Wednesday, March 20, 2019


In no organization I know, other than JFNA, is every decision...I mean every single one...made on an ad hoc basis. But, then there is JFNA.

One of you wrote, before the Prime Minister was on the cusp of indictment for breach of trust and bribery:
"Apparently, JFNA will be silent when it comes to racism from the PM. What does it say about the Jewish world when AIPAC is openly critical of the deal between Bibi and the Kahanists and JFNA is silent? Jerry has said that the JFNA will not be making a comment on this.

Continuing to be silent on this will not play well for the JFNA. Silence here is a shameful response! This is not about the elections. It is about racism pure and simple. The AJC, URJ Rabbi Benny Lau (whose father is a rabbi and a survivor) and even AIPAC made statements concerning this. This is a total embarrassment for JFNA. There are things in this world more important ultra right wing donors and their money! Saying no the the fascism and racism of Kahanists is one of them." 
With neither rhyme nor reason, and with neither deliberation nor process, JFNA has stood silent as this fine albeit anonymous correspondent wrote, chose silence on a matter having clear consensual support. There are no criteria in place, really, for anything JFNA does or doesn't do.

Take a look:

  • Confidentiality 1 -- no criteria, "confidentiality" can be (and often is, [after the fact]) demanded as to any transmittal from JFNA;
  • Confidentiality 2 -- with no standards, no criteria, JFNA professionals, sometimes with the connivance of lay leadership, deem, e.g., consulting agreements, conduit agreements, consultant reports (you know, like The Bridgespan Group's) them cloaked with confidentiality;
  • Allocations write-offs -- no criteria, no conditions, no process for writing off funds owned by the Jewish Agency, the Joint, WorldORT;
  • Theft -- you know, demanding the transfer of hundreds of 1000's owed to and owned by the National Agencies, to JFNA itself -- no criteria, no governance approval
...and those are but some of JFNA actions deemed "confidential." Each without criteria or standards for doing so.

It's just business as usual for JFNA...bad business.


Saturday, March 16, 2019


And so it continues in Lake Woebegone:

1. The Jewish Agency Board considered and then adopted a resolution that will reduce the number of Board meetings to two per year. I don't think there was any pretense here -- the faux lay involvement that is built-in to the JAFI Board's stated purposes will now become more non-existent. Congratulations!! (I'm syrprised that JFNA didn't pioneer this reductio ad absurdum but they have eliminated lay engagement in practice....never fear.)

2. In a recent self-promoting Op-Ed, the Zionist Organization of America's CEO and Chair announced that the ZOA (viz, Morton Klein) will "never be the Jews of silence." Surprise. Surprise. Having been found guilty of violating the rules of conduct by an impressive array of Conference of Presidents leaders (none of them among those vilified), Klein used the occasion to (a) again attack members of the Conference and (b), no surprise, attack the Conference of Presidents. As George M. Cohan said: "
I don't care what you say about me as long as you say something about me, and as long as you get my name right."

3. You've been the incredibly successful CEO of American Friends of Tel Aviv University, increasing its annual fund raising exponentially, bringing in more dollars and more donors. Friends of yours implore you to leave AFTAU and succeed Josh Fogelson as CEO of JAID (the Jewish Agency International Development, JAFI'S fund raising arm). You've been promised the sun, the stars and the sky -- just as Josh and all of his predecessors were promised the same. They may not have mentioned that all of those who would be your predecessors -- each and every one of the five -- were effectively frustrated in the accomplishment of their goals (even those who were successful)...frustrated by those at the top of the organization. But, of course, you knew that.

4. Did you read JFNA's strong statement, echoing AIPAC's and the AJC's condemning Netanyahu's coalition building with the surviving remnant of Meir Kahane's racist party? If you did that's miraculous because JFNA has said NOTHING...nothing at all. Circling the drain, JFNA remains in its shell. We have come to expect nothing more.

5. In the category of "Wishful Thinking 1.01," there was this from the JFNA waste of print, FedWorld, on Januray 24:
"Charitable giving is expected to grow over the next two years, but a variety of factors, including the overall economic climate and recent changes to federal tax laws, could affect this prediction>"

6. One of my friends, a long-time successful Federation CEO in a number of communities observed: "They paid Bridgespan Consulting Group hundreds of thousands and all JFNA got was a 'Dashboard.' You'd think that with all they paid they would have gotten the whole car?"

7. Then there is New York UJA-Federation which raised the following critical question to the millions of Jews in the New York area:
 "Sweet, salty. Even a bit dry. You could say New Yorkers are a flavorful bunch. And that's what makes our community unique. So what's your bagel personality?"
How do you respond to this? Will NY-UJA soon be pursuing #ish?

So, best of luck.


Tuesday, March 12, 2019


A couple of weeks after I published DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN, I received a call from Mark Wilf who wanted me to have a heads' up that a letter was going out to advise me that I had breached the confidentiality of The Bridgespan Group's Report to JFNA. I had linked the Report in the body of the Post and at least one of you found when you hit the link that the Report had been taken down by JFNA. As if it no longer exists; as if it never existed.

I went back and read the Bridgespan document and found no "Confidential" label on it though I should have recognized that JFNA would not want TBG's "findings," quoted in the Post, to be public -- and for good reason. I should have been more sensitive. And, asI promised Mark, I will be.

Of course, this episode raises once again the entire ad hoc nature of JFNA's determination of "confidentiality." On these pages we have highlighted/lowlighted the continuing determinations -- seemingly seriatim -- that: consulting agreements...confidential; acting as a conduit...confidential; allocations write-offs...confidential: non-payment or partial payments of JFNA Dues...confidential; communities receiving FRD consultants...confidential; White House invitations...confidential; now, The Bridgespan Group Report...confidential; and on and on it goes, where it stops nobody knows.

And, nobody knows what the criteria are for declaring any JFNA matter confidential -- because there are none...none. I've asked for them -- I've received none, I have jokingly suggested that's because the criteria for confidentiality themselves are "confidential." But, obviously, there are no such criteria. This makes it all the easier to just assert "confidentiality" and walk away.

There seems to be no understanding at 25 Broadway that JFNA is a public charity -- its "public" is, at the very least, its members and its Board and, in the broadest sense, those who support it -- the federation donors. Too often JFNA leaders act like they are running a "mom and pop store" -- the lay and professional leaders of the organization act as if they have no responsibility to any others than themselves. The laws and best practices say they are just plain wrong.

The lack of any criteria for determining what matters might be deemed properly confidential has played into the hands of professionals at 25 Broadway -- the CEO, the COO, the CFO -- who, if the past is prologue, would deem all things confidential hiding themselves behind an all too eager lay leadership strangely anxious to please the professionals in all things.

For many of us, most of us  Justice Louis Brandeis is a hero for so many reasons. We also remember him for his suspicion of the "confidential label." Here is what he wrote:
"Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman." 
JFNA has been able to turn off the lights and keep the sunshine out for too long, far too long on too many matters, far too many matters.

The Board Chair has assured me that he is committed to transparency. I have great faith in Mark Wilf's leadership. 

Time will tell.


Friday, March 8, 2019


On these pages I have attempted, among other things, to identify how our communal organizations and JFNA, in particular, meet the challenges of the present and future...or, in too many instances, fail to meet them. Too often -- most recently in the self-immolation in St. Paul, the end of Brian Abrahams time as JFNA's Senior Vice-President FRD, the unnecessary and unreasoned emasculation of the United Isreal Appeal, accusations of multiple instances of sexual harassment at New Jersey Camps or in the continuing precipitous drop in core budget support of JAFI/JDC/WorldORT-- the causes for these failures --each one of which is distinct from each other and, yet, so much the same -- have been readily identifiable. 

And, at the very core of each of them is a very basic truth -- except in the most rare of circumstances we need to have specific term limits for the most senior leadership at both lay and professional levels at JFNA. Over my years in organizational leadership, I was taught and reminded that the professionals in our system represent the continuity in our organizations; we as lay leaders were transitory. No more, if ever.

As Henny Youngman, z'l, might have said: "take JFNA...please." In the instance of St. Paul, while JFNA professional leaders have argued that they never advised the Twin City's CEO to not discuss the write-off of $3,000,000 owed not to JFNA but to the overseas beneficiaries with his lay leaders, that rebuttal has a hollow echo to it, doesn't it? After all, the same CEO engineered the transfer of hundreds of thousands of dollars...up to $900,000 as I recall...funds owed to and owned by the national agencies from the National Agencies Funding Pool without discussion with the national agencies -- transferring those desperately needed funds from the National Agencies to JFNA itself and calling it JFNA "fund raising." It wasn't; it was outright theft. Just as the CEO transferred funds that belonged to the national agencies, the most senior JFNA professionals authorized a federation to write off a $3,000,000 debt owed JDC/JAFI/WorldORT. 

And, the CEO and COO might have done so because the lay leadership, rather than holding them accountable, had determined their fiduciary course to be "just get out of the professionals' way and let them do their jobs" while expressing no interest in what those "jobs" might be. And, so it came to pass, that the revelation that this actually occurred was met with the same "I don't want to know about this" that has met, e.g., the constant failure of JFNA-Israel enabling that pathetic operation to accrete more power instead of being disbanded, reorganized, euthanized after a decade of this "stuff."

At JFNA, unlike at the predecessor organizations, once talented, pliant lay leaders are uncovered, they appear to go into a "rotation." It's not unusual to observe the same lay leaders shuffle among the now-dead Global Planning Table, to head JFNA-Washington and, then, JFNA-Israel; or another, rising through the same track and up to National Campaign Chair as if the prior experiences were "training" or, another, who demonstrated no particular leadership skill other than acquiescence being promoted to lead two Task Forces simultaneously.  Others, keep their positions seemingly in perpetuity, And, still others, who might have questioned JFNA along the way, are rewarded with seats on the sidelines, better to watch in silence as the entrenched do what the entrenched have done. 

And, when a serious lay Board Chair, for whom my respect has grown exponentially since I learned more of his efforts, expressed his determination to non-renew the CEO's original contract, a cabal of these lay leaders came together to "overrule" him...just because they could*. Or, when last month Brian Abrahams' retirement as SVP-FRD at JFNA, the CEO announced he would "for the interim" be running the organization's FRD , laughter was heard throughout the land and at 25 Broadway.

Yes, it's a dangerous wash, rinse, repeat cycle.


* Among those opposing that Board Chair's determination were federation/JFNA leaders who had demanded that I resign from the JFNA Board when I spoke up.

Monday, March 4, 2019


By now anyone who cares about Israel and its enemies has no doubt read the Op-Ed splayed across the pages of the New York Times Week in Review, on Sunday, January 20. It is a piece that must be read to best understand the new anti-semitism. David Harris has responded perfectly for his American Jewish Committee:

"Michelle Alexander’s NY Times column hits new low
The Times of Israel
January 21, 2019

Reading Michelle Alexander’s column, “Time to Break the Silence on Palestine,” in The New York Times (Jan. 20) isn’t for the faint of heart. So many questions swirl around it that it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, I wish I could say I was surprised to see such a flawed and polemical piece in the paper, but then again the Times isn’t exactly new to such pieces, at least when it comes to Israel-related matters.
Second, outrageously, Ms. Alexander tried to link her column to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., though she presents no convincing evidence that he would have agreed with her premise. To the contrary, the Dr. King that AJC leaders worked with on civil rights and other pressing issues, in the 1960s, was a staunch friend of Israel (and the mainstream Jewish community). And, of course, the paper played along by featuring the column prominently on the eve of the national holiday honoring his legacy.

Third, as the title suggests, Ms. Alexander sees herself as heroically “breaking the silence” and taking on those dark (Jewish?) forces trying to stifle any discussion of Israeli-Palestinian issues.

Ms. Alexander, what silence are you breaking? The paper you wrote your column for, and countless others, have been publishing such pieces for decades. Fortunately, they’ve had little resonance with the American people, who instinctively understand the Israel story and its importance to us as Americans.

And fourth, there are countless outrages in the column itself.

She unabashedly applauds boycotts of Israel; falsely accuses the Jewish state of apartheid; approvingly cites extremist voices like the misnamed Jewish Voice for Peace; endorses the Palestinian “right of return,” which would mean the end of Israel; veers dangerously close to anti-Semitism with references to Jewish money; and charges the country with endless acts of oppression against both its Arab citizens (who, in reality, are fully active in just about every aspect of Israeli life, including the Supreme Court) and Palestinians.

Nowhere does she show any understanding of Israel, much less even an ounce of sympathy for its unenviable situation in a rough-and-tumble region where the weak don’t last long and, tragically, peace has proved elusive.

For her, Israel was settled by European Jews, suggesting outsiders, but there is no reference to the nearly one million Jews expelled from Arab countries, most of whom thankfully found refuge in Israel and today comprise the majority of the Jewish population, much less to the historical links of the Jewish people to the land.

Nowhere does she reference Israel’s multiple and well-documented efforts to achieve peace with the Palestinians, beginning the year before the state was reborn in 1948 and continuing into the 21st century. Israel is blamed nonstop for the current situation, while the Palestinians are blameless. Does Ms. Alexander have a clue about the actual history and its endless layers of complexity, or does she live in a sanitized world of simplistic narratives that perhaps feed a larger world view?

Nor is there any explanation of how Israel came into possession of the West Bank in 1967 or how it sought a land-for-peace deal immediately afterward, only to be rejected by the Arab League in September 1967.

Of course, there’s not even a hint that, absent a peace partner to achieve a two-state accord, Israel tried at the very least to minimize the impact of occupation, as evidenced by a growing Palestinian population, rising life expectancy, improving standard of living, substantial self-government, and the founding of several universities in the West Bank.

Gaza is described as occupied by Israel, even as it withdrew lock, stock, and barrel in 2005. Hamas is mentioned in passing, but not as a terrorist organization determined to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamist state. What exactly is Hamas in Ms. Alexander’s mind? Is it a liberal, democratic, non-violent, and peace-seeking group? I can’t imagine that Dr. King would have thought so.

A reader of Ms. Alexander’s column would have no hint at all about terrorism from Gaza and the West Bank; the thousands of missiles fired indiscriminately by Hamas and Hezbollah; the many Israeli families that have buried their relatives because of such attacks; or, for that matter, Israel’s full-throttled pluralism and its age-old yearning for enduring peace and coexistence.

And, last but not least, I can’t help but wonder how Dr. King would have reacted to such a piece that seeks to shamelessly exploit his memory —and hijack his legacy — by turning an outspoken friend of Israel into a would-be moral cudgel against the world’s only Jewish-majority country. My guess is he would have been appalled.

David Harris is the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC)."

Tuesday, February 19, 2019


A long time ago, we were in the Bahamas with friends. I was gambling, losing badly at the craps table, and getting fermischt. At one point, I lost my bet but in an hallucinatory moment picked my friends' winnings right off the table. Luckily, my friend merely pried his money from my sweaty palms. There was no question whose money it was. I apologized profusely.

A similar theft in a more complicated scenario is on-going in Jewish communal life. You see, once funds have been allocated by a community to, e.g., a local agency or to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT those dollars are owned by the agencies, by the communal partners, not by the federations which made the allocations and, in the instance of overseas allocations clearly not by JFNA. The federations from the moment of allocation collects and holds those allocated dollars in trust for the beneficiaries, pure and simple. 

Back in the day, when a community built up an account payable from its unpaid overseas allocations, the United Jewish Appeal would determine the amount unpaid and, in a true lay-professional effort, leadership would visit the community and, typically, with community leaders willing to act in good faith, work out a plan for repayment -- most often, a multi-year payment plan, a reduced total, in consideration of which the federation would agree to an allocations increase over time. Both the community and the UJA acknowledged that the allocated and unpaid dollars were the property of the intended beneficiaries.

In this process I had great lay partners -- dear friends, serious, passionate lay leaders like Alan Shulman and Norman Tilles, z'l, and others -- and superb and dedicated professionals: first, David Agronin right through the incredible Cheryl Lefland, all working with the UJA CFO, the brilliant Lee Twersky. We continued this effort into the JFNA era where CFO Sam Astrof shared the commitment of his predecessors to this sacred obligation-- an obligation JFNA honored at least for a time. 

That was then; and this is now.

The functioning "Financial Relations Committee" that UJA brought into the merger survived, its lay and professional leaders joined together in what we saw as sacred work until Kathy Manning succeeded Joe Kanfer as Chair. Manning decided that she would drive the financial effort herself (as in all things) and without regard for the impacts of write-offs of allocated funds on JAFI or JDC or WorldORT. Deals (on Dues as well as allocations) were cut with no further governance approval beyond Kathy's imprimatur on them. The deals were now done under the cloak of claimed "confidentiality" hidden from view, as was and is so much at 25 Broadway.

Eventually Cheryl Lefland left the organization, leaving allocations matters to the new CFO, long-serving Pam Zaltsman, who believed in a "make no waves" financial operation; a truly serious Financial Relations Committee effort disappeared and, with that disappearance, any sense of fiduciary responsibility -- of JFNA to JDC/JAFI/WorldORT -- disappeared as well. The Financial Relations Committee had acted as a fiduciary should (whether I Chaired it or Alan Shulman or, ultimately, whether Jacksonville's Steve Silverman did so), a trustee, if you will, for the overseas beneficiaries.

Now, there would be none.

And, so, where are we today? Is it true that senior JFNA professionals advised communities that they can just write off millions in allocations receivables -- dollars owed not to JFNA but to JAFI/JDC/WorldORT -- as they saw fit...with no consultation with JAFI/JDC/WorldORT, no governance process?  JFNA's interest is only in collecting its Dues, the overseas beneficiaries be damned. 

And what is the authority for JFNA senior professionals allegedly doing so? None!!! Were the overseas beneficiaries to demand an audit of allocations write-offs, the consequences would be, should be enormous.

No one should have needed to explain to the professionals who have delivered these write-off messages/directions to communities that those allocated dollars and the receivables created to pay them are held in trust by the federations for the beneficiaries. They are no longer the "property" of the allocating community; they are held in constructive trust pure and simple. Instead we have a further corrupt practice...unchecked....engineered by senior management without the authority to do so. 

This pathetic situation would not continue if the sun were allowed to play its Brandeisian role of disinfectant. But it is not.

Specifics to follow. 


Friday, February 15, 2019


Kirby Smart is the extremely successful head football Coach at the University of Georgia. He has offered his philosophy: "We gotta keep making the main thing the main thing." Sadly, that advice is lost on so many in so many places in organized Jewish life. 

JFNA's Board has just heard the findings of its consultants at The Bridgespan Group ("TBG") -- it was a high quality study with some important findings that, perhaps, JFNA itself will publish. Unfortunately TBG failed to identify with Coach Smart's dictate -- the TBG fidings and recommendations wholly failed to identify the "main thing" and, having failed to do so, omitted the dictate that JFNA "gotta keep making the main thing the main thing." I'll leave it to you all to reach your own conclusions as to whether JFNA and the federations received a real return on its very heavy investment in this Consultant Study.

So, instead of finding the "main thing," and I think we all know what that is -- it was the merger dictate, 20 years ago, that the merged organization be the steward of "more dollars and more donors." It hasn't been; in fact it's impossible to determine today what it has become other than The Bridgespan Group's finding of "great communal dissatisfaction" with JFNA.

JFNA's lay and professional leaders have been so unfocused that they allowed the institution to collapse and now they inherit the rubble. And The Bridgespan Group's Report does not really help them in climbing out of the deep hole they have dug with what I believe, were those professional leaders competent, would be a singular cry: FOCUS. DO SOMETHING WITH EXCELLENCE.

AND, AT ONE AND THE SAME his introduction to the Global Operations Review Committee Recommendations, Board Chair Mark Wilf read that this was some form of "comprehensive report" supporting JFNA's work in Israel. It was neither. Sadly, it was a "made as instructed" set of conclusions and recommendations designed to coopt and defenestrate an actual working part of JFNA -- its subsidiary UIA -- eliminate a significant number of UIA Board members dedicated to both the Jewish Agency and overseas advocacy (characterized as "a streamlining of governance approach"), absorb UIA functions further into the bowels of JFNA where they will surely die (as does almost everything JFNA touches) while, incredibly in light of constant and repeated failure, irresponsibly assuming that JFNA-Israel will carry out a broad array of functions, many of which those for which it has been responsible and with which it has failed time and again. Yes, these assigned functions include many which JFNA-Israel has failed to perform over the past decade.

The reality that the JFNA's Board would consider the deracination of UIA and the absorption of its governance and operational functions in many areas within JFNA or literally designated away, while unrestricted cash allocations to JAFI and JDC have literally collapsed under JFNA's faux stewardship while suggesting that JFNA-Israel should "carry on" as if it has enjoyed any success, is deserving of nothing more than rejection out of hand. is JFNA after all.

This may be worse: drumming up support for these basically unsupportable Recommendations, Mssrs. Silverman and Gurvis were telling leaders of the City-size groupings that opposition was just "emotional and posturing," nothing more. This is how they played it -- JFNA professionals claiming publicly that federation/UIA lay leaders were "posturing." Then I heard a message from leaders for whom I have great respect that because these Recommendations emerged "from a JFNA Committee," they must be supported without question.

Of course, after a respectful discussion, the JFNA Board rubber-stamped its approval, ignoring the pleas to Table the matter for further review and consideration, supporting the Chair's sense of unexplained "urgency" and demand for "immediate implementation."



Tuesday, February 12, 2019


Here, it is the very outset of 2019, and I am admittedly frustrated...already. Why? The dilatory approach to replacing Jerry Silverman as JFNA CEO. First, somewhere a decision was made to let Jerry linger on as the titular CEO after the decision was made to not renew his fat contract (some within JFNA told me that Silverman was actually offered a further extension of 3 years, which he refused demanding a longer term -- hard to know under that set of facts, who was more irrational -- but never mind) -- yes, a decision to just let Jerry run out his contract.
Rather than find an interim CEO, JFNA's lay leaders seem happy that Jerry is doing some kind of farewell tour, attending the Trump White House Chanukah party, you know, important CEO stuff. While his name appeared among the draftspersons of the destructive Global Affairs faux history and worse recommendations, everyone with whom I've spoken admits that this woeful document was drafted by Gurvis and Caspi. 
And, in the meantime, the Search (being chaired by Richard Sandler [!!]) shows no urgency, leaving JFNA in stasis. We just saw the RFP for interested applicants, published by the Search Consultants. Read it and we'll discuss on the other side:
The Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) is the umbrella organization for the Jewish Federation movement. JFNA represents 147 Jewish Federations and over 300 Network communities, which raise and distribute more than $3 billion annually. The Federation system, collectively among the top 10 charities on the continent, protects and enhances the well-being of Jews worldwide through the values of Torah (Jewish learning,) tzedakah (charity and social justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world).

JFNA serves as the framework to connect local, national and global Jewish communities through the Federation movement. JFNA is a dedicated and proven leader in many areas: 

  1. In Washington, DC, JFNA lobbies to secure $10 billion in public funds that flow to thousands of agencies, including hospitals, nursing homes, community centers and family and children service agencies. 
  2. In Israel, JFNA partners with the Jewish Agency for Israel, Government of Israel and a variety of agencies to secure and sustain the Jewish State and help the most vulnerable groups, including immigrants and holocaust survivors. 
  3. Across the globe, JFNA, with its partner JDC, leads a continental response by providing assistance and rapidly raising and distributing funds for immediate relief and long-term support to Jewish and non-Jewish victims of natural and manmade disasters. 
  4. In local Jewish communities, JFNA provides thought leadership and services that help Federations learn from one another, support their fundraising capacity, build national affinity groups and provide training, collateral materials and seed funding for innovation. 

JFNA continuously builds on its core strengths while finding new opportunities to enhance Jewish life at home and around the world. From delivering essential social services and educating and empowering Jewish communities and leaders, to mobilizing for relief during conflict and crisis, JFNA’s impact has been both broad and profound and has transformed the lives of so many around the world. 

JFNA is headquartered in New York City and has 175 staff members. The agency is governed by a 127-member Board of Trustees and has a budget of approximately $52 million. 
To learn more about JFNA, please visit: 
During the past decade, JFNA has worked diligently to help Jewish Federations adapt to the challenges of change in Jewish life, in the critical issues affecting North American communities and in relations between Israel and the Diaspora. It has been innovative and flexible in adjusting its programs and resources to support the changing needs of communities, Federations and their professional staffs. Each Federation has a history of accomplishment and yet each faces similar and different challenges as they engage with a changing community. Like most national organizations, JFNA must address the priorities of different size communities, reflecting varying demographics and cultures, which have different needs and expectations for their central organization. 
Anticipating the transition of JFNA’s CEO and Board Chair, JFNA has undertaken a strategic review to study JFNA and the Federation system. Through a broadly distributed survey and interviews with professionals and volunteer leaders, they sought to learn about the needs of community Federations, how they value the support that they receive from JFNA, and garner ideas about what JFNA could be doing in the future to advance its work and the work of Federations.
The initial findings acknowledge the value of national programs, especially those that motivate and educate lay and professional leaders, advocate for the system in Washington and Israel and rally collective action for crises and emergencies. There is considerable support for JFNA to focus and excel in its work in Talent Development, Fundraising Support, Community Planning and Marketing. JFNA’s partnership with the Jewish Agency, JDC and World ORT continue to be the major focus of its international responsibility.  There is also strong support for JFNA to lead a collective initiative that would rally the imagination and strength of the North American Jewish Community. 

Candidate Qualifications: 
JFNA’s leadership have clearly defined their expectations for the new CEO. In meetings and conversations they underscored that they are drawn to JFNA by the role that the Federations can and should play in conveying Jewish values, strengthening Jewish communities and Jewish life and providing for the Jewish future. 
JFNA leadership views this CEO role as one of the most influential professional leadership roles in the international Jewish communal system and seeks to find an individual with the knowledge, experience, courage and humility to provide that leadership. 
JFNA’s leadership look forward to meeting candidates who:
  • Are “Jewishly literate”, embracing the Jewish values that inform the organization’s work and who can develop and communicate an inspiring vision about how JFNA and Federations together can meet challenges. 

  • Understand the role that Federations play in communities, and the role that JFNA can play in supporting and elevating their work. Candidates must appreciate the impact that Federations can have locally and the wider impact the Federation system can have on behalf of global Jewish communities in Israel and the Diaspora. 

  • Are experienced in marshalling support for ideas and initiatives in organizations with many constituents with diverse perspectives and needs. The CEO will work closely with JFNA’s officers and Board, Federation CEOs and their board chairs. Ideal candidates have been described as diplomat, executive, coalition builder, spokesperson and leader. 

  • Are experienced executives capable of analyzing opportunities, situations and data. Candidates will know when to lead boldly, how to create an environment for difficult but constructive conversation, and how to build support. 

  • Possess the skills and experience to lead change, and can develop ideas and priorities and build the resources and operations required to implement programs with excellence." 

Friends, after the past decade of failure compounding failure, some of which are just now being exposed, there is no longer, if there ever was, the luxury of a dilatory Search effort. Get on with it -- Interim Executive (not Gurvis, not anyone from the current professional staff) followed by a person of proved excellence -- and, no one, who has been associated in a professional or lay capacity during the decade of debacle is eligible.


Friday, February 8, 2019


Following our article on February 6...

This is a cautionary tale -- it is what happens when community professionals and JFNA professionals are allowed to operate without accountability, and when lay leadership fail to meet their responsibilities. It represents systemic failure of the worst kind.

When the Jewish community of St. Paul, Minnesota, changed its name It announced:
“While our name is changing, our mission is not. We are and always will be the organization in St. Paul that builds and sustains our Jewish community, educates our children, feeds the hungry, provides for our elderly, responds to emergencies and helps Jews in need in Israel and around the world.”
What the leadership, or what passed for it, of what is now the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul didn't announce at the time was that its former long-time CEO and an unspecified number of communal leaders, who chose not to know, had, in a passive if not active manner worked with professional leaders of JFNA -- yes, our JFNA -- in what can be characterized as a cover-up of the community's $3 million accounts payable balance built up over years of unpaid overseas core allocations due the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Joint Distribution Committee and WorldORT. 

Yes, as disclosed in TC JewFolk, in every year forward from 2008, the St. Paul federation sent letters assuring an overseas allocation, and, for every one of those ten years...each and every one...St. Paul did not comply with the commitments it made. This outstanding liability owed to JAFI and JDC and WorldORT, grew over the decade from $100,000 to $3,000,000 and JFNA raised no issues, contacted no communal lay leaders, and wholly failed to communicate that membership in JFNA required compliance with outstanding financial obligations -- after all Dues were being paid, weren't they?

In fact, the only local Federation person whom JFNA senior professionals may have contacted over that time was the same long-serving federation CEO who was the person sweeping this reality under the rug. At no time did JFNA raise the horrific account receivable, raise any issues at all, with local leaders. The St. Paul Federation Board of Directors Minutes dating back to October 2017 through the end of 2018 recite that JFNA professionals told the new CEO (who left the community after little more than one year) to tell no one. And, at no time over that decade did JFNA's professional leaders alert the true owners of what became a $3,000,000 debt owed to them -- JAFI/JDC/WorldORT -- that there "might be a problem."

These local leaders, at the initiative of the then newly hired Chief Executive,  upon "discovering" this accumulated/accumulating account payable  apparently hidden in some way by the Federation's long-term retired CEO, reached out to JFNA and, ultimately, allegedly were told by those lacking any authority to do so, to "just write it --the "it" being the $3,000,000 receivable -- "just write it off." And,  to keep this Draconian information from the Federation lay allegation denied by a JFNA flack.

It was always right there: right on the pages of the Federation's Annual Financial Statements. First listed as a large unidentified Account Payable transformed on the 2016 Financial Statement to "Due JFNA" -- an incredible amount given the stagnant state of the St. Paul Annual Campaign. We do not know how this past due amount was shown on the books at 25 Broadway, if at all. Perhaps, someone might wish to question the JFNA CFO (whose response to most inquiries has become a rote "it's confidential").

This entire matter came to light when the long- (too long) serving St. Paul CEO retired and his successor began to ask questions: serious questions, questions that his Board over the years should have been asking. Questions that would have disclosed that the Federation Annual Campaign results announced to the community were a fraud; that allocations to overseas needs had not been paid (or had been vastly underpaid) for years while local allocations were paid as if the overseas account was an ATM. 

So what did JFNA do? The 2018 Federation Minutes reflect exactly what was going on -- as St, Paul's Board had allowed itself to be left in the dark on how the "Account Payable" had been built up over years; now the JFNA professionals would leave their Board behind, preempting the write-off process absent any governance authority to do so. (The JewFolk article does report that JFNA cut a "deal" with St. Paul -- a write-off of $3,000,000 for a promise to pay JFNA [presumably for overseas] 10% of its annual campaign going forward.) At no time were JAFI/JDC/WorldORT engaged on what was, in fact, a write-off of their allocations/funds.

The St. Paul Minutes reflect that the Board and new CEO were first concerned with the massive Federation debt disclosed in the 2017 Financial Statements. It is clear that St. Paul leaders were negotiating with the JFNA CEO, the COO and the CFO. Then...

  • On May 23, 2018 the Minutes recited: 
"JFNA Write-off Status: JFNA’s CEO unofficially agreed that JFNA would write off our debt of $3.2 million; however, JFNA has not held an official vote. The target date is May 29, but that might be pushed back by a week to coincide with JFNA’s national board meeting."

  • Then silence until October 2018 when the Federation CEO announced to the Board:
"Rob Jacobs (the then CEO) announced the JFNA agreed to write off all outstanding debt for the St. Paul Jewish Federation, with the stipulation that we commit at least 10% of our annual campaign to JFNA."

And, since...nothing....except the November Minutes disclose that now this CEO had resigned, and then the excellent, in-depth expose on the pages of JewFolk.

Friends, it is obvious that both the lay leadership of the Jewish Federation of St. Paul and at JFNA need to immediately examine these circumstances and take the necessary actions: And, JAFI/JDC/WorldORT need to assert their rights to allocated funds.

  • The St. Paul Board leaders who failed in their stewardship of donors' funds need to immediately resign. They failed in their fiduciary responsibility;
  • The JFNA lay leadership must determine through an independent investigation whether members of their senior management advised others to hide this payable from St. Paul's lay and professional leaders, and, then, if so, immediately let them go. 
  • JAFI/JDC/WorldORT need to creat a joint venture the purpose of which shall be two-fold: to advocate for increased core allocations and cash collections and distribution of federation overseas core allocations.
How is it possible that in its Recommendations, the JFNA Global Operations Committees demanded that JFNA itself lead global advocacy when the reality is that not only has JFNA proved over the past decade its own lack of interest in and ability to do so, but has led a write-off effort that has resulted in millions lost to the overseas beneficiaries? The Recommendation is specious.

It is clear that the massive failings here arose out of an expressed policy of "getting out of  the professionals way" unencumbered by any accountability. Can anyone doubt that the JFNA senior professionals, like the retired St.Paul CEO, considered themselves to be empowered in ways that led to the outcomes in St. Paul reported in TC JewFolk? And the question is no longer "how did this happen?" -- that evidence is now right in front of all of us -- the question is: did JFNA "authorize" similar allocations write-offs in other communities-- how many and how much?

This is a sad chapter among sad chapters. If those at both St. Paul and JFNA fail to take strong actions and then demand accountability -- of themselves and of their professionals going forward -- the system is no more.

No more.


Wednesday, February 6, 2019


Friends, you are about to read an article from a publication serving the Jews of the Twin Cities for the past decade -- TC JewFolk. It was to me as it will be to all of you, a revelation. The facts recited so well by Editor Lonny Goldsmith's brilliant reporting and analysis, must, finally, be enough to make anyone with a brain, a conscience and an ounce of courage dizzy with outrage.

The article, published earlier today and benignly headlined Amidst Financial Struggles, St. Paul Federation Looks to Move Forward, must be read in full at discloses so much. For example:

"According to documents reviewed by TC Jewfolk, there were several differences between the annual reports’ “planned allocation,” the “actual commitment” to JFNA, and the “final payment” to JFNA:
  • In 2012-13, the annual report stated $664,538 would be allocated overseas. $572,958 was committed to JFNA; $110,316 was paid.
  • In 2014-15, the annual report stated $668,172 would be allocated overseas. JFNA reported a commitment of $578,625. Payments of $308,304 were made.
  • In 2015-16, St. Paul stated $709,934 would be allocated overseas. They committed to JFNA to pay $593,434 and paid $118,000.
In four campaign cycles, St. Paul’s commitment to JFNA was paid in full: 2010-11, 2011-12, 2013-14, and 2016-17. In two of those cycles, 2010-11 and 2016-17, the commitments and full payments to JFNA were lower than what was recorded in annual reports and on the St. Paul Federation website. In 2010-11, $532,209 was indicated in the annual report as an allocation for overseas and $44,761 was committed and paid to JFNA; in 2016-17, the annual report and website stated $731,500 would be allocated overseas, and $55,856 was committed and paid. In summary, the St. Paul Jewish Federation made payments toward their JFNA commitments over the time period in question totaling approximately $3.4 million and came up short by approximately $2.7 million."
Until a successor Federation CEO to his predecessor who served for the 17 years prior, saw an incredible account payable on the books as he took office, it is clear that no one in St. Paul Federation leadership questioned this rising tsunami of communal debt and, equally clear, no one at JFNA made any inquiry -- after all, Dues were being paid if not fully, at least in part. Further, although denied by JFNA professionals, St. Paul's professionals were telling the. CEO not to share the information of the massive amount due from St. Paul to JAFI/JDV/WorldORT with their lay leadership.

In the article a subsection is devoted to the Role of JFNA:

"According to the minutes of the December 2017 St. Paul Federation board meeting, Jacobs (the successor CEO who discovered the coverup) said that based on the JFNA’s advice, Federation, “ha[s] not informed the general community about the Federation’s budget and allocation issues.” JFNA disputes that characterization of their advice. In an email, Rebecca Dinar, the associate vice president for strategic communications at JFNA, said: “JFNA advised the Federation to determine the facts and a course of action as a first step in preparing to engage stakeholders.”
Said Linsk (the St. Paul President-elect): “When Rob helped bring this to our attention, the decision was made to meet with a lot of our major donors, organizations we work closely with, and communicate it in a direct way and fix it. We got some advice from JFNA about messaging and we didn’t want to do damage and make things worse by scaring people. The idea was first to try to work with JFNA to fix it.”
Linsk said this situation has JFNA changing how they communicate issues to their member organizations.
“JFNA is making plans to be more careful that they don’t communicate about issues like this just through the exec,” Linsk said. “Why all those years did they not say anything to the board president?”
Just last month, Silverman and Marc Gurvis made their first and only visit to St. Paul.

This is clearly the time for the most intense introspection within the St. Paul Federation and at JFNA. Cosmetic changes are insufficient. When Federation "leaders" can merely dismiss what has happened in St. Paul with a "hey, no one got hurt; our local agencies always got paid, and the overseas beneficiaries shouldn't have relied on our annual representations" something is seriously wrong within our system. And, when JFNA senior professionals circle the wagons and go into their ritual of denials, something further is terribly wrong at 25 Broadway.

And, the question surely must be asked: what other communities have engaged in the same pattern of conduct as St. Paul and what have been the consequences. We know that none of JAFI/JDC/WorldORT knew of this malfeasance.

Yes, chèvre, the fault is not in our stars, it is in ourselves...and there is enough fault to go around.