Wednesday, March 21, 2018


The National Agencies participating in the Jewish Federations-National Agencies Alliance were advised on March 13 that the Alliance had died a premature death. In a letter from the newly installed Alliance Professional the Agencies were advised:
"Dear National Agency Colleagues,

Notwithstanding ongoing efforts to preserve the National Federation/ Agency Alliance as a collective funding process among Federations to support national agencies, the pool of funding available continues to erode as more individual communities seek to manage their own decisions.  As a result and based on the latest discussions of the Steering Committee, we are writing to inform you of an immediate change related to the 2018-2019 funding cycle. For this next budget year, there will not be collective funding from the Alliance.  Rather, Federations will make their own funding decisions with respect to agency funding and will inform you directly of those decisions.  Federations will disburse their funds directly to the agencies in 2018-2019.  

Based on the material that you have already submitted for the Alliance review process, JFNA will review and summarize each agency’s request for funding for 2018-2019 and forward those materials, with all relevant attachments, to the Alliance communities shortly.  We will also convene Zoom meetings to facilitate agency presentations for those communities interested in a joint review process.

We recognize that this is a major change and it is coming late in the preparation of the next funding cycle.  While Federation communities continue to respect and value your work, our historical model is no longer sustainable. We are committed to facilitating an easy transition to your working directly with individual communities.  Your long partnerships with the Alliance served many communal objectives.  We’re confident that some of those objectives will continue while new ones are developed.  

Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns." (emphasis added)

The Forward jumped on the story inappropriately focused on, of all the impacted National Agencies, HIAS, the organization, which having dropped "Hebrew" from its name, may have been a contributing factor in the termination of the Alliance:
All of you who read this Blog even only periodically recognize that I have not shown much restraint in my condemnation of how JFNA leadership abandoned the legacy National Agencies over time and, in particular, over the years of the Silverman maladministration. It is JFNA that is now nailing the coffin it has built over the past decade shut. 

A brief historical note: at the birth of JFNA, New York’s Louise Greilsheimer, then New York UJA’s immediate Past Chair, was appointed to head a Commission on National Agencies. Over a period of months, that Commission could not reach consensus, but from its ashes the Alliance was formed — much like ONAD for overseas agencies, the Alliance was created to (1) vet the roles/relevance and budgets of the legacy National Agencies; (2) assure funding from the member federations of the validated agencies; (3) recruit additional federation membership in the Alliance; and (4) advocate for full funding for the vetted/approved Agencies. In practice, the Alliance succeeded only in step (1) and, as the years passed, failed more and more and more in every other area.

Let's briefly review:

  • Remember, The Alliance was created to (1) validate the work of the National Agencies and, once validated, (2) to support the budgets of those validated. The Alliance leadership invested in (1) and never...that's n.e.v.e.r... performed (2) because (2) would have required advocacy and, quite frankly, hard work.
  • The Alliance, from its birth, until a decade ago, had a wonderful professional who understood the Alliance mandate. That professional was terminated without reason (or protest from the Alliance lay leadership) and, for no apparent reason, staffing was shunted off to JFNA-Washington where it would be no more than a part-time assignment for a D.C. professional. (That is until this fiscal year, when a new senior professional was assigned to supervise the burial.)
  • At no time did either Alliance leadership engage in the necessary, vital advocacy among its members for increased allocations or the recruitment of new members. If one rereads the plea of an Alliance Chair to the JFNA Board a few years ago, one would understand the futility.
  • The Alliance essentially oversaw the collapse of the National Foundation for Jewish Culture and, then, the death spiral of JESNA, both national agencies with a critical role to play in national Jewish life. 
  • Over the last five years, New York UJA-Federation first threatened to pull its disproportionate Alliance allocation (40%, as I recall, of the National Agencies Funding Pool), agreeing to extend its deadline through FY 2017-2018. Now, it is clear that New York has executed on its threat, converting it to a devastating reality. The Alliance leadership had no impact whatsoever on the New York UJA decision.
  • And in a brazen daylight theft, Silverman demanded that over $1 million in National Agencies funds be delivered by the Alliance leadership to JFNA as "seed money" for an Education "Unit." Let me be clear: these funds were the property of the National Agencies and these funds were purloined by Jerry with the connivance of the Alliance leaders. This was a pitiable chapter. (And, BTW, how's that Education "Unit" doing?)
  • The Agencies leadership was told that there would be at least a year of lead time until they received the email advising there would not be a year, there would be nothing. 
As you can tell from the "death to the Alliance" letter above, JFNA isn't taking any more responsibility for the Alliance's collapse than it did for the Alliance's existence. Further, it's failure here dumps the National Agencies at a time that the federations to which they must now advocate for an allocation many of which are already in the midst of their annual Budget processes. Many of these legacy Agencies are simply unprepared to reach out to the federations and/or donors for financial support.

This is the close of a sad chapter. It is evidential of JFNA's criminal neglect of one of its critical responsibilities. The Alliance was one expression of collective action. It is no more.

So, what else is new?


Sunday, March 18, 2018


With apologies to The Washington Post, "organizations die in darkness." And, as we have pointed out on these pages too often, nowhere is the darkness deeper than at the Jewish Federations of North America.

On a snowy winter's night in February 2018 at Chicago's Midway Airport, Southwest Airlines had to cancel all of its flights when it ran out of deicer. When I heard about this on the news, my immediate thought was: "when did Jerry Silverman become CEO of an airline?" How does something like this happen to a major corporation; how does darkness fall on what was a major North American non-profit? At Southwest actions were taken; at JFNA no one gives a damn.

We are in the post-shame JFNA. There is no longer any evidence that anyone within JFNA leadership -- and I include its Board, the federation CEOs, and, of course, its Board Chair and Vice Chair. What they do care about is unclear. JFNA has been allowed to become the institutional equivalent of the witness protection program. 

JFNA is the place where the degeneration, the entropy have become constants. The greatest college Coach of All Time, the GOAT of college coaches, Alabama's Nick Saban, has a mantra, a challenge to his teams year-after-year: "How good do you want to be?" At JFNA there appears to be no one who would even understand the question. There are some great professionals at JFNA -- as well as the many superb professionals who have left the organization -- who lack direction, who feel they lack professional leadership. For JFNA is in the depth of Tartarus and can't/won't emerge, if ever, until...the 12th of Never.

If there are those who suggest that JFNA under Silverman is anything but the grossest of failures, that suggestion is, quite obviously, risible. As Michelle Goldberg observed in a different context, those at JFNA who think "all's well" have "a photo-negative version of reality." JFNA's failure is not that of its CEO alone; the JFNA Board members and federation CEOs are themselves passively engaged in the deconstruction of JFNA...and, ultimately, of the federation system itself.

Friends, we all know that in any successful organization -- for-profit or non-profit -- we see building on success; at JFNA, other than in the brilliant work in Washington, each success is a one-off (e.g., disaster relief during and post-Harvey) succeeded not by further success but by folly and repeated failure (e.g., JFNA-Israel, the GAs). And no accountability...ever.

Yes, I despair. The only hope I see is in the Anonymous Comments to my Posts from those of you who see what others do not. I try to keep optimism alive in my heart even as optimism is on life support in my brain. But for you, my dear readers, I feel like Al Gore were he at CPAC talking about global warming.

Who ultimately will call a Code Red?


* "Dreckitude" -- that perfect decriptive term is derived from the works of Maureen Dowd writing of something else.

Thursday, March 15, 2018


1. All of us without exception reacted with horror and rage at the slaughter of 15 teenagers and two faculty on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. 15 teenagers, 5 of them Jewish. It took 6 days for the JCPA to issue a strong statement: JCPA Expresses Outrage at Mass Shooting at Parkland High School and Calls for Action to Combat Gun Violence. 6 days of silence followed by a strong statement.

Then there's JFNA -- not a word. I guess the sense that Jerry and Richard and Cindy have is "none of our business." For there can be no other rational explanation, can there be?

I've read the statements emanating from countless federations echoing the powerful words of JCPA, but from JFNA, our JFNA...nothing...absolutely nothing. The MetroWest Federation organized an anti-gun rally...but from JFNA...only silence.

Wouldn't all of us want our Continental organization at the least (and no can expect anything from these chachams but the very least) to have decried this senseless atrocity from the muzzle of an AR-15 of our nation's young...maybe...maybe...a word in support of the young people who have now mounted an offensive against the easy proliferation of assault rifles in our society.

But, no, nothing. 

The silence is deafening.

2. At the end of February, the Conference of Presidents convened its annual Mission including almost a week on the ground in Israel. JFNA was well represented by William  Daroff. But, for some reason, Becky Caspi, the Director General of JFNA-Israel had the time to also be on that Mission. Of course she had the time. Could Daroff have "handled" this "representation" without a "second?" Of course, he could have.

Which raises the question. Is anyone providing any management of JFNA-Israel at all? Is Caspi some form of independent contractor operating according to her own whims? What does she do? What is she supposed to be doing?

Does Silverman manage anyone? Does Gurvis?

Enough already.

Damn it; enough already.


Monday, March 12, 2018


Well if ever there were two names you might have thought someday you would read in the same sentence, I guess it would be this President of the United States and that Chairman for Life of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. Hmmm, do they have anything in common?

This unusual pairing was highlighted by an article in Haaretz last month. Reporter Judy Maltz captured the setup perfectly. Evangelical-funded Israel charity hopes to cash in by getting cozy with Trump. The only thing missing from the headline was Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein's name -- missing, that is, to Rabbi Eckstein himself.

OMG how this philanthropy, grown on the backs of tens of thousands of small contributions, often in cash, from Evangelical Christians into a prodigious fund-raising machine that is now extending far over its skis with Eckstein's ambition-driven intent to hold a mega-event at Mar-a-Lago, of all places...Mar-a-Lago. Boy-oh-boy, the IFCJ is in the big time now. Ignoring the fact that since Trump's election charity-after-charity has canceled planned events at Mar-a-Lago, the Fellowship is there anteing up the six figures to rent the place.

And, while there are other venues in South Florida, far less expensive, the tease for Mar-a-Lago is that maybe the President will drop in...and I have no doubt that Rabbi Eckstein will be hovering by the door, praying for a Trump appearance, and that the Presidnt will offer some remarks in which he will acknowledge Rabbi Eckstein in his own way.

This event could be, may be, if the President does a stop and chat, a career capper for the Rabbi. Oh, the days are long past -- I'm sure forgotten -- when Yechiel was satisfied by a large blow-up of a small check accompanied in a photo op by leaders of Chicago's JUF, then UJA, then JAFI, then Keren Ha'Yesod, now JDC -- meetings with a succession of Israeli Prime Ministers and Presidents and, if it all works out, a fleeting moment, the biggest yet, a brief encounter with the Donald.

Now, the cynic in me (a living thing, really) would suggest that the event at Mar-a-Lago, and the six figures to rent the place, is strictly to salve the insatiable ego of Rabbi Eckstein. Yet, when last he and I met, Yechiel assured me that he didn't need to have his ego stroked, he wanted "out of the limelight." After all, he recently named his daughter Yael as Executive Vice President and under "Leadership" on the IFCJ website there are now two names and two names only -- Yechiel and Yael. Well, that's progress. Then, again, there was that April 2017 article: Rabbi Eckstein Raises Millions for Israel's Poor, and Don't You Forget It.

For those of you who are not familiar with Yechiel, you might wish to consider the  2015 Zeev Chafets-authored hagiography Bridge Builder: The Life and Continuing Legacy of Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, which has the literary and historical merit of The Art of the Deal. But always remember that Eckstein heads an incredible fundraising operation that even after its first "down" year, is producing more to aid Israel's population most in need than any other. 

So, perhaps, you will want to join Rabbi Eckstein and the IFCJ at Mar-a-Lago. As reported in Haaretz:

"The event, Eckstein noted, is scheduled to begin at 5 P.M. – an hour that was chosen carefully. 'That will give the president time to hang around before he needs to head back to Washington,' he said."
As the Rabbi might add, "Let us pray."


Friday, March 9, 2018



1. We all congratulated JFNA on its work in Houston post-Harvey; our congratulations only paled in comparison to the self-congratulations JFNA offered itself. Even now, JFNA is holding a series of 24-hour "fly-ins" to Houston to see a community still in need and still in recovery.

So, it came as a surprise to learn that a new Coalition has been formed to continue the life-saving and community-rebuilding work and that JFNA has no part in it. As JNS reported:

 A new coalition of national Jewish organizations has issued a call to other Jewish communal groups across the United States to send volunteers to support the still-urgent recovery needs in Houston following the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey last August.
The Leadership Coalition for Jewish Service, which includes BBYO, Hillel International, JDC Entwine, Moishe House, OneTable, Repair the World, and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, has partnered with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston on #ActNowHouston."
Did JFNA choose not to be part of the emerging Coalition? If so, why? 

Was JFNA not invited to join in the Coalition? If so, why?

Does anyone at JFNA recall that, in the aftermath of the devastation to New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina, a superb JFNA professional led the formation of a very similar Coalition back then? A coalition now forgotten.

Now, the best JFNA can do is this sentence in FedWorld:

"As recovery from the devastating Hurricane Harvey continues, the Leadership Coalition for Jewish Service – including many Federation-funded organizations – is partnering with the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston to place recruited volunteer groups with on-the-ground agencies." (emphasis added)
Good try?


2. Then in reading a Summary of the JFNA Atlanta Board meeting the last week of January, I learned that "54 Federation communities across the continent" were present. 100 lay and pro leaders from 54 federations. That's 54 federations of 148, that's a little over 1/3rd of the federations. Shouldn't someone be asking: why? Why only a little over 1/3rd of the federations were present? 

We all know that in most non-profits, a quorum for voting purposes is one more than half of those eligible to vote and, while I don't obsess over By-Laws, I'm certain that JFNA's provide no quorum requirement -- but 36%? Really? 

Yes, only 100 lay and professional leaders were there? Does anyone even notice that federations have disengaged? Does anyone ask: WHY?

Friends, I shouldn't be the one asking these obvious questions/thisobvious question. We all know who should be asking. But I cannot think of a single reason why the Jewish Federations of North America is not/was not a founding member of Leadership Coalition for Jewish Service. I do understand why no one is even bothering to show up.

Can you?


Tuesday, March 6, 2018


What's up at JFNA and Elsewhere?  Try these...

1. There's the reality that at our Continental organization Israel has become a terrible after-thought. At a time that our presence is demanded in response to actions such as the Prime Minister's breach of his agreement that there be an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel...
  • JFNA's Vice-Chair is actively recruiting leaders for 24 hour "Fly-ins" to Houston (with no fund raising);
  • JFNA promotes its major FRD Mission: "It's time for a game-changing Berlin and Budapest."
  • National Women's Philanthropy takes its Mission to Argentina
  • The Joshua Society convened an important Mission to...Cuba
Reasons -- 

  • The Missions Director has been ill
  • The GA will be in Tel Aviv and people don't want to go to Israel twice (given the lack of GA attendance, maybe they should just call it a large national Mission and do some serious recruiting)
  • Israel is so 90's

JFNA has lost its way. 

2. At is Atlanta Board Meeting Renee Rothstein presented an excellent and candid Report on recent GAs and offered alternatives (including continuing the GA annual gathering at a cost of $2,500,000 per year for the dwindling number of Registrants) for the jFNA Board's consideration. Kal hakavod to Rothstein for her candor and the transparency of her presentation; sadly, this serious matter was placed at the end of a long agenda on a long day, and, though I was not there, I sensed that participants were wheeling their luggage out on their way to their transportation from EWR, LGA and JFK during the presentation. 

I don't believe that Renee received much in the way of direction. (My favorite question from a Board member: "What do you want from us?") 

My sense is that the GA will continue as is.Change for this organization is (1) so hard and (2) the Large City Execs like them (for reasons unclear). 

More to follow? Maybe. (It's JFNA after all.)

3. My jaw dropped when I hit the liink for the JCPA 2018 Plenum and discovered that the cost of "Full Registration" is $525...$525!!!! I'm sure it will be worth every dollar. (BTW, the Young Leadership registration is only $425...$425!!!) Goddam the Plenum must be so much better today than back in the days of my attendance (then again, it would have to be). Don't miss it if you can afford it.


Saturday, March 3, 2018


Well, friends, you have to give Jerry Silverman some credit. In his Dvar Torah to the assembled few for the JFNA Board Retreat the last week of January, he asserted a truth: we are to be "judged by our actions not our mottos." Jerry is the master of lack of self-awareness.

That brings me to the January 29 JFNA Mid-year Progress Report. OMG!! I appreciate the candor in the Report, but all one can conclude is there has been almost no "progress" in almost every area...almost none...and, yet, nothing ever changes. 

The Report begins:
"JFNA’s mission is to SERVE, REPRESENT, and LEAD the 148 Federations and more than 300 independent Jewish communities across North America. Our goal is to strengthen Federations’ abilities to deliver their mission of caring for Jewish in need (chesed), building and deepening connections to Judaism, Jewish life and community (chinuch), and building the cohesiveness among and between Jewish communities, Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world (k’lal yisrael)." 
I honestly don't believe that anyone who has been paying attention (that appears to exclude the JFNA Board, Officers and, in particular, the Budget and Finance Committee and its brilliant Chair) needs a bullet point by bullet point recitation of JFNA's sad state --
the lack of progress, but another 23 pages were found necessary to do so. You'd think the document might wake the dead (or, at least, be a wake-up call),

So, let's take a look:

  • Federation Relations. Best I can tell, the 8 person JFNA FRD CCT (that's JFNA acronym-world for the FRD Community Consulting Team) has been busily consulting with federations as JFNA "(C)ontinue(s) to shift our business model and organizational culture from a program-centric one to a customer-centric approach." (BTW: Who writes this crap?) There's more about "leveraging," "points of contact," "a living 360-profile of each Federation," "levers" -- well, you get the point. There is little to report other than "mottos," cliche and jargon.
    • Remember, the CCT Team is made up of 8 part-time consultants (plus another to be added), the Senior part-time Consultant, and the FRD professional staff
    • It appears that the entire professional staff will have to be mobilized and trained (by whom?) to meet JFNA's goal that all 148 federations be offered Consulting Services -- this will sound familiar to Barry Swartz and Becky Sobelman-Stern. It's back to the future.
  • Financial Resource Development. See Federation Relations above. It's all about Consulting -- how many times, with whom at the federations, yada yada yada, we're not to know. There is the good old idea of partnering federation Campaign Chairs with JFNA FRD Campaign Cabinet members presented assomething "new."
    • Missions -- the JFNA role can best be described by the following: "JFNA's Mission Director has been out of the office on medical leave and much activity in this area has been placed on hold." There is Fisher Flight which took five...count 'em, 5...couples on its latest flight. They should hang their heads in shame.
    • Major Gifts efforts are focused on Missions -- an excellent Civil Rights Mission and a Mission to Cuba -- and on PMC Receptions. 
    • Supplemental Giving -- high marks for honesty, low marks for fund raising. On the plus side, the dramatic success of the National Holocaust Survivor Fund; on the other hand, as predicted on these pages, the four year goal of $18 million for the ENP SHAPE Program is dithering at $1.18 Million (and the desperate reach to federations has only resulted in another $2 Million).
    • Let's sum up -- some FRD positive results in the Network (question: is the Network reporting as its success project giving to JAFI (through its JAID efforts), JDC and WorldORT? Just askin'. The Cabinet continues: presented as if it were 1970 and successful.
    • And, how the hell do you have a "Progress Report" on FRD with no reference to the federations, no reference whatsoever to the Draconian erosion (as one Large City Executive called it, a "hemorrhage") of donors. JFNA FRD has been diverted to a consulting function to such an extent that it has lost sight of its own purposes. And, I believe I know why; so do all of you.
  • Planning. There seems to be a " Planning and Research Department" which -- just reading between the lines -- may be one or two people inasmuch as the "Department" is going to "leverage" all other JFNA Departments " support local planning needs." Got it? 
    • That Jewish Education Unit that Silverman took over $1 million away from the National Agencies to fund? That's now the Jewish Education and Engagement Office relegated to "working with and supporting 'community of practice groups.'" Your guess is as good as mine.
  • Talent Development. Best I can deduce from the narrative, if anything is happening on this front, Mandel is doing it. Though JFNA no longer engages in CEO searches, there appears to be some real (as opposed to the faux) CEO mentoring and "onboarding" efforts and "skills and knowledge acquisition." 
  • The GA. Going nowhere, attracting no one. And at a great annual cost. 
There are also objectives in the area of policy agenda building and "representing Federations on policy issues of high concern in both Washington and Jerusalem."  And it is this latter "" to which I would like to draw your attention. 

JFNA clearly is striving for relevance; just as clearly it doesn't really know how to do so. At the table discussions at the JFNA Board Retreat in Atlanta last month one conclusion was that "we don't know what we want JFNA to be" -- and whose fault is that. 

Double that concern when it comes to JFNA-Israel. It was illustrative to me that JFNA-Israel is so irrelevant, even within JFNA itself, that there is no specific "Mid-Year Progress Report" for JFNA-Israel. But, there is this:
  •   The Israel office maintains close and discreet relationships with Government of Israel officials on issues of concern to North America Jewry, including participation in key meetings and behind the scenes activity with a particular emphasis on the Kotel and other pluralism- related topics.
  •   A mission of senior Knesset members and party faction leaders was held in September in partnership with the Jewish Agency, visiting Atlanta, New York and Greater MetroWest.
  •   The Israel office represents Federations at the Knesset and in caucus meetings, such as Peoplehood, Religion and State, Diaspora Affairs, and Aliyah and Absorption.
  •   Also with the Jewish Agency, JFNA Israel took a group of seven chiefs of staff and senior advisors of government ministers and senior MKs to the GA with a pre-program with the LA and Orange County Federations.
  •   JFNA provided a program for newly elected Labor Chair Avi Gabbay to get to know the North American Jewish community.
  •   Following GOI actions on Kotel and Conversion legislation in June JFNA drafted and distributed fact sheets on the Kotel and conversion issues, as well as an overview of all religion/state issues and a document that reported on Federation’s investments in pluralism issues in Israel, through core, supplemental and designated giving.
JFNA Mid-Year Progress Report January 2018
And, allow me to sum up the pathetic excuses JFNA has deployed for doing nothing with this one:
“The 10 month effort to mitigate the impact of a Haaretz investigative report positioned JFNA Marketing and Communications Department as a primary source for navigating PR and media on specific issues. Due to the Haaretz process we have not begun providing training and regular briefings on events." (emphasis added)
Laughable. Only JFNA could bootstrap as its excuse for not doing something (in this case "Training and regular briefings") on something it never did (provide guidance and mitigation to the Haaretz investigation). 


That's about it!!

And, anyone who reads these Posts knows that that is because JFNA-Israel is a black hoile within the black hole that is JFNA itself. Over the past decade-+ what has JFNA-Israel accomplished? Just as an example of failure, if JFNA-Israel is responsible for the JFNA "Envoys" Program, we see classic failure. In the first 6 months of the fiscal year, 4 communities -- that's FOUR -- received JFNA Envoys -- 2 more visits -- that's TWO -- are confirmed for 2018. Envoys is an effort with NO support; JFNA-Israel is what then? One thing is for sure -- there is no there there.

I want you to draw your own conclusions. Here's mine: JFNA, even more than a GA, needs to be totally rethought -- from its Mission to its Vision, from its lack of Purposes to Purposes. It is going nowhere in its present iteration...and it hasn't for a long, long time.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018


Which organization is doing what today?

  • "The architect of the Jewish future"
  • "Your voice in Israel"
  •  CEO searches
  • "Touching more lives than any organization in the World"
  • "Representing Jewish communities in 100 countries across 6 continents"
  • The 1st-ever national CEO OnBoarding program
  • "We Are One" (only kidding)

If you responded JCCA, JNF, JCCA, JFNA, WJC, LeadingEdge, you obviously have too much time are your hands and you should join me in Blog-writing. 

But, the point of this exercise is this: while JFNA is lost in cliche, other organizations have filled the void that JFNA has left, leaving our federation-owned entity in the dust. The voids that have been created by JFNA either abandoning the field -- Israel, CEO searches and professional training, representation, future vision -- or not even being aware of its responsibilities.

So, you may ask, what is JFNA doing? Me, too. We know of its work in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, and of its Washington grant-making successes in a terrible environment. Yet, a newly announced Leadership Coalition for Jewish Service dedicated, at least at the outset, to additional assistance to, and in partnership with, the Houston Jewish community, appears to not include JFNA. As reported by the brilliant ejewishphilanthropy --,+2018&utm_campaign=Wed+Feb+7&utm_medium=email -- raises the implicit question: is JFNA relegated to a few fly-ins or are its leaders pounding on the door of this new Coalition begging to be admitted?

And, what else -- help me here folks. I am at a loss...and so is JFNA. And, no, just spending $53,000,000 a year, $30,500,000 from Dues, tells us nothing -- other than that there is no accountability at JFNA, no sense of responsibility. But there is lip service...always lip service. 

In one of his last presentations to the JFNA Board as National Campaign Chair, Harold Gernsbacher pleaded with the few federations represented for data, for the federations to trust JFNA with their Campaign data so that JFNA could then responsibly report back to the communities on annual campaign trends and achievements. Harold's plea apparently fell on deaf ears inasmuch as the current National Campaign Chair, Delaware's Suzanne B, Grant, made the same plea in a letter to the communities last month, underscored in her presentation to the Board in January. 

Why do the communities clearly not trust the national organization which they own? I would submit it is because JFNA, with its claims of "confidentiality" about almost everything, its continued annual waste of millions on a series of failed General Assemblies, and the failed JFNA-Israel, its opaque Budget process and more opaque expenditures, its lack of purpose, its egregious over-compensation of its senior professionals, its reliance on a secret group of consultants, its claims of "confidentiality" in all things -- JFNA, remarkably, has demonstrated no trust in its owners, the federations. And all of the while the owners, the federations have demanded nothing...not a thing...of JFNA.

Friends, here is what JFNA defines as its Mission today:
"JFNA’s mission is to SERVE, REPRESENT, and LEAD the 148 Federations and more than 300 independent Jewish communities across North America. Our goal is to strengthen Federations’ abilities to deliver their mission of caring for Jewish in need (chesed), building and deepening connections to Judaism, Jewish life and community (chinuch), and building the cohesiveness among and between Jewish communities, Israel and the Jewish people throughout the world (k’lal yisrael). "
Assume that this is, in fact, the Mission the federations dictated for this entity (it isn't but that's a story for another day), how is JFNA doing? Is the organization really delivering in the areas of chesedchinuch and building cohesiveness among and between Jewish communities? Under this leadership what demonstrable success has JFNA delivered in its self-assigned goals to SERVE, REPRESENT and LEAD the federations

I think, I know, that all of us, every lay leader, every CEO knows the answer -- JFNA has failed us.

Now what are the lay leaders and their CEOs going to do about it?


Sunday, February 25, 2018


As all of us know so well, the United Jewish Appeal in its time was a prodigious fund raising machine -- at its height, the envy of the philanthropic world; even at its end, with the merger that created JFNA, UJA was directly soliciting 10's of millions of dollars a year in the communities and on an incredible array of Missions, and among its own constituencies. Present company excluded, an remarkable succession of lay leaders -- women and men alike -- were matched with an amazing group of professionals. I was blessed to serve with so many lay and professional leaders who demonstrated devotion and passion and a singular commitment. When the brilliant Jonathan Woocher, z'l, wrote his seminal work, Sacred Survival, at is essence, he was chronicling through example after example, the United Jewish Appeal.

An unmatched continuum of professionals drove the UJA financial resource development effort: from the pioneers, the incredible, inspirational Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, Ernie Michel, z'l, Al Hutler, z'l, who then passed the leadership mantle to Bobby Pearlman and Mel Bloom, Irving Bernstein and the next generations of preeminent fund raising pros Russell Robinson, Mo Sherman, Shimon Pepper and Harold Cohen, Brian Lurie, Vicki Agron and Gail Reiss, among other passionate, committed, driven professional leaders. This was truly a Movement matched where great professionals matched with remarkable lay leaders too numerous to cite by name here. I venerated all of them; all of them are heroes.

There is no doubt that the zenith for UJA, and, from all of the accumulated evidence, the federation system was in the genesis and execution of Operation Exodus. Instead of that billion dollar campaign being the building block for greater systemic achievement, the Exodus special campaign appeared to have exhausted the system; an exhaustion from which the system in most of its component parts seemed unable to recover. From this incredible chapter in modern Jewish history, in American Jewish history, we have ended up exactly where we are today.

And, here's how we got to today...

THE MERGER. With 20/20 hindsight the federation system would have been better served -- far, far better served -- if those of us in leadership of UJA/CJF in the mid- to late-90's had determined to maintain the "UJA-CJF Partnership." We had achieved great savings through a physical consolidation, we had reassigned functions to assure that there would no longer be duplication and overlap, UIA would have continued as an independent entity and the Partnership, even with Co-CEO's, was operating more or less smoothly. But the Large City federations would have none of it; their leaders wanted ownership and the budget control that was part and parcel of ownership. Most important, as it turned out, was the Large City Federations implicit demand that there would never be another Operation Exodus unless they initiated it. (BTW, since the merger, not one Special Campaign run by JFNA achieved its goals -- not in wartime and not in peacetime.)

In the first days of what was then Newco, Charles Bronfman, the first Board Chair, engineered a rejection of the UJA Brand at an extra-governmental meeting. The handwriting was on the wall.

A Campaign/Financial Resource Development "Pillar" did some excellent work under Vicki Agron's professional leadership. Initially, this writer was named then dumped as the Pillar Co-Chair, restored only through Steve Nasatir's intervention. (Sadly, Agron didn't lift a finger in support, already insecure in her new professional leadership role -- a position secured for her in the new entity by the lobbying of Carole Solomon, Bob Schrayer, z'l, and...I.) The Pillar worked hard under a troika of Co-Chairs, Chattanooga's Michael Lebovitz (who would later serve as National Campaign Chair), Cleveland's brilliant endowment professional, Berinthia  LeVine (who would leave the system for a senior position at Cleveland DState University) and I (who would later be relegated to...Blog-writing)-- among its achievements, the emergence of the concept that would later be branded Total FRD, integrating annual and planned giving campaigns; and the decision to provide hands-on lay-professional assistance to high potential communities (a decision, the catalyst for which was Tauber's urging).

THE COLLAPSE BEGINS. Initially, within the Annual Campaign/FRD Task Force (which followed the Pillar episode) of the merged entity, there was continuity in both professional and lay leadership. The brilliant and passionate Carole Solomon was one of the great National Campaign Chairs, followed by Chicago's dedicated and indefatigable Bob Schrayer, z'l -- and  that continuity continued through the years of Steve Hoffman's service as then UJC CEO/President. (In the first years of what would be UJC [prior to its rebranding as JFNA], continuity wasn't so easy. For example, CEO Steve Solender, without any discussion with lay leadership attempted to recruit Bob Aronson, Detroit's dynamic CEO, to professionally lead both Campaign and the relationship with "Israel." I learned of this when Bob called me seeking my advice. Again I stepped up to support Agron; and, again, a one-way street as it turned out). Bob declined the position, Solender was soon retired and Steve Hoffman stepped in to lead JFNA with his usual distinction.

And, then, FRD hit a wall in the person of Howard Rieger, Hoffman's successor. Rieger, in the guise of a "Strategic Plan" (with no input from the FRD Department), drafted by him behind closed doors, evidenced in part Howard's distrust of Agron's and the FRD Department's work. Howard's continuing attacks on Agron -- some directed at me when I privately communicated to Howard my strong objections to the substance and lack of "due process" in his treatment of Agron and the FRD work that she led. While she was aware of my support and encouraged it, Vicki at one and the same time tried to curry favor with Howard by supporting whatever wholesale changes he demanded while he demeaned her quite openly -- among other things, even as I and other dinosaurs were kicked to the curb, Vicki asked me to review FRD plans ("in secret...pinky swear") and she assumed, correctly, I would be fine when I was removed from the FRD Campaign Cabinet -- offered as a human sacrifice I suppose. None of these actions preserved Agron's position or, more important, the role of FRD within JFNA.

IMPLEMENTATION. While in the midst of Howard Rieger's constructive termination of Vicki Agron, the CEO sprung a "reorganization" on FRD. Henceforth, Howard declared, with the acquiescence of Board Chair Joe Kanfer, FRD would be merged into (not "with," "into") the organization's Consulting Services Department, Barry Swartz, the head of Consulting Services would now absorb FRD into his work (Barry had almost no significant FRD experience), and Agron would second him. It was Rieger's passive aggressive way to rid himself of Agron -- clearly a goal more important to him than FRD services to the communities-- services that in the last survey conducted with the federations was their highest ranked need.

By late 2007, even Agron had had enough. She left to join the consulting world; leaving her "dream job," forced out by Howard Rieger. Then Gail Reiss, an incredible fundraiser and superbprofessional was passed over in succession to Agron and left first to New York-UJA and then (and now) as CEO of American Friends of Tel Aviv University. A great young leader, David Fisher, resigned as National Campaign Chair, disgusted with the treatment of the JFNA professional staff and the marginalization of FRD within the entity, among other things. (For his candor, he received an excoriating letter from the then Board Chair, Joe Kanfer.)

Eric Levine, a master researcher and data interpreter at UJA and, then, JFNA, succeeded Gail Reiss. JFNA FRD became but an after-thought.

COLLAPSE. And, then, Eric Levine was gone. Only a few excellent professionals remained. And Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning arrived; neither had any apparent interest in JFNA's FRD. Both were absorbed with the so-called "Global Planning Table;" they left FRD to flounder under a succession of National Campaign Chairs who showed neither interest in pushing back against the leaders' disinterest nor in advocating for the revivification of the FRD senior staff. (The GPT, as all of you know, was DOA.)

Silverman and I met briefly for a chat at the bar of the Ritz-Carlton Battery Park one evening. Jerry left me speechless when he told me with great pride and glee that he had "just hired Paul Kane from New York-UJA." I had known Paul since his fine work in Chicago's Campaign and knew that he had done good work for New York but, at a time that JFNA needed new energy and new FRD professional leadership, as I told Silverman, Paul wasn't the right guy to meet either need. I needn't have worried: while Jerry saw Paul as his FRD guy, Paul saw himself as some kind of corporate cheerleader, a COO without the title and responsibilities; and, probably at Kane's suggestion, JFNA hired Reuben Romirofsky, a mid-level New York-UJA FRD professional. So, while Paul, as a full-time consultant, seemed to spend significant time promoting Jerry, continental  FRD continued to sink -- seemingly its professionals were relegated to raising money (but never enough) for either JFNA's budget or a series of failed special campaigns. 

Under Silverman, FRD had morphed into less than an after-thought.

AGRON REDUX. There was a growing clamor, mainly from Small and Intermediate and Large Intermediate Federations, for campaign assistance. To respond, Board Chair Michael Siegal and Silverman seduced a wonderful lay person, Harold Gernsbacher, with promises of "the earth, the wind and the stars," to the National Campaign Chairmanship. With little professional staff to fall back on, Gernsbacher drafted his own Campaign Plan and Silverman agreed to retain Vicki Agron, who, since leaving JFNA, had built a solid reputation as a consultant, as a JFNA part-time "Senior Consultant" to work with Harold. Agron jumped at the chance to make a triumphant return to FRD at JFNA albeit in a part-time role.

Gernsbacher was a throwback as Campaign Chair -- he was everywhere. He led every National Mission, spoke wherever and whenever asked (although not asked often through no fault of his own) with great heart and great enthusiasm. He was the "outside person;" Vicki was working the inside with her usual incredible energy. The Campaign Cabinet was restored (including a few past Chairs -- no, I wasn't asked) along with several forgotten functions. Another Campaign Plan emerged (though, as I told Agron in the confidence she had demanded, it was mainly a rehash of the old and a bunch of cliches. This was the last time that Agron asked for my help.). But there was a recognition that little help would be provided the federations that paid the Dues without full-time FRD professionals in place. 

As I came to understand, Silverman, always sure to take care of himself, refused to offer sufficient compensation to attract a cadre of high level FRD professionals to JFNA. (Those were apparently not within the "earth, wind and stars" promised Gernsbacher!!) Instead, Agron created a "secret" (the names were not released to the system) Consulting Team of four top FRD professionals from federations around the country, all part-time, assigned to communities determined by Agron (it's possible she told Harold Gernsbacher). In addition, as Paul Kane phased out, Max Kleinman, recently retired as MetroWest's long-serving CEO, joined Silverman's "secret" consulting team, and assigned to raise millions to satisfy JFNA's commitment to Holocaust survivor relief. Max was one of the best of his generation of federation CEOs.

When Silverman, or, perhaps, COO Mark Gurvis, was pressured by communities to provide broader Consulting Services, someone made the decision to convert the part-time FRD Campaign Consulting Team expanding their services away from FRD and four additional part-time Consultants were hired. In the midst of all of this, Agron recommended that Silverman hire Brian Abrahams, a bright and personable senior Aipac professional who decades earlier had worked for UJA, as Senior V-P Financial Resource Development. Brian  had no Federation Campaign experience.

I greeted Brian's hire with enthusiasm believing him to have the potential to be a Russell Robinson not realizing that Agron would continue to control this Consulting Team (and Abrahams would have his own community consulting assignments). Brian, within weeks of his hiring (I was going to write "arrival" but Brian officed in Chicago out of the Chicago federation offices), fired the woeful Planned Giving professional whom Agron (the part-time consultant) had hired but months earlier. There have still been no high level full time professional hires leaving Brian, Beverly Woznica (in Los Angeles) and Arlene Berland and some Mission professionals and the 8 part-time Consultants and one Senior part-time Consultant as today's JFNA FRD. 

And that FRD Campaign Plan of which Agron was so proud? Your guess is as good as mine.

Financial Resource Development was/is still eating up 50% of JFNA's budgeted dollars but I challenge any of you to try to connect the dots between budget and activity. From all evidence that FRD Budget is just another ATM for Silverman's application as he and Gurvis determine.


The future for FRD at JFNA remains unclear; what is certain is that without a full-time FRD professional staff, there will be none. Perhaps it's time to...

  • Retain the original 4 members of the Consulting Team, apply the compensation paid the most recent Consulting Team hires and Agron's Compensation and enable Brian Abrahams to add two high level FRD professionals to his team. It would be a start. 
  • Deploy the FRD Campaign Cabinet to key high potential federations which agree to partner with JFNA in enhancing their campaigns -- back in the day (more than a decade ago), JFNA FRD did partner with Las Vegas and Phoenix (until that program was killed off by Rieger [as I recall]). 
  • Revitalize the national Missions Program by appointing Mission Chairs who are committed to personally recruiting a group of Co-Chairs across the country and potential fellow travellers in each instance -- all of whom would then be expected to personally recruit participation.
  • And, focus, on the reality that the federation system is bleeding donors at an ever-increasing pace, find some best practices for rebuilding the donor base and implement a new approach.
And move forward from there building on successes...

What will happen? Fill in the ___________________________________________________