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


Friday, April 12, 2019

WHO WILL MAKE IT WORK?

...and the mess is so big, so deep and so tall,                                                                we can't pick it up, there's no way at all
No, Dr. Seuss wasn't referencing JFNA, but the good doctor could have been.

I keep hoping against hope that change would at least be in the air at 25 Broadway, but that has become nothing more than waiting for monkeys to start typing Shakespeare. In fact, there is not even a dead cat bounce in JFNA as it continues to be distracted by shiny objects like the recent evisceration of UIA embraced blindly and passionately by its leaders.

JFNA, as we know, is the gift that keeps on taking. So long as federations are willing to just send on Dues for which the return is minimal approaching non-existent, doing so either unquestioning or hiding the Dues from its donors behind the camouflage of the overseas allocation, change will never happen. Yes, JFNA, conceived with great hope approaching expectation now appears to be less a continental umbrella of the Federation system than it does a House of Cards. JFNA is the organizational equivalent of the Japanese finger trap (think about it!!)

In my own leadership time, a group of young leaders -- the "Young Turks" -- demanded a seat at the national table; they demanded change. And they succeeded. They offered a model of what could happen; JFNA is a place designed to assure that real change will not happen. Those Young Turks proved that a group of leaders can withstand and overcome the forces of conformity. Eem tirtzu ein zu agada. Instead -- a spa weekend.

JFNA Board meetings have become (always were?) nothing more than Kabuki Theater. There is an implicit, an unspoken, demand for unanimity -- vote with us, support our demands, never question -- otherwise one runs the risk of being cast out to the wilderness. I am reminded of the description of the great leader, Daniel Patrick Moynihan:
"In unanimity one often finds a lack of rigorous thinking."
 Yet we have an organization that demands unanimity, appears always to be offended by dissent. And, those who do not question, like cream, rise to the top. Just look at those in leadership roles at JFNA today; other than Mark Wilf, who rose to Board Chair because of his unique generosity and his leadership bio, the rest, fine people all to be sure, rose by the quality and depth of their obsequity and their undeniable willingness to accept any and every assignment.

And, what does this continuing wash, rinse, repeat leadership cycle do? It effectively freezes out young aspiring leaders from their own leadership roles. It's really shameful that leaders cannot be found who, after their own service, will step aside and open doors for the next generation. I guess they are not asked to move aside, instead only: "What job would you want next?" Success in their prior position? Not required. Just make no waves for the pros and continuously kiss up to those who will determine that next position. 

This is a formula for mediocrity my friends...and it is baked into the JFNA cake. 

Rwexler


Monday, April 8, 2019

HAS TRIBE FESTIVUS RETURNED?

As this arrived on my email on March 20, I first assumed in was a brilliant Purim shpiel. It wasn't.

This speaks for itself...or, perhaps, it doesn't:



"Chevre,
Its official…Cabinet Calm is coming to Estancia La Jolla!!!!  Join us for a weekend of mindfulness and wellness in Southern California!!! Spouses and alumni are encouraged to attend.
Dates - Thursday, May 30-Sunday, June 2.
Registration Cost - $600/person (not including the hotel room) payable to Lindsay Sasha David via Venmo or PayPal (email - wiwizzy18@gmail.com).  Registration includes – breakfast all three mornings, two lunches, cocktail hours all three evenings and Shabbat Dinner.  The program will include fitness/wellness activities as well as group meditations.
Please contact the hotel directly to book a room in the block.  We have a discounted room rate with a discounted resort fee. Hotel rooms must be booked by April 29, 2019 to get into the room block.
RSVP directly to Lindsay Sasha David to confirm your interest or if you’d like to learn more about the program.
See you in La Jolla! #lsdproduction
I am so old that I remember the days when the Young Leadership Cabinet was engaged in substance; when it stood for something...oh, the hell with it.

I'm speechless.

Rwexler


Thursday, April 4, 2019

#THE SADDEST

A wonderful friend who has achieved great things as a communal professional in our system, recently wrote me:
"I had an idea I wanted to share with JFNA but realized that there is no one there to share it with and also that it wouldn't matter anyway. So sad!!"
 The saddest commentary.

Nothing more need be said about an organization needing the prompt burial it has well earned with your money..

Rwexler


Monday, April 1, 2019

VISITING ISRAEL? NOT US...

JFNA-Israel and Overseas now is in continuous self-promotion...of nothing. One of its efforts is a monthly "Top 5" in something called I & O News. This month, the Number 1 thing, ahead of the Israeli election, was:

1. Mission to India, happening now.
The PMC /KDS mission to India is just wrapping up, after months of planning  and preparation – early reports confirm that it’s proving to be a once in a lifetime adventure for all those participating.  This backgrounder on the Jewish Community in India gives a snapshot into India’s Jewish history and community, including the Kolkuta community’s Magen David synagogue.
This used to be the Mission annually when under the auspices of the United Jewish Appeal, z'l, always with an Israel component. That self-created requirement ended in 2007, a Mission which David Fisher, JFNA's Campaign Chair, and I led to Paris and Israel. Now, we head to places like New Delhi and Mumbai without a thought to going to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

The invitation to the travel experience suggests just what was expected:
"Join us and truly experience India by turning your Jewish values into action and healing the world."
Huh? How? What?

The first four days of this thing don't even bother to reference a single Jewish or Jewish-related activity -- but plenty of time for shopping, "(getting) ready to bargain at the famed Palika Bazaar," and travel to Agra and Mumbai. Anyway, the final day (that's Day 8 in India, BTW), is titled "Life in a Slum."

To JFNA, Israel has become "played out" for its most major donors. And, yet: for JNF-USA*
10s of Missions are traveling to Israel, experiencing the land and the people and JNF's projects in which their Mission participants are directly invested...or will be. How is that possible? It's because JNF-USA is focused on its work and its Mission. JFNA, not. Not at all.

Perhaps one or two of the participants on this JFNA most major gifts Mission actually asked: "What the hell are we doing here?"

Hate as I do to hearken back to the days of yore, as you know, during my time in Israel there was always a core group of wonderful leaders from across the country who formed the core group for the Prime Minister's Missions -- they just enjoyed being together in Israel. Each year we would recruit a willing crowd; often Chicago leaders were in the forefront. Mark Wilf will remember those days when his Dad, Joe, z'l, would join other UJA leaders time and time again; emotional, joyful, ending each Mission at the Prime Minister's Residence (that's the Prime Minister of Israel, not India) to proudly announce the results of our Caucus.

Obviously...not any more. Maybe that should be JFNA's tagline...Not any more.


Rwexler

* For those of you, my readers, who have been paying attention, JNF-USA has engaged me as a Major Gifts Consultant for its incredible Beer Sheva Campus project.






Thursday, March 28, 2019

DISTRACTED

Perhaps one of you has an answer to the simple and almost daily question: Where's JFNA?  We have all seen how easily distracted they've become what with the Israeli elections, an important Mission to...India, and, well, everything else.

But let me take you back just a few years, to the last Jerusalem General Assembly, the annual soporific event even when transferred to the streets of Yerushalayim. Oh, yes, to the streets. In an expression of "total solidarity" with "Women of the Wall," CEO Silverman called for a major walk/parade/march on those very streets, apparently expecting the entirety of sorry crew of attendees to hit the pavement and walk to the Kotel. Attendance was so poor, Jerry and his staff were pleading with folks along the way to join the parade; few did. The point of that faux March was simple -- JFNA wrapped itself in the tallitot of the Women of the Wall, promised eternal fealty to them and pledged, if not in words in deeds, to be at the forefront in the quest for equal access to the Kotel as part of its civil society commitment.

The next step? The Egalitarian Prayer Space at the Kotel. Of course, JFNA did nothing but offer its unequivocal support to Natan Sharansky's efforts to bring all parties together -- and no organization could match JFNA's when it came (1) to taking credit for the Prime Minister's and his Cabinet's agreement to support the space, the egalitarian management of the space; and (2) leading the shrei when the PM breached the same agreement...and, that was all. If the Women of the Wall expected continued support for their efforts from JFNA and its leaders, it was looking at a different organization than the one with which we have become so familiar; you know, the one that cannot concentrate, cannot achieve (unless one passes off failure as success) and is immediately distracted by the next shiny object.

Just weeks ago, the Women of the Wall were savagely attacked as they went forward with a planned demonstration at the Kotel; savagely attacked by hundreds and more ultra-orthodox students, mainly women and girls, organized with malice aforethought. No police intervention, just a criminal assault. The outcry from the Women of the Wall, the RAC, the Conservative and Reform Movements was loud, clear and to the point -- this was the most intolerable demonstration of intolerance in a history of same. (Kal ha'kavod o Judy Maltz for her superb reporting in Haaretz on this matter.)

And JFNA...where was JFNA? Where was its impotent JFNA-Israel? Where was the lamest of ducks, its CEO? I'm guessing "monitoring the situation." (If past is prologue, I expect that by the time this is published, wewill have received a summary of Israeli newspaper articles on the "situation" over Becky Caspi's signature.) Where are those donors to JFNA's I-Rep, the surviving remnant of the now-buried Global Planning Table, urging, demanding that JFNA take a public stand?

Once again, JFNA cannot bring itself to utter even a word of condemnation of the physical violence to which the Women of the Wall and their supporters were subjected; to the GOI's and the Prime Minister's apparent total indifference (yeah, yeah, yeah, there's an election, yada yada yada). Intolerable. 

And yet...and, yet...when the Israeli Culture Minister announced that Diaspora Jews would not be lighting a torch at the national Yom Ha'Atzmaut celebration, Federation leaders joined Bougie Herzog and the Jewish Agency in an "angry letter"...and that decision was reversed. What should JFNA learn from this? Anything? Anything at all?

Isn't it time to pull the curtain and just say...enough?

Rwexler


Sunday, March 24, 2019

COULD WE JUST THROW A PARTY AND SAY "BUH-BYE?"

On Monday, March 4, 2019, the New York Times published an article about one Chris Grayling, Britain's beleaguered and totally inept Minister of Transportation. One observer of Grayling's flops -- his nickname is "Failing Grayling" -- commented:
"If anyone was to read the most rudimentary audit about the effects of his time in office on the things he is supposed to be running, he'd have been out years ago."
To which I would add -- Jerry Silverman.

I will not repeat -- for the umpteenth time at least -- a recitation of JFNA's failures under its faux CEO over what is now approaching a decade of ineptitude other than to remind all of us of one critical event: after 4 years on the job, finding he lacked lay leader support to replace Jerry, then Board Chair Michael Siegal did that which he could do: he relieved Jerry of his management responsibilities, foisted Mark Gurvis on him (and us) as COO -- while Silverman's compensation remained the same, later to be increased when his contract was extended for a second term.

Remember: one of the CEO's most major job responsibilities was management -- at least 1/2 of the job if not more -- were taken from him, given to another while his compensation remained the same or increased. And this decision was followed by a five year contract extension. 

Un-f'ing believable.

So, Jerry became nothing more that the "face of JFNA" -- a position that redefined and severely delimited the CEO job. A default position because the lay leadership realized he could not do the job for which he was hired; something that should have been evident from the first #ish, from the first failed TribeFest (of three!!!), from the beginning.

But, no. Instead, the organization has lavished/wasted, by my count, over $6,000,000 in compensation on this CEO; with the most de minimis return on investment. And, other than  Michael Siegal's courageous attempts, the laity played "let's pretend" -- yes, pretending that Jerry was actually adding value to JFNA's work. In fact, when Siegal announced the extension of his contract, Michael was unable to list a single substantive accomplishment, suggesting only that the next five years would somehow yield results unachieved in the first five. A pipe dream.

And, here we are. We have known for six months that Jerry's contract has not been extended. A fine Search firm has been hired, a Search Committee formed (Chaired by JFNA's immediate Past Chair, Richard Sandler, a fine man but whose vision of the role of the lay leader in the sacred lay-professional partnership is that of cheerleader) and populated with experienced lay leadership; a Job Description broadcast far and wide. And, that's all fine; yet, Silverman still sits on his throne, apparently the lamest of lame ducks.

Meanwhile, JFNA is in stasis; as it has been. Isn't it time to just celebrate Jerry's version of leadership and send him home with a check and a gold watch? Enough of this.

Rwexler




Wednesday, March 20, 2019

IN THE LAND OF AD HOCDOM....

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

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

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

Take a look:

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

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

Rwexler