followed 24/7. And I would wager that back at Dockers, if a new design of a pair of khakis wasn't selling, those pants would be yanked faster than you can say "Jerry Silverman." Yet, precisely because of the factors we have so recently discussed on these pages, there is nothing that seems to presently compel JFNA to "adapt" and change.

Examples abound: "Community Heroes" failed...but was repeated; "#ish" failed...but was repeated; the Global Planning Table has seen constant rejection by the federations...but it moves inexorably forward as if it had been embraced...and on and on...and on and on. The critical issues of the day -- the most serious of which is the system-wide decline in Annual Campaigns, the very lifeblood of the federations -- ignored.

Let's take a careful look at just one core concern within the Global Planning Table "process." After an extensive and elaborate closed faux process, the Global Planning Table Committee (I honestly don't recall which decision-making body within the GPT this one is -- the one chaired by David Butler or that chaired by Kathy Manning, but never mind) determined to move forward with a single Signature Initiative "focusing on Immersive Experiences." (This was announced mid-June with a promise "to develop a specific work plan" by June's end. If you or anyone has seen such, please advise.) The "plans" will flow to the GPT Committee on 9/11. (As usual for JFNA, all "plans" must be finalized to emerge at the GA, ready or not, because then there will be microphone involvement.) What's an "Immersive Experience?" Most assuredly, JAFI's MASA and teachers' pet Birthright Israel. As predicted on these pages, if true to form, funding will come not from increased federation resources but from the core allocations to the Jewish Agency and Joint.

And, then, in the midst of all of this, the Jewish Agency and the Government of Israel announced (at the end of July) that the Israeli Prime Minister had called upon the Jewish Agency " articulate a conceptual framework -- The Prime Minister's Initiative -- for the dramatic expansion of efforts to fortify young Jews' connection to Israel." There are four critical elements to the Initiative: Israel Education, Israel Experiences, Israel Engagement on College Campus and Aliyah of Young Adults. The PM and Agency announced that "[T]he intention is to build the initiative from $30 million in 2014 to $300 million annually within five years." 

So, here is that "Big Idea" that JFNA has been searching for with increasing frustration -- a billion dollar Big Idea, that will call upon the federations for "total immersion" through funding and participation. And, have you heard anything from JFNA about the Prime Minister's Initiative? Of course not -- because, even as JFNA is bereft of ideas, big or small, it doesn't seem to want them coming from a "partner" it wants so badly to abandon (JAFI not the GOI). You have heard nothing from JFNA except, perhaps, CEO Jerry and his minions whining about "being left out" and all of the things that are wrong with the Initiative (read that as "left out"). You would think that after almost two months since the announcement of the Initiative JFNA would be wildly cheering...but no -- JFNA is so totally focused on the Global Planning Table that, apparently, it can only evaluate the Prime Minister's Initiative based on its implications for its own "Signature Initiative." Two weeks after the initial announcement JFNA is doing what is right -- publicly announcing its embrace of the PM/JAFI Initiative and stating "count on us" in its own way. CEO Jerry told The Forward "[W]e're going to be at the table together, working arm in arm." How? Who knows? Inasmuch as the specifics have yet to be worked out in any way, further comment must await them -- or at least should.

Please attend the General Assembly where you will learn about the Prime Minister's Initiative from, no doubt, the Prime Minister. If they keep up what they are not doing, it won't be long now that JFNA will join the Blackberry and the Dodo bird -- in extinction.


Monday, August 19, 2013


Let's start with this fact: I have attended over 30 General Assemblies from my first as a Chicago Young Leadership Award winner well into the "oughts." I, like so many of you, experienced some of the most exciting moments over those Assemblies and looked forward to each from the moment that the last Closing Plenary brought the curtain down. And, as you know, with you I have watched with growing horror as the merged entity has taken the General Assembly to new lows year-after-year since the merger.

If you are at 25 Broadway (or at JFNA-Israel) you "brand" this year's GA as the Global Jewish SHUK -- GA 2013 -- A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate, it's sited in Jerusalem and, then, it's apparently "G-d will provide." And, now, all of a sudden JFNA is trying to hype attendance by stipulating, with nothing to support the answer: "Why is this year different from all other years?" A very good question. With all due respect, friends, this question is the one JFNA should have asked itself since last November if not before.

Now, if the rumors are true, the current iteration of JFNA will disprove the common belief that if you merely announce a General Assembly in Jerusalem, we will flock there in incredible numbers. We have learned and the Board Chair has confirmed in an e-mail to selected JFNA leaders that GA Registration as of this date, is bad -- it is, in fact, the lowest for a Jerusalem GA -- ("not trending near our projected numbers" in the gentle words of Michael Siegal). (Date for date, Registration is even below that of poorly attended domestic General Assemblies of the recent past.) If you recall the last Jerusalem GA, you will remember, JFNA lay and professional leaders grossly misrepresented and overstated the number of registrants, convincing themselves (but few others) that siting the GA in our beloved Israel was all that was necessary for "success." These "leaders" so deluded themselves that they willfully ignored the symptoms of the disease eating away at the GA -- a malaise that saw reduced registrations year-by-year-by-year while JFNA trumpeted phony numbers (3,500 registrants in Baltimore last year -- preposterous) with a straight face.

What did JFNA do? First, the "leaders" refused, even in private,  to acknowledge the declining numbers or that the "GA reset" (drafted by that one person band, Kathy Manning, who chaired a one person GA Study Committee that failed to consult with a single prior GA Chair even though Manning was staffed by a superb pro) had been a total disaster. Then, Silverman hired a promising professional to run, among other things, the so-called Global Planning Table and the GA: and, before she could even truly begin, only months into the jobs, Joanne Moore resigned. And, CEO Jerry handed those reins to those who had yet to achieve anything meaningful -- the senior professional of JFNA-Israel and her minions. 

Then JFNA's outgoing Chairs reappointed the Gelmans (who had co-Chaired a successful Israel GA in 2003, supported by then CEO Steve Hoffman, who had sequestered sufficient budgeted funds to subsidize large numbers of registrants; at a time when many federations also subsidized Mission participants who stayed for the General Assembly) to Co-Chair this GA; while other potential Chairs were forced once again (it has become a JFNA sad "tradition" to either trot/drag out its own Board and Executive Chairs as GA Chairs or to recycle past GA Chairs to do it again even if the first GA they chaired was a flop) to the sidelines, the Gelmans have brought such energy to the task as they have been able to muster -- they should have been visiting each of largest 40 federations face-to-face and doing some real recruiting. But, no.

All of these events were happening, my friends, while federation leaders individually and in City-size were telling JFNA leaders that the costs of convening and attending another GA in Israel had become prohibitive, urging JFNA to defer a Jerusalem GA in 2013 to a later year, to such time that JFNA and the federations would have set aside funds to subsidize the costs. JFNA was paying these federation leaders no attention at all.

With a Registration fee of $1 less than $700 and air fares and hotel rates at all-time highs, the JFNA "65 reasons to attend the GA" (e.g., "great hummus," "meet really cute soldiers of the IDF," etc.) apparently weren't nearly enough to create even the possibility of success. Most federations it would appear, even with reduced Registration fees for professionals (yes, $575 is a "reduction" from $699), are finding it impossible to justify from an expense perspective a 2-1/2 day conference 7,000 to 9,000 miles away. Sources inside 25 Broadway have told me of the "incredible pressure" on constituency leaders to "produce bodies" in November. The major federations  again had been promised the "complete GA calendar" by this date -- yet, go to and what you will find are some good "bones" ("Israel's Civil Society," "World Jewry," etc.; check the Plenaries -- "Plenary 1, Plenary 2....nada) and no meat -- much like JFNA itself -- and some curious choices (the National Women's Philanthropy Luncheon featured speaker is...Beau Biden!! [and Biden has just been struck ill] The CEO of SodaStream [I use it and like it!!] will speak!!). And, insiders tell me that for reasons totally unclear, JFNA has handed off responsibility for major Sunday/opening day programming to fine organizations like PresenTense and ROI Community, which some might view as competing with the federation system, rather than to the federations themselves. 

What does all of this portend? Well, it sure ain't success; far from it. So, what can be done? JFNA appears to be in total panic mode.For now...very little (unless Chicago, New York, Cleveland, LA, Miami and others have a secret cache that will enable an individual subsidy [in the $1000s not the $100s] that will really be a catalyst for registration). But, as occurred prior to the Los Angeles GA, the federations need to totally capture and reorient the Agenda of this GA to that of the Federations -- as, clearly, those responsible for GA programming at JFNA know so little of federations needs and wants, and it's fair to conclude that JFNA-Israel knows just about nothing. I want this GA, all GAs, to succeed, but where is the meat, where is the buzz? Right now it's just cost.


P.S. I was pleased to read the Board Chair's August 9 Briefing that the GA Calendar was being modified to include a "Twilight Gathering" at the Kotel " stand up for the idea that there is a place for every Jew at the Wall." The idea of just such an expression of Jewish Unity at the GA was first suggested on these pages in a Comment from one of our readers months ago, and then included in a Post pleading that the GA include just such an event -- a Post which I sent to Silverman and he refused to read. We congratulate Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg for moving this important event on to the GA Program.

Friday, August 16, 2013


How much of a disaster is today's JFNA? So much so that it's time to call in FEMA. Or, better, it is time for Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg to act.

Sadly, the leaders of many federations are just beginning to understand that through last November the actions of a small group of lay leaders and an even smaller cadre of aging professionals has had a stultifying impact on both the potential and the current and immediate past reality of our national entity rendering it nothing more than a Continental (perhaps even intercontinental) joke. From my perspective what we have is a dispiriting slog of ineptitude. We have what one terrific analyst has described as "...a closed self-reverential loop" -- one that produces a lot of undeserved back-slapping and self-congratulations and little else.

The JFNA Executive Committee and Board had come to see their roles as representing nothing more than binary options -- do it/don't do it -- as opposed to understanding the values inherent in transparency, in debate, in open discussion, in compromise. Thus, following JFNA from one ill-thought out program to another failed one, as I have described it elsewhere,  is like playing Whack-a-Mole -- you know, one is knocked down only to pop up elsewhere. Certainly Jerry Silverman inherited a bus already in a ditch but his choices, and his failure to influence his lay leaders otherwise, have got that bus stuck in the muck even further. Illiterate in the basic language of federations over almost 4 years of employment, Jerry exacerbated this failure to comprehend by supplying his own definitions to that lingua franca of the federation world, thereby illustrating how little he continues to understand of that world he was selected to lead. Under Jerry, at 25 Broadway and in Jerusalem, other than in the Washington Office, no one with the courage to push back understood, to paraphrase Mario Cuomo, that " advocate in poetry but you manage in prose." For JFNA's leaders there neither was nor is poetry or prose, just jargon, cliche and rebranded terms they themselves did not understand.

Sadly, today's JFNA lay leadership appears slow to confront and act upon the need for real change; although I sense that the selection of a real COO may have been theirs.  Today's leaders, to their credit, have avoided their predecessor's behavior as the Board Chair running a kleptocracy -- a belief that the organization exists to operate on her behalf and upon her demand. Yet, today's leaders have perpetuated the alternative governance structure that is the Global Planning Table by non-action, allowing the kleptocrat to run it as a separate funding organization. I still have confidence in Michael Siegal and Dede Feinberg as they find their they must and as they are...but they must act with the urgency the times and circumstances demand.

What we have today in JFNA is, after all, an organization that has perfected the reverse Midas Touch -- the gold it has touched has turned to dross: the General Assembly, the Special Campaigns, the Young Leadership Cabinet and on and on. JFNA has become the organizational paradigm for being unable to manage itself out of a paper bag. For those who look for more than criticism, JFNA must be changed, and change must start at the top.

The fault, dear friends, is not in our stars, but in ourselves. As always.


Tuesday, August 13, 2013


To: Bryan Drowos, c/o The Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County
From: Richard Wexler
RE: Completing the Journey

Dear Bryan,

I just watched the JFNA video of the Mission on which you participated -- as the final step approached to Completing the Journey for Ethiopian olim. (Although, seemingly as always, the title ought to be "the never-ending saga" as characterized by Haaretz earlier this month.) Your narration, your articulation of the emotions you felt, were extremely moving. Kal ha'kavod to you, to JFNA and to your fellow Mission participants.

But it's also time, past time, really, for you and other leaders of your Federation to take a careful look at how the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County has, or, more correctly, has not participated in this great chapter in modern Jewish history. Yes, while other communities (not nearly enough of them) have made the historic connection between their financial resource development and this historic aliyah in which you participated, sharing vital resources to complete this incredible part of the journey, what has your Federation done? How much money has been sent to support this incredible journey? I think I know the answers to these questions; Bryan, you deserve to know those answers as well.

After your experiences in Ethiopia, on the journey itself, at Ben Gurion, and on the ground in Israel, I hope you have had the chance to share these experiences, not only on the beautiful, emotional and evocative JFNA video but with your fellow Federation Board members. And, then, ask those Board members to explain the extent of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County's financial participation in the totality of Ethiopian aliyah, in meeting overseas needs, in fairly sharing communal resources around the Jewish world, beyond the borders of the JFSBC with the JDC and the Jewish Agency.. 

And, then, don't stop advocating for communal financial participation in the chapters of Jewish history that you and your generation of Jewish leaders will write. You and those you brought to Israel are an important part of the Jewish future.

Warmest regards,


Saturday, August 10, 2013


1. After my expressions of concern for the steady deterioration of purpose, status and direction of the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet, the Board Chair published a "Blue Ribbon-like Committee" Report that ratified the Cabinet as is/where is as just about perfect. (And, BTW, what would be wrong with "disclosing" just whom were consulted?)  It's great, doing great, yada yada yada. JFNA in microcosm. One could only have hoped that this retrospection would have begun with the question: "What do we, JFNA and the federations, and the Cabinet membership want JFNA to be?" And, then, "how do we get there?" But. nope. Instead our leaders used the same coats of white wash they use for themselves.

2. We have had a good debate on these pages with regard to the role of the Rabbinate in Israel that began with an Anonymous Commentator's suggestion that the GA join those women who are struggling for equal status at the Western Wall. Some have suggested that JFNA not "disrupt the status quo" by allowing the GA to be "used" by activists for religious and gender equality. Respectfully, by doing nothing, doesn't JFNA thereby become an advocate for a "status quo" that the vast majority of its membership opposes? JFNA has already proved that it is best at doing nothing; time for a change?

3. I have written about this before, but a recent recurrence causes me to "re-muse": When you receive an email that requires a response do you find it difficult or even hit the "Reply" icon rather than the "Reply All" one? A couple of weeks ago, about 60 of us received an invite to a conference call meeting of the Jewish Agency FRD Committee. One person...that's ONE...a generous philanthropist found it necessary for all 60 os us to know that she can't participate because she and her family will be in Israel. I probably wouldn't make a bigger deal of this than it is except that this is an every time occurrence for this leader. And, quite honestly, I don't care what she is doing, planning; could she just learn the difference (as most have) between "Reply" and "Reply All?" It's pretty easy. (P.S. The conference call meeting was canceled...too many couldn't participate!!!)

4. When I wrote about the waste of time and energy in a discussion of changing the membership in City-size groupings that Anti-Governance, a number of you offered factual insights about the history of "mis-labeling" that remains uncured because "feelings might be hurt" by doing so. I was reminded by your Comments of what happened back in the early to mid-oughts. JFNA was engaged in the Emerging Communities effort (an actually productive engagement with high potential federations). One of those federations was experiencing explosive population and campaign growth to the point of clear eligibility for Large Intermediate Federation status. I tried to intervene on its behalf but was put off by JFNA's inactivity, rationalized after months of put-offs, that if that community were moved up, others should be moved around as well and that action was "in process." It is now 8 years and two communal CEOs after that initial request...and nothing has happened. Is JFNA great or what? 

5. In the July 29 edition of The New Yorker, a cartoon shows an office worker walking down a corridor with a box (we might call it a "Suggestion Box") mounted on the wall -- a box labeled "Career Suicide." That's exactly the price too often paid for suggestions within a system totally intolerant of them. My best professional partner in Jewish life warned me from the beginning of this Blog that it would be a "reputation killer" -- and to many it has been. If that's the price for outing incompetence, waste, duplicity, arrogance, vendettas and more waste, it's a shame, but such is the state of our system today. Worse, factual criticism is so often characterized as "in personam attacks" so as to dismiss, rather than respond to them. The very reason that I have welcomed Anonymous Comments to the Posts appearing here is that I fully understood that criticism is no longer tolerated in a system more and more closed off from outside ideas as well as free and open debate. 

More's the pity but that's the way it is in Lake Woebegon.


Friday, August 9, 2013


While the Post that appeared on these pages earlier today -- Total Kool-Aid -- stated "[F]rom all I know...the lay and professional "Chairs" here are outstanding leaders," an apparent close friend felt it necessary to anonymously rise to the lay Chair's defense and, for that matter, the defense of the Intermediate Federations in general. 

I don't know why what follows had to be submitted anonymously, but I am pleased to reprint that defense below.

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "TOTAL KOOL-AID": 

Rather offended by Anonymous (August 8, 5:03 PM). Just because s/he is ignorant about what's going on does not provide license to 'imply' or defame.

The Intermediate Jewish Federations are working hard to become an organized and effective affinity within the JFNA structure representing over 50+ communities. These communities have a leadership hierarchy of Federation executives and volunteer leadership. There are 13 Intermediate reps on the JFNA Board of Trustees and one specifically so designated on the JFNA Executive Committee; the latter serves as overall chairperson, sharing leadership with the Federation director designated by his/her peers as the chairperson of the Intermediate Federation executives.

Neither position is taken lightly. There are serious discussions as to the appointees. 

The current leadership, Dr. Alice Viroslav of San Antonio and Sue Worrell CEO of Charlotte, are working hard to improve communication between Intermediate Federations and JFNA and among the Intermediate Federations. The memo referenced in the blogpost was an invitation to the 13 reps serving on the JFNA Board of Trustees, as well as to any other Trustees who happen to be from Intermediate Federations. It was a well-conceived gathering, convened by the leadership of the Intermediate Federations, to discuss issues of unique importance to this constituency. It was not, as the rhetoric implies, a JFNA attempt to brainwash Intermediate Federations to JFNA’s agenda. To that end, I think Richard’s blog title, “Total Kool Aid,” was totally off base.

Back to Anonymous’ hateful/hurtful comment that one simply ‘show up with the ability to read’ to serve as the lay chairperson of a city-size group, I can’t speak for the other city size groups, but this comment is offensive when considering Dr. Viroslav. She is a renowned radiologist and respected volunteer. She was active in UJC/JFNA National Young Leadership culminating in her serving as national co-chairperson. She continues her national involvement in fundraising and on the JFNA Board of Trustees. Unlike many national leaders, she remains active in her home Federation: after having served as FRD chairperson, she is now the Federation’s board chairperson. She is also active at the JCPA and chaired their national Plenum a few years back.

The Intermediate Federations have a history of excellent group lay leadership and Dr. Viroslav continues that tradition."
I hope that all of us will soon see the impacts the Intermediate Federations as a group will have of JFNA now and into the future. Or have I missed the entire point of this articulate defense?

G-d bless everyone.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013


The following Memo was sent to one group of Federation leaders in advance of the June Board meetins:
"From: Desk of Alice Viroslav []
Sent: Friday, May 24, 2013 3:18 PM
Subject: June 2 Intermediate City Trustees Meeting in NY

Dear Intermediate Federation Colleagues,

I am looking forward to our meeting in New York on Sunday, June 2 at 4:00 PM.  The meeting will take place in Room 706 at the UJA Federation of New York @ 130 E 59th Street.

Our agenda will focus on three topics:

·         Relationship of Intermediate Federations and JFNA

The group will be briefed on recent efforts by the Intermediate Federation Executives cohort to strengthen the relationship between our city size and JFNA.  We will then brainstorm about how we might improve the dynamic.

·         Communication

A discussion about establishing a consistent pattern and framework for communication among our city size’s professional and lay cohorts to maximize our leverage as a city size group among our communities and with JFNA.

·         Global Planning Table

Becky Caspi, Senior Vice President, Global Operations and Director General of JFNA Israel’s office will join us to discuss how, together, we can make the GPT more relevant, engaging and impactful to Intermediate Federations.

I, along with Sue Worrel, the Intermediate Federation Executives Chair, look forward to a robust, meaningful, and open exchange of ideas at our meeting.  Thank you for your participation."
If there was ever to be "...a robust, meaningful, and open exchange..." it would have to take place without the mind control, agenda control, of JFNA; but, of course, JFNA's leaders don't trust the federations enough to allow them to: (a) set the agenda, or (b) discuss matters relevant to JFNA and the federations among themselves, with the teacher out of the room. At every meeting there must be at least one JFNA pro (and we know there are many) taking notes (on whether you're naughty or nice) and a lay leader who desperately wants to move up the JFNA food chain pushing the agenda.

From all I know, and it isn't much, the lay and professional "Chairs" here are outstanding leaders; but when one has institutional ambitions, as the lay Chairs of any JFNA constituency seem to all have, you had better drink deeply from the Kool-Aid pitcher or you will be out and someone more ambitious will take your place.


P.S. Any memo with the word "robust" in it clearly originated with the chachams at 25 Broadway.

Sunday, August 4, 2013


About one month ago now, with appropriate fanfare, JFNA announced that CEO Jerry had hired an Executive Vice-President. I don't know Mark Gurvis but, unlike the other pros at the federations' national organization, he comes from a strong federation background, first as a senior pro in Cleveland, then as the Vancouver Jewish Federation CEO for over a decade. As one Commentator wrote:
"The new EVP is a smart guy, a mensch and a great pro... now all they need is a new CEO." 
While I would question the judgment of one who signs on to second a CEO in the last year of his contract term, I wish Mark every success.

If Gurvis was hired to bring a strong management hand to a JFNA that has seen silos like JFNA-Israel operate as if it is some organization independent of the federation members, b'hatzlacha. If, however, he was hired to offer CEO Jerry nothing more than another echo in the echo chamber, another Diet Coke when he needs one, this won't last. I would like to write that "time will tell," but there isn't enough time left to await outcomes. Inasmuch as I see Steve Hoffman's Rasputin-like hand in all things JFNA, hopefully Gurvis will know where to turn when need be.

I do know this. Back in the 90s, CJF's brilliant Planning Director, Norb Fruehauf, asked Kurt Rothschild, a great Canadian Zionist leader, and me to join him in Vancouver for a community consultation.We spent three days there engaging with communal leaders. We discovered a federation that not only was not the central address of the Jewish community, it hardly had an address, hidden as its offices were in a local agency's building. And, we found a federation with great potential floundering under the pressures of a suddenly underfunded day school "system," a moribund annual campaign but also the hope offered by a depth of lay leadership eager to build a "new federation." Just few years later Gurvis became CEO and moved this community forward in measurable ways -- the annual campaign strengthened tremendously (a Jewish population of about 25,000 (+/-) now raising over $7 million is no small achievement), strong lay leadership and good planning from what I have learned. 

So, congrats to Silverman on an excellent hire. This could be a lifeline for CEO Jerry; for JFNA. Then again, I am reminded of the saga of this year's Cleveland Indians, a sad baseball franchise after years of glory now forgotten. They started this 2013 season on a roll -- 9 games over .500 in mid-May, they then lost 15 of the next 19 games. One of their best pitchers observed: "As much as we've been on a negative skid, we can start a positive skid tomorrow.

Yes, indeed.


Thursday, August 1, 2013


There has been something going on at JFNA for what is now over 1/2 its current shelf life -- the acceptance of  failure and then the rebranding of failure as success. And this is also happening in too many of our federations as well.

Examples, unfortunately, abound:
  • The kickoff to great annual campaigns used to be the Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission -- at the creation of that Mission and for years afterward, over 100 federations of every City-size participated, as we celebrated common purpose and passion. Today, a shadow of what was, 30 communities and 100 participants (not 100 participating federations), including but a few Large Cities, participate, and JFNA cuts the Mission budget. The Mission is still meaningful even inspirational but JFNA fails in recruiting, fails to inspire participation. This is nothing more than JFNA defining failure as success and very excitable National Chairs trumpet their "success."
  • Special Campaigns now flounder, as if there are neither tool kits nor successful experiences upon which to build. Take just two over the last six years plus -- Operation Promise and Completing the Journey. The former ended in uncertainty and chaos, the latter hasn't ended yet, but the Jewish Agency has now flown the last group of olim from Ethiopia to Israel while JFNA is still millions short of its announced special campaign goal -- but you won't read anything about that from JFNA. One thing is for sure, both ended like America's involvement in Vietnam -- with "victory" declared and defeat and confusion in the air. 
  • And, of course, and always, big a waste of money as any from the get-go, repurposed away from attracting the unaffiliated to an excuse in the main for the Young Leadership Cabinet to party at an annual waste of over $1 million. Just when it appeared that even JFNA's leaders couldn't bring themselves to convene another, Festivus 3 was announced with the promise it would be "different" as much as it was "eagerly anticipated." 
  • Now, the black hole that is JFNA into which federations have thrown down over $600,000,000 is rolling out "total immersion" -- a so-called "global effort" -- as the by-product of the waste and convulsion that is and has been the Global Planning Table. As explained to me and to any of you who pushed back, this is the "Signature" Program that will raise millions more for MASA and Birthright, among others. And, as I have explained back, take a look at history, please. For, if history is to offer any examples, immersion will be funded out of -- not on top of, not over and above, but out of/from the current crippled core allocations to the Jewish Agency and JDC. And when this is explained to anyone coopted in the GPT "processes," their eyes glaze over and they sputter, "Can't be, JFNA will assure that doesn't happen." Sure.
  • And, trending now is JFNA moving away from any lay engagement whatsoever: the Global Planning Table "Working Group" is made up of a group of professionals, reporting to another group of professionals; then there's the "I and O Resource Group, a project of JFNA's Israel and Overseas Committee..." I don't know what these are or what they do but they're doing it without the nefarious involvement of lay people. We understand, we just get in the way.
So, have a great day and look what we have created. And, be proud...very proud.