Tuesday, July 28, 2020


I have complained on these pages about the lack of focus of some, too many of our most important organizations -- I leave it to those with influence (as in -- MONEY -- for instance) to effect change if they believe change will result in focus. Yet, some organizations put on their blinders and stagger on -- no focus, no priorities (other than the "priorities" on which their leaders obsess). These are the "Shiny Object Organizations."

As Henny Youngman (I know, I know, my age...) would have said: Take JCPA...Please.

Yes, JCPA...here is how JCPA itself has set forth its "priorities" in a recent email solicitation:

  • JCPA is at the forefront of the Civil Rights movement.
  • JCPA mobilizes the Jewish community to affect (sic) change.
  • JCPA is a leading voice in ending systemic racism and criminal justice reform.
  • JCPA leads national advocacy on ending racism in policing.
      Be part of the solution.
      It's time.

The fund raising mailing begins with the admonition (I'm not making this up):       It's Time. Stop Doing Nothing.

Then, but a couple of days later, JCPA promoted other of its "organizational goals" in a further solicitation:

          JCPA mobilizes the Jewish community to affect change. 
         JCPA is a leading voice in ending systemic racism and in criminal justice reform.
JCPA leads national advocacy on ending racism in policing
 I have serious doubts as to whether any of these claims is true. You? Examples, please.

As our communities and donors confront the most catastrophic and devastating financial circumstances in our history, I see an organization that proceeds as if it has an entitlement to your dollars for whatever purposes it may determine. 

Now, we know that JCPA is a "partner" in the Israel Action Network (especially if one uses a very, very loose definition of "partner") at one time providing some "expertise" and staffing. This "partnership" was a device, really, to pump some federation cash into the JCPA Budget. No offense, but here is how JCPA defines itself:
"JCPA is the national hub of the community relations network made up of 125 community relations councils and 17 national Jewish agencies.  Its mission is to inspire, support, coordinate, convene, build consensus and mobilize the network while serving as the national representative of the network’s public policy platform."
And, where is JCPA today? Everywhere and...nowhere, perhaps?

I must admit that back when I Chaired the Chicago JCRC, our mission and work were more narrowly focused (make that "actually focused") -- on matters relevant to our community and the broader community. I know that my mentor on community relations and my then professional partner, the pioneering community relations professional, Peggy Norton, z'l, would have read this JCPA solicitation, rolled her eyes, puffed on her ever-present cigarette, muttered an appropriate expletive and dialed up the JCPA CEO and suggested, as only Peggy could, that "if this is what JCPA is about, resign." Peggy probably would have been more direct.

Over the years JCPA had a succession of great, strong lay Chairs: women and men like my dear friends Shoshana Cardin, z'l, and Maynard Wishner, z'l, and Arden Shenker, Marie Abrams, Michael Newmark, Jackie Levine and Andrea Weinstein, Lynn Liss  and so many more distinguished leaders on a through line to Cheryl Fishbein and the current Chair. But it is apparent that those in leadership today are willing to abide the organization they helped to build focused on nothing.

So how does one identify where JCPA lost its focus? And, where should it go from here?



Friday, July 24, 2020


~~ Little did I know it would come to this. Way back when, upon the release of the 1990 National Jewish Population Study, the organized Jewish community let out a collective shrei upon the revelation that over 50% of marriages involving one Jewish spouse were found to be inter-marriages. Meetings and conference calls were dedicated to the subject of inter-marriage, the system was obsessed with the subject -- and rightfully so. At that time I argued that we should discontinue the National Jewish Population Study on the theory that "no NJPS, no intermarriage." Little did I suspect that almost 30 years later a President of the United States would make almost the same specious argument about COVID-19 testing. I was joking to make a point; President Trump is so serious that he has repeated this idiot theory sometimes daily, many times more often.

I apologize.

~~ What's Next...Bingo? The Jewish Agency for Israel undertook an on-line fund-raiser to support its efforts to assist communities worldwide in the face of the CONVID-19 epidemic. To its credit, the JAFI governance (Board or Executive, I'm not sure which) voted to appropriate $10 million it does not have to provide funding for this effort. Guess that those who made this noble decision thought it was still the year 1990, when the communties actually cared as much as JAFI's own leaders but...never mind. For some reason, the Agency decided to "sell" this fund-raising event to an Israeli retail jewelry operation which offered a 20% kickback to the Agency for every piece of jewelry purchased during or shortly after the television event. It wasn't just the "sponsorship" that surprised me; it was the intrusion into the broadcast of extensive time given to the promotion and the promoter -- more time than provided to the communities to articulate their needs. 


~~ Speaking of embarrassing... Reading the columns of Caroline Glick I have come to understand that she constantly proves that she is beyond embarrassment -- never more so than in her piece How Can Israel Help Diaspora Jewry? Therein Glick argues that an Israel Diaspora Ministry effort is doomed to failure because it is premised in part upon tikkun olam which she concludes -- based upon no facts -- is a concept associated with those she most despises -- liberal/progressive/radical (they are all one to Glick) American Jews. Yes, that mantra, at the heart of so much of American Jewish philanthropy, that concept of helping to repair the world, is, to Caroline Glick...evil. Glick has focused so much her most recent venomous excretions on American Jewry and American Jewry's institutions. It has obviously been too many years  that have passed since she lived in Chicago's Hyde Park -- she knows so little of us but has so much to spew about us.

#very embarrassing


Monday, July 20, 2020


One of my great friends, a lay leader of incredible brilliance and insight, was describing the lay Chair of a (once) great community. Everything said about this Chair, a person of uncommon generosity, was hedged in such terms as to resonate a single word that appeared to be the seminal descriptor: pliant. Yes, pliant. Look the adjective up if you need.

Pliant is the adjective I would never allow to be applied to me, even as I reflect  back to moments during my own leadership roles when I was so. If you know me, if only from these thousands of pages, I think that pliant wouldn't be how you would describe me. Yet, today, as the culmination of a terrible trend line, more and more organizations have elected lay leaders based upon proof over time of a softness, a willingness to bend to the demands of others. In fact, a ready pliancy has too often become all some organizations look to in their lay leadership. And, every organization that has turned to the pliant has suffered as a result -- suffered from a lay leadership unworthy of organizational respect or trust. And the impacts on the organization that demands pliancy of its leaders...devastating. 

I and others from other eras — lay and professional alike — must take the lions’ share of the blame for producing a surfeit of Burrs and a paucity of Hamiltons. Back in the late 1980s I was engaged with both the CJF and UJA, working with other great communal leaders on the challenges of the “New Jewish Poverty,” and the explosion of intermarriage, and the challenges facing Jewish Federations in a deep recession; while UJA leaders were advocating for greater funds for our partners and both organizations were advocating for freedom for our extended mishpacha locked behind an Iron Curtain.  

I felt no pressure from the leaders I venerated to toe a line, watch my words, to “go along to get along.” These were women and men confident in themselves unthreatened by competing ideas — Shoshana Cardin, z’l, Max Fisher, z’l, Marvin Lender, Joel Tauber, Richie Pearlstone, Bill Berman, z’l, Alan Jaffe, Alex Grass, z'l, Jane Sherman and, later, Carole Solomon and Bob Schrayer, z’l, among so many others. After my service as Chair of the National Conference on Soviet Jewry during the Exodus and then the Exodus Campaign itself, I had neither pretensions about nor expectations of being asked to serve as National Chair of the UJA — others were more deserving, perhaps more willing to go along, but it was the strength of UJA’s lay leadership to take a chance on he whom Max Fisher once described (and no doubt would today) as “a bull in a china shop.” I also have to believe (though we never discussed it) that I had the enthusiastic support Of UJA’s maverick CEO, Brian Lurie, who may have seen in me a kindred spirit...still am.

Some/many of you may be asking: ok, Wex, what's the point of this nice history lesson? Simply this: I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Today, even a decade ago, maybe longer, irreverence, standing up for what one believes, speaking out -- all, and more, are traits, behavior no longer tolerated  by too many of those in power in too many places. I am reminded of being acosted by a long-time brilliant friend who had gained a place in JFNA leadership and told me in no uncertain terms that if I disagreed with a decision made “at the top” then I "should resign." (An evermore popular view.) 

I look at so many philanthropists who have and had so much to contribute in terms of institutional memory, in terms of leadership qualities, whose leadership have been rejected over the years for expressing a simple, eternal thought and insight: The Emperor Has No Clothes. We...WE...have more often than not stood by in silence while organizational leadership ranks decided they had to cleanse themselves of those who pushed back or spoke out or dissented — in public or private, it has made no difference. And I, like you, have watched as others have matriculated to positions for which they proved unsuitable — as conformity, pliancy, too often rules the day.

Chevre. look around as I have. I see one organizational leader whom I did not know before he/she assumed a critical chairship. I was told by those who knew him best as a "no nonsense" person "who will not suffer fools for long" -- and, then that person did exactly that, suffered fools, drank the Kool-Aid and grew irate with any...any...suggestion that his/her path was not the right, the only, one. 

Or, others who have wandered from one organizational lay leadership role to the next, leaving not an accomplishment in their wake -- they have served, continue to serve, without leaving even a modicum of their DNA to show for their service.  Those whom I know are women and men who used to assert themselves, privately and publicly...no more. They will tell you that they have determined that the only path to effect change is the quiet, behind-the-scenes path. Yet, there is no evidence...zero...that they have even, ever taken that quiet road.

So, I ask, what good is it to be in the room where it happens if there is no evidence you were there? The legacy of these "leaders" will be exactly the lack of any imprint on the entity that they leave behind.

Right now our system, constructed over the decades by so many leading to achievements thought unattainable, is challenged as never before. The system's very survival is now in your hands. You, as an organizational leader -- be it lay or pro -- can either be ready to take a risk where risk is needed or commit to principle when commitment and principle, vital. Or you can join the ranks of the pliant. While the choice, my friends, is yours, it should be ein breira.


Thursday, July 16, 2020


So many have come to know that Bari Weiss, reporter, insightful social commentator and proud American Jew, is and has always been an unabashed courageous spokesperson for her generation and ours. Her colleagues and friends know her as "fearless" and "brilliant."

She has resigned from the New York Times, her resignation letter both a cri de coeur and an indictment of the Times. Read it and weep:

We certainly have not heard the last of Bari Weiss. May she go from strength-to-strength to a far better place.


Sunday, July 12, 2020


What do the following organizations have in common?

  • Alpha Epsilon Pi
  • American Friends of Likud
  • American Sephardi Federation
  • American Zionist Movement
  • Americans for Peace Now
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Emunah of America
  • Jewish Labor Committee
  • Legacy Community Family
  • National Council of Young Israel
  • Religious Zionists of America
  • Women's International Zionist Organization
  • Women's League for Conservative Judaism
  • Workmen's Circle
  • HIAS
The answer: They are all member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Now this listing (which I admit is [1] totally subjective; and [2] to which I could have added a number of others) is not designed to deprecate the pro-Israel work of any of these entities nor the commitments and contributions their leaders have made; it is mereely to underscore that the adjective Major may have lost its meaning. Big time.

As one of you commented to an earlier Post: "There is no value to the Jewish people to have the Conference of mostly not major Jewish Organizations." I would resist the conclusion of "mostly," just as I recognize that to the Conference the addition of "non-Major" organizations as full "members" is a funding vehicle that supports the work of the Conference. 

And, it ain't cheap...by any measure.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020


1. The Disappearing Lay Leaders. On June 11, the Government of Israel convened a Zoom teleconference with leaders of US organizations. The participants, from entities as diverse as the Conference of Presidents and JFNA to the San Francisco Community Relations Council and the Hasidic Community of Monsey, New Jersey, were each and all characterized by one common denominator -- they were all professionals. Not a single lay leader; not one. The "system" that you helped to construct was premised upon the best "lay-professional partnership" that could be built; and we succeeded in doing so. Now, that foundation, built brick-by-brick has been deconstructed brick-by-brick. The foundation of our communal system is being buried with the lay leaders leading the kaddish in silence. Maybe beyond resurrection. More on this another day...soon.

2. Priorities? Never mind. In recent Posts I've pointed to the dangers when our institutions lack focus/priorities. Wherever I look without a clear articulation of priorities, everything becomes the priority and, thereby, nothing is a priority. During this time of literal financial catastrophe for all of our organizations (yes, even for those which believe that they have some form of entitlement to commmunal dollars; those are in for the rudest of awakenings.) For too many, their's is life in the Land of Shiny Objects where everything looks great and so attractive that they turn to them adding them to an expansive list of priorities that will never be met -- not because they are not noble, because they can never be fully funded . These are illusions.

3. Making Hard Decisions...Harder. Before the birth of what would become JFNA and he its first CEO, Steven Solender served as President and CEO of the New York UJA-Federation of New York. In the late 1980's, America had suffered its worst recession before the one we are in today; and New York UJA was struggling with fewer financial resources as Steve, with his lay leadership, kept the ship afloat as the recession deepened. In one of many quiet conversations during that time, Steve told me how difficult it had become to attract and keep lay leadership "when every decision is so hard...where to cut, how deep the downsize needed to be," and the like. And, today...worse. Over the last 4 decades we have watched as in too many organizations that is all that we have done. I am sure that there are organizations -- like some federations and, certainly, the Jewish National Fund U.S.A. -- where lay leaders are fully engaged, knowledgeable and commited; but, in so many others, the lay leadership are wholly satisfied in viewing their Board and Committee service as an honorarium of some kind -- show up from time-to-time, some camaraderie, read the script and...leave it to the pros ("isn't that why we pay them?")...and never ask the hard questions. That dog won't hunt. Not today; not any more. 

4. Binary Choice? In one of the more preposterous opinion pieces in today's inflamed political environment where slavish support for Donald Trump has become, to some, the seminal litmus test of support for Israel, JNS's Jonathan Tobin has framed one of his latest on the subject as What's More Important in a President: Policy or Character? Posed as a strictly binary choice, Tobin apparently rejects even the possibility that American Jews might answer: we want, we demand, BOTH. (BTW, the column is appended to a full color shot of Bolton, Pompeo, Trump and Pence.)


Thursday, July 2, 2020


                          Man Planned; and God Laughed (or Cried)

Return with me to the hopeful days before we became a mask-wearing, quarantined People (in the main). JFNA, recognizing the physical threats to Jewish institutions and buildings and the need for more intensive and expensive security in all of its forms, spent a significant amount of time at its January Board Retreat on the explanation and approval of a $214 million Special Campaign to create a fund for a vast Security Plan -- the self-styled New JFNA Security Initiative...that would dramatically enhance the work of the system's Secure Community Network ("SCN")

Referencing the remarkable $1 Billion Operation Exodus Campaign (1990-1995) and the more recent American Jewish communal response to the Second Terrorists' War on Israel in 2006 -- yes, 2006 when a $400 million campaign that, truth be told, was a failure even without a goal which our leaders claimed as a victory -- but without reference to the incredible wealth our communities have amassed, $21.7 Billion in federation/foundation total assets, JFNA appoited one of its most respected leaders, Los Angeles's Julie Platt, to lead this Campaign, appoint a Campaign Cabinet and jumpstart what would be a Continental effort. 

Eric Fingerhut raised the banner:
"...our Federation system was built for moments like this and the time to address it is now, together."
A three year plan was unveiled the end result of which would be a greatly enhanced, well-funded SCN "as the backbone of security infrastructure" for our communities and communal infrastructure

And, then the CONVID-19 was upon us and everything stopped. JFNA apparently thought it was trapped by its own calendar -- being on a fiscal year Budget, leadership determined that it had to approve a July 1, 2020 -2021 Budget or....what exactly? The whole world had changed but for JFNA's Budget, it was to be business as usual. 

Over a succession of "business as usual" JFNA Budgets, the Secure Community Network was created and up and running. Thanks to a small group of federations, there was broad recognition that community security was the seminal issue -- it was our highest priority, all the more so after Tree of Life. At the meeting at which the SCN (as is the norm in Jewish communla life, all things begin or evolve into acronyms) was created and most of its Budget provided by the federations, the exemplary John Ruskay, then the New York-UJA President, demanded that JFNA, after the SCN start-up year, absorb the SCN Budget within its own. JFNA's leaders readily agreed. 

And, then...they didn't.

It didn't take long for JFNA to forget its commitment to this "highest priority." JFNA soon was seeking funding from federations like Chicago, Cleveland and others, full funding would come from...them. JFNA would provide an annual $250,000 to the SCN Budget...and that's been it. Highest priority? Really? So the SCN's budget must have as its main support, security grants from the federal and State governments.

Just so you are aware, JFNA is partners in the SCN with the Conference of Presidents and the American Jewish Committee, the former an organization that raises its own funds for its existence from its own membership dues; the latter raising close to $70 million in 2017-18 and sitting on an $80 million endowment. The AJC may make a grant to the SCN but I did not find any in its IRS 990s.

And here's the deal. There is no lay Board for the SCN. While it had a succession of excellent lay Chairs from the outset, right now the SCN lay Chair is the ubiquitous Harold Gernsbacher, who has built a remarkable list of titles at JFNA with little success to show for any or all of them* unless "success" is measured by a willingness to just swallow the Kool-Aid and demonstrate an absolute willingness to read the scripts. While the SCN has had superb professional leadership, it operates as a more or less professional division of JFNA/AJC/CofP. While I and others urged JFNA to appoint a Board of federation lay and professional leaders if for no other reason than to raise more community funds, we were ignored as were attempts to demand the JFNA live up to its initial promise -- fund the SCN out of its Budget at a level reflective of security as JFNA's and the federations' highest priority. 

Never happened. In fact, the JFNA FY2020-2021 Budget not only continued the quarter-million SCN allocation but identified not a single FTE assigned to the SCN. Compare and contrast that void -- 0 FTE -- with the 25+ JFNA FTE assigned in the Budget to Financial Resource Development at a budgeted expense of almost $3.3 million and try and identify who those 25+ FTE and just what they do. 

So, we ask once again, at this time in the dire circumstances of today, just where are JFNA's priorities; where is its focus?

We are all crying.


*It has been reported to me that Harold now has taken to calling me a "lunatic" when my name may come up in hallway conversations. He isn't the first...and won't be the last. Easier calling names than raising funds.

Sunday, June 28, 2020


The Jewish Agency for Israel is facing a financial catastrophe. It's financial resource development arm, the Jewish Agency International Development or JAID, is in ruins, its most recent CEO -- gone, unreplaced. Its partner, the Jewish Agency North America, with an invigorated lay leadership, has an ambitious program of engagement on its emerging agenda...but who will listen let alone embrace? And, while at one time (seems so long ago) it could rely upon the national Jewish organization to be its advocate (with advocacy for the Joint Distribution Committee as well)); that advocacy ended informally years ago and formally last year with JFNA turning that role back to JAFI and JDC, washing its hands, as it were, of responsibility. And the United Israel Appeal, which had dipped its toe into the shallow end of the pool with an embryonic advocacy effort, had all of its functions absorbed within JFNA effectively ending its historic roles beyond vetting federation allocations.

So, at this moment in time, when advocacy, when making the case for funding the Jewish Agency's work was already in crisis as Federation allocations had already collapsed to the lowest levels in history, COVID-19 effectively shut down the federation funding "system." Anyone who does not understand that the impacts of the pandemic will include federations further turn inward in Dystopian ways, just cannot see what is happening in front of their very eyes.

Chevre, these are the worst of times. 

In case you hadn't noticed, these are no longer the times of Max Fisher, z'l, or Marvin Lender, Richie Pearlstone, or of the beloved Rabbi Herb Friedman or Irving Bernstein. This is no longer the era of commanding figures who could or, more important, would rally the communities to a cause greater than themselves supported by the Steve Nasatirs, Steve Hoffmans and John Ruskays, by professionals who understood and could articulate the global needs of the Jewish People. Ain't nobody rallying anybody any more.

These are the times of a collapsed Keren Ha'Yesod, the fund-raising arm for the Jewish Agency around the world other than in the United States -- KH as it is called is a fund-raising arm that raises no funds yet retains its voting privileges for 20% of the Jewish Agency Board. KH's Board includes some wonderful leaders -- men and women who have served on the JAFI Board in some instances for at least 30 years. (Did I mention the funds they raise barely covers the Keren Ha'Yesod organization's overhead leaving almost nothing to allocate to JAFI itself?) Some -- the Koschitzky Family comes to mind -- demonstrate their commitment annually in beautiful ways but KH lay and professional leadership have wholly failed to leverage the signifcant gifts KH has received to broaden the base and increase the pot.

And, lurking always, is the WZO, the World Zionist Organization, surely one of the most bizarre and controlling shadows in organized Jewish life. A decade ago the Jewish Agency leadership determined to reform its organizational structure and eliminate the WZO's particpation in its governance. Placing the negotiation of that reorganization in clearly the wrong hands, JAFI traded millions in annual grants to the WZO in consideration of which the WZO gave up its power to elect JAFI officers -- there was no change in WZO's ownership of the JAFI Board for the WZO continued and continues to appoint 50% of the Board and control 50% of the ownership of JAFI, 50% of the vote and contributes not a dollar to JAFI's Budget. And, in the decade since this a "worst deal of the century," WZO has positioned itself as a direct competitor of the Jewish Agency because: (1) they can; and (2) in Israel "conflict of interest" doesn't appear to exist even as a concept.

This balagan leaves the Jewish Agency facing a most serious financial crisis approaching the catastrophic. Let's review: allocations from the federations through JFNA will approach collapse after year-after-year low point after low point; funding from Keren Ha'Yesod will also reach a nadir; the WZO will continue to fund only its own activities, many of which conflict with the Jewish Agency's own work. This will leave JAFI at the mercy of the Government of Israel and the funds it allocates to the Agency's work on the Goverment's behalf. And, lurking like an immense black cloud over all of this is the JAFI pension debt obligation; the debt about which no one speaks.

Can anything be done to avert the financial catastrophe? I have some thoughts, of course. Ignoring for the moment feasibility:

  • In partnership with the Government of Israel: 
    • Restructure JAFI's ownership
      • Eliminate WZO's ownership, control and appointment power while retaining and assuring JAFI Board membership for Zionist and religious movement constituencies through direct election;
      • The 50% balance of members will be prorated based upon the financial contributions of the federations and KH to the Jewish Agency Budget
    • Restructure JAFI's Pension Obligations:
      • The GOI to assume the current Pension indebtedness
      • Going forward, the Pension offered Agency employees will be consistent with best current business practices
    • Borrow the funds necessary to support a JAFI 3 year Budget
  • In partnership with the JAFI JFNA Board members:
    • Develop a plan for budget advocacy among and within the federations
    • Create and fund the implementation of an annual FRD plan through an invigorated JAID/JAFI NA
    • Led by capacity gifts from the JA Board Chair and Officers, begin an emergency campaign
  • In partnership with the JAFI KH Board members, begin an emergency fund-raising campaign to support JAFI's work and Budget; and
    • Restructure KH governance to create term limits
Ein breira, my friends...ein breira.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020


Here is a JFNA "job description" -- a JFNA "job" that has been budgeted for years:
"Responsible for development and implementation of corporate philanthropy and sponsorship strategy, bringing millions of dollars and resources to national programs, services and departments. Develop and steward relationships that lead to external funding and strategic alliances. Develop papers, articles and speeches concerning critical issues facing the Jewish community. Provide guidance and resources to every department of JFNA with respect to strategic messaging and aligning concepts and strategies with JFNA sponsorship efforts. Travel across the globe bringing leaders and funders to see the work of our system in all places we have impact. Provide value-added to local communities by keeping prices stable, lowering fees, sharing best practices, and making introductions that lead to community resources. Speak in communities to boards, officers and provide guidance and encouragement to professionals. Provide support to campaign missions, community visits, and other direct service activities. Speechwriter and crafter of articles and missives for top professional and lay leadership of JFNA."
These responsibilities have been but a tease, haven't they? I may be wrong but I can't identify a single one of these functions on which JFNA has been the initiator let alone the organization that has followed through...not one. 

If you are asble to identify where/when/how JFNA has implemented what it has called "institutional advancement," let me know and I will faithfully correct this otherwise sad record.

Why do I write about this now inasmuch as this "function" has been a fixture of the JFNA Budget for at least a decade? Well: (1) it has been a fixture of the JFNA Budget for at least a decade and (2) reading the JFNA FY 2020/2021 Budget document "Institutional Advancement" is still there. 

Not that these well-stated "purposes" wouldn't be very important to the communities but one would have thought that somewhere at JFNA -- in the Executive Offices, in the Budget and Finance Department, at the JFNA Board level, anywhere -- someone would have said: "we can't afford the things we have not done during this emergency" and set the budget for this thing to the side along with the muiltitude of other unexplained, unnecessary Budget lines until JFNA has actually met the emergency...if ever.

And, if ever there was to be a time when JFNA's leaders would not merely acknowledge the financial crisis that the federations face but actually face it squarely, wouldn't this be that time? Wouldn't this be the time where, instead of the annual leadership kvetch that the JFNA Dues Budget has been flat for years while rent and other costs have annually increased, JFNA cuts its expenses to the bone as so many federations have been forced to do?

There are so many places where JFNA could/should cut costs to the bone. Let's start with that meaningless exercise in "Institutional Advancement."


Friday, June 19, 2020


Back in the day -- that is way back -- pre-merger, federations expressed concern with the national United Jewish Appeal budget. Vague concerns, usually expressed in hallways and back rooms. With UJA's brilliant Chief Financial Officer, Lee Twersky, we decided to convene a public discussion and review -- and what better place than what was the GA, then truly the annual gathering of 2,500 lay and professional leaders. Those leaders filled a ballroom on a late afternoon. We distributed a 50 page or so Budget in advance and distributed copies to those in attendance. We offered a brief analysis of where UJA invested its resources and the return to the system on that investment. We opened the floor for questions and, as I recall, there were none. The communal leaders there learned that the UJA Budget was premised on full disclosure and the Budget was developed throughout a long annual  process with full lay participation -- and UJA's lay leaders were also federation leaders, almost to a person.

A few years later: (1) UJA was done, merged into what would become JFNA and made to disappear; and (2) the legitimate Budget process that was, was no longer, it, too, has disappeared. And, now, a budget Fugazi is upon us.

I have served on Budget Committees from my first service on a local Chicago Agency Board through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago the UJA, the CJF, JFNA, UIA, JAFI and a few more. Even Chaired a bunch of them, and, at all levels, always...always...with the best of professional partners at every level. Yes, I was often in the room where it happened. I have been proud of the changes that Budget Chairs at the Jewish Agency like Richie Pearlstone and Jay Sarver implemented to move those Budgets from the opaque to the transparent,  changes that I'm certain current JAFI Budget Chair Beth Leonard, a superstar accountant in her real job, has perpetuated, even further enhanced. 

At my own federation, and, most probably yours, we have had that transparency from long before my time in leadership through the present day and into the future. Great professional leadership and a dedicated and demanding laity require no less. No national or international non-profit that I have seen at work spent/spends as much of its time on budget.

All of the above is but prologue...and leads me to the JFNA Budget just approved. 

First, the Expense and Revenue Budget was presented on 4-1/2 pages --a $48.1 million Budget on 4-1/2 pages. Oh, there was also an accompanying brief Memo from the CEO on the Budget. Nowhere, other than in a $3.1 Million "Provision for Contingency" is there even a suggestion that the federations, the system, are in extremis as a result of the shutdowns dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Budget as presented, as approved, is so opaque that were it presented by another non-profit, it would have been rejected, marked "return to sender." I ask, in all sincerity, how could this Budget in this form and with its lack of substance been submitted to the federations let alone approved with undue haste in the extreme circumstances that confront every community today? How could the JFNA Budget & Finance Committee and, then, the JFNA Board and members proceed as if it's "business as usual" when business is not and may never be "usual" ever again and certainly not in FY 2020/2021.

At the merger and for the first years thereafter, under a succession of Budget and Finance Chairs and two strong Chief Financial Officers and 3 CEOs who came with exceptional federation CEO experiences, the JFNA Budget process was the equal of those cited above. Then, JFNA's Budget was coopted by a CEO with no federation Budget experience, who, with Budget Chairs, if the evidence is to be believed, demonstrated a "leave it to the JFNA professionals" attitude and, as explored on so many of these pages over the years, allowed the annual Budget to be treated as but a "framework;" not one that bound the organization to operate within it -- the organization's revenues began to be treated as an ATM -- just insert your CEO cash card and withdraw funds for whatever purpose, no Board action necessary. Hopefully Board Chair Mark Wilf and CEO Eric Fingerhut have assured that this malpractice will not happen again...emphasis on "hopefully."

And, yet...

At a time of the worst financial calamity to impact on the Jewish communal system -- locally, nationally and worldwide -- with JFNA taking on some distribution of allocated funds, the Budget fails woefully to set forth how JFNA plans to meet the crisis in any substantive manner. As one of my mentors wrote me after reviewing this "budget:"
"No mention of a US Jewish community rescue 'package' to enable federations to provide real value to JCCs, synagogues, etc. What a great national campaign opportunity..."
Someone out there write me, please, and explain to me JFNA's plans for meeting the catastrophic circumstances our institutions now face.

Smart people, lay and professional, worked on this Budget; yet, this thing fails to reflect those smarts. I would suggest that JFNA immediately convene the totality of federation leadership by Zoom or, if safe to do so, in person to develop and approve a Continental Special Campaign. I would even go so far as to suggest that Joel Tauber, who chaired UJA during a significant part of the historic Operation Exodus Campaign, be appointed the Special Campaign Chair. and get on with ther task.

The hour is already late.