Friday, April 25, 2008


A friend, thinking I had read it, sent me today's Howard's View, noting the ironic emphasis on the Budget and the Annual Campaign less than two weeks after the CEO had publicly questioned (on a City-size group conference call) why UJC should even invest in the Annual Campaign at all? I told my friend that I was pleased he sent on the View to me as (1) in their effort to make me a "non-person," I had apparently been deleted from the mailing list and (2) I needed a good laugh.

It didn't take me long to start laughing -- just the first line. For those of you who don't receive the View, or for those of you who receive it but don't read it, here's the first line: "Preparing a budget is about more than just manipulating numbers." (Emphasis added) Wow!!

What a wonderful Budget process we have had up until now. I have been fortunate to participate in the Budget processes ranging from my own federation, to national agencies, through UJA, UIA, The Jewish Agency, CJF and, until last week, UJC. I have chaired the Budget and Finance Committee of UJA and the Overall Planning and Allocations Committee (the Budget Committee) of my great federation. As I have told a succession of UJC Budget Chairs since the organization's formation, no federation would countenance a Budget process that involves lay leadership almost not at all, as is and continues to be the case at UJC. Given UJC's budget process, where a group of lay leaders attend a single five hour meeting (including lunch) and that's it (other than periodic "updates" over the year), for Howard to write in this week's View "[I]f federation leaders do not take budget discussions seriously, they are not fulfilling their fiduciary obligations" suggests a single response: "physician heal thyself."

I'm reminded of an old joke, and, while it is Chag-appropriate, forgive me it's not PC -- Helen Keller is invited to a Jewish family's home for Pesach. The reading of the Hagada begins, Helen is given one in Braille. During the service, the host sees Ms. Keller rubbing her hand on a matzo and frowning. The host, concerned, asks: "Helen, is there something wrong?" Helen, still running her hand across the matzo, asks: "Who writes this crap?" In UJC's case, how 'bout that View?


I can't thank all of you enough who have e-mailed, written or called me in support of my leadership and in encouragement of my speaking out since the articles in The Forward and JTA. I have heard from so many old friends and so many new friends and from so many leaders around the Jewish World, some of whom I do not even know. As I have told each of you, I will continue the good fight to assure that UJC shall be the bright shining star in the federation firmament that it was meant by all of us to be. To those who attempt to misrepresent who I am and what I am about in their desperate attempts to suppress legitimate criticism, know that I act in response to Winston Churchill's charge: "Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never, never -- in nothing great or small, large or petty, except to convictions of honor and good sense."

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,


Thursday, April 24, 2008


It is one thing to assert, as Ralph Waldo Emerson did -- A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds -- it is another altogether to evidence total inconsistency time and again, often during the same meeting or conference call as UJC leaders have done this week.

As was reported to me, on a conference call last week, and in his public and private statements on the subject, the UJC CEO, to the astonishment of some, effectively wrote off UJC's involvement and leadership in the Financial Resource Development ("FRD") effort. Stating that the Annual Campaigns are undertaken totally by the federations and concluding that UJC can have very little impact on their success, Howard intimated that UJC's investment in the FRD area needs to be diminished. Forget for the moment that annual campaign assistance has been determined, in UJC's own commissioned research, as the federations' highest demand of UJC time and again; forget for the moment that UJC's "investment" in FRD has been diminished significantly over the past two budget cycles; forget for a moment that we are in a recession that could, without investment, severely impact the annual campaign; and forget for the moment that the Large City Executives in their version of Refining UJC's Vision -- not to be confused with UJC's draft version of Refining UJC's Vision (don't ask) -- described UJC's work in "FRD -- Basic Campaign Organization" as one of the "[E]ssential roles that ideally should be paid for centrally (which) [I]ncludes substantial upgrade to Annual Campaign role and Chair position." Forget all of that.

On the cusp of the Chag UJC distributed its own version of Refining UJC's Vision. It bore no substantive relationship to the Large City Executives' Draft -- except for the title. But it did state that the highest "measure of (UJC's) success would be -- "Increase in total FRD." The second highest "measure" -- "Increase in number and quality of donors" including a significant investment in e-philanthropy. So forget all of the above...and just remember, for the moment,that UJC leaders apparently believe that total FRD and an increase in donors will somehow be achieved through a decrease in UJC's commitment to the very efforts that might help it to achieve those goals.

When the UJC Treasurer suggested that the Large City Execs' paper be distributed to the Budget & Finance Committee, that Committee was told by UJC's lay and professional leaders that it couldn't be distributed because we "wouldn't understand the context" -- in fact, the Executives' March 17 Draft states that the conclusions "...can only be properly understood in conjunction with a detailed verbal discussion of what the executives had in mind when identifying desirable UJC roles" -- to me, at least, no context is needed when reading the Large City Executives' FRD recommendations. Where "context" is needed is in trying to "align" (forgive me) UJC's own leadership's recommendations in its version of the "Vision" with that framed by the Large City Executives and with what their CEO stated in total contradiction of UJC's FRD role. I'm certain there is an explanation and that the owners, the federations, will never hear it unless they ask for it and, even then...

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" -- UJC has the "little minds" part down.


Wednesday, April 23, 2008


In an interview with the JTA's Jacob Berkman this week, Joe Kanfer, UJC's Chair, finally emerged from the shadows with a typical litany of misrepresentations -- at least with regard to your writer. This time he chose to add what he referenced as "...the UIA Executive Committee" having "...pushed (me) out." When the reporter asked me for a comment on this most recent and most outrageous of supposed insights, I could only laugh for the members of the UIA Executive Committee have, as a group and individually, been uniquely supportive even risking the wrath of this Chair and those who surround him with the ostracism that has greeted others who have objected to their tactics.

In the course of his assaults on me, Kanfer alleged to UIA Nominating Committee members, among other things, that I, as the past Chair of UJC's Financial Relations Committee had called a Federation Chair after a settlement of unpaid dues and allocations in which I allegedly stated: "You should have called me directly, I would have gotten you a better deal." Outrageous fabrications like this one, made up out of whole cloth, demonstrated nothing more than the lengths that Kanfer and his UJC leaders who would sacrifice integrity for an end they felt justified their tactics would go in their attempts to silence criticism. When confronted about the stream of falsehoods being whispered into the ears of UIA's Nominating Committee members, Kanfer had neither a defense nor an answer. When accused of McCarthy-like tactics, Joe merely continued with more of the same.

Now, Joe used the JTA to state, among other misstatements, that I have been "...blogging publicly with untruths." Yet, he has failed to identify a single "untruth" in this Blog. When expressions of opinion are characterized as "untruths" it is typically by those who can't tell the difference. And, that's the real shame. As I have written before, UJC can only succeed when its leadership realizes who are the owners and responds to, engages with and strengthens those who own it. For ownership and a passing leadership are not one and the same thing. This leadership doesn't....and, apparently can't...understand that.

Tom Petty's anthem resonates with me: "No, I won't back down, you can stand me up at the gates of Hell, but I won't back down."


Monday, April 21, 2008


In the spirit of the Chag and in demonstrable proof of my contention in my Post on "Criticism" last week, that UJC leaders find criticism of their policies intolerable, I received a "gift of the season" on the cusp of Shabbat and Pesach. No, it was neither maot chitim nor a prize for finding the Afikoman, and it certainly wasn't a Chag Pesach Sameach greeting as I had just sent my colleagues on the UIA Board -- none of those. It was instead an e-mail from Michael Gelman, UJC's Treasurer and Chair of the Budget and Finance Committee who appears to delight in his new-found role as kind of an inept Cromwell to the Chair's Henry VIII. Michael's Shabbat and Pesach greeting read in pertinent part: "In consultation with the Chair of the Board and the Chair of the Executive Committee please be apprised that at this time we are rotating your appointment on the Budget and Finance Committee and are replacing you..." and have a happy Holiday. I would suppose they view this "rotation" as a Passover gift to themselves.

Well, this should certainly solve all of UJC's problems!! In light of this most recent action, I found two cartoons in this week's The New Yorker particularly appropriate -- in one, as pedestrians walk by, folks are cycling on the high wire, another is balanced precariously on a chair tottering atop a parking meter as a passer-by observes: "I don't get it. Who doesn't love a circus?" In the other, all one sees is an empty road and the caption: "I'm not beaten -- I'm well-trodden, damn it." (Oooops, I just received an e-mail from the same threesome advising me: "...and you never were UJA National Chair...")

Yes, I have been pushing for the last five years that UJC revise its Budget process to (a) engage with federation leaders in a meaningful way -- and with the Budget Committee in more than one 5 hour meeting (including lunch) in April (or May); and (b) that the Budget "align" with federation needs not just UJC "plans." And, yes, I was the only vote (among those present) against last year's Budget because of its bloat and the marginalization of the Campaign while the "silo tear-downs," etc. were being trumpeted, and an unspecified need for an additional $1.5 million were the reasons for increasing it. Yes, as one of my insightful confidants opined: "...why would they want you involved (when) ...sensitive budget issues are likely to be contentious even after 'reducing to $37 million?'" Why, indeed? Do these leaders have something to hide? I urge the Budget & Finance Committee members to a real due diligence.

But, this is not alone an attack on me, it is another onslaught against dissent, an attack on all those, lay and professional alike, who would speak out against the empty policies of this transient lay and professional leadership. Trust that this action is intended as a warning -- "we did this to him, we will do it to you." It is a message of those who fear criticism or, worse, who have no answer for it.

One of my dear friends, a major federation chair, wrote me a simple message. After observing that this action " very ugly," he stated the Yiddish phrase: Illegitimi non carborundum. For sure.


Friday, April 18, 2008


May all of you who read this Blog join me and my family in celebration of Pesach. Chag Sameach to you and your families.


Thursday, April 17, 2008


After years of experience (and experiences) with United Jewish Communities, I have come to learn that phrases used by its leadership often have a different meaning than you and I might understand from normal usage. Because many of you have not yet engaged with these leaders, this Lexicon is provided gratis to ease your understanding...or not.

  • "Coordinate" -- means "control" as in "We want to coordinate you."

  • "Heads up" -- means 1) telling you only what we think you need to know or 2) "we are doing this so shut-up and get out of our way."

  • "Consult" -- 1) see "coordinate" as in "We want to consult you" or 2) see "Heads up."

  • "Seamless Alignment" -- 1) our way of controlling everything or 2) means nothing.

  • "We'll get back to you" -- 1) Means nothing or 2) maybe they'll forget they asked

  • "We want you on our team" -- 1) see "Heads Up" or 2) means nothing.

  • "You will have leadership's total support" -- means 1) you won't or 2) that is until you object to something we want to do or have done without telling you or 3) means nothing

  • "We want to collaborate with you" -- are you kidding me? See "control" above.

  • "Tear down the silos" -- means "we want to build our own; we don't like yours."

  • "We welcome criticism" -- 1) just not mine or 2) yours or 3) if you believe this to be true, I have some condominium units in Florida to sell you.

Add your own.


Wednesday, April 16, 2008


From my Musings (copyright, Richard Wexler, Chicago 2008), the story of a surprise package:

"The Protocols of the Elders of WASP"

My wife and I were having a very comprehensive discussion about the assimilation of American Jewry and the probability of our demise as a People within 20 years when we heard a loud knock at the front door of our home. I went to the door but found no one there. What I did find shocked me. It was a dog-eared copy of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of WASP wrapped in plain brown paper, worn from years of use -- there, on our doorstep. How timely, I thought. Then I saw the accompanying note, scribbled on a Post-It -- "...from Jewish friends, take heed..."

My hands trembling, I immediately read the book from ragged cover to cover. While the Preface warns readers that they are "...bound to silence..." it's time to out this evil cabal. I owe it to you. Here are some excerpts:

"What They Do..."

  • This evil and vicious majority controls our banks, newspapers, television the Internet...usurping our historic role.
  • They have insidiously taken over our political institutions -- Congress, the White House, governorships -- that were formerly ours.
  • They are trying to take back basketball and baseball franchises from us.
"How to Identify One..."

  • These mongrels have names like Jeb, and, more typically, "Junior" and "Babs" and "Mags, Rupert, Billy Bob, Skip, Chip and, worst, 41 or 43"
  • They drive Buicks (but many have now switched to Lexus)
  • They never own homes in "subdivisions"
  • They own yachts and actually use them on water. They can steer them, hoist the sails and other yacht stuff
  • They wear hats -- not caps, hats
  • They eat corned beef sandwiches on white bread with mayo (and if forced to go to, e.g., the Carnegie Deli, can find nothing..."nothing"...on the menu to order.
  • They are an unhappy serious people.
  • Their women make great second wives.
  • They drink.
  • They give to charity if it "helps the business."
  • They didn't "get" Seinfeld.
  • They shop at J. Press, Paul Stuart and Brooks Brothers.
  • They play squash and paddle tennis.
  • They pay retail.
  • They jog and actually get thinner doing so.
  • They still go out in the sun to tan.
  • They dress up to go shopping (especially the Dallas cell).
  • In a down market they "stay the course."
  • They are dangerous. They are everywhere.

There is much, much more, that I am afraid to print. Look on your stoop, your copy is wife and I went back to our discussion on assimilation.


Monday, April 14, 2008


I hate to be beating a dead horse (bad choice of words, I know)....but... In one of my first Posts (February 3,2008), with almost the same Title as this one, I suggested to UJC's leaders that they give some time to reading Jeffrey Solomon's insightful op-ed piece in The Forward -- Agencies Must Gird Themselves for a Recession. To make it even easier for them, I quoted what I thought were helpful suggestions from the Article in the Post. (Now, these leaders may claim they don't read this Blog, but they seem to be able to quote chapter and verse to third parties when condemning me to a communal purgatory for writing it.) I suggested that as federations were going to be tightening their belts and reducing budgets, so should UJC. I was ignored.

Then, on April 1, 2008 (I know, April Fools Day), the JTA observed the potential impacts of a recession in Jacob Berkman's story -- With the economy faltering, nonprofits get a sinking feeling. Predictions of a "philanthropic recession" were heard at the Jewish Funders Network parley in Israel. Yet, none of that "negativity" is heard from UJC. In fact, nothing is heard from UJC on the subject.

I tried to figure out just why UJC's leaders would not want to be a model for the system, nimbly adapting to changed circumstances. And then an old joke jumped out at me. You've all heard it before: A federation solicitor approached a tough prospect and asked for the donor's annual gift. The donor went through a litany of excuses: business is down....had a terrible fire...supporting his parents...yada yada yada. When the donor was done, the solicitor said: "Just because you're having a tough year, why should we suffer?"

Now, UJC could argue that the more difficult the economy, the more important the investment the federations make annually in UJC. But, to make that argument, UJC would have to reorient itself to the Annual Campaign from which only just steered away. It would have to stop itself from advocating for huge supplemental fund raising efforts. It could reduce significantly its investment in UJC Israel, recognize the great work being done on the ground by JDC and JAFI and scale back those efforts not yet even implemented. It could take the $3.5 million dues reduction demanded by the Large City Executives and say "not only are we doing that, we'll unilaterally offer to reduce the budget by twice that." Trust me these thoughts haven't entered their minds. You want to stay members, pay your dues. "Just because you're having a tough year, why should we suffer?" Indeed.



Every once in a while my mind wanders to the subject of "Branding" our national institution. For example:

  • When characters in Max Apple's newest and most brilliant 2008 collection of short stories -- The Jew of Home Depot and Other Stories -- talk of Israel and the United Jewish Appeal;
  • When UJC allocates $845,000 for a "branding" study -- OK it's allegedly for more than just branding but, who really knows?
  • When I watch a Woody Allen film and laugh hysterically at the references to UJA;
  • And when I listen to speakers at General Assemblies or federation events mistakenly call the national organization "UJA." (Most recently, at a Jewish Agency presentation, our dear friend Jane Sherman caught her error in mid-sentence, went to correct herself, then said, "Oh, forget it, what's the difference?" Jane was both right...and wrong.)

We laugh, but it's painful.

In a fit of institutional insanity, we allowed the greatest brand in philanthropy (not just Jewish communal philanthropy) to be lost. (Although fearing that others might not agree and would use "UJA," UJC leadership -- or some smart federation leaders -- trademarked the old, useless brand.) In what was characterized as "transformational change," we allowed change...for the worse.

When they owned Seagram's, would the Bronfmans have contemplated a name-change to "Bronfmans Crown Royal;" Would the Chair and Board of GoJo Industries change "Purell" to "Clean Hands?" (And would either have paid a brand consultant [my next life] $845,000 to research it?) But, in a single moment, with no real process, "UJA" was gone (to the glee of some to be sure) and the greatest brand in philanthropy lost with it in the name of an unachieved vision of transformational change.

Yeah, so I think about these things and what fools we mortals be.


Thursday, April 10, 2008


The great Conservative Rabbi, Ben Zion Bokser, z'l, once observed:

There are three prerequisites for effective criticism, according to the Talmud,
and they apply to anyone who seeks to correct his neighbor, which is the
ultimate goal of preachment. The person to be (criticized) must be willing to
accept criticism, the critic must know how to criticize, and he must be virtuous
enough to merit the role of being a critic.

I admit to my failure to meet Rabbi Bokser's standards for the role of critic; unfortunately for our system, there are those at the top of the UJC food chain who view all criticism unworthy and those who criticize, in any way, even less so.

Look at what has happened to those in lay or professional roles who have criticized the actions taken at UJC over the past two years -- they have been demeaned publicly and privately, shunned and ignored. Criticism is not merely ignored, it is not tolerated. While leaders prattle about "welcoming criticism," yada...yada...yada, their actions once again speak loudest. They...can't...stand...criticism. Almost anyone who has led a federation, a local or national agency, learns to deal with those who disagree with their actions and soon recognizes that most act out of a sense of shem l'shamayim. I can honestly state that some of those who were most severe in their criticism of me during my time in national leadership are today among my dearest friends.

We operate today in a "go along to get along" environment. And too many lay and professional leaders have chosen that easy path even as they express themselves privately to me (and probably to you) that as they can't effect change, it's a lot easier to "take the high road" -- that is to say to do nothing. Yet, that "road" is, again, the "Bridge to Nowhere" and that path is inconsistent with our responsibility for tikkun olam. For, at least to me, embodied in the concept of "repairing the world" is the obligation...the speak out.

Sure, this Blog has been criticized by many as being destructive -- actually, most, if not all, of leadership's attacks on this Blog have not been directed at the substance of what has been written but with the fact that it has been written at all. (I suppose I would be gratified that these leaders read this Blog at all but I'm not -- I would be gratified if they were responsive to the substance in any way, shape or form instead of shouting out "look at what we have been suffering with" or "we can't work this way.")

I want all of the readers of UJ Thee and Me to know that through 2007 I attempted to influence change through private correspondence. It was only when that failed to evoke any...any...response from leadership -- and I would have welcomed even a "you're wrong, Richard, and here's why" (and I was being attacked as the alleged author of another Blog with, of course, no proof [as has been the case with a litany of other vilifying accusations] but always with absolute certainty) that I turned to writing more publicly these Posts.

No, I fail to meet Rabbi Bokser's standards, but I will continue to try to live up to the principles that guide and the passion that motivates almost...almost... all of us in Jewish communal life.


Friday, April 4, 2008


The leadership of UJC preaches a kind of Orwellian doublespeak in trying to convince the federation owners as they have convinced themselves that great change is upon us ... if only we had the patience to wait for it. Let's examine two of many myths against the realities:

  • The One Year-Old Implementation of the Organizational Strategy has successfully "torn down the Silos perpetuated in the merger." This is as good a place to start as any. The perceived "silos" were of Campaign/FRD, Israel/Overseas, Renaissance and Renewal and Consulting Services. Today, we have the Jewish Peoplehood Initiative, Global Operations: Israel and Overseas, and Community Capacity Building (to which Campaign/FRD has not been integrated but absorbed). The reality, new silos at best with new names and, in two instances, new professional leadership -- old wine in new bottles with a Table of Organization in place that would rival the Tower of Babel. The Large City Executives, in a paper essentially and effectively rejecting the Organizational Strategy -- Refining UJC's Vision (a paper which UJC leaders refuse to release to UJC's own Executive or Budget Committees let alone the UJC Board[more about its findings in an upcoming Post]) -- calling for, among other things, a reduction in dues, a reduction in the investment in UJC Israel and for a reordering of UJC priorities to emphasize rather than deemphasize fund raising, will be rationalized away by UJC's leaders unless the Large City Executives demand UJC leadership's attention to its recommendations.

  • UJC leaders demand a "seamless alignment" of all aspects of UJC's work and programs. Let's look at how this plays out in practice in at least one area. UJC's CEO has pointed with deserved pride to UJC's Campaign leadership's work with 20 federations in developing the "collaborative fund raising model." This "model" which trains professionals to integrate the "ask" for campaign, endowment and supplemental funds was conceived by the FRD Study Committee that I co-chaired with incredible partners: Cleveland's Berinthia Levine and Chattanooga's Michael Lebovitz. It was developed and originally implemented under the guidance of Vicki Agron since shoved out of UJC by leadership's demeaning and humiliating "the ends justify the means" tactics. While singing the praises of the collaborative model, in the brilliance of its "seamless alignment" strategy, UJC's leaders disintegrate the UJC internal collaboration of campaign, endowment and supplemental giving by separating campaign and endowment from supplemental FRD by keeping the former within Development" and moving the latter to the so-called Center for Jewish Philanthropy with its own Chair, independent of the National Campaign Chair. Why the misalignment for one of UJC's "top priorities," you might ask? "Don't ask," you would be told.

Now, UJC rhetoric often combines the mantra: "seamless alignment can only be accomplished by tearing down the Silos." Sure. This syllogism can be compared to Alaska Senator Ted Stevens' historic pork (excuse me) barrel support for what became known as the Alaska "Bridge to Nowhere" -- after the investment are we any closer to the goal? "Don't ask," you would be told.

The realities at United Jewish Communities must be separated from this UJC rhetoric . Is it the hope of today's leadership that federation lay and professional leaders haven't the time or the interest to ignore the rhetoric and examine what is really happening with their $40.5 million (+) per year, let alone speak out in frustration? Those who do speak out -- be they Federations from Large City to Small, their CEO's and Chairs, or just lay persons who question -- continue to be dismissed as "out of step," "sour grapes," "treasonous"....or worse. But, the cries of pain are getting louder, the authors of Refining UJC's Vision will neither be brushed aside nor vilified so easily and hope for real change is in the air like the first breaths of our new Spring.