Thursday, November 28, 2013


Now that the failed GA is behind JFNA, it can turn its full and undivided attention to the next disaster on its events calendar -- the third attempt at making TribeFest a success. The cost to date has exceeded $2,000,000 -- that's more than $1 million/failure -- but CEO Jerry is determined to keep throwing money at an event that has produced nothing for the federations -- why? We'll never know.

So, the 2014 Festivus will be held in New Orleans. A recent JFNA promo for the March event coincided with the end of Daylight Savings Time (and the notice came out, appropriately, on the cusp of Halloween) -- so cleverly tagged Fall love with Tribefest! If you hit the links for this fiasco, here's what you will learn:

  • There is no express purpose for TribeFest -- no defined audience other than an age cohort that covers a broad swath of young Jews 
  • If you examine the staffing, JFNA has committed its entire Young Leadership Cabinet senior staff (and a few others) to this thing
  • There will be "Purim Ball on Saturday night with dancing, music and a megillah reading" -- whoopee
  • There is a link to last year's "phenomenal main stage speakers" -- you can take a look and form your own conclusions
And, then, immediately pre-Thanksgiving, JFNA offered 8...that's eight... Grand Prize Winners a chance at a $300 discount off the $450 pre-Registration if they submit the winning social media entries. WOW, a "game" to win a total of $2400 to  8...that's in the aggregate. Just writing the "rules" had to cost JFNA $2400 in staff expense. Not quite as much as Festivals will cost the system -- that will be in excess of $1 million -- just a drop in the bucket.

Someone ought to take a look and examine the entirety of the Young Leadership Cabinet investment, purpose and vision. Trotting out another Fest, another Retreat (with fund raising at its lowest levels per capita ever) and a Mission or 2, just isn't enough, is it? What happened to Washington Conferences (oh, yes, that's Aipac turf now), or the follow-on to Tel Aviv 1 or nothing else of meaning other than these "Fests" of fun, drinking and whatever. For "whatever" -- go to the Registration link and read:
"JFNA reserves the right to remove individuals from the conference, revoking conference credentials without refund, for what it considers to be inappropriate or harmful behavior."
Oh, to be there. 


Monday, November 25, 2013


Every once in a while I long for the good old days of JFNA -- and, then, I think of an episode like this one:

Steve Hoffman, then the JFNA CEO, pulled me aside at a meeting and asked if I would form and Chair a Task Force which might recommend the means by which JFNA could assist federations in the management of the FRD approaches to communities by the growing number of agencies, entities and NGOs which receive federation allocations. I felt this was something important, something that would help the federations and could, if properly structured help our beneficiaries -- from the largest, the Jewish Agency and the Joint, to the smallest. When I learned that our friend, Yitzchak Shavit, z'l, would be my professional partner, I quickly agreed.

We formed an excellent Task Force, with lay leaders and CEOs from many City-sizes -- some of the best and brightest in our system. I thought the ideal framework for our work would be a modification of Chicago's Resource Development Guidelines -- one that created a management and reporting structure for our local agencies' FRD efforts -- modified to fit the JFNA structure and the focus of our assignment. The Task Force agreed. With draft Guidelines in hand and  Shavit's assistance and the professional direction of the past leaders of the national organization's Israel Office, we arranged a three day series of meetings in Jerusalem where we had great professional support from the then fully functioning JFNA Israel Office. I attended at my own expense.

We had wall-to-wall meetings with academic and legislative experts on Israel's NGOs, with federation Israel Office leaders, with the Israeli representatives of many major North American foundations and representatives of the Government. We found almost unanimous support. Then we met with Jewish Agency and Joint professional leaders, who after open and robust discussion, offered their support, as well. We  felt we had achieved a real breakthrough and we were very encouraged. 

Based on this success, we came with the Draft Guidelines to the JFNA Board for approval at a meeting at one of those February Retreats in Ft. Lauderdale. The draft Guidelines were sent out to the Board in advance. Itzik and I discussed them with the Chair, Bobby Goldberg, and with the new CEO, Rieger. They assured us of their support. At the Board Meeting, there was a rush to the microphone -- not in support. One great leader, a past Chair of many national organizations, expressed concern with the possibility of the creation of "a horrible bureaucracy." We explained the simplicity of the management mechanism, self-enforcing -- but, we were met with cynicism. Then, the future Chair of the Executive (who did not disclose that he was also Chair at the time of The Israel Project, a federation beneficiary) rose to object to the Guidelines on the basis that it could "hamstring" and "burden" small funded agencies. (This was curious inasmuch as this leader would condemn me for a "conflict of interest" when I would later chair UIA and the Jewish Agency North America simultaneously. But, never mind.) Neither the Board Chair nor CEO said a word in support; I took the Motion to approve off the table.

After the meeting, I sought out the CEO and questioned the lack of the promised leadership support. He told me he was "uncomfortable," but promised to garner support and he did so. At the next Board meeting, the Guidelines were approved unanimously on the Consent Agenda. The next day I called Shavit. "When can we start implementation?" I asked. "Well," Shavit said, "the Task Force has been dissolved. They are going to implement it through JFNA Consulting." "Who is going to be the Lay Chair?" I asked. "Nobody."

A few weeks later I called the then professional leader of JFNA Consulting to see how implementation was going. It wasn't. "Oh, we're going to discuss it at the Senior Management Committee level." "When," I asked? "Soon." The same conversation was repeated periodically but I knew that the Task Force,  I and Shavit had wasted months of effort and expense -- the Guidelines died a quiet death, the potential management of competing philanthropies in our communities was dead. Why? Because of the parochial interests of a very few in national "leadership."

And this is the organization that now wants to manage everything -- from Overseas advocacy to a $1 billion special campaign for "free Jewish pre-school," to 350,000 Birthright alums, to everything else.

And, so it goes (or so it went) in the Lake Woebegone of national organizations.


Friday, November 22, 2013


Somewhere in the bowels of JFNA HQ a lonely professional (or two or...ten) was charged by the CEO or the Co-Chairs (or all of the above) to come up with a list of "programs" that demonstrate how JFNA "serves the Federation movement." I doubt that the document will ever see the light of day -- it shouldn't, because most, if not all, of the federation CEOs who might read it or hear it, will find it laughable. Here is the preamble:
"The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) convenes Federations to maximize our impact as a united continental community. JFNA is focused on delivering ever-greater value to Federations by offering critical skills to help them raise money, engage existing donors and attract new donors; operate more effectively; advocate for our communities at home and overseas; respond to crises; recruit and develop talent; and maintain and build relationships with partner organizations."
Really? Does the author of this 9 page recitation even believe what he/she has written? I doubt it. But, if only it were true. 

On JFNA's watch: (1) resources for our system's partners and beneficiaries -- e.g., JDC, JAFI, the National Agencies -- have fallen like a rock; (2) the number of donors to our system have reduced like the City of Detroit's population; (3) the best and brightest of young federation professionals have seen their aspirations for joining the ranks of federation CEOs frustrated by JFNA encouragement of an "outside the system" model (you know -- "like Jerry"); and (4) there has been no advocacy for the work of our "historic partners." Other than those, that Preamble is spot-on. 

But, then, there is also the waste embodied in programs like TribeFest, that Festivus for the Least of Us, that has already drained about $2 million from JFNA's budget and, now, will be repeated in March 2014. This is a program that is the best/worst evidence of the aimless wandering of JFNA -- without purpose, without Vision and, some would say, without hope. Ask JFNA what benefits the federations have reaped, what the federation ROI has been, from two Fests; no, better, ask the federations -- they paid for these exercises in institutional futility and now will pay again. (And, remember, the JFNA Treasurer/Budget and Finance Chair approved this JFNA as Groundhog Day event.) BTW, the same folks who projected, actually asserted, that 2500 registrants for the GA are now projecting "1500 participants" in March 2014 for this thing.

The saddest part of the recitation of program after program evidences just how much JFNA could accomplish, could have accomplished, had its leadership not been so pathetic, so distracted by the next small idea, by the next shiny object. What has been so sorely missing from leadership have been those lay and professional leaders who understand how federations work and, thereby, how best to assist them. The belief by too many Large City Executives that what works in our largest communities is always transferable to federations of smaller size has had the most unfortunate results -- the worst of which has been the almost total elimination of annual campaign assistance and leadership ("we" don't need it, so why would "you?")

When JFNA was created through the merger process, leaders of Large Intermediate, Intermediate and Small Cities feared that JFNA's programs would be dictated by the largest among us. The leaders of the merger process tried to assuage these fears but, in practice, the size of the communities from which a number of failed JFNA leaders emerged suggested that, in the main, the smaller the community, the greater likelihood that it would be ignored, patted on the head and told "we'll get back to you." The patronizing was/is palpable. 

But, after the General Assembly, one supporter of JFNA, writing anonymously in commentary on one of my Posts, expressed hope:
"Both Michael and Jerry outlined ideas for plans in their speeches at the GA and asked for others to join the planning for implementation. They are trying to get things going. Past experience may have been disappointing, but they are now really trying. Michael's call to action was very well received, as was Jerry's. Maybe we should try to work together instead of giving in to cynicism. You may be right about a lot of things, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try."
It would be nice, so nice, if this apparent insider's hopes could be realized. But what are "ideas for plans" and don't you do the "planning" and the "planning for implementation" before announcing the "plans?" Don't JFNA's leaders have it backward?

With this miserable record, the lack of North American lay attendance at GA after GA, the failure to fund "Completing the Journey," the lack of any sense of vision or mission, and on and on, it is almost shocking that at the highest levels of JFNA lay leadership there is the actual contemplation of extending CEO Jerry's term -- something an earlier Chair and leadership wouldn't contemplate for CEO Jerry's predecessor whose record of success was modestly better.

And, even as there are some excellent programs in this recitation and in the grandiose "big ideas" at the GA -- how many will probably ever see the light of day. But, OMG, in the meantime, the waste, the travesty and...the waste.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013


On November 20, ejewishphilanthropy published one of the periodic thought pieces written by Steve Donshik. Steve offers the perspective of one who has worked in our system -- I knew him at the New York UJA, and at the Council of Jewish Federations as a professional with real vision. While I disagree with a number of Steve's conclusions below, his perspective is important -- those in the  JFNA supportive claque and those critics alike should understand Stephen's informed opinions and concerns:

"Looking at JFNA Today

I am concerned that the Federation system has been and is being weakened by an approach that seeks to protect vested interests instead of initiating and developing ways for Federations, individual and collectively, to meet the challenges of the local and international Jewish community in the 21st century.

by Stephen G. Donshik

Over the last few years I have written a number of postings about the status and needs of the North American Jewish Federation system and the umbrella organization of the local Federations, now called the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA). Although at times I have been critical both of the Federation system and the JFNA, I am a staunch supporter of them and their central role in strengthening the Jewish community as a whole and in meeting the needs of individual local Jewish communities.

Having said this, I do think the system has lost direction and is not working in the most efficient and effective way. I believe that the reorganization of the Council of Jewish Federations of North America (CJF), the national United Jewish Appeal (UJA) and the United Israel Appeal (UIA) into the Jewish Federations of North America has led to more confusion and greater ineffectiveness, not less. The reorganization process in the early 1990s followed years of discussions and deliberations. At first the merged entity was called Newco, until a name could be selected. It was then named the United Jewish Communities (UJC). To restore the main branding word “Federation,” UJC was later renamed the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) to clearly identify that the national organization was related to local Federations and the activities and programs of the Federation system.

Many perceived the reorganization to be much needed, and in fact some considered it long overdue. The mantra that was heard over and over again during the process of reorganization was “efficiency, efficiency, efficiency – the new structure will enable our system to work more efficiently and do away with duplication.” Yet never answered were these questions: What were the purposes and functions of the system prior to the reorganization, and what would be the purposes and functions of the new structure that was created by the change?

If I can wax nostalgic for a moment, there were clear differences in the purposes and functions of the Council of Jewish Federations and the UJA. The CJF was a “professional trade association” of the Federation movement devoted to the strengthening of local Federations and the national system. Its mission was to provide services to local Federations in a whole host of areas, including campaign, planning, leadership and board development, personnel services, and convening the system for regular meetings, as well as planning and implementing the annual meeting of the movement, the General Assembly (GA). By providing the Federations with these services, CJF enabled them to fulfill their role in the local community more effectively and more efficiently. At the same time, it represented the system on the national level by having a presence in Washington, D.C., and maintaining relationships with the U.S. government and elected officials.

However, the CJF was not an advocate for either local needs or overseas needs. The organization focused on strengthening local Federations’ ability to serve their local communities and to raise and allocate funds for the UJA for overseas needs. The United Jewish Appeal – which was created in 1939 in response to Kristallnacht by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) – was responsible for advocating for overseas needs and maintaining contacts with the local Federations. To enhance local Federations’ ability to raise funds for overseas needs, UJA services to those Federations included producing written materials, designing and implementing overseas missions, and representing the emerging needs of Israel and Jewish communities around the world. Its two major recipients were JAFI and JDC, which benefited from the local Federations’ allocations to UJA.

The merging of these two purposes and functions – providing services to local Federations and advocating for overseas needs – placed the national organization in the middle of a conflict of interest. How could the organization hope to enhance the operations of local Federations to become more effective and efficient and at the same time advocate for overseas needs as the representative of the two major recipient agencies? Before the merger there was a system of checks and balances; the local Federations were represented on the boards of the overseas agencies and they were able to advocate for their own interests. Today this is not the case, and JFNA is trying to be an honest broker for the Federations and advocate for overseas needs at the same time. It does not work!

How do we know it does not work? First, even though JFNA is a solely owned entity of the Federation system, it appears to be more interested in promoting itself and demonstrating its worth to the Federations than to helping them. It seems to forget that its first priority should be meeting the needs of the local Federations by providing services to them. There is no way the JFNA can provide services to strengthen an independent planning and allocations process of a local Federation and fly the overseas flag at the same time. Once JFNA has an interest in increasing the amount of funds spent overseas, it enters the Federation system with its own agenda. This was fine for a separate independent organization like UJA, but it does not work for an organization that says it represents the needs and interests of the Federations.

In addition to the allocations issue, there is also a conflict between the JFNA’s ability to represent the Federation system and its advocacy of changes in either JAFI or JDC. It hands are tied because it has agreed to advocate for JAFI and JDC in the allocations process; how can it then take a critical look at either overseas organization? Again, where is the commitment to the interests of the Federations themselves?

The GA is a perfect venue for Federations to participate in an open discussion of the purposes, programs, and accomplishments of its overseas partners. It could provide an opportunity for professional and lay leadership to air their concerns and to enter into an open dialogue. For example, some individual Federations have decided to participate in the directly funding voluntary agencies in Israel and to decrease their allocations to JAFI and/or JDC. There could be discussions at the GA on changing the way Federation funds are allocated in Israel and in other Jewish communities around the world.

JFNA has an interest in protecting the overseas partners that it has been ”mandated” to represent to the Federation system.

This interest may not be spelled out formally, but it is certainly evident in its programs and policies. Some of us see the JFNA’s Global Planning Table as providing an institutional way of maintaining the Federations’ commitment to JAFI and JDC, instead of opening up the system and providing resources to new, innovative, creative organizations that are responding to Jewish needs around the world.

Please do not read this as an indictment of the Federation system. I am concerned that the Federation system has been and is being weakened by an approach that seeks to protect vested interests instead of initiating and developing ways for Federations, individual and collectively, to meet the challenges of the local and international Jewish community in the 21st century. JFNA and local Federations need to take a serious look at themselves and their system and confront the fact that the merger created more than 20 years ago may not have been for the best.

We have all read the recent studies that question both the workings of Jewish organizations and the demographic changes in the Jewish community. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether the changes made in the Federation structure are really serving its purposes or were made just for the sake of change. The Federation system works best when the independent local Federations are united under an umbrella organization that is dedicated to meeting their needs and assisting them in achieving their purposes more effectively and efficiently, and does not have a built-in conflict of interest."

JFNA's failure is our failure. The ways to change it to a fully functioning umbrella of and for the federations seems to this observer to be a relatively simple process. But, we are on the verge of the total collapse of our national organization which, rather than being righted, continues to seek a purpose in amorphous "big ideas" rather than the purpose for which it was formed. It's truly lost.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013


So, what are we hearing?
  • Resumes from the few remaining best and brightest at JFNA are literally flooding the in-boxes of other national and Israeli-based organizations, Jewish and not. Is anyone asking "why?" 
  • Here is a classic: in the midst of whining about "not enough money" while, by my reckoning, wasting at least 1/2 of its $29.6 million budget,  Silverman created the position of "Vice-President, Institutional Advancement/Thought Leadership" and then filled it with one from inside JFNA.  BTW, as described by JFNA, it is evident that this is another position all about JFNA having nothing at all to do with the federations.
  • JFNA and federation lay leaders who might otherwise be lobbying for a new CEO, are now asking the question: "...who's out there who would (a) take the job and (b) be better than CEO Jerry?" Then there's this one: "Who would want this job?" These are a parallel arguments to Jerry's: "If you terminate the GPT, JFNA will collapse and die." There's no proof that either premise is correct - on these pages we have suggested at least 10 people who might be considered for CEO. They are out there; they just need to be recruited with a commitment that they will have the total support from the federation movement not just before they take the job but after as we. 
  • And, post-GA we are hearing that CEO Jerry will have his contract renewed. Why? Well, the current rationale is that if he isn't renewed "we'll have to start over." This raises the obvious question: "What would be so bad about starting over?" 
  • Is one major federation about to replace its long-time CEO under whose brilliant leadership the community has pulled itself out of the doldrums and into the light? What's wrong here?
  • Has a prominent lay leader from southern Florida been registering his dissatisfaction with having served as Chair of Israel and Overseas for 2+ years and watched as every matter related to his Committee's purpose has been co-opted by the Global Planning Table? Who is in charge here? (I am reminded of a fantastic philanthropist who was asked to Chair UJA's first lay Marketing Committee. After a few months he resigned in frustration; I asked him why. "If the National Chair is going to do the job I was asked to do, he can have the job himself."
  • Then there is this: a group of courageous federation lay and professional leaders from a number of communities within one of the important City-size Federation groupings -- one that pays 13% of JFNA's budget -- has written and distributed a well-reasoned plea to JFNA's leaders pleading for the attention and participation they deserve. To my knowledge, the only response these leaders have received is to be characterized as "rebels," that is, as in renegades. 
It's all coming apart, all around. Who's listening?


Saturday, November 16, 2013


There was a time when I thought "well, at least I understand what's going on at JFNA." And...then I didn't...not at all.

Case in point -- training and mentoring new Federation CEOs and the best and brightest inside our system and those with aspirations from outside. First, there was FEREP, created under CJF, offering scholarships to the best of our young aspirants. Then there was the failed program to better train the best of Federation young professionals for their ultimate goal -- to become a federation CEO. Wonderful goals -- but the participants soon learned that many of those put in the program by their CEOs had no interest in the ultimate position; others were in because their federations demanded "positions" in the program. The best and brightest were often frustrated, the professionals within JFNA leading the professional development program soon left and this program disappeared without a trace -- but for a periodic "reunion".

In an internal JFNA document that is designed to list the ways in which JFNA IS "Serving the Federation Movement," here is how JFNA itself defines its Talent Acquisition Services" -- note the "ranking:"
"For Federations with CEO and senior professional openings the Mandel Center identifies highly qualified non-traditional, 'out of the box' candidates from the profit and nonprofit sectors, as well as outstanding performers from within the Federation movement."
The results, as they say, speak for themselves.

Then, there's JFNA's  mentoring of new and sitting CEOs. Three cases of many: one received a "training book," and not even a phone call; another was "assigned" a mentor, who wasn't aware of the assignment; a brilliant student of our system was told by JFNA staff that he/she would be hearing from a new Large City CEO who needed some FRD mentoring -- never heard a word, phone calls to the CEO not returned. I read somewhere that JFNA had "delegated" its responsibilities for professional training and mentoring to the Mandel Center for Excellence; I don't know what the Center is doing; I just know what JFNA isn't.

I do know this, led by the Charles and Andrea Bronfman Philanthropies, new and prospective Federation CEOs will be trained and mentored through the efforts of leading foundations. Yes, the mega-foundations have determined they need to step into the void created by JFNA's inattention and they will. G-d bless these philanthropists for recognizing a priority -- one of the highest. But, this assumption of a systemic priority by those outside of our system creates a real question -- what the hell is JFNA doing with its budget, with our funds? 


Wednesday, November 13, 2013


Speaking of Delusions...Since the publication of the Pew Report, which JFNA's leaders appear to view as both an opportunity and some form of existential threat, Jerry Silverman has been just popping with what passes at JFNA for "big ideas." And, now, he has been joined by his Chair.

One, which Silverman trotted out the same week as meetings with Birthright leadership took place with federation CEOs and JFNA. The subject is JFNA's want: access to the Birthright participant lists -- some 350,000 names. He then repeated the "dream" time and again, and never, ever, with any meat on the bones of this "big idea."

Here is what Jerry has been told more than once by Birthright leaders: every federation currently gets the list of the participants from its community. Then follow-up resides with the federations. Maybe CEO Jerry needs someone to explain this to him until he nods affirmatively that he understands. Maybe Jerry could ask the federations for the lists with which they have been provided -- although the likelihood is that the federations themselves don't trust JFNA with the selfsame lists. If JFNA wants to add value, it seems reasonable to suggest that JFNA proactively plan and offer its own list of optimal post-Birthright activities for distribution to the federations. In doing so it might gather the best practices of those communities already engaged with the alumni. But, no, JFNA just wants the lists.

And, what if JFNA had these names? What would JFNA do with them? Based on CEO Jerry's passionate oration at the GA -- they haven't a clue. NOT A CLUE. There has been no planning at JFNA; there are no plans at JFNA -- these are just words. And, friends, trust me; were I at JFNA right now, I would want to ride Birthright's coat tails and make its accomplishments JFNA's. The problem for CEO Jerry is that the Birthright leaders are a lot smarter than he -- yet, it's also quite possible that if he came to them with a viable plan, a real plan, one that spelled out how JFNA's work with the Birthright alumni would further their Jewish identity and offer them a real (as opposed to an illusory [or nonexistent])  path to communal engagement, these accomplished leaders would join in a real effort. But, of course, there is no there there, is there?

And, then, the Board Chair announced a potential $1 billion...yep, $1,000,000,000...special campaign to offer a free Jewish pre-school education for every Jewish child and CEO Jerry added a demand to triple  the number of kids at Jewish camps within five years. Now, I am in favor of big and bold plans...which these clearly would be if there were real substance to them...but wouldn't some pre-planning be appropriate before boldly going where no one, certainly not JFNA, has gone before -- like some discussion with the federations themselves as to priorities and capacity? 

This is simply ridiculous. JFNA, an organization that couldn't even raise its financial commitment, already unilaterally reduced, to "Complete the Journey" for Ethiopian Jewry; that can't even raise the $1,250,000 (or is it $1.5 million?) it committed to in its current budget; that dismantled its FRD staff and can't even hire a Senior Vice President Campaign; will undertake campaigns without plans. Sure. 

UJA used to be accused, with some real evidence, of being an organization that exemplified "ready, fire, aim;" JFNA now can best be described as "ready, fire, aimless."


Sunday, November 10, 2013


And, welcome to the GA.

This piece is about false equivalency and stupidity.

Those reading this Blog would be almost unanimous in our belief that there is no equivalency between, for example, Aipac and JStreet --- infact, merely placing them side-by-side in a sentence is an insult to Aipac. Now, in an attempt at what JFNA must perceive as "fairness," it, too, has created an equivalency where none has existed or should.  

Some of you may remember that months ago we recommended on these pages that JFNA join Women of the Wall in a Rally of support for their efforts and for all efforts at Jewish Peoplehood by bringing together the leaders of WOW and the GA as one. I actually thought that JFNA leadership had revamped the GA Program to do so. Maybe they still will...but...but, of course, we must seem to be "fair" to all points of view, mustn't we; even if one of those points of view is antithetic to the very construct of a civil society -- the "civil society" about which JFNA professionals talk and write but on which they apparently just can't bring themselves to act.

In his piece above, the Blogger Jonah Lowenfeld discloses that "women on both sides of the Kotel debate to share stage at JFNA GA. Here are the parties: Women of the Wall ("WOW") -- struggling for years on behalf of women and, in reality, on behalf of all of us who believe that the Kotel belongs to the entire Jewish People: women, men, children, the gay community, all of us -- and a group established six months ago, Women For the Wall ("W4W") -- a group established to oppose any and all change in "the current restrictions that prohibit women from collectively praying together at the kotel." One group -- WOW - as "aligned" with the efforts of Sharansky and the federations, the other -- with the discriminatory, often violent, "tradition" of keeping those with whom they don't agree away from this holy Place

Up to this point in time, efforts to bring the two groups together on a panel have been rejected by WOW as "media stunts." But, a panel at the GA, to be moderated by CEO Jerry and postured as bringing these two groups "together for the first time" without regard for the fact that one has supported our system and has been supported by it, the other opposes all that is embodied in the words "civil society" -- JFNA, in what one supposes is rationalized as "fairness" (let's hear all sides" as if there are two "sides") creates a terrible false equivalency. The message of W4W is one of exclusion cloaked in the false thesis of "tradition;" the message of WOW is one of inclusion.

And, by structuring a Panel in this way -- as a true media event -- JFNA appears less interested in taking the right position, in taking any position, than it is in self-promotion. But, what else is new?

And, let's close out the JFNA GA numbers game -- because that's what it is -- with this: JFNA is papering the house. While claiming a Registration price for Israelis (as is true for "locals" at GAs in the Continental U.S., if your NGO has paid for an exhibition booth, your participants appear to be granted credentials and are, thereby, counted as a Registrant. Yep, that's how CEO Jerry claims "3,000" -- you add 100's maybe close to 1,000 "locals" who pay no registration and you invite in MASA and Birthright young men and women, maybe you give a free pass to 100 North American supporters of Women of the Wall and count all of them as "Registrants" and throw in many other "locals" who are "friends" of JFNA-Israel or Sheatufim, you remember "our partner," you will get to "3,000" (not really). It's almost as if JFNA representatives spot an unsuspecting Israeli and it's "p'sssst, how about coming to the GA? On us." As one of the FOB said: "Figures lie...and liars figure." That is until the JFNA Chairs ask for the data. Then, it's over.

P.S. The Jerusalem Post has it right in its GA headline: "100s Gather in Jerusalem..." That's right, "100s."


P.S. I have been told by one who was present at the Session that it was both excellent and informative.


Thursday, November 7, 2013


One can almost always count on CEO Jerry.

In an interview Jerry gave The Forward in his quest to "sell" the GA,  he spelled the organization's message out with such confusion, the the reporter himself seemed incredulous:

"During a recent visit to the Forward’s newsroom, Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America, was brimming with enthusiasm for the upcoming annual gathering of local Jewish charity federations nationwide, known as the General Assembly, which will take place this year not in the United States, but in Jerusalem.
The GA’s 2013 program, he stressed, will emphasize the group’s openness to “dialogue” and “questions,” particularly from young Jews, with no holds barred.
 “We need new thinking, new minds around the table,” emphasized Silverman, a former senior executive with the Stride Rite Corp. and Levi Strauss & Co.
But asked if the confab — one of the most important on the Jewish calendar — would include any discussion of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Silverman vigorously shook his head. His body language told a story of its own as he held his hands out in front of him as if pushing something away.
 “I don’t use the word ‘occupation,’” he said. “We as an organization don’t get into the political arena.”
Yet on its website devoted exclusively to the GA, JFNA boasts that the gathering “tackles the most critical issues of the day” and brings together Jews “from North America and Israelis from across the political spectrum to discuss issues facing Israel.”
One such session advertised on the GA website promises to address one of Israel’s most sensitive political issues: the question, as JFNA puts it, of the Israeli rabbinate’s “absolute control over marriage and divorce in Israel.”
 The JFNA summary of the session asks: “Should the Orthodox establishment continue to have exclusive authority over marriage and divorce in the Jewish State?” and details a panel consisting of feminists, civil libertarians, business people and a representative of the Reform Judaism movement — but no representative of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.
Asked if this was not political, Silverman replied, “The question of recognizing marriage in Israel has a direct effect on Diaspora Jews.” But when it comes to addressing Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said, “we won’t be in the room making the call….It’s not something we create real dialog about in the GA.”
The last point may be accurate. But Silverman’s claim that the GA eschews addressing the conflict at all does not seem entirely correct. The GA’s schedule includes, among other things:
• An “invitation only” session focusing on the Israel Action Network, the group set up to fight anti-Israel activism on U.S. college campuses, where critics of Israel target the occupation relentlessly. According to the website, this session “builds upon efforts throughout the Jewish community to counter assaults on Israel’s legitimacy.” The session, according to the website, will discuss the network’s campaign to “define discourse on Israel [and] effectively reach out to progressives.”
• A session devoted to “making the case for Israel,” which promises: “In this session, we will learn about incredible initiatives that are inspiring a new generation to engage with Israel — from talking peace through martial arts to understanding Israel via its history.”
• A session entitled “How to Effectively Speak Out for Israel in a Changing World” in which “diplomatic and communications experts, sharing the latest polling, messaging and public opinion research” will educate attendees on “new tools and approaches to help us support Israel, both in our own communities and across the country.”
• A session on “delegitimization” of Israel addressing “assaults on Israel’s legitimacy [that] lurk on campus, on the op-ed page, in city hall and in the corporate boardroom” that promises to help participants “craft effective messaging and outreach to vulnerable constituencies.”
• A session that will examine “the deep long-standing ties” between the United States and Israel and how “the political and security challenges of the Middle East have sometimes put strains on the relations between these two close allies.”
This was followed by another interview, as only Jerry Silverman can offer, thios time with JTA's Managing Editor, Uriel Hellman -- "Free Jewish Pre-School - Sounds Nice, But Is It Viable?" Again, CEO Jerry offered no specifics -- kind of a "run it up the flagpole, see if anyone salutes." Yep: “These are four concepts and ideas. You know? Our goal is to unpack these, take a look at these, take a look at the models that are already out there, and see what this idea could really turn into. And once we unpack it we will be able to really see what is reasonable and what is executable. But we think it’s in the right direction."
Or, as we have come to say: "Huh??"

On another note, JFNA has apparently told the GA Chairs that registration is now 2549!!! And registrations are coming in at a rate of "100 per day." (Why not "100 per hour?")

Yeah, should be a great GA.


Tuesday, November 5, 2013


I want to be fair to JFNA -- a place where I still have a few friends and, even more so, many hopes. So I am going to Post the various GA Registration numbers I have heard; you can choose the one you think most realistic:

  • JFNA leaders have been receiving weekly Registration updates that lead them to believe that, with a sudden influx of Mission participants who had been unregistered, Registration is now at 3,000 and rising;
  • Others at 25 Broadway have told me that Registration is "still on life support" and "underwater" at less than 1,000;
  • One GA Co-Chair has said that current Registration is in excess of 4,000, increasing by 100 each day;
  • Israeli colleagues have told me that they are receiving calls daily "pleading" for attendees; and
  • Some have reminded me that at one recent GA under the current JFNA professional leadership, JFNA crowed about 3,000 registrants, yet when the Registrations were hand counted -- there were less than 950 lay people registered.
Frankly, we'll probably never know. I hope the number of paid lay registrants is 3,000 -- hell, I hope it's 5,000. You can pick your own number -- I think that that is exactly what JFNA is doing.


Monday, November 4, 2013


As those who read this Blog and the very few attending the GA know, JFNA canceled a Mission-like "Day in the Negev" -- a "day" to see, apparently, all that the federations (other than those invested in the Negev through P2gether) (what a brilliant brand) aren't doing in the Negev and the rest of the South of Israel. This was a wise choice by JFNA.

But it is also appropriate for us to understand that while JFNA organizes professional planning work groups and spins its wheels, producing "talking points" and "here's what we'll (probably) do if you send us more money" and other non-things, there is a great deal happening -- just not by JFNA (though, as you will read, there are connections).

Let's start with the Jewish National Fund and its work in Be'er Sheva. Most of us have visited Be'er Sheva, some have marveled at its potential as the Gateway to Israel's Negev, many would call it Israel's future. While most of us "marvel," JNF's leaders saw potential and acted. With the people of Be'er Sheva, JNF developed a Vision through Blueprint Negev that includes:

More than $30 million has already been invested in a city that dates
back to the time of Abraham. For years Be’er Sheva was an economically depressed and
forgotten city. Enough of a difference has been made to date that private developers have
taken notice and begun to invest their own money. New apartment buildings have risen, with
terraces facing the riverbed that in the past would have looked away. A slew of single family
homes have sprung up, and more are planned.
Attracted by the River Walk, the biggest mall in Israel and the first “green” one in the
country is
being built by The Lahav Group, a private enterprise, and will contribute to the city’s communal
life and all segments of the population. The old Turkish city is undergoing a renaissance, with
gaslights flanking the refurbished cobblestone streets and new restaurants, galleries and stores
opening. This year, the municipality of Be’er Sheva is investing millions of dollars to renovate the
Old City streets and support weekly cultural events and activities. And the Israeli government
just announced nearly $40 million to the River Park over the next seven years.
Serious headway has been made on the 1,700-acre Be’er Sheva River Park, a central park
and waterfront district that is already transforming the city. JNF funds have:
Built and opened 7 out of 15 kilometers of the beautiful promenade;
Reinforced the riverbanks to hold back the flood waters that rush through five days a year;
Removed tons of garbage from the riverbed which had been used as a dump;
Begun to renovate the historical site of Beit Eshel, an original Be’er Sheva outpost, which
will bring to life and educate tourists about the War of Independence;
Completed a recycled water system for park irrigation;
Built Bell Park, the first central park in the city, with JNF Canada;
Developed educational programs with three area schools through our partner Society for
the Protection of Nature in Israel;
Developed a $4 million plan for the renovation and promotion of Abraham’s Well funded
by the estate of May Mann;
Funded a feasibility study on bringing water to the river year-round;
Planned the Pipes Bridge, which will disguise the water pipes used to funnel water into the
city, create a scenic recreational spot, and connect the park to the Old City.
Planned the 20-acre lake and 10,000-seat amphitheatre;
There is nothing wrong with JFNA  twiddling its fingers while others do God's work. After all we only have 27 staffers in our Israel Office -- they hardly have enough time to accomplish anything. 

And, just to be clear, the person who told me of this incredible work is our friend Russell Robinson, JNF CEO and President, once a great fund raiser and creative source at the United Jewish Appeal...that's the UJA.

And, that's not all that is going on in Israel's South or in Be'er Sheva for that matter. There, one of Israel's great Universities is at work "transforming Be'er Sheva into Israel's next high tech center." At its recently dedicated Advanced Technologies Park, Ben Gurion University as BGU continues up the path toward becoming part of Israel's new Silicon Valley. 

There is nothing wrong with JFNA twiddling its fingers while others do God's work. After all they have 27 staffers in our Israel Office -- they hardly have time to accomplish anything.

And, just to be clear, the professional spearheading the fund raising in America for American Associates Ben Gurion University is our friend Doron Krakow, once SVP at JFNA, and now doing brilliant work as Executive Director of American Friends BGO of the Negev. Russell Robinson and Doron Krakow, once senior professionals of our national organizations, now leading the efforts of other organizations in nation- and institution-building in Israel.

And, JFNA? Well, we probably don't even know what JNF and BGU and others are doing in Israel's South. We're busy; don't you know anything?


Friday, November 1, 2013


This Post takes another look at the GA -- or, pardon me, "The Global Jewish Shuk -- A Marketplace of Dialogue and Debate." Oh, if only it were so.  The GA was such a valuable and valued franchise that efforts to make it a biennial event were rejected by a number of the LCE (and, no doubt others) based on an argument that "if we don't do it every year, someone will surely steal it from us." Now, if attendance is the scoreboard, the franchise has been so devalued as to render that argument moot.

I don't know who is in charge of the "rules" for the GA in this Mickey Mouse era. I do recall that in the early years of JFNA, we had a lay/professional Committee where all issues -- from the programmatic to the practical -- were discussed and decided. So, here's what's happening now:

  • As we have observed, federations and agencies which made inquiry have been told that there will be no day passes to the GA. This at a time that Registration is somewhere between a disaster and a bigger disaster;
  • I gave some thought to attending at this the last minute. Tried to reserve rooms at one of the GA hotels -- it doesn't matter which, there are rooms after rooms available. It is clear on the GA website that once booked, you cannot get a refund no matter the circumstance. So, we called a few hotels at various price points in an attempt to book the same dates and, guess what: every one of these hotels permits cancellation up to 24 hours in advance -- at the same room rates or lower than JFNA has "negotiated."   
  • I, like you, have read the GA Program. The good news: there are many new faces; the bad news: there are many old ones as well. I found it interesting that the JFNA CEO/President has found his way onto the program in at least two places -- one of which is to moderate an apparent "discussion" of Takdim, the first Israeli community following the federation "model" (whatever that is today). As in many other GA program instances, wouldn't this be an opportunity to highlight Federation lay and professional leaders who are actively and actually involved in Takdim. But...this is but a quibble: of greater import is, as one national leader wrote me, "this is nothing more than the same old same old, 'new faces' talking about the same old things."
  • On the subject of the GA Program, the system's entity fighting BDS will present, but how about this: post his IDF service, Israeli Hen Mazzig was engaged as a shaliach by StandWithUs. His experience with American Jews in the NorthWest resulted in a cry: "An Israeli Soldier to American Jews: Wake Up." It was tough reading but wouldn't hearing directly from Mazzig wake up a dead GA? If there are those at JFNA who don't know how to contact StandWithUs, give me a call.
  • The "selling of the GA" has been JFNA's major focus these past two months -- the catalyst? A registration so abysmal as to be an embarrassment. The Shuk proved not to mean much so JFNA added another meaningless tag line: The 2013 GA: Where All Points Meet. No, haven't a clue what that means. And "dialogue and debate" -- where on that desultory, soporific Program? Better minds than mine, certainly, conceived a wonderful program on Jewish Pluralism in Israel led by thought leaders from "across the religious spectrum" where those assembled could "[L]earn about the work being done on the ground in Israel to bring about change." Moderated by John Ruskay. It is just the kind of program that would have brought life to a GA sorely needing it. It was held on October 20 in New York City, convened by the JCC in Manhattan -- fully sponsored. 
  • On October 25 -- what's that, 3 weeks before the GA itself -- there appeared a 1/2 page ad for the GA in the Forward. I'm going to assume that JFNA had to pay for the ad. I can only picture some federation lay leader in her office: reads the ad and says "Eureka. I have to go to this. I wasn't going to but, but...this ad. I'M GOING." Did JFNA put the GA in the hands of its Marketing Department...or does JFNA just have money to burn?
  • All of this leads to the question: where the hell is the buzz? Where is the life? Where, seriously, are the "dialogue and debate" in a GA program that appears to be all about talking heads and no debate? Where is the meat? Shouldn't we at least be good at this? G-d knows we used to be.

P.S. I am told that one of the GA Co-Chairs is telling anyone who will listen that GA registration is now at 2,450 and increasing at the "rate of 100 per day." I would love to have a swig of that Kool-Aid.