Sunday, July 12, 2020


What do the following organizations have in common?

  • Alpha Epsilon Pi
  • American Friends of Likud
  • American Sephardi Federation
  • American Zionist Movement
  • Americans for Peace Now
  • Central Conference of American Rabbis
  • Emunah of America
  • Jewish Labor Committee
  • Legacy Community Family
  • National Council of Young Israel
  • Religious Zionists of America
  • Women's International Zionist Organization
  • Women's League for Conservative Judaism
  • Workmen's Circle
  • HIAS
The answer: They are all member organizations of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations. Now this listing (which I admit is [1] totally subjective; and [2] to which I could have added a number of others) is not designed to deprecate the pro-Israel work of any of these entities nor the commitments and contributions their leaders have made; it is mereely to underscore that the adjective Major may have lost its meaning. Big time.

As one of you commented to an earlier Post: "There is no value to the Jewish people to have the Conference of mostly not major Jewish Organizations." I would resist the conclusion of "mostly," just as I recognize that to the Conference the addition of "non-Major" organizations as full "members" is a funding vehicle that supports the work of the Conference. 

And, it ain't any measure.


Tuesday, July 7, 2020


1. The Disappearing Lay Leaders. On June 11, the Government of Israel convened a Zoom teleconference with leaders of US organizations. The participants, from entities as diverse as the Conference of Presidents and JFNA to the San Francisco Community Relations Council and the Hasidic Community of Monsey, New Jersey, were each and all characterized by one common denominator -- they were all professionals. Not a single lay leader; not one. The "system" that you helped to construct was premised upon the best "lay-professional partnership" that could be built; and we succeeded in doing so. Now, that foundation, built brick-by-brick has been deconstructed brick-by-brick. The foundation of our communal system is being buried with the lay leaders leading the kaddish in silence. Maybe beyond resurrection. More on this another day...soon.

2. Priorities? Never mind. In recent Posts I've pointed to the dangers when our institutions lack focus/priorities. Wherever I look without a clear articulation of priorities, everything becomes the priority and, thereby, nothing is a priority. During this time of literal financial catastrophe for all of our organizations (yes, even for those which believe that they have some form of entitlement to commmunal dollars; those are in for the rudest of awakenings.) For too many, their's is life in the Land of Shiny Objects where everything looks great and so attractive that they turn to them adding them to an expansive list of priorities that will never be met -- not because they are not noble, because they can never be fully funded . These are illusions.

3. Making Hard Decisions...Harder. Before the birth of what would become JFNA and he its first CEO, Steven Solender served as President and CEO of the New York UJA-Federation of New York. In the late 1980's, America had suffered its worst recession before the one we are in today; and New York UJA was struggling with fewer financial resources as Steve, with his lay leadership, kept the ship afloat as the recession deepened. In one of many quiet conversations during that time, Steve told me how difficult it had become to attract and keep lay leadership "when every decision is so hard...where to cut, how deep the downsize needed to be," and the like. And, today...worse. Over the last 4 decades we have watched as in too many organizations that is all that we have done. I am sure that there are organizations -- like some federations and, certainly, the Jewish National Fund U.S.A. -- where lay leaders are fully engaged, knowledgeable and commited; but, in so many others, the lay leadership are wholly satisfied in viewing their Board and Committee service as an honorarium of some kind -- show up from time-to-time, some camaraderie, read the script and...leave it to the pros ("isn't that why we pay them?")...and never ask the hard questions. That dog won't hunt. Not today; not any more. 

4. Binary Choice? In one of the more preposterous opinion pieces in today's inflamed political environment where slavish support for Donald Trump has become, to some, the seminal litmus test of support for Israel, JNS's Jonathan Tobin has framed one of his latest on the subject as What's More Important in a President: Policy or Character? Posed as a strictly binary choice, Tobin apparently rejects even the possibility that American Jews might answer: we want, we demand, BOTH. (BTW, the column is appended to a full color shot of Bolton, Pompeo, Trump and Pence.)


Thursday, July 2, 2020


                          Man Planned; and God Laughed (or Cried)

Return with me to the hopeful days before we became a mask-wearing, quarantined People (in the main). JFNA, recognizing the physical threats to Jewish institutions and buildings and the need for more intensive and expensive security in all of its forms, spent a significant amount of time at its January Board Retreat on the explanation and approval of a $214 million Special Campaign to create a fund for a vast Security Plan -- the self-styled New JFNA Security Initiative...that would dramatically enhance the work of the system's Secure Community Network ("SCN")

Referencing the remarkable $1 Billion Operation Exodus Campaign (1990-1995) and the more recent American Jewish communal response to the Second Terrorists' War on Israel in 2006 -- yes, 2006 when a $400 million campaign that, truth be told, was a failure even without a goal which our leaders claimed as a victory -- but without reference to the incredible wealth our communities have amassed, $21.7 Billion in federation/foundation total assets, JFNA appoited one of its most respected leaders, Los Angeles's Julie Platt, to lead this Campaign, appoint a Campaign Cabinet and jumpstart what would be a Continental effort. 

Eric Fingerhut raised the banner:
"...our Federation system was built for moments like this and the time to address it is now, together."
A three year plan was unveiled the end result of which would be a greatly enhanced, well-funded SCN "as the backbone of security infrastructure" for our communities and communal infrastructure

And, then the CONVID-19 was upon us and everything stopped. JFNA apparently thought it was trapped by its own calendar -- being on a fiscal year Budget, leadership determined that it had to approve a July 1, 2020 -2021 Budget or....what exactly? The whole world had changed but for JFNA's Budget, it was to be business as usual. 

Over a succession of "business as usual" JFNA Budgets, the Secure Community Network was created and up and running. Thanks to a small group of federations, there was broad recognition that community security was the seminal issue -- it was our highest priority, all the more so after Tree of Life. At the meeting at which the SCN (as is the norm in Jewish communla life, all things begin or evolve into acronyms) was created and most of its Budget provided by the federations, the exemplary John Ruskay, then the New York-UJA President, demanded that JFNA, after the SCN start-up year, absorb the SCN Budget within its own. JFNA's leaders readily agreed. 

And, then...they didn't.

It didn't take long for JFNA to forget its commitment to this "highest priority." JFNA soon was seeking funding from federations like Chicago, Cleveland and others, full funding would come from...them. JFNA would provide an annual $250,000 to the SCN Budget...and that's been it. Highest priority? Really? So the SCN's budget must have as its main support, security grants from the federal and State governments.

Just so you are aware, JFNA is partners in the SCN with the Conference of Presidents and the American Jewish Committee, the former an organization that raises its own funds for its existence from its own membership dues; the latter raising close to $70 million in 2017-18 and sitting on an $80 million endowment. The AJC may make a grant to the SCN but I did not find any in its IRS 990s.

And here's the deal. There is no lay Board for the SCN. While it had a succession of excellent lay Chairs from the outset, right now the SCN lay Chair is the ubiquitous Harold Gernsbacher, who has built a remarkable list of titles at JFNA with little success to show for any or all of them* unless "success" is measured by a willingness to just swallow the Kool-Aid and demonstrate an absolute willingness to read the scripts. While the SCN has had superb professional leadership, it operates as a more or less professional division of JFNA/AJC/CofP. While I and others urged JFNA to appoint a Board of federation lay and professional leaders if for no other reason than to raise more community funds, we were ignored as were attempts to demand the JFNA live up to its initial promise -- fund the SCN out of its Budget at a level reflective of security as JFNA's and the federations' highest priority. 

Never happened. In fact, the JFNA FY2020-2021 Budget not only continued the quarter-million SCN allocation but identified not a single FTE assigned to the SCN. Compare and contrast that void -- 0 FTE -- with the 25+ JFNA FTE assigned in the Budget to Financial Resource Development at a budgeted expense of almost $3.3 million and try and identify who those 25+ FTE and just what they do. 

So, we ask once again, at this time in the dire circumstances of today, just where are JFNA's priorities; where is its focus?

We are all crying.


*It has been reported to me that Harold now has taken to calling me a "lunatic" when my name may come up in hallway conversations. He isn't the first...and won't be the last. Easier calling names than raising funds.

Sunday, June 28, 2020


The Jewish Agency for Israel is facing a financial catastrophe. It's financial resource development arm, the Jewish Agency International Development or JAID, is in ruins, its most recent CEO -- gone, unreplaced. Its partner, the Jewish Agency North America, with an invigorated lay leadership, has an ambitious program of engagement on its emerging agenda...but who will listen let alone embrace? And, while at one time (seems so long ago) it could rely upon the national Jewish organization to be its advocate (with advocacy for the Joint Distribution Committee as well)); that advocacy ended informally years ago and formally last year with JFNA turning that role back to JAFI and JDC, washing its hands, as it were, of responsibility. And the United Israel Appeal, which had dipped its toe into the shallow end of the pool with an embryonic advocacy effort, had all of its functions absorbed within JFNA effectively ending its historic roles beyond vetting federation allocations.

So, at this moment in time, when advocacy, when making the case for funding the Jewish Agency's work was already in crisis as Federation allocations had already collapsed to the lowest levels in history, COVID-19 effectively shut down the federation funding "system." Anyone who does not understand that the impacts of the pandemic will include federations further turn inward in Dystopian ways, just cannot see what is happening in front of their very eyes.

Chevre, these are the worst of times. 

In case you hadn't noticed, these are no longer the times of Max Fisher, z'l, or Marvin Lender, Richie Pearlstone, or of the beloved Rabbi Herb Friedman or Irving Bernstein. This is no longer the era of commanding figures who could or, more important, would rally the communities to a cause greater than themselves supported by the Steve Nasatirs, Steve Hoffmans and John Ruskays, by professionals who understood and could articulate the global needs of the Jewish People. Ain't nobody rallying anybody any more.

These are the times of a collapsed Keren Ha'Yesod, the fund-raising arm for the Jewish Agency around the world other than in the United States -- KH as it is called is a fund-raising arm that raises no funds yet retains its voting privileges for 20% of the Jewish Agency Board. KH's Board includes some wonderful leaders -- men and women who have served on the JAFI Board in some instances for at least 30 years. (Did I mention the funds they raise barely covers the Keren Ha'Yesod organization's overhead leaving almost nothing to allocate to JAFI itself?) Some -- the Koschitzky Family comes to mind -- demonstrate their commitment annually in beautiful ways but KH lay and professional leadership have wholly failed to leverage the signifcant gifts KH has received to broaden the base and increase the pot.

And, lurking always, is the WZO, the World Zionist Organization, surely one of the most bizarre and controlling shadows in organized Jewish life. A decade ago the Jewish Agency leadership determined to reform its organizational structure and eliminate the WZO's particpation in its governance. Placing the negotiation of that reorganization in clearly the wrong hands, JAFI traded millions in annual grants to the WZO in consideration of which the WZO gave up its power to elect JAFI officers -- there was no change in WZO's ownership of the JAFI Board for the WZO continued and continues to appoint 50% of the Board and control 50% of the ownership of JAFI, 50% of the vote and contributes not a dollar to JAFI's Budget. And, in the decade since this a "worst deal of the century," WZO has positioned itself as a direct competitor of the Jewish Agency because: (1) they can; and (2) in Israel "conflict of interest" doesn't appear to exist even as a concept.

This balagan leaves the Jewish Agency facing a most serious financial crisis approaching the catastrophic. Let's review: allocations from the federations through JFNA will approach collapse after year-after-year low point after low point; funding from Keren Ha'Yesod will also reach a nadir; the WZO will continue to fund only its own activities, many of which conflict with the Jewish Agency's own work. This will leave JAFI at the mercy of the Government of Israel and the funds it allocates to the Agency's work on the Goverment's behalf. And, lurking like an immense black cloud over all of this is the JAFI pension debt obligation; the debt about which no one speaks.

Can anything be done to avert the financial catastrophe? I have some thoughts, of course. Ignoring for the moment feasibility:

  • In partnership with the Government of Israel: 
    • Restructure JAFI's ownership
      • Eliminate WZO's ownership, control and appointment power while retaining and assuring JAFI Board membership for Zionist and religious movement constituencies through direct election;
      • The 50% balance of members will be prorated based upon the financial contributions of the federations and KH to the Jewish Agency Budget
    • Restructure JAFI's Pension Obligations:
      • The GOI to assume the current Pension indebtedness
      • Going forward, the Pension offered Agency employees will be consistent with best current business practices
    • Borrow the funds necessary to support a JAFI 3 year Budget
  • In partnership with the JAFI JFNA Board members:
    • Develop a plan for budget advocacy among and within the federations
    • Create and fund the implementation of an annual FRD plan through an invigorated JAID/JAFI NA
    • Led by capacity gifts from the JA Board Chair and Officers, begin an emergency campaign
  • In partnership with the JAFI KH Board members, begin an emergency fund-raising campaign to support JAFI's work and Budget; and
    • Restructure KH governance to create term limits
Ein breira, my friends...ein breira.


Tuesday, June 23, 2020


Here is a JFNA "job description" -- a JFNA "job" that has been budgeted for years:
"Responsible for development and implementation of corporate philanthropy and sponsorship strategy, bringing millions of dollars and resources to national programs, services and departments. Develop and steward relationships that lead to external funding and strategic alliances. Develop papers, articles and speeches concerning critical issues facing the Jewish community. Provide guidance and resources to every department of JFNA with respect to strategic messaging and aligning concepts and strategies with JFNA sponsorship efforts. Travel across the globe bringing leaders and funders to see the work of our system in all places we have impact. Provide value-added to local communities by keeping prices stable, lowering fees, sharing best practices, and making introductions that lead to community resources. Speak in communities to boards, officers and provide guidance and encouragement to professionals. Provide support to campaign missions, community visits, and other direct service activities. Speechwriter and crafter of articles and missives for top professional and lay leadership of JFNA."
These responsibilities have been but a tease, haven't they? I may be wrong but I can't identify a single one of these functions on which JFNA has been the initiator let alone the organization that has followed through...not one. 

If you are asble to identify where/when/how JFNA has implemented what it has called "institutional advancement," let me know and I will faithfully correct this otherwise sad record.

Why do I write about this now inasmuch as this "function" has been a fixture of the JFNA Budget for at least a decade? Well: (1) it has been a fixture of the JFNA Budget for at least a decade and (2) reading the JFNA FY 2020/2021 Budget document "Institutional Advancement" is still there. 

Not that these well-stated "purposes" wouldn't be very important to the communities but one would have thought that somewhere at JFNA -- in the Executive Offices, in the Budget and Finance Department, at the JFNA Board level, anywhere -- someone would have said: "we can't afford the things we have not done during this emergency" and set the budget for this thing to the side along with the muiltitude of other unexplained, unnecessary Budget lines until JFNA has actually met the emergency...if ever.

And, if ever there was to be a time when JFNA's leaders would not merely acknowledge the financial crisis that the federations face but actually face it squarely, wouldn't this be that time? Wouldn't this be the time where, instead of the annual leadership kvetch that the JFNA Dues Budget has been flat for years while rent and other costs have annually increased, JFNA cuts its expenses to the bone as so many federations have been forced to do?

There are so many places where JFNA could/should cut costs to the bone. Let's start with that meaningless exercise in "Institutional Advancement."


Friday, June 19, 2020


Back in the day -- that is way back -- pre-merger, federations expressed concern with the national United Jewish Appeal budget. Vague concerns, usually expressed in hallways and back rooms. With UJA's brilliant Chief Financial Officer, Lee Twersky, we decided to convene a public discussion and review -- and what better place than what was the GA, then truly the annual gathering of 2,500 lay and professional leaders. Those leaders filled a ballroom on a late afternoon. We distributed a 50 page or so Budget in advance and distributed copies to those in attendance. We offered a brief analysis of where UJA invested its resources and the return to the system on that investment. We opened the floor for questions and, as I recall, there were none. The communal leaders there learned that the UJA Budget was premised on full disclosure and the Budget was developed throughout a long annual  process with full lay participation -- and UJA's lay leaders were also federation leaders, almost to a person.

A few years later: (1) UJA was done, merged into what would become JFNA and made to disappear; and (2) the legitimate Budget process that was, was no longer, it, too, has disappeared. And, now, a budget Fugazi is upon us.

I have served on Budget Committees from my first service on a local Chicago Agency Board through the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago the UJA, the CJF, JFNA, UIA, JAFI and a few more. Even Chaired a bunch of them, and, at all levels, always...always...with the best of professional partners at every level. Yes, I was often in the room where it happened. I have been proud of the changes that Budget Chairs at the Jewish Agency like Richie Pearlstone and Jay Sarver implemented to move those Budgets from the opaque to the transparent,  changes that I'm certain current JAFI Budget Chair Beth Leonard, a superstar accountant in her real job, has perpetuated, even further enhanced. 

At my own federation, and, most probably yours, we have had that transparency from long before my time in leadership through the present day and into the future. Great professional leadership and a dedicated and demanding laity require no less. No national or international non-profit that I have seen at work spent/spends as much of its time on budget.

All of the above is but prologue...and leads me to the JFNA Budget just approved. 

First, the Expense and Revenue Budget was presented on 4-1/2 pages --a $48.1 million Budget on 4-1/2 pages. Oh, there was also an accompanying brief Memo from the CEO on the Budget. Nowhere, other than in a $3.1 Million "Provision for Contingency" is there even a suggestion that the federations, the system, are in extremis as a result of the shutdowns dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Budget as presented, as approved, is so opaque that were it presented by another non-profit, it would have been rejected, marked "return to sender." I ask, in all sincerity, how could this Budget in this form and with its lack of substance been submitted to the federations let alone approved with undue haste in the extreme circumstances that confront every community today? How could the JFNA Budget & Finance Committee and, then, the JFNA Board and members proceed as if it's "business as usual" when business is not and may never be "usual" ever again and certainly not in FY 2020/2021.

At the merger and for the first years thereafter, under a succession of Budget and Finance Chairs and two strong Chief Financial Officers and 3 CEOs who came with exceptional federation CEO experiences, the JFNA Budget process was the equal of those cited above. Then, JFNA's Budget was coopted by a CEO with no federation Budget experience, who, with Budget Chairs, if the evidence is to be believed, demonstrated a "leave it to the JFNA professionals" attitude and, as explored on so many of these pages over the years, allowed the annual Budget to be treated as but a "framework;" not one that bound the organization to operate within it -- the organization's revenues began to be treated as an ATM -- just insert your CEO cash card and withdraw funds for whatever purpose, no Board action necessary. Hopefully Board Chair Mark Wilf and CEO Eric Fingerhut have assured that this malpractice will not happen again...emphasis on "hopefully."

And, yet...

At a time of the worst financial calamity to impact on the Jewish communal system -- locally, nationally and worldwide -- with JFNA taking on some distribution of allocated funds, the Budget fails woefully to set forth how JFNA plans to meet the crisis in any substantive manner. As one of my mentors wrote me after reviewing this "budget:"
"No mention of a US Jewish community rescue 'package' to enable federations to provide real value to JCCs, synagogues, etc. What a great national campaign opportunity..."
Someone out there write me, please, and explain to me JFNA's plans for meeting the catastrophic circumstances our institutions now face.

Smart people, lay and professional, worked on this Budget; yet, this thing fails to reflect those smarts. I would suggest that JFNA immediately convene the totality of federation leadership by Zoom or, if safe to do so, in person to develop and approve a Continental Special Campaign. I would even go so far as to suggest that Joel Tauber, who chaired UJA during a significant part of the historic Operation Exodus Campaign, be appointed the Special Campaign Chair. and get on with ther task.

The hour is already late.


Sunday, June 14, 2020


Following the eruption of anger at the Conference of Presidents over the nomination process that resulted in a new Chair-elect who (1) had not spent much time working in CofP governance and (2) was the immediate past Chair of a once great Jewish organization -- HIAS -- that today appears to have abandoned its Jewish roots, even after Conference leaders amended their governance to delay the election for a year of "orientation" for this incoming Chair, one might have thought the matter had been put to rest. But, anyone who thought so doesn't know Morton Klein, the lifetime (apparently, in perpetuity), well-compensated President of the Zionist Organization of America,

Klein, as anyone whose organization has found itself subject to his subjective determination that it has engaged in "anti-Israel" activities has learned, has converted his organization into a missile aimed at the heart of those organizations who, in Klein's mind, have earned his wrath. Already "censured" (or whatever the Conference calls it) for at least one very personal attack on a fellow member organization (things got so bad that cross-claims of physical attacks were made), the ZOA (and, please understand, "ZOA" and "Morton Klein" are one and the same), it has been alleged, continued its attacks on HIAS even after the vote above; although, to be perfectly fair, HIAS appeared to give as good as it got (at least up to a point). For an in-depth analysis, see Ron Kampeas's lengthy article in the Times of Israel, At Time of Racial Strife, US Jewish Groups Call to Expel ZOA from Umbrella Org,

Now, things have gotten more ugly. The Union of Reform Judaism's long-time CEO, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, seized on what he apparently sees as the opportunity to  vote the ZOA out of the CofP  arising out of Mort Klein's angry, vituperative attack on Black Lives Matter in the midst of the protests following the police murder of George Floyd embodied in this brief Tweet: "(BLM is) a Jew-hating, White hating, Israel hating, conservative Black hating, violence promoting, dangerous Soros fund group of haters." As reported in Jonathan Tobin's analytical opinion piece, Cancel Culture comes to the Conference of Presidents, the Klein assault on Black Lives Matter is but pretext for a ZOA eviction from the Conference arising out of the Klein attack on HIAS and the new Chair-elect and Mort Klein's propensity to go for the jugular at all times.

The Conference lay and professional leadership, wonderful leaders to a person, must be looking at this with an "oh no, not again; we don't need this" sense of deja vu only worse. Others will view it, as Tobin did in his JNS opinion piece, as a battle between the liberal Conference members and the Conservative -- but, it is not that (though, in a Tweet on the day this was written, Klein attacked the...ACLU). It is a simple question of how much Sturm und Drang any organization can endure from one member -- in this case ZOA. In a brilliant Tweet Thread, Shai Franklin tracks the record that led him to conclude (as did Abe Silberstein in an Editorial in The Forward on June 8, that the time has come for the ZOA to be expelled from the Conference of Presidents.

One might encourage the parties here to "just grow up," but that probably won't be possible. What will? We await the answer.


Tuesday, June 9, 2020


Has there actually been change at JFNA? Given the financial realities of the emrgency created by the COVID-19 pandemic, one might have expected real, substantive changes at the 25 Broadway JFNA HQ; or, at the least, an acknowledgment that the 2020-2021 fiscal year Budget will reflect the circumstances that the members -- our communities -- are facing.

Let's examine what has actually occurred:

1. Layoffs and salary cuts: At the outset of the pandemic JFNA's leaders announced "major" staff cuts -- yet, reading between the lines of CEO Eric Fingerhut's announcement ("between the lines" only because there are no real lines to read), these cuts appear to have impacted only on mid- and lower-level professionals in NYC and those at the bloated JFNA-Israel who were not under the protekcia of Caspi/Gurvis. The "magnanimity" of "voluntary" salary reductions by top JFNA pros are offset by what appear to be their temporary nature. Please note: New York UJA-Federation, JFNA's largest Dues supporter, just announced lay-offs or furloughs of 54 staff members, a 12% staff reduction, while JFNA temporized. And, NB, New York-UJA's CEO and President, Eric Goldstein, has voluntarily given up his salary for the coming year. I'm just sayin'.

2. The JFNA Budget: The JFNA Federation Members -- the actual owners of JFNA -- are themselves confronting a financial crisis of epic proportions. Yet, these leaders chose to ignore the realities impacting their own communities when they approved a 2020-2021 fiscal year Budget that assumed the full payment of Dues with a 10% contingency for failure/inability to pay ($3 million of a $30,290,000 Dues income). I will be taking a deep (or, perhaps, a shallow) dive into the JFNA Budget in an upcoming Post

3. Unfilled Senior Positions: You may recall that upon assuming the position CEO Eric Fingerhut announced that he would leave the position of SVP-Financial Resource Development open -- he would serve in that role in the interim. Well, it appears that "interim" has taken on new meaning: viz, "more or less permanent." Yet, JFNA has reallocated $850,000 in the Budget for what appear to be TBD "on-line events," etc., to support communal campaigns under the leadership of two consulting professionals. 

Shortly after his on-boarding, Eric terminated the position of SVP-Marketing and has now determined not to recreate it. Historically, the Marketing professional leadership was sequentially: assigned campaign-related marketing leadership; then, promotion of JFNA itself; then operational responsibilities for, e.g., the GA. Suggestions from lay leaders that Marketing be redeployed to promote the federation concept and federations themselves were uniformly ignored.


Bottom line: it is hard to see positive change in the midst of the impacts of the pandemic on JFNA's financial resources especially at a time that those who supply the funding -- the communities -- are facing the dramatic contraction on their own resources. A $3 million Dues contingency appears to be a pipe dream.

I am reminded by all of this of the old fund-raising story: A federation solicitor approaches a donor with a plea for an increased gift. The donor: "I have had a terrible year. I can't even match last year's gift." The solicitor: "Just because you had a bad year, why should federation suffer?" 


Thursday, June 4, 2020


Very recently I opened an email to find the punim of the Chair of one of our international organizations smiling back at me. Once I recovered from the shock, I thought I would reflect on the evaporation of the most critical criteria for the ultimate leadership roles in our communal organizations: commitment and "commitment" means three things: time, the ability to inspire and, yes, money. Or, make that money, time and the ability to inspire. If any of these three are missing, find yourself another to lead.

And, what does "money" mean in the context of Jewish organizational leadership  It means one's personal capacity gift -- and that gift must inspire others to give to their capacity. Every organization with which I have been privileged to serve has been successful because its leaders have committed -- some even over-committed. I have participated in solicitations where gifts were driven by the solicitors' passion which, in turn, ignited passion in the solicited -- yes, a passion ignited by the solicitors' gift.

Let me offer an overly simplistic rule of successful organizations: you must assure that your Board Chairs/lay Presidents are giving to their capacity and that those gifts will motivate others to give. (Thus, one whose "capacity" might be a $5,000 annual gift, would only qualify for the Board Chair/President position of the organization to which that contribution flowed if leadership believed that a $5,000 gift would inspire others to give to their capacity; and, a $100,000 annual gift from one that organizational leadership knows is far below capacity would be a disqualifier.)

Thus, with all of my criticism on these pages of JFNA leaders over the years for positions taken/not taken, one that you have never heard or read would have been of their financial commitments to their home communities and to the Jewish People. From Charles Bronfman right through Mark Wilf, JFNA has elected leaders who are also incredible philanthropists. I have seen these wonderful examples across the best and most forward-driving organizations -- most recently at JNF where Ambassador Ronald Lauder, as Chair, and President Sol Lizerbram lead by the examples of their time, their ability to inspire and their financial commitment.

We are living through the worst of times for organizations dependent on the voluntary commitment of philanthropic dollars -- COVID-19 and, at best, a pandemic-driven recession. More than ever our organizations need to reexamine their leadership, the criteria to be employed, and the length of terms. Reading that one President of one of our important organizations, had been re-elected to a "second four-year term" shocked me. This means that no one within that entity's leadership rose to the level of electability for 8 years? 

Institutional introspection is long overdue. I'll be writing more about this in the weeks ahead,


Monday, May 18, 2020


Our agencies -- international, national and local -- are in the midst of the greatest threat to their financial survival as a consequence of the global pandemic. (I know, "thanks, Captain Obvious.") This has required almost all of them, along with their major funders, to tighten their belts and their foci; this should have been all of them.

Like many of you, I received an evite to a Jewish Council for Public Affairs Webinar that caught my attention (but not my interest) the topic of which surprised and saddened me. It is a Webinar that is part of a series: Jewish Advocacy During the Coronavirus. That would be a good thing, a positive contribution because, after all, we need Jewish Advocacy during these terrible times,. now more than ever. Then consider this Webinar topic: Front End Justice: Exploring Why Pretrial Reform is Needed. 

Friends, JCPA has clearly lost its way. Here are a selection of JCPA-sponsored Webinars in this "Series":

  • Building Bridges: Israeli and Palestinian Health Care Cooperation
  • Over 6 Million Americans are on Community Supervision: Reforming Pre-Trial, Parole and Probation
  • Coronavirus in Prisons, Jails: An Emergency We Need to Confront NOW
This commentary isn't to suggest that these topics aren't important, just asking where these "topics" fit within the priorities of the JCPA or the priroties of the communities which support local community relations councils. Just a guess -- nowhere. Maybe, somewhere, there is an important pilpul that would explain the connection; probably not.

The JCPA used to be an organization that focused on matters directly connecting communities to its agenda. And, that was at a time when funding was not under the kind of pressures being faced today and into the future. I sat on the JCPA Board and Executive than and, while I admit to real frustration with some of the Plenary debates back then, the subject matter was directly relevant to the Jewish community's social justice agenda.

Now? I have no more a clue than JCPA's leaders apparently have. And, worse, two factors:

  1. As the communities which support JCPA have moved, at the least, to the center if not center-right, JCPA has made some determination that it will find its support further to the left; and
  2. As the pandemic has rapidly eroded communal resources, JCPA's "message" and its "priorities" appear to have less and less relevance. Thus, on it merry way, JCPA devotes time, effort and resources to, e.g., Palestinian Health Care Cooperation and Reforming Pre-Trial, Parole and Probation...
Most organizations have strived under the horrific conditions of today to focus, to make themselves more relevant -- e.g., JCCA and its JCCs, the federations themselves. To fail to do so is an unconscionable expression of unearned organizational arrogance...

Leading inevitably to irrelevance.