Monday, June 30, 2014


Periodically we will try to explain the so-called "Signature Initiatives" and "Voluntary Project" contemplated after years of expense as the focuses of the Global Planning Table. When the JFNA Board approved these Projects, the JFNA Chair (who I honestly do not believe yet understands the implications of a GPT takeover of JFNA) has advised me/us that now JFNA (not the GPT) will raise the investment required -- $500,000 from each of 10 federations -- as a pre-condition to each Signature Initiative. That's a $5,000,000 commitment per Initiative. 

Let's examine JQuest.

"JQuest is a signature initiative of the Global Planning Table (involving the Government of Israel and World Jewry). This is part of the $100 million that the Government of Israel has agreed to invest in programs to build Jewish identity and connection with Israel in the Diaspora. It has offered a dollar for dollar match with philanthropic funds raised in North America. The JQuest pilot will focus on 1834 year olds in North America, Israel and elsewhere, offering an immersive experiences to engage in meaningful Jewish service and professional internship experiences in Israel and resume building experiences that fit their lifestyles, aspirations and time available. There will be preand follow through programming as well. One of the goals of JQuest is to strengthen Jewish peoplehood by deepening participants’ connections with each other and the people with whom they are learning and working, and also their relationship with and experience in Israel and/or other Jewish communities."

My understanding (and if I am wrong someone will no doubt correct me) is that the incredibly ambitious Government Initiative was for far more money requiring a much greater North American federation investment. However, JFNA advised that it could not raise the amount that would have been required as the North American "fair share" paring down the Initiative before it even began. After all, an organization that couldn't even raise $3,000,000 to "Complete the Journey" of Ethiopian Jewry, then reduced the federation ask for that effort to $1,500,000 and couldn't raise that (after committing to JAFI that these funds would be raised) surely can be counted on...but for what?

Maybe there are those dreamers who still deny all reality and history and believe that federations will actually allocate "new money" to fund JQuest. Sure, there are the few which will do so, but the vast majority of participants (should there be a "vast number" of them) will simply reallocate dollars from MASA and/or Birthright and/or from the core allocations to this "Initiative" and allow the chachams at JFNA to reallocate them and, somehow, count these dollars as "new" and triumph a great "victory." The only "victory" here will be the triumph of the Luddites over common sense. 

Perhaps you will recall that philanthropist and erstwhile JFNA leader Michael Gellman at one point recommended aloud, while JFNA Executive Chair, that the system just reallocate all of its overseas dollars to Birthright. Now he gets closer to his dark "dream." You can expect that Susie Goldman Gellman will assure that JQuest receives a major family Foundation gift as well.

Soon, we'll take a look at a "Voluntary Initiative" on these pages.


Friday, June 27, 2014


I guess I could have titled this Post "What Did You Expect?" or "We Really Didn't Mean It" or something other but the above will do -- for this is the story of the Global Planning Table's toe dip into the waters of allocations advocacy. You didn't notice, you say. That's OK. Because, really, they didn't want you to. Oh, sure, the JFNA Co-Chairs with CEO What's-a-Core-Allocation-Anyway? sent a Briefing in early 2014 indicating their commitment to increased core allocation funding and urging federations to increase theirs, they then permitted the inane GPT to usurp core allocations advocacy...appoint a Committee (or Work Group or whatever they call it) with a strong and respected Chair and, then...almost

This became another example of what happens with our continental organization. You may remember that we pointed out early on in this "process" that there was an inherent conflict between the Global Planning Table's determination to raise $500,000 from ten federations as a condition precedent to each Strategic Initiative (stay tuned for that condition to be abandoned) and advocacy for increased core allocations. But...never mind. You see, while there is some hortatory language, somewhere, in the GPT go-forward on the Signature Initiatives that the money for the Initiative be "over and above" current allocations, I have been at those meetings and I've seen the low- or no-allocating communities just roll their eyes and use the core allocations as an ATM machine for funding new or current ventures.

Instead of meaningful allocations advocacy, the GPT has done nothing more than sit by and watch as communities have gone through their allocations processes, reduce the core allocations and focus in many instances on increasing designated project funding or changing the "split" -- you will learn, probably only after another pathetic cash effort at calendar year-end, that in a year in which aggregate campaigns have increased, albeit minimally, aggregate allocations will have reduced to new historic lows. From JFNA the annual crocodile tears will flow...and little else.

While shameful, there is no shame. Allocations advocacy? That was the GPT, not JFNA. Onward.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014


I thought it would be good to examine the Global Planning Table "Signature Initiatives" from time-to-time. Today we will examine what has been dubbed The Israel Children's Zone (the ICZ), after the Harlem Children's Zone (the HCZ)
right there in New York City. In a few days we will look at JQuest.

The HCZ, with its charismatic and inspirational leadership dedicated to lifting Harlem schoolchildren from poverty to success and a budget estimated at $131,000,000 has inspired the ICZ and is its model. While educational experts have seriously questioned the transferability of the HCZ model, the perpetrators of the ICZ see no evil, hear no evil and speak none. Here is what the New York Times recently reported:
"But back home and out of the spotlight, Mr. Canada and his charter schools have struggled with the same difficulties faced by other urban schools, even as they outspend them. After a rocky start several years ago typical of many new schools, Mr. Canada’s two charter schools, featured as unqualified successes in “Waiting for ‘Superman,’ ” the new documentary, again hit choppy waters this summer, when New York State made its exams harder to pass.
A drop-off occurred, in spite of private donations that keep class sizes small, allow for an extended school day and an 11-month school year, and offer students incentives for good performance like trips to the Galápagos Islands or Disney World."
I remember when the Ethiopian National Project, back in the late 90s, was too slow in getting its act together,  being accosted at a meeting by a well-meaning Steven Solender, then the President/CEO of New York UJA. Speaking sternly and earnestly, Steve said: "Richard, if the aliyah doesn't begin immediately, we'll bring all of the Ethiopian Jews to New York City." I responded, "Come on, Steve, get real." But, some folks, some communities, some organizations never "get real."

The reality is clear, the Harlem Chidren's Zone's "successes" have never been replicated beyond Harlem itself. The JDC's work with Ethiopian olim families in PACT and PACT's progeny have recently been criticized for their failures even though we know of the Joint's herculean efforts with that immigrant group. The GPT leaders sense of themselves -- that we can succeed with a huge investment (which JFNA -- for its role seems clearly and only to raise millions for "the Zone" -- will predictably fail just as JFNA's efforts to fund Ethiopian aliyah, the Ethiopian National Project and "Complete the Journey" were all abject failures.

But, beyond the funding failure, one thing is certain -- there is no one in our sphere with the charisma, the vision or the passion of a Geoffrey Canada, the founder and executor of the Harlem Children's Zone who lifted the HCZ on his shoulders and walked it toward whatever success it might ever have. (Mr. Canada resigned from the HCZ earlier this year.) The Israeli Ethiopian community beset with every social, familial and educational issue imaginable, is producing its own indigenous leaders. 

It is past time for this Israeli community to develop its own programs, its own Israeli Children's Zone designed by the community for the community. The day
of North American paternalism has long since passed, we just don't realize it.


Saturday, June 21, 2014


I was multi-tasking the other night in the manner of an aging person -- catching up on my reading while the television blared in the background. Something caught my attention -- it was a report by the esteemed Jon Frankel on HBO's award-winning Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel. Frankel's reports are almost always on matters of interest and, even more so, because Jon was one of the "headliners" at the first failed TribeFest. As I paid more attention, Frankel was moderating a story on the rising expectation that the World Cup in Brazil will be the same albatross as have been a succession of Olympic Games around the globe, leaving in their wake great debt, unused facilities and rising anger among the populations.

I was struck by the history of the "White Elephant" that was retold in the course of the HBO story:
"The story behind the phrase comes from the old traditions of Siam (Thailand). White elephants were very rare, so if the king gave one as a gift, it was an honor. However, the gift was a terrible burden to the person who received it. He had to feed and care for the elephant all throughout its long life."
(You, my faithful readers, probably see where this is headed!) So, the phrase "white elephant" means a useless possession. As has been written: "Often a 'white elephant' is a burden in some way: large, difficult to store, or expensive to maintain."

Yes, indeed -- JFNA, sadly, is our 2014 version of the "White Elephant" -- it was "gifted" to the system by the JDC and by UIA/JAFI, performs few functions well and, rather than fixing it, the federations just feed it annually with outrageous Dues for minimal, if any, return, and will do so for the rest of time expecting less and less in return. Institutional memory is gone, and in its place have been substituted those in current leadership who either choose to ignore what has happened to our national institution or what is happening everywhere. Does anyone reading this Post believe that the Government of Israel would have effectively ended the Jewish Agency's historic role in aliyah leadership, as it has done, if they expected what would have been North American Jewry's pushback? Does anyone reading this Post believe that the Jewish Agency would have put itself in the position of weakening its own historic role, if North American Jewry possessed the understanding and strength of its historic roles? But, here we we are. 

We have held out hope for years that somehow, with each iteration of fresh lay leadership there would be a candid and honest reappraisal (or even just an appraisal) of how far JFNA has fallen from relevancy into irrelevancy while the claque stood on the sidelines joining in the applause for....well, nothing. And, each time, the lay leadership is either overwhelmed or too taken with their positions to look beyond the surface and take the necessary action. In some instances, like the present, the voices of a few professional leaders have trumped rational thought and action. Yes, the same guys who stepped in when the first CEO failed the system, today stand back and do nothing while the system is so poorly served. These LCE know that the current CEO does nothing without asking their permission -- if that's the way to sustain a white elephant, then we are well-served.

"Shame" is the Word of the Day.


Friday, June 20, 2014


In the midst of the search for our three boys in Israel, here's the "best" our national organization can do:

From: Rebecca Caspi , בקי כספי <>
Date: June 19, 2014 at 10:52:39 PM GMT+3
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Subject: Federations and the three kidnapped boys
We at Federations are proud of the steps we have taken, and continue to take, during this time of crisis. We delivered a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu<> declaring the full solidarity of our communities, and we also prepared a “virtual letter<>” to the boys’ families that was signed by more than 2,000 people in its first 24 hours.
 We have become a laughingstock -- all JFNA need do is follow what its members are dong but on a national/continental scale. Send out examples of rallies, etc., mount a rally in D.C. DO SOMETHING.  But, no, instead we are once again nothing more than pen pals. As always, we deliver letters to the Prime Minister.

We are irrelevant.


Wednesday, June 18, 2014


I'm almost certain that I've indicated, probably more than once, that I could write a new Post every day, often more than once a day, with regard to the daily failures at JFNA. Thus, my efforts at restraint, feeble though they may be. Often, men and women for whom I have the greatest admiration for their commitment to community and People, for some reason attach themselves to projects both redundant and unnecessary. But they do so, time and again.

So, we'll examine today the latest "effort" of the JFNA Mandel Center for Leadership -- something called Yasod; something redundant and something being proposed in total disregard for other programming that preceded it and which continues. The JFNA Budget suggests that Mandel receives $3,000,000 a year (that Steve Hoffman is quite a fund raiser, isn't he??)  of the Dues your community pays to JFNA...and, I guess, one could ask: For what? Searches? Could be done better at a lower cost to the system by, e.g., Korn-Ferry, DRG or any number of others. And, what else? Uh....

You may have heard or, more likely, participated in The Wexner Heritage Program. I count back to 1986 when I Chaired my Federation and our dear friend and mentor, Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, approached us to be one of the first partner federations -- we immediately embraced the idea of deepening the education and training of our future federation lay leaders. Here's where Wexner is today:
"In recent years, community partnerships have brought the Wexner Heritage Program to Atlanta, Baltimore, Boca Raton, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dallas, Denver, East Bay (CA), Houston, Los Angeles, MetroWest/NJ, Miami, Montreal, Russian Speaking Jews/NY City,  Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Seattle, San Diego, the San Francisco Bay area, Washington, DC, and Westchester, NY."
1000s of young Jewish community and Peoplehood leaders have matriculated through this dream of Herb Friedman and Les Wexner. It is a program that has only gained in strength since the mid-1980s when it began to today, almost three decades later.

Now, we all know that JFNA leaders, most of whom, right up to the top of the professional food chain there, have no institutional memory or have helped to eradicate what little was left, may not know of the Wexner Heritage Program -- but, surely their lay leaders do -- I would wager that the two outstanding Co-Chairs were graduates of Wexner. Nonetheless, with all kinds of fanfare, two respected, wonderful lay leaders announced this absolute copy remaking the wheel as only JFNA and Mandel can't do:

From: Desk of Cindy Shapira
Sent: Monday, May 12, 2014 3:53 PM
Subject: Announcement - Yasod - Volunteer Leadership Development Program

May 12, 2014

TO:         Federation Presidents
Federation Executives
 FROM:   Cindy Shapira, Yasod Chair
Sheryl Kimerling, Yasod Co-Chair

We are very excited to inform you about the Yasod Volunteer Leadership Development Program - a new initiative being offered by the JFNA Mandel Center. The goal of Yasod is to support communities in building a pipeline of excellent volunteer leadership.This intensive leadership development course, developed by the Florence Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning, a project of the Hebrew University, and written by Dr. Erica Brown, will focus on the skills and knowledge needed to lead a Federation.  The curriculum includes discussions on the attributes of an effective leader, managing change and growing and mentoring others.

We will launch the program with a pilot effort in a few communities. If your community has an interest in being considered for the pilot please review the attached detailed description and the program criteria, and send a completed questionnaire (also attached) to Elissa Maier of the Mandel Center by May 27, 2014.
         We look forward to sharing our progress as we move forward.

Trust that the attachment describing Yasod (which means "Foundation") essentially describes a Wexner Lite without the quality educators and leaders. (Perhaps, unlike Wexner which splits the annual cost with participating federations to give them "skin in the game," JFNA Mandel will make Yasod available at no cost given the $3 million "gift" JFNA bestows on Mandel annually [one of Steve Hoffman's best solicitations]). Here is the Draft Curriculum:

  • "Defining Great Leadership
  • The Personal Journey to Leadership
  • Growing From Failure
  • Mentoring and Growing Others
  • Nurturing Vision
  • Effective Change Management
  • Inspired Communication
  • Creating a Leadership Pipeline with Better Succession Planning"
(Perhaps the beta test for this "model" would be to engage JFNA's own current leadership in the curriculum...but, No.)

I sent the Yasod materials to one of the most knowledgeable and creative leaders in our system. He looked them over and reminded me:
"In the 60's the great advertising pro, Jerry Della Femina, titled his book about his first thought when Sony came to him to represent them in North America: From the Folks Who Brought You Pearl Harbor!"
Yep, here's what we do at JFNA in lieu of creative thinking, monitoring of the extinct or throwing unfunded so-called "Big Ideas" at the wall -- we replicate an incredibly successful program and pretend that it's (1) ours and (2) brand new and, then, they can't comprehend when it fails. 


Sunday, June 15, 2014


I am saddened by the reality that CEO How-Did-I-Ever-Get-This-Job appears to have "bought" the extension of his ridiculous contract by telling the Board Chair what he wanted to hear -- "I, CEO Jerry, after almost five years, have seen the light and I will direct the total reorientation of JFNA toward whatever it is you want Chair Michael." All of you readers out there; raise your hand if you believe CEO I-Don't-Have-a-Clue -- I see your hands up over there Chair Michael and Chair Dede, and the other members of the Compensation Committee plus three, but otherwise...nobody believes this bull.

I know there is to be a "real" reorientation because I have read the JFNA Proposed Budget for Fiscal Year 2014-2015. I commend it to your attention. What do I mean by a "total reorientation?" Try this:
"JFNA will invest in initiatives that focus on helping Federations fundraise, including refocusing on high potential donors, affinity groups, national missions, speakers and community consultations. We will focus on strengthening our approach to talent acquisition; on- boarding (the winner of the JFNA "jargon of the day" award); and professional and lay leadership training."
Uh huh...and they also have a bridge to nowhere to sell you. CEO Jerry still fails to understand how or why, apparently, federations raise money -- you recall that he believes the annual campaign is nothing more than "counter-cultural." JFNA is woefully understaffed to conduct any FRD effort that would accomplish the noble goals quoted above -- the Senior professional tasked to lead "Philanthropic Resources" may have a clue how funds were raised at New York UJA-Federation but, trust me, that version of FRD is unique to New York. And, where is that guy's staff? Where is the meat on the bones of this total reorientation at 25 Broadway? Best I can tell, there is NONE.

But, all of that aside, the Board Chair wanted a return to FRD, so CEO Jerry was right on it! In words. And, apparently, for Chair Siegal words were enough to justify keeping CEO Jerry in the most expensive seat in the Federation system --he's full of words, signifying nothing. One would have thought if your senior pro so facilely and transparently keeps making stuff up, he would have been through -- but not in our time where our leaders shut their eyes to reality and just put on the blinders and hope...against hope...that they will wake up and "things will be different." 

Oh, what else?
"JFNA will strengthen the impact of our Federation System on the major issues facing our people..."  How?? "We will develop sharply defined implementation models for the Global Planning Table Signature Initiatives and pursue the opportunity provided by the Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative to advance major projects aligned with Federation System priorities and potential responses to the Pew study."
OMG!! That's it. That's JFNA today. Oh, there's other stuff -- like throwing another $200,000 at the GA -- problem solved. Now, just "get 1,000 Registrants" and "Re-Imagine 2014 GA." And, that will be success? TribeFest may have disappeared along with the Jewish Leadership Forum...but, one never knows.

Yes, CEO I-Danced-The-Harlem-Shake knew that he could fool some of the people all of the time and...they were the right people.


Friday, June 13, 2014


Every once in a while it is appropriate that I update some earlier Posts...

1. The Jewish Agency and Aliyah. I had characterized the reports last week that the Government of Israel had dictated that the aliyah function, the subject of a Covenant between the State of Israel and the Jewish Agency, be transferred to a new "quasi-governmental" company comprised of JAFI, Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael (JNF-Israel), Keren Ha'Yesod (but neither JFNA nor its UIA subsidiary) and the World Zionist Organization. JAFI was dismissive as if this were some non-event; JFNA, as is its history, sent a strong letter of protest. Well, Dan Brown, the founder of ejewishphilanthropy, has examined the matter -- and his conclusions are daunting: read them at

Please go read this for yourself. Understand that JFNA's letter had the apparent impact, as you would expect of a letter written with no understanding of the facts, of merely making a bad situation worse as only it can.

2. Not as Feckless as I presumed. My Post Feckless in Florida about a South Florida federation burdened by a sorry history raised has been appropriately rebutted by that Federation's CEO. In a cordial conversation he pointed out to me the progress that has been made by him and his lay leadership in moving the federation forward in campaign and in allocations. And, if he is correct, and necessary firewalls have been constructed to protect the Federation's unrestricted endowment from claims, then I apologize for any suggestion that those unrestricted funds may have been put at risk. I guess we agreed to disagree as to the propriety of a senior federation professional's need to carry a gun on to the federation campus at any time even though I learned that this person supervises the security personnel on the campus. I can only wish this Federation great success.



Thursday, June 12, 2014


In 2006 JFNA created The Negev Work Group to engage JFNA and "the North American Jewish Community" in "the development and advancement of the Negev." A wonderful Chair, Montreal's Marilyn Blumer, was appointed and even a cynic like me had high hopes. Then, in 2011, the Work Group created The Negev Funding Coalition. (This is JFNA, after all.) I would assume both the Work Group and the Funding Coalition are being staffed out of JFNA-Israel, which explains why so little has been very little.

Last month, JFNA convened a teleconference on "Major Developments and Opportunities for Advancement of the Negev;" this month, this weekend in fact, an "international conference, The Negev: Shaping the Future Together" -- The Funding Coalition is comprised of 10 federations and one Foundation -- the members pay another $25,000 in annual Dues. From year-to-year, much like the JFNA National Agency Alliance, no one knows who will be in, who will be out.

What Federation project has the Coalition funded? A $150,0000 grant through American Associates of Ben Gurion University for two projects at the University -- a "clean tech business competition" and support for two graduate fellows. Meanwhile AABGU has raised millions for the BGU's work in the Negev. Even more incredible, about which we have written before, is the Jewish National Fund's investment of over $85,000,000 to date in Beer Sheva and the Negev. 

Yes, the Federations which have partnered with Negev communities through P2gether continue their important work and investments. Like JNF and AABGU, they are actually doing. Meanwhile, JFNA is convening Teleconferences and international conferences, giving the illusion of doing. And, as to that International Conference -- how many lay leaders actually attended? Were there more than 30? Did the imported speakers outnumber the actual Registrants? 

The facts are the facts -- in 8 years, with all good intentions and a committed lay Chair, JFNA has merely spun its wheels, ending up in, more or less, the same place that it was in 2006 when the Work Group was created. A suggestion: The Negev Work Group merge its efforts with those of the JNF and the AABGU, if those organizations will have them, declare victory and end the illusion of actually impacting on this critical area of Israel's present and future.

Illusions, our stock in trade.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014


Our friends at ejewishphilanthropy have accurately reported on the balagan that has emerged from the Prime Minister's apparent unilateral decision breach the historic Covenant between the Jewish Agency for Israel and the State of Israel by transferring the aliyah function housed in JAFI from its formation to...well, yesterday. JAFI has issued a statement that essentially concluded that "nothing has changed" and did so without any apparent consultation with its partners. Then, without any apparent consultation with JAFI or the Government, JFNA sent a letter to the Prime Minister condemning the action without any real knowledge of what is going on. Read this sordid history at

Oh, did I mention that also involved here are the Jewish National Fund-Israel and the World Zionist Organization? Sure, it's not enough of a mess without them. The GOI announced that essentially JNF-Israel "bought" the aliyah function for IS 100,000,000; and the WZO, which essentially controls the extraordinary majority of votes in JAFI and owes a fiduciary duty to JAFI as such, has been absorbing Jewish Agency functions (or duplicating them) and performing Government functions (e.g., settlement building) for a profit for years. And, of course, if the whole thing is not bad enough, JNF-Israel, with more money than G-d, has denied it has paid or will pay anything as it gets involved in aliyah at the Prime Minister's behest.

Then there is the reality that a few years ago JAFI effectively "sold" North American aliyah to an organization called Nefesh b'Nefesh which promised it could do it better and cheaper. And since, you ask? The numbers have barely moved up while the cost per oleh has. Mess follows mess follows mess. But you knew that would be the case if JFNA's fingerprints were found anywhere on the body.

If this sounds to you like a mess, that's because it is one. Anyone who believes that there is an effective partnership among any party to this multi-cornered mess, raise your hand.

The Jewish Agency Board meetings in two weeks should be a blast. My chevra are betting that the whole thing will be avoided by a leadership that may actually believe that nothing that has happened affects JAFI -- and the sad footnote is that they may be right, so out of touch with JAFI's own legacy are they.

And our system lays in ruins.


Monday, June 9, 2014


In many dictatorships, like JFNA, when things go very wrong, the dictators just change the rules, ignore their own governance, or, in the words of CEO You-Have-Got-To-Be-Kidding, "act first and apologize later never apologize." So goes the Global Planning Table. 

After the May meetings of the Global Planning Table, this letter went out from the Committee's Chair:
"Dear Global Planning Table Committee member:

I am pleased to report that at Wednesday’s meeting, the GPT Executive Steering Committee voted unanimously to advance all 3 of our emerging initiatives. JQuest and the Israel Children’s Zone (ICZ) were approved to move forward as Signature Initiatives, while iRep, the Israel Religious Expression Platform, will seek support as a voluntary project for interested Federations, with support from foundations and donors.  The next step in the process is to present the GPT recommendations to the JFNA Board of Trustees.  That is scheduled to occur on June 9, 2014.

Following the anticipated Board approval of our recommendations, we expect the next 3-4 months to be devoted to further work on each of the initiatives.  We are therefore canceling our previously scheduled June 19 meeting, and will circulate updates to the Committee (including a report regarding the results of the Board presentation) as we move forward. 

Please keep our planned October 1, 2014 meeting (in NYC) on your calendars.

Best regards,
David J. Butler
Chair, Global Planning Table"

  • As you would expect from this "Table" there is a lot more being ignored, including the authorizing actions of the JFNA Board -- although you may expect those to come at today's JFNA Board meeting. "The GPT Executive Steering Committee (that's the one with limited, exclusive membership [in other words, most likely, the one on which your Federation is unrepresented]) voted unanimously to advance all 3 of our emerging initiatives." Nice, huh? Well, not so much. You may recall that back in March, the same Chairman Butler, a fine lawyer, advised:                                

                        ""Prior to the meeting, GPT leadership reached out to member Federations that were involved in the design of the Signature Initiatives in order to secure the minimum threshold commitments required (according to the GPT design document) prior to officially launching any Signature Initiative, namely a minimum of 10 Federations willing to invest a total of a minimum of $500,000 per year for 3 years.  We have secured tentative commitments that meet these thresholds."

  • Well, guess what, undisclosed by Chairman Butler, a fine lawyer, the GPT still doesn't have "minimum threshold commitments required" from 10 federations. Clearly, it never had tentative commitments. But it does have at least one Foundation commitment which has been threatened with withdrawal if they "don't get started immediately."  So, forget the requirement, the GPT leadership says, we are moving this disaster forward.
  • JFNA governance, as CEO Jerry advised at the meeting, requires (there is that damn word again!!) that a campaign (such as that to raise funds for these important Initiatives), requires the approval of the JFNA Board. Ms. Manning, who, as you all will recall, appointed herself the Chair of the GPT Executive Steering Committee while still the Chair of JFNA, blithely informed the Committee that it can merely ignore the JFNA By-Laws. She might have added "as I did whenever I felt it necessary when I chaired that Board." Jerry, cowed as always by the contradiction of his sponsor, and Chair Butler, likewise, said nothing.  
I have noted since Day 1 of the Rube Goldberg-like creation that is the Global Planning Table, that JFNA had permitted the creation of an alternative governance structure there, filled with unelected representatives, now just moving merrily ahead ignoring even its own governance, rules and "requirements."

But, please reflect on this: both the so-called "Signature Initiatives" and the curiously-named Voluntary Thing are not at all of or for the federation system -- they are, each and all of them, products that will be adopted by some self-selected group and clearly not all of the federations. The GPT/JFNA entities are nothing more that facilitators for those federations which can afford participation and have any interest whatsoever. For JFNA, as predicted on these pages, these projects will be funders of JFNA staffing -- as always, all about GPT/JFNA as the tail wags the dog and the federations are nowhere in sight. 

All brought to you by an organization whose leaders apparently cannot walk and chew gum at the same time. Some day they will wake up and see the bright lights of the looming catastrophe they have permitted; then they will be road kill.

Save them from themselves.


Friday, June 6, 2014


I know it has grown hard to really identify that singular place within our system as the most insipid, the most feckless. But, based on years of examination I can tell you it's not JFNA, hard as that may be to believe, not Colorado, not San Francisco. No, it's a federation in Southeast Florida -- one so screwed up that not even a good CEO may be able to rescue it. It's one where I have had many friends over the years, among the 150,000 or so Jews who live there who have struggled to right this ship and who finally gave up in dismay and disgust. 

How is it feckless? Let me count (some of) the ways:

  • Back in the 90s this federation stopped paying CJF Dues...just stopped. IIts leaders at the time believed that the community was getting nothing of value for its Dues.  It became the first (maybe the second) to be stripped of CJF membership. UJA leaders stepped in and with an enlightened federation lay leadership at the time, an agreement on Dues was reached...and breached...and reached...and breached;
  • It appeared in the first years of this Century as if the community had hired one of the best and brightest as CEO, but while the annual campaign dropped from $20 million to $13.5 million where it sits at present, that CEO convinced the new Chair to increase his compensation to the equal of the successful CEOs in Chicago, New York and elsewhere. That CEO was soon terminated and has since left the federation system;
  • In that CEO's wake, past Chairs who had spoken out were dismissed from further service, their major communal gifts, history and leadership notwithstanding;
  • Its overseas core allocation fell, in the last calculation, to $900,000 -- $.07 per dollar raised. Meanwhile some of its leaders were elevated to the highest positions at the Joint and JA (and what does that say about those organizations?);
  • Among the most bizarre of all things, according to a recent major employment discrimination lawsuit filed against the Federation, alleging, among other things, self-dealing and conflict of interest, one, as of my first writing about it on May 16, that had yet to be disclosed to the Federation Board. If the allegations are true, one of the longest-serving Federation professionals, part of this community's senior management, packs a pistol on the Federation campus (which, to my recollection from numerous visits, includes a school) -- in a world gone mad, the Chipotle, Sonic and Chili's restaurant chains bar guns, but a Jewish Federation does not;
  • Its Foundation, seemingly part of Federation but with its own Board, has been annually loaning large amounts to the Federation secured by "future increased campaigns." (Question: does Federation include the loan funds to inflate its annual campaign statistics?) While the corpus of the unrestricted endowment appears to be around $6 million, that entire amount may be the security behind a federation guarantee of bonds for a senior independent living development thereby exposing the entire current endowment.
Oh it's a great place!!

It might be a surprise or a miracle, based on the above, that the community has attracted some excellent professional talent of late. Unlike JFNA (and some of the others cited above), that offers the promise of hope. There is also a continuing and incredible untapped capacity in the community that could effect increased annual campaign and increased endowment -- and there are those there who know how to raise money.

One thing is certain -- even though help is needed, this Federation can't expect any help from the continental organization. There is no help to be had. 


Wednesday, June 4, 2014


A perceptive Anonymous Commentator to our Post Nothing wrote:
" much of this blog is thought-provoking and worthwhile, but it's hard to read the blind defenses of JAFI and guaranteed "partner overseas allocations." Maybe Federations have cut their blessed "core" allocations to JAFI because it's still bloated, still doesn't know what its mission is, still isn't transparent, still can't execute and is still a weak partner?"
There are some misperceptions that I believe require clarification:

  • "...blind defenses of JAFI" -- I can (and have been) be accused of many things but I would hope that even the Anonymous Commentator would agree that "blind defense" wouldn't be one of them. There are areas in which the Jewish Agency is doing superb work on the ground -- one only need look at its daily work in the Ukraine as one example.
  • "...guaranteed 'partner overseas allocations'..." have never been the argument on these pages. There are no "guarantees" of funding in Jewish communal life. I have long been an advocate for a market-driven overseas allocations process -- instead we have JFNA engaged in faux overseas advocacy, and nothing more -- our partners JA, JDC and World ORT deserve so much more. What none of us should abide are the cuts to core allocations over JFNA's time of in excess of $140,000,000 and the expectation that these "partners" continue their work at the highest levels of achievement when that work has been assigned to the partners by JFNA and the federations themselves.
  • When Corky Goodman first asked me to serve on the Jewish Agency Board, he did so with the admonition that I join him and other leaders in "bringing the Jewish Agency into the 20th Century" -- now the 21st. What Corky started others have continued -- the Agency was depoliticized, the "bloat" of which it was historically accused is gone, truly gone. Yet, JAFI is burdened by its history, and many, including our Commentator, are still referencing the JA that was, not the JA that is.
  • I have been an interested observer of a succession of Jewish Agency lay Budget and Finance Chairs -- Richie Pearlstone, Jay Sarver, Shoel Silver and Chuck Ratner. These leaders dedicated themselves to a new transparency at JAFI. I sat with some of them in their deliberations and negotiations at JAFI and shared their pain in achieving balanced budgets at the cost of core services and core staffing. I can say without question that the Jewish Agency's budget transparency today so far exceeds that of, e.g., JFNA as to shame our continental organization -- were it capable of shame.
  • This does not mean that all is right at the Jewish Agency. It can be fairly criticized by those who disagree with its changed mission or its "execution" or its apparent reluctance to "partner" growing out of an institutional need to control. But the Jewish Agency of 2014 is not the JAFI of 1988 when I joined its Board; it's time for all of us to realize that.
Bottom line, the Jewish Agency and Joint and World ORT should fairly compete in an allocations marketplace. That was clearly the direction to which JAFI and JDC were headed when the unthinking/unknowing leadership of JFNA sidetracked them and themselves into the Rube Goldberg maze of the Global Planning Table and a "second membership criterion" that has proved to be as meaningless as predicted.

I feel so much better.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014


The title of this Post is, for those of you old enough to remember Johnny Carson's Carnack the Magnificent, Carnackian. As in the answer to the question: "What is JFNA good for?" Let me count the ways:

  1. Based upon the representation from JFNA that it would provide $1,500,000 the Jewish Agency completed the journey for the Jews of Ethiopia. We warned JAFI on these pages months ago, long before the "Completing the Journey" non-campaign, that JFNA had proved itself incapable of raising these funds, but JAFI did so. Of course, JFNA didn't raise $1.5 million, it didn't even raise $1 million. Can't, wouldn't, couldn't. Nope. And, the consequences for JFNA -- none. In fact, CEO What-Me-Worry had the chutzpah to demand that the Jewish Agency and Joint significantly fund the "Signature Initiatives" without regard to JFNA's almost constant breach of its financial responsibilities to the overseas partners.
  2. There are those in the federation system who are incredulous that when those demands were made by, e.g., CEO Doesn't-Know-What-He's-Doing, that the Jewish Agency and Joint pony up millions for the Global Planning Table, they pushed back, unable to do so because of the Draconian cuts to overseas allocations. Some CEOs are really angry that our overseas partners just have resisted sharing in the funding of what have been mainly their own programs. (For example, do the chachams who are running the GPT want JAFI/JDC to take money from, e.g., MASA and then give it back to...MASA?) Well, these folks seem to be unable to connect the dots, so let me do it for them -- you have permitted, through disinterest or disingenuity or a failure of your leadership, the federations to reduce the core allocation since the start point of the allocations process under JFNA to be reduced by, e.g., to the Jewish Agency in an amount in excess of $100,000,000 and now you want/demand "skin in the game?" 
  3. Oh, and as to those "Signature Initiatives" and another project to be funded by a yet-to-be-determined "coalition of the willing" (as in the second Iraq War?)? Forget that, as the CEO advised the GPT Committee on May 14 that the JFNA Board must approve any fund raising campaign, the former JFNA Board Chair, she who appointed herself the Chair of the GPT Executive Steering Committee, suggested that the GPT (or JFNA as they are now one and the same) "hire a law firm" to advise that a Board vote is not needed.  Her rationale to avoid the governance process appears to be that as the JFNA Board approved the Signature Initiatives then by implication the Board approved raising the money for them. But, then, governance process was never important to her, was it?*
  4. And, as to the GPT's own "rules" for the Signature Initiatives, let's focus on getting ten federations to each commit $500,000 in new money in each of the first three years -- $5,000,000 -- in "skin in the game." These leaders have figured a way out of that as well. Now, if you have a foundation willing to participate in an Initiative and, say, that Foundation has an address in, let's say, Detroit, then we'll credit any contribution from that Foundation as if came from, let's say, Detroit. Fund-raising JFNA style. 
  5. You may remember that at the time that the Israel Action Network was formed as a "separate Company" we predicted it would become, among other things, a "budget maker" for the JCPA which would pay any number of its professionals and employees out of IAN funding. Well, so it has. And, now, that will be the "model" for the Signature Initiatives substituting JFNA for JCPA. It appears intended that the Initiatives, will contract through a new "Company" with JFNA for any number and amount of services covering any number of JFNA professional and employee costs. As we have said, and all of the evidence establishes, the Signature Initiatives are not about the Federations, not about the Jewish Agency, World ORT or the Joint -- they are all about the GPT and JFNA. 
As one Commentator wrote:
"Seems to me the time for alternative action has arrived:
*create an alternative fiscal agent for the transfer of overseas funds
*retain a small talented Pool of consultants with federation bonifides
*organize and promote a Focused conference/consultation on "the future of Federation in the 21st century", leading to action steps.
The talent is there, the raison d'être exists, can a will to action follow?"

To which another responded that the LCE would merely veto the concept.

As Carnack the Magnificent would say: "Nothing."


* I anticipate that just as Manning denied stating that the use of the word "Zionism" in a GPT document was "too controversial" and demanded a full scale investigation of my sources and my (further) denunciation even as she knew my report was completely true, she will deny that she ever suggested "redefining" "campaign" in any way or that she was merely "joking." 

Monday, June 2, 2014


The votes are being tallied, but there is no doubt of the outcome. JFNA more or less had an open process in approving an as-yet-unknown contract extension for Jerry Silverman (many who tried to ask questions were precluded) this morning.

A small -- 7 person as it turned out -- group of lay leaders (we learned on the JFNA Board call that three additional leaders [Harvey Barnett, Jodi Schwartz and Joel Tauber] joined the Compensation Committee in evaluating Silverman's past, present and future) at JFNA determined that Jerry Silverman should be retained as CEO and granted a contract extension. Best I can tell, the same small group will now "negotiate" his extension. My hope -- that this ridiculous extension not exceed six months at one-half the prior year's compensation while an extensive search for Jerry's successor moves forward. But, that's just me. 

Listening to Michael present JFNA's "successes" under Silverman's leadership, I have to admit that that's a person whose contract I too would like to see extended -- of course, the "Jerry" that Michael was describing -- this successful, driven executive who has accomplished so much and positioned JFNA so perfectly -- was fictional Jerry not real Jerry. I (and those of you who e-mailed and texted me during the Board meeting with comments ranging from "retch" to "OMG" and far worse) found most laughable the attribution to Jerry the hiring of "new key senior staff" when, in fact, the most "key" were those pushed upon him by the highest levels of lay leadership and the suggestion that Jerry's success as a fund-raising partner (with e.g., Chicago where he has had one real success) to be worthy of this position where he has continued the deconstruction of JFNA as an entity dedicated to FRD. 

When a respected federation leader posed a serious question, the answer was so preposterous as to perpetuate the farce that is this extension. And, as Michael Siegal dutifully and enthusiastically read the supportive script, I hope he did so with a straight face -- but none of us were fooled.

Earlier this morning ejewishphilanthropy published a post from http// written by a professional from outside the federation movement titled Clueless CEOs -- Barriers to Growth. I would commend it to JFNA leadership but while I know they can read, I question their ability to comprehend. The author, Roger Craver, concludes that "[S]tagnant organizations are generally marked by lousy boards and clueless, or worse, arrogant CEOs." Craver's conclusions are then supported by data. It is a certainty that those JFNA leaders who support this extension are more than willing even enthusiastic about ignoring all evidence of the collapse of JFNA under the current and, now, future, chief professional officer.

That Jerry Silverman is getting a contract extension isn't so much news as it is a reminder of the upside-down priorities (or is it the total lack of priorities) of an organization that has made the federations look like an after-thought since Silverman was hired. Prior to this small group's decision to extend the original hiring mistake, and not for the first time, I am certain that Silverman had his minions prepare tens of "white papers" containing all kinds of programs for which JFNA has neither the capacity nor the ability to fund or implement as if Jerry had an organizational epiphany. But, if this quartet of lay people really thought these through and placed them side-by-side with JFNA's lack of accomplishments over Silverman's almost five years, they would see an organization without focus or purpose, pin-balling from side-to-side but never forward. And, it is this we reward?

When, with almost unanimity, the then leaders of JFNA agreed that its first CEO must go, he went, succeeded by Steve Hoffman. When Hoffman's successor finally wore out even his lay leadership by the end of his term, his contract was not renewed. But, here at the end of Silverman's term, when this so-called "lay leadership quartet" should and must know that JFNA has only gone backward as a vehicle for and of the federations, somehow they have determined that an extension is somehow "warranted?" 



"Dear Trustees,

We are pleased to report that the JFNA Board of Trustees voted overwhelmingly today to authorize the JFNA Compensation Committee to act on Jerry Silverman’s reengagement as JFNA’s President & CEO.

We thank those who were able to join us on the call and to all of you for your input and support.

Michael D. Siegal
Chair, JFNA Board of Trustees
Oh, and there was this P.S. -- "For the first time votes were weighted; New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Cleveland had all of them"