Wednesday, October 18, 2017


Here are the numbers:

1. The World Zionist Organization -- 50% of the members of the JAFI Board
2. Jewish Federations/United Israel Appeal -- 30% of the members

3. Keren Ha'Yesod countries + Canada -- 20% of the members

Now, remember those numbers, we will revisit them later.

Some history: A two year old but still current, comprehensive and insightful article in Haaretz --  -- The Politics and Money Behind Israel's Zionist Bureaucracy -- spelled out in graphic terms the "resurrection" of the World Zionist Organization under the leadership of Avraham "Duvdev" Duvdevani. While Haaretz did an excellent job, what it left out was American Jewry's role in raising WZO to its current elevated status. Let me fill in the blanks. 

It was the law of unintended consequences at work.

Yep, men and women of good faith, with the chance to effect real change in the governance of the Jewish Agency, a two-person "task force" led by a wonderful philanthropist, Jane Sherman, and he who was among the system's best and brightest CEOs, Cleveland's Steve Hoffman, we willingly allowed ourselves to be taken to the cleaners by Duvdev and his cronies in leadership of WZO.

Here is what I recall happened. Sherman and Hoffman went into what they might still call "negotiations" with WZO on our behalf. I don't know what goals they had, but they came back with an "agreement," apparently dictated by good old Duvdev and cronies, and that was the "deal." To anyone within earshot, including this writer, Jane Sherman made certain we would understand "this deal cannot be changed" -- not a comma, not a verb or pronoun, not a typo -- "this deal cannot be changed in any way." 

What was the deal? The offices of Chair of the JAFI Executive and the Chair of the World Zionist Organization would be separated and the WZO would no longer receive funding from the JAFI Budget. To secure this "victory" JAFI would pay the WZO 10s of millions for...well, what exactly? No questions were allowed, no changes would be allowed. This was the "deal."

So, what happened? Duvdev took JAFI's multi-million dollar payout and with further multi-year multi-million dollar funding from Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael he took the WZO into direct competition with the Jewish Agency. And WZO did all of this while retaining its controlling votes within JAFI's governance. (And the reality is, notwithstanding the breakdown at the top of this Post, the WZO, should it wish to exercise its "ownership," controls the votes of Keren Ha'Yesod -- another 20% on top of its 50%.)

I suppose that if you asked the leaders who "negotiated" this deal on our behalf how we ended up with...oh, nothing...they would tell you, if they deigned to answer at all, (1) none of your business and (2) 20/20 hindsight is always best. Well, this wasn't 20/20 hindsight. JFNA/UIA JAFI Board members did request changes -- ranging from typos to substance -- immediately upon receiving the deal in writing. They were told in words like this: "What don't you understand about 'no changes, no amendments?'" It was a done deal...period.

Does WZO's continued control of JAFI governance constitute a conflict of interest? Does a bear shit in the woods? Is anyone at JFNA/UIA going to raise the question? Does a bear shit in the woods? Is Duvdev smiling? All the way to the bank.


Sunday, October 15, 2017


On September 12, Haaretz reported that In New York, Netanyahu Meets Jewish Leaders for  First Time Since Western Wall Crisis. JFNA was represented at that meeting -- I'm sure it was purely an oversight that the JFNA Board has not been updated in any way on either the nature or substance of that meeting...or even that it occurred; further proof that JFNA's leaders have total disdain for its own Board members let alone the federations.

On the substance of the twin crises fomented by the Prime Minister -- the breach of the 2016 Agreement to create an egalitarian prayer soace at the Kotel and his support for an egregious piece of Knesset legislation on conversions -- the issues remain. Much has been written on these subjects; opinion pieces abound. Many have been insightful and informative -- especially Judy Maltz's reporting in Haaretz

Then there was the incredible screed from the poison pen of one Caroline Glick who purports to understand American Jewry because she grew up here but, really, hates us. On September 24, she first predicted the demise of American Jewry,, made wildly false and unsupported accusations -- "...both movements (Reform and Conservative), and a large swath of the Jewish institutional world, led in large part by Reform and Conservative Jews, have either turned a blind eye to...antisemitism or supported it" -- before turning her "focus" to the twin crises doing her best to diminish them to the point of irrelevance.

As to the egalitarian prayer space -- Glick calls it the "overturn" of " earlier decision to build a passageway." Oh, and she belittles and misrepresents the "rescission" of "...a previous decision to have representatives of the Conservative and Reform movements receive membership in the committee that manages the Western Wall Plaza." She sees those Movements' opposition to the Prime Minister's abrogation of his Government's agreement to be nothing more than than an effort to "...keep their dwindling bases engaged and attract members of the increasingly anti-Israel far Left."

Glick  concluded that the entire brouhaha was fomented not by the Prime Minister's abrogation but by American Jewry and our failure to recognize how really unimportant this all is. I'd call this entire Glick piece irrational, unsupported and usual.

Friends, Glick and her ilk are so wrong. The failure here is writ large -- it is a failure of American Jewish leadership to join with the Reform and Conservative Movements (and, were they capable of raising their voices, the failure of non-Haredi Rabbinic leadership to speak out against the Knesset legislation that would impact so directly on their legitimacy as well) and an apparent inability to join Natan Sharansky and the leadership of the Jewish Agency in vigorous, loud and continuous denunciation of the Prime Minister's actions.

And I'm not talking of periodic spasms of quotes like Jerry Silverman's on the cusp of the Israel Supreme Court's hearing on the breach of the Wall Agreement that this "...has become a defining moment over whether or not Israel is truly the nation-state of the Jewish people" and then waiting for the next interview opportunity or an invite from the PM for a stop and chat. 

You haven't heard much, if anything actually, from JFNA since the debacle created by the Prime Minister's political decisions in June when, in a bizarre claim of "victory" where there was none, JFNA claimed that a 6 month delay on consideration of the Conversion Bill announced by the PM, was a result of its pressure. What I guess is going on is that JFNA is waiting in the weeds hoping against hope that Natan Sharansky can snatch real victory from the jaws of defeat and, right then, JFNA can ride Natan's coattails claiming it had something to do with it. 

But Jerry Silverman had a lot to say in an interview with The Jerusalem Post after that meeting with the Prime Minister in the aftermath of the abrogation of the 2016 Agreement and the PM's announced support of the Conversion legislation:
"'I believe he did listen and I am hopeful we can stop the conversion bill as it is right now,' Silverman told The Jerusalem Post at the time. A temporary solution has since been reached on the conversion issue, under which the state, together with the Reform and Masorti movements will request that the High Court of Justice delay by at least six months a ruling on a petition to grant non-Orthodox converts recognition by the state. In return, the haredi parties agreed to suspend their legislation. Silverman told the Federation’s executive directors that their activity, along with other Jewish groups, had been effective after they pressed the issue to local Israeli consuls general, wrote letters and emails to those of influence and spoke out to the media.

In recent comments to the Post, however, Silverman --who usually takes an optimistic approach to Israel and the Jewish people--raised doubts that the the country is acting as the nation state of all the Jewish people. He noted that the sudden suspension of the Western Wall agreement after three and a half years of negotiations and the conversion legislation, which would permanently prevent non-Orthodox converts in Israel obtaining citizenship, 'devalued 85% of Diaspora Jewry' and created doubts as to the country’s commitment to its brethren abroad."
(Earlier), in June, Silverman told the Post that he is '...the eternal optimist when it comes to the Jewish people, because I believe in the people of Israel...I believe that over time we will be able to bring this back together and focus on what is really key, which is the Jewish people.'" 
Uh huh. Jerry. 

The Jerusalem Post concluded: "It seems, however, as though his faith -- and that of the Jewish communities he presides over -- has been severely shaken." OK then.

There is no JFNA action plan; there is no action and no plan. There is talk.

That's us -- no action and no plan.


Thursday, October 12, 2017


I want to at least try to be fair. Tell you the truth, I can't think of a single reason that Jerry Silverman believed that he could perform the responsibilities of CEO of JFNA when he was hired; when he was relieved of his JFNA management responsibilities three years (+/-) later; or when he agreed to the renewal of his contract. I understand why he did so -- tough to turn down $700,000 (+/-) a year, isn't it. But...really...REALLY?

If those who believe that the federations are dying or dead were looking for a host body into which to inject their virus, they found it in Jerry. I don’t believe that was then Board Chair Kathy Manning’s intent — she merely arose from the larvae of small Federation city, Greensboro  (though she never failed to remind any and all within earshot that she was raised in the culture of the Detroit Federation), and by dint of very hard work, a willingness to take on any job, diligence and self-promotion had risen to the position of Chair with only the most modest of experience in federation life or governance — she just wanted to appoint someone “outside the box;” viz., someone with less federation knowledge than she and one who would know that he owed his job to her and her alone. Kathy insured Jerry’s engagement by appointing a Search Committee made up, in the main, of those who felt it was more important to unquestioningly follow the Chair's lead than to even think about let alone dare to question the fitness of her choice for the position. 

Rather than a match made in heaven, JFNA and Jerry were more like a perfect storm of dysfunction. When a small group of us met with Silverman for the first time in Chicago before he began his "work," I suggested to him the value of immediately hiring a COO with federation experience as his professional partner. He rejected the idea -- it was something he would "get to" in the near-term future. Two-plus years later, then Board Chair Michael Siegal imposed a COO on Jerry, stripping away Silverman's management functions, leaving him to be, as Michael described it to me, the "public face" of JFNA at the same or higher salary. Vayezmir.

Having accomplished nothing during his contract term, JFNA lay leaders having rewritten Silverman's job description to less than half of what he had been hired to perform, his contract was renewed. This renewal of Jerry's contract was awarded like a lagniappe of some kind -- a reward for nothing; for Jerry had done nothing and had given no indication on any objective measure of being the least bit capable of doing anything into the future. In fact, in announcing the contract extension to the Board, Chair Siegal could not provide a single rationale for doing so. And, here we are approaching four years later with only failure to show for the effort -- or, really, the lack thereof.

Chevre, there was a dumpster fire on-going at JFNA when Michael Siegal and his tiny cabal of leadership determined to renew Jerry's contract. I can only guess that they thought that Jerry, largely responsible for the dumpster fire, could put it out by pouring gas on it. And they were wrong...terribly wrong. This tiny cabal proved that they talk only among themselves in the echo chamber they have created. Faced with the absolute necessity of demanding change, JFNA leaders responded with pusillanimous refusal. 

And, they continue to...Richard Sandler was part of the decision to renew Jerry's contract; worse, his governance philosophy -- delegate to the professional and then "get out of the way" -- has proved to just not work when the professional in whom he has vested his full confidence is so clearly not competent to run the organization or even to be its "public face" in anything other than photo ops and a periodic interview.

It's time for a change; that is JFNA's only chance for a future.

JFNA under its current leaders evidences everything embodied in the acronym TARFU.

You can look it up.


Monday, October 9, 2017


On the cusp of the New Year, two educators, writing on behalf of Jerusalem U. in ejewishphilanthropy, offered an inspirational message. In A New Year's Message: Embrace Change, the authors, Lior Krinsky and Dina Rabhan, concluded as follows:

"As an organization that fully embraces innovation, we constantly grapple with the tensions of evolving to remain relevant and fresh while staying true to our mission and purpose as a goals-driven, Israel and Jewish identity education organization.
We will continue to communicate our challenges and self-assessment with bold transparency with the intention of contributing to a communal conversation about Israel education. Our shift toward dynamic, complex and nuanced Israel education is far from complete. We have a lot of work to do, and a lot of content to create. We’re excited to share our journey with a growing community of educators, and look forward to continuing on in this exciting new venture." 
Incredibly refreshing isn't it to read an organizational leadership writing about "embrace innovation," "evolving to remain relevant and fresh," "staying true to...mission and purpose," "goals driven," "self-assessment," "bold transparency." Compare and contrast these leadership commitments to that which is not happening at 25 Broadway, a place where there are no commitments and where there is no accountability.

For JFNA's leaders don't/can't "embrace change" because they don't believe that any change is necessary.

I am told that internally, within its professional cadre, JFNA has adopted as its latest jargon,  the "need for 360 degree thinking." Someone at HQ must have read an article and said to themselves: "wow, this sounds really good." As one article still fresh today, two+ months after publication, stated: "Third Space Thinking promotes the integration of Adaptability, Cultural Competency, Empathy, Intellectual Curiosity and 360-Degree Thinking into how you view the world." In other words: "meaningless absent understanding."

"360-Degree Thinking, takes a holistic, multi-dimensional and analytical approach to problem solving. By developing this skill, you’re able to convert information into insights and then connect the dots to move into action. I recently saw the process of creating a ritual out of this attribute broken down into three components: hindsight, insight and foresight." 
If you believe that the JFNA of today is capable of "...a holistic, multi-dimensional and analytical approach to problem-solving," please raise your hands. That's what I thought. Here's my base thought: you first have to identify the "problems" before you can apply any kind of thought, 360 degrees or otherwise, to problem solving. If JFNA's senior professional leader thinks otherwise, he is wrong. 

Sadly, instead of "embracing change," JFNA continues down its chosen path of pursuing bright, shiny objects, the most current of which is the 360 degree thinking of which it is incapable. Let's unpack all of this...or, whatever.



Friday, October 6, 2017


The JFNA General Assembly is the institutional embodiment of that tree falling in the forest and not making a sound.

Perhaps the best/worst evidence of the abysmal failure of JFNA under a leadership embedded in the depths of failure is the GA 2017 which, a little over one month away, is reflecting the worst attendance...ever. The venue is a downtown hotel (yes, an LA hotel, not the LA Convention Center that was the central venue for the last General Assembly in that great City) is the smallest venue for a GA...ever; the number of vendors renting exhibition space the fewest...ever; and many rooms available if you wish to register. We all know the drill by now: fill the seats with day school and Hillel students, offer freebies to locals, proclaim there are 3,000 (always 3,000!!!) "in attendance."  This bogus number is really nothing less than proof of failure. 

JFNA has secreted away $100,000s of thousand ($250,000 in this year's [or was itlast year's] Budget alone) to protect against the annual abject failure of GA after GA, but, it appears, beyond "marketing" a theme -- Venture Further -- that only Jerry Silverman could believe means anything, that no creative thought was given to how make the GA the success that it once was -- mirroring the inability by JFNA's leaders to give any thought to making JFNA what it once was. (Yes, I do mean, UJA and CJF.) 

There will  be speakers and presenters -- many, many of them, most yet to be identified on the Program, but they will include philanthropists like Michael Milken and Peter Lowy, Jerry Silverman (who will offer a Plenary "Words of Wisdom" -- OMG!!), a "veteran cause marketer," "Richard Sandler will share his views on the Jewish future" and Steven M. Cohen, Arnie Eisen, Chuck Todd and Andrea Mitchell will return once again. There is also a whole bunch of Hollywood-related stuff on the Program that may be of interest...or not:
"You may know them from the big screen, but their rabbis know them from shul. Get to know the Jewish side of Hollywood as notable television and film celebrities engage in conversation, live, with their rabbis."
As Richard Sandler pointed out in a Memo this week: "The GA program is filled with many unique speakers and discussion topics at the top of our communal agenda. We will have several opportunities to venture further into the future of Jewish education, philanthropy, and our community — taking The Federation Movement farther than ever before." So, there's that.

There are some ponies in there; you just have to dig them out.

Travel back with me to the last Los Angeles GA. On the cusp of its kick-off, an excellent program under an excellent, dedicated  Chair, was literally kidnapped by the Large City Executives and totally reoriented to an Israel focus. The Chair, a wonderful philanthropist and leader, resigned, forced out in reality, and, in this writer's opinion, any number of GA "regulars" were so turned off that they have never returned -- and JFNA has never asked a simple survey question of the now annual missing -- "what would it take to bring you back to the General Assembly?"

For now, the construct of an annual GA is dead, with JFNA's lay and professional leaders performing the last rites. We just do it because we've always done it; with the annual counter: if we cancel we will lose our hotel deposit (which has been proved false by the actual cancellation of a GA scheduled for Houston). Lay leadership have voted with their feet. Your federation and mine draw more to a single fund raising dinner, with more excitement, than JFNA can attract to a GA. How can that be; how inept are the current leadership? Yes, rhetorical questions all. 

Friends, I am absolutely convinced that our leaders have been hiding the financial catastrophe that the GA is by playing Budget games to which none of us are privy. I would guess the accumulated losses could be in the millions. 

I'm certain that the information to disprove my these here is deemed "confidential" by the Board Chair, if he knows and I know he cares.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017


THere I was, catching up on my Chicago newspapers on my return from a trip to Israel when the following article in the Chicago Tribune caught my eye (and I am not making this up):
“Ritual Circumcisers Convene; Politics and Religion Follow
Every trade has its professional meetings, replete with souvenir mugs and other tchotchkes, tabletop forums for lame jokes and tricks of the trade. So why should it have been any different when NOAM met at the Hyatt Regency Hotel last week? 
“I’m more afraid of taking off too little rather than too much,” observed Victor Borden at the opening luncheon.
 A seatmate picked up a pen inscribed to commemorate the organization’s 20th Anniversary. Thicker than most, it had a retractable point.
“It looks just like a ...,” the fellow said.
 NOAM stands for National Organization of American Mohalim -- Ritual Circumcisers to the Reform Wing of the Jewish Faith.” 

This was all too hard for me to believe. “Reform Ritual Circumcisers” -- almost oxymoronic in the view of some! And the redundancy -- “National” and “American” -- who creates these titles, Yogi Berra? So, I decided to sneak off to the Hyatt Regency Chicago and check out what was going on (and I am making some of this up).

Here were some of the topics for the Conference’s Agenda:
  • Tips on Tips
  • The boy who peed from his ear and other stories
  • Liability insurance in a litigious age
  • New tools of the trade -- does a virtual circumcision count

A great, renowned expert on the Jewish condition was to be the keynote speaker: “When you have their balls (even the littlest ones) in your hands, ask for the big money.”

  • Back to reality. As the Regional Director of the Reform Movement, Rabbi Dan Rabishaw, noted in his address, as “[H]e exhorted conventioneers to strive to be more than mere circumcisers. ‘Are you a cutter? A snipper? Or are you a Jewish identity facilitator?’”

    This is big stuff -- or, perhaps, little stuff. Me, I can’t wait till next year. 

Sunday, October 1, 2017


There are so many examples of failures at the hands of Jewish Federations of North America under the current regime, one often does not know where to begin. We've catalogued the drivel of TribeFests and #ish to the waste of the Global Planning Table right on through a series of GAs, the massive theft that led to the collapse of the National Agencies-Jewish Federations Alliance and the conversion of The Network into an ATM to support JFNA's bloated Budget. And, of course, there is more.

So it is that today we turn our attention to the Ethiopian National Project (the "ENP")  circa 2017 and JFNA's "commitment" to raise $18,000,000 -- that's $18 MILLION DOLLARS -- over four years for an important ENP effort. Nothing evidences JFNA 2017 better/worse than this. 

Let the ENP explain the intent:
"Jewish Federations of North America have launched a new, special campaign to help ENP include 8,729 7th through 12th graders in ENP SPACE (School Performance and Community Empowerment) Scholastic Assistance Program for four years, commencing this year, 2016-17. A new major educational initiative carried out in partnership with Federations, the Government of Israel and the Ethiopian-Israeli community, 35 cities will benefit from ENPs proven-successful program. Project 1460 is named for the number of days in four years by which ENP will engender a major transformation of participant children." 
When I first wrote about this "campaign," back in April, Did You Hear Abouth the Stealth Special "Campaign?", I detailed the lack of planning for this JFNA effort; the use of the Executive Committee to "approve" this "Campaign" so as to avoid the Board; the fact that the leadership of JFNA FRD were not even consulted about this Campaign before it was dumped upon them; the history of previously failed efforts to raise financial resources for the ENP; and the fact that in all events, this "Campaign" would be a "best efforts" one, with no binding commitments whatsoever.

Here is a portion of the Confidential Memo/White Paper considered by the Executive Committee when it approved this non-binding "campaign:"
"The JFNA Executive Committee is being asked to authorize the launch of a supplemental funding campaign in support of the Ethiopian National Project’s SPACE (School Performance and Community Empowerment) campaign. The Ethiopian National Project’s (ENP) goal is to raise $18M to support the SPACE program over a four-year period. JFNA’s support will be limited, focused and largely targeted at major donors identified by Federations as well as those who have previously demonstrated a particular interest in Ethiopian Jewry." (emphasis added)
Over the first weeks and months of the race for SPACE funding, marketing materials flowed, mission itineraries were redirected to SPACE Program visits and, as is JFNA's way, when those donors (and which donors, exactly, were JFNA talking about?) couldn't be found, JFNA pled with federations to allocate funds to SPACE. (After all, the raise would be broken down to 4 tranches of $4 million.) 

Well, as I suggested in the earlier Post, under the circumstances of the illusory "commitment" to SPACE (and in so committing to the ENP and to the Government of Israel), the lack of planning, and the total failure to engage the federations to gain commitment to this effort in advance of the Executive Committee action, and given JFNA's non-existent attention span, absent a miracle, this Campaign would not succeed.

I am going to specualte (because JFNA, as always, has released no information) that JFNA FRD has been able to raise $4 million, maybe a little more, of the $18 million campaign; and that the super-majority of those funds "raised" came from federation grants (or advances), not from donors. And I'm going to further speculate that JFNA has told the ENP and the GOI that they now have the "match" (though it's only for Year 1) and suggest that the rest "will come" so "let's get started." That's just speculation. But there are some realities; as I wrote:
"...this is an $18,000,000 non-campaign. It is not a collective effort; in fact, it is a campaign in name only antithetical to the very definition of 'collective.' Sadly, because the needs are great, it is doomed to failure."
Sadly as well, the so-called "Campaign" for SPACE appears to have morphed into an afterthought at JFNA; just another failed campaign, joining all of those prior campaigns which JFNA has begun and which, like SPACE, have all fallen short, most often far short, of the needs. These campaigns, none of which have been binding on the federations -- in fact, none of which were ever submitted to the federations for their approval -- and this, the most recent of which, was totally lacking a campaign plan at the time of its approval by the JFNA Executive Committee, and all of which were quietly subsumed by the next distraction, the next bright shiny object in JFNA's "wash, rinse, repeat" cycle.

I asked a friend the simple question: "What happened to the SPACE effort?" The response: "I'm guessing that it's gone to that JFNA Burial Plot where other poorly thought-out efforts, GPT, etc. have been laid to rest. Perhaps a Plenary at the GA could be devoted to a cathartic system-wide kaddish for all the programs that have died under Jerry's watch." 

Great idea.

Thus, the SPACE non-campaign, dumped on the organization by Silverman (joined, in this instance, by Sandler) is another of those examples of JFNA in microcosm -- like, for example, the annual failure of The Network, the collapse of the Federations-National Agencies Alliance, etc.. These are but examples of JFNA fecklessness and of the constant failures of leadership.

Failures of leadership...JFNA's stock in trade. What it does best/worst.


Friday, September 29, 2017


Friends, I have written frequently of my objection to JFNA's stream of self-congratulations; today I write to offer my congratulations for the incredible work by JFNA's professionals in response to Hurricane Harvey and their work with the Houston Jewish community, the broader Houston community and their leadership -- for demonstrating the power of the collective JFNA was created to lead.

I have nothing really to add other than this kal ha'kavod, because Suzanne Jacobson, Houston's brilliant, dedicated long-serving Senior Vice-President for Development, said it perfectly in this morning's ejewishphilanthropy

"By Suzanne Jacobson
Saturday night in Houston, Texas. As we ushered out the Shabbat and recited the havdallah prayer, I pulled back the shades and peered out onto our cul-de-sac. Harvery’s relentless flood-rains had begun in earnest – soon, the waters would march right up to the very threshold of our home, stopping just short of the doorway. Inside, my children and grandchildren slept peacefully and out of harm’s way, a blessing that I did not take for granted.

And yet, though my own family had escaped the worst, my mind was not at ease – with forty years of experience working for the Jewish community, I was restless at the knowledge that so many would not emerge similarly unscathed. Houston has born the brunt of more than a few storms – but by every accounting, this would be worse. What was to come for this city? For the Jewish community? For its thousands of families, for its many storied and sacred institutions? How would we possibly meet this challenge?

When the flood waters finally receded, my Federation colleagues and I did the only thing that we could do: we got to work. The extent of the destruction soon came into startling focus: more than 2,500 homes (including Federation staff homes), three synagogues, the Jewish Community Center, Seven Acres Jewish Senior Care Service, TORCH Outreach Center, the Beth Yeshurun Day School and more – all with significant damage. Overwhelmed, our staff converged on our offices at the Jewish Federation of Houston. We were unsure of precisely how we would meet the impossibly complicated challenge of providing for the sudden and mounting needs of this community, but we were determined to help. In addition, members of our staff were dealing with severe flooding in their homes.

Here’s the truth that we learned quickly: we couldn’t possibly do it alone. But here’s the other truth that we learned just as quickly: we didn’t have to. Almost at once, we bore witness to a veritable deluge of support. Donations streamed in from across the city, across the country, and across the world. Many national organizations reached out to help; individuals simply showed up in town, ready to get to work. Local listserves were formed so that volunteers could sign up to help out however they could – to clean houses, do laundry, provide transportation, babysit.

Perhaps the most significant support that came our way was from the Jewish Federations of North America. In support of Harvey relief, we collectively raised $14,000,000 from our own community, Federations throughout the United States and Canada, national foundations and thousands of individual donors (as well as $1,000,000 from the State of Israel). We quite simply could not have done this without our national system, which helped spearhead that effort and provide access to various foundations.

Further, JFNA deployed nine incredible staff members from JFNA, UJA-Federation of New York, the Kansas City Federation and more to assist us in organizing, planning and dealing with the tremendous work that needed to be done. With their help, our staff learned how to process more donations in three weeks than we normally do in three years! They helped us to stay “nimble” and get the first $1.6 million dollars out the door within 10 days, a much faster rate than what we were used to.

For several years now, I have heard a similar refrain echoing in the Jewish organizational blogger-sphere: the “collective” is dead. Federations specifically, the argument goes, are obsolete. They don’t speak to the individualistic proclivities of this generation. Young community members and philanthropists want to pick and choose the causes that speak specifically to them.

I understand that perspective, I really do. In fact, I think it’s critically important for Federations and other long-established institutions to be nimble enough to shift in order to resonate with a younger generation. As a member of the “old school,” I’ve made a concerted effort to step out of my comfort zone and have seen the advantages of this innovative approach, and the way it activates some of our young people in incredible ways.

But I refuse to believe that these two models are mutually exclusive. No matter how “tailor-made” the experience of Jewish philanthropy becomes, the importance of fostering a strong sense of collective identity will forever remain a hallmark of the Jewish people, and our first line of defense in moments of need.

It’s those moments that the unity of the Jewish people is put on glorious display, from the Soviet Jewry movement, to the Aliyah from Ethiopia; from wars and Intifadas in Israel, to our very own Houston community welcoming 5000 members of the New Orleans Jewish community who arrived in Houston in the aftermath of Katrina. I am sure there will be more moments to come, more hurdles to jump, more needs to be met.

This is a fractious world that we live in. That which divides us has never been more pronounced. This is true on a global scale, and it’s unfortunately true within the Jewish community as well. And that’s why it’s critically important to be even more persistent in our pursuit of common ground, and to come together at these critical moments. For it is in these moments that we remember we are am echad, b’lev echad. One People. One Heart. One strong, beautiful collective."

Beautiful. And the work is not done; not in Houston, not for the victims of Irma and not to those suffering so badly the devastation on Puerto Rico and wherever Maria hit land. 

Shana Tovah Tikateivu.



A reprint:


I love our religious services -- their rhythms, their nigunimand their meaning -- I always have. I especially love the services on the yomim noraim. This year, as the Shofar was about to be blown, in my synagogue, we read a Meditation that resonated with me -- I wish our leaders had read it as well:
"The shofar exclaims: Wake up from your slumber!  Examine your deeds and turn in repentance, remembering your Creator.. You sleepers who forget the truth while caught up in the fads and follies of the time, frittering away your years in vanity and emptiness which cannot help: take a good look at yourselves. Improve your ways..."
I took the message of this Meditation personally -- all of it, even the passages I have not reprinted here; but I fear this call is lost on too many of those in power. I know them to be good women and men, yet I find them "frittering away (their) years in vanity and emptiness." We see expediency where there should be principle. And our organizations suffer, wither and wane.

Rich Bernstein. the dedicated Chair of United Israel Appeal recently included the following in his Yom Kippur message, a message that resonated with me as it did Rich:
                 "Avinu Sh'bashamayim, O God in Heaven
As we approach another year, we ask Your blessings upon us and upon our loved ones. Grant us the courage to peer into our lives, the wisdom and discernment to evaluate what we see, and the strength to act with resolve to change whatever needs improvement."

Certainly our leaders know what their offices demand of them. If they cannot bring themselves to act, it is not because they know not what must be done; it is because they lack the will to do what is right. 

All we can ask is that the call of the Shofar wakes them from their slumber. 

As for me, I know that I have hurt any number of you with what I have written (and thought but not written) over this past year and wish that I could apologize to each of you for anything that I have written that has been hurtful. I, too, will try to heed the call of the Shofar in the New Year. 

G'mar hatima tovah to you and your families.


Wednesday, September 27, 2017


At the NewYear, we are called upon for introspection...serious introspection...

There were many paths available to the leaders of JFNA that might have propelled the organization forward. Yet, for the past decade, at the east, every choice those leaders made, every path down which they have driven this Klown Kar, has been the wrong one.

If those who believe that the federations are dying or dead were looking for a host body into which to inject their virus, they found it in Jerry. I don’t believe that was then Board Chair Kathy Manning’s intent — she merely arose from the larvae of a small Federation city,   (though she never failed to remind any and all within earshot that she was raised within culture of the Detroit Federation), and by dint of very hard work, diligence and self-promotion had risen to the position of Chair with only the most modest of experience in federation life or governance — she just wanted to appoint someone “outside the box;” viz., someone with less federation knowledge than she and one who would know that he owed his job to her and her alone. Manning insured Jerry’s engagement by appointing a Search Committee made up, in the main, with those who felt it was more important to unquestioningly follow her lead than to even think about let alone dare to question the fitness of her choice for the position; sadly, their loyalty was personal not to the institution.

As JFNA morphed into the ether of its nothingness, the dictate of management guru James Collins in his seminal work Good to Great that mergers will fail if core values are discarded, was more and more and more ignored -- ignored until those core values on which our incredible system was built were forgotten because no one was left who either recalled them or wanted to be reminded of them. What was left? Jerry.

JFNA would perpetuate the fiction that Silverman, from a "corporate executive background" would bring for-profit business skills to his new role. The evidence is that those skills were so lacking, so demonstrably lacking, that the Board Chair who succeeded Kathy Manning, who had dictated Jerry's hiring, Michael Siegal, took away all of Silverman's management responsibilities a little over one year after taking office. If there were transferable skills from either Jerry's work at Sketchers or his professional leadership of the small but successful Foundation for Jewish Camp, they, too, weren't evident in an organization of the complexity of JFNA any one of whose constituencies overwhelmed by size and sophistication any environment in which would have overwhelmed any and all of Jerry's prior experiences by a factor of infinitesimal.

The comparison of Silverman's expertise and experience to the Search Critera that defined the CEO position at JFNA is impossible -- because applying those Criteria to Jerry would have led to his rejection as a candidate, let alone a finalist, let alone his emergence as the chosen CEO. Thus, we can only conclude that Jerry Silverman became CEO because...

  • There was no viable candidate from among the Federation CEO cadre;
  • The Board Chair from the outset was demanding a candidate from "outside the box"
  • Silverman made a passionate and persuasive presentation to the Search leaders and Board Chair
  • No one carefully examined Jerry's educational or professional background and experience
Unexpressed, but obviously compelling, was Manning's clear preference for Silverman, the one "candidate, " whom she knew (a) knew less about the federation system than she; and (b) having been personally curated by her, would never stand in the way of her grandiose and outrageous schemes to create a Global Planning Table and diminish the place and influence of JAFI and JAFI's leaders in communal allocations. She knew Silverman well although she knew him very little.

While Kathy Manning apparently couldn't or wouldn't see it, Michael Siegal quickly saw that Jerry had "no bench" on his staff. It was Michael and his leadership that assured that Mark Gurvis and Renee Rothstein were added to the staff. It remains my belief that Michael made these moves in anticipation of Jerry's termination. What happened? Nothing.Those within Michael's lay leadership "team" led by Manning insisted that Jerry should not be replaced; the LCE offered not a single potential successor (as they had done with Hoffman and Rieger) -- and neither Siegal nor the Chair of the Executive, Dede Feinberg, were willing to fight, to insist that change was required.

So, here was Silverman, who had stated quite clearly that "if the Global Planning Table fails, JFNA is done," not only remaining in place but given a new contract. No successes whatsoever in the years of Jerry's first contract Term have since been followed with more years without success. There have been only failure and a total lack of accountability under Manning, under Siegal and, now, under Sandler. The perfect storm of lay leadership matched with the lack of professional leadership and no one cares.

So that is how JFNA "got here." A nice place to be isn't it?

This is a cautionary tale for every organization from which to learn what will forever be known as the sad story of the Jewish Federations of North America.