Tuesday, December 3, 2019


When I was elected Chairman of my Federation in 1985 (!), I was starting at a new law firm and playing father of a young family. I met with my predecessor, one of the greatest of Chicago's leaders and someone I revered, Corky Goodman. I asked Corky where my time would be best spent. In light of later events (see below), it was ironic that he told me: "Whatever you do, Richard, don't get involved in the Jewish Agency." 

The "irony," of course, was that Corky would become one of the most important Board Chairs of the Agency's now 90 years, and he would later call me to join the JAFI Board, Co-Chair the JAFI Israel Committee and help Corky and the other Diaspora leaders in a concerted effort to professionalize and depoliticize the Agency. For the next quarter-century I was honored to work side-by-side with great lay leaders -- Corky, Alex Grass, z'l, Richie Pearlstone, Carole Solomon, Chuck Ratner and Jay Sarver, among them -- and superb professionals, like Moshe Vigdor, as Directors General, and superb political leaders in the persons of Sallai Meridor and Ze'ev Bielski. Service on the JAFI Executive was then exciting and challenging; it is all the more so today. Having left that Board in 2012, I have remained as cheerleader for the Jewish Agency on these pages and elsewhere.

I served on JAFI Board and Executive for too long but I watched as the organization's Budget became transparent, its operations professionalized and the political influence on its work significantly diminished. I was proud to have played a very small part in those positive developments that should have taken place years earlier. All of you faithful readers know that I have been outspoken in my support of the Agency's work.

But, many of you have challenged my apparent uncritical support. You have influenced my thinking.

I regret that I am not present to see the leadership in action of a Board led by Bougie Herzog and JAFI's current Director General, Amira Ahronoviz, as they confront the greatest challenge facing JAFI -- the challenge to its relevance today and going forward. But I, like all of you, can read -- and what I have read of JAFI's latest strategic plan suggests to me that at 90 years old, the Jewish Agency is in a desperate search for purpose, for a role that will inspire and stir the blood of its leadership and of amcha. 

And...it hasn't found one. And, that's a problem. A big problem.

One of you recently offered an extremely critical and anonymous Comment on JAFI. I have edited it for content:
"The Jewish Agency for Israel is imprisoned in a governance trap of its own making, bereft of the ability to make meaningful strategic decisions amongst competing owners. JAFI is blessed with a uniquely talented Director General, but...with a (Chair of the Executive) whose compass points only to self promotion, daily photo ops and a path to the (Israel) Presidency. Hence the choice of Antisemitism as the new organizational focus. Tragically there are always new headlines to chase. JAFI can no longer make a credible case for massive unrestricted Federation funds in an environment requiring measurable impact in a free marketplace. JAFI's only unique and value-added options are fee for service -- P2P and Shlichut. Project TEN - puh-lease - there are several better and more successful avenues for meaningful interaction. Youth Futures? Like JDC's PACT, a solid program whose time for reliance on Diasporas funding is way past the expiration date. But wait, isn't JAFI the only global table for Israeli-Diaspora conversation? The three legs -- WZO, Keren HaYesod and JFNA - are unstable, wobbly and beyond repair. It is true that the JAFI Board of Governors is a comfortable playground for well-meaning leaders..."
Or, as previously cited in Worse:

"Richard, have you given any thought to the proposition that JAFI no longer merits even the projected $74 million allpocated to it in 2019? What Jewish Agency programs (beyond the basic blocking and tackling of drastically diminished Aliya and Klitah) are worthy of even the funding that JAFI will receive from the Federations at the end of this year -- "Jewish unity?" "The only venue where the great issues confronting the Jewish People are debated?" "Fighting global anti-semitism?" I would respectfully suggest that the Agency deserves less, not more..."
These are representative of growing disaffection of those who have given the issue serious thought and have shared those thoughts with us.

Since its creation in the last decade of the 20th Century, JAFI North America ("JAFINA") was, first, to better connect North American Jewry with Israel through the Jewish Agency. During his service as the Jewish Agency's Board Chair, Alex Grass, z'l, asked me to serve as JAFINA's first lay Chair to work with David Sarnat, JAFINA's initial CEO, to create a group of lay advocates for JAFI. We worked hard to do just that, but were often frustrated by the JAFI Jerusalem bureaucracy. Ultimately David resigned in frustration. As we searched for a professional successor, JAFI's great Israel-based fundraiser, Jeff Kaye, filled the CEO role on an interim basis admirably. We retained the fantastic professional, Maxyne Finkelstein, as CEO and I was succeeded by one of JAFI's greatest advocates and leaders, Carole Solomon. 

We had engaged Maxyne to help build JAFI's federation relationships and allocations. But, with Natan Sharansky assuming JAFI's Chair of the Executive, a decision was made somewhere, to reorient JAFINA's work to fund-raising. And, the Agency leaders recruited Misha Galperin as CEO and the Jewish Agency International Development ("JAID") was created to work side-by-side with JAFINA (and independent of it). The Agency leaders had agreed to a contract with Misha that mirrored his with the D.C. Federation he would now leave and reflect appropriate adjustments for his relocation to the New York City area. And, even as Misha produced significant revenue results for JAFI, his independence and "rich" contract stuck in Jerusalem's craw -- even though Misha enjoyed a strong relationship with Richie Pearlstone who would serve as Misha's main contact within JAFI, forces were constantly at work that would undermine and understate his success. Misha left at the end of his contract.

Josh Fogelson, who had enjoyed great success as CEO of the Minneapolis federation and then at JDC, succeeded Misha. Bright and engaging, with strong leadership skills, Josh reorganized JAID and appeared on the cusp of success when, as Jerusalem continued its practice of undermining those in leadership in North America, he abruptly resigned. 

In December 2018, at the urging of close friends in or near Agency leadership, Gail Reiss, in her 10th year as the CEO and President of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, one of the best and most indefatigable fund-raisers with whom I ever worked, became the JAFINA/JAID CEO. In her months since she has staffed up and revitalized the lay side of JAFI NA. But, she has a mountain to climb and, based on both JAFI's newest "Strategic Plan" and the lack of patience demonstrated by Agency leaders with regard to the North American operation, not a whole lot of time.

As many of you have read, in advance of its October Board Meetings in Jerusalem, the Agency rolled out that new "Strategic Plan" "...that includes emphasis on connecting between Diaspora communities and increased education against anti-semitism" -- "as hub for entire Jewish world." https://www.timesofisrael.com/at-90-jewish-agency-for-israel-to-rebrand-as-hub-for-entire-jewish-world/  Really? Are these the Agency's purposes, and have, e.g., the Federations in North America ratified these "purposes?" The Agency did convene a "by invitation only" conference in New Jersey earlier in the Fall -- with whom, what results...this? "The Hub"...really? Or, as another interview with Bougie Herzog stated, JAFI may emerge as some form of "special Foundation" in service to the Jewish People, whatever that might be.

(Recently, at a conference, Herzog announced that we should expect another massive anti-semitic terrorist attack.)

In the past -- and its attempts at catching up with modern themes notwithstanding -- the JAFI lay leaders were a strong body of federation lay leaders. From Max Fisher, z'l, through Marvin Lender and Joel Tauber and Corky Goodman and Richie Pearlstone and Carole Solomon and Chuck Ratner right up to Michael Siegel, these Board Chairs represented their own unrivaled philanthropy and were men and woman deeply caring about and for Israel. And, up to a certain point in time, these leaders knew that they had a strong cadre of leaders with great influence in their communities. Today, not so much. And while I root for the ultimate success of a revived Jewish Agency North America Board effort today, those participating leaders need to have far more advocacy ammunition than another JAFI "rebrand as (the) hub."

It took decades to assure the Jewish Agency's budget transparency...but it happened. Now the Agency must assure its relevancy as an organization deserving of even the pathetic core allocation it now receives. Another "new strategic plan" hasn't helped.


Friday, November 29, 2019


As I was finishing a Post on JAFI wandering in the desert of No Relevant Purpose, soon to be published here, I read Debra Nussbaum Cohen's brilliant Jewish Insider article exposing the turmoil at the Joint -- The chaos disrupting the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. Read the entire article at https://jewishinsider.com/2019/11/the-chaos-disrupting-the-american-jewish-joint-distribution-committee/

Sadly, another organization suffering from, among other things, a terrible senior professional leadership choice --  who, after being awarded compensation egregious by any standard now claims to have to return to the law school from which he came to preserve his "tenure;" declining federation allocations to the JDC core budgets; a drastic reduction in Claims Conference income; and a too shaqrp focus on creating endowments at the expense of current fund-raising.

One can only wish Stan Raben, a great lay leader, every success with his leadership in righting the JDC ship. The Joint is too important.

Kal ha'kavod to Debra on this great reporting.


Sunday, November 24, 2019


I assume, because I have so many, that most of us have multiple pet peeves -- e.g., people who keep their cellphones on at Theatre or movies, those seatmates who take their shoes off when the plane takes off (for the rest of the flight), you know, stuff like that.

One of mine -- and I don't really understand why these things bother me -- those professionals who don't practice law but insist on:
~ putting "Esq." after their signature line on their business cards/stationary; and
~ more recently, adding their law degrees -- as in "Richard Wexler, J.D." or, as I just read another, "B.A., LLB" after his/her name
Look, I don't mind if those who have received Doctoral Degrees like to be introduced as "Dr." even if the doctorate is in, e.g., English Literature -- they worked for years in almost all instances to gain that degree. It should be noted that one of my favorite humorists and reporters, Tony Kornheiser, having received an Honorary Doctorate from his alma mater, SUNY Binghamton, periodically wears a doctors smock on his Pardon the Interruption show on ESPN. (And I won't even comment on his frequent donning of a Turban and/or a smock or dress -- unrelated to that Doctorate.)

But "Dr." is different from J.D. or BA or LL.B  -- different in degree of difficulty at the least. I received my J.D. in 1965 and never deployed it as part of my "title." Would my 4+ decade career have been different? Better? And, never did "Esq." appear below my signature after my name. 

I guess if one is practicing law folks with whom one is dealing know you're an "Esq." and that you either have an LL.B or J.D. without the need for further notice. But, someone please explain to me why if you are running a metals business and have a law degree or you're a Jewish community professional you would have the need to let everyone know that you also have a law degree.

If this is a trend, some will now be adding those undergraduate degrees, number of children, years at the job. My suggestion, store it all on LinkedIn. You will be found.

I know this is just my rant, but, if you have an explanation of "why," let me know.



Tuesday, November 19, 2019


I receive your Comments with great appreciation for most of them. Reluctantly, I do understand the reasons most (close to all) of you wrap your Comments in a cloak of Anonymity.

Here are a few examples of your insights:
To my Post on Some Things Never Change -- a reflection on the futility of the JFNA "programs' in the Negev:
An empire cannot thrive without funds and since JFNA doesn't do campaigns any more, the only way for the power hungry to continue to grow their empire is evidently to take donor funds that were raised for emergency relief and "reallocate" them for dedicated staff and programming that they can control.
Since our JFNA Global Operations "Agency" doesn't have the experience or the expertise that JDC/JAFI/ORT do, the "reallocated" funds are used to add more staff to the "team" and to throw money at local politicians so that they will always have great things to say about our wonderful Israel Office and it's wonderful leader. 
As usual at JFNA, lay committees are charged with the approval of use of these funds and blindly follow staff reccomendations, even though the staff in question are guided by an ideology of "make us look good" rather than "meet the needs" or even really attempting to fulfill the purpose on the basis of which the funds were raised in the first place.
Eric and Mark Wilf will certainly discover this abuse (along with many others) if they just bother to really have a look at what has been going on for the past decade at the "JFNA Agency for Israel." It is about time that someone bothered to have a look.  
Will they?"
To the Post Worse and Worse a request for rethinking: 
Have you given any thopught to the proposition that JAFI no longer merits even the projected $74 million allocated to it in 2019? What Jewish Agency programs (beyond the basic blocking and tackling of drastically diminished Aliya and Klitah) are worthy of even the funding that JAFI will receive from the Federations at the end of this year -- "Jewish unity?" "The only venue where the great issues confronting the Jewish People are debated?" "Fighting global anti-semitism?" I would respectfully suggest that the Agency deserves less, not more. Then, again, that's true of JFNA as well. 

Friday, November 15, 2019


Caroline Glick, right-wing Israeli columnist and, recently, defeated candidate for the Knesset, returned to her role as pundit after that dip in the waters of Israeli politics. Her op-eds are totally supportive of Donald Trump and constantly mine the depths of her hatred for  anything to her left and, in particular, American Jews who fail to share her views.

Most recently Glick published Trump, Israel and the Democratic Crackup in JNS:  https//www.jns.org/opinion/trump-israel-and-the-democratic-crackup. I recommend reading that screed only because it exemplifies Ms. Glick's habit of building her arguments on false pretenses. 

Any analysis of this screed must start, as Ms. Glick did, with her false premise -- that way back in 2000 "...the Democrats refused to accept the election results in Florida that gave George W, Bush his victory..." Without a scintilla of evidence, without a single fact, the author concludes that that 2000 election marked the beginning of what she describes as the "radicalization" of the Democratic Party.

Building on this misstatement, Glick jumps directly to 2016 concluding that as the Democrats refused to accept the 2000 election results, so they have attempted to overturn the results of Trump's election and, as in the current GOP "talking points," the purpose of  today's impeachment inquiry "...is to nullify Trump's presidency by, among other things, deligitimizing and dehumanizing Trump, his family, associates and supporters." Not a fact is placed in evidence.

These misstatements continue for pages. Read them for yourself. Perhaps Ms. Glick was using this column is more than a fact-free version of purported "truth;" maybe it was intended as a job application for Fox News. Maybe an Israeli version of Jeanine Pirro or Katrina Pierson. 

Wishing her every success.


Sunday, November 10, 2019


So much that makes one scratch your head. For example...

~ A Friend of the Blog sent me this one: "Did you know that there are 8.5 million cats in Israel -- that's almost one cat for every person! If you're a fan of felines, show your love by sharing your favorite cat photo here. #National Cat Day #Meow."
And, just where did this inanity appear? You probably guessed it: It was a JFNA Facebook Post. There are no words. 
~  I am certain that some of you share what I would describe as my own anger with regard to Bernie Sanders speech to the J Street Conference. The condemnation of Israel from someone who has used the fact of his birth, that being born Jewish, to cloak himself with the right to unconditionally condemn the Jewish State without consequences and, perhaps, some sort of political advantage. Actually, Sanders' outburst at J Street fell in the category of "who can condemn Israel the most?"
While I often find myself in disagreement with Jonathan Tobin's editorial in JNS; I absolutely agree with him that Sanders' diatribe was worthy of only one thing -- scorn.  https://www.jns.org/opinion/bernies-gaza-aid-farce-exposes-j-streets-false-front/
 No one should be surprised that Sanders has shown his colors...again...in this most anti-Israel way. Nor should anyone be surprised that Bernie's attacks on Israel as "racist," on American military and foreign aid to Israel, and on the Israeli Prime Minister drew huge ovations from the J Street crowd -- it was, after all, the J Street crowd.
Rabbi Amiel Hirsch said it best: “The Democratic Party is increasingly tolerant of voices that are opposed to Israel’s existence.”
~ As we are reminded from time-to-time, JFNA's ersatz GA, this time titled FedLab will soon convene "by Invitation only." While the Lab appears to be dedicated to in-depth exploration of Total Financial Resource Development and "Powering Your Philanthropic Networks," it is hard to see the inherent return on investment from this Lab inasmuch as the the scholars and presenters remain unknown as I write this -- it appears that this is one of those "trust us" things. So I'm guessing that the presenters and speakers -- consultants in the main -- will be the same as those who appear at all JFNA FRD things. 
BTW, JFNA continues to promote the Lab as "by invitation only," and that may be true even as the organization appears to have invited anyone and every one. 
So, won't see you in D.C. but I'm anxious to learn the outcomes from this 3-day event...if any.


Tuesday, November 5, 2019


I hope that JFNA CEO Eric Fingerhut will take a careful look at JFNA -- Israel and Overseas or JFNA -- Global Operations or whatever the hell that black hole is called at the moment. Ineptitude and hyperbole just slap you in the face like wet towels every time you look at the thing. I.m relatively confident that Eric will be able stop the bleeding from this Jerusalem hideaway if he chooses to do so.

And what has caused this outburst this time? In time for the October JFNA Board Meeting, the Desk of Rebecca Caspi produced what is now the monthly I&O Top Five (for October [on the 24th thereof]). And, there, as the number one thing (for October) something called #FedProud in the Negev. 

Here's the thing. JFNA's work in the Negev has been both minimal and fine. The problem: JFNA raised little or no money to support its work in the Negev; yet, the JFNA Negev Now Initiative had $2.5 million to spend -- how does that happen? Just as the organization funded its most recent education initiative with funds effectively stolen from the national agencies, the funding for its Negev activities were taken directly from the 2014 Operation Protective Edge campaign receipts ignoring the fact that those funds were raised to directly benefit the Victims of the Terrorists' War. 

And, now, just weeks ago, JFNA announced:

"Federation's Negev Now Initiative concludes after five years of building and supporting a more vital and attractive Negev."
Really, "concludes?" The needs have been met? Or is this just the reality that the Victims' Fund, raided for Negev Now, has been exhausted and JFNA hasn't the ability to raise any money at all? In the past months I have become engaged in the JNF-USA's vital work in the Negev, committing tens of millions of dollars in the most vital work in the Gaza Envelope, in Aleh Negev, in community building and People building. The leaders of JNF are fully aware that its work in the Negev, so vital to Israel's future and present is not over -- it's just begun. 

Only for JFNA is it "over."

I really don't get it. The JFNA Negev Now Committee is/was populated with a group of terrific lay leaders. The federation professionals are/were first rate. And JFNA-Israel provided four professionals and a consultant. Over the few years of its existence Negev Now engaged in something called "placemaking" --
"Placemaking is a multi-faceted approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces...that promote residents' health, happoiness and well-being."
Got it? "Public placemaking." One has to wonder if these programs were desigigned to satisfy local leadership or to truly aid the victims of "Stop the Sirens?"

The apparently final...as in forever...Report on Negev Now wraps the work in a kind of verisimilitude -- and that's a good thing, like qa bandage on a gaping wound is a good thing.

JFNA has declared victory and moved on. "FedProud??"


Friday, November 1, 2019


Friends, every so often I become obsessed with how the "system" selects its lay leaders -- obsessed with the question: should national or international organizations restrict their key lay leadership to those women and men who come from communities which have demonstrated over time their significant financial support of the appointing organizations?  

This is not a new question for me; it's one I've grappled with literally for decades. I don't if it was the first time, but I do remember a call I received from a terrific leader who told me: "Richard, I think you'll be happy to learn that I was just appointed the Chair of Federation Advocacy by UIA." Now, this lay leader is and was one of the most articulate leaders that I have known; a brilliant marketer. I responded: "You know, you would be fantastic except you come from a community that has been cutting its allocation to UIA for the Jewish Agency by huge percentages -- if you came to my community, you would not be considered the best spokesperson." This wasn't the last time I was asked a similar question by brilliant and generous leaders from communities whose allocations to the organizations these leaders had been asked to lead were horrifically low.

Is it appropriate, for example, that a wonderful philanthropist be denied an important leadership role in JAFI or the JDC because the community (in which they also played key roles, often the highest lay positions) are allocating less than 10% to JAFI or JDC? Or. would these national or international organizations be ill-served when represented by folks, their personal philanthropy notwithstanding, whose communities are not true financial partners in the work of the organizations these people would lead?

My point? If Leader A cannot inspire her/his own community to allocate what all of us would call a partnership commitment to, let's say the Jewish Agency, how will Leader A inspire anyone else to do what is right? I think we could all intuit the answer to that narrow question. But, we would not all reach a similar conclusion to the the question of whether generous leaders should be disqualified from leadership positions because they come from underperforming communities?

And, how do I know we would not all agree on an answer? I look around and discover that many national and international organizations' key leadership positions are filled without regard for their communities' organizational support. Some of us are blessed to come from the Chicago's, Cleveland's, Baltimore's and MetroWest's and more; others, not so much. 

As in so much in organized Jewish life, I wish there were easy answers to even the easiest questions.

There aren't.


Monday, October 28, 2019


The JFNA annual Federation overseas cash allocations report has become an annual report of failure -- failure begetting failure. And, like clockwork, the JFNA projection for 2019 cash is the worst...ever.

For 2019, the sad, sad totals are projected as follows:

          JAFI -- $74.3
           JDC -- $30.0
           ORT -- $ 2.1
Friends, these are not misprints -- these totals are the lowest...ever. Reflect on this: if the aggregate federation annual campaigns are at $983 million (+/-) these allocations have fallen to a little over 11%. These percentages and the actual dollars are an insult to these agencies which are our agents and which we really no longer adequately sup[port.

The system, if there still is one, is guilty of criminal neglect. Over the last two years alone, the allocations to JAFI have fallen by close to $15,000,000 -- a percentage drop of 17% -- while JDC's total over the same period -- mirabile dictu -- was flat (and actually increased minimally in 2019 from 2018).

You may recall that, rather than accepting its responsibilities for advocacy on behalf of JAFI/JDC/ORT, JFNA's Board voted, as part of its "reorganization" of UIA, to abjure -- to walk away -- from its sacred obligation for advocacy for the core budgets of the overseas partners, resolving to "let JAFI and JDC advocate for themselves." "Not our problem" has morphed from "never our problem." JFNA fled from its advocacy obligations like rainwater rushung toward a sewer.

Failure is truly an orphan. This is nothing new. Recognizing that JFNA was unwilling to engage in serious advocacy dating back to 2004 (if not earlier), when I was serving as the Chair of the Jewish Agency North America, I met with JDC's lay and professional leaders to propose a serious partnership for overseas advocacy. The Joint's leaders -- terrific women and men totally committed to JDC -- and I had serious conversations that ended with JDC determining that it would continue to hold JFNA responsible for advocacy. As they said in Pretty Woman -- mistake; bad mistake, really big mistake.

I remember well the hope that leadership had at the time of the merger two decades ago -- one of the bedrock assumptions in the merger book was that the emerging organization, now JFNA, would result in more dollars for the core budgets of the overseas partners. An entire evaluation process was designed for determining the priorities...and to support them. And, then, there was nothing./////


Monday, October 21, 2019


I can't tell you how many times I have visited Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry -- for a decade we lived in Hyde Park just blocks from the Museum and were there so often with our children; then later in life, our grandchildren. I remember as a teenager being there when the U-505 German submarine was floated across Lake Michigan, then across South Shore Drive to become a permanent exhibit. And, while in law school, I worked mornings for an urban planning firm whose offices were in the bowels of the Museum. 

Bottom line, I love the Museum as does anyone who has ever visited there. I assume that includes a large number of you.

So, I was struck by a Chicago Tribune article Museum of Science and Industry to get new name...It seems that Kenneth Griffin, co-founder of the amazingly successful hedge-fund Citadel, and one of the great philanthropists, whose Charitable Fund had already distributed over $1 billion to charities, had pledged $125 million to the Museum which change its name to the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.

One correspondent to Crain's Chicago Business put it succinctly:
"Leave museum's name alone Kudos to Ken Griffin for donating so generously to such a worthy and important institution...But the name change is just wrong. Name a wing after him. Heck, put a bug statue of him out front, but the museum name should be unchanged.
If Julius Rosenwald -- whose name should be plastered all over this city for the great public work he did -- didn't need his name on it when he helped create it, Griffin doesn't need his for helping to keep it going for another 100 years." (italics added)
The original Museum structure was the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The Museum was initially endowed by the father of Chicago Jewish philanthropy, Julius Rosenwald who who pledged $3 million and also recruited the Commercial Club of Chicago for further financial support supplementing municipal bond funds. Rosenwald refused offers to have the Museum named for him even as the public often called it the Rosenwald Industrial Museum.

Of interest, the Apollo 8 spacecraft is housed in Henry Crown Space Center, named for the patriarch of the Crown Family, models of generosity and philanthropy worldwide. And, there is now a Rosenwald Room, which would no doubt infuriate Julius Rosenwald were he still with us.

Griffin's incredible gift may have been conditioned on the Museum's renaming. For a $135 million gift, certainly Ken Griffin purchased the naming rights -- if he didn't ask for them, the Museum was wise to offer the honor. 

Rosenwald continues to inspire Jewish and secular philanthropy in Chicago. Griffin's modern philanthropy likewise. When I next visit the Museum with my grandchildren, I will remember Julius Rosenwald no matter the naming.