Sunday, March 30, 2008


Last Thursday, a great professional died. Mike Fisher was part of UJA and UJC for so long and was a great friend to lay leaders and a great partner to his fellow campaign professionals. I remember Mike from all of the help and guidance he gave to so many of us along the way. And he did so with a quiet reassuring competence. Learning that he he suffered a heart attack and left us last Thursday brought to mind so many with whom Mike worked -- the partnership he had with Mo Sherman and Harold Cohen, with Shimon Pepper and Bernie Moscovitz and Lee Twersky and, most of all, with Vicki Agron. What a team they were, filled with ideas, with an incredible commitment and with the joy of sharing their knowledge and passion with a willing lay leadership.

On almost every occasion that I visited the UJC offices (and before that UJA), when Mike worked at "headquarters," one would find Mike and Vicki in Vicki's office sharing ideas. When Mike was the UJA Regional Director for the Midwest, we worked together as partners...and when he moved to Southeast Florida as UJA's human investment in the growing communities there, he and I spoke no less than weekly, working together on the merger that created the Broward Federation, on the allocations issues of those communities, and I all of the time learning from him. I remember the times Mike would meet me at airports around the Midwest and Florida, and would teach me as I criticized his driving skills...but I was, as he knew, listening all the time for no one...understood federations and our system better than Mike Fisher.

Mike's insights into campaign and donors throughout our system, the depth of his knowledge of our institutions' past and future, he tried to pass on to so many of us. But that institutional memory was lost when Mike left UJC and we have been without that vital memory ever since. As Vicki wrote many of us "My G-d, what that man knew about our business and how generously he taught others." Now Mike has left us.

Mike embodied the word mensch. Maxine and the Fisher Family will be sustained in their grief today by incredible and joy-filled memories of Mike, and so will we all.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008


From many e-mails I have received, I know many readers would prefer more of UJC, less of my Musings. With apologies to those of you who want to read my venting, here is another reflection.

Thursday, June 28, 2007
A Day in the Life of a Country We Love
Copyright March 2008
Richard Wexler

The day our dear friend, Steve Nasatir, the Chicago Federation CEO, and two of his colleagues were almost struck by Qassam rockets fired by terrorists into the Southern Israel development town of Sderot, and the day Israeli media leaked that the criminal charges againt the Past President of Israel would be reduced to charges of sexual harrassment, not rape, the Israeli Knesset focused on far more important and criticqal matters in the national interest as reported in Ha'aretz:

Miniskirts, but no shorts? Knesset ethics committee debates MKs' attire
by: Shahar Ilan

A parliament in sandals. The committee that recently met to draft an ethical code for the Knesset devoted special attention to the subject of sandals. Likud Party faction chairman Gideon Sa'ar asked whether wearing sandals was accepted practice in other parliaments.

"Yes," replied former Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud), "In Yemen."
Sa'ar said, "In this respect, I wouldn't consider Yemen a role model>'
Deputy Knesset Speaker Ahmed Tibi (Ra'am - Ta'al): "Sandals are more accepted in the United Arab Emirates>'

A coalition for sandals. Labor MK Shelly Yachimovitz said the so-called "biblical" sandals were representative of Israeli culture and were therefore more acceptable "than luxury brand shoes manufactured by children in a sweatshop in China." Chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee Haim Oron (Meretz) described his personal dress code to the assembled panel: When the plenum is in session, he wears shoes, on other days, he wears sandals. Some say the chairman of the National Union faction, Uri Ariel, wears sandals to the Knesset even during the winter.

Appropriate dress. Paragraph 11 of the draft of the new Knesset ethical code states: "Knesset members will appear in the Knesset building in clothing that speaks to the dignity of the parliament and the dignity of its members." (ed., after this debate what dignity is left?) An argument broke out yesterday among the committee members as to whether this paragraph was necessary. Israel's best parliamentarians -- those who take pains to be present at ethical code meetings (ed., do I sense irony or sarcasm?) -- participated in the discussion. Kadima MK Amira DIn n claimed that the paragraph relating to a dress code should be erased because its very existence "embarrasses and humiliates me." Sa'ar responded that a dress code existed in various parliaments around the world.

Miniskirts and shorts. Aside from sandals, different types of clothing were raised during the discussion. Yachimovitz asked whether flip-flops would be acceptable. Ahmed Tibi, who supports the paragraph on a dress code, asked sarcastically: "Why should people who enjoy sports not come in shorts?" Yachimovitz said: "Really, why not? A miniskirt, yes. But shorts, no?" For his part, Tibi proposed that MKs should wear neither leather nor fur coats, because these are manufactured from animal skins.

An what about Ciccolina? In the previous Knesset, certain female MKs wore tight and revealing clothing. (ed., I know, "helloooo, Spitzer" "In the previous Knesset, the clothes were shameless. We witnessed cases in which people came with exposed bellies," (and, then, there were the women, as well) Rivlin said. "Ciccolina (a former Italian MP who was also a porn star) has not yet visited the Knesset, but I'm telling you the day has come when there could be plenty of Ciccolinas here." (ed., Put the Knesset visitors gallery down as a mandatory visit.)

The kibbutnik and the settler. Special attention was devoted to the appearance of two Knesset members: Haim Oron, the kibbutznik, and Uri Ariel, the settler. Yachimovitz pointed out: "There are perhaps parliaments where they would have thrown Jumas (Oron) out because of his shirt, but we will not get rid of Jumas." "But this is my best shirt," retorted Oron. Yachimovitz said she also likes the settler-type clothing worn by Uri Ariel -- sandals, jeans and a simple shirt. Ariel asked if it was possible to hold a vote about this remark.


Ahhhh me, let's see, children are screaming in fear in shelters and classrooms in Sderot; three soldiers have spent two years as kidnap victims -- one in Hamastan, two in the grip of Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, the Holocaust-denying Iranian President threatens the world with genocide...and the Knesset debates...sandals.

This almost....almost ...makes our Congress look responsible...almost.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008


This has been a difficult couple of weeks for your Blogger -- subjected to in personam attacks, misrepresentations of my alleged actions, fingers pointed at this Blog, etc. I have even had trouble finding the humor in what has happened in New York these last 10 days. So this Musing:

copyright 2008
Richard Wexler

The recent, um, travails of now Former Governor Eliot Spitzer brought to mind David ben Gurion's dreams for a Jewish State. He said something like "I will know when we have a real State when we have Jews who are bus drivers and service station attendants, farmers and...prostitutes." Well, maybe that's not exactly what he said, but it's close. So on a recent trip to Israel I was not surprised to read a headline in a local Israeli paper that "80% of Israelis Against Punishing Prostitutes." What surprised me was the source. (And I do recall that 47% of all statistics are invalid.)

It seems that the poll that released this astounding data was commissioned by the Knesset's "Committee on the Status of Women." Yes, the Knesset's Research Department and its consultant, Teleseker Company, interviewed 500 people...500 learn that less than 1/5th of them believe that prostitutes or the men and women who employ them should be tried in court. (Helllooo Eliot Spitzer, aliya now? Call your local shaliach.)

Now, here in the US of A we poll just about everything -- in fact there are some who believe...actually believe...that our government's policies are determined by the poll results. Yet, now I have read of a Knesset poll on this critical issue, apparently so vital to the Israeli polity that 500 of them would actually respond to the question.

The Knesset will no doubt debate the issue and some will point to this poll as dispositive. The Executive Director of Israel's Women's Network, in response to the poll, urged "...a massive re-education campaign to sway the public sentiment on prostitution." We have learned on our travels that 1/3 of Israeli children today live below the poverty line, do you think that changing that reality might move those who practice prostitution away from that line of work? Just asking.

Saturday, March 15, 2008


Some stories are for the ages. The other night I was with my beautiful granddaughters, Sophia and Talia, from Portland, Oregon, ages 3 and 5, who said: "Ba Ba, Ba Ba (that's what they call me) please tell us that story again -- the one about the clothes..." "The clothes," I thought, and so I began, as all fables do:

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there lived a vain and arrogant Emperor ("arrogant," Talia and Sophia, "means an Emperor who believes that the Emperor knows everything") who cared too much about his clothes. So he hired two bad people who promised the Emperor the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful threads and cloth. These threads and this cloth, the bad guys told the Emperor, are invisible to any one who is either stupid or not fit for his or her position. The Emperor is a little nervous about being unable to see the thread and cloth himself, so he sends 4 assistants (the people who the Emperor trusts to make his decisions) to look at the new clothes. They can't see anything but they tell the bad guys and, then, the Emperor how great these clothes look -- for they are afraid of losing their positions of trust if they tell the truth. When the bad people tell the Emperor everything is ready, the Emperor tells them to put the clothes on him and he will then parade through the town so everyone can see.

And, as the Emperor paraded through the town, almost everyone said, loud enough for the other townspeople and the vain, arrogant Emperor and his 4 trusted assistants to hear: "Look at the Emperor's new clothes, they're beautiful." But, two little girls, ages 3 and 5, named Sophia and Talia, who had no important jobs and could only see things that were real and important, went up to the Emperor's carriage and said: "The Emperor is naked!!" The 4 trusted assistants grabbed the two girls --"Foolish ones," they said, "Don't speak nonsense" and they pulled the girls to take them away, "We will remove your Ba Ba from his position of trust because of your criticism." But, suddenly, the girls' discoveries, which had been heard by the on-lookers, were repeated over and over again, first by a few and, then by more and more, until everyone cried out: "The girls are right! The Emperor is naked! It's true! It's true!"

The Emperor realized that the people of his Kingdom were right but he could not admit to that. That would mean the Emperor was wrong and weak. He thought it would be better to continue the parade under the belief that anyone who couldn't see his clothes was either stupid or incompetent or worse. So the Emperor stood on his carriage, while his 4 trusted assistants stood behind holding up his imaginary crown while his followers laughed and laughed.

"Baba, Baba," my beautiful grand daughters cried, "Why was the Emperor so silly and, why did you call him 'arrogant?'" "Because some Emperors just are, my darlings, they just are. They just can't help themselves. But, many are good and fair. As you grow up you will surely come to know the difference. And, once you know the difference, you must speak out"

Don't forget to tell this Hans Christian Anderson story to your grandchildren and children. It's a good one. (And don't forget it yourselves.)


Wednesday, March 5, 2008


copyright 2008
Chicago, Illinois

I am certain that all of us recall the days when our parents and grandparents would ponder every historical event, no matter how trivial, with but a single question: "Is it good for the Jews?" Most things weren't. Now, at a time, perhaps, when we should be raising that question anew, we are so comfortable in our own Jewish skin that we don't.

I was pondering this weighty question, however, when I read an article in the San Francisco Chronicle in June 2007. On a trip to San Francisco, I read a secondary headline in a local news story: "Jew Manipulates Funds, Accused of Theft." My G-d, I thought, is this how newspapers are referring to our People? (Then, one week later -- "Mayor Urged to Consider Ousting Jew.") This can't be good for the Jews. Then I read the story itself. It seems that an Asian-American San Francisco Councilman, Eddie Jew (probably not a MOT) stood accused of misappropriating City funds.

Sorry, Eddie, but I have to admit to some relief. In this age of political rectitude, I began to question the headline writers at the Chronicle. Were they just "having a little fun?" Were they negligent? Were they willful? (By Summer 2007, all Chronicle references were to "Eddie Jew.")
Is there something inherently wrong when a Jewish person is referred to as "Jew?" Or, has the acceptable only been what we call ourselves? From my own experiences over time, from Don Rickles to Woody Allen to Larry David, with all sorts in between, we have never hesitated to make fun of ourselves -- except, of course, when we were making fun of others. Telushkin's collected works contain example after example of self-deprecating humor. But, we have always been sensitive to "others" making fun of us -- perhaps because we know "where that could lead. How critical to our sense of comfort are our self-censorship and the rights of free speech guaranteed us in the United States.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008


On the coldest Chicago Winter day in a decade, UJC's Planned Giving and Endowment and Research and Planning Departments convened what proved to be a meaningful Conference at the O'Hare Hilton. Focused on a Research Report on Best Practices in communities with a separately incorporated Foundations, the day revolved around the publication of the Research Report and in learning from each other. By all measures, the day was a success.

I participated as the Chair of the PG & E Task Force on Foundation Governance for the past 5 years, but the laboring oars were pulled by UJC's Senior Professionals, Joe Imberman and Rabbi Lou Feldstein, with Consultant Debbie Bussel and Facilitator Ephraim Schachter. The most critical part of the Conference was the participation by foundation and federation leaders from around the country who flew in in large numbers -- 20 of the 32 communities/foundations which participated in the research were with us. And, beyond the research, we learned a great deal operating from the premise shared by all that in this highly competitive philanthropic environment in which all of us operate, collaboration is the connective tissue with which we will not just survive but prosper.

This Research and its fruits would not have been possible without the committed leadership of, first, Chicago's Lester Rosenberg, immediate Past Chair of the UJC Planned Giving & Endowment effort, and Paul Morton, from Toronto, the current Chair. Both were active participants in the day. The major participants, however, as it should have been, were the foundation and federation lay and professional leaders present -- they challenged, they were provocative and creative. All this made for a terrific give and take on matters of trust, competencies and, always, collaboration.

Not every Conference like this one is deemed worthy of an UJC Briefing but it is an effort like this Conference that says more about the UJC-communities working together than does many a Briefing. The Bussel Research Study can be found on the UJC Website, I'm told. It's worth a read.


An Addendum: On March 13 I received a letter from Howard Rieger addressed "Dear Colleagues" and including the Research Study,