Tuesday, September 1, 2015

THE UNITED ISRAEL APPEAL -- REQUIEM IN PACE?

Speaking of dead, awaiting burial...

Few are left who directly remember the merger battle that brought the leadership of the United Israel Appeal into what would become the sad JFNA and with it the vote of UIA to enable the United Jewish Appeal's dissolution as part of that merger process. But I remember it well as I led the merger side and I have apologized...every chance I have had...to my dear friend and mentor, Shoshana Cardin, who raised the most serious and substantive objections to the merger... and who had a prescience about what the merger would wrought that I and others lacked...or ignored.

I was surprised, as others were shocked, when I was offered the UIA Chair to succeed the inspired leadership that Detroit's Jane Sherman demonstrated in that role. Jane strongly and consistently asserted UIA's role to a succession of JFNA Chairs and CEOs -- as UIA set the JAFI agenda through our federations'  allocations  managed the lengthy portfolio of properties owned/managed by UIA, protected the millions at stake in the United States Resettlement Grant, assured the tax deductibility of our Federations' allocations and advocated for the Jewish Agency working hand-in-hand with a strong CEO, our great friend, Yitzchak Shavit, z'l.

Jane was such a strong advocate that prior to my "seating" as her successor, I was required to fly to NYC at my expense to meet with JFNA's Co-Chairs Joe Kanfer and Kathy Manning so as to assuage their fears and assure that I would be a more "manageable" Chair than was Jane. (I had already been elected UIA Chair by its independent Board.) I assured them as I was required to at the Los Angeles GA just prior to my installation that so long as UIA's limited roles were protected by JFNA and that no actions would be taken by them that would negatively impact on the Jewish Agency, I would "be a good boy." They gave me those assurances...and promptly, almost immediately, breached their agreement with me and, worse, much worse, breached their own fiduciary responsibilities to JFNA's UIA subsidiary. When I privately objected, these leaders threw me under the bus; when I then went public, they backed the bus up almost as well as the driving of which Suge Knight is accused. After months of bitterness, with a lackey best left unnamed, these leaders threatened amending the UIA out of existence unless I resigned. Under those circumstances, even with the continuing support of many UIA and JAFI leaders, I resigned.

The UIA Board elected Milwaukee's Bruce Arbit as my successor. Bruce is/was the best and most knowledgeable lay leader with unquestioned integrity with whom I have had the chance to work over my decades of leadership roles -- no one knew the UIA or the Jewish Agency better and no one was forced to fight harder, almost constantly, to preserve -- not expand, preserve -- UIA's obligations under the merger and its responsibilities under IRS Revenue Rulings, than did Bruce. Far, far more knowledgeable than the JFNA leaders against whom he was forced to push back, Bruce earned -- vu den -- perhaps, albeit doubtful, their respect but certainly their enmity. Time and again, JFNA leaders, having promised Bruce that he and UIA would be the link between JFNA and JAFI, would merely ignore these commitments and act unilaterally. The JFNA lay and professional leadership knew no better, did no better...even after they were reminded.

After Yitzchak Shavit succumbed to the cancer he had fought with such courage for so long, Bruce led the effort to engage Danny Allen and bring Danny back to his pre-merger role as UIA Executive Vice-Chair. I knew from the get-go that Silverman and Becky Caspi would be unable to establish a working relationship with Danny solely because Allen knew so much more about UIA and, more critically, JAFI -- far, far more than the two JFNA professional leaders would ever know. And, sure enough, rather than develop a partnership with Danny, CEO Silverman and Ms. Caspi sharpened their knives and worked to undermine Danny at every turn.

So it came to pass that Bruce's terms ended and Miami's Rich Bernstein succeeded him. Very smart, ambitious, absent local Federation Chair experience Rich embarked immediately on what appeared to be an enhancement of UIA's powers. Rich commissioned a "UIA Futures Report" appointing strong Co-Chairs in D.C.'s Norman Goldstein and Nashville's Fred Zimmerman, the implementation of which would engage UIA in a major advocacy effort (on behalf of its agent, the Jewish Agency) with the federations, more intensive monitoring of its own projects in Israel and other efforts. With incredible leadership, Bernstein and the UIA Executive Vice-Chair Danny Allen, JFNA leadership and the JFNA Board approved the expansion of UIA's work.

Then, with no explanation and no governance action, Rich unilaterally "terminated" the UIA Executive Committee (when I privately expressed my amazement to Bernstein, Rich could have cared less and, clearly, objected to my amazement) and, more and more, Rich began to act unilaterally in ways which appeared to me, and to many others, to be self-promoting (while ostensibly "on behalf of JAFI").

Rich declared himself to be the one, calling in one other JAFI Board member, to resolve all issues as between the Government of Israel and the Jewish Agency to create a compromise that would allow the GOI/JAFI/Federation "World Jewry Initiative" to move forward. The results, as they say, "speak for themselves." As ejewishphilanthropy reported one month ago, the "Initiative" is dead. The UIA Chaverim effort, envisioned as sending tens of lay leaders into the federations to advocate for JAFI's core allocation and more -- well, there have been no reports on their success but JAFI has been advised that the 2015 calendar year federation cash allocations will reach another historic low. The results, as they say, speak for themselves.

(Further, after an expose on the pages of this Blog about abuses in the administration of the Jewish Agency's very important MASA Program [in which, you may recall, an Anonymous Commentator joined the emerging dialogue under a nom de plume], Rich "demanded" in J'Accuse fashion that I "deny" being the Anonymous writer, He did so in a "when did you stop beating your wife" manner notwithstanding that I long before these attacks, I had denied in writing being whoever he was wrongfully accusing me of being.)

Then, last month:


  1. UIA elected Memphis' Andy Groveman, a dedicated, passionate leader within the Jewish Agency and UIA, and an outspoken, committed advocate for overseas allocations, as Bernstein's successor. Andy will need leadership skills he has yet had the opportunity to demonstrate to withstand the acquisitive tendencies of the lay and professional leadership of JFNA's Global Services: Israel and Overseas Council and protect the mandated roles of UIA. I know he will try. Now Andy's first loyalties will have to be to UIA, as the Jewish Agency's principal and JFNA, not to the Jewish Agency, UIA's agent. This may be a difficult transition for Andy. I wish Andy and the UIA Board well; and
  2. After walking a tight-rope for over two years as UIA's professional leader, strengthening UIA and its role vis-a-vis JAFI every step of the way, Danny Allen abruptly "resigned," apparently forced out by Silverman and the constant undermining of Allen's UIA leadership by Caspi. Sadly, Danny, who should have expected the unwavering support of his Chair, Richard Bernstein, inasmuch as everything that Danny had done in his UIA role was to strengthen the organization, found none when he most needed it. Rich appeared to this writer to be far more concerned with his relationships with Siegal/Silverman, et al., than anything else. Instead of standing up for Danny Allen, who appeared to have been under almost constant threat of termination by his superior, Rich Bernstein was not to be found. 
  3. Now, Andy Groveman will have the difficult juggling act of assuring that Danny Allen's successor will be a woman/man who will have the strength and understanding to continue UIA's multiple legal responsibilities without compromising his/her professional integrity to Jerry Silverman and Becky Caspi. Yet, the job description for the UIA Vice-Chair position, drafted with such care prior to the Search process that led to Danny's hiring, is now being reviewed, not by Rich Bernstein, not by Andy Groveman, but by Mark Gurvis, David Brown and Becky Caspi, none of whom have any role in the operations of UIA. Andy Groveman will "lead" the Search process. I have spoken with several professional leaders who would be ideal UIA professional leaders -- each has used the identical language to tell me: "I could never work for Jerry Silverman."

During my brief tenure as UIA Chair, I observed that among all of the arms/tentacles of JFNA, it was UIA that (a) had a Board comprised almost totally of federation Board members and/or present or past Campaign Chairs and (b) was performing its functions faithfully and responsibly as charged by the merger agreement and IRS Revenue Rulings. If that does not continue to be the case, there will be no further need for UIA. 

Rwexler














Wednesday, August 26, 2015

THE GA PRONOUNCED DEAD; AWAITING BURIAL

Like so many of you I enjoyed the General Assemblies -- I attended every one of them over 35 consecutive years. I received my community's Young Leadership Award at one; and I accepted the Sapir Award on behalf of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago at another. I even Chaired one (not a particularly inspiring one BTW). They used to be exciting events -- many of us remember the "Young Turks" uprising at one, where a new generation of leaders demanded and received their place at the decision-making table and all of us who were there will always remember the GA where the plans for the incredible Rally for Soviet Jewry was framed just weeks before it took place. These were just two of the seminal moments for our system, our federations, that took place right there, at a GA. We were energized by them; challenged by them; angered by them -- they were events both exciting and sometimes thrilling. They were never boring.

Now, during our time, we have watched as the GA has, like JFNA itself, withered and died. The GAs have become the Potemkin Villages of Jewish organizational life, full of surface, cliche and "Jerry-speak," signifying nothing of substance behind them. Why else would the most recent GAs attract more flies than lay registrants. Do we really continue to need an annual conclave merely to bring Federation CEOs and staff together with fewer and fewer lay leaders each and every year? This year, in addition to the Prime Minister's commitment to speak at the GA, the GA "headliners" appear to be fundraising "guru" Dan Pallotta, Hollywood/Broadway B-teamer Debra Messing (whom I and too few others enjoyed in the failed TV show "Smash." But, come on -- this is a "draw?"), former NBC newsman David Gregory and Dennis Ross, now out of the Administration, once again a "friend" of the federations, as he becomes every few years. And, assorted others. 

Has it really been a great "new" idea to make Washington the apparent "permanent home" for this desultory meeting? (Other than JFNA staffer with GA responsibility Renee Rothstein's familiarity with D.C. "events" from her days with AIPAC?) (I seem to recall that over a decade and one-half ago JFNA abandoned the incredibly successful and exciting bi-annual Young Leadership Cabinet Washington Conferences because "Washington is so played out;" yet, here we are.) In this iteration of JFNA, a "big idea" is just to throw money (ours) at failure -- so, another $500,000 is included in this year's annual budget to be thrown at the GA for no known purposes and no questions asked. Maybe JFNA will just use the money to pay people to attend.

Now we have been told that the 2015 GA has been "redesigned" to "focus on fund raising." Nice. No FRD staff but a "refocus" of the GA. WTF?? If one looks at the GA Program on-line, it's truly hard to determine exactly what the "focus" of this GA is. Most recently, JFNA seems to be suggesting that "focus" will be the shake-out from the Iran Deal controversy -- I'm guessing...not. The tagline for this GA is "Think Forward" perhaps that should be followed with the real theme: "Act Backward."

Aren't we all sick of watching JFNA use the GAs merely to create new cliches as a substitute for substance? Last year and this, the GA was and is to be a place for Fedovation. As it turned out, Fedovation was nothing more than the explication of federation "best practices" -- a good idea but nothing more than evidence that JFNA leaders seemed not to comprehend that they should have been distributing "best practices" throughout the system every day from braishit. And, they still don't get it, do they? They think that creating a fenced-in area is a "backyard" for the discussion of...what, exactly?...is an appropriate substitute for thought, for exciting programming. 

The GA has died, with JFNA's so-called "leaders," lay and professional alike performing the last rites. The sad fact: the GA is dead and no one even notices.

Rwexler








Monday, August 24, 2015

JERRY BUBIS, z'l

When our friend and mentor, Jerry Bubis, passed away on August 21, we lost an incredible friend and a wonderful mentor. Jerry will be missed by everyone whoever knew him and learned from him...I in particular. As Rabbi David Ellenson eulogized him, Jerry embodied a "...unique combination of charisma, warmth, intellectual acuity and boundless energy." He will be missed most by his beloved Ruby and his family and, then, by anyone who ever sat with Jerry and learned from him.

I first met Jerry Bubis, as did so many of us, through his written works on our federation system -- some of the most important analyses ever written. Many were viewed as "critical;" most would say that they were spot on. Then I met with Jerry when I first joined the Board of the Jewish Agency for Israel where I sought Jerry out and an abiding friendship began. As Larry Moses described Jerry: "He was our teacher, our light and our example." He was all of that for me and so much more.

In addition to our visits in Jerusalem, when I visited Los Angeles, I sought Jerry out time and again. Even when illness forced Jerry into a wheelchair, his energy was undeniable -- as he told me in a phone conversation this year: "My body may be weakened but my mind is bursting with ideas." Jerry was a life force; and his presence in Jewish communal life will be missed as no other. There was not a single time that I spoke with Jerry that I did not come away having learned something -- what a great teacher he was!!

As we completed the merger process that led to the formation of what is today the Jewish Federations of North America, Jerry approached me to ascertain whether I and other lay leaders who led the merger process might support the research that he and his great friend and colleague Steven Windmueller proposed into the process and outcome of that process, I jumped at the chance. The end-product of Steve's and Jerry's prodigious interviews and research -- From Predictability to Chaos not only foresaw the seeds that we planted that helped to place the organization in its deplorable place of today but was rejected by too many communal professional leaders without having read it. Jerry and I would frequently commiserate over the reality of JFNA.

To me, to the end Jerry remained the "Young Turk" that he was in 1969 when he joined with 100s of leaders in demanding that the then Council of Jewish Federations allow them a seat at the CJF leadership table. I have treasured the copy of Bubis' 2005 autobiography Guide Yourself Accordingly: A Memoir" that Jerry gave me with his handwritten note: "To your own self be forever true, Richard." But all the more so I will forever treasure the memories I have of a true hero of Jewish Communal Life and a hero in modern Jewish history, my friend, our friend, Jerry Bubis.

Rwexler

I would be terribly remiss if I did not add a reference to the incredible tribute authored by his professional partner in so many things and his great friend, Steven Windmueller which appeared in today's ejewishphilanthropy -- http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/gerald-bubis-unpacking-the-life-and-legacy-of-a-communal-giant/

And let me thank all of you who have written me and called with your own beautiful memories of this great leader.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

IT JUST GETS WORSE AND WORSE AND...

What's the point of no return on JFNA's continued investment in the woebegone Jerry Silverman? I have recounted on these pages the waste of communal assets at 25 Broadway under the Silverman regime on failed program after failed program, on failed fund raising efforts upon failed fund raising efforts, on failed GA after failed GA -- I choose not to repeat these here inasmuch as everyone inside and outside JFNA is aware of them, some insiders far more aware than I.

Today, let's look at personnel management or mismanagement under this guy and, once again, ask the question, why? Why is this guy still our/their CEO?

  1. FRD...DEAD -- the best and brightest were hired and over the terms of the  last two CEOs...gone. So far gone that the best of them had to be brought back as a consultant just to offer strategies and plans and be camouflage to Silverman's wholly failed and mismanaged professional staff. This used to be the great strength of our national system; now it's our system's greatest void. This is an organization that under Silverman had the opportunity to hire one of the top federation fund raisers in our system; she was interviewed and later told (by Paul Kane!!) that JFNA couldn't "...fit her into its budget." That's just one of the reasons JFNA is a laughingstock.
  2. Global Mess: Israel and Overseas -- this silo apparently is not managed at all from New York...too much trouble I assume. The silo has just grown aimlessly, unmanaged and without focus. Whereas Becky Caspi's predecessors, Menachem Revive and MK Nachman Shai offered both brilliance and access to the GOI for the federations,  since the tragic passing of Yitzchak Shavit, z'l, access to the Prime Minister has been in the hands of whom exactly...his friend, Michael Siegal? Is that how we want this to work? Why not bring in McKinsey and have them advise as to how to make this office work or, at least, explain to David Brown, et al., what it's doing. Is anyone managing this bloated bureaucracy? Not Jerry.
  3. The Global Planning Fable -- remember when CEO Silverman was advising everyone that "if the global Planning Table goes down, JFNA goes down?" He has apparently not forgotten but none of those who heard the threat over and over again will forget it -- this was one of Jerry's feeble and failed attempts to raise money for this Rube Goldbergian failure-to-be. If only Jerry had said "if the GPT fails, then I will resign" inasmuch as the GPT as its "leaders" intended is dead...d.e.a.d DEAD. There was never any enthusiasm for this this "Table" except from its very few remaining proponents -- Kathy Manning and Friends, as it were. But, like a cockroach, even in its death throes,the GPT refuses to die. So, even though the federations wouldn't fund any of the Initiatives (the one that obtained funding -- JQuest  -- saw $648,000 raised from a disparate group of 8 federations and assorted philanthropists-- will now be a responsibility shifted to the new JFNA Education Unit, which must have been sitting with its multi-million dollar funding from the National Agencies Alliance, waiting for something/anything to do). You may recall Silverman's proud hiring of an exceptionally talented D.C. young lay leader to lead both the GPT and GA efforts -- a talented leader of great potential who peremptorily quit when apparently she realized she wouldn't be permitted to do what she was hired to do. Oh Jerry, our Jerry. But, friends, it lives; the GPT lives... its "Partnership Committee" is now going to remain responsible for the JAFI/JDC "split" -- a "power" the GPT arrogated to itself last year. And, at a GPT Partnership Committee meeting earlier this month, one higher-up JFNA leader urged unbelievably: "...we need to spin the end (of the GPT) positively because we spent so much money." This is the disdain that JFNA's leaders have for you -- spin failure so you won't ask too many/any questions. If this all weren't so...so...so...JFNA, it would bring tears of sadness.
  4. Then there is the Ukraine. Were it not for the excellent work of the NCESJ, we would be totally unaware of the crisis, now the growing crisis, of the Jews of the Ukraine -- and, specifically, those caught up in the daily battle in Eastern Ukraine. As I write this 50,000 Russian troops have massed on the Ukraine border. What do we hear from JFNA whose FRD efforts on behalf of this endangered, impoverished population has been so woeful? Absolutely nothing. And who should be ashamed -- we...we...who demand nothing of this organization into which we continue to pour $30,000,000 year after year...that's who.
Track it all, friends...under Jerry Silverman's CEO-ship: Consulting Services lost its long-term professional leader; the GPT hired and then lost its best and brightest professional leader;  UIA, its outstanding Executive Vice-Chair going after three years; Planned Giving and Endowment -- the long-serving superb professional leader, retires with no successor; Finance, the Chief Financial Officer after incredible service (one who was ready, willing and able to consult after his departure pro bono whenever needed -- he's probably no longer waiting by the phone); Financial Resource Development, all lead pros gone; the Network's senior professional, replaced. This is an almost remarkable history of deconstruction -- even for CEO Jerry. And still we...we...do nothing, demand nothing...we. Oh, wait -- at the GA, the non-profit Jewish Leadership Pipeline Alliance will offer counsel, according to FedWorld, whose writers apparently lack all sense of irony given this professional leadership vacuum at 25 Broadway, on "How Do You Retain Top Staff?" Maybe CEO Jerry will be their honored guest?!

I mean...really...any rational lay leader would have said "this has to stop" long, long ago; but JFNA is no place for rational thought let alone rational action. Oh, and Mark Gurvis and the mystery professional, Deborah K. Smith -- what do they do again?

Oh Jerry, you know not what you have done, do you? You still look around, grin 
plastered to the face, thinking "aren't things great?" "Great" -- really, REALLY?

Am I being unfair? I don't think so.

Rwexler


Thursday, August 20, 2015

THE FEARS OF THE KNICKER WETTERS

If you ask Michael Siegal to list the "accomplishments" of JFNA during his three years as Board Chair he will give you a list of few things that amount to...well, absolutely nothing. His acolytes will cheer as if there were accomplishments. They are the Knicker Wetters* of JFNA. Look, we all understand -- no one wants to ever admit failure, let alone failures...plural...let alone not...a...single...success.

Unless, of course, "success' is re-signing (as opposed to resigning) the failed CEO. Or "success" is demanding a new "bench" of senior professionals  -- Gurvis and Rothstein -- whose main contributions appear to be giving Silverman cover. Or, somehow Siegal has convinced himself that "we have had great GAs" when lay registration has fallen to the lowest levels in history. It's one thing when those who see that the Emperor wears on clothes' it's quite another when the Emperor believes that he is perfectly draped in the latest couture.

It's so inconvenient, isn't it, for the knicker wetters to bother themselves with any criticism whatsoever -- after all any criticism would have to be directed at themselves for doing...absolutely nothing. Here is my list of the "accomplishments" during the past three years:

  • Finally, the closing of the book on the ultimate waste that is the Global Planning Table...for which Michael deserves credit for just waiting it out (and probably more). 1.3 FTE remain to pack up the files and bury the body. But what should have been aborted when it first appeared over the objection of every rational review, was allowed to waste millions of dollars and G-d knows how many 1000s of hours because...well, no one either wanted to disappoint Kathy Manning or lacked the cojones to do so;
  • The continuing string of successes at JFNA-Washington; and
  • Continuing valuable programs originated with UJA and CJF, including National Women's Philanthropy, CPE and the Cabinets, such as they are today.
That's it. 

Then there has been the abandonment of "Women at the Wall;" the "delegation" of the conversion issue to JAFI (but, oh, those strong letters); the waste of the Global Planning Table; the FRD failures of "Complete the Journey," and the Israel Emergency Fund and every other feeble effort; and the feckless GAs. And, of course and always, the strange rehiring of the CEO who spearheaded each and every one of these "efforts." Turns out, the only thing we have proved good at -- opening (not filling) Mailboxes.

Thus, of course, those who fear wetting their knickers truly fear that they will do something, anything that might offend anyone at JFNA (or within their own federations) and drop them down a rung on what they perceive to be their "ladder to leadership." Oh, G-d forbid. I watch with a certain irony as some on the JFNA leadership roster plot their "next steps." Many are really, really good. Who are they: usually you can identify them at any meeting by the rictus grin pasted to their punim and their heads eagerly bobbing up and down as a Siegal or Silverman is at the microphone. They ask questions or offer comments so that they will have their moments at the mike letting us know how bright they think they are. They aren't bad people, just the often overly ambitious, some pushed toward the top by one overly ambitious Federation CEO or another. 

You can see the knickers wetting when one of these aspirants sees another emerge, a competitor for the very office(s) he/she wants, the ones you see as "yours" and no one else's. Oh, those are the worst moments of all. After all, you have swallowed hard and led cheers for nothing really year-after-year; and this is your reward -- passed over by someone new on the scene, someone who hasn't kissed tuchis for the last one, five, ten years, promised higher office for your sacrifice of values and principles...and, now, nothing? Somebody parachuted in at the request of an "important" federation. You go to your federation CEO who promises to "put in the good word" but does nothing for fear of offending...Jerry? Hell, you might as well have spoken out; at least then you would have retained your self-respect. But, no, you gave it all up for a promise of a bowl of porridge...and, now, nothing.

Man, that's what passes for leadership JFNA-style.

Rwexler

* In British lore, "knicker wetters" applies equally to men and women.

Monday, August 17, 2015

THE "SEINFELD" SHOW

I have often suggested that JFNA is the reality show equivalent of Seinfeld -- all about nothing. Here's the latest proof:

1. The Government of Israel/World Jewry Joint Initiative. The last time we wrote about this fiasco:

  • JFNA had raised bubkus to support the millions committed from Diaspora Jewry for the Initiative -- funds JFNA agreed to raise but hasn't/didn't/can't/won't;
  • The Israel Government's Diaspora Affairs Ministry was in the midst of coopting the role of the Jewish Agency, the originator of the Initiative (a cooption that  UIA Chair Richard Bernstein took upon himself [unilaterally] to reverse); and
  • Jewish Agency leaders were in open verbal warfare with Dvir Kahana, the Director General of the Diaspora Affairs Ministry, one with no apparent previous engagement with Diaspora Jewry.
Well, it's not a "World Jewry Joint Initiative" any longer. Fast forward to two weeks ago when ejewishphilanthropy disclosed in a lengthy analysis that that cooption was now complete. JAFI -- evicted from its organizing and management role in its entirety. Then on August 10, Haaretz disclosed that JAFI had formally and publicly (and angrily) withdrawn from what will now be an expensive GOI Initiative without, apparently, Diaspora Jewry or JAFI involvement.

One day after the ejp story, JFNA announced a Board teleconference for Monday, August 10 (the same date as it happened that the Haaretz story appeared [also reprinted in ejp]) with the following Agenda:

      "Campaign / Missions / Events
-          Government of Israel Initiative – Recent Developments*
-          Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Address to Jewish Federations
-          President Obama’s Meeting with Leaders of Jewish Organizations"
(Perhaps JFNA leaders don't even read ejp or Haaretz...just FedWorld.)  The Report was to the point -- however the suggestion was made that JFNA sent a letter to the Prime Minister joining JAFI, the WZO and KH in withdrawing. It turned out that the letter was from JAFI alone to the Prime Minister announcing that none of the Diaspora organizations would participate.

2. Then there's "Campaign." First, it should be noted that one Anonymous Comment suggested that JFNA was headed "Back to the Future" with Max Kleinman doing...what exactly(?) during his two day a week consultancy; Bob Aronson on board (he's not, trust me); and Vicki Agron brought back two weeks ago, one guesses, to plan an FRD approach by a JFNA that is devoid of staff, Jerry having cleaned out a Department of professionals never allowed to do their jobs...by Silverman. (It was no coincidence that Vicki was asked to return in time to attend JFNA's Fundraising University apparently to "show" that the organization is not devoid of FRD professionals -- even though Vicki is only a consultant.) Harold Gernsbacher, a leader of integrity, should know by now, months after Silverman and Siegal promised him the earth, the moon and the stars to induce Harold to take the position (after others turned them down, knowing that whatever they were promised was purely fiction), that he is drowning in bullshit. There is no "campaign;" how can there be when there is no campaign staff but for lonely Beverly Woznica out there in Los Angeles.

3. The Iran Deal. If the infantile FedWorld is to be believed, JFNA is all over the "Iran Deal." JFNA leaders, including New York UJA-Federation's President Elisa Doctoroff, and, of course, the ubiquitous CEO Jerry (who never misses a chance to be at the White House), attend and report on meetings of Jewish leaders with the President.  It has offered its Board members access to Conference of Presidents' teleconferences with the President, the Vice President, the Prime Minister, the U.S. Energy Secretary**; it publishes links to some, but not all, of the federation statements on the "Deal," most (and more and more) if not all in opposition to the "Deal." 

JFNA has determined to "collect data" on federation positions on the "Deal" while "standing behind its Statement" determined to monitor the federations'  positions while JFNA's own Board has not even discussed the possibility of an organizational position. After all, the Federation leaders, most of whose communities have discussed the "Deal," even if not voted upon, can't be trusted now can they to have a reasoned debate? Barry Shrage has suggested just such a discussion; and JFNA leaders promise to "follow-up" with him "directly." It's all so infantile -- an organization unworthy of trust has no trust in its own Board. As a further example of that lack of trust, it was clear that in the Conference Call convened by JFNA with the respected analyst Robert Satloff, that Satloff had been instructed by someone(s) at JFNA that he should offer no opinion on the deal...none. Satloff, so constrained, was clearly uncomfortable presenting the Deal but he complied. Now, read his true opinion The Atlantic On-Line, August 13. 

HEY, Michael, you can trust 'em, they're harmless. It's Jerry (not Seinfeld, Silverman) who has proved to be dangerous.

Rwexler

* Interesting that JFNA leaders consider the "Initiative" to be a Fund Raising matter, when JFNA at a time that its successful FRD for this Initiative might have made a difference...failed...failed badly.
** When the eminent political analyst Robert Satloff presented an analysis of the "Deal" on a JFNA Conference Call was he directed by JFNA to not offer his personal opinion on the "Deal?" Just asking...

Friday, August 14, 2015

DOES MORE DIVIDE US THAN UNITES US?

One of us recently wrote Anonymously quoting the ubiquitous Peter Beinart:
"Your blog is an important resource for our discussions and you deserve credit for giving us this space. We should discuss this:

'Thus, in the days after the Iran deal, American Jewish leaders didn’t wait for polls of American Jews. Nor is there any public evidence that the eight Federations that came out against the deal surveyed Jews in their cities first. So how did Jewish leaders make their decision? When I asked an influential Jewish communal official, he said simply: “They consulted their boards.” In other words, they consulted their large donors.'

There is much that Beinart gets wrong here. And yet there is a point that we can't ignore either: 'Whether or not you support the Iran nuclear agreement, it has laid bare a profound gulf between American Jews and the organizations that purport to represent them.'"

http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-1.668571
Under Beinart's postulate, Federation Boards, as an example, are: (1) made up everywhere by "large donors" and "only large donors;"and (2) "American Jews" so overwhelmingly support the "Iran deal" as to render opposition to the "deal" against the grain. Beinart's presumptions are wholly refutable -- they embody the fatal flaw of categorical generalizations; especially generalizations about American Jewry; and those presumptions evidence how very little Beinart knows about the federations. And, JFNA, whose leaders should be the ones publicly rejecting Beinart, they'll probably invite him to speak at the GA.

As one commentator wrote, the more Americans and American Jewry learn about the details of the "deal" and its ramifications the greater the opposition to it.  Yet, for some, for many, the "Deal" is nothing more than a battleground -- maybe the battleground -- for the hearts and minds of the American Jewish polity. It is a battle being fought on all sides with emotion and passion and mistruths and real anger.

My federation Board, no matter the ultimate position it takes, if any, speaks for me on the Iran deal and more; so do the stronger Statements on the Iran Deal from, e.g., Miami, Houston and Los Angeles. Peter Beinart presumes to speak for me...and for you...I know that he does not speak for me, and I doubt he speaks for anyone other than Peter Beinart. My federation Board is fairly representative of my community: Peter Beinart is representative of no one other than Peter Beinart. What Beinart believes, and he is not wrong on this one, is that no organization...none...can presume to speak on behalf of the community if it does not have support of that community; yet, he does not believe in communal governance -- at the least he does not trust those who are governing when they don't agree with him

If we follow Beinart's formulation, then no Jewish communal organization could ever take a position on anything, could take no action on anything,  without somehow polling the entirety of the Jewish population in its community. The entire construct of representative government as embodied in the very concept of federation, would be void. Is this what we want? Really? Have we forgotten that our communal strength is in our unity; with all of our political power, our numbers remain small, our power disproportionately great. This will not continue if we allow ourselves to be divided by partisan battles. 

At the end of the battle over the "Iran Deal," there will be a vote, a veto and another vote. There will be winners and losers but, trust me on this, we will all be losers at the end of this process, emerging weaker no matter the outcome. And, you hear not one of our communal leaders talking about this reality invested as they are either in "winning" or "losing" or not being found on "the wrong side."

My sense is that trust in our communal institutions and our Continental organization is breaking down...and rapidly. That collapse is not the fault of Blogs or Beinarts, it is the fault of a failed lay and professional leadership  -- a "do nothing/see no evil" leadership that repeats its failures and, in Orwellian fashion, "rebrands" failures as successes. 

Your thoughts are welcome...

ADDENDUM --

I thank most of you for your Comments to this Post, as always. Unfortunately if the Commentators are considered representative of our polity, we are a deeply, deeply divided based upon where one stands with regard to the federation positions vis-a-vis the Iran Deal -- sadly, those who are opposed to their federation's position on the Iran transaction have articulated the view that the Federation is not representative of the community. (Conversely, I assume that if your community has adopted a position on the Iran Deal, or a silence with which you agree, then the Federation is representative of the community.) 

Our collective community, unrepresented though we are by JFNA, will emerge even more weakened from this dialogue (if it can be called that), this disputation (if it can be called that) than the terribly weakened state it was in before the Iran Deal. It did not have to be this way. I repeat as I wrote above, at the end of this "process," "we will all be losers."

More's the pity.

Rwexler

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

DUMB AND DUMBER

1. Searching for Something. Leading off this litany of the dumb -- the Mandel Center for Leadership Excellence. Once again, JFNA's "search firm" in its CEO headhunting is attempting to sell the "sizzle" while the "steak" (Or "stakes") goes unmentioned. You may recall, when seeking a new CEO for the Buffalo Federation, Mandel emphasized the lack of rush hour traffic in Buffalo -- a most major selling point, I'm sure. Then, with the Broward CEO search begun, Mandel was selling the "weather" down there. I am certain that in all instances at some point, Mandel's search personnel mention the challenges (which in Broward are daunting in the extreme to be certain) but, first and foremost, the weather. OMG!!

2. Dr. Feelgood. Hidden amongst the names and no-names on the Speakers List for the GA is one Dan Pallotta. I didn't know Mr. Pallotta until good friends in the field sent me on a brief quest for Pallotta's consulting record and his mantra. I now know him as Dr. Feelgood. In his bio for the GA, here is one cite:
"At TED2013, Pallotta gave a powerful talk asking the public to rethink their assumptions about charities. Pallotta shared the story of his own nonprofits — AIDSRides bicycle journeys, which raised $236 million for HIV/AIDS over a period of nine years and Breast Cancer 3-Days, which raised $333 million for breast cancer over a period of five years. Both went out of business because of public outrage that his organization spent 40% of its gross on so-called “overhead”—things like staffing, marketing and creating a great experience for those who participated." (Emphasis added)
Those "restraints?" They are otherwise known as "accountability," "responsibility" and "fiduciary duty."

Pallotta's mantra is simple: your success as a non-profit requires a greater investment in overhead; ignore those who complain about costs of fund-raising and spend all that you need to spend to achieve your organizational objectives; 50% overhead; 60%...don't worry about the objections. The good Doctor's message will resonate with those whose communities are spending 20%, 25%, 50% and more to raise a dollar...But it's a dangerous message. Just right for a JFNA GA. But good Doc Feelgood is getting a lot of play.

3.Silence. Usually I am just aghast at JFNA's silence on every issue of importance to the Jewish People. But, now, you may have noticed that for the past months, nothing whatsoever has been heard from the usually open mouths at 25 Broadway. So, I am suspicious that something is up beyond the 5 year vacation that CEO Jerry has been on since his hiring. Is Jerry out racking up more Frequent Flier miles or does he go dormant in the Summer? Like a snail. Or is something about to be sprung upon us -- another TribeFest or a Tel Aviv 2 (again) or...G-d please...his retirement with benefits. Waiting fearfully.

4. Abandonment. Speaking of silence last month the "new" Netanyahu Government coalition abandoned the prior commitment of the "old" Netanyahu Government coalition to "ease" conversions. The Jewish Agency was vocal in its displeasure and appears to be planning an awkward non-governmental response that the ultra-Orthodox Religious Affairs Ministry will never recognize. All of this while JFNA was doing absolutely nothing. Perhaps and as usual our organization was "surprised." And, even so, JFNA's failed/failing Global Planning Table pursues private non-federation funding for its Civil Society Initiative. Would you...or you...entrust JFNA through its GPT with any Initiative? COME ON. BTW, the action of the GOI Cabinet on this issue did merit a link to a NYT July 5 article on the subject -- the attitude expressed "this is not our problem" is so, so wrong.

5. Shiny Objects. Under its current, what passes for, professional "leadership" JFNA has an evident institutional attention deficit disorder. This may account, in part, for its ridiculous record of never successfully completing...anything. (N.B. when I write this be aware that I exclude from this Commentary the exemplary work in Washington led by William Daroff resulting in millions for our system. If only the rest of JFNA could follow that example. [And I exclude from the commendation for JFNA-Washington, its work on the Alliance and Emergency Relief where even that Office is more in the mode of JFNA generally].) It's not just where JFNA has chosen a path -- an ish, a TribeFest, a Global Planning Table, a "Signature Initiative," a Mailbox or 10, among so many -- it's that as soon as a Nepal arises, JFNA is distracted by this shiny object, from "Completing the Journey" or from assisting the Jews of the Ukraine, as but examples. Hence, the "ask" after "ask" with no prioritization -- and the failure after failure. These are what create the circus atmosphere in which JFNA fails time and time again. And this will not stop until there is some leadership -- where is that going to come from? Look around.


6. That "Reply All" Button. One has to continually marvel (if that's the word) at those who fail to understand that most of us, recipients of a group email announcing a conference call, don't care whether you will participate. At least I don't. 

Rwexler

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

TRANSPARENCY?

And now we return to our regularly scheduled programming...

As lay leaders in organizations ranging from the local -- federation -- to the national -- whether it's, e.g., the NCESJ, JCPA or another -- to the continental -- JFNA -- to the overseas -- JDC or JAFI or another, we have either demanded greater transparency or ignored or deplored the lack of transparency depending upon the organization and our loyalty to it. The result is a mixed bag and worse.

But the worst example of a lack of transparency must be JFNA where otherwise bright and ambitious leaders demand nothing of an organization that taxes their member communities with their pro rata share of a bloated Budget and those taxed beyond reason ask for nothing in return. As has so often been the case, Bret Stephens, writing in The Wall Street Journal, offered an assessment of President Obama that resonates as well as a critic of the JFNA of today:
"...lofty in its pronouncements and rich in self-regard, but incompetent in its execution and dismal in its results."
There you have it, succinct and direct and so insightful.

Claims of successes by JFNA insiders are, in the phrase of the week/month/year, "jiggery-pokery" and just plain "applesauce." I mean...really. Those claims do not comport with reality in any way, shape or form. I have offered these pages, on more than one occasion, to anyone who wishes to restate the specifics of JFNA's "triumphs." I do so again, right here, right now. But, I won't hold my breath.

Those who steered the merger that created JFNA handed over to the leaders of today a structure that would have worked if it had been implemented; and a Vision and Mission worthy of the federations. Yet, these leaders used their power to ignore the Vision and Mission they were bequeathed (I would wager that Jerry Silverman has no idea what I am talking about) to assert a set of personal agendas and to waste millions in pursuit of them with nothing to show for these "efforts."

And, what are the consequences of these almost constant failure(s)? Actually...there are none. The perpetrators have, on the professional side, had their contracts extended and, on the lay side, received the congratulations from those very failed professionals they have rewarded. It is now a self-perpetuating oligarchy, ratified by an unthinking, unquestioning Board of federation leaders who would never permit these failures to multiply at their own federations. If you showed these lemmings a sand dune, their first reaction would be to immediately stick their collective head in it. With the merger they accepted ownership but have ignored the responsibilities that came with it.

Sometimes facts force us to confront the reality we really don’t wish to believe. Today's leadership refuses to face the facts. The only thing that is transparent at JFNA is failure. 

This clown show has convinced me and others that we sit on a JFNA "suicide watch" but, while JFNA's bankruptcy, morally, organizationally and intellectually, is self-evident; death is not yet assured. It's close though.

Rwexler




Sunday, August 2, 2015

A PLEA

Three days ago I wrote a Post about the absurd futility of Financial Resource Development at JFNA and many, many of you turned the discussion to an often angry, often vituperative tirade about respective positions on the Iran Deal. It was not nearly the intelligent discussion we often have on these pages.

Friends, we find ourselves, individually and collectively, in the midst of a damaging firefight, as American Jews are gathered in a circular firing squad ready to fire...and firing...at each other. In my memory, which as you know goes back a long, long way, never have I seen our Jewish mishpacha so divided; so divided against ourselves. Too many of us, way too many, have come to view the Iran Deal "debate" as a zero sum game and we, as a Jewish polity, are being badly, badly damaged.

Setting aside your opinions on Ambassador Michael Oren's book, Ally, today's circumstances and internal bickering remind me of Oren's retelling of a visit to Washington by Prime Minister Netanyahu, where Oren brought the leadership of the Republican Jewish Coalition and the National Jewish Democratic Council together with the PM. As Oren described it, this so-called "leadership," ignored the Prime Minister, and just began screaming at and over each other until Oren intervened at the top of his voice. The bi-partisanship that used to characterize American Jewish political engagement has been sacrificed at the alter of partisanship -- "you are either with us or we're against you." Yes, we can thank the Obama Administration for part of this conversion; but, at the end of the day, we truly have ourselves to blame. Those of us on the far right within the Jewish polity, mainly Republicans but not all, think nothing about characterizing those of us who are progressive, liberal Jews, mainly Democrats but not all, as abandoning Israel, fearing characterization as "Fifth Columnists," and similar. Aipac is being weakened not by the histrionics of John Kerry, but by us...by us, and stands accused by some of you of embracing this dispute with our government as a cynical fund raising ploy while "pressuring federations." Meanwhile the leaders of JFNA are in their usual position -- cowering in a corner for fear someone will demand to know the organization's position when, as always, it has none. And, many consider having no position to be the best place to be and condemn all those on either side.

The partisanship doesn't end there. When one of those Congressmen who has historically been a strong, strong supporter of Israel, vote-after-vote, Sander Levin, indicated early-on that he would vote in favor of the "Iran Deal," friends of mine sent out vile and vituperative e-mails and texts stating, in effect, "we will get him" in the next election. This is what we are doing toward our friends. Favor the Deal? You're "J-Street;" you're "anti-Israel." Oppose the Deal? You're "pro-War." There is no middle ground; there is only the screeching of the Carolyn Glicks on one hand and the screed of the Jeremy Ben-Amis on the other. Pick a side or you're with the enemy; pick a side and you are the enemy. It's all shrill; it's all shameful.

Friends, it's going to be nigh impossible for the Jewish polity to pull back together when the current issue subsides, as it will, into history. Things might be different if anyone at all had sufficient respect at our communal and national institutions to be listened to and if those self-same leaders had the courage to speak out, to demand that we find unifying principles around which we...all of us...could coalesce and go forward. But, of course, all of this is happening at a time that our organizational leadership apparently command no respect whatsoever.

In a rational world each of us and all of us might examine the Iran Deal and understand that there are arguments both pro and con (yes, I wrote that); perhaps stronger on one side than the other, but certainly pro and con. That kind of understanding should lead to a civil discussion among intelligent Jewish men and women but it doesn't and it hasn't -- not in the media and not in so many of your Anonymous Comments on this subject on the pages of this Blog and elsewhere. We need leaders today who will urge us to first reject the extremists on both the left and the right so that we can have serious, reasoned discussion and debate. The time for pointing fingers at each other in our communities must come to an end.

Yes, I long for that day when our leaders were men and women of such strength that they would and could move us toward tolerance and civility in our public (and private) statements. On these pages I have often longed for the leadership of a Shoshana Cardin...but, instead we are afflicted with human weakness, men and women who believe that placing their heads in the sand rather than standing tall is leadership; men and women who have done nothing to merit the respect that would obligate us to listen. So...they...do...nothing. They are waiting for someone else.

Sigh.

AN ADDENDUM:

Some of you seem to misunderstand whose Blog this is and believe that insulting me with misstatements entitles you to space here while you hide behind your Anonymity. Thus, one of you wrote in response to this Post:" Attack people who care about Israel because they didn't jump to condemn the administration and then call for peace and quiet. That's leadership." The so-called "Commentator" who totally misrepresented what has appeared on these pages will no longer have his/her "Comments" appear on these pages. 

Then there was the even more moronic Anonymous one who misrepresented so much that he/she will never again have his/her Comments appear on these pages. Just so he/she will know whom I am referencing, you are the one who believes that only your opinion is relevant; that I insulted all "communal servants" (a strange characterization by referencing the Court Jews in our system); and that I am under the influence of Aipac. 

Both of you, are entitled to your opinions; you are not entitled to make up your own "facts." 

Do not write again because, sadly, you don't want debate or discussion; you demand only acquiescence to your preformed views, to your hate of all those who disagree with you.


Rwexler