Wednesday, September 28, 2016

WZO -- ENOUGH TO MAKE THE BLOOD BOIL

In a by-lined article on the plight of the Israeli Survivor community, J'accuse! WZO Fails its Financial Responsibility to the Poorest Survivors of the Holocaust, in ejewishphilanthropy (June 25, 2016), the brilliant editor-publisher, Dan Brown, paints a factually ugly picture of what can happen when venality trumps fiduciary responsibility. And, by implication, Brown raises the seminal question -- isn't it long past time for the American Jewish communities* to say good-by in the strongest possible terms to relationships with the World Zionist Organizationhttp://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jaccuse-wzo-fails-its-financial-responsibility-to-the-poorest-survivors-of-the-holocaust/

We'll return to the sad story of the WZO's leadership's abandonment of all reason with regard to the Survivor community in a moment. First, some relevant history.

Time and again American Jewry have had to explain away the activities of the World Zionist Organization and, most often, with its Settlement Division, with regard to, e.g., activities in Judea and Samaria for which fingers have wrongfully pointed to the federations as "responsible." Back in the 90s the leaders of the then UJA and CJF had had enough. At a meeting in New York City which I attended, the American leadership -- Corky Goodman, Marvin Lender, Alex Grass, z'l, Richie Pearlstone (I recall that I was invited only because Joel Tauber could not be there), confronted the top Zionist leadership, including Amb. Sallai Meridor, then the Chair of the Executive of JAFI and Chair of the WZO, after much passionate and often angry debate, with the demand that the WZO role in JAFI end with a financial settlement to be negotiated. As the meeting approached a climax, Sallai asked for a time-out and a sidebar -- just Sallai and the America leaders. At that meeting Sallai made a very personal plea premised on his grave concern that if this were the deal, he, a personal friend of so many of us but, in particular, Corky Goodman, would be voted out of office at the next WZO Zionist Congress. He asked that the decision be deferred until after that event. The Americans agreed. 

Never would we get so close again. But some of us tried.

A few years later, I participated in a series of meetings in Jerusalem led by Richie Pearlstone and Jay Sarver, then the JAFI Board and Budget and Finance Committee Chairs respectively. We developed a plan for the elimination of the worst parts of the JAFI-WZO interface -- the political nonsense, the nexus of WZO Chair with the JAFI Chair of the Executive, the essential veto power that WZO held over many things JAFI wished to do -- with a preservation of the best: the engagement with the religious streams and Zionist Movements. Meeting with JFNA leaders at the time -- notably Joe Kanfer, then the JFNA Chair, but also others -- there emerged a tremendous momentum for change. We felt that one place to start -- perhaps, the best place -- would be to gain the support of the American Religious Movement leadership of both JAFI and WZO. A meeting was convened with the Movements' lay and Rabbinic leaders serving on the Jewish Agency Board. Kanfer, Pearlstone, et al., met and planned the approach -- providing reassurance to the religious leaders that their allocated positions, Committee Co-Chairmanships, and perquisites would be preserved, even enhanced and that JAFI allocations would be assured, among other things.  A meeting was convened in one of those windowless rooms in the bowels of the Jerusalem Inbal Hotel. No sooner than we were all seated the Movement leaders present attacked even the idea of a discussion of change to the WZO-JAFI relationship -- they had no idea what the concept was -- they were vehement. It was depressing to the extreme to realize that the religious movements were more concerned with money, jobs,  positions and status before any and everything else. Before the JAFI/JFNA leaders could respond, Kanfer said, effectively -- "never mind"  and he just walked out. The meeting ended and with that ended another opportunity for change.

But a few years later, in 2009, history would then record a "negotiation" unworthy of the name. It marked a dismal low point for the JAFI and the federation system. During Richie Pearlstone's JAFI Chairmanship he appointed the wonderful philanthropist, Max Fisher's, z'l, daughter, Jane Sherman, she of Detroit and Palm Beach and Max, to Chair a negotiation with WZO over the future of the JAFI-WZO relationship. Jane would choose to work with Cleveland's CEO (and the immediate past JFNA CEO), Steve Hoffman. Interjecting himself into the process was Kanfer, the JFNA Board Chair, who had evidence no love for JAFI. WZO was represented by a group of its apparachniks -- experienced Israeli bureaucrats and minor politicos. When Sherman announced a "deal" to the Jewish Agency Executive, it was accompanied by a fiat: "you" (that was anyone at JAFI -- the party which would be most affected by the outcome)..."you can't change a word in this deal or it will fall apart." When the "deal" was published and pending a vote, the document was discovered to be rife with typos, grammatical and substantive errors of the worst kind. Steve Hoffman stood with Jane -- there were to be no changes. (BTW, there were technical changes made in the deal but only those to which WZO agreed.) The ultimate agreement, presented as a major "compromise" on both sides, was not that -- it was almost a total capitulation of JAFI leadership to the demands of WZO leadership.

Here's what JAFI received: the JAFI Chair of the Executive would no longer serve simultaneously as the Chair of the WZO. That was all. What did the WZO receive? In addition to controlling the Chair of WZO, it was paid tens of millions of dollars in cash, payments that would end a few years after the "deal," equities and real estate (including a Class "C" office building in Tel Aviv that will someday be worth a king's ransom) not to go away...no, not that...but to continue all that it was doing before. While most of JAFI's American leaders believed that the end product of the negotiations would include governance changes that drastically reduced the WZO roles in JAFI governance, there were none. And, after electing Avraham "Duvdev" Duvdevani as WZO Chair, WZO decided to use the JFNA tens of millions and tens of millions more from the Government of Israel to go into direct competition with the Jewish Agency in every conceivable area of its interest. As part of the consideration, the WZO, which for years had held up any and every JAFI demand that the stock in the Jewish Colonial Trust (the "JCT"), the very same equity that WZO holds hostage today, received those shares from the Agency -- Pearlstone had concluded that inasmuch as the WZO would never acquiesce to the sale of the shares, it might as well have them. 

The venal episode reported by the superb and thoughtful Dan Brown in ejewishphilanthropy asserted that funds due those of our People most in need, the Israeli Holocaust community were being withheld at the direction of "Duvdev,", should be the final of many final WZO straws. (See, for example,http://forward.com/news/israel/215543/zionist-groups-vote-could-bare-israels-secret-fund/ or http://www.haaretz.com/opinion/1.656008 as examples) In the meantime, questions have been raised about the extraordinary directors fees being paid to Israeli political hangers-on for no apparent service. It is long past time for a formal and final divorce of WZO from the Jewish Agency for Israel. 

Yet, WZO's positions within JAFI governance are almost a poison pill to any and all efforts at substantive reform to which WZO leaders object. JAFI's governance structure in 2016 is of another time, it is nothing more than anachronistic. For the JAFI Assembly WZO has 50% of the members; the same percentage in the JAFI Board and the JAFI Executive. Almost every Board Committee other than Budget has one WZO Co-Chair. The balance of the governance is divided between American Jewry with 30% and Keren Ha-Yesod, the Jewish communities worldwide 20%. BUT...but...for reasons unclear the WZO controls 50% of KH as well. Attempts over the years to revise these voting and membership percentages were met with the same contempt and disdain as have the efforts to free up funds for the Israeli Survivor community that the WZO refuses with a rationale like the following: 


“JCT was founded by Herzl for the realization and financing of Zionist activity and therefore we oppose the liquidation of its funds… this would damage the World Zionist Organization, who is doing the holy work world-wide combating against surging Anti-Semitism. We say to the Company for the Return of Holocaust Property (Hashava): – first you should distribute the money in your coffers before asking us.”
WZO appears to consider itself an entity beyond the reach of the actions of the Knesset and asserts that it has no fiduciary duties to anything other than its own agenda.

Further, friends, the WZO, contributing nothing tangible to JAFI other than some fine people, and now operating in open competition with JAFI, exercises control, visible and invisible, of JAFI itself. Yes, there was a time when WZO's governance involvement was important...say in 1948. But, I would welcome any reader's input on just what rationalizes WZO's governance control of JAFI today.

I don't know about you, but I can think of little if anything worse than using this most beleaguered, needy Survivor population as pawns, as hostages, to a selfish, political fight. But that's what WZO does; and their leaders do so with no shame at all. When Dan Brown wrote that WZO "...failed the decency test," he was understating the ugliness of what it has done here.

So, what might be done? It would take a real negotiation with WZO to reform its involvement in and control of the Jewish Agency. I know that a team of Chuck Ratner, JFNA's David Brown and Richie Pearlstone would be a formidable negotiating team staffed by an Eric Goldstein or Jay Sanderson. But any such negotiation would have to recognize that whereas in decades past American influence within JAFI was exponentially stronger, given that allocations, down from historic highs even at the outset of the merger than it is today, when they are down almost $100,000,000, the leverage is still there to do something that will preserve the work of worldwide Zionist and religious movements without the politicization and negativity that comes with WZO engagement today.

Rwexler

* I have referred to "American Jewry" throughout this Post. That is because the Canadian federations are represented within Keren Ha'Yesod within JAFI's governance,

  

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

TRANSITIONS AT JAFI PRESAGE JUST WHAT EXACTLY?

The knowledgeable free-lance journalist, Sam Sokol, recently raised the question of what will become of the Jewish Agency for Israel after our hero, Natan Sharansky's retirement as its Chair of the Executive. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-agencys-future-in-question-with-sharanskys-departure/?utm_source=Tue+Sept+20n**&utm_campaign=Tue+Sept+20&utm_medium=email

Sokol has asked the right question about JAFI's future post-Sharansky but there are other factors at work at one and the same time:

  1. Chuck Ratner, the passionate and constant supporter and leader as Board Chair of the Jewish Agency, the lay partner of both Sharansky and Alan Hoffmann, will be retiring from his position at the same time; and
  2. Alan Hoffmann, the long-serving professional leader of the Jewish Agency, its Director General, has also reached retirement age.
  3. Rany Training, the long-serving Deputy Chair of the Executive of the Jewish Agency, will leave at the end of his terms.
Thus, at one and the same time, JAFI's four top leaders will leave the organization at the same time. And, instead of introspection and examination of what would be in the organization's best interests going forward -- that is in the mutual best interest of JAFI and American Jewry, "stuff" like this is happening:
  1. Some are suggesting that the immediate past Chair of JFNA and a Past International Chair of Israel Bonds, with close ties to Bibi but no apparent interest or engagement in JAFI, succeed Chuck Ratner;
  2. The lay Chair of JFNA-Israel, engaged (if that's the word) in JAFI for less than one year, is said to be working the shadows and the hallways urging that a former Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations, with no current (or, apparently, past) engagement with JAFI whatsoever, succeed Natan (probably in the new JFNA tradition of "the blind leading the blind").  Few remember apparently that the last time American federation and, then, lay leaders manipulated the Executive Chair selection process, the result was Avrum Burg. How did that turn out?
  3. Maybe someone should introduce JFNA leaders to Aaron Abramovich, a leader of unquestioned integrity, and, clearly not a politician, who might be just the person to maintain ("restore"?) confidence in the Jewish Agency were he to succeed Alan Hoffmann.
But nowhere...not anywhere...are North America Jewish leaders of JAFI sitting together to reach consensus on what, if anything, JAFI should be at this time of greater internal change at the Agency. UIA, which might be best positioned to convene this discussion, seems stuck in place, unable to do anything beyond its vetting dwindling allocations and issuing inane "UIA Presents" reprints of others' works and words. JFNA's leaders are seemingly "too busy to be diverted by another distraction."

And, where might JFNA be? Well, maybe the ever-bloated JFNA-Israel staff has made its leaders aware of these transitions. In a managed environment, that same staff would have already prepared an environmental scan of the roles JAFI plays and how JFNA might influence the decisions to come as well as the personnel changes. 

Let's hold our collective breath...

Rwexler







Sunday, September 25, 2016

BUILDING CYNICISM

It's pretty clear what will happen to you in organized Jewish life if you "get out of line." The organizational  overlords keep clear of all those who are not in their thrall.  Question them, and they tend to get touchy...or worse. Watching this "process" play out, actually experiencing it first-hand, I am reminded of the warning in Pirke Avot:
"Be ye guarded in your relations with the ruling power; for they who exercise it draw no man near to them except for their own interests; appearing as friends when it is to their own advantage, they stand not by a man in his hour of need."
All leaders should make Pirke Avot required reading -- my own beat up Hertz version still bears the inscription: "Presented to Richard Wexler On the Occasion of his Hebrew School Graduation."  (That was 1954 for the inquiring reader!!)

We learn so much from Hillel. 

"Hillel reminds us that learning is not a passive operation. To learn means to be an active participant, listening carefully, asking thoughtful questions, raising considered objections, suggesting creative answers. A passive person who wants his teachers to do the job of learning for him will never succeed as a student."
Too often, in today's communal world, Hillel's admonitions would end with "listening carefully" -- there is no room, in too many places, for "asking thoughtful questions;" no room for "considered objections;" and never room for "suggesting creative answers." In fact, your lay leadership career is in jeopardy too often if you do any of those things.

I am reminded of a JFNA Budget and Finance Committee several years ago where a venerated professional leader, now retired, apparently frustrated with the number of questions being raised by Committee members scolded the lay leadership telling them that the Committee meeting was neither the place nor the time to raise questions (?!). The then Committee Chair agreed and the questions -- all appropriate -- died on the lay leaders' lips.

How many of you have told me in our chats about the Jewish World of the waste of time you find our organizational meetings to be? How many of you have tried so damn hard to make those meetings more relevant, more open, more inclusive only to be frustrated at every turn by a leadership disinterested in those very things, ultimately surrendering the hope for substantive change. (I fondly remember one leader whose idea of change was to seat a Board at meetings around small circular tables -- hoping I guess for more intimacy and printed as real "change.") How many of us have participated in "table discussions" at large meetings, to be told that "we will compile the results and recommendations and incorporate them in our plans and programs" only to never hear anything about them again? And our leaders can't understand the general cynicism that emerges.

Often, I have used these many, many pages to reflect on the reality that if one pushes back too hard, or pushes back publicly on matters of principle, on matters l'shem shamayim, one must be willing to accept the consequences -- ostracism, lech l'azazel, and worse. But if one merely acquiesces on matters of principle because to do otherwise is just "too hard," trust me, it becomes harder and harder to look oneself in the mirror.

Or, may be it doesn't.

Rwexler



Thursday, September 22, 2016

PERSPECTIVES ON LAY LEADERSHIP

Once again, ejewishphilanthropy has provided us with food for thought, a feast actually. First a piece authored by George Caplan, a Past Chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, and the esteemed academician and student of Jewish communal life, Steven Windmueller -- Federations and Their Legacy Tradition: How the "Greatest Generation" Impacted American Jewish Life. http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/federations-and-their-legacy-tradition-how-the-greatest-generation-impacted-american-jewish-life/. Only days later, the dean of American federation CEOs, my friend Steve Nasatir, published a response -- Let's Not Demean Today's Great Generation of Jewish Leaders.http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/lets-not-demean-todays-great-generation-of-jewish-leaders/?utm_source=Tue+Aug+30n**&utm_campaign=Tue+Aug+30&utm_medium=email

Both of these fine commentaries need to be read in full (and not only because the Caplan/Windmueller article did not "demean today's great generation..." but reflected instead on the incredible contributions of those of the "greatest generation") because, as one would expect, each is written from a unique communal perspective -- Los Angeles and Chicago -- in a point/counterpoint. (Not surprising, that captive sad rag FedWorld prominently featured Steve Nasatir's piece, while days earlier it merely provided a link to the Caplan-Windmueller article that was the catalyst for Steve's.) And neither are wrong although it is extremely difficult to convert their conclusions into something more universal. The cynic in me would suggest a post-script to Nasatir's piece -- might read like this: Let's Not Demean Today's Great Generation of Jewish Leaders -- They Are Doing a Fine Job of Doing So by Themselves. But that would be wrong.

I don't believe that anyone...that's anyone -- would argue that, but for a few even rare instances, today we are not producing another Max Fisher, z'l, a Corky Goodman, a Shoshana Cardin, a Marvin Lender, an Albert Ratner, a Charles Bronfman and others whose contributions to Modern Jewish History and leadership remain unmatched. And, we are terribly diminished by that sad reality. 

And, examples of the contrasts in the point/counterpoint in ejewishphilanthropy are among those that I witnessed first-hand: in one community a Campaign Chair was plucked from out of the blue because he gave a substantial gift at an annual (now canceled, of course) UJA Aspen Event but had had no prior community leadership role; and, because the federation had no succession plan for its lay leadership, that same new leader was parachuted into the Chairmanship where, among other things, he would cancel Board meetings at his whim. With no background in federation governance, he was driving blind. Since then, the community has been placed in the best of hands.

In the other community, mine, competition for the top lay positions is often so heated that leaders who don't know better will, too often, actively lobby for the Chairmanship sometimes in inappropriate ways. One, the circumstances of which I remember vividly, involved a local leader of transparent ambition who tried to leverage a national agency leadership position against his desire for the federation Chair position, claiming he "would have to accept" the national agency leadership if he didn't get the Federation Chair...he didn't achieve the federation chair position...at that time. I'm certain that hope springs eternal.

Fifteen years ago, Jeffrey Solomon and I collaborated on an article in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service -- Settings Standards for Volunteer Leadership and the Professionwww.bjpa.org/publications/downloadFile.cfm?FileID=2188 We were honored with an 
award for the "article of the year," but more so by the fact that schools of Jewish communal 
service added the article to their curricula and that in the JFNA seminars for new Presidents and CEOs 
the article was a reference point for a number of years...certainly no longer. It is clear, from the Caplan-Windmueller and Nasatir articles that standards for lay leadership and the quality of those leaders vary widely.
One characteristic that all would agree upon, espoused most recently in the passionate words
of Richard Sandler, is a commitment to Jewish values and an understanding of how Jewish 
values infuse our sacred work.

At least there is that.

Rwexler

Monday, September 19, 2016

OH, THAT THING? IT JUST EVOLVED

Remember that "World Jewry Initiative," what was to be a partnership among the Government of Israel, the Jewish Agency and, among others, the Global Planning Table of JFNA? Well, it evolved.

Yes, it evolved  away from JAFI and JFNA into...well read the following and just weep: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-identity-plan-raises-ire-of-non-orthodox-jews-in-u-s/?utm_source=Mon+Aug+22n**&utm_campaign=Mon+Aug+22&utm_medium=email  Yep, the Government decided to go forward in its campus anti-BDS efforts with, among others, Chabad and Hillel and ultra-Orthodox Movements to the apparent exclusion of the Reform and Conservative Movements and the organized Jewish community. It promises to be ugly.

You won't be surprised to learn that, as of this writing, the Reform and Conservative Movements have expressed their outrage -- JFNA...silent. Why? Because silence becomes us. (And, you will recall that a JFNA subsidiary leader took it upon himself to "rescue" the GOI-JAFI World Jewry Initiative. How did that work out? [That leader has now taken his extensive portfolio of leadership achievements to...World ORT.]) This is not about JFNA, after all, this is about the GOI and its internal divisions and the impotency of JAFI in what should have been a crowning achievement.

And the articles on the "new" Initiative relate that the effort will be headed by one Mosaic United, an interesting operation with an energetic women-only senior professional staff and Steering and Advisory Committees filled with many of our system's "friends," including some familiar names -- Malcolm Hoenlein, Tova Dorfman, Yossi Beilin, Mark Charendorf, Barry Shrage, Avraham Infeld, Gidi Marks and one of the 2016 GA's Co-Chairs, among others. An eclectic and unrepresentative group to be certain as Mosaic United will engage its yet-to-be-defined campus advocacy through Hillel, Chabad and Olami (another ultra-Orthodox organization) for this on-campus "connection" program. Just the right threesome of organizations isn't it, as Naftali Bennett, Israel's Education Minister as well as Diaspora Affairs Minister, put it: "...the real answer to growing anti-Semitism and Israel's de-legitimization." Uh-huh, "the real answer" indeed.. For a far more enlightening and in-depth analysis, read J.J. Goldberg's column in the Forward, August 26, 2016, Is Israeli Initiative Trying to Turn American Jews Into Orthodox Right-Wingers?

I'd say this $65 million "Initiative" (2/3rds of which are to be provided by philanthropists and "other organizations" -- sure!!)  is off to a great start, wouldn't you? I wonder what JFNA thinks -- probably breathing a sigh of relief that it doesn't have to engage in real FRD for the original "Initiative" -- something it already tried...and failed. But all we have heard from JFNA is, as usual...nothing. Did its bloated JFNA-Israel Office have any advance intelligence on this matter? We'll never know because...well, just because...

It's none of our business.

Rwexler

Friday, September 16, 2016

IS THERE STILL A PROFESSION?

Four distinguished professionals, each dedicated to both the federation system and the profession they have spent a career building, each having served as President of the Association of Jewish Community Professionals, three of whom had received the profession's highest honor -- the Mandelkorn Distinguished Service Award -- have made a further critical contribution in their recent article in ejewishphilanthropy -- Jewish Communal Service: A Profession or Just a Job? -- http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/jewish-communal-work-a-profession-or-just-a-job/?utm_source=Mon+Sept+5n*&utm_campaign=Mon+Sept+5&utm_medium=email. The article is a brilliant and impassioned cri de coeur for a profession to which these four leaders and so many others have contributed so much.

I am one who has a lifelong respect for Jewish communal professionals -- I have been privileged to have served within the lay-professional partnership and learned so much from the best and brightest of them. That respect even manifested itself in my unrequited attempt so long ago to join the professional ranks. 

Danny Allen, Alan Engel, Lou Solomon and Peter Wells decry the deconstruction of their profession:
"Our “Profession” has declined. There are at least four key reasons: 1) There is very little if any sense of being part of a larger enterprise among senior federation and other agency staff in part due to their increasingly disparate backgrounds. 2) A decline in the effort by JFNA to cultivate such a community, to assist communities in their search processes for senior staff – now completely suspended so we have been told – and to help set the standard and requirements for our American Jewish collectivity. 3) We do not have a professional association/community of practice that is properly funded in order to be a key player and 4) The profound changes and shrill nature of the discourse in Jewish religious and organizational life that are now common and which reflect to our discredit the political/civic culture in both America and Israel and which our leaders and organizations are doing precious little to counter."
We have chronicled this diminution of the professional Movement on these pages time and again. Now we are hearing the pleading from inside the system. As the authors wrote:
"With a collective biblical work experience of “120” years, we are optimists. We believe that among our colleagues, working and “retired,” there is a storehouse of energy, wisdom, ideas, abilities, and good will all of which can be placed in support of creating a community of practice which will serve our collectivity. We call on others to join with us in this quest, to unite with us as we begin the formation of a community of Jewish collective practitioners. This is not a request for funding – though it would not be refused. It is a request to use the vast human resources of our communities to be a link and strengthening agent for our people."

When a system-supported start-up designed to identify, enhance and prepare Jewish professionals for advancement and places the JFNA CEO, whose professional credentials can be summed up in one word: Dockers, on its Advisory Board, one has to question how much our system really cares about the profession it is supposed to support and grow. Not surprising, the article has not been referenced in that JFNA rag FEDWorld -- censorship perhaps; orders from on high? 

One great professional who served our system over 4 decades, commented on the article as follows:
"It deserves further serious analysis. How is it that after FEREP, Mandel, Wexner, Schusterman, Brandeis, HUC, JTS, Spertus, etc., there is such a shortage of good people in this field? How is it
that CEOs and others looking to hire report that “there is no one out there” and leave vacancies on their staffs for months at a time? How is it that several search consultants are in business, commanding substantial fees for finding candidates, calling lists of the usual suspects to see if they “know of anyone”? And how is it that when CEO openings occur, search committees of senior lay leadership decide to “recruit out of the box”?….Do they feel that this is a good incentive for capable and ambitious people to stay in the field?
"
Thus, the authors left hanging the question -- what duty do those serving at the top of their profession owe to it? Most of them have received their professional organization's highest honor for their professional leadership. What do they owe back to a profession that has become more and more viewed as a vestige of another time? The evidence suggests that this not a matter that they think about very much if at all.

One can only hope that the professional leaders who have raised the question have also lit a spark. Yes, we can only hope.

Rwexler

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

IRRELEVANCE AND MISTRUST

A federation professional leader and I exchanged thoughts on the sorry state of our communal structure over time to the point we have reached today. He would not want me to use his name but I wish I could inasmuch as his analysis, his perspective have been expressed in sorrow, pain and reality:

"The unraveling of trust of federations is way down the food chain of the causes of our system's ailments.  Several large federations got tired of defending or were unable to successfully articulate the business proposition and communal values underpinning community campaigns.  When their donors designated their gifts the federation itself could no longer defend its own (dwindling) undesignated allocation to traditional partners.  That gave them less voice with those partners and things spiraled into a mutual irrelevance.  And now because of designated donor and (smaller) Federation grants, federations have become irrelevant.   Irrelevance is the presenting ailment.  To be sure, lack of trust of its ability to deliver on things large and small has grown which in turn of course exacerbates the irelevance problem.

1) Stop believing in your unique product and articulating its philanthropic values and business value added.

2) Become irrelevant to donor and agencies alike.  (By the way, if Donor A loves the JCC or Hillel, why does donor or agency need federation?)

3) Community recognizes Federation can't do big, important things well...Irrelevance and  trust are married."
The analysis is, unfortunately, spot on. The reality presented evolved over time, beginning with the first check for a designated gift, to the encouragement of designated giving by the leaders of the Council of Jewish Federations in its last years, right down to today. All of us should recall the JFNA-endorsed, totally failed "Signature Initiatives" which formally announced the continental entity's "walk away" from collective action to the easy path of "coalitions of the willing" which to JFNA proved to be "no coalitions of the unwilling." Rather than dwell on that history, let's think about how our communities might reassert their relevance, if that is even possible.

It would be nice, of course, if we had a living, breathing continental organization with a professional leadership that even understood the problem...but we don't...and it looks as if we never will. JFNA has become nothing more than a very expensive trade organization...and that appears to be enough to its leaders. JFNA can claim it's relevant -- invites to the White House, quarterly meetings with the Israeli Prime Minister, appointments to the Jewish Agency Board would probably be the validation points -- but it is JFNA's work that has become irrelevant; except as a trade association. 

My correspondent above continued with a dystopian view:
"JFNA, like JCPA, whatever their internal dysfunctions – and every group has their share – is beset first and foremost by being an umbrella body composed of weak shareholders. And rather than reinvesting, they want to sell their shares.  They are reluctant investors, not partners. They don’t value the products offered and they have less and less discretionary money to invest overall….so JFNA is a really unwelcomed tax. Moreover, the shareholders (Federations) want dividends paid in diametrically opposed ways.    They – the national -- are forced in every case into a zero sum equation.  What satisfies Chicago pisses off San Francisco (and what pleases New York) is ignored by Boston, and vice versa.

It is very hard for a national to parachute in and alter the now-established traditions (designated giving, abandoning the national and international collective) in local communities.  In this paradigm I can only imagine that rather than being viewed as mischpacha, a JFNA appeal is heard no differently than one would be coming from JNF, AJC, Hebrew U, The Israel Project.

I’ve spent lots of time diagnosing what ails our systems.  I’ve spent an equal time thinking of prescriptions…..to no avail.

Bottom line is JFNA (even a much better JFNA) embodies to too many communities what Harley Davidson does to me: they may well have the best marketing, the best bikes, the best prices…it just doesn’t matter.  I’m not buying.  It’s irrelevant.  My life is just fine without out and I don’t seek what you tell me is missing from my life."
Dystopian and, of course, total reality,

So, absent a proactive, relevant continental organization, it remains up to the federations themselves to examine how their own relevance might be restored.

And, how might that happen? Given that the Federations, you remember, the owners of JFNA, apparently see no hope of or have no interest in effecting the requisite changes at 25 Broadway; the only way to strike a new direction appears to be for the most responsible of communities to organize among themselves. The focus should be on a continental meeting driven by those communities which have yet to become irrelevant -- let me suggest that, among others, those would be Miami, Chicago, New York, Houston, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Nashville, Rochester, Los Angeles and others. All federation chief volunteer and chief professional officers would be invitees. The program for that conclave -- let's call it "Oak Brook II" (reflecting back to the continental meeting that framed what JFNA was supposed to become) -- would be developed by a federation-led Steering Committee around the topic "Reasserting Relevance" or something similar. And, then, let the chips fall where they may.

These are times that cry out for a Jerry Bubis, z'l, or Rabbi Herb Friedman, z'l, for a Michael Steinhart or a Charles Bronfman. Instead...and this is not to say that JFNA's Board Chair could not lead this, but he first has to realize that all is not well...we can only hope that a Goldstein, a Nasatir, a Hoffman, a Sanderson might stand up and shout: "ENOUGH" -- but we have been hoping for that forever it seems.

I am certainly not Diogenes on some eternal quest for an honest person -- that's not me. I am just a commentator looking for a few good men and women with the courage to admit what we have just isn't working paired with the courage to go public in a demand for change.

What do you think?

Rwexler





Saturday, September 10, 2016

MORE: HUH?

So much has happened since we last asked the seminal question of JFNA: "Huh?"

1. There was this response to the Post on the strange episode of the SS+K  "secret agreement" sent off-line from one of the most respected professionals both inside and outside our system:
"I was really taken aback to read about the mysterious $1 million consulting firm.
You're the attorney and from everything I know from (almost 5 decades) in the field, you have it exactly right. I can't imagine that staff consulted general counsel and got a go ahead with a project like this, or at least with the "explanation" of what it is. As a CEO these past 30 years or so, I always felt and preached that my core responsibility was to protect the welfare of the organization. And perhaps nothing else is more important to protect than the organization's tax exempt status. Without this, you're dead!This is the family jewels--if you lose it you're sunk--no one will give you a nickel.
So it sounds to me that JFNA had better rethink its (non) explanation...it wouldn't hold water with the IRS."
It appears quite clear that JFNA considers itself not only above the law but above its fiduciary responsibilities. 

It is also clear that JFNA's lay leadership is in total agreement that its staff may stonewall on the terms of and parties to what they have determined (on what basis we apparently shall never know) to be an appropriate contract (se 2., below) but which may well be an unlawful conduit agreement -- would the IRS and the Non-Profit Division of the New York Attorney General's Office agree with JFNA's leaders? And, if either or both disagree with JFNA's entry into this mystery $1 million contract and its refusal to disclose, what might the consequences be?

2. More (or less) on the SS+K deal. When I was denied the opportunity as a Board Member to review the contract with SS+K, I wrote Richard Sandler with a copy of my Post on the subject.. He wrote back and assured me that he had reviewed the purpose of the contract, that JFNA has an active role in the contract implementation, the purpose of which was/is Israel advocacy, that the contract had been reviewed and approved by JFNA's auditors, and approved by his predecessor and the CEO.  So I guess everything's just fine.

3. Thanks to CEO Jerry I could write a Post every day -- it's merely my maturity and restraint that holds me to three a week (and, on occasion, yes, 4). So there was the inanity that appeared in another sermonette from the Smilin' One -- this one titled "Successful Leadership Starts With The 'Who.'"  (Possibly not referring to the English rock band.) Jerry appeared to intend that this one be some form of paean to Mort Mandel, but, as is the norm with Jerry's meandering, confusing writings, it went off-course early and often...very often. In adapting Mort's lessons on the quality of leadership and the best and brightest, Smilin' Jerry demonstrates a remarkable lack of self-awareness; he clearly did not understand that applying the Mandel leadership standards to himself would have illustrated how far this CEO has fallen short.

Our CEO cited Mandel as follows:
"Those people, he says, have to be the best in terms of intellectual firepower, values, passion, work ethic and experience. These kinds of employees are the A players. C players generally quit or are fired, while B players hang on—they're not so bad that you have justification for firing them, but 'they can't help you win the pennant. They cheat you from achieving all you could,' thus preventing an organization from soaring to greater heights."
Yep, written by our "'B player' in chief." G-d bless him.

4.. That preeminent publication -- FedWorld -- continues to astound. Just a couple of weeks ago the rag led off with the following cite: 
The chachams at 25 Broadway responsible for this thing have no reason to understand that it was JFNA back in the day which led the abandonment of the system's National Foundation for Jewish Culture. (Hellooooo The Alliance) Nor would they have read the article in Inside Philanthropy itself; I guess because the article had "philanthropy" in the title, that merited inclusion.

And so it goes at Lake Woebegone. Huh?

Rwexler

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

POSTSCRIPT TO A POSTSCRIPT

On October 1, 2012 -- that's four years ago by my count -- I wrote:

"One Anonymous Commentator wrote, in response to P.S. to a Post Script:

Richard, though you have written them before, please reiterate which programs you feel would be of benefit to the federations that are not being done now by JFNA. This would be helpful to those of us who aren't familiar and maybe could be helpful to some who can do something about it.


So, seeing as you asked:


  1. Bring together JFNA's Board, federation leaders all, and have a discussion about JFNA's purposes
  2. As a significant number of federations when surveyed had already articulated that their greatest "want" from JFNA was enhanced FRD assistance, reinvigorate the organization's FRD functions
  3. Instead of just talking about it, actually implement a robust set of national Missions led by charismatic leaders who will reach out to recruit across the Continent
  4. Actually insist on an independent evaluation of JFNA's services -- from JFNA Global Services to the GA -- and publish the results -- in some instance it will shut the mouths of critics and in others it will result in change
  5. Acknowledge that rebranding is over and dedicate that portion of JFNA's budget to FRD
  6. Stop the waste and chaos that is the Global Planning Table, an effort that is dragging JFNA down, and being to engage in real advocacy for the system' s historic partners
  7. Let's have real consulting services with and for the federations -- a Silverman fly-in doesn't count
And, these are just for starters.

What are your thoughts?"

So I thought, a half decade later that we take a look at these suggestions and where JFNA is today. Shall we?
  1. Bring together JFNA's Board, federation leaders all, and have a discussion about JFNA's purposes. Grade F -- there has still never been a discussion of purpose by JFNA's Board. It is as if as JFNA's most senior lay and professional leaders have never defined the organization's purpose(s), they fear what the Board might produce. If you don't know where you are going any road will get you there -- or nowhere.
  2. As a significant number of federations when surveyed had already articulated that their greatest "want" from JFNA was enhanced FRD assistance, reinvigorate the organization's FRD functions. Grade IncompleteFour years later, after the complete collapse of FRD, it appears that JFNA is on the cusp of recreating its Financial Resource Development operation with a new Senior Vice President, two outstanding consultants and an actual (albeit superficial) "plan" -- one that reads like the Platform of either political party.
  3. Instead of just talking about it, actually implement a robust set of national Missions led by charismatic leaders who will reach out to recruit across the Continent. Grade Incomplete. Partially implemented -- though more and more federations are going their own way on Missions, JFNA has conducted some important ones. Yet, a succession of National Campaign Chairs, apparently having nothing else to do, have appointed themselves as Mission Chairs time and again rather than using Mission Co-Chairs as a means of identifying the future leaders of the Continental FRD effort . Further, more and more federations are going on Missions with no assistance from JFNA/
  4. Actually insist on an independent evaluation of JFNA's services -- from JFNA Global Services to the GA -- and publish the results -- in some instance it will shut the mouths of critics and in others it will result in change. Grade F. If an independent evaluation has taken place, the results have been totally suppressed so those results must have been as terrible as the failures have been so visible. Assuming there has been no such evaluation, one can only ask: why not?
  5. Acknowledge that rebranding is over and dedicate that portion of JFNA's budget to FRD. Grade HaHaHa. JFNA as Dockers -- the brand is everything to these chachams.
  6. Stop the waste and chaos that is the Global Planning Table, an effort that is dragging JFNA down, and being to engage in real advocacy for the system' s historic partners. Grade D. One can only ask: what took them so long? From the get-go, even before it was begun, many of us saw the GPT as fatally flawed; it finally died only because JFNA failed to raise the requisite seed money to further its ill-formed purposes. It died while the CEO was still saying that if the GPT went away so would JFNA. And "real advocacy" continues to elude JFNA which, at least, is now giving lip service to it through the embryonic "Envoys" program.
  7. Let's have real consulting services with and for the federations -- a Silverman fly-in doesn't count. Grade F. CEO Smilin' is still flying hither and yon to what end only The Shadow knows. With its Senior V-P Community Consulting departure in 2015, JFNA now has not even the appearance of a Community Consulting function. And, now, FRD plans to implement one on an extremely limited basis -- maybe that will work.
So, let me ask: what has been accomplished after the seven years of Jerry, seven years of worse than mediocrity, that would encourage responsible lay leaders to continue down (and it's really far down) the path toward irrelevance and worse? Let me put it another way: How much longer will the lay and professional leaders of the UJA-Federation of New York continue to tolerate the waste of $6 million (+/-) a year on this nothingness; how long will the leaders of Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, Baltimore, Miami and, yes, Los Angeles, throw tens of millions of dollars at JFNA in the false hope that these funds are being well-spent. 

I used to be at the forefront of those advocating for more...yes, more... for JFNA under the theory that while my own community was only directly benefiting from these outlays in an extremely limited way, the JFNA Budget expenditures were benefiting smaller communities with programs and assistance they could not pay for themselves -- our Dues were an expression of collective responsibility. No longer -- except for the small amount of JFNA's work which directly benefits the Dues-payers, the rest benefits no one but JFNA itself...and hardly JFNA. 

Do I continue to hold out hope that federation leaders will stand up and demand transformational change from new, transformational leaders at JFNA -- no. I know so many of these leaders -- dedicated women and men, all of them -- so it is inconceivable to me that they would not only tolerate the hot mess that is JFNA today but, in some instances, typically by the higher office aspirants or those who benefit from the mess, encourage it. But, I'm coming around to believing that they just don't care.

Rwexler

Sunday, September 4, 2016

THE GA 2016

Here we go again...

The flood of promotions for the November GA has already begun, the kind of hyperbole that has typified the way the folks at 25 Broadway have attempted to "sell" this thing for the past seven years.

So, instead of substance, these leaders continue to market the General Assembly as if it were a pair of Dockers -- they try to sell the non-existent "sizzle" when they should be focused on the substance. But...they...just...can't. And the preliminary Program for the 2016 Assembly looks excellent, by the way, if, in the main, excellent for the professional community above all. Perhaps the folks running the GA should take a lesson from JNF. All  they need start with is the Program for its National Conference 2016. 
http://www.jnf.org/about-jnf/events/2016/2016-national-conference/2016-national-conference.html
Then they might attend the JNF Conference -- it's next week.* 

With JFNA and our GA however, first, came the "Save the Dates" from the Co-Chairs. They are appropriate and welcoming. Then come the hyperbolic mentions in the joke that is FEDWorld. Of these, the most needlessly hysterical is the announcement that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks (more about Rabbi Sacks, later) will be one of "130+ other noted speakers from around the world." These "130+" are apparently known only to those at 25 Broadway in charge of the hype, because they appear nowhere on the GA Website -- oh, sure, joining Rabbi Sacks, are Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and NBC's brilliant anchor of Meet the Press, Chuck Todd, and author Bruce Feiler (who is also presenting to JNF, BTW) and a number of others including a film director**,  but only at JFNA does  20 equal 130, just as 700 lay registrants equals 3,000. (I'm sure that just as last year the final program will identify close to 130 "speakers," many of whom will not speak.) There are some wonderful speakers in this first list; I'll leave it to all of you to decide if the roster is attractive enough to attract you to Washington (again).

And, then, there is Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. In response to an earlier Post, several of you noted that, given Rabbi Sacks well-documented outbursts as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, he should never have been invited to keynote the GA of and for the federations; his incredible intellect, powerful voice and receipt of the Templeton Prize notwithstanding. My friends have a point.

In announcing the Templeton Prize, Rabbi Sacks was characterized as:
"Central to his message is appreciation and respect of all faiths, with an emphasis that recognizing the values of each is the only path to effectively combat the global rise of violence and terrorism."
And few have offered as many quotes on values and tolerance and civil discourse than he. But, then, there is the reality that while he served as Chief Rabbi, he sometimes demonstrated the same lack of tolerance of non-Orthodox Movements as have multiple Chief Rabbis in Israel. Examples in the London press?
1. "...he denounced the much admired Reform rabbi and Auschwitz survivor Hugo Gryn as "among those who destroy the faith" – which produced a furore both in the Jewish world and in the national press. The outcry lasted months..." 
          2. "The JFS (the Jewish Free School) debacle, when a Jewish school under the chief rabbi's authority tried to bar a non-Orthodox Jewish child was yet another example of self-generated communal discord." 

In the wake of the attack on Rabbi Gryn there were calls for Rabbi Lord Sacks resignation. One critic observed: ""Clearly, the Chief Rabbi no longer represents all Jews and speaks only for the Orthodox sector,"

Of course the question arises whether CEO Jerry, he who only a few weeks ago preached his own sermonette on the need for tolerance and civility had any idea that Rabbi Sacks hasn't exactly been a paragon of either. Then, again, maybe Jerry just didn't understand or didn't care -- after all it can't hurt, some might think, to bask in the reflected glory of a Templeton Prize winner.
Once again the GA is not off to the best start. This time there is the hope that the excellent lay Co-Chairs will assert themselves in an attempt to assure that the GA will not just be one designed by and for professionals, but will have a broad appeal to lay and professional "registrants" alike.  You know -- like it once was.

Rwexler

* Perhaps, JFNA should invite its Negev Task Force to the JNF event so that they might understand what substantive programs for the Negev are all about.
** Only the GA promotors at JFNA could think that announcing that an "Haredi film director" will prompt a spate of Registrants