Wednesday, December 30, 2015


1. Most of the changes at the United Israel Appeal pre-merger through today have been imposed upon the organization by those with more power. Yet, recent changes have been those brought upon UIA by itself...a curious circumstance, to be sure. I count at least two:

  • Its CEO will no longer have the title Executive Vice-Chair but, instead, Vice-President, JFNA;
  • Worse, instead of reporting directly to the JFNA CEO/President and the UIA Board, the now Vice President, JFNA will be "[R]eporting directly to JFNA's Executive Vice President." 
No one is presently waiting in line to become just another one of the JFNA Vice-Presidents, but, maybe, the job will be more attractive by virtue of removing Smilin' Jerry from the the reporting process. But...come on now.

2. The great journalist, Gay Talese, had terse and relevant advice for an audience of young writers a few weeks ago, that I consider to be a dictate to those lazy, inert members of the JFNA Board: "Get off your ass" Are these leaders capable of any action whatsoever or will  Board service remain the honorarium it has become? 

3. Recently, JFNA's Board Chair explained his and our dedication to Jewish values as the organization publicly condemned the intolerant screed of Rabbi David Lau. That statement was superb -- passionate and compelling. Compare and contrast with Smilin' Jerry's "personal" expression of, what, "sadness?" The CEO's quote was so unnecessary. Then, JTA examined individual Jewish organizational response to Donald Trump's hate speech attacks on Muslims. What did JFNA have to say? Read on...
"Jewish Federations of North America: While the umbrella group for North American Jewish federations tries to stay out of the partisan fray, it has weighed in on political matters when it felt the issue merited it. For example, on Dec. 10, JFNA rebuked Israel’s chief rabbi for criticizing an Israeli politician’s visit to a non-Orthodox Jewish day school in New York. In its statement, JFNA said: 'Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau was wrong to criticize Minister Naftali Bennett for the latter’s visit to a Solomon Schechter community day school in Manhattan.” On Trump, JFNA has issued no statement, and a representative told JTA it has no plans to do so.'"
As I read this, JFNA patted itself on the back for its Lau Statement, suggested that this was but an example of "...weigh(ing) in on political matters when it felt the issue merited it." Let's see -- not. Is JFNA capable of truth-telling? Why the obstinate repetition of petty and not-so-petty deceits? (a) Paranoia? (b) Insecurity? (c) Because the truth might have actual consequences? All of the above?

4. Any signs of life at JFNA FRD? By this time, even Harold Gernsbacher, the National Campaign Chair, must realize he was sold a real bill of goods when promised the earth, the moon and the stars by the immediate past Board Chair and Smilin' Jerry. You, too, can read their commitments to Harold, inasmuch as they are right there, in black and white, on the pages of the JFNA Budget 2015-2016. And, all they have delivered to Harold was Vicki Agron's consultancy to pacify him. As we already asked: How many prominent names have been offered the professional leadership of the non-existent FRD Department? Five...ten...more?  Maybe Smilin' Jerry can offer one of them the earth, the moon, the stars...or maybe he has, to no avail.

5. For the fourth (or is it the 5th) time, JAFI announced that, at the direction of the Government of Israel (that means the GOI is picking up the tab, I assume), it will once again, again, again (and, maybe...again) "Complete the Journey" by bringing another 10,000 or more Ethiopians to Israel for "family unification." This is noble and, apparently, never-ending work. If you count the Ethiopian aliya that preceded this one, you will have the parallel number of times that Diaspora Jewry has failed to meet the financial responsibilities it undertook as JAFI's "partner" in "bringing them home." In other words, this will be more of the same....until the next time, of course.


Sunday, December 27, 2015


In 2010, she wrote an Op-Ed in The Jewish Week which concluded as follows:
"A watered-down, least common denominator Judaism will not serve as an adequate basis for Jewish peoplehood. Only more strongly identified and more highly educated Jews who feel a responsibility for Jews wherever they live in the world will secure our common future. This is our charge and our challenge."
That simple, challenging and passionate challenge to the Jews of New York, to North American Jewry, to our overseas all of us...summed up the vision and works of Alisa Rubin Kurshan, a brilliant professional leader of the New York UJA-Federation, where she serves as Executive Vice-Presidentof Community Planning and Agency Resources, whose retirement was announced just last month after two decades of professional leadership.

I did not know Alisa well; I knew of her work and I knew of her influence. In her service to New York UJA she was a role model...not just a role model for women professionals, which she, of course, is and was...but a role model for all Jewish professionals regardless of gender. 

New York's new CEO/President, Eric Goldstein, said it best in announcing Alisa's retirement:
"Alisa’s legacy - through her various roles at UJA-Federation - includes helping to shape our vision, driving our efforts to invest in the renewal of Jewish life, widening our understanding of community, and strengthening our relationships with synagogues. Alisa was also instrumental in promoting new ways of engaging with Israel, and has built a planning team that is highly regarded throughout the Jewish world."
Alisa Kurshan's retirement is a loss to our system. May she go from strength-to-strength.


Thursday, December 24, 2015


A review board of one of America's largest and most controversial foundations recently concluded a review of the performance of its CEO, a person acknowledged to be a "visionary, brilliant, farsighted." According to The New York Times, that review concluded that the CEO "...had shown 'disdain' for the...board, exhibited 'duplicitousness with management,' and displayed a 'lack of transparency' and 'dismissive behavior'…" I am curious as to (a) whether there is a written annual JFNA review of CEO Smilin' Jerry; (b) if so, who conducted the review; and (3) what the review said.

In JFNA and at many of our federations, we have such a terribly opaque bureaucracy and process that no light shines in and where there is no transparency whatsoever. Smilin' Jerry's performance, so clearly terrible, somehow results in his employment contact's extension; JFNA's performance, so clearly an annual set of failure upon failure, somehow results in Jerry's employment contract being extended. And, there is a continuing disdain for any criticism, any suggestion that JFNA could be better, could do better.

Where there are no goals, no expectations, no accountability, organizations fail. How many times have we heard Silverman state that "this year" we will monitor our programs and report back to the Board on how we have met our goals, only to "rebrand" "this year" as "next year" and then the year after that -- because rebranding failure as success is what Smilin' Jerry does best. In fact, looking at the abysmal record, it's about then only thing JFNA does at all.

Maybe you think, as I do, that the annual General Assembly would be a wonderful place to discuss/debate anything/everything in an open forum led by a Chair who can assure our civility. Of course, that debate never takes place, does it? The federation system, unfortunately, has become almost everywhere a place of precooked outcomes, intolerant of debate even as CEO/President Smilin' Jerry imagines that it is something else. One of the greatest failings of today's JFNA is that it has been allowed to become Fantasyland -- a place where great things are imagined but never, ever actualized. They imagine that debate is taking place; they imagine that at 25 Broadway FEDovations are taking place; JFNA is a place of vivid imagination and no action...a place of total disdain for reality.

Thus, the constant repetition of this year's GA tag line -- "Thinking Forward." How many times was it repeated in word, in print, everywhere. It was a good tag line, really. But, what does it mean at JFNA? It means don't look at the last year, the last 5 years, the last decade? Please just wipe the past out of your mind, because we have -- we are "thinking forward." Then, when this sorry year comes to its so predictable end, let's "Think Forward" again. We, at JFNA never look back because someone might be measuring our failures, someone may be holding us accountable.

And, we wouldn't want that, would we?


Monday, December 21, 2015


I am, as any reader knows, constantly mystified, baffled by certain things in Jewish organizational life today. Stuff continuously happens absent purpose, absent management, absent accountability. For example...

...A bunch of Foundation leaders and Jewish communal professionals have banded together to form and implement something called LeadingEdge. Promoted at the recent GA (why not, Smilin' Jerry is on its Board), this brand spanking new non-profit presents itself as kind of a savior of the profession and, perhaps, the lay-professional relationship. It just doesn't quite stand up to scrutiny. If LeadingEdge isn't familiar to you, perhaps its f/k/a Jewish Leadership Pipelines Alliance is -- but, certainly, a rose by any other name...

There are some great names, some terrific professional leaders on the LeadingEdge Board. Among them:

  • B. Elka Abrahamson, President, The Wexner Foundation
  • Sandy Cardin, President, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation
  • Phyllis Cook, Managing Director, Helen Diller Family Foundation
  • Chip Edelsberg, Executive Director, Jim Joseph Foundation
  • Jay Kalman, Executive Director, The Marcus Foundation
  • Rachel Garbow Monroe, President/CEO, The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation
  • Rafi Rone, V-P, Jewish and Israel Initiatives, Joseph and Harvey Meyerhof Family Charitable Funds
  • Julie Sandorf, President, Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Jacob Solomon, President/CEO, Greater Miami Jewish Federation,
  • Jeff Solomon, President, The Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies
  • Andres Spokoiny, President/CEO, Jewish Funders Network
  • Caren Yanis, President, Crown Family Philanthropies
Then there are also the likes of Silverman, David Edell and Steve Rakitt. All of these, plus a fine staff and a raft of consultants are working in a self-described "...unprecedented partnership between Jewish foundations and federations to build a robust talent pipeline for Jewish organizations." 

With the exceptions noted, I can't imagine a more powerful group to initiate and influence change for a variety of purposes; but should one of them be the express purpose of LeadingEdge? Isn't this just another example of the blind leading the blind? For, after all, haven't we already enough examples of those with no experience in the federation field, some even hostile to it, attempting to "fix" a communal organization problem or two or many? Yes, there are a few from the list above who have a deep federation experience in their resumes...but very few. Many have partnered their foundation's work with federations'; then, again, many have not.

Framing this new organization's work:
"Why are great leaders for Jewish organizations so hard to find? Opinions vary. Some think we don't do a good enough job preparing the next generation of leaders to take the helm. Others think the culture of traditional Jewish organizations is not attractive to top talent. Both mindsets are right."
Really? That's it -- we didn't prep a new generation of leaders and our "culture" is not attractive? And, this group, great people all, few who know anything about Jewish organizational work beyond the Foundation world, will "fix" it? Sure they will.

Sure they will...and they will do so...

  • Without the involvement of a single lay person experienced through Jewish organizational involvement/leadership
  • With a small staff of, I am certain, brilliant young professionals who, if they ever walked into a Jewish federation, did so to meet someone there for lunch
  • With consultants, one of whom professionally led a Large City federation through years of under-achievement
To their credit, the leaders who created LeadingEdge deserve applause for having identified a gaping void and for their willingness to give their time and, I assume, some funding to fill that void. Wouldn't it help their effort if they broadened their Board to include:
  • In addition to the excellent Jacob Solomon, Federation CEOs with a positive track record and demonstrated creativity. Like: "the Steves," Barry Shrage, Mark Terrill, Larry Fine, Lee Wunsch, Jay Sanderson and others
  • Lay/pro leaders -- who have had, first, an intensive lay leader background, and, then, proven leaders in Jewish organizational life. Leaders like: Michael Horowitz, who left an in-depth lay leadership role in Detroit to lead the Atlanta Federation for three years; and/or David Fisher, who moved from JFNA National Campaign Chair back to the business world, to his recruitment as CEO of Birthright Israel
But, what goes through Smilin' Jerry's mind as he sits with these LeadingEdgers and looks around that room -- well, in truth in Jerry's case nothing is going through his mind -- shouldn't it be: "Damn it, we should be doing this. This is our job." Meanwhile New York UJA-Federation has developed a cutting edge program, The Institute for Jewish Executive Leadership,  just as JFNA should have been doing for years. More's the pity that JFNA's CEO/President is merely an invitee to someone else's party. Maybe Richard Sandler understands; this embarrassment cannot continue.

The effort to fill the Jewish organizational leadership pipeline is vital. Let's make the effort work.


Friday, December 18, 2015


                        OH, THE WHEELS ON THE BUS GO ROUND, ROUND, ROUND

...or they are supposed to, aren't they?

Five plus years ago, JFNA hired a new bus driver, told him to drive the bus and, then, watched as the bus on which they were now riding swerved into the ditch when it wasn't heading into dead ends or caroming off the road altogether. 

If your bus company hired a driver like this, overpaying the driver from the get-go to boot, I have the firm suspicion that your bus company would have fired this driver long, long ago. But this is the JFNA Bus Company, after all, a company that serves only itself; a place where mediocrity and outright failure have not just been tolerated, these have been constantly rewarded.

How does something like this happen...and perpetuate? Let me count the ways...

  1. Disinterest. There was a time in the history of JFNA when both federation lay and professional leaders took a direct interest in the management, operation and direction of the organization. That interest played an absolute role in the hiring and termination of the organization's first CEO, his succession by Steve Hoffman and the hiring of Howard Rieger to succeed Steve. With Rieger steering the ship aimlessly while distracted by vendettas and a personal agenda, the federation lay leaders, now a decade older in the case of the LCE seemed to be worn out, having a single focus when it came to JFNA -- "do nothing to disturb our little empires; leave us alone; and, when told, do what we say." Thus, the hiring of Smilin' Jerry was a serendipitous Godsend to them -- let him go off and do his #ishes and Community Heroes and TribeFestivi, but stay out of our business..." even though JFNA's business was supposed to be the federations. Only when a TribeFest would prove too embarrassing to allow it to continue would the leadership say "stop." On the lay side, starting with Board Chair Joe Kanfer the mantra became "either you are on our team, doing our bidding without complaint, will you get anywhere here, or you will disappear." This led to a self-enforcement of discipline that silenced (most) critics or drove them away. Manning continued the discipline, assuring that only lay acolytes moved up the JFNA political food chain, filling every possible leadership role with a willing lay lamb. For those not engaged, disinterest became the course to follow and engagement of the few and fawning became the rule of the day.
  2. Disengagement.  What ties a community to JFNA? The factors are all in the negative; among them -- loss of Washington Grants, loss of constituency participation (in the continuing UJA creations of National Young Leadership, National Women's Constituency), loss of professional participation in City-size professional activities, loss  of Mission or GA participation, professional Institutes and the like. Flip those and you have the positives of engagement -- all continuing activities from the days of UJA/CJF. Oh, sure, there could someday be an exposure to "best practices" (rebranded as FEDovations but nothing new) but the truly new -- the Secure Community Network, the Israel Action Network (with a lay person, an excellent leader, to front the operation but no lay Board) -- are strictly and totally professionally driven. The number of federation lay leaders in key JFNA roles has been dramatically reduced -- now but a single Vice Chair -- in the pursuit of the apparent need for "efficiency" -- after all engaging lay people is so time consuming, costly and...unnecessary. And, so the lay people disengage but for the few with "speaking parts" -- the chance for greater engagement lost when: (a) the last Chair of the Executive, Dede Feinberg, who for years led engagement efforts at, among other places, the Jewish Agency, was merely shunted aside; and (b) the professionals arrogated what were lay positions to themselves with nary a word of objection from lay leaders who should have known better. If nowhere else, and there are many, many places where disengagement is evident, just once again visit the lay paid attendance at, e.g., the last five General Assemblies.
  3. Disinvestment. There are many, many JFNA priority areas where greater lay involvement could be enhanced -- but these are areas of intended budgeted investment from which funds are actually being redirected to other areas without any lay process. As Henny Youngman, z'l, might have said: "Take FRD, please." By Budget, FRD consumes close to or more than 50% of the JFNA Budget. But you know the deal: no staff (FTE being the largest expense component of every JFNA silo) and remarkably, for the past few years, during the regime of Smilin' Jerry, a National Campaign Chair and no Campaign Cabinet. You might ask, "what are those millions being spent on, if not FRD?" You might ask, but the way JFNA is operated, you won't get an answer -- that's how disinvestment occurs annually under the current professional leadership, permitted to do so by a hands'-off lay leadership.
And, so, my friends, the wheels no longer "go round, round, round;" they have literally fallen off the bus. As Gertrude Stein wrote, "there is no there, there" -- not anymore. Just keep throwing your money at 25 Broadway...they like it and they'll tell you it's not enough.

Now, sing along: Oh the wheels on the bus are off, off, off
                            Off, off, off
                            Off, off, off


Tuesday, December 15, 2015


1. Enough time has now passed since the 2015 GA for some perspective:

  • Watch Smilin' Jerry's GA Plenary address (oh for the days of Steve Hoffman when JFNA CEO's were seen but not heard -- and, actually, led us forward) and turn off the sound. Did JFNA pay for speech lessons for the Smilin' one -- if so JFNA should get its money back. (Have to spend that FRD budget on something?) The deployment of a broad range of irrelevant albeit sweeping, grandiose gestures is exceeded only by the banality when you turn the sound back on.
  • Insiders at 25 Broadway have provided me with the breakdown of GA attendance -- you may recall that pre-GA, JFNA was once again claiming 3,000 GA "registrants," in the midst of the GA the fabulous FedWorld was alleging 3,000 "attendees." In reality, the number of lay registrants was less than 1,000. (You, too, might have noticed how the pre-GA bloviation of 3,000 "registrants" morphed into 3,000 "in attendance.") The question: why the constant overstatement; why not just tell the truth? Can't handle´the truth? You think?
  • I was impressed with the number of young professionals on the program for brief acknowledgments, but I do wonder whether this was nothing more than patronizing of a group that represent our future. I was fortunate when I chaired UJA and, in partnership with our CEO, Bernie Moscovitz, put our young leaders on the UJA Executive Committee where they were our equals. Many of these same women and men are officers at JFNA today where they could influence change...but haven't. Let's watch and see how these young leaders of today are integrated into the real leadership of JFNA. I know that Richard Sandler is dedicated to doing so. Will he?
  • I was also impressed with the use of Plenaries to promote what JFNA now rebrands as FEDovations -- what all of us know as "best practices." A compendium of best practices -- er, FEDovations -- was the promise of GA 2014 -- guess Smilin' Jerry forgot as with so many other things. When will JFNA ever be held to any measure of accountability -- by the Board Chair, by the Federation CEOs, by a woebegone Board?  By anybody? Experience tells me...won't happen.
  • JFNA's lip service to a robust continental FRD effort remains about the only evidence of FRD at 25 Broadway. Harold Gernsbacher, the National Campaign Chair, could only hype some interesting Mission opportunities (rebranded as if they weren't thought of and run before) -- in fact, UJA was running exactly the same Missions in the 80s and 90s. Right now, Harold seems to be a one man band -- he led the Prime Minister's Mission, he will lead the Campaign Chairs/Campaign Directors Mission -- when he should be recruiting others to FRD leadership (Harold himself was parachuted in as National Chair) and giving them Mission leadership roles rather than he. Still no FRD staff, raising the question: what qualified professional would choose to work under Smilin' Jerry in JFNA's current staff structure? As a number have been asked and declined, I guess the answer is: no one.
  • Then there was this broadside from a reader:  "...talking about Jerry and his performance, check out the article in today's Forward about leadership with a few excerpts from Jerry's speech at the GA, along with one from 2011. Then look at JFNA and ask yourself how the lay leaders could have extended his contract:"  

2. Recently the European Union, pursuing (even though the EU denies it) a policy of BDS, decided to require the labeling of products exported from Israel but grown or manufactured  in whole or in part in Judea/Samaria, as such. I know of at least one federation -- and, surely, there are more, that went on record in calling this act for what it was:
"This is a politically motivated, discriminatory policy that unfairly targets Israel." 
From JFNA  -- silence. Our umbrella, as always, unfortunately, has nothing to say. There is just an institutional fear of offending -- in this case, who exactly? The statement I have referenced was issued by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Chicago. Ironically, its Chair, David Brown, also Chairs JFNA's Global Operations: Israel and Overseas Council, which has said nothing on the subject. 

3. Please reflect with my Federation's Annual Meetings our CEO/President, Steve Nasatir, brilliantly and concisely reports on our communal achievements over the past year -- they are not fables or fanciful, they are real. When I have written negatively of a given federation, I have heard from the given federation's CEO every time not just to correct my errors but to factually present that Federation's real achievements. Compare these recitals of communal achievements with the annual droning of cliches from Smilin' Jerry at GA after GA including one month ago. No reference to achievements -- because there have been none. This year was no different unless you agree, as I know many of you do, with the Smilin' One that JFNA's singular achievement in 2015 was its aggressive silence on the Iran Deal. Yep, doing nothing -- quite the accomplishment.

4. OK, enough with the woebegone GA. Arguing that it was far better than last year doesn't cut it.

5. So let's move on. How about FRD at JFNA? You can read some of my sense above but I believe that all of you know the effort committed by budget to what JFNA perceived as "dramatic increases" in JFNA's heretofore non-existent FRD. Smilin' Jerry promised the incoming National Campaign Chair that these rather minimal goals (more mega-donors, more high-end donors in various categories) would be achieved in this fiscal year. FRD staff. Leaving National Campaign Chair Gernsbacher and Consultant Vicki Agron holding the bag. They are working hard, very hard. But it's not like Harold Gernsbacher wasnt warned that JFNA would promise the moon and the stars and How many professional prospects to lead JFNA FRD have rejected the "feelers"? 5, 10...more? And, why aren't they interested? Not one? My friends, you and I probably would reach the identical conclusion. Has the new Board Chair inquired? He should.


Saturday, December 12, 2015


Friends, from the beginning of this Blog some 1300 or so Posts ago, I have welcomed Comments from all of you who have something to say that is relevant to the subject matter; I continue to welcome Comments from one and all. We have had some excellent dialogue on these many pages and I have appreciated your insights even when you have disagreed with me; which, for some of you is infrequent, for others, constant. 

When our dialogue, our debate, has been at the higher levels of engagement, I have literally kvelled; when the few of you have forced me to censor your attacks on me and on each other, I have drawn the line. I have to admit it is hard to tolerate those who accuse me of lashon hara without citing facts in support of your own and expect me to print those accusations; or those who, wrongly, accuse me of printing only those Comments which support my points while censoring others. I particularly can't stand the few who write "You are totally wrong," cite no specifics, and consider that to be a isn't. If you wish to write: "You are wrong and here is how..." citing the specifics of my errors, that will get you printed.

And, many of you seem to believe that others are not entitled to express their opinions on these pages because they totally conflict with yours. So, rather than engaging on the merits of your "disagreement," you attack the Commentator (or me for printing it). I have expressed my view that healthy debate promotes better decisions and transparency -- debate is not an echo chamber. We should be able to disagree with civility whether it be on the pages of this Blog, at meetings or elsewhere in the "public square." I recall a Jewish Agency Board meeting some years ago at which a rare substantive debate was on-going. A senior JFNA lay leader, close friend of the then Chair of the Executive, entered the discussion to assert that "we should not be debating this in public; these matters should be resolved in private;" I objected, arguing that "this is exactly where we should be debating this issue." That was one of those moments that I was later reminded of by the Board Chair when I was accused of some institutional "treason." 

One of the inherent issues in permitting Anonymous Comments to not just the Posts on these pages is that statements and accusations that you would never permit to be associated with us if we had to attach our names, become "fair comment" if anonymous. One of you properly observed in the midst of a spate of a back and forth among the anonymous with regard to certain organizational leaders:
"Richard - are you not ashamed at what you're allowing to take place here? This is on you."
And, I have to admit that I do have some shame under the cited circumstances inasmuch as the Comments in question had little if anything to do with the Post that I had written.

I have received a number of disturbing Comments that I have been forced to reject for one reason or another. Some have been hysterical -- not in the funny hysterical sense, just hysterical. One of the best was a recent one from an Anonymous Commentator, of course, whose diatribe I had rejected, that read: "You're not going to publish my reply?" I didn't know how to respond inasmuch that one "Anonymous" can't be distinguished from another. So, to all, if you don't see your Comment published, it's because I rejected it...period. This does remain my Blog, after all -- even though it may appear from time-to-time that Paul Jeser thinks it is his.

I have particularly enjoyed those Posts that I have considered innocuous but which have inspired debate that has been fascinating and far off the subject of the Post.  Those debates/discussions have often been the best.

I do love you guys.


Friday, December 11, 2015


Many of you will remember Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel Yisrael Meir Lau, a child of Buchenwald, where Jews were slaughtered regardless of the religious movement they followed or even if they didn't practice our religion at all; Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, who with regularity condemned all Jews who did not practice his version of Judaism, a Chief Rabbi who attempted to deny access to portions of the the Kotel to all but the ultra-Orthodox. It was not unusual for this Rabbi Lau to utter the ugliest of slurs about the non-Orthodox. Well, Rabbi Israel Meir Lau retired and in 2013, his son, Rabbi David Baruch Lau, was elected Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi of Israel -- I guess it's a family business. 

In his "campaign," this Lau promised to be a unifying force, a "progressive figure."

And, when in December, Israel's Minister of the Diaspora, Naftali Bennett, visited a Solomon Schechter School in New York City where he found enthusiastic support for Israel and the children's Judaism there, Rabbi David Baruch Lau condemned him:
“To speak deliberately with a specific community and to recognize it and its path, when this path distances Jews from the path of the Jewish people, this is forbidden,” continued Lau. “If Minister Bennett would have asked my opinion before the visit I would have said to him explicitly, “You cannot go somewhere where the education distances Jews from tradition, from the past, and from the future of the Jewish people.”
Shameful, and not the first time for this "progressive figure," this "unifying force." Shortly after his 2013 election, this Chief Rabbi called those he found less than "pure," kushim, a derogatory term for Black people.

To its credit, JFNA promptly and publicly objected to Lau's attack on Minister Bennett and his visit to a Conservative school:
"Israel's Chief Ashkenazi Rabbi David Lau was wrong to criticize Minister Naftali Bennett for the minister's visit to a Solomon Schechter community day school in Manhattan. As the minister who covers both the education and Diaspora portfolios, Mr. Bennett serves a unique role in representing the Israeli government and must continue to reach out to all Jews wherever they are -- including at religious schools, day schools and camps affiliated with all of the streams of Judaism. By connecting and learning about Jewish educational experiences in the Diaspora, Mr. Bennett is doing exactly what is appropriate. There should not be suggestions that the Minister of Diaspora Affairs needs to ask for permission to experience Jewish education moments while traveling.  In fact, Mr. Bennett should be recognized for his leadership with these efforts, not criticized."
Not exactly a condemnation but, for JFNA, certainly, a strong statement. JFNA Board Chair spoke more strongly in his transmittal of the statement to the Board:
"I was puzzled and chagrined to read of Chief Rabbi Lau’s recent comments regarding Minister Naftali Bennett’s visit to a Solomon Schechter school while in the United States. This kind of dialogue is an unfortunate example of how we build barriers within our own community. Instead, I urge us to seek opportunities to work together with an eye toward engaging our young people and ensuring our future as a people, according to Jewish values."

Well said.


Apparently someone at JFNA was convinced that there would be something to be gained by having Smilin" Jerry provide interviews (a "personal" statement) and further exposure of the matter on the House Voice FedWorld in successive "issues." An Anonymous Commentator, I'm guessing from 25 Broadway itself had just told us that this was no issue at all because of Lau's earlier visit without controversy to a Schechter School himself. Who knew?


Wednesday, December 9, 2015


Who said the following: Chance, the Gardener, in "Being There" or JFNA's CEO/President: I just like to watch?

I listened with care to CEO Smilin' Jerry's Plenary speech at last month's GA. It was extremely interesting to me as it expressed exactly what I would have expected -- that JFNA's greatest achievement over the past year was doing and saying nothing and, in the guise of Jewish unity, doing  and saying nothing in the year ahead. This is a message that has been repeated in print and often this year in vituperative Anonymous Comments on these pages. "It's great," they have said and written, that JFNA remains above the fray; "it's terrific," I guess, that JFNA has nothing to say on any issue, believing it appears that if there is not unanimity among the federations on an issue, then JFNA will offer itself as the neutral space in which nothing is even debated or discussed. As a student off the system for 1/2 my life I have to wonder when JFNA became JCPA, unable even to speak a word on any subject where there is any controversy.

So, just when might JFNA actually take a position on anything? I read with interest the newspaper articles on the communal controversy in Los Angeles after the Jewish Federation there took a position against the Iran Deal. It seems that LA's Federation leadership did so after a vote of its Executive Committee but without an a priori debate and vote of its Board. That poor "process," not the position taken, seemed to be a flash point. Richard Sandler, then LA's Board Chair, now JFNA's, and LA CEO Jay Sanderson both reflected that a better process would have been to engage with the broader base of communal leadership  on the Federation Board. Sandler concluded that the LA Board would have voted in favor of the articulated communal position by a super-majority. Now Richard Sandler chairs JFNA. It will be interesting to see if his LA philosophy carries through to the Continental stage on issues of controversy or whether the Smilin' Jerry S. belief that silence is always golden prevails.

But I believe that more was at play in JFNA's decision to say and do nothing in 2015 but offer its "neutral space" as the number of federations which took a position on the Iran Deal either opposed the deal, expressed a negative sense of the Deal or said nothing. Here are some of the factors:

  1. The New York UJA-Federation, of course our largest community, counseled/demanded that the Continental entity remain silent, just as New York UJA itself did;
  2. It was feared that any discussion or position would further inflame and divide our communities;
  3. JFNA leadership desired visibility at President Obama's side throughout, including the ultimate teleconference "viewed by 40,000 people"* where the JFNA Chair sat near the President and presented questions. As with all things, elevating the "brand" was more important (and more "safe") than a debate and discussion at the JFNA Board level;
  4. JFNA at no time consulted either its Board or its Executive Committee on its non-position (that's not what JFNA does on anything, actually) fearing that if it did so, a super-majority of federations might have demanded either a broad discussion/debate and/or a vote on a Resolution that would have negated the influences of 1. and 2. and 3. above.
I heard and read over the last months and throughout the GA JFNA's determination that arguments pro and con the Iran Deal in our communities were fraught with ugliness and anger. Let's even assume that that was true -- I know that on this issue on these pages, many of the Anonymous Comments were venomous (and most of those came from those who did not want the matter discussed/debated) but I also know that  the best leadership can assure civility-- is that really an argument for doing and saying nothing on any matter as vital to federation interests in Israel's security and the safety of its citizens?

Are we as a Continental Jewish polity unable to discuss/debate issues of controversy as adults; are our leaders not capable of managing debate so that it remains within the bounds of civility? If not, then there may ultimately be, if not the case already, no issue of any controversy which we can ever discuss let alone on which we can reach consensus. And, perhaps, a leadership that believes that never shall waves be made, that shies away and literally avoids anything of controversy, real or imagined, likes it that way.

The denouement to all of this? In a Haaretz op-ed: "President Obama’s liaison to the American-Jewish community: We can disagree but respect each other’s opinions." JFNA's convention of the President's arguments in favor of the Iran Deal was favorably mentioned. Yet the liaison couldn't have been speaking of JFNA inasmuch as our organization,  proudly, had no opinion at all.*

So, perhaps, the JFNA letterhead should have another logo on it -- a stamp that clearly states: certified pareve.


*If you read the Op-Ed you might be surprised that the liaison offers the participation in that Conference Call at 15,000; JFNA, at its self-promoting best has been trumpeting 40,000. You be the judge.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


"Dunning-Kruger" -- what the hell is that and what does it have to do with you, me, JFNA? 

Read on, friends:
"The Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein relatively unskilled individuals suffer from illusory superiority, mistakenly assessing their ability to be much higher than is accurate. Dunning and Kruger attributed the bias to the metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately. Their research also suggests that conversely, highly skilled individuals may underestimate their relative competence, erroneously assuming that tasks that are easy for them also are easy for others.The bias was first experimentally observed by David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University in 1999.
Dunning and Kruger have postulated that the effect is the result of internal illusion in the unskilled, and external misperception in the skilled: 'The miscalibration of the incompetent stems from an error about the self, whereas the miscalibration of the highly competent stems from an error about others.'"* (emphasis added)
Sounds right to me. You?

Yep, "illusory superiority" "...the metacognitive inability of the unskilled to recognize their own ineptitude and evaluate their own ability accurately." Hello!! But, it takes two to tango, doesn't it? Thus, for one "suffering" ("enjoying"?) the Dunning-Kruger effect, there is the requirement that another, a third party, recognizes it and does something about it.

Look, nothing more needs to be said...does it? Yet, here we are...and here we remain.


* For more, visit Wikipedia, the source for this definition

Thursday, December 3, 2015


So, friends, here we are, approaching a new Calendar year as JFNA cascades toward the end of a tunnel not understanding that the light its leaders see is the speeding train of failure coming right at 'em. And coming damn fast at that. 

JFNA leadership has declared war, with the totally unearned sense of their own inerrancy,  on any and all criticism and on the critics who level it. We all understand that in any war, truth is the first casualty. I learned that truth early on when I published the fact that the then Board Chair had attempted to eradicate the term Zionism from a Global Planning Table Committee paper as "too controversial." The dogs of War were unleashed upon me immediately by, among others, the Board Chair, her claque and Grinning' Jerry -- first, outright denials from those who knew that what I had written was true; then an "even if she said it, it was at a minor GPT Subcommittee;" then my "informants" (yes, there were more than one) were intimidated with threats; and I was further threatened with even more ostracization than I was already suffering. Months later, this Board Chair apologized to all those she had offended -- other, of course, than I. I realized then, if I hadn't before, that truth at 25 Broadway, was dead or, at best, placed in a blind trust no one can find. (Dan Brown, in his reporting on the demise of the Global Planning Table for his article in ejp, learned the same thing, if he did not know it already.*)

And with truth dead, so is the organization. JFNA today is nothing more than a third class trade association that under its current CEO is capable only of promoting itself (and doing a poor job of even that) at the expense -- $30+ million per year -- of the federation owners. Everywhere there is a sad and knowing acceptance of constant failure. Much of the blame for the current condition can be placed at the feet of CEO/President Smilin' Jerry and the tiny claque that protects him. Let us examine....

Jerry. Hired as an amateur entering a world of professionals, Jerry has proved that one cannot be an autodidact when it comes to Jewish federation professional leadership; in particular if you so evidently lack the tools. Jerry is, as my friends in Texas might observe, "all hat and no cattle." JFNA has been so diminished by its current professional leader, with the always silent or clapping, willing acquiescence of a succession of lay leaders, as to be unrecognizable from that which its founders believed it could be...and that should be as unacceptable to you as it is to me. This lack of competence is a prison from which we can't seem to escape.

In all of my lay leadership positions over time I believed that the CEO should have the unfettered ability, constrained only by Budget, to hire the best and brightest...with knowledge that the most senior professional leader would be judged at least in part by his/her staff's success. If one examines Silverman's staff, one sees that two of the most senior positions -- COO and Marketing/Communications -- were positions filled at the demand of the then Lay Board Chair; that every other senior position is filled with holdovers -- some successful as in Washington; some not so much or not at all, as in JFNA-Israel. Instead of creating a strong staff cadre, Silverman has hired a bunch of consultants, paying G-d knows what, doing G-d knows what, and leaving gaping voids -- we have all heard of FRD but recognize that JFNA does none -- with no one home. If I were Richard Sandler, one of the first things I would do would be to demand the list of consultants with a description of what they have done/are ostensibly doing and shine a bright light down that rabbit hole.

Extending this CEO's contract was as risible and ridiculous an act of irresponsibility as one could imagine -- and we didn't have to imagine it. As the columnist Bret Stephens would have written about Jerry Silverman if he knew him: "...his weaknesses apparent to everyone but himself." It is hard to believe that at this point in time everyone isn't fed up with CEO Jerry's logorrheic spewing of cliche and inanities. Most recently, in a General Assembly Plenary speech, CEO Smilin' Jerry exhorted federations as follows: "We need to stop drawing red lines on who's in and who's out, and do more to welcome and encourage Jews across all spectrums to join us in our core mission. And we need to mean it." In a single sentence Silverman proved how terribly uninformed he is, how insulting it is to suggest that federations are not inclusive -- he, the President/CEO of the Federations' own organization -- how little he knows of what federations are, what federations do, what federations are all about. That's what you get for $800,000 a year, my friends...that's all you get. After 5+ years, Smilin' Jerry still doesn't get it...and, quite clearly, he never will. 

And, who is to be blamed...

Leadership. At 25 Broadway these last 5+ years are the years of delusion; and our leaders are the delusionists-in-chief. JFNA has been allowed to become the theater of the absurd. The Board Agenda for the GA was a good example of the futility -- not one matter of substance under discussion led by the then ostensible leaders of our system. Thomas Boswell, the brilliant sportswriter in The Washington Post, writing of a negligent, see nothing now fired baseball manager: "If he had been at Ford's Theater in 1865, he'd have loved the play. Did something go wrong? Nope, didn't see a thing. Nobody said anything either." Boswell could have been writing of JFNA leadership had he known them. The JFNA Board has embraced being talked to, lectured to, applauding and returning home.

Friends, sometimes facts force us to confront the reality we really don't wish to believe. But within JFNA there is a leadership group that has chosen to stick its collective head in the sand and deny the facts of JFNA's status, the sclerotic self it has become. We have allowed JFNA governance to become the perfect silent match for a mediocrity that has become the norm. The mega-philanthropist Ron Perelman resigned after one year as Chair of the Board of New York's non-profit Carnegie Hall citing "a troubling lack of transparency and openness" on the part of the Hall's CEO coupled with apparent disinterest in "getting involved"  on the part of his Board of Directors. According to the Wall Street Journal, Perelman cited the lack of transparency as violative of the "...standards of the New York State Revitalization Act, which mandates that board members take an active oversight role over staff actions..." Is anyone at JFNA paying attention? Are they even interested in doing so?

To paraphrase Sir Winston Churchill: Our leaders behave as if they are "sheep in sheep's clothing." Friends, there seems to be a prevalent understanding that if a great organization fails to meet its goals, fails to understand its purposes, it ceases to be a great organization; so to this current leadership the answer is let's have an organization with no goals and no purpose. Thus our leaders reckon, we cannot fail. And they are so wrong. Because while they have been doing nothing, the greatness has disappeared.

We are on a JFNA suicide watch; its bankruptcy is obvious, its death nears.


* Here is how Dan Brown described the Global Planning Table: 
"You remember the Global Planning Table? Passed in the closing hours of the 2011 Denver GA, with zero public discussion, this federation attempt to build another hierarchical monstrosity was doomed from day one." 

** In the original of this Post I attributed certain conclusions to Richard Sandler that were speculative on my part. I have deleted those references....and I apologize.