Friday, November 9, 2018

WHEN NO ONE IS PAYING ATTENTION

The following is almost impossible to believe.

As reported in multiple media in the Dallas and Fort Worth communities, "nearly $1 million dollars was stolen from the Fort Worth-Tarrant County Jewish Federation" by its Controller. 
https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/feds-nearly-1-million-stolen-from-jewish-charity-in-fort-worth/287-609743953

That's $1 million dollars, my friends...$1 million. And, this was no sophisticated fraud. It is alleged that the Controller merely wrote 300 (+/-) checks to herself over a five year period totalling $1,000,000 and was never caught. This small federation was victimized to the tune of approximately $200,000 per year and no one noticed...no one. 

Are the organization's books audited? Is there an Audit Committee? Where was the Controller's supervisor(s)? Where was the Federation Board? So, the Controller just continued to write the checks to herself...for five years!! 

That's $200,000 a year stolen from a community whose annual campaign has remained at a little less than $1 million a year. You'd think someone would have noticed that $200,000 or so was being stolen. And, a quoted Board member said the total stolen was actually more than $1 million, the overage dating back to 2011 -- beyond the statute of limitations!! 7 years of this. The theft, according to the media reports, was discovered in a recent audit -- was this the first audit? I'm having a tough time getting my arms around this -- in particular because it appears that this Federation has not filed its mandatory IRS Form 990. (Guidestar does not cross-reference any filing; the Federation's website does not link to one.)

I visited the Fort Worth and Tarrant County website -- it disclosed a community engaged in joy-filled activities, supporting local needs in meaningful ways. I'm certain that the communal lay leadership are as committed as any in most communities. I've known a number of past leaders -- they were terrific. And, now? If you look at the photos, you would see leaders that mirror those in Los Angeles or Palm Beach or Dallas. The website includes the agenda of the recent Federation Annual Meetings which included not only the Federation's most senior lay leader reporting on the "State of the Federation" and a presentation from JFNA's Richard Sandler -- all the while the Controller was stealing 20% of the community's annual campaign resources.

The trust that is so absolutely vital to community building and to sustaining the community, now must be rebuilt in Fort Worth-Tarrant County. Anyone who has been a regular reader of this Blog knows of my fear that that trust, once destroyed, can almost never be rebuilt...almost never.

Our Boards are the stewards of our donors' resources; for the donors have entrusted their dollars to our Boards. When that stewardship fails, communities die.

Rwexler

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

CHANGE

     "I bark and I bark but I never feel like I effect real change."

The New Yorker captured the story of this Blog in one simple cartoon. (October 15, 2018) It is the cartoon equivalent of that which has been attributed to Albert Einstein:  "the meaning of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result."

Yes, that's been...me. Barking and barking and barking again. Baying at the moon, as it were.

I admit it. As a fund raiser, I am an eternal optimist. I have believed that people, especially those charged with sacred responsibilities will do the right thing....will always do the right thing. Einstein would have admonished me.

Since I first began this Blog, I have made it a practice to go silent on matters related to JFNA upon each passing of the gavel from one Board Chair to the next out of what proved to be the false hope that the incoming Chair, having seen the deconstruction of JFNA under her/his predecessor, would take the bold steps necessary to force the radical surgery that would restart the organization, moving it in important directions, in critical directions...away from the sorry past to a brighter future for JFNA, for its federation members, for the "system," for our donors.

Yet, Kathy Manning was so obsessively focused on what would be the multi-million dollar disaster of her Global Planning Table, that, against the best advice from leaders far more relevant than I, she wasted her leadership years on the Rube Goldbergian-GPT; she neither wanted nor tolerated counsel -- other than her own. Michael Siegal, a spectacular philanthropist, wanted to effect change; he understood that major change was needed; change that he was unable to deliver. I shared Michael's frustration.

In the weeks before Richard Sandler succeeded Michael Siegal, he agreed to meet with me at his office in Santa Monica. He was extremely generous with his time and in sharing with me his vision for his Chairmanship. I felt that his leadership philosophy -- expressed as getting out of the way of the organization's professions and letting them "do their job" -- was inconsistent with the fiduciary, the sacred, responsibilities of lay leadership. Ours was an argument l'shem shamayim. It went nowhere. 

And, so, in each instance, my period of self-imposed silence was abandoned for the balance of each of these wonderful, committed lay leaders' whose only desire was to do good in service to the Jewish People, terms.

Now, Richard Sandler has passed the gavel to Mark Wilf. Mark can be the paradigmatic JFNA transformational change agent. His background inside the system and outside -- from Chair of the Young Leadership Cabinet through National Campaign Chair, his federation leadership roles and as the driving force behind JFNA's successful Holocaust Survivor Initiative. The Wilf Family's generous contributions to Holocaust survivor efforts are part of their and Mark's n'shama. Now, he will face his biggest challenge -- because his success as Chair is entwined with the need for a dynamic professional partner -- how quickly he will have one is wholly within his hands.

My confidence in Mark has been magnified in recent days when I learned that Chicago's David Brown will serve as the 2020 National Campaign Chair. With David's incredibly broad range of leadership roles locally and with JFNA, he and Mark hold out the promise of being the most formidable JFNA leadership team in decades. (To the extent that is damning with faint praise, so be it.)

Based on that promise, I will soon put that portion of this Blog that is commentary on JFNA on hiatus. I, with you, expect serious and transformational change. As i wish Mark only success, I won't wait long.

Rwexler















Saturday, November 3, 2018

THE MESSAGE

Memorial services across America continue to mourn for the victims of the anti-semitic terrorist in Squirrel Hill. Each has great meaningto those present. I could cite any number of these, but this one, in Napa, California, with its small Jewish community struck me as particularly moving. That memorial service was captured in the Napa Register: Napans speak out at vigil honoring memory of 11 who died in Pittsburgh synagogue shooting:


"Napa has been home to Steve Rozensky for a decade. But before that, home had been the Squirrel Hill area of Pittsburgh, a longtime Jewish enclave he never imagined would be rocked by hate-fueled mass violence – until Saturday morning.
“I turned on the TV and it hit me like a ton of bricks that my old neighborhood had been hit like that,” Rozensky said Monday night at Napa’s Congregation Beth Shalom, before a vigil for the 11 people shot and killed while worshiping at Tree of Life Congregation in his old neighborhood.
“You’re from there, you grow up there, and you think it’s the safest place on earth,” Rozensky said. “If you gave me a list of 100 places in the country where this could happen, I would’ve put Pittsburgh last – such an accepting place, I couldn’t see that happening. If someone wanted to know a place where they could walk day and night, I would say Squirrel Hill.”
The vigil, taking place two days after the Pittsburgh shootings, drew more than 240 people to mourn the men and women, ages 54 to 97, who died. The attack is believed to be the deadliest ever against Jews on U.S. soil.
“These innocent victims were doing nothing but worshiping with one another, celebrating the God they believed in,” Rabbi Niles Goldstein told the capacity audience at Congregation Beth Shalom. “These are dark days for our country with so much hatred and fear that it’s pervasive around us.”
In an apparent admonishment of President Trump, Goldstein, who became the rabbi of the Napa synagogue last year, urged a forceful rebuke of anti-Semitic sentiment that has emboldened people like Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh shooting suspect who reportedly left a long trail of anti-Jewish screeds and other conspiracy theories on social media before the attack.
“What we need is leadership starting from the very top, leadership to navigate this crisis we are going through — not the kind of leadership that leads to the hate that fuels acts like what we saw on Saturday,” Goldstein told the audience.
Speakers including Mayor Jill Techel and Police Chief Robert Plummer and local religious leaders decried the attack not only as an act of hate against Jews but an assault on the rights of all Americans.
“I know we cannot feel this loss and injustice in the same way you will, but any harm to you affects us all,” said Pastor Julie Webb of Napa Valley Lutheran Church.
When vigil leaders passed the microphone to audience members, anguish and fear and indignation poured out from various mourners – as well as a feeling that a sense of security had been ripped away.
A young Pittsburgher studying at the Oxbow School described his shock “that this could happen in 2018 in my city.” An older man, the son of German Holocaust survivors, spoke of renewed fear among his Jewish friends, hoping “that we never have to go to that deep dark place that existed 85 years ago.” Still another speaker called on the audience to turn words of tolerance into action by voting Nov. 6 and urging friends and family to do the same.
Plummer, who took the helm of Napa Police in July, pledged local law enforcement’s readiness to investigate threats to residents of all faiths, and said he would take seriously not only direct attacks but also online threats of the kind that preceded the Pittsburgh shooting and the attempted mailing of bombs to former President Obama and Democratic leaders.
“If you see something or hear something, you’ve got to say something,” he said. “Because you can never know what bit of information may be the key.”
Bowers, who faces capital murder and federal hate-crime allegations in the synagogue shooting, had no known criminal record but had made frequent anti-Semitic postings to the right-wing social media site Gab since January. A Gab posting in his name just before the attack raged against HIAS, a Jewish organization that resettles refugees under U.S. government contract, and ended: “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
Toward the end of the Napa vigil, Rabbi Goldstein led the audience in reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, calling their attention to 11 white glass candles – one for each of the dead in Pittsburgh – and reciting each man and woman’s name before the prayer.
“I don’t want them to be a statistic,” he said. “These were fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers, daughters, sons, children – the list goes on.”"

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

UIA ON THE BRINK

A colleague in some degree of shock sent this to me:



"To:         UIA Board of Directors

From:    Andy Groveman, Chair
               David Mallach, Executive Vice chair

RE:         UIA Board of Directors

DATE:    October 12, 2018

Customarily at this time of year, you would be receiving a letter from UIA regarding your future status as a member of the UIA Board of Directors.  As discussed at a number of our meetings over the past 7 months, JFNA established a committee to examine the entire area of its global operations, including the relationship between JFNA, UIA and the Jewish Agency. In the deliberations of the Global Operations Review Committee, many issues have been examined which could have implications for the structure and governance of United Israel Appeal, Inc. The UIA Board will have ample opportunity to review and comment on the report before it is presented to the leadership of JFNA.

In the context of these potential developments, the UIA Nominations Committee met. It recommended that the current Board and Officers of UIA remain in place until the January 2019 meeting of the JFNA Board of Trustees, at which time it is likely that the final recommendations of the committee that are ultimately agreed upon will be presented to the JFNA board for formal action.  At that point or during the few weeks prior, we will have an opportunity to decide on how best to respond to whatever decisions are taken.

At the meeting of the UIA Executive Committee on October 10, 2018, it was unanimously voted to accept the recommendations of the Nominating Committee and leave the current Board members and Officers in place at this time and we hope that you will agree and continue to serve as a member of the UIA Board of Directors until there is a resolution on the governance structure going forward. As stipulated in the UIA Bylaws, if no board members are chosen by the JFNA board and no new officers are selected by the UIA Board, then the current ones remain in place until such time as they are replaced.

We believe that this approach is in the best interests of the UIA, JFNA and the Jewish Agency at this time and hope that you will agree to continue to serve as a member of the UIA Board of Directors..."
There can be little doubt that the UIA Chair is fully familiar with the terms of the "Global Operations Committee Report;" yet, true to JFNA "tradition," it's "confidential" until JFNA determines in its sole discretion that it's not. 

One has to ask: given its abysmal results, whom in their wisdom would willingly permit more power to accrete to JFNA after the secrecy, the waste over the past decade? Well, we'll soon know. Recall that UIA secured and has well-managed the US Refugee Grant that has meant tens of millions to JAFI; that its Israel staff has performed with excellence (both absolutely and in contrast to rest of the bloated, failed JFNA-Israel operation); and, probably unknown to the current group of JFNA leaders, half of the UIA Budget is reimbursed to JFNA-UIA by JAFI. So if this is about UIA's cost, this Global Operations Study thing ought to be spending all of its time studying the stultifying waste of JFNA-Israel.

Both JFNA and UIA have done a terrible job over the past five years at least in explaining the value added provided by UIA -- value-added that far exceeds UIA's "cost" to the federation system. Put this in the same category as JFNA's failed advocacy on behalf of JDC/WorldORT/JAFI -- a failure of responsibility.

Since the merger almost two decades ago, a succession of United Israel Appeal Chairs -- Jane Sherman, yours truly, Bruce Arbit, Rich Bernstein -- had been forced to step forward to defend UIA's role as principal to the JAFI agent and to defend its fiduciary responsibilities under a series of IRS Revenue Rulings against periodic attempts at JFNA usurpation. None of us wished to be in a position adverse to JFNA's. (Before my first meeting as UIA Chair, I was interrogated by JFNA's Chairs seeking assurance that I would "cooperate" in ways that they perceived Jane Sherman had not. I assured Joe Kanfer and Kathy Manning that they would have my support so long as they did not usurp UIA's functions. It took them all of two weeks to violate that assurance. Matters got worse from there.)

If does not take a seer to read between the lines of UIA Chair Andy Groveman's Memo to the UIA Board -- the end result of this "process" will not serve the interests of JAFI, UIA, JFNA, the federations or our donors.

A far more perceptive reader, commenting Anonymously to our Post, Questions Abound, spelled it out perfectly:


"So the task force that was set up to study JFNA operations in Israel and related activity has its recommendations ready, although they are not yet being released for now so as not to spoil the GA (as if it would matter).
One wonders what this document is going to suggest, although there is probably very little room for optimism. 

Since active lay involvement is something that is not appreciated by the powers that be, we can expect yet another attempt to destroy UIA and to make it just another department operationally and to crush its ability to really include any meaningful proactive lay leadership and advocacy functions. Having gotten rid of UJA after the merger, there will almost certainly be an attempt to finish the job by 'merging' UIA into the 'professionally' led wasteland where lay leadership have no real role.

As for the operations of the JFNA 'Global' empire in Israel, they probably won't touch the untouchable and will allow the empire-building trend of the past decade to continue unscathed, wasting our resources and accomplishing nothing at all that could be considered as being a positive contribution to the federations, to Israel or even to JFNA itself. That is unless one takes into account the wonderful feeling and illusion that we are overseeing the Knesset and the Israeli Government, while creating new and innovative programs and alliances to further philanthropic causes in Israel (Gee, that really sounds impressive!). The only important function of an Israel and Overseas department or unit should be advocacy in North America and the providing Israel and Overseas programming resources to federations, not trying to run its own lobbying and programming activities in Israel.

So, after the GA circus we will be seeing the task force report and recommendations (if they decide to really share them). Maybe we will be pleasantly surprised but more likely not. The big question is whether we will stand up and fight or just sit back and watch the continued irreversible destruction of any meaningful collective continental communal organization.  

Then again, maybe it will just be a wonderful report and we can all just say 'aye' to it. Or maybe it will be a disaster and we will all say 'aye' anyway so as not to make waves and rock the boat.

Time will tell."
In the negotiations of the merger that ultimately subjected UIA to subsidiary status, Shoshana Cardin, z'l, UIA Chair  and Danny Allen, then UIA Executive Vice-Chair (for the first time), fought with incredible passion to preserve UIA's critical role as interface between donors, federations and the Jewish Agency. In my role, I helped to force the merger upon UIA -- for which I have constantly apologized and attempted to atone. I am proud of the resistance that my predecessors and successors as UIA Chair* demonstrated in asserting that UIA's role would not be diminished any more than it already had been. 

The question now (and for the past two (is that all) years is whether the current United Israel Appeal leadership has the strength and tenacity to assure that UIA's roles -- those that they have fulfilled so well -- are protected. 

All signs point to "no."

Rwexler

* My own private, then public, "resistance" so offended JFNA's leaders that I was forced out as Chair.













Monday, October 29, 2018

FOLLOW UP? NOT US!!

"Trust us" appears to be the operational philosophy at JFNA. Why anyone would is the question of the day. And, here's why...

During Operation Protective Edge, rather than a focused special campaign, JFNA, as is its practice, opened a Mailbox collecting undesignated funds which it then designated for Victims of Terror. I have no doubt that the funds were  then distributed to appropriate Israeli NGOs to provide care and comfort across Israel. Then, as the conflict itself came to an end, came the issues: the need to serve Victims of Terror did not end; JFNA merely determined unilaterally that it would set aside the millions left in the Fund for future use. Donors were certainly never consulted; perhaps a few federations were. There was no vote by the JFNA Board.

And, over the past 4 years, JFNA has doled out dollars from the Victims of Terror Fund raised during Protective Edge for the current crises. Who's watching; who's reviewing; who's approving? What are the criteria; what are the standards?

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the JFNA did engage in critical follow-up.There was a sense of pride at the professional and lay levels in the accomplishments in partnership with the beleaguered and remarkable Houston Jewish community. This was JFNA at its best. There was a playbook for meeting future emergencies. And, then, the future emergencies became more frequent. And each one was treated as sui generis, the playbook rewritten each time; staff borrowed for each emergency --a seeming unwillingness to acknowledge that with climate change has come a continuing string of weather catastrophes assaulting our cities, our Jewish communities large and small.

These are but two examples of many where JFNA shoots itself in the foot even as it strives to do good -- through a continuing lack of leadership, lack of process, lack of continuity. This inability to remain focused is one of JFNA's most terrible flaws; a leadership distracted by the next shiny object --  away from its core functions, away from its sacred obligations.

You will remember that early on in Silverman's terms, the then Board Chair embraced, without plan or process, what would have been the billion dollar fantasy of a free Jewish education for every child -- a beautiful idea, too bad it was run up the flagpole without prior discussion or thought. So Silverman (who by that time had already embraced, #ish, the Global Planning Table, 3 TribeFests and other "plans" soon left in the dust after the waste of millions...millions) embraced the "free education fantasy" until someone told him to stop. 

Then there was the JAFI/Government of Israel/World Jewry Initiative. You remember, five years ago, a bold engagement plan emerged out of a series of think tanks convened by JAFI. And, then, as we wrote:
"As was related to me, the Jewish Agency Executive was advised that one Ayelet Shilo Tamir was recruited from MASA to "free up" Alan to work on what would be the moribund Government of Israel/JAFI Initiative. This appeared to many to be a real attempt by Natan Sharansky to have someone near the top of the JA bureaucracy who actually knew how to manage within the organization. But on her arrival, Hoffmann, who plays the bureaucracy like a chalil, appeared to go into a protective shield, and hired Yael Weiss Gadish to direct the work of the Initiative. Garish, who is said to be sorely lacking in the trust of the Agency staff, almost succeeded (and still might) in a plan that would, if implemented,  sell out the Agency to Diaspora Affairs Director General Dvir Kahane, aiding Hoffmann, her sponsor, in the creation of an alternative to the Jewish Agency, the GOI Initiative's "Public Benefit Company" known sarcastically in Israel as "Sochnut B" -- a way too transparent effort to break the JA/GOI partnership that was engineered, incredibly, by the Jewish Agency itself. As the entire Initiative has apparently collapsed, Hoffmann has created a new position at JAFI for Gadish -- "Director of Strategic Planning" -- swelling the top of the bureaucracy even as the brain drain is on-going."
And where was JFNA during the collapse of an Initiative that, had it been implemented as planned, would have fully engaged our continental organization, JFNA sat silently on the outside not even looking in.

No follow-up, no accountability...no nothing.

Rwexler






Sunday, October 28, 2018

WHAT HAPPENS AT JFNA STAYS AT JFNA

Josh Nathan-Kazis writing in The Forward has disclosed what happens in the darkness in his article disclosing that an obscure Israeli psy-ops group reached out offering its clandestine services to disrupt and attack, even physically, those in the BDS "business." https://forward.com/news/national/411798/israeli-spy-firm-that-approached-trump-first-proposed-dirty-tricks-against/

We had written about the institutional protectionism at 25 Broadway as JFNA claimed a false "confidentiality" about a $1 million consultancy the purpose of which JFNA refused to disclose to me, thus:


"We have already written of the strange case of the 'confidentiality' attached to a $1,000,000 conduit through JFNA to the SS+K firm, identified on the 990 as an 'Independent Contractor,' in Shepardson Stern and Kaminsky LLC -- Who Are These Guys? The question remains after JFNA asserted 'confidentiality' as to the contract between a secret donor and SS+K for a secret project. And JFNA lay leadership has apparently supported the claimed confidentiality."
A connection between Nathan-Kazis' revelations and JFNA's hidden $1 million conduit of a secret donor's funds to a public relations firm for an undisclosed purpose? We'll never know unless an investigative reporter like Nathan-Kazis or Haaretz's brilliant Uri Blau or the New York Attorney General's Charities Division pries open the door of non-disclosure, the secrets hidden behind the false claims of  an ad hoc "confidentiality."

Anyone who believes that there is nothing wrong with hiding the people's business from the people merely need look at the public scandals impacting multiple Federation-supported Jewish agencies in New York City over the past decade; or the deployment of charitable dollars to Canary Mission and others while federation folks either looked the other way or just lacked the will to inquire. 

What federation leaders must know is that the Federation qua Federation suffers the ultimate consequences of agency corruption. For Federation is viewed as the ultimate steward of communal funds. When trust in the "system" breaks down, it is Federation that pays the ultimate price; and trust is not easily rebuilt, if it can be rebuilt at all.

Here's the trend that must be arrested -- and arrested now, not tomorrow, today -- it is the trend in community after community of lay leaders exhibiting a willingness to "just let the professional do it." It is the leadership philosophy clearly articulated by Richard Sandler even before he took office as JFNA Board Chair, one that he lived by while the Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and continued during his three years in that seat at JFNA -- ending only with his late realization that a new CEO was vital to any success that JFNA might achieve. 

Sandler came to his leadership philosophy in good faith, I have no doubt. But it has led to three years of no professional accountability. It has led to a sense of entitlement among JFNA's most senior professionals that has seen, among other things: the implementation of the JFNA-JCPA  Israel Action Network as an almost total professional effort with only a lay chair (the IAN website links to its "Leadership and Staff" and then conflates the two -- just staff); or, with neither process nor thought, directing a community to "just write off" a 7 figure debt owed JAFI, JDC and WorldORT with no lay authorization (and no understanding that the debt was really the property of, owned by, JAFI, JDC and WorldORT). 

Secrecy is so dangerous, my friends. It was Justice Louis Brandeis who observed: "Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." If our organizations continue to demand darkness, a policeman may soon appear.

We can no longer permit the blinds to be drawn and the doors locked.

Rwexler


Saturday, October 27, 2018

WITH CONDOLENCES AND SADNESS

In the aftermath of the horrifying, murderous attack on the congregants of the Tree of Life Synagogue, I offered  my condolences and prayers to the victims and the congregants and the community, as I know you do as well.

A friend wrote me out of her pain and I responded:
"Like you, I am sickened by what happened in Squirrel Hill this morning, by the further terrorist acts of this mad bomber this week, by President Trump’s response suggesting that what’s “needed” are more guns — in schools and, now, in synagogues — while his Secretary of Homeland Security is at the Mexican border to 'protect' America from an 'invasion' by 1,000 beset Hondurans/Nicaraguans. President Trump, with the acquiescence of his sycophants, has unleashed the darkness, and though his comments today at another rally were wholly appropriate, I don't believe that he has a clue of where to look to find the light."
Too many, too many Jews, for reasons known only to them, have chosen to ignore what has been and is happening right in front of our eyes, on our own streets, in Charlottesville, now in our own synagogues, turning away from the anger and hate spewed out at every rally, a daily dose of vituperation toward the press, the media, the "other." Hell, it wasn't about us, was it? 

We thought what has now happened to us, could only happen in Paris or Brussels or London -- somewhere else but never here. Yet here it is. 

Friends, we have forgotten Pastor Niemoller's admonition and Santayana's maxim: those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.  We are a People committed to "never forgetting" and, yet, too many of us have forgotten. We must commit to finding the means to ending the incitement, wherever and whenever we see it.

I despair even as I know that we, as a People, as a Jewish People in America, are strong, stronger than we have ever been -- but only if we can find our unity, only if we can find that unity. Who will rally us? How will he or she do so? Where will we find the words, the actions to rally our partners of all religions and races to join in common cause?

We must commit that we shall never forget those who perished today gathered in a synagogue in Pittsburgh while celebrating Shabbat and a bris -- perished at the hands of a virulent anti-semitic home grown terrorist. 

We are already late.

Rwexler

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

"HUMILIATION"

Haaretz' columnist, Chemi Shalev, let JFNA's leadership have it in the sharpest terms in his closing column on the soporific GA in Jewish General Assembly's long-awaited confrontation with Netanyahu yields self-defeating humiliation instead -- GA 2018.https://www.haaretz.com/jewish/ga-2018-tel-aviv/.premium-the-ga-s-long-awaited-confrontation-with-netanyahu-yields-self-defeating-humiliation-1.6591813

Indeed.

What Shalev was referring to was outgoing JFNA Board Chair, Richard Sandler's, obsequious "questioning" of the Prime Minister at the GA closing plenary today. Citing Sandler's "fawning admiration" of the Prime Minister as evidence of how out of touch JFNA is with the American Jewry it is supposed to not just represent but lead, Chemi lamented the "uncritical adulation" embodied in Sandler's nodding head and expressions of thanks to Bibi even as Richard had to have realized he and his audience were not getting any real answers to any of the hard questions.

Readers may remember the same episode at last year's GA in Los Angeles where Bibi appeared on-screen from Jerusalem. It was in that filibuster that the Prime Minister completely dissembled when describing the breach of his Kotel Agreement and Sandler, our Chair, responded "thanks for the clarification." This time, as Shalev put it so well, Sandler "...allowed (the PM) to spin his fantasies without interruption" or even respectful challenge. In his obsequity Sandler, for JFNA. "undermined their own demand for a new kind of conversation between Israel and American Jews."

This GA ostensibly a demand that "We need to talk" was about everybody listening without critical commentary, as always; or, as Chemi Shalev put it "The show must go on."

"Thus," he wrote, "the organizers of the GA failed to represent their own constituencies."

Again.

Rwexler

REFLECTIONS FROM AFAR

While the TA GA grinds on to its Closing....

1. While the GA had 750 (+/-) lay registrants on hand in Tel Aviv, there were 7,000 Evangelical Christians in Jerusalem for their conclave. When Prime Minister Netanyahu describes Evangelicals as "our greatest allies in the United States." Why might that be? Do we care...at all? The Tuesday Plenary saw rows of seats removed while the audience was significantly reduced (many Israeli attendees on Day 1 appeared to have gone back to work.

2. Speaking of the Prime Minister...it appears that things are about to get very real with President Trump. Axios reported (October 22, 2018) that Trump discussed his Mideast "peace plan" with French President Emmanuel Macron and told him that:
"...he will be willing to pressure Netanyahu, if needed, when the moment comes...Trump added that he has given Netanyahu a lot -- like moving the U.S, embassy to Jerusalem. Trump even mentioned that every year the U.S. gives Israel $5 billion in military aid."
No surprise that the President got the amount of aid wrong -- it  was not $5 but $3.8 billion. The President continued: "I can be as tough with Bibi as I have been with the Palestinians." Who among us could have failed to predict that this day would come? 

This has the probability of rapidly becoming as ugly as it was wholly predictable. 

3. Next year there will be some minor gathering (although it would be fair, I think, to characterize that that is exactly what the GA has become under this leadership over the past decade) -- probably for professionals only. Then, in 2020, the GA will return to Chicago where,as we all know, this community will produce 1,000 lay registrants itself. This will also give JFNA time to reorganize for an effective, inspirational General Assembly with real take home value for professional and lay leaders. Suggestion: create a GA Program Planning Committee of lay and professional leaders -- appoint it now and let it get to work.

4. Haaretz' brilliant reporter, Judy Maltz, scored an exclusive when she discovered that:
"In an effort to resolve the crisis with Reform and Conservative Jews in the United States, the Israeli government is bypassing the movements’ leaders and reaching out directly to congregational rabbis..."
Apparently engineered by Israel's Ambassador to the U.S., this "effort" has already coopted Rabbi Ami Hirsch and others. We'll leave it to the Movements to determine if this subversion will work. 

Just another week...

Rwexler





Tuesday, October 23, 2018

THE GANG THAT COULDN'T/CAN'T SHOOT STRAIGHT

You may be aware of the baseball thesis that if both teams are disgusted with an umpire's calls, the ump must be doing a great job. Now, the GA in Tel Aviv where everybody...that's everyone...has found fault with JFNA, the GA and/or the federations. 

And, by everyone: the Minister of the Diaspora, by his non-attendance (due to the tired excuse of "scheduling conflicts") testifies to JFNA's irrelevancy in Israel; Women of the Wall whose criticism more directly to JFNA's abandonment of a cause they claimed to embrace to the extent that Silverman led a march with them at the last GA in Israel -- a March, you will recall,was hardly attended; a general recognition that the specious tagline of this GA -- "We Need to Talk" is all about JFNA having nothing to do with talking with let alone listening to Israelis (other than those on the left and even very few of them). 

If the GA were truly an attempt at the expression of the unity of the Jewish People -- you know "there is more that unites us than divides us" -- no organization could have made a greater mess of things than has JFNA. I know that some of you think I will blame this on JFNA's version of Inspector Clouseau, the honorable Director General of JFNA-Israel, Becky Caspi, to whom responsibility for this GA was delegated by Renee Rothman herself. And, of course, you are correct -- but not Caspi alone, there is Rothman and, ultimately, that lamest of Lame Ducks, Jerry Silverman himself.

There was some good news...or bad news presented as good. First, attendance was announced to the press (which, as always, lapped it up like a cat and a bowl of milk) attendance of 2,500 ("divided equally between North American and Israeli") instead of the annual hyperbolic 3,000. Then, to give it a real Israeli flavor, the Board was honored with the presence of the Governor of New Jersey (don't ask!! This is not a joke.). I wish there were more. 

The GA got off to a good start with the descendants of Max Fisher and Moshe Sharett speaking (very briefly) to their inheritance followed by a Russian-Israeli who spoke to her life experiences ending in life in a UIA-owned Amigour experience; songs and dance. Then, what might have been compelling speeches from Israelis and North Americans marred only by their reading. (Note to whomever: have you heard of teleprompters -- their use may have allowed a series of presenters on important and emotional topics to have made a greater impact on the audience.) At the end of this almost 2 hour Opening Plenary, I understand that the GA theme has morphed from We Need to Talk to Just Sit and Listen.

Promotional materials and videos for the GA made it clear that Tel Aviv would be where "we" would "discuss the issues that matter most." Uh uh. Those issues didn't have a chance. 

It needn't have begun or ended this way.

JFNA's lay and professional leaders, acting behind their usual wall of secrecy, have decided that the organization must avoid controversy at all costs -- take no positions, make no waves...it is the sha sha JFNA...hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil...unless it's really, really safe: like "we support Motherhood" (and, maybe, not even that). Thus, in the midst of the Kotel egalitarian prayer space controversy, after the Prime Minister's specious "it's all well, trust me" video address to last year's GA, all that the Board Chair could say in response was "thanks for the clarification."

So, anyone who expected that JFNA leaders would entertain discussion of anything of substance at the recently concluded TA GA, hasn't been paying attention...at all. And, know this: what was for decades a GA planned by federation lay and professional leaders with those of CJF and, in its first years, JFNA, is now an "event" in the hands of professionals like Silverman, Rothman, Caspi -- none of whom ever led or worked in a federation. It shows. 

Friends, it wasn't just the Minister of Diaspora Affairs who found no reason to adjust his "schedule" so as to attend the GA; federation lay leaders couldn't/wouldn't make it wither. The best estimates of lay attendance were that about 750 North American lay leaders registered for this annual event. What once was the greatest event on the annual Jewish calendar is now an event most avoid. It is great no more. Once JFNA professed its partnership with Women of the Wall, this year that organization's Chair, Leah Aaron, harshly critical, wrote: The Federation's General Assembly -- A Squandered Opportunityhttp://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/22891 

It's all so sad. JFNA is the institutional embodiment of Murphy's Law: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong."

So, long.

Rwexler