Wednesday, October 28, 2015


Even seemingly great news from JFNA always appears to be infused with hyperbolic overstatement -- unnecessary hyperbolic overstatement. Thus, last year the organization announced a multi-million dollar Holocaust Survivor Initiative. Clearly, this was an Initiative driven by the often remarkable federal grants work of William Daroff, the leader of JFNA-Washington, who also staffs the effort. On October 1, JFNA announced success:

"The National Holocaust Survivor Initiative (NHSI), spearheaded by renowned philanthropist Mark Wilf and co-chair Todd Morgan from Los Angeles, links support from Federations, foundations, private citizens, and federal, state and local governments to help aging Holocaust survivors live their final years with dignity and security in the comfort of their communities. To date Federations have raised $22 million for NHSI."
Then you look at the realities. JFNA needs to raise millions to match a $12,000,000 federal grant that will be meted out at a meagre rate of $2,500.000 per year. The Survivor community worldwide is facing the end of days and those in the United States so many of whom are living below any standard are being offered...well, not very much. And, that $2.5 million per year: "...pending the availability of federal funds." If those fed funds are available, they need be matched to total $4.1 million (I don't get the match math either)...or $4.1 million total for Holocaust Survivors nationwide. It is better than nothing.

The Initiative is potentially a terrific effort; JFNA's FRD for it mainly hyperbole and bloviation -- federations doing the heavy lifting, JFNA's pursuit of individual contributions beyond those from the Wilf Family's own generosity...not so much.   JFNA, ostensibly a fund raising entity, has convinced itself that grants from the federal and state government and the Claims Conference, and federations constitute financial resource development...and, even then, the stated FRD goal of the National Holocaust Survivor Initiative of $45,000,000 is nowhere near achievement. This doesn't stop JFNA from heralding that "[T]o date Federations have raised $22 million..." 

Yes, JFNA our leader in hyperbole and bloviation even when doing good.

It just can't help itself anymore.


Sunday, October 25, 2015


I have been watching in great pain, and commenting upon the collapse of collective action by the federations. It is the power of the collective that has historically been the distinguishing and ennobling departure point between the federation system qua system and "just another charity." I have despaired as: (1) the systemic discipline that enabled collective action has broken down; (2) and the one organization literally created to be the framing entity for collective action not only doesn't understand it but, lacking that understanding, has been the major force in its deconstruction.

We have always known, and acted upon, the premise that the Jewish People are at our strongest when we gather our multiple fingers into a fist. Our work collectively to partner in the building of the State of Israel, in funding aliyah from the "Magic Carpet" from Arab countries to the massive financial support for the incredible Operation Exodus following hard upon an unprecedented advocacy effort for freedom for Soviet Jewry, to constant support for Israel in every crisis -- right up to the last decade when a failure of leadership coupled with a failure of will has seen our continental organization standing mute and even encouraging our collective efforts to dissipate and fracture. This is what happens when and where there are those in leadership who fail to understand Jewish communal history...or reject it.

What began as a trickle of individual decisions has exploded into a torrent. Decades ago, pre-merger, in the mid-90s, one Large City Federation, whose CEO, then as now, had worked himself into a frothing hatred for the Jewish Agency, who, along with some of his lay leaders, directed that community's allocation to the Joint Distribution Committee directly to that organization, bypassing the Council of Jewish Federations' collective allocations process. I pleaded with the community to "cancel the check;" I pleaded with JDC's leaders to "return the check" -- to both I expressed UJA's concern that this violation of the sacred collective threatened our system. My pleas and those of UJA were ignored. Little did I know how right I would be proved to have been.

But, even back then, communal discipline held...for a while. Sure, there were other instances that indicated the collective fabric was fraying -- federations which withheld the transmission of Special Campaign funds from the emerging United Jewish Communities to spray small amounts of money among favored organizations to gain some short-term kavod but without the impact...any impact...that a major collective effort would have had on the same beneficiaries. At no time, however, did the national/continental organization of and for the federations (and, as the organization's leaders knew, of and for the system's historic partners as well) acquiesce in or condone the then outliers, few as they are at the time.

And then came the JFNA regimes that brought together a veritable "perfect storm" of non-leadership, lay and professional, over the past 5+ years. You may have read about the episodes on the pages of this Blog. Combining a lay Chair who made a conscious decision to ignore, confuse or misrepresent the principles of collective responsibility and collective response with a CEO who couldn't comprehend the place of the collective as a bedrock principle of a federation system which he did not relate to (and still doesn't), had a wholly predictable result. When federations were called upon for a collective response for, e.g., "Completing the Journey" -- meeting the aliya/klita needs of Ethiopian Jewry --or providing vital assistance to Ukrainian Jewry or anything else, the response was a "collective" yawn. 

Meanwhile JFNA itself was stabbing the concept of the collective in the heart. 

  • First, with but a whine from the Federation CEOs and none from federation lay leadership, JFNA adopted a so-called Second Membership Criterion that was originally conceived to set a minimum threshold of overseas allocations to the core budgets of JAFI/JDC to qualify for or maintain federation membership in JFNA. Instead, what was adopted, with the active connivance of the destructive duo, was totally meaningless, referencing the historic partners not at all and creating a totally illusory "criterion." 
  • Then came the now failed Global Planning Table. The so-called Plan for this mess would have included the so-called three Signature Initiatives the participants in which would have been a limited number of funding federations -- a "coalition of the willing" as they called it. In other words, JFNA itself, created to preserve, protect and enhance the federation system, was busily at work deconstructing the collective that is at the heart of that very system.  
As the brilliant analyst, Bret Stephens, wrote in his weekly column in the Wall Street Journal, in another context but so relevant to JFNA's systemic destruction: "Having ignored and undermined their own foundation, they wonder why their house is coming down."

And here we are today. At a point in time where federations themselves are creating small safety nets, forming and funding coalitions of those with similar concerns and focus...and doing so with or initiative-building by the organization that lacks all credibility for building a true collective response. Another Terrorists' War has been declared upon Israel -- the Victims of Terror grow day-by-day, and all that JFNA can muster is a woeful statement condemning the terror-inspired violence, calling it "The Situation." 

Meanwhile the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles reached out and acted: it allocated $1.2 million in partnership with the Israel Trauma Coalition and dozens of Israeli municipalities in the South, in the North and in Jerusalem. To the JFGLA kal ha'kavod. LA began this effort after Summer 2014 while JFNA, which knew of the effort did nothing. Waiting for Chicago, Cleveland and New York to do something, or to give Jerry the thumbs-up? Or is this the latest example of "Jerry being Jerry?" The nothing man for the nothing organization.
And, when JFNA had the opportunity it had been seeking to lead the federation system in Birthright follow-up, the Jim Joseph Foundation chose to work with the wonderful Israel-based Livnot U'Lehibanot to undertake this critical task. Where was JFNA? Probably still kvetching about not having access to Birthright's participant lists -- to which, as it turned out...they had...all along. A chance to act for the collective...missed...again.

Friends, JFNA need not be put out of business -- it is putting itself out of every business it must be in to be relevant as anything more than a minor trade organization. We need a strong Continental organization -- if the current management continues in place, we will never have one. 

JFNA leaders should be looking at themselves in the mirror. They won't like what they see.


Thursday, October 22, 2015


Those of you who read this Blog regularly know that I am committed to a paraphrase of the mantra enunciated by the late Bobby Kennedy who adapted George Bernard Shaw's:
"Some people see things as they are and ask "Why?"
          I see things as they could be and ask "Why not?"

I continue to believe that JFNA has the capacity for excellence; yet, it cannot reach even mediocrity today. At our synagogue's services on the first day of Rosh Ha'Shana, our brilliant, community and spiritual leader, Rabbi Vernon Kurtz, took as his sermon theme for the New Year: "Courage." He challenged his congregants -- all of us -- to demonstrate courage in how we live our lives. I see and hear too very few...responding to that challenge in our Jewish communal institutions. Do you? 

And, of course, there's JFNA.

JFNA reached its breaking point years ago; it has long since passed its shelf life as it currently exists and as it currently, to use the term most loosely, "operates." It has existed as it does to this current point because its leaders -- from its Board Chair to its Board members -- have lacked the courage, or something equal with that, the will, to make the changes necessary to begin a change process starting with the CEO. I used the term will  because in their work, in their businesses, or in the work of their home federations, not one of the lay leaders at the top of the JFNA food chain would have tolerated for five weeks let alone five years the mess, the abject failure that JFNA has been permitted to become. Yet, when it comes to an organization that has wasted...literally wasted...close to $600,000,000...that's $600 million dollars...of donors'/federations' precious funds, these lay leaders have done nothing but turn away. And, that, they have done a really good job of. In my opinion JFNA's leaders -- lay and professional -- today aspire to nothing higher than mediocrity, if that. And that's just unacceptable. Even more unacceptable, at least in my opinion, is that JFNA has been so diminished by its lack of inspired professional leadership, with the the silent acquiescence of its lay leaders, as to be unrecognizable from that which its founders believed it could become.

It was evident to many, at the time of his hiring -- and undeniable by the time that his contract was extended -- that Jerry was selected as CEO for his weaknesses, not for his strengths, if any -- and those weaknesses have been detailed on these pages for the past five years. These were weaknesses -- no knowledge of how federations work, no comprehension of that proprietary lingua franca of federations, no understanding of the challenges faced by a system already in decline -- that have been self-evident since before his hiring right through today 5+ years later.

Jerry is the Dr. Pangloss of Jewish organizational life. His own words disclose his Planglossian views. You have read them in the Blog, you have heard them from the dais of GA after GA where he tries to paint over a literal witches brew of failures in this theater of the absurd that he has directed as CEO and President...a witches brew that has failed JFNA. And, over each of these years of a failed tenure, he has been attended to by a Board that, rather than replacing him, has played their continuing role as lemmings making of Jerry's lack of competence a prison from which we can't seem to ever escape. 

The laity refuses to stand up and exercise their responsibilities. Too much work for some; too painful for some others. Let someone else do it for even others. The sole beneficiary of this total lay leader neglect since his hiring has been Jerry Silverman. Many of us have asked how the hell could Michael Siegal, a brilliant, successful businessman and dedicated Board Chair, have renewed Jerry Silverman’s contract with the apparent consent of the requisite number of JFNA lay and professional leaders? True, no LCE were possible replacements — laziness, age, comfort…you know — and no one really looked very hard at them, no one, as had been the case in the past, put the requisite pressure on any qualified professional to take the position. 

Then there was the reality that Siegal and his claque played Charlie Brown to Jerry’s Lucy. Over and over, Jerry would claim that progress was right around the corner, that he had positioned JFNA to make great strides and Michael and the Acolytes believed him; and over and over, Jerry failed. Now, Michael Siegel has dumped Jerry and his contract into the lap of Richard Sandler with a “he’s your problem now. Buh-bye."

The need to replace Jerry arises even though at his hiring while there may have been skepticism, there was also hope that he would, he could step up. But each time we hoped Jerry would step up — and we did hope that he would step up — he, instead, fell back...and, with him, JFNA. JFNA has been so diminished by its professional leader, with the silent, sometimes public, acquiescence of its lay leaders, as to be unrecognizable from that which its founders believed it could become…and that is just unacceptable. The extension of Jerry’s contract was as risible and ridiculous an act of irresponsibility as one could imagine particularly in a non-profit of such criticality to our communities and our People.

Friends, there seems to be prevalent understanding that if a great organization fails to meet its aims, it ceases to be a great organization; so to this group of chachams the answer is an organization with no aims, no purpose. Thus, they reason, we cannot fail. And they are so wrong. Because while they have been doing nothing, the greatness has faded away. 

Do something.



Tuesday, October 20, 2015


JFNA issued an important Statement tonight:
Tomorrow the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will consider adopting a resolution that would change the status-quo of the Temple Mount and declare the Western Wall a part of the al-Aksa Mosque compound.

Jewish Federations are bitterly disappointed that UNESCO would seek to fan the flames of religious and cultural conflict, particularly at this moment in time.

The draft resolution, submitted to UNESCO by Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, is an affront to the Jewish people and our over two millennia connection to the Western Wall and the Temple it once supported. By acknowledging the holy sites both on and around the Temple Mount solely by their Arabic names, this resolution seeks to invalidate any claim the Jewish people have to our holiest site. The result of this aggressive effort will be to heighten the already palpable religious tensions in Israel and the surrounding region.

At no point does the proposal acknowledge a Jewish association with the Wall, one which clearly dates to biblical times. Instead it ignores a Jewish connection to the site altogether. This gross attempt to erase history is unconscionable and cannot be accepted by the UNESCO Executive Board.

As the violence in Israel continues to escalate, Palestinians and too much of the international community have falsely accused Israel of changing the status quo at the Temple Mount and igniting this current wave of terror. However, it is the Palestinians – and their sponsors at UNESCO – who are working to change the status quo, not Israel. We urge the United Nations to see this for the anti-Israel attack that is it, to consider the damaging effects this change would have to Israel and the entire Middle East, to oppose the resolution and to remove it from the agenda forever.
Is it not time, past time, for the Jewish communities in North America to rally in support of Israel as the Jewish communities of France, Spain, Italy and elsewhere have done?


Monday, October 19, 2015


Our dear friend and constant professional partner at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, Michael Kotzin, died this week after battling what proved to be his final illness with the great strength and dignity he brought to everything he did in life. Michael touched so many lives through his work, his brilliant writing and he made a difference as a great professional. 

There is so much I could write about Michael Kotzin but I could not do better than the tribute from his colleagues:
"It is with profound sadness that we write to tell you of the passing of our beloved friend and colleague, Michael Kotzin. For several years Michael suffered with a serious illness, which he and his family faced with great courage, optimism and dignity.

Our community, the Jewish federation world, indeed the entire Jewish people have benefited in ways almost too numerous to recount from Michael’s deep knowledge, keen insight, steadfast commitment, and brilliant mind. He was indefatigable, investing unparalleled passion, energy and focus in every facet of his work. His uncompromising fairness and decency were hallmarks of his character. 

Michael served JUF since 1988, most recently as the Special Consultant to the President, and formerly as Executive Vice President. He was an innovative thinker and widely-respected authority on a wide range of issues, including global anti-Semitism, the threat of a nuclear Iran, Israel-Diaspora relations, and intergroup relations. In close collaboration with lay leadership and his professional colleagues, he helped set the JUF/Federation agenda in many arenas, from public affairs, to communications, to the academic study of Israel.

Michael also served with distinction as Director of JUF’s Jewish Community Relations Council and, before joining the Federation, was Chicago Region Director of the Anti-Defamation League. Prior to coming to the ADL, he was on the faculty of the Department of English at Tel Aviv University.

We were fortunate to have had the opportunity to celebrate with Michael his myriad contributions at the launch in 2014 of his book, On the Front Lines in a Changing Jewish World (a compilation of essays, opinion pieces, speeches and reviews he wrote during the past 25 years).

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Michael was a trusted friend, a proud Jew with a profound sense of history and identity, and a mensch. He had a huge heart, a quick wit and a hearty laugh. 

We miss him deeply and offer our deepest condolences to his wife Judy; to their children Abigail, Daniel, Joshua; and to their grandchildren. We know how much he loved you all, and count ourselves fortunate to have been part of his extended family. 

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 am on Tuesday, October 20, at Moriah Congregation, 200 Taub Dr., Deerfield, Ill. Interment will be at Westlawn Cemetery. Information regarding shiva will be provided. 

The family has asked that contributions be made to The Michael C. Kotzin Fund for Israel Studies of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. This fund will perpetually extend his ground-breaking work of bringing visiting Israeli scholars and writers to teach on Illinois campuses. Contributions to the Fund can be sent to 30 S. Wells St., Rm. 5045, Chicago, Il, 60606.
         May Michael’s memory be for a blessing."

I was privileged to have been part of the process at the time that Michael was hired to lead the Chicago Jewish Community Relations Council but I was more privileged to have known Michel, to have learned from Michael and to have called Michael Kotzin, as did so many of us, my/our friend.

Michael Kotzin, baruch dayan emet.



Friends, the references to incoming JFNA Board Chair Richard Sandler's questionnaire responses in ejewishphilanthropy upon which I reflected in a Post on the potential "post-Fantasyland" era being ushered in at the Jewish Federations of North America have been the catalyst for an important dialogue on the lay-professional partnership that is tab the core of the success of the federation endeavor. One of you wrote anonymously:
"Lay leadership must oversee and guide our professionals - not just select them and then let them call all the shots.
This requires lay "leaders" - not just lay "people." They must set the objectives, goals, strategies and policy - then oversee implementation. They must set the highest possible standards and demand that they be maintained.
What we now have and must correct is a situation where too much power is in the hands of the Executive Directors as opposed to Chairpeople and Board Members.
We need proactive leadership that demands accountability and results at all levels.
We need for those that care to first believe in themselves and then to get together and change the paradigm, change the rules, change the game."
This is not a matter of disrespect being shown toward the professional cadre; it is a matter of respect being shown toward the institution of federation...the institution to which, at least arguably, both lay and professional leadership are totally dedicated.

Achieving "balance" in the relationship between professionals and lay leaders requires mutual trust and mutual respect. Both are too often lacking in the relationship causing it to break down. There must be recognition on the part of lay leadership that the professionals -- and most significantly, the CEO -- represent continuity in the position whereas the lay leaders are transient. We take our positions for one, two or three years and then hand the baton over to our successors whereas the chief professional is presumed, by contract to otherwise, to remain for a more extended period of time. Lay leaders set policy; the professional staff implements. The concept of working together; standing together; of working through; of truly being peers, one lay-one professional...established where it does not exist; reinforced where it does.

And, who is going to deliver this message? Will it be JFNA where, other than Mark Gurvis, the most senior professional leadership have never worked in a federation environment? Doubtful...almost impossible to conceive. No, the JFNA senior professional leaders have no federation experiences upon which to draw. They can't counsel that which they fail to understand. And were there a book they could read (and there is none) would they even bother?

We are in trouble, folks...but you know that to be the case.


Friday, October 16, 2015


As the beloved Yogi Berra, z'l, said: "You can observe a lot by just watching." And, as those who read this column regularly are aware. I have been doing a lot of watching over the years and, in particular, over the years in which the titular leadership of JFNA have either led the organization into the state it's now in or stood by and just let it happen. There is so much going wrong at the same time that it's very hard to focus on just one area where JFNA could, were it a capable organization of excellence, make a difference.

But let me try; let's look at the profession JFNA should be working to enhance; an area where it has such little expertise (make that none) that it has farmed out almost all responsibility for building the profession to the Mandel Center for Excellence where, best I can tell, there is today an almost matching lack of federation-based expertise to that of JFNA. 

Let's look at some history, shall we:

  • Back in the day (that's long before the birth of JFNA) Large City Federation CEOs took great pride in training the next generation of federation CEOs and sending them out to the field with their continuing support and mentoring: Stanley Horowitz, z'l, Sandy Solender, z'l, Steve Solender, Darrell Friedman, to name but a few, created an entire cadre of leaders who would succeed them and others. The system, for a while at least, was the beneficiary of their wisdom in, first, hiring, then nurturing and training, then boosting the men (it was mainly men) and women who could and, in many instances, would lead so many communities to greater success. But...
  • ...this next generation who these terrific LCE hired, trained, nurtured and placed, at least by their action or non-action, seemed to have had little, if any, interest in following the sages who did for them. Sure, in many instances, they trained their successors, in other instances, they just did nothing other than to privately complain about how the profession is "going to hell" while scratching their heads as if the responsibility for the deterioration in communal leadership was not their fault. In so many ways, the fault was not in the stars but in themselves...and in us.
  • Oh, there was at least one effort at JFNA: and it was a tragic-comic (ok, maybe just tragic) one, painfully short-lived and deservedly so. It was the JFNA Executive Development Program. Its purpose: to take the best and brightest young professionals already in the system and provide the expertise, nurturing, training and placement to those who aspired to become CEOs and were identified as such by their communities. JFNA assigned some of the best and brightest of its own professional staff to direct the program. Here was an opportunity for the system to do what it was supposed to do; what, unfortunately, the sitting CEOs were no longer doing. And, then, those self-same CEOs screwed this one up. The program was clearly defined -- eligibility was for those who had professed an interest in and been identified as the best the system had to offer as future CEOs no matter city-size. Sorry, said the LCE, if we're funding this, we'll pick the participants essentially pro rata according to our federation's financial support for the program, those selection criteria be damned. 
  • The results as they say spoke for themselves; (1) federations sent fine young professionals to the first year of the program, the super-majority of whom had no becoming a federation CEO (unless it would have been in their hoe communities, if then)  (2) from that first "class" only one "graduate" ultimately moved up to CEO (and this superb professional first left the system for a number of years); (3) the JFNA professional leaders of the program themselves left JFNA (and neither of them is serving as a federation CEO [though one is a Large City COO]); and (4) the program having been an initiative under Steve Hoffman was terminated by his woeful successor at JFNA. 
  • In the meantime, the organizations dedicated to Jewish communal professionals, AJCOP and the JCSA, merged in 2011, JCSA the "surviving" organization. I attended several of their annual meetings the highlight of which was usually honoring one of their own -- a long-serving, accomplished federation CEO. It strikes me that JCSA might have once been the place where a community professional might turn for job placement or external advancement within the system but that now, if not back then, it is the place that is effectively ignored for those purposes. And...why...because, at least in large measure...
  • The paradigm for the most senior professional in the communal system was changed when good people let it happen and, upon the timely close of Howard Rieger's regime as CEO at JFNA, good people, well-meaning lay leaders all, lined up like sheep to approve the selection of Jerry Silverman as JFNA President and CEO -- a man with no previous experience within or with a federation before his hiring. From everything I have heard since that moment in time, Jerry was hired because he delivered a presentation to the Search Committee that "knocked it out of the box." I have heard nothing more that qualified Jerry for this position other than he led the small Foundation for Jewish Camp (where long-time leaders purportedly asked  when told of Jerry's hiring: "Can you believe this?") Here are the questions that should have been asked but weren't: "What is your educational background?" "What was the amount of your last pledge to your community Federation?""What are the transferable skills you learned at Dockers (or Sketchers) that would apply to the federation system?" "What is/are the purpose/purposes of JFNA?" "What is the relationship between JFNA and the Jewish federations?" "What do you believe to be the priorities of JFNA?" (Of course those same questions and more could be asked of Silverman today, 5+ years after his hiring and, again, this year, upon the extension of his contract.)
  • Oh, the argument went, there were no experienced federation professionals who would have taken the position -- to which I say "b.s." There have been other examples of reluctant communal professionals being approached by a group of respected Continental lay leaders and the professionals' peers and successfully recruited to a senior leadership position. There were two problems with such an approach here: (1) JFNA's Chair at the time, Kathy Manning, dictated to the Search Committee that it "...must think 'outside the box'" and break the monopoly the LCE held on the JFNA CEO position; and (2) most if not all of the respected Continental lay leaders had either been kicked to the curb by the then Board Chair and her predecessor or had lost interest in the system. "Thinking outside the box" produced Jerry Silverman.
  • It has been no coincidence that since Silverman's hiring, multiple federations seeking a new CEO have chosen a similar path -- to the point that "thinking outside the box" today means hiring an experienced federation professional. It has appeared to many seeking to move or move up within the federation system to a new community that they have been subtly or not so subtly "blackballed" by an express preference -- steered by JFNA or Mandel or urged by Silverman himself -- for those with no direct federation experience.  Thus a Camp director became, for a brief period, the CEO of one Large City; while a sitting CEO seeking a new position was not considered apparently because he/she had fired a staff professional hired with Jerry's glowing reference and at his insistence...and on and on.
  • The professional system had been breaking down for the past 5+ years, maybe longer. Unless the most powerful CEOs in our system have been living under a rock, they must be fully aware; yet, out of indolence or disinterest or a preoccupation with their work in their home communities, they have allowed the very system, the very profession that made their compensation, their perks (clubs, cars, First/Business class air, pensions, etc.), their comfort possible, to be kidnapped without a word. (I remember a time, shortly after the merger, when Steve Hoffman, then as now the Cleveland CEO, was approached to ask if he would support a specific lay person for JFNA CEO. As I was told, Steve responded: "Never. There will never be a lay person serving as CEO. Over my dead body." It was true then. I am informed that Steve Hoffman is still with us. Thank G-d.)
  • And, if Jerry had any background at all, ostensibly it was as a marketer for a pants company. Yet, there is no evidence of any marketing skills in anything Jerry did at JFNA before the lay Chair demanded that Renee Rothstein step in as Sr. V-P, Marketing and Communications. All Jerry was able to demonstrate in all things was that he was always making what has been characterized elsewhere as "the classic marketers error:" letting his promises about program, fund-raising...everything...get far out front of reality. (Maybe he was no more than a pants salesman after all.)
And, friends, here we are. There are many lay leaders or professionals from non-federation entities who are successful or moving their communities forward  -- from, e.g., Jewish communal television, United Way, or AIPAC, or government service or elsewhere. But, I believe each of them would admit, at least privately, that they have had to climb a learning curve far more steep than had they some prior experience in the federation system, if even as a lay person. As one Commentator has noted:
"Change at JFNA is impossible without the buy-in of certain LCE's who are perfectly happy to have a do-nothing, know-nothing CEO at the top of JFNA." 
Will the LCE step up? Will the schools of Jewish communal service, so many with excellent prepatory programs for Jewish communal professionals dry up if potential participants can no longer see a career path to top organizational positions because they have actually served in the system? Is that not standing logic upon its head? Or is that the logical end to "thinking outside the box?"

Just asking.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015


As many of you have noted in Comments to so many Posts, never has there been a Jewish organizational Board so quiet, subservient or dormant than has been the Board of the Jewish Federations of North America. And one can only ask "why?"

This Board over the years has been made up of a group of exemplary communal leaders -- Federation Chairs, present, past and future, and CEOs, Women's Philanthropy and Young Leadership Chairs, and so on. These are women and men who in their home federations are not shrinking violets but seem overwhelmed into silence when they join the leadership cadre at JFNA. Never a question asked, rarely if ever a negative word spoken. Each a Bontsha the Silent. And one can only ask "why?"

Could it be that those who know full well what the meaning of "fiduciary responsibility" is within their local communities have a sudden onset of temporary amnesia when they step outside the narrow boundaries of a given federation? Or, hearing no questions from more experienced leaders, are those newer Board members cowed by the dominance of a few federation CEOs into their observed collective silence?

What is clear to this observer is simple: the moral/legal obligations imposed upon corporate Board members have been lost at JFNA. What do I mean? Here is what one expert on corporate fiduciary responsibility has written:
"(1) The duty of directors to reasonably monitor or oversee the conduct of the corporation's business, and, as a corollary, to take reasonable steps to keep abreast of the information that flows to the board as a result of monitoring procedures and techniques.
(2)The duty of inquiry -- that is, the duty to follow up rea-
sonably on information that has been acquired and should raise cause for concern.
(3) The duty to employ a reasonable decisionmaking
(4) The duty to make reasonable
At JFNA there is an evident willingness to "let the leaders lead" -- to abandon principles in the interests of "friendship" and sh'lom bayit and nothing more. There is no evidence of the exercise of inquiry by the Board; there is neither debate nor discussion on any matter. It has become as if the entirety of the agenda of every meeting were a matter of Unanimous Consent. This is not just the height of irresponsibility; with the current group of professional leaders, it is the height of absurdity.

So, whose fault is a this? Our leaders? No, they just see the easy way and take it. It's on us, friends; it is on each of us who doesn't care enough to act upon the responsibilities of Board leadership. It is on each of us who has decided by deed if not word to "let the other guy do it." Yeah, it's way too "risky," isn't it, to ask a question and risk one's standing in the leadership hierarchy. "Let's discuss the matter 'off-line' or not at all." That's the safe way.

That's the JFNA way.


Saturday, October 10, 2015


I am certain that you know that no one at 25 Broadway reads this Blog. And, if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you. They would like not to read it but this thing is like watching a car crash as it happens -- you can't take your eyes off of it, try as you do. I'm sorry; I know this is irresistible even to its most severe critics.

How do I know that this readership exists? Easy. So many at 25 Broadway, right up to and including the inimitable CEO Jerry i-Have-Been-Watching-You send "Anonymous Comments" and there is that "can you believe what that a-hole rote today?" tone.  After all I know from many of you that you are on a Jerry's "enemies list" because out of his paranoia you have been identified as one of my "informants." Sad and so, so wrong. The list includes anyone who might be a friend or identified as a friend of mine. And, of course, I am aware that in at least two instances, probably more, Silverman has investigated in secret the e-mails of present and former professionals at 25 Broadway to see if they have informing me. Jerry and his minions have found nothing because  there is nothing to be found -- but, oh, how disappointed "Big Brother" was to have found no connection between a "suspect" professional and me. It's pretty ugly -- Jerry and his ilk have literally blackballed lay leaders and professionals around the country, at least in part, because of unproved (and unprovable) suspicion that someone/anyone/everyone is my "source" for something that I have written. Yes, friends, paranoia runs deep amidst incompetence. Know that no matter how bad JFNA is on its many failed surfaces, it is so much worse beneath those same surfaces.

Just to feed the paranoia let me say this: Jerry, my informants are 25 Broadway where so many professionals are embarrassed to be associated with continuing failure and hair-brained schemes; at federations across the continent where so many lay and professional leaders, quite frankly, can't take the incompetence and waste anymore; on the JFNA Board and the now dead GPT Committees, where lay and professional leaders would no longer sit by and merely accept the "we'll get back to you" and outright misrepresentations when they ask legitimate questions. Yes, they are everywhere. And...each and every one of them knows that what they tell me is held in absolute confidence...and will be...forever.

Some of you have asked me off-line "why do you 'hate' (take your pick) Jerry, Kathy, Howard, Becky, Michael...?" And, of course, while the question is fine, the premise is wrong. I don't "hate" any of these leaders -- I have the greatest respect and admiration for the men and women who take on the responsibilities of leadership, whoever they are. But I do "hate" what some of these women and men have done and failed to do in their deconstruction of a sacred responsibility with negligence and intent, often willfully; and how they respond to criticism -- with vengeance, ostracization and pettiness.

So, Jerry, et al., you can continue to bad mouth those you mistakenly believe are my "informants," but do so knowing that you will not silence those who are critics and reporters of constant failure, no matter how hard you try to silence them. 



Wednesday, October 7, 2015


When the Israel Action Network was created in 2010 to combat the then nascent Boycott/Sanction/Divestment movement as a joint venture of the JFNA and JCPA, with an excellent lay Chair, we expressed our doubts -- precisely because it was formed by two organizations characterized by their exceptional institutional ineptitude, JFNA and JCPA. For JCPA, which saw the $2,000,000 in annual funding from JFNA as a life-saver for the organization (and not necessarily for the anti-BDS effort JCPA would staff in part), going operational was not something with which it had demonstrated success; for JFNA, it was to be chance to get its hooks into something that might elevate the brand (always the brand) while requiring nothing more than money -- the federations' money. Then a funny thing happened: the federations' insisted that JFNA fund the IAN out of its budget -- perish the thought -- and JFNA was forced to agree!! Two years later, JFNA pled with the federations that they fund it -- JFNA could no longer "afford" it. (No one asked "why not?") The IAN, conceived as a separate legal entity, appears on its own website as no more than a "Committee" -- of what, JFNA or JCPA? It apparently files no 990 with the IRS. What exactly is it? 

With an excellent staff, this "Committee," this IAN, has worked with a sure focus and some positive results (the latest, a Pittsburgh federation-inspired "Israel Action Lab" effort to assist Jewish college students deal with BDS), but any campus effort has been overwhelmed this school year by the well-funded BDS campus activists. The IAN budget of $2 million per year plus some assorted additional donations had to be divided to fight on a broad front against a well-funded enemy; fighting the battles of the campuses was but one part of the IAN effort. By 2015 exceptionally well-funded campus efforts emerged -- the "Campus Maccabees" of Adelson/Saban with apparently unlimited means; and the Jewish National Fund's campus effort the catalyst for which was a $100,000,000 contribution; and Hillel, funded by the federations, with its broad campus representation, also paled in comparison. Meanwhile, JFNA, of course, had once again ignored even the possibility of raising significant funds for the IAN leaving it so weakened financially and, from press reports, perceived by the newly formed anti-BDS community as "left-leaning," as to be excluded from the more well-financed campus efforts. When one considers how underfunded the IAN has been, its staff should be congratulated for their efforts on our behalf.

For whatever the reason, one thing is very clear -- the organized Jewish community's anti-BDS vehicle has been relegated to the sidelines while the on-campus efforts will be led by others. Neither JFNA nor its IAN will even have the status that JFNA treasures in all things -- it will neither be the "convener" nor the "co-convener" of this critical on-campus effort. And, it seems like only last Spring that JFNA was claiming the fiction that it was the on campus champion claiming to be the coordinator of all organizational on-campus anti-BDS efforts.

So, here you have the Israel Action Network with a terrific lay Chair (Is there a Board? If so, you can't find it on the IAN's own website.) and an excellent professional staff (what exactly does JCPA contribute to this effort? Back room assistance?) that needs no help from JCPA. There is so much it might accomplish. But the IAN is so woefully underfunded as to be on the cusp of irrelevancy...leaving the IAN in the same position as its founding organizations...

Irrelevant. We can't let that happen.


Sunday, October 4, 2015


Speaking of having no "voice" on our behalf...

1. And you thought JFNA had no opinion on the Iran deal...On September 9 the forever useless FedWorld "announced" in its preface: "JFNA chair Michael Siegal discusses why so many in the Jewish community are wary of the Iran nuclear agreement" citing a nonsensical "analysis" by the JFNA Board Chair that appeared in JNS. So here is that insightful aid provided by our Chair:
“Viscerally, when some regime says ‘Death to Israel,’ and they say, ‘death to America,’ and in many case say, ‘Death to Jews,’ our history does not allow us to ignore it,” Michael Siegal, chair of the board of trustees for the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA), told
JFNA has refrained from taking a position for or against the deal, instead choosing to facilitate the efforts of the more than 150 local Jewish Federations under its umbrella."  
What can one say other than, thanks a lot Michael for the brilliance...the insight...and the "facilitation." JFNA speaks...and says...nothing at all. There's no sense of shame there; in fact, reading the New Year's bloviation from CEO Jerry, made me reflect upon this fact -- every conference call that JFNA co-convened featured exclusively a supporter (or framer) of the Iran Deal (other than Dennis Ross who "cautioned" against the Deal and Robert Satloff who clearly was warned to not state his own opinion of it). Was this done because JFNA was told that if JFNA came out against the deal, it would be "punished" by taking away its "co-convenor" status? That Siegal wouldn't "question" the President on one of those calls? That Jerry's multiple invites to the White House might cease? Or am I being just too cynical?

2. And then there's JCPA. A long, long time ago, as I served as Chair of my community's Jewish Community Relations Counsel, and for a while thereafter, when I served on the Board and Executive Committee of what was then the NJCRAC, now the JCPA, I grew increasingly frustrated and impatient (surprise, I know) with the seemingly endless processing of every issue, the seemingly constant parsing of every position back then. Dear friends and lay leaders whom I venerate to this day -- Shoshana Cardin, Maynard Wishner, z'l, Jackie Levine, Arden Shenker and many others -- guided me through the NJCRAC maze. And I developed a great friendship with one of our system's best professionals, the late Al Chernin, z'l,  a pro's pro, with whom one could disagree in the search for common ground without alienation.

Then, there's today. There seems to be no process at JCPA: its chief professional signs petitions the subjects of which may be inconsistent with national consensus; votes are made (at, e.g., the Conference of Presidents) which may not represent the organizations that are its constituency; and its President, at least, appears to have an opinion on every issue, always available to the Jewish press. What used to be a cumbersome, lengthy deliberative process now appears to be no process whatsoever. Yet, on the most critical issues that confront our system today -- silence.

Here is the JCPA Mission Statement:

"The Mission of the JCPA

The mission of the Council is to serve as the representative voice of the organized American Jewish community in addressing the principal mandate of the Jewish community relations field, expressed in three interrelated goals:

  1. To safeguard the rights of Jews here and around the world;

  2. To dedicate ourselves to the safety and security of the state of Israel;

  3. To protect, preserve and promote a just American society, one that is democratic and pluralistic, one that furthers harmonious interreligious, inter ethnic interracial and other intergroup relations."
When a diligent researcher took a look at those who enjoyed the most visits at this White House, you should know that JCPA's then President was right up there with the other "most important people." If only the White House knew.

Then, there's money. JCPA is a member in good standing of the Federation-National Agency Alliance, that most woebegone of entities under the JFNA umbrella. It receives one of the largest allocations of federation dollars of any funded national agency and, in addition, it has been the recipient of millions in its role as JFNA's operating partner in the "Israel Action Network." There would be an excellent place for a rigorous audit of how our communal dollars have been spent. Yet, with all of these fund sources, JCPA today has begun a search for an FRD Director apparently to raise funds from within the federation system that currently provides it with its resources. Does JFNA know anything about this? Do the federations? Does anyone bloody care?

Rabbi Steve Gutow served JCPA as its President with distinction for a decade  and announced his retirement a while ago. Steve's liberal background appeared to serve his similarly leaning leadership as they had wished. Yet, as the community relations field, along with our Jewish polity, moved from left to center and, now, evermore toward the right of center, JCPA seemed not to be able to move with it. It will be interesting to learn of the results of JCPA's search for Gutow's successor.

Is JCPA fulfilling its role? And...what exactly is that? Rhetorical questions. BTW, JCPA couldn't even claim Michael Siegal's insights with regard to the Iran "deal;" had they, it's fair to ask, would Rabbi Gutow have been appointed just days ago by President Obama to the President's "Faith Council?" Just asking.


Thursday, October 1, 2015


Using the Mandel Center for something good, JFNA initiated a lay leadership development program called Yesod. (Or, more likely, Mandel is using JFNA for something of potential value to the federation system.) With a curriculum designed for the Melton School by Dr. Erica Brown, whom people in whom I have the greatest confidence tell me is "fantastic," Yesod already has "rules" for any federation seeking to participate:
"Communities must agree to full participation in the program as described below.
  • A minimum of 20 participants is required.
  • For smaller communities, there may be an option of doing a regional program with other nearby Federations; please contact Julia Malkin at or
    (212) 284-6636 for more information.
  • Qualified faculty from the community must be identified to teach. Faculty must be approved by Melton, our partners in this project, and they must be knowledgeable about the Federation and able to facilitate high-level discussions about Federation leadership. 
  • A local Federation staff person must be assigned to oversee the program.
  • Training for Yesod coordinators and faculty will take place Monday, October 26th in Washington, D.C."
Remember, the participating federations pay JFNA Dues as we review the costs:
  • There's something called the "Curriculum Fee" of $2500 that JFNA is "absorbing." This may sound generous but for the reality that JFNA (that's you, of course, but JFNA may not remember) pays the Mandel Center $100s of $1000s annually for just this kind of creative programming;
  • The Federation participants choose (and, apparently, pay for the "[Q]ualified faculty" (who must be "approved by Melton"). The "qualifications" are significant, the costs could be high. For a program this creative and important, JFNA should be absorbing these costs from its bloated Budget.
JFNA should be applauded for a program of this significance, duplicative though it seems to be of the now 30 year old Wexner Heritage Program...duplicative in its entirety, by the way. Already, in its constant need of overstatement, JFNA has written:
"Yesod has empowered new members to assume leadership roles, rejuvenated lay leaders and re-attracted inactive members..." 
"Reattracted" is good even if it isn't a word. 

If JFNA had a professional staff -- you know, the kind of staff a $30 million Dues budget should provide but doesn't -- wouldn't you think that Yesod would not have to be delegated away. In fact, just a few years ago, JFNA had an Executive Development Program developed by...Mandel!! Recruitment then was led by JFNA's own excellent staff members at the time, but this Program was deconstructed by the Federation CEOs demands that the program be populated by those of their choosing pro rata according to the federations' financial contributions. (More on that in a future Post.) Today, without staff, farm it out.

Would it be great if Yesod were to succeed? Absolutely. Will it? Well, I subscribe to Santayana: "Skepticism is the chastity of the intellect, and it is shameful to surrender it too soon."

If JFNA and Mandel want Yesod to be the success that Wexner has been and is and hopefully will be, then JFNA and Mandel should absorb the totality of the costs of Yesod as Les Wexner, through his incredible philanthropy, has done...certainly there is room in a $30 million (+/-) JFNA budget for a program of actual importance, isn't there?

Isn't there?