Friday, July 3, 2015

HEAR NO EVIL, SEE NO EVIL, SPEAK NO EVIL

A friend sent me the Better Business Bureau's criteria that organization applies in judging business performance. Here are some extremely relevant to JFNA and among the missing there:

  • "A board of directors that provides adequate oversight of the charity's operations and its staff. Indication of adequate oversight includes, but is not limited to, regularly scheduled appraisals of the CEO's performance...board approval of the budget, fund raising practices;
  • "Effectiveness Policy -- Have a board policy of assessing, no less than every 2 years, the organization's performance and effectiveness and determining future actions required to achieve its mission.
  • "Effectiveness Report -- Submit to the organization's governing body, for its approval, a written report that outlines the results of the aforementioned performance and effectiveness assessment and recommendations for future actions"
At JFNA all of the appropriate structures are in place -- Ethics and Conflict of Interest policies (I drafted them pro bono many years ago), an Audit Committee chaired by lay leaders with expertise, and, at the outset, a governance intended to monitor operations and staff under the leadership of the Chair of the Executive, ignored from Day 1. But "structures" as we have come to learn do not assure performance. Based on the three BBB criteria above, standing alone, JFNA would fail to meet any objective review of JFNA performance against these Standards.

We used to insist on organizational exceptionalism -- that day has long since past. When JFNA promotes to its ultimate lay leadership position another  exceptional individual -- but one who emerges from a community whose federation allocates , according to the last available JFNA data (2013), 10.4% from its annual campaign to the core budgets of JA/JDC/ORT, what can JFNA's chief volunteer officer say to inspire higher levels of allocations? And when JFNA hires as its chief professional officer one who has no understanding of the federation system he is to lead, and, then, over 5 years, can't seem to even learn it, doesn't that reflect the umbrella organization's actual disdain for the system and the Movement themselves? 

Leaders have just sat on the sidelines while the current administration has gone from the tragicomedy of multiple TribeFests and the Global Planning Table to the futility of FedWorld and demanded nothing in return for the Dues our communities pay -- Dues that will now reflect a $700,000 increase in the 2015-2016 Dues Budget, such as it is; Dues in the aggregate of $800,000,000 over the "life," if one can call it that, of JFNA.

The JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet, which from its onset into the merger, is now a shadow of itself, abandoning the requirement of capacity giving that was expected of us back then to a first year "minimum gift" of $1800. I had to laugh when I heard a YLC Co-Chair suggest that Cabinet members be invited to our communities to lead solicitations -- yes, by all means, send us a couple of $1800 contributors. And, now its leaders are engaged in planning a "Tel Aviv 2" apparently with no understanding that this was attempted and dropped over a decade ago. No doubt Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, is looking down upon us in tears. 

But the YLC is merely evidentiary of JFNA leadership's walk back from its core purposes (which are mandated to include fund raising leadership) as it becomes no more that a bad planning operation and a responsible funnel for whatever funds are raised in our communities without JFNA leadership or participation. There is so much self-congratulation going on at 25 Broadway that there seems to be no room for real self-awareness or self-examination -- perquisites to real evaluation. When everyone at JFNA is telling each other and themselves that "we're doing great" when any objective evaluation would respond "you're failing everywhere," there is no chance for transformational change -- none.

And what about advocacy on the seminal crisis that Israel has identified for us and for the Western World -- the nuclear bomb that Iran is determined to build in pursuit of its declared policy to destroy Israel. As the Obama Administration backs off again and again from the President's own "red lines" in pursuit of any deal, have you heard a peep from 25 Broadway, or from Cleveland or Chicago or wherever JFNA's decisions are made? Of course not. This institutional silence is but further evidence of this organization's lack of purpose and will. It refuses to speak for us -- it leaves that role and so many more, to others.

When I began to kvetch about the abandonment of purpose that I observed only three years (and, maybe, earlier) post-Merger, one of my partners in that Merger process offered me a calming perspective. He said: "Richard, this effort is not a sprint, it's a marathon." And, now? Even that partner has agreed that for the past decade we have seen a disaster of epic proportions arise from the joke that JFNA has been allowed to become. Even those with blind faith would agree that by any standard -- the Better Business Bureau's or the subjective measure of any of us -- we have permitted JFNA to abandon all communal principles. We have evolved into an organization that can speak of "collective responsibility" constantly, demonstrate none in practice and not even understand the meaning of the term.

To date, changes in lay leadership have effected no changes whatsoever in JFNA practices or policies. On and on JFNA spins toward the drain.

As Jon Stewart has said: "Learning curves are for pussies." These tools have learned absolutely nothing.

Rwexler





Saturday, June 27, 2015

STARTING OVER

We have chronicled on these pages the daily, weekly, monthly, annual JFNA follies; the reality that after more than a decade and one-half we have almost nothing to show for an expenditure of close to $800,000,000 of our donors', our communities' precious funds. It's a disgrace. I have wasted my time and yours not only chronicling the circus but urging, demanding that those who have been elected as JFNA's leaders effect the changes necessary to make of the futile JFNA a functioning organization. That hasn't worked. It is long past time to start over.

One of you, an insightful communal leader, recently wrote to us:
"To me there appears to be an interesting and seriously unfortunate result from the lack of JFNA advocacy and support of Israel. The observation is not based on research, only intuition. Because JFNA does not advocate for Israel, federations either aren't pushing overseas to their donors or can't as easily go to their donors and ask for increased donations because of the overseas needs. The result seems to be a very large decline in numbers of donors yet campaigns are about the same in total, hovering around $900 mil or so. Yes, this may be a decline from historic highs, but it certainly is not the 50%-60% reduction that is the decline in numbers of doors. Probably this is due to the old time donors who understood the importance of overseas partners and the critical nature of their work continuing to give and to give more than ever before per capita. At the same time we observe what appears to be a drastic rise in dollars raised and numbers of donors to other Israeli organizations, including hospitals, universities, and other worthy charities. One can only assume that these organizations have stepped into the cracks and captured disenfranchised donors to federations thanks to JFNA."

And, then, another Commentator:
" I believe this is exactly the discussion that needs to happen and I applaud the respondents for their thoughtfulness in reply. The basic questions begging debate and conversation are in my mind: What is and should be the Israel agenda of Federations and is it donor and market sustainable? How should we define our philanthropic relationship to other diaspora communities? Locally, have we met our responsibilities in giving our local communities the best modern day infrastructure of caring and inclusive services they deserve? Do we populate our boards and staff our efforts with people who are motivated by these concerns and have understanding of and empathy for the populations we claim to serve?" 
And this is but one symptom of the cancer that has metastasized within JFNA, an organization created and historically, until the last ten years, committed to "more dollars and more donors."

And, from another of you:
"Facing a basic truth: The glue that held the Federation movement together was oversea, mostly Israel centered, needs and the needs of Jews in distress wherever they may be. Continuity programs might resonate with social engineering foundations but are not considered "tzedakah" by the average Jew. Day Schools have been a failure in terms of non-orthodox market and are dubious financial risks for parents and supporters. The tragedy is that the Israel agenda to address social gaps has yet to be addressed and human services at home are step children of our allocations processes. A return to basics with some 21st century upgrades is the path not yet taken."
And, even a thoughtful contrarian view of our system:
"Thoughtful question and thoughtful and impassioned suggestionI have a different take. Not saying it's right or even what I'd like to see happen.

It's time to understand and accept that the federation system isn't needed any more, at least not at the same scale as it's been. Thankfully, we don't face the same problems and challenges as we did decades ago, and the challenges that exist are nowhere near as compelling or unifying (to say nothing of our total freedom to connect, live, join, marry, donate, learn, work anywhere and anyone we want). 

Yes we have slogans like "better together," "the strength of a people, the power of a community" etc, but to the degree these are even compelling concepts to many people, folks are finding these slogans come alive for them through other mechanisms (organizations, causes, etc). We assume that these slogans mean one thing: Federation.

It's easy to find a cause you like and donate to it -- in fact just about every federation beneficiary, local or overseas, is doing just that and so obviously are many donors.

The continuity agenda, as mentioned by a prior commentator, is not compelling to many as tzedakah. It seems to be the province of the wealthy and foundation types (sometimes one and the same), rabbis and federation types-- this isn't a criticism.  

For many, social gaps in Israel are more or less compelling than social gaps in the U.S. If you're into Israel maybe more so. If you're not, then less so. For many, it's the job of the government to address these gaps-- we all know that charity alone can't come close to solving them. Gone are the days of tiny, struggling Israel looking to erect tent cities for new immigrants etc.

If federations indeed reflect what "the community" wants (and I'm not sure who/what "the community" means today -- seems largely self proclaimed), then we'd best decide what that is and go do it. That means making decisions and executing. Demonstrating impact that is directly attributable to federation and/or partnerships that enable federations to demonstrate its distinct and compelling value added.

I'm sure there's more than one "right" approach. It's time to pick one and do it. Let's be realistic about it's market potential and scope. Trying to recapture the past because we remember the glory is a mirage."
To this writer, it's time to debate and discuss the "'right' approach." Yet, we lack the venue to do so. That venue should be found at 25 Broadway but its leaders are so fearful of just the kind of open discussion that the Comments above represent.

And, JFNA does nothing and appears to be unable to do anything to meet the basic needs of our federations and those of our People most in need. Again and again and again, JFNA has failed us. One "special initiative" after another -- failed; one "special ask" after another -- failed. Now, an operational "Education Unit" arises in the ashes of a JFNA that has no ability to "operate" it. To induce a well-meaning leader to take on the moribund role of National Campaign Chair, that leader's personal "Business Plan" for Campaign (which is based as much on hope and guesswork as anything else) appears to have been inserted in haec verba into the 2015-2016 JFNA Budget  doubling the budget for Major Gifts to over $7 million without a prayer of achieving the modest "goals" JFNA has set for itself absent a significant and experienced FRD staff, something JFNA is totally lacking. 

So where is the debate that these Commentators -- you -- and I believe must take place going to take place? JFNA appears unwilling to convene any real, open debate -- part of the reason clearly anchored in the core belief of a number of the LCE that the only great ideas are the ones hatched by them; all other ideas end up either suppressed or "we'll look into that" (and then suppressed). Suppressed unless, as we have pointed out on these pages, lay leaders are able to convince their professional partners that these ideas are really those of the professionals -- not an easy task. Had the Global Planning Table actually dedicated itself to the debate of ideas rather than the dictation of outcomes, that could have been the place, but that was never its leaders' intent. Were CEO "I-Can't-Formulate-A-Decent-Idea" a leader worthy of his compensation, he could push the organization toward meaningful debate -- but he isn't and can't.

I am guessing but I sense that some of this debate has been framed by Federation CEOs on their annual Retreats, in their "chat rooms" and at their meetings. Then...nothing further. But, one can dream -- dream that Eric Goldstein, the current President and CEO at the New York UJA-Federation, coming from the lay ranks where he was a major donor, may actually take a look behind the black curtain and discover that there is no "wizard" back there...just Jerry. And, then do something about it.

So...where? When? Can Richard Sandler, Jay Sanderson and Eric Goldstein lead us to do what needs to be done, leading the federations in the reformation, refocus and restructuring of JFNA; something we had hoped Michael Siegal would have proved capable of -- until Michael decided he would preside over three years of further back-sliding and deconstruction? 

We'll know soon enough.

Rwexler






Wednesday, June 24, 2015

MORE UPDATES

1. Maybe I missed it. JFNA sent a leadership group on a Solidarity (or maybe it was just "fact-finding") Mission to the Ukraine staying (as JFNA put it on its recruiting link on its website) "near" the on-going hostilities "but not in them." Did you see the self-promotional videos as were produced on the recent one-time and no more "Solidarity Mission" to Paris or the daily bulletins? Did JFNA send a videographer with the Mission as they had done in Paris? Uh uh. JFNA just treated its Mission to the Ukraine as it had treated fund raising for our partners' vital work on the ground in the Ukraine -- as an afterthought of no real importance. If you merely compare the number of pleas for assistance for those in need in Nepal with those for those Jews in need in the Ukraine, that says all about JFNA neglect and lack of purpose. 

When I listened to the report at the recent JFNA Board meeting on the allocations to the JDC and JAFI for their urgent work in Ukraine -- $4.3 million (with another $700,000 "in the pipeline payable over [I think I heard this right] three years!!!") I felt only a sense of shame while JFNA leaders felt like this was "a job well done." Then, the editors of FedWorld -- with no apparent sense of irony - link to a Jerusalem Post article about a "U.S. Jewish aid group calls for more aid for Ukraine refugees" (that's the JDC) while JFNA does nothing.

My skin crawls.

2. Houston. We all are pleased that JFNA granted $250,000 from its Emergency Fund for Houston's Fund Relief effort -- this on top of the initial $25,000 grant. Certainly millions are and will be needed of which $275,000 is but a trickle, but it is the "trickle," at least as I understand it, that the Houston Federation requested from JFNA. In addition, contributions to the Houston Relief Fund at the Houston Federation have been generous but more, so much more, are needed. If you have not done so, please..www.houstonjewish.org/houstonflood

There is approximately $1.655 in the JFNA Emergency Fund after the distributions to Houston. This Fund, created by federation contributions, is dedicated to a specific purpose -- it is the ultimate "rainy day fund." If Houston requires more than the funds heretofore granted from the JFNA Emergency Fund, send it to the community. And do it now -- before someone decides those Funds should be diverted to a Negev Vitality Initiative or the JFNA Budget or a bonus for CEO Jerry.

3. Do These Clowns Do Anything? Or -- "you won't read about this in FedWorld." As reported in ejewishphilanthropy:
"BBYO, Hillel International and Moishe House are teaming up in launching a unique, pioneering global partnership to recruit, train and retain top professionals throughout their organizations. Called the Talent Alliance, this novel collaboration will link 780 Jewish communal professionals in 37 countries together in a global ecosystem designed to promote rising stars in these Jewish nonprofits."
Got that? BBYO, Hillel International and Moishe House are engaged in what should be, used to be, once was the work of the federations' national (now continental) organization. Friends, it's reached beyond the status of farce, beyond the state of tragedy into the state of the surreal. Beyond the Washington Office (which continues to produce incredible results for our system), these people are doing nothing, accomplishing nothing for our donors or our communities.

Let's just hand them Dues and more Dues and close our eyes to the reality of a do nothing organization wasting our precious funds. That's us.

4. Which Is Most Feckless Now? So I spoke too soon. I condemned the New York Knicks as the most feckless organization of all a few weeks ago for hiring Isaiah Thomas, found liable for sexual harassment in his previous role with the organization, as President of the New York Liberty, the Knicks'-owned team in the Women's NBA. Then, just this week, the Knicks' management suspended Thomas's hiring. This leaves...trumpets, please...JFNA once again the most feckless -- yes, the fecklessest -- organization in the world.

5. Do These Clowns Do Anything?...continued. Here's the kind of narishkeit you will find in a typical edition of FedWorld (which, as it turns out, not surprisingly as so little to do with what federations do):

Fed News

FEDERATIONS/PHILANTHROPY
A new study finds that wealthy donors have given more than $4 billion to nonprofit organizations so far in 2015, a $700 million increase from the first five months of 2014. Actor Michael Douglas arrives in Israel to accept the Genesis Prize honoring his work in the Jewish community.
Meanwhile, Federations are featured in New York, Orlando, Orange County and Birmingham.
GLOBAL JEWISH NEWS
25 years after the renewal of diplomatic relations between Poland and Israel, the country’s Jewish community is thriving. Canadian Jewish community leaders and a group of Holocaust survivors meet with representatives from Eastern European countries to discuss restitution of war-era property. George Galloway, the former British MK who declared his town an “Israel-free zone,” announces he will run for mayor of London.
I am not sure, being an "avid" reader of this thing, that the anonymous authors even know what federations do. A link to a JFNA fav -- Birmingham's long-time CEO, Richard Friedman -- in an op-ed tribute to Birmingham's young staffers by their boss, is great...but certainly isn't enough. FedWorld is another JFNA in microcosm -- irrelevant, without apparent purpose (other than to promote JFNA, the brand), and worthless.

A correspondent recently suggested: 
"Richard you should look at the powerful work the NY and LA Feds are doing in Israel to help heal the people independent of JFNA."

Of course that's exactly what FedWorld should be doing -- telling us what the Federations are doing.
Our JFNA, wasting your money on itself.


Rwexler

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A PLEA

A wonderful professional and I exchanged correspondence in which I told him that JFNA reminded me of the years in which I had a badly damaged knee, rubbing bone on bone. I described how I would wake every morning hoping that the pain would be gone. It never was -- until I had my knee replaced. I am certain that we need a major replacement at JFNA to ease that pain as well.

A terrific leader, who branched out into the publishing business before he passed away so recently, was extremely gracious taking the time to review the manuscript for a book I was hoping he would agree to publish. My book -- Judgment Fled: The Musings of a Wandering Jew -- is a collection of short, I had hoped funny fables and embellishments, most written as I sat at meetings of Jewish organizations across the globe. As my friend told me: "very funny, very Jewish, but way too 'inside the Beltway,'" as it were.

So, I am returning to the drafting table. There will still be some fables mixed in, but the focus of this attempt will be to find expression of my encounters with Israel and the Jewish People over the past 45 years -- some of the drama, the great joy and the great reward of often being part of Modern Jewish History, often being an observer, Zelig-like, of many of the great events in the Modern History of our People up close.

So as to find the time for this very personal effort, I wish, as do many of you, to finally put an end to the Blog. I still await the glorious day when I will do so even as I have desperately wanted to do so ever since I wrote the first of these now 1300+ Posts in despair, from the beginning right through today, at the escalating collapse of not just our national organization but of so many of the federations which own it. I have, with my normal impatience and cynicism, waited since Post 1 through this Post for the best lay and professional leaders to stand up and shout, as Charles Bronfman once shouted at me, "enough, enough of this." But all I have heard has been friends and even strangers telling me "...enough. Stop the Blog. It has done no good." Yada Yada Yada. Opposition to the mediocrity and worse that I believe that we have surrounded ourselves, calling it "good," against all evidence to the contrary has truly confused and pained me 24/7. My opposition to the peeling away of our history, hopes and dreams by the incompetence of the leaders, lay and professional, over the past decade has been deemed contemptible often even by leaders I have loved and respected -- yes, they, too, though unnamed, know exactly whom they are.

But I would just ask that you, my readers, federation leaders, Cabinet Members, Women's Philanthropy leaders, JFNA Board members, Federation CEOs and professionals who read this/these Post/s to just think what a difference JFNA could have made in the lives of those of our People most in need wherever they may live with the almost $650,000,000 that have flowed through the institution's fingers over the sad lifetime of JFNA in "Dues without the expectation of Return." If the reality of the waste that we have permitted to take place at our continental organization isn't enough for leaders around the country to scream "enough, no more," than nothing ever will be. Just ask yourselves the simple question: what has been the "value-added" of JFNA to our federations, our donors?

There has been a need for positive lay leader intervention at JFNA for almost 10 years. We have witnessed over that span two Board Chairs from small communities (nothing wrong with that) and another with no leadership background in our continental system; sadly, none of whom appeared to understand or care or wish to learn about the federations themselves -- not about their needs, not about their wants. They did care about JFNA -- and about empowering JFNA -- but not knowing how to do so, they tried to do so at the expense of the federations and the system's partners. When they spoke of "our team," it was about them, and only them. 

Then Board Chair Manning engineered the hiring of Jerry Silverman, whose major qualifying criterion for CEO (other than "what an interview?) apparently was that he knew less about the federations than she. And, looking back, if Manning's sole accomplishment was hiring CEO Jerry, what has been Jerry's seminal accomplishment...being hired? 

The fiasco, the Fugazi, that is JFNA, to me is and has been a very personal challenge -- as I feel it should be to all of us. I am reminded of the late, esteemed Dean Smith, not alone one of the greatest Coaches but, as well, an incredible leader in all areas, a teacher, a civil rights pioneer, who said: "There is a point in every contest when sitting on the sidelines is not an option." Yet, women and men who have led and do lead their federations to glory seem to view their positions at JFNA as some sort of honorarium, thereby leaving the work of leading JFNA to and through change to others while closing their eyes to the continuing collapse of the very organization that needs their demand for change so desperately.

Reading about solutions to the cancer that has invaded and destroyed the body of FIFA -- soccer's governing body -- one expert wrote: "Top-down change is needed to reform a broken system." Friends, our system is broken; its leaders are like alcoholics who refuse to acknowledge that they are addicted -- until they do so, there is no hope for change. So everyone evades responsibility and the sense is that "all is well." Anyone believing that to be the case is, quite frankly, delusional. I do not believe that Richard Sandler is delusional.

Want the Blog to stop? Then do something. Finally, please, do something.

Rwexler

Thursday, June 18, 2015

A MASSIVE BREACH OF TRUST...

I have been frustrated and terribly disappointed with JFNA as every reader knows, but rarely have I been as angry as I find myself today with the shocking indifference to fiduciary responsibility that an organization created with our blood, sweat and tears has shown to those of our People who need our help.

While JFNA convinced a small group of lay and professional leaders to transfer at least $2.5 million from those most in need --the Victims of Terror for whom the funds and the assistance the funds represented -- to an unspecified and unrelated project in the Negev which JFNA would run and control, Jerusalem Online reported (http://m.jerusalemonline.com/docs?rid=14012) the shameful reality:
"One year after Operation Protective Edge and just as the rocket fire begins again in Southern Israel; the Ministry of Education announced the cancellation of emotional support for children living in communities near the Gaza Strip, due to a lack of funding. 
 In Southern Israeli communities in general and in particular in those surrounding  Gaza, many children are experiencing anxiety and post-traumatic stress as a result of the tense security situation in recent years. In the past few weeks, sirens have begun to sound again in the area as rockets were fired from Gaza.  In some cases, rockets exploded in Israeli territory but no casualties or damage was reported."
And more:
"Educational psychological service personnel in the Southern Israeli communities received a surprising letter from the Ministry of Education today, which stated: 'We are aware of the difficulty in terms of the timing of this request […] We ask that the therapists consider the means of separation from the children and the parents under the existing circumstances.'”

Could those who recommended to the select few at JFNA that funds that could have helped in such important ways the Israeli children traumatized by terror and war not have known how much these funds were/are needed for their intended purposes? Of course they knew...but no one...no one...asked and these "leaders" felt no need to tell. That's incredible duplicity.

So, here is the result of this heartless, cruel and tragic decision -- the cries of children and their parents for whom our donors pledged "we will help you in your hour of need as we always have" were ignored so that JFNA could transfer those Terror Relief funds to itself to fund something undefined in the Negev for which JFNA raised no money. Never could...never did...didn't even try. This was the most callous disregard of those of our People most in need that I have ever seen in my over 40 years of experience. And JFNA did this in secret...as if no one would ever know.

One knowledgeable Commentator wrote of her/his own shame and anger:
"* the secrecy is because they should be ashamed, although they aren't - just afraid that
there may be some intelligent people out there who care and might "make trouble"
* the partners were, of course, consulted - then pretty much ignored
(what do they know about Israel? we are the experts on that, aren't we?)
* of course it should be have been suspect but the I and O (Israel and Overseas) staff did a great job of selling
their "professional" recommendations to the unsuspecting chairs and committee
DOES ANYONE CARE?
DOES ANYONE CARE ENOUGH?...""
When I first wrote about this...this...this thing, I called it "theft." I don't have another word for it. This is an act of total irresponsibility; it it totally unworthy of any organization, let alone ours. It was an indefensible act that has been defended by otherwise responsible people -- why, I don't know; no one knows. We have, by a secret vote, by a secret group, deprived our (for we claimed responsibility when we raised funds for the Victim of Terror Fund) children, our extended mishpacha, of the very relief intended to be provided by the funds we raised. How can those claiming the mantle of our leadership be complicit in this massive breach of trust?

No one can claim to be "unsuspecting" any more. Either overturn this terrible breach and help our children or all of you resign...NOW. RIGHT NOW.

Rwexler





Monday, June 15, 2015

CATCHING UP

1.  The Incredible World of FedWorld. One astute observer of the world of JFNA wrote me:
"Take a look at a FedWorld email.  Do you see any way to sign up?  Or share information?  There are links to Facebook and Twitter, but those just go to the JFNA FB and Twitter pages (as they did on the Daily Media Report this "replaces"); there’s no capability to share these.  There’s also an email link that goes to the JFNA professional in charge of this.  You can forward it manually, but if someone gets a forwarded copy they still have to email someone to get on the list.  So apparently the desire to control who sees what and where overrode the ability to spread this thing virally—which I’m sure their provider knows how to do since it’s their business.  Birmingham, on the other hand, encourages readers to forward, subscribe, and share on social media.  As do JDC, NCSEJ, etc., etc.

So much for promoting Federations.  Or Federations’ fundraising.  Once again, they’re promoting JFNA to the Federations.  As if the content weren’t proof enough."
We now live in the virtual world of the know-nothings, wasting valuable time because they have nothing else to offer. And, we learned that JFNA is paying a vendor for this thing's meager distribution which may be a good idea given JFNA's lack of any apparent ability to do so -- but, that cost would not be necessary but for the actual existence of FedWorld. And, maybe that's just as well because the broader the circulation the more folks will know how much their precious funds are being dripped down the drain that is JFNA.

2. The IAN. We wrote recently of the work in Illinois and Tennessee in, respectively, statewide legislation and a legislative resolution combatting the pro-BDS attacks on Israel. I have learned that the Israel Action Network, the system's agent, played a significant role in both of those efforts and has more far-reaching legislative actions on its agenda on our behalf. Kal Ha'Kavod.

3. Lost and Found Division...Deborah K. Smith. Yes, Deborah Smith -- mystery consultant (at her compensation, one assumes [but does not know] that Deborah is full-time and, therefore, should be treated as an employee with full benefits or JFNA risks penalties), whether engaged in employment consulting or "Donor Management" (depending on which JFNA document you read at what time), unknown by face to so many of those at 25 Broadway -- has been found. From time-to-time she has been seen in Rochester, NY (!!) leading that community's search for a successor to Larry Fine who is retiring as CEO after decades of illustrious community-building and federation leadership. Apparently Ms. Smith once toiled in the vineyards of Rochester, teaching or otherwise, so she took advantage of the opportunity to reconnect with old friends and lead the focus groups, etc. of the Search process. How do I know this? My sister is a Past President of the Rochester federation and of its CRC; she remains very engaged with the community. She recently participated in one of Deborah K. Smith's focus groups; and, at a focus group later that day, one of my sister's friends asked, I think less than innocently, whether Deborah knew that "Roberta is Richard Wexler's brother?" As described to my sister, "Deborah visibly blanched, swallowed hard and proceeded." P.S. I understand she is doing an excellent job -- so scratch Deborah K. Smith off the missing persons list.

4. The "50 Most Influential Jews." Late last month, The Jerusalem Post published its annual "List."http://live.jpost.com/Israel-News/50-most-influential-Jews-403742?utm_source=Newsletter+subscribers&utm_campaign=a037962c9b-Daily_Briefing_5_25_2015&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_2dce5bc6f8-a037962c9b-25342605 I found the List most interesting not for whom was on it -- it is an excellent List but for David Blatt, Coach of the NBA Cleveland Cavaliers (all of us know that that team's Coach is Lebron James)-- but for those not named. For there was no one from the Federation system and, further, no one from JFNA.

Out in LA, the relative importance of JFNA was highlighted in the Jewish Journal announcement of Richard Sandler's nomination as JFNA Chair-Designate when it placed that tidbit far beneath a story highlighted by a photo that included a Sophie Tucker impersonator.

5. That $6.1 Million. You won't recall -- but I do. On May 6, one and 1/2 months ago, the Board Chair directed Jerry Silverman, in writing, to send me, as an Honorary JFNA Board Member,  the breakdown in the allocation of $6.1 million from the Terror Relief Fund created from donations during Operation Protective Edge. (Guess no one else asked for it.)  I had received nothing...zip...nada...until a second letter to Siegal on June 9. The fact that the Board Chair had to ask CEO "I-Can't-Be-Bothered" a second time is more than disturbing but it achieved results...of a sort. I received the breakdown with an admonition that it was sent to me "in confidence." I will respect the demand for "confidentiality" without understanding it -- an action by a JFNA Committee allocating $6.1 million is some sort of secret??!! (I can tell you that after reading the "Emergency Allocation Resolution" [quelle hyperbole!!], I can understand the demand.) 

6. Worse and Worse. . A Friend of the Blog added another sad void being filled by others to the growing list. As ejewishphilanthropy reported:
"BBYO, Hillel International and Moishe House are teaming up in launching a unique, pioneering global partnership to recruit, train and retain top professionals throughout their organizations. Called the Talent Alliance, this novel collaboration will link 780 Jewish communal professionals in 37 countries together in a global ecosystem designed to promote rising stars in these Jewish nonprofits."
No one at JFNA seems to understand or care. And, where is the voice of the Federation professional on this one? Just too busy as the system collapses around them.

7. Finally...at the very end of last month the New York Post reported that New York's Central Synagogue suffered a "bed bug infestation." (The Synagogue follow-up was reported in Tablet Magazine as finding but a single bug. [I never heard that bed bugs traveled alone]) I immediately thought this could only have occurred at JFNA's 25 Broadway where so many appear, given the work product, to be "asleep at the switch."

I would venture the opinion that thanks to the absence of any leadership at JFNA, our system is somewhere on a continuum from mediocrity to irrelevancy -- everywhere. It need not be this way; it just is.

Rwexler

Friday, June 12, 2015

HERE WE GO AGAIN

One of the worst characteristics of a JFNA full of them over the past decade (and longer) has been the failure or, maybe, the refusal to prioritize the countless and growing "asks" of the Jewish federations across the Continent. Were I a federation CEO I would start a pile of all of the requests from JFNA for funding, with Dues at the top (or bottom, your choice) and then watch as the pile just grows and grows and grows with one more "ask" after another after another. 

I wrote about the clueless requests for funds six years ago -- since then the pile would probably reach from desk top to ceiling. You might also ask of CEO Jerry: rank these requests for funds for me, please -- and, no doubt, after you would hear "Well, there's JFNA Dues" you would then hear "Let me get back to you on that"...or "Huh?" They don't have a clue.

Right off the top of my head, the "asks" are out on:

  • Dues
  • Core Allocations
  • Nepal
  • Ukraine
  • France
  • Nepal
  • Nepal
  • Nepal
  • Strategic Initiatives
  • Select Core Priorities
  • Israel Action Network
  • Secure Communities Network
  • And, I am pretty certain many of you know of far more than these...
Friends, as we have learned, where there are no priorities, everything is a priority which means that nothing is. Read the JFNA Budget and the lack of any priority is self-evident. Perhaps that is why, among other things, there were 89 votes (and maybe more) against the 2015-2016 Budget in JFNA's Delegate Assembly last week after unanimous approval by the rubber stamps of the Budget and Finance and Executive Committees, an unheard of "nay" vote.

And, then, there is this...

On May 7, Jerry "I'll-Ask-The-Federations-to-Fund-This" sent a Memo to his colleagues: "Background Information on Federation-supported efforts on behalf of Ethiopian Israelis."  Building on the violent protests that erupted among members of the Israeli Ethiopian community the previous weekend, the relatively accurate document ends with the suggestion that it is once again time to "Complete the Journey." OMG!! 

Some history is in order. Some of you young'ns probably don't remember the long forgotten dismal failure that was the "ONAD Process." (Just writing those two words  brings a bit of vomit to the back of my throat...but, never mind.) Well, back in Year 2 of ONAD that Committee made a simple request of the federations -- maintain your core allocation and provide an additional 5% to assist the Israeli Ethiopian community through the Ethiopian National Project -- essentially a joint venture among the Ethiopian communal leadership, the JDC, JAFI and the Federations. The federation response? Chicago and Houston...2 of 155 or so federations... responded with the requested increased funds. (Now, there's no reason CEO Jerry would know that as he likes to pretend there was no organizational history before he was hired; at least he is unaware of any.) 

That was bad enough, but then, during the Rieger regime, you may remember, CEO Howard sent an impassioned plea to the federations demanding that we immediately fund the amounts required to bring Ethiopian Jewry to Israel -- it was and is our obligation and, if we didn't do so, then we had "failed in our responsibilities," Howard wrote. He expected checks to role in -- they didn't. And, finally, under the Jerry Regime we were told that it was our obligation to "Complete the Journey" for which the federations' share would total, first, $5 million, then reduced to $3 million and, final reduction, about $1.5 million, leaving JAFI and the Joint holding the bag. This whole sordid history ought to be directly in front of us if once again JFNA adds "Complete the Journey...Again" to its ever-expanding "list of asks."

Meanwhile, JFNA transfers steals $2.1 million to its own Negev Hub from the funds raised for Terror Relief while every analyst believes another Terrorists War on Israel appears imminent -- see, e.g., http://www.investigativeproject.org/4855/hamas-using-truce-to-prepare-for-next-clash-with.

What did Santayana tell us, again, about repeating mistakes?

Rwexler

ON A CRITICAL NOTE, PLEASE REMEMBER TO MAKE A DONATION TO ASSIST THE HOUSTON JEWISH FEDERATION IN MEETING THE CRITICAL NEEDS CREATED BY THE HORRIFIC FLOODING THAT HAS IMPACTED ON THE HOUSTON JEWISH COMMUNITY. LINK TO www.houstonjewish.org/houstonflood

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

THE HOUSTON FLOODS -- JFNA FUTILITY IN MICROCOSM

You belong to a federated community that has paid millions in Dues to JFNA since the merger that created it. You confront a disaster -- heretofore unheard of communal flooding that has impacted the Jewish community, its neighborhoods, synagogues and institutions in unheard of ways. You see that JFNA has opened a Mailbox only weeks before for relief after the tragic overwhelming earthquake(s) in Nepal and had once offered professional leadership after the Katrina disaster struck New Orleans in 2005.

So what did Houston and JFNA do after the floods? Some history is in order:

  1. Hurricane Katrina brought out some of the best in JFNA (and some of the worst -- even though JFNA senior professionals on the scene received  Rabbinic clearance to deliver a Torah to the community on Shabbat the then JFNA CEO threatened the firing of any JFNA professional who did so based upon what he claimed was the advice from his personal Rabbi) -- senior professional leaders on the ground like Gail Hyman and Howard Feinberg worked in partnership with a local community under siege. By 2008, both Hyman and Feinberg had left JFNA.
  2. Working with her lay leadership, Board Chair Kathy Manning, but without the requisite staff, pushed her Executive Committee to a significant emergency grant in response to the 2008 Hurricane Ike which struck Houston and other Texas communities full force.
  3. Fast forward to May 2015. The torrential rains produced epic flooding in Houston (and Dallas and elsewhere in Texas). JFNA responded, to its credit, immediately, with a $25,000 allocation advocated not by the Chair of the Executive as in 2008 but by CEO Jerry "How-Did-I-Come-Up-With-This-Number?" who may or may not have advised the Executive Committee after the fact. $25,000 represented a fraction of the need in Houston.
  4. There are no longer senior JFNA professionals competent to partner with a federation in the midst of a disaster unlike the case in 2005. They can collect the facts and express concern but JFNA no longer has the capacity to even pretend to act as the epicenter of overall Jewish community emergency response as might have once been the goal. But, then again, the JFNA of 2015 is no longer anything more than a trade association masquerading as the central address of Continental Jewish communal life (gets you an invite to the White House though).
  5. And, so...
              ~ Houston opened its own Emergency Fund "publicized" as it were 
                 in FedWorld by JFNA; and
              ~ The Houston Federation reached out and brought Howard Feinberg
                 in to work with its local leadership in meeting the needs created by
                 this crisis -- yes, the senior professional that JFNA no longer "needs"      
              ~ Howard took a brief leave from his important work for WorldORT to 
                 assist Houston.

Best I can tell, JFNA -- an organization that fails us at every turn -- did so again. At its Board meeting, JFNA heard an excellent report about what the Houston Federation did and is doing -- JFNA did send that $25,000 (that's your money) and was thanked profusely by Houston's Board Chair -- the federation "system" had "raised" $75,000 as at June 1 as individual federations committed dollars directly to the Houston Federation Fund.

Please contribute to assist the Houston Federation at www.houstonjewish.org/houstonflood

Rwexler          


Saturday, June 6, 2015

INTO THE VOID

1. There are those who have articulated the belief that if the federations don't hold a GA each and every year, "...some other organization will step into the void" and literally snatch the GA away. Of course the last time I heard that rationale for an annual assembly, the General Assembly was attracting a real 2500 paid registrants as opposed to the fictional "3,000" claimed every recent year rather than the 700 or so in actuality. (Further, there are already other organizations -- e.g., JNF -- holding annual conclaves that are eating JFNA's lunch.) I was always cynical about this argument but another void seems to make the point for those who demand the annual GA.

I am talking about the year-in year-out joy-filled celebrations of Israel Independence Day. In every Large City (and, I assume, almost every smaller community) whose website I examined but one, the Yom Ha'Atzmaut holiday event is sponsored by or convened by the local Federation -- something that has been on-going for, maybe, 67 years. But, in Los Angeles, for reasons I am both unaware of and fail to understand, the Jewish Federation has ceased its sponsorship of this annual celebration that, there, I am told, attracts in excess of 20,000. There are about 140 "Presenting Partners," "Title Partners," "Partners," and "Friends" of the Los Angeles Annual Israel Festival this year, including numerous Federation agencies but the Federation itself? Federation is nowhere to be found. I know that the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, for decades, was the convener, even the host of an Independence Day Event or a significant sponsor/funder but, at some point in the last couple of years, no more. (In fact, on the Federation website it is made perfectly clear that the 2015 event "...is not sponsored by Federation" in caps.)

Stepping into the void in Los Angeles is the Israeli-American Council, a grassroots aggressive organization led by a cadre of, what else, Israeli- Americans and funded in part by significant grants from philanthropists from the opposite ends of the political spectrum, Sheldon Adelson and Haim Saban. The IAC is now engaged in vigorous fund raising and programming. With start-up offices and a growing constituency in L.A., New York, Boston, New Jersey, Miami and Las Vegas (and, perhaps, in other communities, as well), the IAC is literally leaving federations on the sidelines in fund raising and programmatic activities among Israeli-Americans and others in L.A. for starters. When it came to the annual Celebration of Israel, the articulate and creative President of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, Jay Sanderson, with whom I so often agree, told the LA Jewish Journal:
“'We think the Celebrate Israel Festival is a great event, but it’s not as high a priority for us as it is for them,'** Sanderson said. 'I do not judge the IAC for their decision to prioritize this event, and I hope they will not judge us for our lack of prioritizing the event.'”
While Federation may conduct its own mini-event, this decision created a void into which eagerly stepped the IAC.

2. Then there is the void created by the Jewish Agency's "reprioritization" away from its own core values and programs, chief among them aliyah. So many of us over so many years, felt that our philanthropic participation in aliyah through our federations, through the Jewish Agency, brought home the meaning behind We Are One. And, then JAFI with the leadership of JFNA/JAFI urging it on in a so-called "Strategic Planning Process" recast itself as the Global organization dedicated first and foremost to "Jewish Identity." It did so years after it divested itself of significant tranches of aliyah to Nefesh B'Nefesh, especially from North America. And, as JNF* highlighted recently, into the void we and JAFI created...
"There's no time like the present to live and love the Aliyah dream. With JNF and Nefesh B'Nefesh, help support the future doctors, soldiers and academics of Israel. The citizens making their home in our homeland."
So, this time it's The Jewish National Fund and Nefesh B'Nefesh engaged in aliyah with a focus on the Negev (!!) and the North. Maybe they can help with the "Jewish Identity" of those brought to Israel without our help.

3. A Friend of the Blog added another sad void being filled by others to the growing list. As ejewishphilanthropy reported:
"BBYO, Hillel International and Moishe House are teaming up in launching a unique, pioneering global partnership to recruit, train and retain top professionals throughout their organizations. Called the Talent Alliance, this novel collaboration will link 780 Jewish communal professionals in 37 countries together in a global ecosystem designed to promote rising stars in these Jewish nonprofits."
No one at JFNA seems to understand or care. And, where is the voice of the Federation professional on this one? Just too busy as the system collapses around them.
_________________________________________________________________________________

It is Dr. Steven Windmueller, whose brilliant analysis of the federation movement  has been a constant in our lives, who wrote:
"In the past highly successful movements had the luxury of ignoring their competitors or those who might challenge their position, yet most great movements have learned to build alliances, create partnerships and systematically enter into arrangements where allied or competitive groups were integrated or merged into their system."
In too many places, the need for total control (or competing priorities) has trumped the recognition of the need for partnerships and alliances -- even with those who will not be "integrated or merged" -- to the detriment of the central body of the Jewish community.

So, perhaps those who fear that if we don't convene an annual GA, no matter the cost and the pathetic registration, someone else will -- are right.  

Rwexler

* "Them" in this instance is between 20,000 and 30,000 celebrants.

** The Jewish National Fund has created the tag line: Your Voice in Israel. So much for JFNA-Israel mantra -- Its Own Voice in Israel.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

I HAVE DISCOVERED THE ULTIMATE IN FECKLESS

OK, after almost 6 years, I have finally unearthed the most feckless organization in the World -- not the Jewish World, the World; not the non-profit world, the World. I did not believe that anything could exceed the South Palm Beach County Federation and I really did not believe that anything...anything...could be worse than what we have experienced with the moribund JFNA over this 6 year period. But I have found it.

THE WORST ORGANIZATION IN THE WORLD IS TODAY'S NEW YORK KNICKS OF THE NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION...WORSE, EVEN, THAN JFNA (although parallels will be noted)

It's not just that the New York Knicks had the second worst record in the National Basketball Association in 2015 and that the team has been miserable for years and years; it is the choices that the Knicks ownership has made culminating in the decision to rehire one Isiah Thomas, a disgraced former Knicks' coach and executive, as the CEO of the Knicks sister team, the Liberty in the Women's NBA, perhaps the worst single decision in organized sports since Jerry Krause, then the  General Manager of the Chicago Bulls, decided to "remake the franchise" after 6 championships and destroyed that team in the process. Why is this decision so bad? Well...

In 2007, a jury found Thomas guilty of sexually harassing a "team executive in the crudest of terms" after she complained of the harassment the team's owner, the imperious James Dolan, "personally insisted on firing her." The Knicks and Thomas were assessed an $11,000,000 judgment. One year later -- yes, it took one year -- Thomas was fired. And, now, this sexual harasser is being brought back by the same owner to run a women's professional basketball team. WTF???

Of course, the Knicks owner is engaged in a private business and, as he has made clear, he can do whatever he wants. And, he has, dismissing criticism as the work of "alcoholics," among other things. If he wants to throw his money away, well, there has yet to be a public trusteeship suggested for a private company. On the other hand, the leaders of JFNA have thrown away our communal dollars, recklessly and without regard for the organization's present or future, if there is a future. Christine Brennan, the wonderful and insightful sportswriter for USA Today, in a detailed commentary following the Dolan decision to rehire Thomas wrote: "Yes, a sexual harasser has just become President of a WNBA team. I have to say that is a sentence I never thought I would write." And I have written a parallel: "One who never knew or was involved in the Jewish federations has just become President of JFNA. I have to say that is a sentence I never thought I would write."

And, there the parallels to and differences from the feckless JFNA -- the New York Knicks of Jewish organizational life -- begin. 


  • Both the Knicks and JFNA have hired leaders, one in Thomas, the other in Silverman, who have proved to be incapable of achieving the organization's goals -- Thomas, as an historically great player and then as one-time Coach and then as General Manager, at least spoke the language unique to basketball; Silverman as the unknowing CEO who still fails to speak the truth about federations which he still, after 5+ years, fails to understand;
  • Both the Knicks and JFNA have Chairs, Dolan for the Knicks and Siegal for JFNA, whose lack of judgment in retaining these guys evidences a disdain for their organizations, their fans/constituencies and disdain for success itself;
  • The Knicks rehired Thomas, according to most, because Dolan and he are close friends; Siegal renewed Jerry Silverman as JFNA CEO because...well, just because -- and it's none of your business.
So, there you have it -- the New York Knicks and the Jewish Federations of North America, twinned in failure, paired in patheticism and the most feckless of the feckless.

Rwexler