Monday, October 21, 2019

IS THIS PROGRESS?


I can't tell you how many times I have visited Chicago's Museum of Science and Industry -- for a decade we lived in Hyde Park just blocks from the Museum and were there so often with our children; then later in life, our grandchildren. I remember as a teenager being there when the U-505 German submarine was floated across Lake Michigan, then across South Shore Drive to become a permanent exhibit. And, while in law school, I worked mornings for an urban planning firm whose offices were in the bowels of the Museum. 

Bottom line, I love the Museum as does anyone who has ever visited there. I assume that includes a large number of you.

So, I was struck by a Chicago Tribune article Museum of Science and Industry to get new name...It seems that Kenneth Griffin, co-founder of the amazingly successful hedge-fund Citadel, and one of the great philanthropists, whose Charitable Fund had already distributed over $1 billion to charities, had pledged $125 million to the Museum which change its name to the Kenneth C. Griffin Museum of Science and Industry.

One correspondent to Crain's Chicago Business put it succinctly:
"Leave museum's name alone Kudos to Ken Griffin for donating so generously to such a worthy and important institution...But the name change is just wrong. Name a wing after him. Heck, put a bug statue of him out front, but the museum name should be unchanged.
If Julius Rosenwald -- whose name should be plastered all over this city for the great public work he did -- didn't need his name on it when he helped create it, Griffin doesn't need his for helping to keep it going for another 100 years." (italics added)
The original Museum structure was the Palace of Fine Arts from the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition. The Museum was initially endowed by the father of Chicago Jewish philanthropy, Julius Rosenwald who who pledged $3 million and also recruited the Commercial Club of Chicago for further financial support supplementing municipal bond funds. Rosenwald refused offers to have the Museum named for him even as the public often called it the Rosenwald Industrial Museum.

Of interest, the Apollo 8 spacecraft is housed in Henry Crown Space Center, named for the patriarch of the Crown Family, models of generosity and philanthropy worldwide. And, there is now a Rosenwald Room, which would no doubt infuriate Julius Rosenwald were he still with us.

Griffin's incredible gift may have been conditioned on the Museum's renaming. For a $135 million gift, certainly Ken Griffin purchased the naming rights -- if he didn't ask for them, the Museum was wise to offer the honor. 

Rosenwald continues to inspire Jewish and secular philanthropy in Chicago. Griffin's modern philanthropy likewise. When I next visit the Museum with my grandchildren, I will remember Julius Rosenwald no matter the naming.

Rwexler




Thursday, October 17, 2019

SHHHHH...

Chag Sukkot Sameach.

A curious Forward Op-Ed has been circulating recently --https://forward.com/opinion/432684/for-gods-sake-stop-preaching-politics-from-the-pulpit/ -- in certain circles this thing has gained a certain enthusiastic support. It seems that the author has also written such drivel as Give Trump the Benefit of the Doubt, You Give It to Democrats All the Time and No, Orthodox Jews Are Not White Supremacists -- and Neither is Trump. I think you can pretty much deduce this guy's political leanings. In fact, uf I might speculate for a moment, I'm guessing that those who endorse the "stop preaching politics" plea would not object to preaching politics if the message was supportive of President Trump -- just a guess.

You can link to the Op-Ed if you wish but you can probably also deduce the author's slant, can't you? He wants all Rabbis who might espouse positions that he opposes should just stop it. You see, the author has identified these...these miscreants...as Reform Rabbis.  If you follow his "reasoning," you have to conclude, as did this guy "that anyone who doesn't share their politics has no place in their congregation." This, of course, is specious. 

I love it when my Rabbis challenge me with their opinions; I would hope that most congregational Jews do, Reformed, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstruction, it should make no difference. The topics may range from religious practice to social justice even what some might characterize as "political." 

But the opinions expressed in the Op-Ed are those of the Managing Director, the Coalition for Jewish Values, Rabbi Yaakov Menken. If you visit this Coalition's website you will find that the CJV (yes, so important that it can self-identify as an acronym):
"... begins from the premise that something can be called an authentic Jewish value only if it is rooted in Biblical and Rabbinic teachings through millennia of Jewish history. Neither spurious references to “Tikkun Olam” nor the use of Biblical verses plucked out of context transform personal views into Jewish tenets."
Wow!! If this be a statement of "Jewish values," I have wholly failed to practice them my whole life. And if you read the position statements of the CJV you will find their version of "values" to be anything done or articulated by President Trump...anything and everything.

And, you should know that Rabbi Menken, who appears to not be a pulpit, congregational Rabbi, has done some important work in Jewish outreach and Torah teaching. I will leave it to you whether to include the CJV in any list of the esteemed Rabbi's achievements.

Now I think that the "over 1,000 Rabbis" (unnamed) whom CJV claims that it represents are entitled to their opinions and they should be free to express them through the organization or from their pulpits (if they have them).

Yes, these unidentified Rabbis should express their opinions freely, just don't try to shut up Rabbis with whom they disagree.

Rwexler

Thursday, October 10, 2019

TERM LIMITS?

Just a few years ago, the Jewish Agency for Israel amended its governance documents to, among so many other things, enacted term limits for the first time in its history. A year or so later, one prominent philanthropist among many Board members received a letter from the Board Chair advising him/her that his/her service on the Board (and, as it happened, on the JAFI Executive). That leader accepted that he/she would no longer serve on the Board but demanded that his/her service on the JAFI Executive continue -- apparently forever. So it came to pass, that, a few weeks later, the Secretary General sent this leader a letter confirming that his/her service on JAFI's most important deliberative body would continue -- the letter expressly stated, without any legal basis, that service on the Executive was in personam.

I liked that rationale very much and, so, inasmuch as I, too, had been cast off because of Term limits from the JAFI  Board and Executive, I wrote the Secretary General asserting that I, too, would continue to sit on the Executive. No, the Secretary General wrote back essentially stating: that this other leader was special, you're not. I couldn't disagree with that excellent legal argument.

I merely note that Term Limits at JAFI appear to apply only to North American Board members -- my friends from Keren Ha'Yesod, among them so many exceptional leaders,  continue to serve on the JAFI Board in perpetuity it appears. (I could also note that KH is raising/allocating almost no significant funds for JAFI but given the dismal state of federation allocations to the Agency, that probably wouldn't be fair -- accurate, yes, but unfair.) 

I suppose that were Board service to include a sense of obligation to the organization rather than to personal aspiration or to fealty to those lay and professional leaders in power, I might feel differently about Term limits. But, what we have seen, in too many places, is the opposite -- those who know better doing their worst in pursuit of ingratiation with the powers that be or in pursuit of higher office or in the desire to be seen as a "team player." "Team player" in this context means responding to a leadership demand to "jump" with a "how high?" response.

For an exc ellent discussion of Term Limits, see: https://www.forpurposelaw.com/charity-board-term-limits-best-practice/

And, it's not just lay leaders who ought to debate their own Term Limits; they should be debating chief professional term limits as well. From 45 years of practicing zoning law, I came to the conclusions that municipal professionals should be limited to five years of consecutive service after which they should be required to take a one year hiatus to work for those who require municipal approvals. What they would learn!! (Of course these musings were going on only in my head.) 

I, as you, recognize that non-profit professionals represent organizational continuity, as they should, But this reality should not restrict constant evaluation at the very least, and annual Board-adopted goal statements against which that continuity must be measured.

My great respect for non-profit professionals notwithstanding, I have seen what can happen when some -- a relative handful to be sure -- have been in place for what turned out to be too long. I remember way back when visiting a community with a long, long serving CEO. I met with the lay leadership and when I told them of $100s of thousands in unpaid allocations, they were shocked, knew nothing about it. Then, just last year the St. Paul federation board members were unaware of a similar unpaid debt to JAFI and JDC hidden from the laity by a CEO who had recently retired. Over the last decade, some local communal agencies in New York City -- most notoriously, FEGS -- discovered huge losses were likewise occasioned by long-time professional "leaders" and Boards failing in their agency oversight responsibilities.

in this season of introspection, Term Limits should be a discussion among all non-profits. 

It won't be.

Rwexler

Sunday, October 6, 2019

BEYOND BELIEF

On September 23, Chicago's Crain's Chicago Business headlined Rabbi accused of defrauding Holocaust survivor, other investors, settles Ponzi scheme charges. This Rabbi settled claims that he and a business partner has "...operated a Ponzi scheme that triggered a $145 million default. It turns out, as Crain's reported, this Rabbi and his associates were still negotiating the amount of their restitution and civil penalties.

The fact that this Ponzi scheme blew up, that at least one Holocaust survivor was among the victims along with countless others, is reprehensible. More so was this quote attributable to the Rabbi's attorney with regard to the settlement of two civil suits:
"It was the right thing to do. In the Jewish Orthodox community, that's what we aim for...There's a higher authority that needs to be answered."
Leave one speechless, doesn't it?

Rwexler

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

MISSIONS, ISRAEL AND...PUTIN??

Sometimes one has to just scratch one's head (or bang it against wall or tabletop) in wonder, amazement and shame. Our Post on New York UJA's choice of Japan as a Mission venue -- HUH? -- where participants can experience "the impact of (New York) UJA's global work" inspired a number of incisive Comments that, if you haven't, are must reading. 

One of you, under what I assumed was a nom de plume, shared a Shmuely Botech op-ed questioning why Keren Ha'Yesod was honoring Vladimir Putin. An excellent question. Boteach apparently did not realize that this Mission was, in fact, the historic ILR -- the International Leadership Reunion -- a "joint effort" of KH and the Jewish Federations of North America to bring together the mega-donors to our communal efforts world-wide. See, www.ilr2019.com The ILR was originated decades ago under the sponsorship of the United Jewish Appeal and KH and held every few years. 

Honoring Putin, the Russian "President"/dictator who supports Iran and Syria among other outlaw nations and undeniably doirected interference in not just the 2016 election here and in countless other countries as well, is understandable only if the Jewish leadership of Russia let it be known that "this will help us." Better yet, the ILR needed to be in Israel where these most major donors might have had a positive and direct impact on Israel-Diaspora relations. But...no.

Honoring Putin at a major Jewish event reminded me of an almost catastrophic mistake shortly after the merger that created what is now JFNA. (I cannot remember the exact event, but it might have been planned for an ILR as well.) The first JFNA Chair of the Executive, with no other lay input, Joel Tauber decided it would put JFNA "on the map" if it presented -- wait for it...Yasser Arafat -- with some kind of international award. So it came to pass that Arafat would receive the Isaiah Award -- an award either created for this event or one given before to Ben Gurion and Rabin. There was no process, no consultation. The JFNA Executive Chair was ready to head to Europe with speech and award in hand. But, before the hand-off could occur, someone leaked the planned event to, as I recall, the Boston Free Beacon -- contemporaneous discussions suggested that the leak was from the PLO or a JFNA professional. The resulting hew and cry was too much -- the event was canceled.

This thing had two impacts: (1) JFNA developed criteria for honorees and a process for selecting them (I know because I was tasked with drafting both) and (2) Kroll & Associates was hired by JFNA to identify the whistle blower, assuming that it was someone inside JFNA.

19 years later and nothing has changed...nothing at all.

Rwexler

Sunday, September 29, 2019

A SWEET YEAR

Friends, a momentary time out for introspection.

On the cusp of 5780, I want to wish you and your loved ones a shana tova u'metukah.

Richard

Friday, September 27, 2019

NEW, VERY DIFFERENT....AND BAD

1. On the eaterchicago update a week ago, the headline blared: Chicago First Vegan Jewish Deli Is Coming to Uptown with Bagels and Plant-Based Lox. I don't know which is more oxymoronic -- "Vegan Jewish Deli" or "Plant-Based Lox," the latter striking me as a particularly disgusting idea. And, no doubt, there will be no tongue on the menu. Is nothing sacred? A corned beef sandwich constructed out of some tofu derivative?  I will not tell my daughter or daughter-in-law or, for that matter, my sons of the existence of this place...though I wish the "Deli" well, of course.

2. You may recall that a few years ago HIAS -- then the "Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society" -- withdrew "Hebrew" from everything and became but an acronym. Yes, it morphed into just an acronym -- HIAS. Its leadership determined that henceforth it would offer ecumenical, non-denominational immigrant assistance; one fund-raising mass mailing I received at the time of the chagim, as I recall, asked me to support aid to Syrian refugees.

That was then. Now, HIAS has sought funding for that which it calls HIAS v. Trump. "On behalf of refugees we're taking this fight to court." Donate Now with a link. And a hashtag. Maybe this is just an opportunistic strategy, with some perceived gain short-term. But, long-term? I don't think so.

I recognize our historic responsibility to aid the stranger, the other. HIAS has carried this too far -- best I can tell, it now duplicates the work of so many other refugee assistance organizations. I'll wait to learn from you why HIAS deserves Jewish communal financial support.

Rwexler

Sunday, September 22, 2019

HUH?

I have kvetched over time with the system's conscious abandonment of Israel as reflected by a series of Missions that never made it to Jerusalem, to Be'er Sheva, to Tel Aviv to Haifa...Israel never.

While I found that the Argentina/Uruguay itinerary to be vexing, one can at least point to Jewish Agency and JDC programming there and, in Argentina, a large, vibrant Jewish community

An interested reader sent me the announcement by the UJA-Federation of New York of a Spring Mission...to Japan. I'm not making this up. Among the activities on this Federation Mission:
"You'll also meet with leading government officials and figures in the Jewish and figures in the Jewish community as you witness the impact of UJA's global work."
 Yes, as you witness the impact of UJA's global work. 

Now there are still a lot of places where a visitor could witness the impact of UJA's global work...but, in all candor, Japan is not one of them.

And, why would it be?

In the World Jewish Congress' most recent Japan Country Report, the Jewish community of Japan is described as follows:
"According to the estimates of Hebrew University demographer Sergio Della Pergola's 'World Jewish Population, 2016,' Japan is home to between 1,000 and 1,400 Jews. Almost entirely composed of Jewish foreigners and expatriates." (emphasis added)
The Report continues, describing this tiny group as "well organized and vibrant." Uh huh.

I have to admit to confusion when it comes to actions taken by New York UJA over the past few years. The federation discontinued its support of the system's national agencies through the now defunct Jewish Federations-National Agencies Alliance -- ostensibly a reaction to UJA's disproportionate funding of the Alliance. Once New York turned its back, withdrawiing its total support, on the Agencies, other federations followed suit; the Alliance collapsed.

And, this was only the starting point of UJA's deconstruction of its communal support of the collective.

Rumors abound that this year New York UJA will significantly reduce (1) its overseas allocations to the core budgets of the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee and (2) its Dues to JFNA. I hope these remain rumors, false ones, unsubstantiated ones, because, if true, the decades of New York's communal leadership of the collective response that is one of the core values of the federation system and a foundation stone of the merger of UJA and federation decades ago, will be no more.

As a student of our system I have always been wary of communities that applaud the success of their annual financial resource development but, at one and the same time, reduce their allocations to the collective instruments that these communities helped to create. 

I remember back to the Council of Jewish Federations era. I served on the CJF Budget and Finance Committee for a decade or more. The deliberations were always serious and extended, in good faith and spirit. I also remember, as we were about to adjourn one year, New York lay and professional leaders burst into the Committee room to announce that the tentative Budget and, therefor, the Dues were "too high' and we were required to return to the table to reduce the Budget...which we did. Today?

So, now, a Mission to Japan, where you will be able to observe the impact of UJA's global work. How will the Mission participants do that? Maybe a slide show from where UJA's real work is being done. Maybe going to a place where UJA's global work is not being done will remind the communal leadership of what once was the communal n'shama...what once was.

Rwexler

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

EVERYONE INTO THE POOL

A few days ago many of you sent on to me the announcement: Leading Jewish Thinkers and Activists for 6 Continents Convene in Jerusalem to Launch Effort to Achieve United Vision for Global Jewry. ("6 Continents" -- count 'em) This Initiative, not to be confused with any earlier Initiatives, is titled Our Common Destiny. It is designed "..r.to connect Jews to each other and to Israel across diverse religious and cultural identities through a shared set of ethics and values."
WOW!!  And, even more, this is an initiative (a "ground-breaking one") of the Genesis Philanthropy Group and the Government of Israel." Quite the challenge that the concerning Genesis Philanthropy Group/GOI have laid out for themselves and those they have engaged in this initiative. And, those engaged convened in Jerusalem September 9-11, apparently to draft a framing document. It should be noted that Xi Xinping, as I recall, announced in 2017 that China was to embark on The Community of Common Destiny -- so watch out for trademark litigation!!

As Ilia Salita, Genesis' President and CEO, stated:
"We are inviting Jews living in Israel and elsewhere to join in the crafting and completion of a document and ambitious as the Declaration of our Common Destiny* because we believe doing so has the potential to excite and engage Jews of all backgrounds and worldview. We know the initial draft of the Declaration will be vastly improved by the input it receives from the world Jewish community. This is Jewish crowdsourcing on a whole new level."
Nice. A whole paragraph of noblesse oblige. 

Though I admit I do not know all of the "thought leaders" engaged by Genesis in this project, there  are some great names and, as if intentional, not a single North American communal leader serves on either the Advisory Board (chaired by Sandy Cardin) or among the Scholars. This latter reality is no longer surprising but it is extremely disappointing. I know no one with a greater vision for the Jewish People than John Ruskay, Steve Nasatir, Steve Hoffman, Jeff Solomon and others from within (or nearby) the organized Jewish communities...and, yet, no one from among those entities which might, if part of the process, bring the diasp[ora communities together to engage.

These choices made by Genesis (and, perhaps, by Cardin) are clear --we are going to put out a nice, exciting academic Declaration and leave it to us peons to do the difficult work while not having been involved in framing this "Common Destiny.". And, as has been demonstrated before (in the failed implementation of the last Jewish Agency "strategic plan" -- it is now working on another; in the Government of Israel/Naftali Bennett's World Jewry Initiative, etc.), without engagement from the beginning, nothing much is going to happen at the grassroots level. Yet, with all of this, one has to wonder, do the organized Jewish communal leadership worldwide even realize how they have been dissed here; or, if not dissed....clearly ignored. And, if they do realize it, do they care that they are perceived by their omission to be pedestrian and, worse, irrelevant.

In addition, friends, worldwide Jewish organizational leadership -- of JAFI, of the Joint Distribution Committee, among others -- are not represented. 

These insults are manifest and, no doubt, well-earned

And, then, it emerged  the end result of this ambitious intellectual exercise after as few days and a charge from President Rivlin, The Declaration of Our Common Destiny For the Unity of the Jewish People. (Ahh, the presumption.)  Thanks to our friends at ejewishphilanthropy you can read this at: https://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-declaration-of-our-common-destiny-for-the-unity-of-the-jewish-people-launched-at-beit-hanasi/?utm_source=Sept+11,+2019&utm_campaign=Sept+11&utm_medium=email 

So good luck and great success to these "leading Jewish thinkers and activists." Can't wait for the discussions we have been mandated to comment.

So, it is on to a "generation-defining event in modern Judaism." The pool, though, is getting a little crowded.

Rwexler






* N.B. apparently such a Declaration exists...somewhere

Friday, September 13, 2019

"AND A NEW DAY IS DAWNING..."

There probably should be some form of celebration that JFNA's execrable decade, one JFNA barely survived (or, perhaps, didn't) has come to an end. With Jerry's long-delayed exit and Eric Fingerhut's arrival, indeed, "a new day is dawning" for JFNA. 

I for one regret that I had become a recalcitrant -- yet I am not sure I had any choice. After all, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was described in The New York Times, so was Jerry Silverman "performatively hapless." Jerry from Day 1. And, the lay leadership, unwilling to effect change, instead encouraged the pathetic rather than reining it in. So things went from bad to worse and then to worse compounded.

Sadly, across the broad horizon JFNA leaders shrunk from their responsibilities. They became apostates -- and, in this metamorphosis, they rejected our communal values by failing to insist upon them. (I would hate to think they unaware of them.) And, compounding their apostasy, they hired consultants who only knew of those values as they were described to them by the apostates. 

And, then I read, as, apparently, did many of you (given the number of you who sent me the link), a most ridiculous article, a hagiographic one to be sure, in which Jerry Silverman, upon his long-awaited retirement, reflected on the "accomplishments" of his decade as CEO. I was not LMAO at what one correspondent suggested I wear hip boots while wading through the bulls#+t.  Those "accomplishments" boiled down to these:
1. The Kotel Agreement. According to Jerry he was sweating side-by-side with Natan Sharansky in creating the deal which, at the first political challenge, the Prime Minister walked, breached the Agreement. Of course, the reality of the Agreement was solely Sharansky's. Jerry was a cheerleader, bending into each photo op and story as if he had done anything. We all recall that at the GA subsequent to the deal's collapse, the JFNA Board Chair profusely thanked Bibi for his specious excuses for breach of contract. What exactly was the "accomplishment" here?
2. Being There. Never missed a meeting with the PM or a succession of Presidents. That was it...being there. Never thought to invite a federation klay leader in his place.
Here is my "List of Silverman's Singular Accomplishments" over a decade:


1. This List (with thanks to Seth Myers)
2. Ten years of paychecks 
3. Being There 
To put anything else on this "list" would be like crediting a rooster for the sunrise.

Read the Jerusalem Post article here:  https://m.jpost.com/Opinion/Editors-Notes-An-optimist-in-a-sea-of-Israel-Diaspora-division-600770 Then weep.

Look, my sense for a decade was, as Mayor Bill de Blasio was recently described in the New York Times, that Jerry Silverman was "performatively hapless." To suggest anything more positive is a denial of every observable reality.

If Jerry chooses to remain blinded by his own illusions -- deny failure, deny waste, deny that which has been and is right in front of our eyes -- so be it. That doesn't mean that we have to as well.

Yet, even I have to agree with the few who understand that Jerry's selection as JFNA CEO ten years ago was epoch-making -- but... in the worst way. That the "epoch" was not ended earlier lies at the feet of JFNA lay leadership and the Federation CEOs. As to the ladder, my amazement that those who have built the Federation Movement in so many incredible and beautiful ways would stand aside for the decade and watch it and their profession being deconstructed in the face of their silence.

As you read The Jerusalem Post hagiography, please recall Dr. Seuss:
...and the mess is so big, so deep and so tall, we can't pick it up
There's no way at all.

Rwexler