Thursday, February 28, 2008


Once in a while, as promised/threatened in an earlier Post, I offer you a Musing from my new Manuscript -- Judgment Fled....The Musings of a Wandering Jew. As with my earlier Posts, some of you will hate it, others will ignore it, some will try to read something unintended into it and others, hopefully may even find it humorous.

Oy Vey! No Egg Rolls
copyright 2008
Richard L. Wexler

One of my Chicago friends and professional partners -- a terrific Jewish professional -- sent me a story appearing on Reuters website with his own commentary: "How to really bring Israel to her knees>"

The February 12, 2008 story written by Rebecca Harrison reporting from Jerusalem was titles: Eateries go on spring roll strike. In pertinent part:

"Israel's Asian restaurants went on a one day spring roll strike on Tuesday
in protest over government plans to rid kitchens of foreign chefs, and said
sushi and noodles would be the next items off the menu. The restaurants
are angry at government plans to purge Japanese, Chines and Thai eateries
of Asian cooks and replace them with Israelis as part of a broader program
to cut the number of foreigners working in the Jewish State. Friends, I don't
make this stuff up, I just report it.)

The Israeli "Ethnic Restaurant Organization" (you should know that Israel has
the highest number of non-profits per capita of any country in the world -- ed.)
said the country's 300 Asian restaurants refused to serve spring or egg rolls --
among their most popular choices -- Tuesday, and planned a follow-up strike
in two weeks for the sushi and the noodles. "Today there is no egg roll and in
two weeks time there will be no sushi and noodles," Arnon Volosky (not a typical
Asian name -- ed.) head of the Organization, told Reuters.

The government argues Israelis can be trained. 'Everyone can make Chinese food,
it's not impossible to learn,' said Shoshana Strauss, a lawyer working on foreign
worker issues for the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor. Asian restaurants
first started dishing up Chicken Chow Mein and Thai Green Curry to Israelis about
thirty years ago and have evolved into a $1 billion shekels a year ($275 million)

It is fortunate that Israel faces so few problems that it can focus on ridding the country of the expert chefs who prepare the regular Sunday take away diet of Chinese, Japanese and Thai, ahem, cuisine.

What if this spread to America. Would we Jews have to restrict our Sunday dinners to pizza or corned beef sandwiches (not that that would be such a bad thing) or, horror of horrors, cook on Sunday evenings?

While in Israel this week, I can report to you that after investigation, the strike is not going well.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008


As Ken Krug and I rode into Jerusalem together for the February Board of Governors meetings of the Jewish Agency for Israel, I got to know a little about this new Federation professional -- the Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. Ken joined Federation directly from a long career with the Rand Corporation bringing new ideas and new reactions to old ideas to his new service to the Jewish people.

I reflected on this during a conversation with Don Sylvan in the lobby of the Inbal Hotel. Don, a past Board Member of JESNA from Columbus, Ohio, became JESNA's President and CEO in 2005. After sharing our memories of the South Side of Chicago where both of us grew up, Don told me, as Ken had, his excitement in serving the Jewish People. Here were two lay persons who joined the cadre of Jewish professionals. This is a great and absolutely necessary evolution.

I remember early on his career as President and CEO of the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado, I visited with Doug Seserman, who had left the marketing field to enter Jewish professional life. Doug came filled with new ideas, most, if not all, of which that Federation has put into play with success. Doug came to Federation and the adaptation of Federation to his new ideas has propelled it forward.

Then there is my friend, Beth Cherner, who played a significant role in Chicago's lay leadership until she "dropped everything" to join the staff of Chicago's Jewish United Fund as its Campaign Director where her energy and enthusiasm have driven our annual campaign to ever greater height.

These four -- Beth, Doug, Don and Ken -- are but examples of a new trend in Jewish communal professional life. They are joined by 100's and 100's more who came either from the business world or the world of lay leadership to Jewish communal professional life bringing new ideas and perspectives. We are fortunate to have them.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

BOB, z'l

When you say the name "Bob" in the Chicago Jewish community, there has been no doubt during my decades of involvement about whom you were speaking. Everyone knew Bob, everyone respected Bob and everyone had the sense that Bob cared about them. Bob was my friend, my mentor, my leader as he was to so many of us for so many years. And, now, he has been taken from his family and from us, his extended family, so suddenly that few of us had the chance to say good-bye, to tell Bob how much he, his life, his leadership inspired us to strive for great things, to believe that we could accomplish great deeds, as he did so often.

His life with Barbara was so beautiful and full. Skip and Liz and Deborah took Bob's life example and incorporated the beauty of it into their own lives and into the lives of their families. My wife, Roberta, and I remember so well, so many years ago, our first Young Couples Retreat at Camp Chi in Wisconsin, where Barbara and Bob were our leaders and demonstrated how leaders treat and nurture those placed in their care. I remember Missions to Israel led by Bob on which I was a participant, where Bob demonstrated leadership skills that I hope I have incorporated into my life. I served on my Federation Board under Bob's Chairmanship and remember full well, so many years ago, before it became part of the "itinerary," Bob and Steve Nasatir journeying to Ethiopia to see first hand the plight of a surviving remnant of our People. I remember the stories of Bob's chairmanship of the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet -- I am reminded of that time by so many in the communities I have visited over the years who shared their memories with me and asked me to bring back their regards to Bob. And I remember sitting with Charles Bronfman, Joel Tauber, Marvin Lender, Carole Solomon and Steve Solender debating who could succeed Carole as UJC National Campaign Chair when Vicki Agron said: "What about Bob"? And all of us, almost in unison said: "What a spectacular idea." And I remember Bob's joy in accepting the Chairmanship, his triumphs and frustrations in that role, but always his burning, continuing desire to make a difference for our People that ennobled him and inspired us.

Bob never hesitated to "speak truth to power" -- if our goals were set too low, we heard about it; if he felt our commitments too small, we heard about it; if he felt a greater effort was needed, we heard about it. It was wholly predictable, knowing Bob, that long in the past he was one of the "Young Turks" who demanded a leadership seat at the Council of Jewish Federations. Today, many of us who toiled in the vineyards of Jewish life with Bob, depart for Jerusalem and the meetings of the Jewish Agency. There is nowhere else in the world, outside the bosom of his family, where Bob wanted to be than in Jerusalem. There was no leadership role he did not serve and serve forcefully with dignity and love.

Even in his final illness, Bob was imbued with the sense of optimism for which he was known. This past Monday he e-mailed one of his friends, a wonderful Chicago professional with whom Bob had partnered and mentored, about his treatment and his optimism about the weeks of treatment ahead. It was not to be. Bob brightened so many days for so many of us "..fair as a star when only one is shining in the sky." Bob gave so many of us, Bob's memories will give us, so much joy but as it has been written "...there is no joy the world can give like that it takes away."

Bob, we were blessed by your friendship and your leadership, we are sustained by our memories, as we must be. Zichron livracha.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Sam Zell is an incredible entrepreneur, a wonderful Jewish philanthropist who I first met when we were cabin-mates at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin as young boys. As the new owner of the Chicago Tribune Company, Zell has been touring his newspapers where he has engaged with his staffs in every venue in the candid and coarse manner for which he has become known as he has grown as a public figure. Yesterday he met at the Tribune Tower with Chicago Tribune personnel where he was criticized for "...his profanity-laced remarks elsewhere (which) raised concerns among staff..." Zell's response, quoted in his newspaper today, would seem appropriate to UJC's situation, with only minor changes:

I'm trying to make everybody uncomfortable. This (organization) has been eroding
before your eyes and you're worried about my (criticism)?...Everything I said was
with an intent to get everybody to get off their [behinds] and understand this is a
crisis. We've got to save this business. We've got to make this work. And we've got
to prioritize...If we keep operating the way we've been operating, there is no future.

If Sam Zell challenged our system in the way he has challenged his Company, would our system respond? Or would we commission another management consultant or another branding consultant for an organization that has been more studied by more consultants over a shorter period of time than any in history? UJC appears to be waiting for the ultimate consultant's study whose conclusions are those with which its transient leadership agrees.

Is there a need for a Zellian call to respond to a crisis at UJC? Our leaders seem very satisfied with its direction and reorganization. Others agree. Yet, as many federations have made clear, they object to the size of the Budget (and the consequent dues), UJC moves to "freeze" its budget at the very levels about which more and more federations complain and object. While JAFI and JDC suffer ever-growing deficits and move to cut deeply into programs for children and the elderly, UJC refuses to acknowledge that falling allocations from our system are, at the least, part of the problem; UJC announcing instead that these "partners" received $410 million in 2007, so what are they complaining about? (That gross number in JAFI's case includes Government [Israel and U.S.] funding, funding from campaigns in Canada and the Keren Ha'Yesod countries around the world, proceeds of asset sales [which reduce JAFI's and UIA debt] and, inter alia, direct contributions of Israeli philanthropists and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews and Pastor John Hagee.) Contrary to the agreement at the core of the merger which created it, there is not even an acknowledgment of any UJC interest in advocacy for increasing the allocations to JAFI and Joint core budgets. When Federation cash payments to UJC for the Agency and the JDC reduced as at December 31, 2007, by another $3.5 million, the response was "what about the $410 million" -- "we got ours, sorry" seemed to be the attitude among some.

There are some great things happening within UJC (I hope to write about an UJC Conference I attended earlier today), but wouldn't a pep talk to leadership and ownership by Sam Zell be refreshing?


Thursday, February 14, 2008


In late 2003, I received a call from Steve Hoffman, then UJC's brilliant CEO. "I'm calling for Bobby (Goldberg, the Chair of the UJC Board) and we would like you to Chair a Task Force to help the federations and UJC in developing some best practices to deal with the mass of organizations taking federation money but then coming into our communities and doing direct fund raising." I saw this as a real and exciting challenge. My chief professional on the Task Force was to be Yitzchak Shavit, a long-time professional partner of mine, who knew the Israel and financial resource development scenes as well if not better than anyone. It looked like a process in which UJC could make a real and positive impact for our federations. But, it was not to be. Here's the story.

Shavit and I met soon after to structure the work ahead. We would call on Dallas's Michelle Tycher Stein to provide us with marketing and communications guidance (Shavit having worked with Michelle on many United Israel Appeal projects), and we would call on Dvora Blum and Barbara Promislow from the UJC Israel Office where their insights were to prove invaluable. (Dvora inexplicably resigned from UJC a couple of months ago -- she will be sorely missed.) Our Task Force was already in formation --it would be made up of front line professionals -- CEO's and FRD Directors -- from the Large Cities, Large-Intermediate and Intermediate federations across the country who were confronting this "invasion" by our system's beneficiaries 24/6. Our first meeting, by teleconference was filled with examples, impacts and debate, and ended with instructions to us to examine the issue in depth and prepare some Draft Guidelines as a starting point.

Yitzchak suggested that we get a handle on the Israeli NGO's as well as JAFI's and JDC's potential roles in a visit to Jerusalem. With the assistance of Dvora and Barbara, we traveled to Jerusalem in Winter 2004 for 2 days of meetings they had arranged with, among others, academic leaders in the study of Israeli NGO's, representatives of the Justice Ministry, wonderful and creative leaders of American foundations' and federations' Israel-based professionals -- the meetings were remarkable, the information received daunting. Israeli NGO's were in a period of explosive growth unheard of in the non-profit world, they were generally unregulated, many, if not most, filed no annual reports and had neither Board of Directors nor published budgets, etc. Our last meetings were with those responsible for Financial Resource Development at JAFI Jerusalem and JDC Israel. We were delighted when they readily agreed that not only would JAFI and JDC conform to Guidelines which required prior consultation with Federations (clearing of names, events, etc.) but that JAFI/JDC would provide in future contracts with beneficiaries that those receiving federation funds through them would similarly be bound. We were well on our way -- or so we thought.

We returned home and I began drafting what would come to be called "The UJC Campaign Resource Guidelines." Based on the local Guidelines employed with great continuous success in Chicago, our Draft when implemented would require all recipients of federation funding directly or indirectly to observe local campaign calendars, pre-clear names of prospective donors and events with the federation, effectively bringing the organization into the federation ambit. At our consultant's, Michelle Stein's suggestion, UJC would in return assist non-profits seeking to enter a federated community in meeting the bare bones requirements of not-for-profit registration, budget preparation, creating a volunteer board, etc. Further, UJC would offer rudimentary fund raising training. We perceived the process would be locally "enforced" -- with a reporting mechanism to UJC that would enable the national entity to provide appropriate recognition to complying beneficiaries and announce to the federation world those that were "out of compliance."

The Draft Guidelines were reviewed by the Task Force and changes were made at their request -- the substance of the Guidelines remained as summarized above. By the end of Calendar Year 2004, the Task Force felt that the Guidelines were ready for consideration by the UJC Board at its Winter 2005 meetings in Ft. Lauderdale. We went to the Board Meeting with confidence. Although Howard Rieger had succeeded Hoffman as CEO, we felt we had his support and that of Goldberg and Sonny Plant, z'l, the Chair of the Executive. I was hit with questions, most from leaders of UJC who also chaired organizations actively engaged in invasive fund raising within the federations. (They didn't announce their conflicts in making their often passionate arguments.) The Guidelines were tabled. (After the vote, Goldberg addressed Terry Rubenstein, a terrific philanthropist, who opposed the Guidelines and did not do so without any conflict whatsoever. Goldberg shouted out: "See, Terry, this proves that we encourage dissent here." I was upset inasmuch as the leadership failed to speak out in support of the Guidelines which they professed to support privately.)

The Task Force determined to make some modest changes to the Guidelines and we recirculated them but, for reasons never made clear, they were not placed on the Agenda for the June 2005 UJC Board meeting. Finally at the Toronto 2005 General Assembly, the Guidelines were unanimously approved.

If you're still with me, this is where the cautionary part begins. About two weeks after the 2005 GA, I called Shavit and said: "Itzik, we ought to convene the Task Force and start the implementation process." Itzik responded, "Sorry, Richard. after the GA Howard told me that the Task Force has done its job, you're 'fired' and I am no longer involved." Nice way to find this out, I thought. I called Rieger who told me that implementation, in his and "leadership's" view, no longer required a Task Force or lay involvement -- it could be done professionally and would be. I asked who would be responsible and was told: Barry Swartz and the Consulting Services Department. I have yet to receive the generic "Thanks for your service letter" but clearly as you will read, there is still time.

Periodically thereafter I would contact Barry to see where implementation stood. First, I was told in early 2006, Barry (with his strong right arm, Becky Sobelman Stern) was "working on an implementation plan" and working on it and, apparently, really working on it. Finally, after six months or so of this, in exasperation and in response to Task Force members, make that "former Task Force Members," inquiries, I asked Howard what the heck was going on. Howard told me that: "Barry has developed a plan." I wrote Barry. His response a couple of weeks later was to send me a timeline -- not a "plan" by any means -- for implementation. I explained that to Barry; and did not hear back. Weeks after my last inquiry, I received an e-mail from Swartz advising me that UJC Israel had "modified" the Guidelines and sent them around in Jerusalem. The revisions were attached to Swartz's transmittal -- the Guidelines which had dragged through UJC's processes for so long and eventually passed by the Board had now been unilaterally revised by staff!! It's now, if you hadn't noticed, 2008. I am willing to wager that as of the date of this Post the Chair of UJC's Consulting Committee, Houston's wonderful leader Esther Pollan, knows nothing about the Guidelines.

The Resource Development Guidelines were a federation-driven activity. The Task Force was made up of many of the best and brightest in our system. Tremendous lay and staff time was invested in their preparation. The Guidelines had the potential to be a boon to the relationship of UJC and the Federations with our beneficiaries and to assert to one and all the primacy of the federations Annual Campaigns. Over two years after the UJC Board's approval of the Guidelines, they have not been implemented. Hundreds of beneficiaries have hit upon federation donors in the meantime.

A cautionary tale for our times.


Tuesday, February 12, 2008


When UJC was in its infancy, leadership made a critical error in framing its allocations process under the rubric Overseas Needs and Disttibution Committee. Using the power of hindsight, was that vital process doomed to failure by the scorn heaped upon it as ONAD? Time marches on...

I used to amuse myself at Jewish organizational meetings by building crossword puzzles out of the acronyms then prevalent in Jewish communal life. Got me through a lot of meetings. Later, I tried acrostics but then limited my "skills" to just the acronyms of organizations in which I was involved. But, try as I do, I can't keep up with the ever-changing world of Jewish organizational acronyms -- particularly those within UJC itself. With the advent of its reorganization, UJC has opened up a whole new world of fun as well as renewing itself:

GOIO -- the new "Global Operations -- Israel and Overseas" a personal favorite

C3 -- "Community Capacity Consulting"

CJP -- the new "Center for Jewish Philanthropy"

SMT -- that old "Senior Management Team"

PCC -- this is, of course, the "Prioritization and Collaboration Committee" (Extra credit if you know what this is or was -- hint, it's informing the "National Federation/Agency Alliance" [the Alliance] which is itself the successor to the "National Funding Councils" -- I am not making this up.)

IAI -- the "Israel Advocacy Initiative" (which may be independent of the GOIO, then, again, maybe not)

JP&I -- "Jewish Peoplehood and Identity"

IECPDTF -- This should be a snap -- the "Israel Emergency Campaign Post-Disengagement Task Force"

NAD -- the "New Acronym Division" of UJC..more to come certainly

I have covered but a few. I would welcome, as always, your assistance and input.

Shabbat shalom,


Monday, February 11, 2008


Five years ago next week, as Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel North America, I met with leaders of the JDC at their offices in New York to discuss what I felt was a critical need -- a JDC/JAFI advocacy effort in the United States. Ellen Heller, Steve Schwager, Alan Jaffe and I had a cordial and frank conversation among friends. I reflected on the lack of allocations advocacy by UJC and how I felt JDC and JAFI and the federations could benefit from a joint advocacy program. Eight weeks or so (and one knee replacement) later, upon my inquiry, I found that I was typically unpersuasive -- the JDC still believed that only a UJC-managed advocacy program made systemic sense.

Over the next five years, but for a few months of an effort called "UJC Global Accountability," the continuing lack of any national advocacy effort has proven to be disastrous for the Agency and Joint: allocations continue to fall, the overseas allocations pool in a number of federations has been perceived to be but a "bank" from which federations make annual "withdrawals" (particularly to satisfy UJC dues obligations), and, at the end of 2007, federation cash payments to JAFI and JDC failed to meet UJC's own projections. And, still, UJC mounts no advocacy effort and JAFI and JDC are, more and more, in the communities themselves. All of this has happened while the aggregate of annual campaigns continues to grow. The merger promise of increased revenues to our Israel and overseas partners has been stood on its head and UJC leadership appears, if anything, oblivious.

I know that our leadership believe that UJC can have no real impact on allocations and from that premise conclude that an investment of resources to the issue would generate little if any return on investment. Had there been any substantive effort in this area that would support their speculation that might be one thing...but, inasmuch as there is a moral imperative on UJC to advocate for JAFI and JDC, the least UJC can do would be to try!!

Then there are those at UJC who would certainly argue that, as advocacy is a labor intensive activity with significant travel costs, UJC "just can't afford it." Well, that appears to be true of a lot of what you and I might consider to be "UJC priorities." One clear reality is that within a budget in excess of $40 million and growing, UJC can't find the money for any number of "priorities."

  • The UJC/JCPA Israel Advocacy Initiative (in UJC acronym-speak, the "IAI"). While this is a partnership that "...serves as a powerful Israel advocacy infrastructure," UJC can't find the funding to support it beyond 2008. So, federations whose dues are already at the breaking point will be asked to find more dollars for the IAI programs over and above dues:

  • When UJC determined that it needed additional staff in its Washington office, an attorney, federations were asked to pony up additional dollars over and above dues;

  • And when UJC determined that a school needed to be constructed in Ethiopia, select federations came through with significant additional dollars UJC could not afford out of its dues.

There are probably more examples, I am just not privy to them.

Suffice it to say, UJC leaders can rationalize any program they support as fitting within the UJC budget priorities, and those which they support less, "can't spare a square; we just don't have a square to spare." As I devoted an earlier Post ( It's the Economy...) to my friend Jeff Solomon's Forward op-ed commentary on the need for non-profits in our world to plan for a recessionary economy, it is not necessary to repeat the admonitions here and one would expect that UJC would lead the way -- but, no. As their dues are secured by the threat of membership termination (an ever-eroding "threat" it appears), UJC appears unmotivated to reexamine its budget and its priorities even as its federation owners do so. So long as the owners remain passive and disengaged, UJC can operate inside the bubble it has created, but it cannot succeed as it must.


Friday, February 8, 2008


There are so many wonderful federation and campaign leaders within the ranks of UJC. All they wish to do is good, to engage in the sacred work of the Jewish community and the Jewish People. Many are extremely frustrated and conflicted, frustrated with the UJC's lack of focus and the lack of interest in their opinions (usually brushed aside with the comments -- give us your trust, see where we are in a year, you're going to be so happy -- and coupled with a pat on the head) , and conflicted between where they wish UJC would be and where they see it going. I recently exchanged e-mails with one of UJC's and our federation system's best and brightest. We wrote each other about the common perception of the marginalization of Development and the Annual Campaign. I won't reprint this terrific and thoughtful leader's letter to me out of respect for this leader's confidentiality (and that leader and I respectfully disagree with each other in certain areas) but I thought that my response might contribute to a dialogue for those who listen and hear...This is what I wrote....

"Thanks for your thoughtful letter. I have great respect for your leadership through this most difficult time.

Let me respond with regard to the critical issues you set forth with regard to what I would describe as the 'primacy of the Annual Campaign' and what I perceive to be UJC's role therein.
  • I know you are right -- by all "they," UJC leadership have done and not done, it is evident that they have no commitment to the Annual Campaign. They don't believe that UJC can impact on the Annual Campaign just as they believe that UJC can impact in Supplemental campaigns. Yet, there is no evidence that UJC can do so.....(and) given the state of the economy, for UJC to promote let alone run special Supplemental Campaigns in 2008, particularly those that are basically unplanned, will ultimately pit UJC against the very federations that own them. The IEC was not a national campaign, it is not a paradigm for a special supplemental campaign as UJC leaders would like to think. The IEC was the aggregation of 155 federation-driven special campaigns with UJC counting the money and assuring the distribution of the dollars.
  • There is demonstrable proof that a strong Supplemental Campaign can only be built upon a successful Annual Campaign -- see Chicago, Washington, Cleveland and Detroit among the best examples. there an example of a successful thematic/designated/supplemental campaign in a community whose Annual Campaign has failed or is stagnating. In fact, there is a trail of failure across the country from communities from the Pacific to the Atlantic of those federations which have tried and failed. The collaborative model as a "best practice" is built upon the success of the Annual Campaign "ask" in my own community which demonstrates, year-in and year-out, the continuing vitality of the Annual Campaign.
  • I think that most -- not all, but most -- of the Large Cities support the notion that their (UJC) dues are part of their collective responsibilities. They need UJC for very little other than a central national address and as a convener and, specifically, almost no Annual Campaign assistance. Yet, there was a time not that long ago, during another recessionary time, where that period's version of "Development" mobilized its lay leadership and barnstormed the country in suite solicitations in every Large City (and so many others). It can be done again and G-d knows it needs to be. Development remains the hope for increased resources for all other federations; the Large Cities, I believe, can be convinced that their support must continue -- or we will have no system at all.
  • I see Large Federations around the country focusing on the Annual Campaign as never before -- San Francisco has its first Challenge gifts as a matching vehicle for the Annual Campaign as Detroit has had for years; Chicago has a $2 million "Israel at 60" challenge match in place for the 2008 Campaign; a new Board Chair in one of our largest communities will use the example of his own doubling of his unrestricted Annual Campaign gift to ILR levels to inspire his community; and on and on. Why do these federations and so many more see the vitality of the Annual Campaign as critical to federations remaining (or becoming) the community's central address and UJC leadership can't? I haven't a clue.

(All of us) have to come to (our) own conclusions as whether 'it's time to join in and make the best of things as we all see fit...or to move on and let them do what they can.' Your answer to this quandary (and the answers of so many others) will influence so many outcomes. I spent four years of my life working with many others in lay and professional leadership to frame and implement this merger (that created UJC) at tremendous cost to my family and practice. During the merger process I promised so many that UJC would focus on improving the federations' lot, increasing revenues and, to induce UIA and UJA leaders, most if not all of them leaders in their federations, to join, representing that the new entity's focus would produce more donors from the campaigns and more dollars for the beneficiaries for whom they were engaged in our holy work -- those served by the great works of the JDC and JAFI. That meant a focus on increasing the Annual Campaigns and the allocations growing out of them. To me, UJC leadership is without that focus today -- their actions have marginalized Development, the resources available to JAFI and JDC for their core activities have actually reduced while the aggregate of annual campaigns have increased. I will use what little influence I have, in every way that I can, to argue in every venue available to me (and they are fewer and fewer), that the the purposes of the merger be achieved."

Some would utter the words of a mostly forgotten Country and Western song: "If you can't be with the one you love, love the one your with." All of you who read this have to reach your own conclusions.

Shabbat shalom.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008


I have been gratified that so many of you have e-mailed me directly to tell me of your appreciation for this very personal Blog and to express your own concerns about UJC as well as to reflect on your personal engagement with Jewish communal life. There is nothing wrong with reminiscence so long as we remain focused on the present and the future. All of us who have learned from the past and incorporated that learning into our lives are in the best possible position to understand what UJC could and should be. A new Federation Chair very recently asked me why I remain involved. My response was to paraphrase: "Some people see things that are and ask, Why? Some people dream of things that never were and ask, Why not?" Your letters are a clear indication that you share that dream, that vision, that question...and that answer.

Among other letters, I heard from a friend who has been and is a leader on the local and national stage and is deeply committed to the ultimate success of our national enterprise. In part he wrote:

"Your message on the Internet cleared a lot of cobwebs...and reminded me
of the reasons that I have been involved in this meshuggah organization for
so many years.

My personal involvement...included amongst other things, the original NTC
(National Training Center) where a bunch of crazy people were ready to fly
anywhere -- at a moment's notice -- to train others to do solicitations. Those
were the days of the Bud Levin's, and many others, (who) saw the value of
'the system' to support the local and overseas needs of federations by doing
more suite solicitations than I care to remember."

My friend continued further:

"...[W]hy did the organization ever give up the brand -- UJA? We had a won-
derful brand. It was a well known brand and recognized in every part of the
world for quality because we had a fine image and did meaningful work.

Having a good 'brand' does not make a worthwhile organization and a success-
ful image. Certainly, the UJC has spent tons of money to develop the 'brand'
but the image of the organization leaves lots to be desired.

We already have a brand -- let's focus on the work of the organization. The
($845,000) funds could be better allocated toward meaningful services for
the Jewish people."

I remember so well, as a young leader and Past Chair of my federation when UJA moved Operation Exodus forward. Tens of UJA lay leaders fanned out across America rallying federations in support of what would become a $1 billion Campaign that assisted our brothers and sisters in their aliya and in resettlement for some in America. I remember UJA Executive Committee meetings where our CEO would offer idea after idea (maybe even a "big idea" or two) and we would debate them, really debate them, often with sarcasm and some humor but always with a seriousness of purpose. From the multitude of ideas came, among others, Partnership 2000 which thrives even today. But I also remember UJA as a place where men and women, young leaders and older, lay and professional, came together with an understanding that our first mission was to strengthen the Annual Campaign without which the federations from which all of us came could not be the central address of the community. We were infused with a passion for the Jewish People and we loved one another.

Today, the canvas on which so many of you wrote great chapters in modern Jewish history is being unnecessarily defaced with a distortion of that history. Examples:

  • UJA "just took its budget off the top of allocated funds without regard for the federations." During my time, the UJA Budget Committee, on which I served for years and chaired, was made up of federation lay leaders. We met over two days and heatedly debated priorities. The pressure to reduce the Budget was consistently before us; that pressure was not disregarded.
  • UJA leaders were in large measure responsible for the "silos" which UJC's reorganization will once and for all eliminate. Our UJC Chair reported to the Board at Newport Beach that the silos were so immense that when the three organizations -- UJA, UIA and CJF --moved and merged the space was divided by the organizations like three separate shtetls in one space. The fact was that the three organizations moved in together to 111 Eighth Avenue well before there was a merger and well before a merger could have been predicted. While in this way the identity of each organization was preserved until the merger, the space arrangement was not an obstacle to integration post-merger.
  • The national system can't impact on the Annual Campaign. So, that false premise leads to the conclusion that the only real impact UJC can have is through massive Special Campaigns with a narrative that suggests competiton with the Annual Campaigns that are the lifeblood of our federations.

UJC can and will succeed on its own; it does not need its own misinformed version of the predecessor organizations' glorious histories in order to succeed. What it needs today is a cadre of federation leadership who like my friend who took the time to write are willing to do more for UJC than some day they will "care to remember."


Sunday, February 3, 2008


As we watch the defensive struggle that is this year's Super Bowl, memories have been awakened of Super Bowls past when the CJF would convene its winter meetings. These were often great, a true party where lay and professional leaders celebrated community with a Super Bowl party, were joined by scholars like Yitz Greenberg or Hillel's Michael Brooks, and seriously debated the issues of the day and the present and future of our communities.

CJF had a storied history. In my time blessed with inspirational and inspired lay Chairs like Chuck Hoffberger, Shoshana Cardin, Bill Berman, Corky Goodman, Maynard Wishner and Conrad Giles and great chief pros Phil Bernstein, Carmi Schwartz and Marty Kraar. Together they led us through confronting the new Jewish poverty, intermarriage and intermarred outreach, loan guarantees, national support for Hillel, the embryonic efforts of the Washington Office, continuing professional education, disaster relief, the first national planning effort and the onset of national endowment development, among other monumental achievments. And, the General Assemblies of the CJF era, with monumental scholars, an ever-changing set of GA Chairs, the constant presence of American, Canadian and Israeli political leaders, and that constant buzz in the hallways where friendships were born and renewed.

Twenty years ago none of us who were present could ever forget the GA where the idea of a National Freedom Rally for Soviet Jewry gained the momentum that brought 250,000 of us to the Mall in Washington less than one month later. Having just returned from the then Soviet Union, one month earlier, I remember the excitement of that General Assembly as if it were yesterday. This seminal event in modern Jewish history and, certainly, in the lives of our communities, was deemed unworthy of a special celebration on its 20th Anniversary at the 2007 Nashville General Assembly.

Where have all the flowers gone
Long time passing
Where have all the flowers gone
Long time ago?




In an Op-Ed in this week's Forward, Jeffrey Solomon, the creative and insightful President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Phlanthropies, wrote Agencies Must Gird themselves For A Recession reflecting on the potential impacts of a "full-blown recession...on Jewish organizational life." No opinion piece could be more relevant to those of us in our federations and, in particular, at United Jewish Communities, but, compare Agencies Must Gird... with the UJC Board Agenda last Sunday-Monday in Newport Beach and the follow-ups in the February 1 Howard's View and the UJC Briefing "UJC Board of Trustees Discusses New Ideas." of the same date. No mention, not a reference in the UJC agenda of the potential impacts of a recessive economy on the federation owners.

In the UJC Briefing and in the major presentations to the UJC Board, the Chair focused, instead, on "leadership for the big issues and ideas of Jewish life" -- unformed concepts of massive supplemental campaigns for, e.g., the "Passport to Jewish Life" which would provide commendable innovative "gateways to Jews who might not otherwise be involved in the community" by provideing a $1000 gift to offset the costs of Jewish affiliation. UJC's Treasurer, so taken with the concepts, "said the system should aim to raise $3.6 - $5 billion for offering higher gift amounts." Great. As a system we only raised $960 million in Operation Exodus in the most historic special fund raising effort in our system's history (which, based on federation estimates to JAFI of significantly greater results left the Jewish Agency, UIA and the federations $100's of millions in debt at the end of the day), but what the heck, I'm from Chicago where Daniel Burnham once challenged us to "...make no little plans."

Add to the "Passport..." a second unformed massive Supplemental Giving concept rolled out to the UJC Board, an $80 to $100 million dollar supplemental Fund for Children in which UJC and the federations would partner with JDC and JAFI..."make no little plans," indeed.

Nowhere on the UJC Board Agenda was there any apparent room for discussion of the implications of a failing economy. Jeff Solomon wrote:

"Economic cycles have enormous impact on organizational health and, therefore,
on the health of the overall community. We all bear the responsibility to accept
the mantle of leadership so that our communal organizations can continue to de-
liver their services regardless of the economic and environmental stresses -- and
so that our community can maintain its tradition of incomparable compassion and

And, where are the funds for continued service delivery found -- in the Annual Campaign that is the lifeblood of our federations as well as the lifeblood of JDC and the Jewish Agency -- actually, even the annual cash source of budgetary dues support for UJC itself. Eric Levine, who is charged with professional leadership of UJC's Development work surely understands this, every federation lay and professional leader understands it; yet, UJC, with a strange tunnel vision, proceeds to role out unformed "big ideas" without apparent regard for the potential devastation to our federation and Israel/overseas system being devastated by economic conditions that impact the Annual Campaign. But, the issue appeared nowhere on UJC's agenda. Too "small" an idea, I guess.