Sunday, May 19, 2019

WHAT, EXACTLY, DOES JFNA DO FOR YOUR DUES?

I, and many of you in your Comments, have speculated that, other than its work in Washington, and in its role as constituency convener, JFNA is in business for itself. No longer is there even a stab at support of the system;'s historic partners -- domestic and overseas -- no longer is there even a pretense of a continental financial resource development effort (no training, no solicitation sweeps, no national campaigns, no Mission fund raising....no nothing); no longer is there a substantive, continuous community consulting effort; no longer a Speakers Bureau; no longer even a failing CEO Search effort...and on and on it goes, where it stops we all know -- at 25 Broadway. JFNA has been allowed to be stripped down to nothingness while its Dues continue....unaffected, unabated...as if JFNA were doing something for the fortune it receives annually...while Silverman cries poor while accepting his outrageous compensation...unashamed.

It's come to this: I look at the JFNA of today and that bloated non-entity conjures up the image in my mind of what a whale committing suicide must look like. This is the post-shame Jewish Federations of North America. Its Board is as Winston Churchill described his foes: "Sheep in sheep's clothing." Friends, the Hall of Fame Alabama football Coach, Nick Saban, challenges his teams: "How good do you want to be?" It's clear that JFNA would not/does not even understand the question.

If, as the management guru, Jimmy Collins, has written: "Good is the evil of great," how bad is the evil of mediocrity of failure baked into JFNA? At JFNA it's as if someone should just order the Code Red. One of my favorite columnists has observed: "You just can't teach failing at failing. You either have the gift or you don't" -- JFNA has "the gift of ailing...in spades."

I despair as never before. The organization has become so feckless, it has run out of "feck." Worthless, useless. In any successful organization you see building on success -- from small successes to great successes; but at JFNA any success (other than the work in Washington and episodes of disaster relief) is a one-off succeeded not by greater success but by folly and failure, Thus a so-called "reorganization" of the Young Leadership Cabinets (it was really nothing) is followed by a Yoga Weekend, great Missions of the past to Israel are eliminated with minor Missions to, e.g., a Leadership Mission to Argentina and Uruguay.

That is all but prologue. In the past months, crises and potential crises have confronted or will soon confront federations -- federations which, in the past, could have turned to the national system for advice and counsel. Today, given the void at 25 Broadway, created and now perpetuated by JFNA, the federations either turn inward, turn to another or are given the worst possible advice.
~ In New Jersey allegations of long-term sexual harassment and abuse by the Director of the communal camping effort were met head on and brilliantly by the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, Dov Ben-Shimon, who demanded, among other things, the immediate resignation of the entire Camp Board;
~ Within the Jewish Federation of St. Paul, a long-standing $3,000,000 account payable to the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee was written off by the community either in consultation with or at the direction of JFNA professional leaders with: (a) no prior consultation with JAFI/JDC whose funds were voided; (b) and no sense of communal responsibility -- the same lay leaders who decided the write-off remained in power. No sense of moral obligation; no outrage.
~ Just weeks ago, the Dallas community was confronted with a lawsuit against its Jewish Community Centers arising out of alleged sexual assault on a minor at a local J. If the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas believes that it is somehow insulated from claims in this instance, they would have to be unaware of what has happened elsewhere. I am certain that JFNA has offered no counsel.
I do have the strong sense that JFNA has cast the federations off; they are on their own. Send us the Dues, ask no questions, and we'll be fine. Do JFNA's officers understand that they serve the communities...or do they believe that federations should send JFNA their Dues...and, that's about it.

If you and your community like this, just keep semding the Dues, and ask no questions.

Perfect. Right?

Rwexler





Friday, May 17, 2019

IT IS FINGERHUT

As many of you were good enough to call and write yesterday, JFNA has annointed Former Congressman and the Hillel Chief Professional Officer, Eric Fingerhut, as its new CEO.

While it saddens me that the federation system apparently produced no viable candidate (and recall with me that no Federation CEO will admit to even interviewing for another position until such time as they might be the chosen one), we wish Fingerhut well.

Rwexler

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

INSTITUTIONAL INSANITY

Groveman, Dweck, Klinghoffer, Kieffer Leonard, Raskas, M. Levy, Bernstein, Rosen Adelman, Arbit, Barish, Braham, Feinberg, Weiss Firestone, Fishbein, Goldstein, Janks, Kleper, J. Levin, Wise Oreck, Pack, Riekes, Sandler, J. Schwartz, Shapira, S. Silverman, Silvers, Sterling, Turkel, Wilf, Zimmerman
I know all of these leaders, most personally; others by reputation -- leaders in their federations, leaders at JFNA; most of them committed to the work of the Jewish Agency -- and almost to a person, each and every one of them engaged in the work and leadership of the United Israel Appeal. 

After the January vote of the JFNA Board, on or about June 1, 2019 most of these communal leaders will receive a letter (if past is prologue, it will be a form letter) from Cindy Shapira, the incoming UIA Chair, telling them their services to UIA have been eliminated and, of course, "thanks" while announcing a "new" Board.

What Jewish communal organization has ever discharged 60% of its lay leadership not for exceeding Term limits set by its governance, but...for no reason whatsoever. Because that is what is happening at JFNA and UIA right now. The rationale for this Draconian action was, what? Efficiency? C'mon now...In the debates leading to this elimination of 60% of the UIA Board seats, JFNA leaders could not/would not respond to direct questions demanding how and how much "efficiency" would be achieved here. And, as you think about this, recall: UIA was fully performing pursuant its charge as this defenstration was imposed upon it. So, of course, fulfilling its operating principle, JFNA decided: if it ain't broke, break it. So JFNA.

"Efficiency" is not/will not be achieved by eliminating dedicated communal lay leaders from the UIA Board -- what was clearly the intent of the authors of these heinous acts was the elimination of the irritants among those who served as UIA Board members and the strange decision to vest much of UIA's work in the ever-failing JFNA_Israel. Just observe the names of those who shall become the next generation of UIA Board members and what their roles have been at JFNA...you will readily understand what the real motivation was for the elimination of 60% of the  UIA Board leadership because these lay leaders just "get in the way."

What communal organization does this kind of thing? What communal organization rationalizes the elimination of dedicated, mature lay leadership? What does this action tell you about JFNA and its leadership -- because this action is really about JFNA's top lay and professional leadership not about UIA's. And that JFNA lay and professional leadership --- those at the very top who engineered this fiasco -- have demonstrated once again how quickly and irrationally they pursue the next shiny objects in their field of vision, picking in this case low hanging fruit while ignoring the rot at the organization's very core.

Shame.

Rwexler



Friday, May 10, 2019

INSTITUTIONAL MEMORY, Z'L

Institutional memory is critical to institutional vitality, to institutional viability. To those who have none, to those who aren't interested; that very memory is an obstacle, a hindrance, to their personal vision of "change." In successful institutions, leaders rise inculcated with those institutional memories, the institutional values of what built the greatness -- the foundation, the building blocks for success. Those leaders -- leaders without either memory or any interest therein or, worst, dedicated to wipe out that memory -- have built their leadership on quicksand...and institutions die.

As Henny Youngman, z'l, might have said: "Take my JFNA...pleae." 

From its birth, JFNA's leaders -- post-merger, and as the institution "matured," for lack of a better term -- set about wilfully and expressly to destroy institutional memory while ignorant of institutional values, wherever and whenever they found them. At first a trickle -- the institution's Chair of the Executive removed his best and closest friend as Chair of Israel-Overseas -- "time for a change" or some such -- that trickle became a flood. Yes, some years later, a Board Chair with a newly-minted CEO who knew neither  the institutional history nor its values not only swept away the remaining leaders with institutional memory replacing them, wherever and whenever she could with "friends," but cared not that JFNA would thereby be significantly weakened. Those who opposed the Draconian removals were characterized as "obstructionist" and, of course, worse. 

Examples abound. Whether the predecessor organization was the Council of Jewish Federations, the United Jewish Appeal or, most recently, the United Israel Appeal, each was the embodiment of collective action, a core value on which our system was built: JFNA, though created to enhance our collective response, has become an actor in its deconstruction. Examples abound, but the most significant was in the construction of the aborted Global Planning Table, the multi-million dollar fiasco that was the GPT.

As drafted, the authors of the GPT realizing that the system qua system had no appetite for what was being proposed for funding, so they just walked away from collective action opting instead for something called "coalitions of the willing." Federations could choose to join together in the funding and operation of a chosen "strategic initiative." JFNA was nothing more than a benign presence, having no substantive FRD function, it was what it had become over the "Silverman decade" -- a financial mailbox awaiting envelopes. And, federation leaders pointed to the potential systemic devastation that might occur -- and, then, they voted for it. 

Of course, the GPT failed -- terribly conceived, impossible of explanation, a paradigm for the wasteland that JFNA had become. And, after unaccounted for millions had been thrown at, wasted by the GPT, then JFNA Board Chair Michael Siegal ordered it collapsed (but not before his poredecessor had appointed herself GPT Chair). The damage had been done -- for not since the Global Planning Table was deep-sixed has JFNA engaged in the collective enterprise on which it was premised in such large measure.

For years now, it seems, I have challenged JFNA's leaders to articulate the organization's purpose, its focus. Recently, on the jewishpalmbeach Mosaic program, this is what we could watch and hear: mosaic: The Future of Jewish Philanthropy - YouTubehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z44j8T5-X80  It's worth watching: perhaps you will discern purpose and focus.

Institutional memory has been destroyed. There is no interest in restoring it or even giving it a decent burial.

Rwexler

Monday, May 6, 2019

WHAT RUMORS?

Many of you have asked me what rumors I have heard about the Search for a successor to Gerald Silverman. The answer: many. All rumors. 

I am not comfortable naming names, my friends, for fear that seeing names on these pages could cause the best of those to be eliminated out in a fit of pique by the Search Chair. If you go as far back as the Search that hatched Jerry, I have consistently refrained from premature disclosure hoping against hope that the Search process could produce the best leader. I was wrong then.

So I have, as have many of you, heard the names of three federation chief executives who are/were/will be finalists; each of whom has demonstrated an understanding of the federation system, all of whom have served their communities with creativity and at least two of whom have demonstrable and consistent results. And, let me say this: any one of them would be better, far better, than the sorry situation we have now.

And, as you would expect, senior JFNA professionals appear to be in the mix as well. 

I have also heard that one national agency professional leader has made the finals. Best I can tell, a fine person, a fine leader and one who has no experience with the complexities federations face today or any first hand knowledge of the challenges our communities and our national and international organizations are facing. One thing any of us who have watched JFNA crater over the last decade no for certain: Jerry's almost decade-long example proves absolutely that JFNA is no place for learning on the job. 

A recollection: in 1999 I was among those asked to interview and prepare those that the then Newco (now JFNA) leaders wished to consider as the merged organization's first CEO. Dan Shapiro, the incredible Council of Jewish Federations lay leader, and I sat for over two hours with the brilliant CEO of one of the national agencies. We explained the place of federations in the communal system and the complexities of the organization that would emerge in a matter of months. As we had with other interviewees, we explored the umbrella leadership that would be expected of the new entity. It appeared to Dan and I that this terrific pro was evaluating the complexities of a system with which he was barely familiar when the "candidate" said: "Guys, thank you so much for this. This is overwhelming. I would only want a position like this if I could hit the ground running and I see no way to do so." We hugged and moved on. 

Almost 10 years ago, that parallel process resulted in...Jerry Silverman.

This is just those one of those times to reflect and act upon Santayana's reminder that: who don't remember the past are doomed to repeat it. Sadly, the leaders of JFNA have over the years tried, with perhaps their only "success," to erase institutional memory -- as recently as in the fiasco of the deconstruction of the United Israel Appeal. Now, the obvious question is: have these leaders learned anything at all from the errors of the past? A.N.Y.T.H.I.N.G?

I suppose it is past time for me to admit that any hope for organizational transformational change in the best interests of the federation system has passed. Even the slim hopes for incremental change appear to have passed as well as the baked-in leadership have proved to have no appetite for standing up for principle or progress in any meaningful way. 

As they say: #sad.

Rwexler

Thursday, May 2, 2019

STANDING TALL? STANDING AT ALL?

On April 10, JTA published an article, https://www.jta.org/quick-reads/liberal-streams-adl-not-on-white-house-list-for-pertinent-meeting-with-jewish-leaders, disclosing that, among other things, while neither the mainstream religious movements in the United States -- Reform, Reconstruction or Conservative -- were invited to a White House meeting with President Trump and his advisers, JFNA was among the organizations  invited. Compounding the exclusions, JFNA's newest "partner" in the Secure Community Network, the ADL, was also uninvited.

After the conclave, JNS reported:
"The meeting was a 'feel good thing where the administration's support for Israel' was celebrated, an attendee told JNS."
How nice that JFNA was there!! 

I was sitting at my computer trying to determine how best to approach this thing when I heard from a wonderful friend, a great and dedicated professional, a mentor. Here is what he wrote:
"I had just noted your comments about some kind of special new relationship between ADL and JFNA....then I saw this story about the White House convening a meeting without ADL and, more significantly, without representation of the Reform, Conservative and Reconstruction movements, which reflect the affiliations and practices of most American Jews. Am I  correct that this is a missed opportunity for an organization like JFNA to assert real national leadership?"
" One alternative would be to lead a boycott of such a meeting and just leave it to the three invited Orthodox organizations and Mort Klein to attend. Another, less militant, alternative would be to take the lead in a strong statement on behalf of all the others (with the likely exception of those just mentioned) expressing concern and dismay that the leadership of our country has made a decision to exclude the most prominent and heavily supported Jewish defense organization and, on the eve of Passover, the most representative religious streams in the American Jewish community. Shouldn't we all hate it that folks are passive in the face of such behavior? Where is the outrage?"
Of course we know that no one at JFNA thought about any of these options because that's not what they do. What they do is jump at an invitation to the White House -- it's all about the photo ops, the "I was there." To these leaders, invitations like these are some form of faux "validation" -- "see how important we are?" 

Yes, as to JFNA, as we say about others: "they never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."

My friends, there is never any outrage.

Never.

Rwexler



Sunday, April 28, 2019

RENDERED SPEECHLESS

I had thought that one of the primary functions and responsibilities of JPRO, the Jewish Professionals own organization, was to protect and enhance the cadre of Jewish professionals at every level. Apparently I was wrong.

Friends in the profession sent me this amazing (not in a good way) announcement:
"The Mandelkorn Award for Distinguished Service recognizes individuals who have made significant and enduring contributions in the field of Jewish community organization practice. This year's recipients are Rabbi B. Elka Abrahamson, President of the Wexner Foundation, and Gerald ("Jerry") Silverman..."
JPRO could not have chosen a more distinguished recipient than Rabbi Abrahamson. 

Here is what one fantastic community professional wrote me about the other recipient: "No words." Others expressed how "flabbergasted" they were; another: 
"Can you believe that Silverman was given this award? Ben Mandelkorn must be rolling over in his grave."
 Another said he was considering returning the Mandelkorn Award that he had received years earlier. And another wrote of his "anger, frustration and betrayal," while one FOB wrote that "this would be the equivalent of handing The National Enquirer the Pulitzer."

To a person, the professionals who have written or called me to express their disgust and disbelief to a person have identified Jerry Silverman as undeserving of this honor as one has done more to debase the profession than anyone in their memory. Many of those who communicated with me were past Mandelkorn Award winners.

Perhaps the "Award Committee" was unaware that after Silverman's hiring as JFNA CEO, JFNA's designated in-house Search functionaries were telling federation CEO applicants that they were "prioritizing" those from outside the system over those with federation experience. Why? Because the "Jerry model" was to become primary...until failure became self-evident. The point: the profession was being systematically diminished, from the inside. Now?

This Award to this recipient is as inexplicable as was Silverman's hiring compounded by the extension granted him at the end of his first term. I assume that the Mandelkorn Award Committee was under tremendous pressure to grant Jerry the Award. There can be no other explanation. In tract, not even that is an explanation.

Because There Is None.

Rwexler

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

THE INMATES

If anyone thought that with Jerry Silverman's announced "retirement," we would somehow see real change at JFNA, we were kidding ourselves. No, it's business...bad business...at 25 Broadway with now the reality that the inmates are running the institution...running it further into the ground.

There are many examples; allow me to focus on just a few as they tie together failures across the board -- Missions, the Tel Aviv GA, and JFNA FRD -- and present these failures in their stark realities. The saddest failure is like an alcoholic who refuses AA, JFNA leadership cannot come to understand its own self-created defenestration.

There has been no acknowledgement that somethings tectonic has occurred: the decay, the rot that appear inexorable at 25 Broadway. At JFNA, fiduciary duty is ignored on every possible occasion -- ignored by the most senior lay and professional leaders, by the JFNA Executive Committee and by the JFNA Board. In fact, based upon all of the evidence, there is a lack of any understanding of what fiduciary means, what it is and what it is supposed to be.

As we have been aware, JFNA leaders engaged a Consultant. with no evident experience in FederationLand to conduct an outrageously expensive study of JFNA. (we speculated on these pages that what was really needed was to engage a Management Consultant to examine JFNA's mismanagement and make recommendations, not some predictably open-ended consultancy...but never mind). 

I have been, as disclosed on these pages, appropriately admonished for revealing some of the Consultant's findings that reflected especially badly on the JFNA of today and of the past decade, at least. No doubt The Bridgespan Group has been retained for further study. At this point, my friends, the real question must be, as it has been: does JFNA's leadership have the will, the interest, the real courage to face the realities disclosed by its own consultants and the will, the interest and the courage to do something about it.

These questions must be answered by Mark Wilf --  who came to his Board Chair position unencumbered with the burden of JFNA's failures that weigh down all of the other lay leaders who have been "promoted" from position to position without regard for the disasters that they wilfully ignored as they worked their way up the JFNA leadership ladder.  

Meanwhile, Silverman sits, the lamest of lame ducks, drawing his egregious salary; now including JFNA FRD under his broken wing -- since Brian Abrahams left, what has anyone seen of JFNA FRD? You know, that on which JFNA allegedly expends 1/2 of its Budget? FRD, like JFNA-Global Operations, like JFNA itself, rendered irrelevant.

If Mark Wilf, now into the six month of his first term, doesn't step up and  step forward now, his time in leadership will echo that of his predecessor's three years. What a terrible waste that would be.

Rwexler

Saturday, April 20, 2019

I WAS BLIND, BUT NOW I SEE

The headline in Haaretz blared: Jewish Agency Announces Biggest Cutbacks in its 90-yeaHistory. Judy Maltz reported:
"An ongoing decline in donations from major Jewish philanthropies overseas made the cutbacks necessary, according to senior sources at the Agency. The Jewish Federations of North America, its single largest donor, has reduced its annual allocations to the Agency dramatically in recent years." (Italics added)
Of course, we have been reporting on the Draconian cuts in Federation allocations through JFNA for years while decrying JFNA's lack of effort to stabilize, if not increase, the allocations to JAFI, JDC and WorldORT. Today, JAFI has a leader who is willing to call it for  what it is -- our failure.

One must applaud the JAFI Chair of the Executive, Bougie Herzog, for facing the realities created by JFNA's and the  Federations' essential abandonment of their historic overseas responsibilities. Now, what will he and Jewish Agency leadership do about this? Isn't it time to substitute the phony and constant public mantra of "thank you" to JFNA and Keren Ha'Yesod with a frank discussion of the continuing failures of federation responsibilities to its overseas partners. 

Readers may recall that but a few years ago, the United Israel Appeal initiated a new and vigorous advocacy effort which met with some unexpected initial success.  So it came to pass that JFNA demanded that UIA cease and desist -- and without a peep, without pushback, UIA's Board Chair, apparently wishing not to resist, acquiesced. JFNA-Israel then began its own advocacy "effort" which, the results being the best evidence of JFNA's lack of any commitment to overseas advocacy, died of disinterest -- the only forays into advocacy being then JFNA-Israel's lay chair's visit to a few, very few, federations. There was to be no commitment and no results. David Brown's successor (David has moved on to the position of JFNA National Campaign Chair) appears to have no interest in even carryiong on this minimal effort.

At one and the same time as failure built upon failure, the JDC was engaged in its own efforts, advocating for itself to increase its share of the overseas allocation (the infamous "split") rather than advocating with JAFI for an overall larger share of federation campaign funds raised. (In the early 2000's I met with JAFI and JDC leadership to urge a joint allocations advocacy effort for just such a hoped-for increase in the overseas allocation. JAFI leadership quickly agreed; the Joint leaders expressed the sense, not unwarranted, that allocations advocacy remained JFNA's responsibility and that that futile organization should be accountable.)

And, here we are: JAFI cutting program and reducing its workforce by close to 10% is but the tip of the iceberg. JFNA and the federations continue to believe that they are entitled to absolute influence in JAFI's work, in its programs and in its budget for no other reason than the sense of entitlement that they always have. 

There is no acknowledgement that allocations to the core budget of the Jewish Agency have been cut by $100,000,000 -- that's $100 MILLION -- since the formation of JFNA. It is true that over these two decades Federation annual campaigns have been in stasis (while at the same time Federation endowments have increased by billions) -- and that stasis has not seen a renewed effort to boost the annual campaigns; rather that stasis has been the catalyst for communities to treat the overseas allocations like a large ATM.

Now, JFNA, having abandoned even the pretext of commitment to overseas needs has recommended that JAFI and the Joint lead any advocacy effort. (DUH?!)  Thereby, JFNA has walked away from any and all efforts to exercise any moral responsibility.

As we have noted before: if they were capable of shame, they would be ashamed.

Rwexler

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

BUSINESS AS USUAL

In early April JFNA and its brand new "partner," the ADL, announced a "joint venture" between the JFNA-Conference of Presidents Secure Community Network "...to enhance the safety, security and resiliency of religious communities." This sounds like an excellent idea with the announced leadership of two former Secretaries of the Department of Homeland Security as Co-Chairs.

What went unmentioned (of course) in the accolades and self-congratulatory messages was the financial history of the Secure Community Network (the "SCN") since 2004. For at its birth, the federations which voted to establish this critical entity sought one certain commitment. I remember the JFNA Board meeting discussion as if it were yesterday.

The federations agreed to fund the SCN through JFNA on the express condition that JFNA would fold the SCN Budget into its own after two years. This demand was made by John Ruskay, then the CEO of the New York UJA-Federation. The response -- "of course, we will." And, then, as baked into JFNA's culture as you would expect, after JFNA absorbed the small Budget, it suddenly could no longer do so. The Conference of Presidents certainly wasn't going to find the funds to do so, so the SCN was, like all of the National Agencies, cast off to go search for funds itself.

The SCN, among the highest priorities of the federation system was and has remained underfunded. JFNA was happy to grab the kavod, but that was it.

Now, the SCN has named these two renowned lay leaders as Co-Chairs, it has retained a superb and aggressive chief development officers (where will funds come to pay him?), and an expert staff. Sadly, JFNA once again dropped the ball, distracted by shiny objects...all objects.

If you return with me to 2006, just two years after JFNA commited to absorb the SCN Budget into its own, no one rose to challenge JFNA's refusal to do so. Security, one of the highest priorities of the system, became a budget irritant to JFNA which perpetuated its faux ownership while walking away fro its funding obligations. 

And, now, JFNA enters into a partnership with ADL. Good luck to ADL. And, what happened to that "partnership" with the Conference of Presidents? Who the hell knows?

Just another negative paradigm for JFNA, which never looks back as it never looks forward.

Rwexler