Friday, September 13, 2019

"AND A NEW DAY IS DAWNING..."

There probably should be some form of celebration that JFNA's execrable decade, one JFNA barely survived (or, perhaps, didn't) has come to an end. With Jerry's long-delayed exit and Eric Fingerhut's arrival, indeed, "a new day is dawning" for JFNA. 

I for one regret that I had become a recalcitrant -- yet I am not sure I had any choice. After all, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was described in The New York Times, so was Jerry Silverman "performatively hapless." Jerry from Day 1. And, the lay leadership, unwilling to effect change, instead encouraged the pathetic rather than reining it in. So things went from bad to worse and then to worse compounded.

Sadly, across the broad horizon JFNA leaders shrunk from their responsibilities. They became apostates -- and, in this metamorphosis, they rejected our communal values by failing to insist upon them. (I would hate to think they unaware of them.) And, compounding their apostasy, they hired consultants who only knew of those values as they were described to them by the apostates. 

And, then I read, as, apparently, did many of you (given the number of you who sent me the link), a most ridiculous article, a hagiographic one to be sure, in which Jerry Silverman, upon his long-awaited retirement, reflected on the "accomplishments" of his decade as CEO. I was not LMAO at what one correspondent suggested I wear hip boots while wading through the bulls#+t.  Those "accomplishments" boiled down to these:
1. The Kotel Agreement. According to Jerry he was sweating side-by-side with Natan Sharansky in creating the deal which, at the first political challenge, the Prime Minister walked, breached the Agreement. Of course, the reality of the Agreement was solely Sharansky's. Jerry was a cheerleader, bending into each photo op and story as if he had done anything. We all recall that at the GA subsequent to the deal's collapse, the JFNA Board Chair profusely thanked Bibi for his specious excuses for breach of contract. What exactly was the "accomplishment" here?
2. Being There. Never missed a meeting with the PM or a succession of Presidents. That was it...being there. Never thought to invite a federation klay leader in his place.
Here is my "List of Silverman's Singular Accomplishments" over a decade:


1. This List (with thanks to Seth Myers)
2. Ten years of paychecks 
3. Being There 
To put anything else on this "list" would be like crediting a rooster for the sunrise.

Read the Jerusalem Post article here:  https://m.jpost.com/Opinion/Editors-Notes-An-optimist-in-a-sea-of-Israel-Diaspora-division-600770 Then weep.

Look, my sense for a decade was, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was recently described in the New York Times, that Jerry Silverman was "performatively hapless." To suggest anything more positive is a denial of every observable reality.

If Jerry chooses to remain blinded by his own illusions -- deny failure, deny waste, deny that which has been and is right in front of our eyes -- so be it. That doesn't mean that we have to as well.

Yet, even I have to agree with the few who understand that Jerry's selection as JFNA CEO ten years ago was epoch-making -- but... in the worst way. That the "epoch" was not ended earlier lies at the feet of JFNA lay leadership and the Federation CEOs. As to the ladder, my amazement that those who have built the Federation Movement in so many incredible and beautiful ways would stand aside for the decade and watch it and their profession being deconstructed in the face of their silence.

As you read The Jerusalem Post hagiography, please recall Dr. Seuss:
...and the mess is so big, so deep and so tall, we can't pick it up
There's no way at all.

Rwexler



Monday, September 9, 2019

COULD IT BE?

Yes, I think a new day may be dawning at JFNA under the Wilf-Fingerhut administration. Change is in the air...kal ha'kavod. 

What took so damn long?

I'm talking about the organization's long-overdue quest for relevance -- well for the last decade, JFNA really didn't even "quest," it just sat there...in silence.

Now, in just weeks of Eric Fingerhut going live as JFNA's new CEO, the organization issued press releases on two subjects that for a decade JFNA would have chosen silence: the most recent a response to the Israeli Government's decision to bar entry to two Congresspersons; the first on our shared pains with the communities impacted by domestic terrorists' atrocities. 

For those who don't recall (and who would), for a decade I have urged a succession of JFNA leaders to speak out on our collective behalf. I am so grateful that that is happening now.

For JFNA to be relevant, it must speak for the federations. I admit it's not easy in a consensus-driven organization, but perhaps Eric has figured it out -- and quickly.

Now, may JFNA achieve a few successes driving the system forward.

Rwexler

Friday, September 6, 2019

A FRESH START

One of you recently wrote the following Comment:
"Richard and fellow readers of this blog, I am a long time reader, and it dawned on me that this is probably a tough time for you, Richard because the problems at JFNA are indeed plentiful, as you have articulated so well over the years.
Jerry Silverman's performance notwithstanding, I think you need to tone it down a bit while Eric Fingerhut is getting his feet wet.
Give him a chance to get a sense of the organization that he was hired to fix.
Allow him 6 months to acquire some intel on his own.
See if he reaches out to people that don't work at 25 Broadway; who knows, he may even reach out to you.
My point is, give Eric a fighting chance, and then challenge him appropriately.
You might even start by making a list of observations and send it to him, as a prologue to a face to face meeting."
Friends, no one welcomes Eric Fingerhut's service as JFNA's CEO and President more than I. He will be the breath of fresh air that JFNA, the federations and donors have needed for a long, long time..for way too long.

Eric's many accomplishments culminating in his successful reconstruction of Hillel are well known. There is an absolute need for all of his skills as he enters 25 Broadway at its lowest point.

When Jerry was hired, I confess I had little optimism; nonetheless, I declared a self-imposed hiatus returning to these pages when it quickly became evident that a bad, bad mistake had been made. (Even before Silverman took office, he went on a "listening tour,"  visiting federations. In Chicago, we discussed the role of federation in our community, the values we shared and it was obvious Jerry hadn't a clue what we were talking about. In a private session with a small group of us, we responded to a question Silverman posed, by recommending he immediately hire a COO with broad federation experience. Jerry's response: "I think I'd like to wait." He waited...and waited...and waited. Ultimately, a COO hire was imposed on him. Too little and too late. We knew we were in trouble.)

So, as my FOB suggested, I am calling a time out on this Blog as it pertains to JFNA. I hope to G-d it's permanent. 

I want so badly to write of JFNA's successes. And, those I will.

Rwexler

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

...AND, WHAT'S NEW WITH YOU?

1. The ad that popped up on one of the digital newspapers I read daily. It offered a link to (drums roll): "Compare statistics for all hot dog eating contests." Do people do that -- not the hot dog volume eating but the comparative stats? Is there, like, the hot dog equivalent of ERA or WAR? I didn't go there. But I have learned that there is, in fact, a Professional League of Eating Contests -- I am not making this up.

2. And, is Hummus that popular? A few weeks ago JTA reported "Thief tries to steal half a ton of chickpeas from kibbutz in southern Israel. After police discovered found an abandoned car "loaded with chickpeas," they arrested a 30 year-old Bedouin man. Now I too love hummus as much as the next guy -- and in Chicago we have had an outbreak of high end restaurants focused on Israeli cuisine that may soon exceed our Chicago hot dog joints (well, not really, we have over 1500 hot dog stores here -- all selling the same thing) -- but is there a market for contraband chickpeas? Guess one Bedouin man thinks/thought so.

3. On a federation-related note -- the collapse of the East Bay Federation reached its climax in May with, as ejewishphilanthropy reported, the decision "East Bay Federation to Close, S.F. Federation to Take Over." I hope that the leaders, lay and professional, in both communities can figure out how one struggling federation can affirmatively absorb a failed federation and a community of strength can emerge. While such an aggregation rarely if ever works in the for-profit sector let alone in the complex Jewish organizational world, both of these communities have great, engaged business persons who can make this work if they give the time and leadership. A very...big...IF.

Rwexler

Thursday, August 29, 2019

STUFF

Not to be critical, but...


  • In an otherwise excellent article on the new leadership at numerous legacy Jewish organizations, author Shalom Lipner, writing in Tablet, observed:
"JFNA, which represents 147 Jewish Federations and over 300 auxiliary communities across North America, is charged to 'raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually,' and is active in 'the fields of caregiving, aging, philanthropy, disability, foreign policy, homeland security and health care.'"
Well, if only it were so. The quote is merely further JFNA conflation of the epic fund raising done in the communities with the non-existent FRD done at JFNA (although $3 billion in annual distributions is a hyperbolic number itself. Inasmuch as the federations don't provide JFNA with the totality of their annual allocations, where that number even comes from!!) Certainly the federations are all engaged in the "fields" recited -- JFNA not so much.
JFNA has been living off this kind of confusion to elevate itself for at least the last decade. A few successes of its own might justify JFNA's continued existence...might.

  • Meanwhile, a photo on Facebook revealed that, on the very cusp of his retirement, Jerry Silverman somehow showed up for the JFNA FRD Mission to Argentina and Uruguay. Eric Fingerhut, JFNA's new CEO was also in that photo. So, was this Mission participation a "going away gift" to Jerry? Wasn't a fully paid year as a lame duck CEO enough?
Rhetorical question.

  • Speaking of the FRD Mission...JFNA released excellent fund raising results, sort of. $3,000,000 plus. But, then, $1 million in designated gifts. So was $2 million the amount raised for the annual campaign? And where were the $1 million designated to? We will never know.

  • And, finally, my friends, a number of you sent me the video that accompanied Silverman's receipt of the highest honor a community professional might receive:      https://youtu.be/QRmGXzS9BMo
          No shame right up to the end.

Plus c'est la change...

Rwexler

Sunday, August 25, 2019

NOT CALM...NOT CALM AT ALL

Over the course of our friend Jerry Silverman's (and, truth be told, Mark Gurvis') tenure, nothing better indicated the lack of internal controls and the violation of basic non-profit management principles than did something called Cabinet Calm.  

And, what is Cabinet Calm, you might ask? It is a weekend in sunny Southern California (at Estancia La Jolla, of course) of blissful zen, meditation, massage and "mindfulness" to which JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet members and alumni, spouses and, I guess, children of all ages were invited, As the invitation states:
"Cabinet Calm is planned and self-organized by National Young Leadership Cabinet Chevre."
The cost of this weekend -- $800 per person not including hotel costs (the least expensive room at the Estancia La Jolla  will set you back at least $1,000 for the three nights). There is no Cabinet "purpose" served by this weekend. It is purely a private event, organized and paid for as such.

Who authorized the use of the Young Leadership Cabinet Mailing List for a purely private activity? What organization permits this? Federations hold these lists in trust. Schemes that would have allowed their use (e.g., magazine subscriptions) beyond the federation have been rejected outright. Yet, in this circumstance, for no reason whatsoever, the Cabinet mailing list is released.

All I can think of is that my...our...great friend, Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, the creator of the Cabinets when he served with such distinction as the UJA CEO, would have reserved the scorn he had for the fools who have allowed this to take place.

No, I'm not calm at all. How about you?

Rwexler

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

AND, NOW, PRESENTING....FEDlab

G-d, I wish we all could return to the days when we would argue rationally and b'shem shamayim about substantive things. But, as of right now, with Jerry on his way out, and Eric on the cusp of being in, JFNA, as always, reverts to form. With the announcement of FEDlab (yep, that's how they want it but lab is encased in a faux light bulb) JFNA's leaders are presenting a "by invitation only" (no I did not receive one, maybe someone will take me as their plus one) off-year (or maybe it's "on year) substitute for the forlorn Genral Assemblies which, of late, have barely attracted flies. 

As faithful readers know, I believe there is a full-time professional at 25 Broadway charged with creating names for all things JFNA with the prefix Fed -- as in FedCentral, FedWorld, FedNothing and so many more...so, now, Fedlab. Old wine in a brand new bottle and a brand new wrapper -- and an "invitation" to make you feel special. The GA will be chaired by the ubiquitous (and, aren't all true leaders of JFNA, ubiquitous, really?) New York leader, Jodi Schwartz.

How will this thing be different from that thing? Let JFNA explain:
"Today we are calling -- across generations and discipline -- upon the thought leaders, change maker and most forward-thinking communal leaders in our community to engage in a three-day laboratory. To reexamine our approach to traditional challenges. And to shape a plan for the ones over the horizon.
FedLab will engage you with expert facilitators in deep conversation and interactive, problem-solving experiments to test assumptions, find real solutions and bring us to the next level.
FedLab is about taking a leap in order to land on new ground for our shared Jewish future."
(I have to admit that as I read this thing, I flashed back to Animal House when the brothers all mumbled "Bullshit, Bullshit, Bullshit" at their suspension "trial." But, I digress.)

The foci:

  • "Defeating the 'Anti' Agenda" 
  • "#EngageJewish"
  • "Action for Good in the 21st Century."
A select group of 200 has been invited: "Come ready to utilize all your powers of innovation , strategy and partnership in the lab."

I am not making this up.

Cannot wait to learn the results...

Rwexler

Friday, August 16, 2019

IS THIS REALLY A QUESTION?

I have always assumed that those professionals who have been the recipients of the Wexner Foundation Fellowships have been among the best and brightest. So it was painful, even horrifying, to read the title to a recent piece in The Jewish Week/Times of Israel incorporating a quote from one of these people: Do I Want to Walk Through the World With the Wexner Name Attached to Mine?https://jewishweek.timesofisrael.com/do-i-want-to-walk-through-the-world-with-the-wexner-name-attached-to-mine/

As the body of the article discloses:
"Wexner has not been accused of any wrongdoing but his close relationship with (Jeffrey) Epstein has raised suspicion." (Emphasis added.)
Should the Jewish Week and Times of Israel be peddling a story premised on unsupported guilt by association? A story that goes even further suggesting that this "guilt" associates the entire philanthropic community in Epstein's perversion. Thus, an anonymous "current (Wexner ) fellow" is quoted as follows:
"I think for some people, this issue has been about recognizing that there are systems at play that make scandals like this possible....There's something wrong in the world of philanthropy if this is possible in the first place.."
Just what "this" is the anonymous current Fellow talking about?

Then a former student at a Wexner-funded yeshiva, Mechon Hadar, was heard from:
"I would like to propose that our community take the lead in disassociating ourselves from Wexner and taking a stand against him being able to buy his way into a good name."
Les Wexner's good name was earned long, long ago. His good works date back decades. His contributions to Jewish life and leadership should not be tainted when he has not been charged with "wrongdoing" beyond his association with Epstein.  And, about that association, Wexner wrote only last month:
"...My heart goes out to each and every person who has been hurt. I severed all ties with Mr. Epstein nearly 12 years ago. I would not have continued to work with any individual capable of such egregious sickening behavior as has been reported about him. As you can imagine, this past week, I have searched my should...reflected...and regretted that my path ever crossed his. When Mr.. Epstein was my personal money manager, he was involved in many aspects of my financial life. But let me assure you that I was NEVER aware of the illegal activity charged in the indictment."
Leslie Wexner must certainly be numbered among the great Jewish philanthropists of our times. I can think of no other whose contributions to Jewish lay and professional leadership has been greater or more long term than his -- dating back to 1986, as I recall. I visited him in Columbus in my United Jewish Appeal Chair role and he freely gave his counsel and time -- so much so that I missed my flight to Chicago. 15 years later I and other leaders of the merger looked to Wexner for his insights. I remember so well the admiration that Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, one of our most important Jewish professional leaders, had for Wexner as Herb was the founding professional of the Wexner Heritage Foundation.

To now read of a sudden disdain and calumny based on innuendo that shadows Mr. Wexner since the reporting of Epstein's perversions, elevates guilt by association to an ugly art form. Let us not turn our backs to this great philanthropist.

Let the facts dictate our positions.

Rwexler



Monday, August 12, 2019

DELUSION

Dan Brown, the brilliant and insightful Founder and CEO of ejewishphilanthropy, and one of the great reporters and editors on the Jewish communal condition, in a Comment to a recent Post on the Blog, observed
"The non-American members of JAFI's board see this change (the vivisection of UIA and a reorganization that placed UIA and its functions under the thumb of the failed JFNA-Israel) , among others, as a positive. In fact, most are upbeat about the various changes currently taking place in JAFI and are convinced they will bring more American dollars to the table. Perhaps I'm the lone man out not drinking the Kool Aid."
No, Dan, there are many who have yet to swallow the Kool-Aid and the bullshit that comes with it.

Anyone....anyone at all...who believes that the American Jewish polity will provide greater financial support to JAFI's core budget because of the deconstruction of UIA, the transfer of greater functions to JFNA-Israel, the hire of Gail Reiss as CEO of JAID, the JAFI expensive FRD operation or the commendable openness of Bougie Herzog, the Chair of th4e Executive -- or for any other reason whatsoever -- is smoking something powerful and/or in total denial of reality. 

For a decade and longer, the federations' cash allocations to JAFI and JDC core budgets have been in free-fall. The allocation to the Jewish Agency alone has dropped beyond its own red line by $10 million to less than $85 million, falling year-by-year-by year. It has been losing market share to JDC and its own stated and restated purposes -- the primary ones seem today  to be "Jewish unity" and battling the World-wide plague of growing anti-semitism -- are confused with those of other, more focused organizations.

Is the UJA-Federation of New York not considering Draconian cuts to its core allocation? Will other Large City federations increase theirs to make up the resultant cuts? Rhetorical question.

Visits by Herzog or the misbegotten assignment by JAID of its fund-raising professionals (without prior communal engagement) to communities to engage in, what, allocations advocacy (who thought that one up?), are not going to make up the shortfall or staunch the tide. JFNA, in its attempted whitewash of its own failings as the putative allocations advocacy agent for JAFI.JDC/ORT, shifted the advocacy back to JAFI/JDC/ORT without guidance or management -- just walking away...."not our problem." 

In treating any addiction, the first steps for the addict is to acknowledge that the/she has the addiction. In the allocations process, there first must be an institutional admission that there is and has been a failure...and those responsible for that failure (and I include the federations, JFNA lay and professional leadership and a succession of leaders at JAFI and JDC who misplaced their confidence long ago that they could rely upon JFNA) have to immediately take responsibility -- all of them.

Who will be the first to step forward? And how will they effect positive change? I have my own ideas....

What are yours?

Rwexler


Monday, August 5, 2019

AN IDEA WHOSE TIME HAS...GONE

Back in the day, the United Jewish Appeal's Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission was the seminal Israel experience on the national Mission Agenda. Begun under Richie Pearlstone's last year as National Campaign Chair, I was privileged to inherit it when I succeeded Richie. We used the Mission as the vehicle for leaders other than the National Campaign Chair to lead and co-lead the Mission with Richie, I and our successors participating in a support role, cheerleading as it were. The initial staff leader was Vicki Agron and staff support was limited to a critical few. We always went to Israel even after a pre-Mission `(typically in the FSU); with a contingent that had a minimum of 75 federations and a maximum of 100 communities sending their Campaign Chairs and Directors. 

Each Mission exemplified the ruach and commitment of the participants.

That was then; and this is now: the National Campaign Chair led this Mission; 35 communities were represented; Israel? Not a chance, so 1990's -- this year the Mission travelled to Argentina and Uruguay (yes, Uruguay!!!). I assume Israel was mentioned. Staffing? Oh, there are at least 15 JFNA staffers -- and, mirabile dictu, one of those is Vickli Agron. For over a decade participation was limited to actual Campaign Chair, Directors and always a number of CEOs; today, the more the merrier.

Friends of the Blog sent on the Mission participant "materials." Setting aside the fact that the Mission is in South America, the Itinerary is certainly full -- along with end of ther day opportunities for fireside chats with the lay and professional leaders. There are appropriate FRD sessions led by pros who have rarely if ever solicited a major gift from a lay donor: it would have been far better had the leaders asked Gail Reiss, now the CEO of the Jewish Agency's development arm, to conduct the solicitation training.

Yes. this is now.

And, now, as you know, is a time when there is no JFNA SVP Financial Resource Development and hasn't been since Brian Abrahams left. Worse, if the roster of speakers and trainers is complete, the JFNA fund-raising professional staff may be near extinction -- check the number of JFNA pros in comparison with the number of FRD community consultants -- a large number. 

Eric Fingerhut is on his way. Assuming he has at least a five-year contract, his first act should be to hire the best and brightest to lead a revivified JFNA FRD effort at 25 Broadway because what has been allowed to happen is tragic.

Tragic.

Rwexler