Thursday, July 19, 2018


For American Diaspora Jews, one needs a great sense of humor when engaging with Israel today. So much is going on and so much is going wrong. After all we can either laugh or cry when...

  • The Prime Minister can assert that Israel's "strongest allies" in America are Evangelical Christians. Not American Jews, not the organized Jewish Community...Evangelical Christians!!!
  • A Member of Knesset from Shas who, after asserting that Reform Jews "are not Jews," alleged that those who lobby for the egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel (as agreed to by the Prime Minister and his Cabinet before Bibi breached that agreement) were to blame for earthquakes that struck the Galilee on June 27!! (The same chacham went on to assert that if Reform Jews want an egalitarian prayer space, they should "take the money (they) invest in Israel and build a Kotel in the U.S.") 
I don't wish to suggest that rampant stupidity is strictly an Israeli-American Jewish community phenomenon. It isn't. Take for example the obviously 100% true allegation of the Head of the Iran Civil Defense Organization, citing "scientific studies" that allegedly prove that Iran's drought has been caused by "[J]oint  teams from Israel and one of the neighboring countries are deseeding the clouds entering Iran." As one article headlined: "Iranian General Blames Drought on Israel Cloud Thieves."  Yes, "cloud and snow theft." Felonies.

Start-Up Nation, indeed.

And, not wanting to be outdone, a lower level spokesman for the White House, concluded that the wonderful relationship between President Trump and Bibi proved that the United States is now "beloved" around the world as compared to the eight years of the Obama Administration. Must be watching Fox News.


Monday, July 16, 2018


On the occasion of the brilliant conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer's passing, I was reminded of these words of wisdom and insight:
"You're betraying your whole life if you don't say what you think, and you don't say it honestly and bluntly." 
This concept of "betrayal" vs. responsibility has been stated and restated on these pages with a certain amount of repitition. 


Friday, July 13, 2018


This will not surprise anyone, especially not readers of this Blog -- often times, when a new (or interim) CEO steps into federation leadership, things hidden under the rocks or behind the misrepresentations for years and years are discovered.

This has recently occurred in two communities (which shall remain nameless) with dire consequences for the communities themselves and for the overseas "partners," if not JFNA as well:

~ In one of these federations, the CEO and his minions preached that they were at the cutting edge of transformational change as they moved the community from a traditional annual umbrella campaign to the "ultimate" in designated giving. Yep, "Total Choice FRD," or whatever it was called, was destined to fail. (In fact, within the first weeks of this "innovative" CEO taking the communal reins, I visited with him and, hearing the bare-bones outline of this then embryonic plan, I explained that this approach would (a) had undermined the centrality of federation in the communities where it had been applied under various names; and (b) had failed in every federation where it had been attempted. This new CEO responded by saying he was quitting on the spot. He didn't.)
So the "transformational change" went forward. Donors sent their funds, designating them as they saw fit, with a small amount generally available for federation's sacred work. The result -- the campaign appeared to dramatically increase; when, in fact, the only aspect that increased was in the conduit that federation had become. (A review of the 990s discloses the futility of it all.)
Often, in the midst of what was represented to be campaign growth, the CEO and other senior professionals in the community, offered themselves for available positions in other communities generally without success --other than one, hired by a larger federation for a brief period, before reality struck.
Then came "discovery." The CEO finally found a landing spot -- not with another community but with a national agency. It did not take very long for his successor to discover that the claimed "transformation" was really change for the worse. The federation was in dire financial circumstances unable to fulfill its current (and past) allocations commitments to the overseas partners (and, no doubt, some local ones as well). 
A mess. 
~ In another federation, years, and millions, of unpaid allocations were discovered by the new CEO to have been built up without the ability to pay. (Way, way back in the day, I was visiting communities as UJA's Regional Chair to talk about allocations and service. I went to visit a community in the Midwest. On my way there I saw that the community had unpaid allocations dating back several years and over $1 million. Sitting with the CEO and lay leadership, I pointed to the account receivable on UJA's books and learned that the lay leadership knew nothing of the arreaage. Working together, we developed a reasonable payment plan.) 
What happened to those millions will be a matter for a future Post
And, what are the common factors in both of these unnamed federations beyond hubris and mismanagement? 

1. An abject failure of lay oversight within the community. Lay leaders willing to ignore what was right in front of their eyes believing that the CEO "will take care of it;" and
2. A failure by the continental organization to monitor continuing communal failures. Where was the Financial Relations effort? Is there one anymore? Where was the staff -- the JFNA COO and CFO and those assigned to dealing wit the communities? Is there still a Cash Collections effort? What were the JFNA professionals doing? What, if anything, were/are they telling the communal leadership? What are they telling JAFI/JDC/WorldORT?
Two communities -- certainly the tip of the organizational iceberg. This is a disaster.


Tuesday, July 10, 2018


Subsidiary questions: why does it continue to exist? Does anyone care?

Every year, year-after-year, JFNA publishes its Israel Policy Priorities for the coming year. I just compared those for 2017 with those for 2018. They are almost identical. I can only assume that these "Priorities" have become an inside joke among the rest of the staff at 25 Broadway -- "Look at what JFNA-Israel won't be doing this year...again."

On the lay side JFNA-Israel's most recent Chairs -- David Brown and, then, David Butler, must have seen and see what is right in front of them -- an Israel unit that at best ca be described as under-performing, at worst, non-performing, repeatedly accomplishing near-to nothing. In the best tradition of "make no waves," the "Davids" just watched while the Israel Office continued down its path of failure. As I've written, JFNA-israel is JFNA in microcosm.

Here is what JFNA's Israel Policy Priorities were for 2017:

  • Strengthening the Relationship between Israel and the North American Jewish Community -- repeated in the Israel Policy Priorities for 2018 almost en haec verba
  • Encouraging open, constructive (sic) and respectful dialogue -- again...repeated
  • Opposing the Delegitiization of Israel -- incorporates the work of the Israel Action Network as if it were the work of JFNA-Israel
  • Providing Transformative Israel Experiences for Young Adults -- in other words, great work by Birthright, MASA and Onward Israel
  • There are more but you get the point
The fact that the Priorities for 2018 are almost identical just makes me shake my head in bewilderment as to what this expensive Jerusalem-based Office does. (I won't even get into the mysterious attribution of these Priorities to the JFNA Government Relations Staff other than to ask -- WTF?

You can ask until you are blue in the face -- where is accountability...where is accountability  ? -- and the answer is self-evident. THERE IS NONE.

And, I guess that's my question -- WTF? Is anyone paying attention?


Saturday, July 7, 2018


Back in the dying embers of the United Jewish Appeal, one of my successors as National Campaign Chair brilliantly organized a national Mission dedicated to allocations to the core budgets of JAFI and JDC. I remember the complaints about whom the communities were sending on this Mission which was to be restricted to Federation CEOs, sitting lay Chairs and their successors. All of us pitched in to assure, to the best of our ability, that the participant criteria were met. We had great participation...and, sadly, almost no impact.

I was reminded of this by a review of what JFNA 2018 calls its "FRD Mission" -- the Campaign Chairs and Campaign Directors Mission, once among the two or three most important and most successful national Missions, has been quietlly abandoned. That CC/CD Mission was a critical annual event bringing together, first, UJA professionals, and, then JFNA's, with the communal campaign (General and Women's) leadership. This Mission begun anew during my terms as UJA National Campaign Chair, UJA leaders having initiated the Mission a decade and more earlier, only to discontinue it for a brief period -- I participated in two of them (always careful to appoint great women and men as the Mission Co-Chairs) and they were spectacular. Relationships were built, ruach was remarkable, the Mission-culminating caucuses were incredible. We had broad federation representation from Campaign leaders of all City-sizes. 

Well, that was then and this is now. This FRD Mission doesn't even pretend to replicate the CC/CD Mission. Of 112 participants, 54 are community professionals(12, count 'em, 12 of them from JFNA); Israel is not the destination and only 20% of the total number of federations are participating. (Since the 2007 Prime Minister's Mission, the concept of personal recruitment has been forgotten -- much as Mailboxes now substitute for real fundraising.) One community -- a Large City -- sent three pros, no lay leaders. Others sent Board Chairs and CEOs. 

Look, there are great people, great lay and professional leaders participating, as always. And, it's good that a number of young leaders will be on Mission. (N.B., when UJA had the responsibility for the CC/CD Mission, Young Leadership Cabinet leaders were critical members of our Mission leadership team.)

One had hoped that over the years were the CC/CD Mission to evolve, it would have evolved into something better. But, like JFNA itself, it has evolved into nothingness. Instead of making that great Mission better, more meaningful; it has disappeared.

CC/CD Mission: JFNA in microcosm.


Wednesday, July 4, 2018


At the end of May continuing into early June, that most important daily journal, ejewishphilanthropy, entertained a point-counterpoint, counter-counterpoint, discussion between the CEO of the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, Andrew Rehfeld, and Misha Galperin, once the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and, then, the President of the Jewish Agency for Israel-North America, on the subject of "Who are Federation's Customers.?" 

Allow me to over-simplify: What set off Misha was Rehfeld's conclusion that the community's "customers" are not the donors, seemingly dismissive (though that was not his intent) of the donor community as somehow less important than the community's "clients." 

Much ado about....I know of no successful federation that has ever described its donors, at whatever the giving level, as "customers;" I don't think that his community had ever done so. Rehfeld seemed to so characterize in order to have a false premise on which he built an elaborate response. Those federations -- and they are fewer and fewer as we all know -- which have built successful fundraising efforts year-after-year have never lost sight of the reality that those fundraising successes are based upon reaching out to donors to support the most critical needs of the communal clients --as Misha wrote: "mission-driven but market sensitive;" those communities which have proved unable to articulate their mission, have no or, at best, a shrinking, market.

The St. Louis CEO, coming to federation with a fresh outlook from academia, perhaps has built new success in the St. Louis federation without realizing that he has been doing so based on an old, even retro, methodology and  awareness. His writing suggests that he has happened on a revelation, when, in fact, he has merely discovered the best communal practices and applied those in new and creative ways or in what has already proved successful elsewhere -- it's hard to tell which.

So, yasher koach to these professional leaders for placing old wine in new bottles.


Sunday, July 1, 2018


In a sad, brilliant and illuminating article in the May 21 edition of The New Yorker, reporter Evan Osnos, cites the current Presidential administration as one engaged in the equivalent of a hostile takeover:
"In the anatomy of a hostile takeover and occupation, there are textbook elements -- you decapitate the leadership, you compartmentalize the power centers, you engender fear and suspicion."
In the continuity of JFNA over the close to two decades post-merger, we have every evidence of a hostile takeover gone bad -- not a "takeover" by the old CJF or UJA, but a hostile takeover by those new to and incapable of leading the organization that merged, evolved and failed time and time again.

The indicia of failures need not be repeated in this Post -- I'm as sick of writing about the failures as most of you who regularly read the Blog are tired of reading about them. Instead I wanted to focus today on what JFNA has decided to do about it.

  • JFNA leadership decided to create two task forces -- one of which we've been told will evaluate the work of JFNA - Israel ( a totally unnecessary evaluation, as we have had decade-long failure, bloat and worse to merely publish) and the other to take a fresh look at the United Israel Appeal (I would assume that the creation of this Task Force is another attempt by a leadership so distant from UIA's work, Revenue Rulings, and project ownership, et al., to try to figure out how to collapse this subsidiary company.) Those looking into the work of UIA should understand that it is the one JFNA overseas function actually doing its assigned tasks with excellence thanks entirely to the work of its professionals in Israel.
  • Curiously, Sandler appointed the ever-eager Harold Gernsbacher to Chair both Task Forces -- "curious" because (1) these are not Harold's areas of expertise or experience or knowledge and (2) the Task Forces' work may be in conflict each with the other; and (3) Gernsbacher is the purported chair of the Secure Community Network, an important position.
  • And who will be staffing these Task Forces? Mark Gurvis? Or another senior professional whose JFNA work has been divorced from the organization's connection to Israel, let alone one whose actions may have been antithetical to the organization's expressed support for its beneficiaries and work in Israel?
Then there is the assignment of the Bridgespan consulting firm. If that $450,000 Consultancy excludes the "value proposition" of JFNA-Israel within its charge, then Bridgespan's ultimate work product will have ignored a significant part of JFNA's budget and a significant chapter in its story of failure. If Bridgespan will, as it must in my opinion, include JFNA-Israel within its study parameters, then what is the purpose of the Gernsbacher-led Task Forces?

I'd like to think that somebody at JFNA has been thinking about these things; experience teaches me that no one has.



Thursday, June 28, 2018


A few weeks ago an apparently well-meaning Anonymous correspondent raised questions in response to the JCCA summons to our collective responsibilities -- questions that really depressed me. Here they are:
"What I mean is that Jewish expressions of unity, like Jewish 'collective" giving,' are being done differently. Do you only have to give to a federation to be interested in klal yisrael or Jewish collective giving? Does a federation have to participate in the national funding process to fully express responsibility for all Jews?"
The correspondent is one who, sadly but quite clearly, rejects the core values on which federations have been built; values which are required for their strength. If this person is representative of what passes for federation leadership today, I repeat...oy vey.

Back in the day, the United Jewish Appeal basked in the rreality that, as UJA put it, "No gift touches more lives." UJA's Campaign marketing materials for the federations reflected this -- what was then a reality. JFNA has picked up the mantra but, by inaction, made a mockery of what was once the reality. 

The correspondent above asked essentially, does the federation hold some monopoly on "klal israel or Jewish collective giving?" And, the answer is, must be --  no. There are more and more Jewish charitable vehicles for expressing the solidarity of the Jewish People; fewer are those which are engaged in the collective. If one looks at current communal philanthropic trends, we are seeing far more examples of "bowling alone" than of collective response -- and we have a vehicle -- JFNA -- that should be leading us to greater collective impact but has proved unable or unwilling to do so.

Yet, were JFNA leadership capable of understanding its responsibilities, the so-called "value proposition" that are its building blocks, certainly one would be that our greatest strength is evidenced when the communities come together " fully express responsibility for all Jews" through its collective actions. Absent the collective, my friends, JFNA becomes "just another charity." And so do the federations. 

More and more we have seen community after community decide that the community will go it alone. In Israel the proliferation of "federation offices" has often, but not always, resulted in communities individually funding Israeli NGO's with minimal dollars and even more minimal returns on investment. And, JFNA, with its bloated and ineffective Israel Office, seems  not to understand that one of its functions must be to idntify programs for collective response. This must change.

Even if it is determined, after a 6 month consultant study, that JFNA should be nothing more than CJF with an FRD function, it will fail, as it has failed since the merger, if JFNA, not your author, is unable to respond to our correspondent's questions above. And, that will require a whole new leadership cohort.


Monday, June 25, 2018


"First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
I am certain that we all know the truths uttered by Pastor Martin Niemoller before he was ripped from his Lutheran flock and incarcerated in a Concentration Camp until the Nazis killed him.

Who is there today to speak for the 1,000s of children crying out for their parents from whose arms they were torn -- crying from cages within American Detention Centers -- views from inside these Centers resonate with me as nothing more than cleaner Concentration Camps -- in 2018? Some will say that this horrific anti-American action is "too political" on which to comment; others will argue that this has nothing to do with "us" even as it has everything to do with us, with the values we have claimed as American Jews, most of us the descendants by one generation or more of the "wretched refuse" who made it possible for us, our children and the generations to come to live protected by the very freedoms which are being denied to children, to babies...on our watch. On our watch.

So, what has the organized Jewish community had to say on this anti-American governmental action? Well...
"June 12, 2018

The Honorable Jeff Sessions
Attorney General
U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, DC 20530

The Honorable Kirstjen Nielsen
Secretary of Homeland Security
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Dear Attorney General Sessions and Secretary Nielsen,

On behalf of the 26 undersigned national Jewish organizations and institutions, we write to express our strong opposition to the recently expanded "zero-tolerance" policy that includes separating children from their migrant parents when they cross the border. This policy undermines the values of our nation and jeopardizes the safety and well-being of thousands of people.

As Jews, we understand the plight of being an immigrant fleeing violence and oppression. We believe that the United States is a nation of immigrants and how we treat the stranger reflects on the moral values and ideals of this nation.

Many of these migrant families are seeking asylum in the United States to escape violence in Central America. Taking children away from their families is unconscionable. Such practices inflict unnecessary trauma on parents and children, many of whom have already suffered traumatic experiences. This added trauma negatively impacts physical and mental health, including increasing the risk of early death.

Separating families is a cruel punishment for children and families simply seeking a better life and exacerbates existing challenges in our immigration system. It adds to the backlog of deportation cases and legal challenges in federal courts, places thousands more immigrants in detention facilities and shelters, endangers the lives of more children, and instills additional fear in people seeking safety in our country. In addition, those seeking asylum or other legal protection face numerous obstacles to making a claim, especially from detention. Separating family members at the border would force families into two or more immigration cases instead of a single case for each family, harming their ability to present a successful case.

Our Jewish faith demands of us concern for the stranger in our midst. Our own people's history as "strangers" reminds us of the many struggles faced by immigrants today and compels our commitment to an immigration system in this country that is compassionate and just. We urge you to immediately rescind the "zero tolerance" policy and uphold the values of family unity and justice on which our nation was built.


American Conference of Cantors
American Jewish Committee (AJC)
American Jewish World Service
Anti-Defamation League
B'nai B'rith International
Bend the Arc Jewish Action
Central Conference of American Rabbis
Hadassah, The Women's Zionist Organization of America, Inc.
Jewish Council for Public Affairs
Jewish Labor Committee
Jewish Women International
Men of Reform Judaism
National Association of Jewish Legislators
National Council of Jewish Women
Network of Jewish Human Service Agencies
NFTY - The Reform Jewish Youth Movement
Rabbinical Assembly
Reconstructing Judaism
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
The Workmen's Circle
T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
Union for Reform Judaism
United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
Uri L'Tzedek, The Orthodox Social Justice Movement
Women of Reform Judaism"
This is a statement of our values -- the members of every organization which joined in this Statement have a right to be proud.

In his transmittal of this Statement, Rabbi Alan Silverstein, for the Conservative Movement, emphasized that this Statement "is the collective hope and prayer of virtually the entire organized Jewish community nationwide..." Is it fair to ask where the hell was/is JFNA? How can our -- the federation system's -- vehicle for expressing the sense of the American Jewish communities remain silent when the values we have historically espoused, that are part of our very n'shama, are being violated as children, babies, are being forcibly taken from their parents to be housed in metal cages? 

And, while JFNA remained silent, consistent with past practice may have also preached a message of silence, the President of the Board and the CEO of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, spoke out on our institutional responsibilities at times like these:
"Every day at Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center we teach about the dangers of intolerance and indifference through the lens of the horrific history of World War II and the Holocaust.  Our Museum was founded by Holocaust Survivors who keenly felt the confusion, pain, anxiety, and fear of being separated from their families, a trauma that haunts them even today. 
While the current immigration situation is not comparable to the Holocaust, when we see forcible separation of families at our own nation's border, we must speak out.  America was founded on shared values of democracy, respect for human rights, the importance of family, and compassion.  The separation policy did not reflect these values. Today President Trump responded to public pressure andsigned an executive order to end this troubling policy.
History shows us that when we identify, ostracize, and cast as "other" our fellow human beings, we begin a process of dehumanization. We do not believe we are heading down the road of the atrocities we saw in the 20th century because of the rights we hold dear - free speech, holding officials accountable, and having a system of checks and balances.  We are proud of these structures and institutions and must work to maintain them.  And sometimes this requires speaking out.
 As Rabbi Joachim Prinz said at the March on Washington in 1963, "When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence. A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder. America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent."
Today peoples' voices have been heard.  The pressure of citizen constituents was felt all the way to the oval office.  Going forward, we must continue to be Upstanders and remain diligent in defending our common humanity."
Did JFNA leaders believe that speaking out would violate some unwritten rule that demands our silence in the name of "Jewish unity?" If so, apparently every other national Jewish organization, every religious movement, must have a very different definition of "Jewish unity" than does JFNA as led by Richard Sandler, who has written most recently on this subject of such importance to him. It was Dr. Martin Luther King who once said: "Silence is betrayal." JFNA's silence on this issue was a betrayal -- of our values and this organization's fiduciary obligations.

I don't know about you, but I am sick of the cowardice that underscores our organization's silence. 

At this time, with the sounds of caged infants cries echoing, this is organizational criminal negligence plain and simple.

A brilliant U. S. Senator, herself an immigrant, pointed at those responsible for taking children, babies, from their parents and placing them in cages and said: "they have lost their souls." Have we, by our silence, lost ours?


Friday, June 22, 2018


We recently focused on the need for the best and brightest to step forward and be elected JAFI CEO through the legitimate codified Jewish Agency process in "Leaderless -- A Plea." Today, we will turn our attention to the equally important step in Jewish Agency's "processes" -- the nomination and election of the next Chair of the Jewish Agency Executive.

12 years ago, a group of important Continental leaders led by Past National JFNA Chair, Charles Bronfman, and several prominent lay leaders of JDC (purely a coincidence, I'm certain) attacked UIA (which I chaired at the time) and JFNA for their alleged placing the tax deductability of allocations to JAFI at risk as these leaders claimed the deductions were fatally tainted by JAFI's "politicization." JFNA and UIA vigorously responded and, ultimately, brilliant lawyering by our counsel and staff professionals led by JFNA's then CFO, Sam Astrof, offered convincing arguments that rebutted the philanthropists' allegations. 

I thought of those times as I read the newspaper articles reciting the totally politicized process that will lead inexorably to the Prime Minister naming his choice to the position. There have been moments in the past when the federation system stood tall, rejecting the PM's nominee for another. For example, there was the nomination and election of Avraham Burg -- so enthusiastically endorsed by Brian Lurie, then the CEO of UJA, and most if not all of the Federation chief executives that they even overcame our communal patriarch, Max Fisher's, z'l, initial misgivings (most of which would ultimately prove true). As it turned out, Avrum was about as "political" a Chair as any other, always seemingly calculating whether a given decision would impact on his then political aspirations. 

If there was a question as to whether Diaspora Jewry would stand tall in 2017 -- well, asked...and answered.

Then, in the run-up to the succession process 2018, it was as if the powers that be wanted to confirm Bronfman and his associates' arguments. First, the "lists" emerged. One of those allegedly came from JFNA but appeared to have been drafted by the Office of the Prime Minister. The "names" suggested included politicians who were under investigation in several of the matters that threaten the Prime Minister and, also, some with superb relations to the Diaspora -- most notably, Labor's Boogie Herzog, our great friend, MK Nachman Shai, and Ambassadors Ron Prosor and Michael Oren. But the politicization was clear: Bougie Herzog was publicly "rejected" -- 

Compunding the politicization the Agency named World Zionist Organization Chair, Duvdev
Duvani, one of the most shrewd of political operatives who has steered the WZO
into direct competition with JAFI, as Chair of the Nominating Committee.

Then, BOOM, we received this advisory from the UIA Board Chair, Andy Groveman, on
the very cusp of the JAFI Board of Governors meeting:
 "The Leadership Nominating Committee of the Jewish Agency for Israel will recommend on Sunday to the Jewish Agency Board of Governors the election of MK Isaac Herzog as the next Chairman of the Executive for a term of four years. MK Herzog will assume office no later than August 1, 2018."
Read all about this choice in

Isaac "Bougie" Herzog -- the Prime Minister's choice was rejected -- something that hadn't happened since that Burg episode. An excellent choice; a good man. 

I offer congratulations to JAFI Board Chair Michael Siegal and forgive my well-earned cynicism. is Israel after all. Things can change by the hour. I, like you, will soon learn where this is will end. Will JAFI emerge with strong,
 new leadership -- or will it emerge "leaderless?" 

And will this decision make a difference?