Thursday, February 20, 2020

RISING UP?


I am pretty good at reading "between the lines" of Jewish organizational Reports, Minutes and narishkeit. And, so...

In the Board Chair's Summary of JFNA's Members meeting/vote on modifying the JFNA Dues formula (for questions raised see Is There Real 'ROI' Here, my Post on the subject), this sentence stood out:
"We recognize there are issues to work through to address concerns and questions raised on the call. I encourage us to all work together in the spirit that characterizes our collective system and move forward." (Italics added)
90 of 146 Federations voted in favor -- that's a relatively healthy 61% majority; yet, 56 federations did not vote "yes" -- an unhealthy number, certainly. But, doing that "reading between the lines" thing, Chairman Wilf clearly suggested in his "summary" that there were some strong objections registered -- something the prior administrations tried desperately to suppress. Mark Wilf and Eric Fingerhut have their work cut out for them.

Perhaps some objections were harsh, not "in the spirit that characterizes our collective system" (who writes this stuff?) -- whatever that means. Sounds like a good debate. This caused me to think back to the debate on the Resolution that implemented JFNA leadership's commitment to emasculate UIA. Objections at that meeting last year were expressed respectfully -- leadership's "objections to the objections" were expressed by some venomously, angrily and clearly "not in the spirit..." yada, yada, yada.

I agree with JFNA's leaders that a revision to the Dues formulary has been long overdue -- inasmuch as the last revision (one on which I worked under a terrific leader, Cleveland's Albert Ratner's, leadership) was in 2002 and which, at the end of the day, resulted in a formula that left too much to communal interpretation and created too many loopholes. But, the suggested "cure?"

As one of the FOB pointed out to me, the problem here is that JFNA starts from an annual premise of entitlement -- reflected in the constant $30 million base point for a Dues discussion. There is no discussion, no debate, about that. Why is the Dues base presumed to be the "minimum?" Why not $50 million (only kidding) or $20 or $15? Shouldn't that be the place to start the debate about Dues? I mean, really, if the JFNA Dues Budget were rational and transparent, the debate among the federations would be wholly different. 

My suggestion to JFNA’s leaders, with respect, is to reboot the Dues discussion. Start this time by building the Budget brick by brick — stop talking about “zero-based” and actually 
DO IT.  Once communities debate a Budget and their buy-in is assured for a Budget that demonstrably and directly benefits them; then a new Dues formula follows logically. 

Wishful thinking...maybe.

Rwexler

Saturday, February 15, 2020

FOLLOWING UP

Friends, a number of you wrote to me in response to last month's Post Confused? I Am with appropriate and incisive Comments. I appreciate them all. The one which follows here  struck me as most important for our continuing discussion. 
 "The leader that you refer to and quote is indeed speaking for the Jewish Agency's Israel-Diaspora  role. Those that know her know that she is certainly not speaking against JAFI or funding it. 
We can also be sure that she means well.

The problem is that she, like many others, have been wrongly convinced by the JAFI leadership that the answer to dwindling funds is for JAFI to reinvent itself and become something else. They are leading the Agency to become totally donor-driven rather than the mission-driven organization that it always was.

While fighting Antisemitism and strengthening communal security are important, they are not the role of the Jewish Agency.
 JAFI has a very strong partnerships program for strengthening Israel-Diaspora relations, a platform which could easily grow and expand to rise to today's needs without throwing out the rest.
The problem with the Jewish Agency is not what it does but that what it does is evidently not appealing enough anymore to the federations, that we have stopped meeting our commitments to Israel and through Israel to ourselves and the Jewish People. 

The solution is that WE need to understand what is really important and that the Jewish Agency must now unfortunately invest heavily in marketing its true mission and fundraising for it.

Shame on us for allowing this to happen on our watch!"

We are living in times when our communities have shown a willingness to walk back even walk away from our historic values and commitments reflected in our collective responsibilities. For example, the relationship between JAFI and UIA, that of agent and principal respectively, has been stood on its head; or Community A where it has been  decided that care for the Jewish aged in our midst, once a sacred communal responsibility  is "too expensive," and they are to be abandoned; or another federation )or more) which has decided it will no longer be the central planning body, it will be something called a "convener," and so it goes. 

Who questioned a Jewish Agency "plan" to become another "player" in the arena of Global anti-semitism? Who questioned JA's determination to fund local community security? Did UIA demand that JAFI, UIA's agent, prove its provenance in this newest area of its claimed priorities before approving its latest and most diminished allocations as is UIA's obligation?

How would you answer these basic questions?

Rwexler

Monday, February 10, 2020

BIZARROWORLD

On February 5, a friend forwarded on a terse statement from the Jewish Agency's Director General to the "Leadership of the Jewish Agency North America," advising that Gail Reiss, the JA North America/JA International Development CEO for the last year, "...will be leaving the organization effective February 7. Yeah, that's right, the next day. While no reason was stated, there was this:
"[T]he decision comes at a time when The Jewish Agency is building our structure and determining our model of operation as a result of the Strategic Change Process."
As Gail Reiss described the action cryptically in her own letter to North American leadership on February 7: "The Jewish Agency has decided to reorganize/restructure their efforts with Financial Resource Development." In another departure letter resonating like one demanded by someone, Gail after stating how honored she was to work for JAFI, she wrote: "...and I respect their work." (Maybe Gail was strapped to a chair unable to leave.)

JAFI's own message went on to announce that on an interim basis JAFI head of North American Shlichim and the JAFINA COO, with the active engagement of the JAFI Director General, will be running the show. It should be noted that these very fine professionals have not demonstrated any fund-raising experience. 

When she joined JAFI, I wrote on these pages my concern that Gail would be treated to the same unreal expectations of her potential success as were all -- all -- of her predecessors. I pled for patience, to give Reiss the chance to replicate the success she had had at Tel Aviv University, and New York-UJA and the national United Jewish Appeal. Precedents suggested that her term would end no better than her predecessors'. It didn't.

And, of course, the Jewish Agency pattern of undermining its worldwide fund-raising effort continued -- Gail Reiss, one of the best FRD lead professionals with whom I and others ever worked, never had a chance, I was told; she sure wasn't given one. From David Sarnat, to Maxyne Finkelstein, to Misha Galperin, to Josh Fogelson -- each a great professional, each frustrated by decisions made by JAFI Jerusalem after they were hired by JAFI to lead JAFI-NA and JAID -- each ultimately left the organization while on the cusp of success. Now Gail joins that list: she had a little over 12 months on the job for a very complex organization and clearly never had the necessary support from those at the top of the Jewish Agency. 

If the Agency is contemplating taking its FRD efforts in-house, centralizing it in Jerusalem, going back to the future as it were -- that's been tried before; it was an abject failure. Jerusalem is incapable of raising funds: it has proved to be so for decades. This would be all about control; and it would end up being all about failure. 

The Jewish Agency International Development was created to raise funds in support of the Jewish Agency's work. Now it will be professionally led on an interim basis by three leaders with no provable fund-raising involvement. Meanwhile community financial support for the core activities of JA is at an all-time low.

Like you, I love the photos of JA Executive Chair, Bougie Herzog, as he travels the Jewish World spreading the word, offering comfort or inspiration. Bougie has always been a personal favorite. And I have great admiration for Michael Siegal, now the Agency's Board Chair, a great philanthropist dedicated to the organization. But...where the hell are decisions being made -- on staffing, on mission, on strategies, on programs -- and what is informing those decisions? Did they believe that again would show up at the Sachnut on day 1 in a Brinks truck hauling bags of tens of millions?

I have a serious suggestion for Michael, Bougie and Amira: give JAFINA/JAID a chance to succeed. The continued interference in JAID/JAFI NA FRD has been disastrous -- it is as if the Jewish Agency never loses an opportunity to lose an opportunity.

I am confident that Gail Reiss will emerge from this experience strengthened, ready to lead a good organization to a better place. The Jewish Agency, however...

JAFI has truly morphed into BizarroWorld, not a good place to be. 

Rwexler

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

THINGS BIG AND SMALL

~~ One big thing...Dov Ben Shimon, the MetroWest federation President and CEO, has demonstrated in word and deed that he "gets it," recently published an interesting article across social media: Let's Meet Up, Literally. In it Dov urges that all Jewish organizations which engage with the federation system and all JFNA constituencies commit to attending the General Assemby (I assume that the author would also suppport making the GA meaningful and relevant to the attendees, but that's another matter.)

It may be of interest but I had urged this on a smaller scale for decades (until I threw in the towel when I could convince no one in leadership). Back when I had some "clout" at the United Jewish Appeal (so you know how long ago that really was), I suggested to UJA’s National Women's Philanthropy leaders that they hold their national and worldwide meetings in conjunction with the GA -- the suggestion did not just meet resistance, it was rejected out of hand. 

As Ben Shimon has framed his "let's all meet" plan, I'm hoping that all those to whom he addressed his plan give it real consideration.

~~ On a lesser note we read the following announcement: 
"Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion...is also receiving a $500,000 NEH (National Endowment for ther Humanities) Grant for the construction of a special collections facility to house the records of the Jewish Federations of North America." (Emphasis added) 
https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/hucs-american-jewish-archives-to-house-jfnas-multi-million-document-collection/?utm_source=Jan+31,+2020&utm_campaign=Fri+Jan+31&utm_medium=email
I have to assume that these "records" will include those of UJA/UIA/CJF in addition to those of the Jewish Federations of North America. If not, not much space will be needed to store the Minutes of ONAD or the Global Planning Table, assorted and discarded Strategic Plans, a file drawer filled with take-out menus, and one unused treadmill, mint condition.

Seriously, this is a wonderful Grant. My congratulations to all those involved. There will be more about this in a later Post.

Rwexler

         

Thursday, January 30, 2020

IS THERE REAL "ROI" HERE?

JFNA has faced a quandary since its founding by merger over 20 years ago -- (1) how to create, rationalize and support a Fair Share Dues formulary that is fair to all communities and (2) one that is reflected in a Budget that serves the broad interests of the federation system.

As of this month — earlier this week, in fact — JFNA leadership submitted to its federation members another effort at (1) above without regard for (2). And, in this observer's opinion, you can't have one without the other. JFNA appears to believe that it has an entitlement to $30 million (+) in federation Dues as a matter of right; never defending the Dues "budget" in a manner that might convince federations that the Dues assessment has real validity.

The impact of this new Dues formula falls disproportionately on federations whose Dues assessment would dramatically increase:
  • Baltimore   +40.8%
  • Atlanta       +16.1%
  • Chicago     +7.5%
  • Cincinnati.  +78.3%
  • Cleveland   +9.1%
  • Omaha.      +185.6%
  • So. N.J.      +80.8%
  • Youngstown+106%
  • K.C.              +19.1%
  • Akron.         +57.8% 
  • St. Louis.    +12.8%
Which of these federations -- all responsible communities -- can afford these increases (and, remember, these are the increases, not the base Dues on which they are built)? And, which can't...or won't? And, in a curious turn, the Memo supporting the new formulary clearly states that this work product is hardly ready for a vote -- an Implementation Committee will be created to, inter alia, examine "....[T]he specific approach to phasing-in the changes for Federations that would face a significant percentage increase..."

Smaller communities than those listed which will be faced with smaller gross increases will have to evaluate which of their programs and who of their staffs will have to be cut to accommodate continuing membership. Meanwhile, New York-UJA will enjoy a $548,818 Dues reduction, and federations in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Palm Beach, South Palm Beach, Boston, Washington, D.C. will see reductions as well.

But, to me, the threshold question must be: what is my/any community receiving as its return on this annual Dues "investment?" I'm anxious to hear JFNA leadership's answer. For too long the response was "trust us;" that really neither works any longer nor should it. Under the Wilf-Fingerhut Administration more is expected/demanded and I remain confident they will deliver.

I would love to learn how JFNA will use the Dues to fulfill our collective responsibilities; how communities will be allocated budgeted funds to aid them in, e.g., increasing their resources and donors.

I'm certain that my community, as it has always done, will step up to its responsibilities, as an expression of its commitment to the collective responsibilities reflected in JFNA, and because we have the financial capacity to do so. 

Others?

Rwexler




Friday, January 24, 2020

CONFUSED? I AM

Those who sit on the Board of the Jewish Agency as representatives from North America have bee, as they should be, enthusiastically supportive of the organization's work over the decades. So I was confused and surprised to read a newspaper interview with an important leader of federation, JFNA and JAFI,  stating quite clearly that which, decades ago, earned an Israeli political leader, Yossi Beilin, his own address in some infamy when he told Diaspora Jewry to "keep your money." In the published interview this Diasporaa leader, after listing the  members of the "Israeli billionaire class," stated:
"It's not our job -- it's their job -- to support their country. For the Jewish Agency to stay mired in what it was, and not move with the times, is really making us a dinosaur."
I guess this leader was attempting to be supportive of the Agency's reorientation "...to address growing alienation between Diaspora Jews and those in Israel..." Fair enough. I have yet to see:

  1. An actual plan which would inject the Agency into the Israel-Diaspora quagmire -- one that would set forth programs, projected outcomes and a timeline; and
  2. A budget that would evidence to the Diaspora funders the cost. (As an aside, I can predict with some confidence that, if this is now JAFI's highest priority, community/country allocations to meet this specific need will be de minimus.)
But we have neither. 

As I have read the JAFI reports on the newest iteration of primary purpose (JAFI will continue important programs such as MASA, Partnership 2Gether, some Aliyah, Amigour Housing and others), all of which would, it appears, fall within that American leader's description as JAFI "mired in what it was" and "..it's their job -- to support their country," not ours.

WOW. With friends like these...

Yes, count me among the confused...as usual.

Rwexler

Monday, January 20, 2020

OXYMORONIC

I am certain that my daughters and many others would be thrilled with the announcement that Chicago now has a "vegan Jewish deli." Me...not so much.

One of my daily foodie on-line periodicals, chicago.eater.com, announced that Sam & Gertie's, 'World's First Vegan Jewish Deli, Debuts with Meatless Chopped Liver. I counted two of the most oxymoronic phrases in this single headline: Vegan Jewish Deli and Meatless Chopped Liver. Let me just say -- NO, say it isn't so. Read the article here: https://chicago.eater.com/2020/1/10/21060611/sam-and-gerties-worlds-first-vegan-jewish-deli-open-uptown-chicago

Friends, this a niche I cannot believe we needed.

Sam & Gertie's debut is further evidence of the decline of America's food culture and, with that, the well-publicized apparently inexorable death spiral of the true Jewish deli continues. (See, Pastrami on Rye: An Overstuffed History of the Jewish Deli)

I respect those who practice veganism, especially those in my family, but does the world really need a vegan restaurant claiming to be a deli? Even one that announces that it is "...a place, for example, where Ashkenazi Jewish Chicagoans can introduce a vegan spouse to their culinary heritage, or where a Jewish vegetarian can taste chopped liver for the first time in 30 years." NO...whatever this Deli may serve, it ain't chopped liver, nor pastrami nor any other traditional deli "animal product." I admire those who have chosen the vegetarian path; but, were they interested and willing, I would be honored to bring them with me to Katz's or Riverdale's Leibman delis, and place some chicken soup, then a pastrami with some deckle, not lean, on rye with deli mustard and a half-sour in front of them and challenge them to resist. 

Luckily, in the Chicago area we can identify a kosher Jewish deli and a number of the "Kosher-style" delis some/many of which seem to continue to thrive. Try Manny's or Eleven City Diner in Chicago and Kaufman's, Max's or Max & Benny's in the north suburbs. Or take a trip to Manhattan.

So, like "airplane food," "deafening silence" and other classic oxymorons, add "vegan Jewish deli" and "meatless chopped liver" to the list. Soon to be followed by the announcement that the founders of Sam & Gertie's:
"...are getting ready to embark on their next venture -- Porferio D.F, a vegan taqueria and cantina..."
Can't wait.

Rwexler

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

ONLY QUESTIONS

A couple of weeks ago, the UIA Board was advised by its Chair, Cindy Shapiro (and Eric Fingerhut) that the United Israel Appeal CEO, David Mallach, "...has decided to step down from his position" after four years. From this outsider's perspective, David performed an excellent high wire act trying to balance his professional responsibilities to the UIA Board with those he owed to JFNA. One wishes David great success in his future endeavors.

We are already witness to the deconstruction of UIA in the guise of the 2019 "plan." Now, what? Best one can tell From the Desk of Cindy Shapira is that it ain't going to get any better. Why? The next steps are going to be ...well, let Cindy explain:
"...in light of UIA's important work and JFNA's overarching Israel and Overseas mission, we will be looking together with I & O Chair, David Butler and Becky Caspi on how best to manage this vital work in the future."
To clarify: if the "Israel and Overseas mission" is "overarching" to JFNA leadership, they have a particularly strange way to evidence this "mission." For, in reality, Israel and Overseas has been nothing more than an afterthought, the funds for its Israel and Overseas work both a literal black hole (someone ask how many staff, for G-d's sake, and what those folks do) and an ATM from which JFNA periodically diverts funds (e.g.,the Negev Project funding) from the purposes for which they were raised (e.g., Victims of Terror Fund). None of these seem to rouse JFNA Israel and Overseas lay leadership from their slumber; so it is hard to imagine these circumstances will awaken them.

Danny Allen, z'l, in an exercise of self-sacrificial professionalism was never hesitant to confront his professional overseers on matters of principle; he paid the price with his job. JFNA assured that future UIA CEO's would report first and foremost to the JFNA CEO, secondarily to JFNA-Israel's CEO. Upon the approval of the deconstruction of UIA last year, UIA's CEO was relegated to reporting within the JFNA-Israel bureacracy alone. Hence, Mallach's "high wire act." What was an important role in an important organization is now nothing more than another professional among many on the JFNA-Israel payroll. And, while the UIA Chief Professional Officer has always been headquartered in NYC, don't be surprised if the future "CEO" is situated in Jerusalem, the better to be constrained by Ms. Caspi.

Those who opposed the 2019 deconstruction of UIA can only hang their heads while watching this further emasculation, knowing that some of them have been called "lunatics" and worse in the hallways of JFNA.

Again, more's the pity.

Rwexler


Friday, January 10, 2020

AND...AGAIN

Continuing her streak of columns based on a wholly, demonstrably false premise, Israeli right-wing pundit, Caroline Glick, has struck again. This time she posed the question When Will American Jewry Wake Up? You may read the screed at https://www.jns.org/opinion/when-will-american-jewry-wake-up/

In this epic rant, Glick who appears to hate American Jewry, at least in part, because we vote in a super-majority as Democrats or independents; we are all lumped in her "liberal/left wing/anti-Israel" category; we should be ashamed. The particular column states as fact that American Jewish institutions ignore the "facts" of left-wing and African-American anti-semitism -- she, of course, offers no facts, none. Yet, she asserts:
"Instead of accepting these facts, liberal Jews make excuses for leftist and black anti-Semites."
As is her style, Glick offers no example of institutional "excuses."

But, immediately, after this false assertion Glick veered off into the depths of her false premise:
"Almost every major American Jewish organization --from Aipac to the Reform and Conservative movements -- clings to the 'two-state" paradigm as an article of faith despite the fact that like the Palestinians, anti-Israel activists and groups reject Israel's right to exist."
That "paradigm" as I recall was at one time endorsed by a succession of Israeli Prime Ministers, including PM Netanyahu. Oh, well; never mind.

But, Glick went on:
"The apparent thinking is that the American Jewish community's support for Palestinian statehood will convince leftist anti-semites to accept that Jews have the right to support Israel's existence..."
Feel free to just think: HUH?

I assume that Glick feels free to "comment" on the positions of American Jewry on all things because she was born here. Clearly, she is wrong...terriibly wrong...and totally unconcerned that she is.

Rwexler


Sunday, January 5, 2020

2020??

Here we are in a secular new year. I sense that the organizational model for this year will be "Change or Die." Are our organizations capable of change and, if so, change to what exactly?

Let's start with identifying who will lead us through change? JFNA has at its helm a new face in its CEO, Eric Fingerhut. I am told that he led Hillel through real and positive change; but Hillel was/is a system, it wasn't and isn't 148 independent federations and 300 non-federated communities operating in an amorphous Network. Eric has the advantage of a lay partner, Mark Wilf, who will walk with him side-by-side in pursuit of real change.

In addition, the late 'teens brought real change at the Federation level -- John Ruskay was the first of the Large City Executives to retire, followed by Steve Hoffman and Steve Nasatir , Barry Shrage and, no doubt, others. Each was succeeded by bright young women and men, each of whom must be willing to examine what is and then must demand what should be. In the near-term future other communities will see the retirement of important CEOs, most notably Jay Sanderson's planned retirement. (I'm aging just writing this.)

Unfortunately, the first of this "new breed" of CEO appears to be determined to lead his community away from the "collective responsibilities" on which it was built toward...what exactly? It seems clear to this observer that the actions of New York-UJA under Eric Goldstein have been designed solely to reduce the largest Jewish community in North America's financial support of the system in Draconian ways -- defund the National Agencies-Federation Alliance, cut is funding of the core budgets of the system's overseas partners, cut its Dues obligations to JFNA, and more -- all without an express vision of what that critical federation wishes to emerge after the destruction and dust clear. 

Do New York's leaders wish to reduce JFNA to a down-sized trade association for which some have clamored for years? Or do its leaders want a Continental organization that will focus on Federations' great needs? Does it want to force JAFI to focus on substance or to be a convener and think tank leaving substance to, e.g., the Government of Israel, other NGOs or...no one? Will New York financially support National Agencies still meeting the challenges at home and abroad in meaningful ways or will it further turn away from were once its leadership responsibilities.

And, if New York continues down its funding path of turning inward, how many others will follow? Will the new CEOs in Chicago, Cleveland and, soon, LA, have the strength to maintain funding what have been their core responsibilities? Will new CEO's -- bright and committed like Metro West's Dov Ben-Shimon, Cleveland's Erika Rudin-Luria. Chicago's Lonnie Nasatir and many others -- recognize the crises we face and confront them? Will they push JFNA to focused achievement? I think hope so. 

I hope and pray that the current iteration of JFNA leaders are prepared to lead a discussion about change, about responsibility, about purpose and focus and then have the resolve to implement the consensus decisions reached.

At braishit for JFNA the federations agreed that for the first two years of the organization they would at the least hold their allocations for overseas needs at the then current levels to give the organization the breathing space necessary to, among other things, develop a binding Dues formula and to build consensus for the expressed purpose of building "more dollars and more donors." This "hold" on allocations lasted one year before Boston's CJP unilaterally decided to violate its own agreement and the Continental organization's leaders lacked the courage of their convictions. The downward spiral began then, worsened with the top down creation of the ill-conceived, ill-named Global Planning Table, that Rube Goldbergian contraption that, if nothing else, formalized the disintegration of collective responsibility with the GPT's unfilled "promise" of "coalitions of the willing" in which almost none were willing.

It is probably inappropriate to liken our organizations to the nation described in the Babylonian Talmud -- but, I'll do it anyway: 
"(Our organizations) are likened to dust and likened to the stars. When they decline, they decline to the dust; and when they rise, they rise to the stars."
The choice for 2020 is stark: dust or stars. And that choice is yours.

Will Mark Wilf and Eric Fingerhut have the koach to rally the Jewish Federations to understand their responsibilities to each other and to those of our People most in need? Demand that our leaders lead. Time's a'wasting. 

Rwexler