Wednesday, December 31, 2008


For UJC it's been a long year...a very long year...and, therefore, it has been a long year for the rest of us. And if the past is prologue, 2009 promises to be even longer. In this Post I will attempt to summarize this annus horriblus and offer some reasons, from my humble perspective, for why it's been so very bad, so wasteful and so harmful to the federation owners of the national entity. (Although I would suggest that you who read this Blog regularly already know exactly what the issues have been and where the buck should stop but never does.)

So, let's note the "good" that UJC did in 2008: I-LEAD, Planners Learning Series Conference calls, Endowment & Planned Giving, Flight (the Fisher Foundation's contribution to the development of the Next Generation of Jewish communal leaders) and the continuing excellence of the UJC Washington Office and National Women's Philanthropy. For $37 million that's about what the federations received in value in return. (Actually, there is more...but not much.)

For UJC 2008 effectively began with its annual Board Institute, this one in Newport Beach. You remember: with few lay leaders in attendance, UJC raised the prospect (spectre [?]) of two major Special Campaigns. No vote was ever taken (it's doubtful there was a quorum) but that did not stop UJC's "leaders" from promoting these Special Campaigns for months, assigning staff to them (but giving that staff neither guidance nor support) and, ultimately, this "big idea" went...nowhere.

UJC then moved on to its Budget "process." The Large City Executives effectively preempted that process, demanding that UJC reduce its bloated budget for 2008-2009 by $3.2 million -- from $40.2 million to $37 million. Forced to do so, the Board Chair proudly announced that even had the budget remained flat UJC would have terminated 38 employees. UJC's CEO and Chair effectively claimed the Budget cuts were their idea, but the most gullible of us knew this not to be the case. Picture the Chair and CEO reducing staff but failing to focus UJC on any set of meaningful delimited tasks. Ask the CEO for a Table of Organization...yep, go ahead and ask. When federation leaders have asked for a further UJC budget reduction during this time of economic hardship, they have been met with silence or disdain.

Then came the "asks." Immediately after the budget was approved by the UJC Board in June, Rieger began a series of requests for funding of needs "over and above" the UJC Budget. Picture the Memos to Federation Executives -- for the Israel Advocacy Initiative, UJC's "partnership" with JCPA; for what was then called ACANI, the broad-based organization to fight a nuclear Iran; a mailbox for the victims of the Georgia-Russia War; a mailbox to aid the communities and victims of Hurricane Ike; a request for $5 million for the Ethiopian National Project; and $13.2 mi -- all without UJC governance process ... all failed. These "leaders" seem to believe that all they need do is decide what needs to be funded among the two (or three) of them, snap their fingers, send a Memo, and funds will flow. This is not the way we raise money in our communities; it has never been the way we have raised money nationally. Then, again, these leaders didn't raise any money using the finger snap/Memo method. Critical needs were left unfunded -- beneficiaries, partners, were ultimately told to raise the money themselves. In 2008 UJC discovered a formula for failure...and implemented it.

Oh, there was time in 2008 to decide to advance millions in borrowed funds to enable a move to downtown Manhattan in 2009; and to hire law firms in Israel and New York City at significant cost (and without process even by UJC's rubber stamp Committees) -- for what, exactly? Has anyone seen the work-product or the engagement letters between UJC and these law firms? (Seems like the Chair believes he can throw federation funds around like they were his own.) And there was time, without any internal governance process, to increase the contract for a branding/research "Initiative" from an approved $845,000 to $2 million -- an increase of over 100%, of $1,155,000 with no process! But funds for federation emergency needs, funds for our system's partners and beneficiaries -- uh uh.

And, all year long we celebrated Israel @ 60. UJC recently congratulated Washington's Norm Goldstein, a great lay leader, who chaired this effort without a dollar of budget support from UJC (which did provide excellent staff support). Norm personally raised $100's of thousands for events, personally sought out the support of the Government of Israel and great events were held across the country. UJC participated in none of them -- not a dollar to spare. Unlike Israel at 50 and 55, there were no national missions, no national events.

But...there was a GA in Jerusalem. Great plenaries, terrific ruach, wonderful site visits and very little impact. In the midst of an economic catastrophe impacting its owners, the federations of North America, not a single program...not one...dealt with these impacts. For UJC, at GA08, the reality of "federations08" just didn't sink in. Apparently, UJC's leaders' attitude was "...not our problem. Let us know when you have some best practices." When Madoff admitted his venal criminality impacting federations and donors, UJC chose to "survey" the federations; while others acted, UJC fiddled or stayed the course -- a Strategic Planning process -- no matter how off-course UJC was.

Divagation from the main focus of federations has been the constant for these "leaders." To paraphrase the New York Times film critic, A. O. Scott, " use the phrase 'the logic of these leaders' when talking about United Jewish Communities may be to take the 'oxy" out of 'oxymoronic.'" The actions of the CEO and Chair have been unrestrained by the owners and, most typically, their actions have been disgracious.

And, 2008 ended on a typical note for UJC. While Israel was forced to war on Gaza, UJC pondered. Its professionals demanded...demanded...that JDC and JAFI not communicate their responses to the terror even to their own constituencies, but to allow UJC to do so. UJC's answer was to "partner" in a conference call with, among others, the Israeli Ambassador to the United States on Monday of this week as a co-sponsor the Conference of Presidents, and UJC was merely a passenger. (The minor non-profit, The Israel Project, was able to do the same without partners.) On Monday, UJC did release an excellent background paper on the conflict. It is, with the messages of JAFI and JDC, worth reading.

On the positive side the Large City Federations demanded the UJC Budget be cut, the Large Intermediate Executives and Presidents have raised serious questions of the relationship of UJC's budget and dues to federations' needs and goals and the Intermediate Federations at Budget time raised similar serious questions and concerns. Many individual federations have advised UJC that their federation budgets can no longer support UJC dues at a time of growing scarcity. So far, as you would expect, UJC leaders have paid scant attention to engagement with the federations on any issue but dues. But in 2009 they will have no choice.

The Detroit Lions finished the 2008 National Football League season 0-16 -- an unmatched record of futility; UJC, but for its Washington Office and the work cited above, finished '09 without a win as well. Unlike the Lions who were shamed and embarrassed and who terminated their Coach, UJC has declared it to have been just the best year, the "best GA," yada yada yada. At UJC, no one has lost his job or position. It was Sam Cooke who wrote the song "A Change Is Gonna Come;" it's past time my friends. How long we gonna wait? When there is no sense of responsibility at the top of UJC, the owners must step forward.

May 2009 be a year of health and prosperity for each of you and your families, and may it be a year of hope and peace for our People.


Monday, December 29, 2008


There are many ways to describe UJC's leaders today...few, in my opinion, complimentary. But, why would I bother to define them when they do such a great job themselves. The sources for most of this self-definition can be found in the deluge of materials e-mailed in any given week -- Leadership Briefings, Howard's Views, Economic Crisis e-newsletters and the like. They are, singly or in the aggregate, without question examples of an organization that has lost its way.

Back in the day, people used to joke that UJA's culture was one of "ready, fire, aim" and CJF's: "ready, aim, aim, aim..." Read the UJC materials and you realize that Chair Kanfer and CEO Rieger have imposed a culture of "Not ready..."(see footnote below for other possibilities) They write as if UJC has actually "responded" to the Madoff catastrophe or that UJC is showing leadership in response to the economic crisis when, tragically, UJC has done nothing...nothing...and continues to. For Rieger to state in his View last Friday that UJC should "not let this crisis go to waste" is cynicism even beneath him; for Rieger essentially to argue therein: "this economic crisis isn't as bad as the Holocaust" is just plain beneath contempt. Neither Howard nor Joe get it: we look to the national organization of and for the federations to actually offer leadership, to take risks, to show creativity -- instead, the history of UJC under this twosome has been one of expensive studies no one asked for, bloated budgets, personal agendas, a lack of engagement, a failure to be inclusive and a total disregard of the questions being asked by federation leaders. (The View in question was titled "Response, Clarity and Perspective;" it might better have been called "Obfuscation, Equivocation and Prevarication.") As you sow...

Are you as sick as I am with Kanfer's and Rieger's constant rhetoric about dedicating UJC "to focus our system by growing donors and dollars" while constantly in retreat from those very goals? Look at the record: the Chair of the Center for Jewish Philanthropy resigned because of a lack of support, the Supplemental Giving Chair threatened likewise, top campaign professionals forced into retirement, the budget for "growing donors and dollars" has been slashed, there is no longer a Campaign Executive Committee, the role of the National Campaign Chair has been reduced to a name on the UJC letterhead, and more -- how stupid Kanfer and Rieger believe us to be. Some of their stuff must be written by George Orwell.

Rieger closed last Friday's View (which was more rich than usual with grammatical errors, run-on sentences, editing errors, etc., and even a totally illogical reference to the Holocaust) with a typical call for UJC to do nothing: "Let us maintain perspective, and let that perspective inform our actions. Only with calm determination may we chart the course that will lead us onward to great accomplishments in the days ahead. The Jewish community worldwide is depending on us to do just that." In other words, don't expect anything from us, leave us alone while we plan that FLI -- "not ready...ever" We've got your $37 million, we're not cutting our budget, you cut yours." "Trust us; we know what's best for you." This View certainly summed up the UJC "experience."

What do they say: fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me?"


* Other possiible tag lines for the UJC of today:

~ "Where vision gets built." (Lehman Brothers)
~ "The strength to be there" (AIG)
~ "You can count on us" (IndyMac Bank -- ooops, I think UJC is already using that one)

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Yesterday the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, sitting side-by-side with his Foreign and Defense Ministers, described the actions Israel has been forced to take to protect its citizens from the constant attacks of the Hamas terrorists. "We are prepared to shoulder the burden," Ehud Olmert said, as Israel always has. And in every war to which Israel has been forced to respond, we, the Jews of North America, world Jewry, has taken on as our obligation in the historic partnership of the Jewish People our share of that burden. Will we this time? Who will rally us? While we pray that Israel will not experience full-scale war, with rockets continuing to rain down on Israel's South, where do we turn if our extended mishpacha reaches out to us once again? How will we respond?

We know that our national organization, United Jewish Communities, is effectively leaderless at this critical time. So many federations, impacted by the economy and Madoff's criminality, have turned inward. Until the special campaign in response to the first Intifada our donors had always been inspired by a focused, respected, inspirational national leadership to achievements thought, until those great chapters in modern Jewish history, to be beyond our means. We have always...always...stood tall, been there. But, the response to that first Intifada was inspired by the federations who demanded the leadership of our national organization. Later, the Israel Emergency Campaign that raised $362 million was federation driven -- an emergency campaign where the national organization followed, counting the money, prioritizing its expenditure and calling the IEC off even as the terrorists attacks continued. Now, the same "leaders" who failed to lead that IEC effort confront the potential for a war in which the demands on Diaspora Jewry may again be great.

One of the saddest moments of so many in 2008 arose out of the Israel Overseas/Global Operations determination that an emergency need of $13.2 million for victims of terror in Israel's South required immediate funding. There were, however, no IEC funds remaining -- UJC had failed to conduct a cash collection effort. So the IO/GO Chair sent out an "ask" for $13.2 million to the federations where the effort died and, with so many other "asks" went onto the UJC shelf.

With UJC's leaders having effectively denuded the Development lay leadership (but for National Women's Philanthropy whose leaders clear focus remains the inspiration it always has) the federations, their $37 million dues investment notwithstanding, will have to take on the emergency campaign themselves. This should not have to be the case. Months...months... before economic catastrophe, the Large City Executives "persuaded" UJC to bring together the system's mega-donors and shape a new mega-donor/federation/UJC effort as UJA had done in the 90's (or at least initiated). Rieger was to staff the effort and the results...take a guess. Had those donors been organized and meeting, UJC might have been able to convene them in the midst of crisis. But, instead, Howard and Joe have been very busy with the Strategic Plan for....UJC...while the federations have no central address to which to turn (and when they do turn, most, other than a select group of Large City Executives, get no answers).

At a time of what should be our greatest strength, a time that needs our greatest strength, we must find that strength in ourselves. We have no one home at UJC; it is a moment of our greatest weakness. We confront a national malaise without the leadership who could inspire us to our responsibilities. It is pathetic; it is so sad...and, if the federations would take the action they should, so unnecessary.


P.S. UJC "leaders" were in a frenzy today -- suggesting the IEC be "reinstituted" (forgetting that it was UJC that stopped it), convening conference call among its few experienced campaign leaders (forgetting that so many of them had been forced out or urged out).

Thursday, December 25, 2008


On September 10 I posted The Law of Unintended Consequences where I reflected on the damage that Federation Peer Yardstick could have given its growing use by UJC to comparatively measure federations' overseas allocations without any off-setting positive advocacy by UJC for the desperate needs facing our People in Israel and Overseas. I expressed my concern that FPY (not to be confused with FLI or Shoo Fly Pie) would be used to reduce federations to the lowest common denominator among them. There was no sense reflected on UJC's part of aspirational leadership or goal-setting for and with its federation owners. I feared that the good of peer yardstick would ultimately be outweighed by the negative.

Then, on December 22, like an unwelcome Chanukah present from UJC, a Leadership Briefing -- UJC To Release Findings From Two Significant Surveys. Two summaries wereattached which led the voluble CEO Rieger (does he appear in person at UJC or only on the written page) to bloviate: "The analysis we gain from this research will help grow and sustain our system into the future." I really wonder if Rieger reads this stuff before it goes out because both "Surveys" are, in fact, insignificant and one threatens our system to its foundation. The fact that these would be sent out as if they added systemic value at this time boggles the mind.

One of the Surveys FPY Agency Leadership Stakeholder Survey Preview -- December 2008, endangers even more than UJC's silence the allocations to domestic and overseas agencies based on, get this, discussions and interviews with six pilot communities. Those discussions led to a survey completed by "462 agency leaders from 27 communities..." a "robust" response rate. And here are the incredible conclusions as presented:

1. "FPY Agency Early Insight (what the heck is that? Will there be a "late insight" to follow?) #1: Agencies are Most Influenced by How Cooperatively They Perceive That Federation Raises and Distributes Funds."

2. "FPY Agency Leadership Early Insight #2: Donors Give More When They Feel that Agencies are Doing a Better Job."

3. "FPY Agency Leadership Early Insight #3: "Agencies Value Federation's Help in Times of Trouble."

All one can say is: duh!!What revelations!! What insights!! Is there a federation CEO or Chair who needed this research to support these conclusions? Who needed this stuff particularly at this time? What was the point in sending it out at all, let alone now?

One of my friends, a Federation Chair, wrote to me after reading this Survey: "...peer yardstick -- mediocrity is the king." UJC's epitaph as well. Can't we get some new, invigorated! (The Detroit Lions are, by the way, now 0-15.)


But, FPY isn't all. On Tuesday, there it was, another UJC's Economic Crisis E-Newsletter. The subject this time promised much -- UJC RESPONDS TO FRAUD LOSSES HITTING THE COMMUNITY -- and delivers...nothing. There is a quote from New York UJA's Chair. Jerry Levin about the impacts and, then, UJC speaks...."No one knows yet how serious the system-wide damage will be. Right now, UJC is surveying federation endowment professionals and others to get an accurate read on the system's financial exposure and to determine how to respond." Uh-huh -- let's see if I read this correctly: "UJC RESPONDS..." by " determine how to respond." (Is there an organization in Jewish history that is so obsessed with surveying the obvious? Federation to UJC: "Do Jewish children love their mothers?" UJC: "We'll survey that and get back to you in a few months.")

Then, if you're with me, "...some of the programs" for the UJC 2009 Investment Institute (no doubt, the "II," not to be confused with the "FLI" or the "FPY" or Shoo Fly Pie) have been "refocused" so the matters can be discussed in February 2009. In comparison -- direct comparison -- take a look at what the Jewish Funders Network has done since the Madoff scandal broke. Per the JTA, JFN convened a meeting Tuesday in New York of "35 of the country's largest foundations," it "is developing a comprehensive plan to help non-profits hit hard..." by Madoff "that includes bridge funding." UJC "surveys" and, yesterday, Rieger sends out a Memo of its plans, as our national institution to do, essentially, that which it has been doing -- nothing. I don't know, my friends, but UJC has moved from irrelevance to farce and irrelevance at a time of our greatest need for a strong central institution of and for the federations. It's pitiful.

We can do better. The federations conceived of UJC as something so much better. We must insist it be that which we had conceived it to be.


Monday, December 22, 2008


It was in the relative youth of so many of us that John F. Kennedy uttered that immortal charge to us all: "Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country." Today, it's Mssrs. Rieger and Kanfer who charge us differently: "Ask not what UJC can do for you -- ask what you can do for UJC." Why the perversion; well, it's just the way it is. It's not enough that the federations pay $37 million for a return so meagre as to be laughable, it's that UJC continues to demand: "do as we say, not as we do..." Examples?

~ UJC's chief professionals suggest that, in light of Madoff and the economic meltdown, that federations consider placing their endowment assets with, e.g., Chicago -- which many of them have done. But UJC? Continues to manage its own rather limited endowment.

~ UJC, on its tiny economic crisis link on the website, suggests, among steps federations might take, federation and agency belt-tightening. For UJC...uh uh, nope, not us. (I assume UJC believes simply that the $3.2 million budget cut last June was it -- forgetting that that federation demand had nothing...nothing... to do with the economic crisis and everything to do with bloat and a basic failure to perform.)

~ UJC, as you will recall, over the months since its 2008-2009 Budget was approved, made one "ask" for additional dollars after another -- and every single one of those asks failed. UJC's CEO's idea of fund raising appears to be to send out a Memo (imagine "fund raising by Memo)... and leave it at that. The need to fund the Israel Advocacy Initiative, a joint UJC-JCPA Project -- send a Memo and "raid" the National Alliance Fund for $80,000. No response to the Memo, next thing you know, JCPA is forced into direct fund raising for the IAI. The desperate need to fund the Ethiopian National Project, a Memo from Rieger with no authorization; no response, next thing you know, the ENP is told by UJC to engage in direct fund raising. Hurricane Ike and a $1.7 million need -- open a Mailbox; forward the $80,000 sent by donors, and allocate another $300,000 (+/-) from the Humanitarian Needs set-aside within the UJC Disaster Relief Fund, literally clearing it out. Then UJC asks the Religious Streams for help -- nothing more -- leaving an impacted federation for the first time in our memory holding the bag from a national disaster.

UJC has about $16 million in unrestricted endowment funds What are they being used for, you ask? Ask Mssrs. Rieger and Kanfer. Is this the kind of emrgency fund the principal of which ought to be invaded for emergencies? Are the needs of the IAI or the ENP or Hurricane Ike Relief sufficient emergencies? Are the horrific deficits being suffered by JAFI and JDC sufficiently critical? I know it's hard to pry Joe's and Howard's fingers from their Strategic Plan drafting pencils. impossible to get them to raise their heads from their Blackberries long enough to see there are a series of emergencies upon UJC being asked, if not now, when?

Friends, well over one year ago, federations and their lay and professional leaders, who objected to the lack of any perceptible return on their communal dues investement were told by Rieger/Kanfer: "Trust us. Give us one year to prove to you UJC's value. Give us one year..." Well, that year passed long ago; there has been no proof...none. ON WHAT CRITICAL ISSUE CONFRONTING THE FEDERATIONS HAS UJC HAD ANY IMPACT WHATSOEVER? is the tragedy of UJC today. When federations face an economic crisis of epic proportions plus a set of major donors across the country impacted by Madoff's perfidy, what right do these leaders have to call upon us to continue to throw dues into the proverbial black hole? And how do Mssrs. Kanfer/Rieger respond: "Trust us. We trust you." Got that? "Trust us. We trust you."

That's their Chanukah gift: "Trust us. We trust you." Huh? Pretty soon they will quoting us Rudyard Kipling.

Chag Chanukah sameach.


Friday, December 19, 2008


A headline writer for the Chicago Tribune sports section clearly has a sense of humor. In the December 11 section, the Trib announced a New York Mets trade as follows: Mets add Putz to bullpen. Now, it's true that the New York National League team had traded for relief pitcher J.J. Putz but, couldn't the headline writer have put it a bit, uh, differently? No, because he has a sense of humor.

Speaking of which, on December 8, the UJC Board Chair, Joe Kanfer, he of an absolutely phenomenal sense of humor, issued the formal invitation to the UJC Federation Leadership Institute. If you thought the GA Board Meeting in Jerusalem was meaningful, you'll love the Palm Beach Institute in February. Here's the deal: "[T]he FLI (you recall that everything at UJC is gleefully reduced to acronyms) theme is Federation System: Managing through difficult times, positioning for growth." So what if it's a year late and a dollar short, and the crisis magnified in so many places by Madoff's fraud, you would think that UJC will focus its Board/federation leadership on the impacts of the economic crisis from this tag line, wouldn't you? Not so fast.

Not so fast because if one reads on in the 8 December Kanfer Memo, you discover that the Institute as planned will have little if anything to do with the crisis, with the federations' needs, and everything to do with Kanfer's and his CEO's perception of "what's good for the federations." "[W]e will tackle a number of critical issues, including UJC's roles, governance and the approaches we take to the major challenges we face. We will also have an opportunity to review the results of market research we are conducting to help the system build a stronger continental federation brand." Important stuff? Not so much.

Then, Kanfer's Memo was followed by a double-barreled attempt at UJC humor -- a UJC Communications announcement Strategic Plan Group Nears Final Recommendations and last Friday's Howard's View. Where's the humor you ask? Well, it turns out that UJC's Strategic Planning Working Group is chaired by (trumpets please)...UJC Board of Trustees Chair Joe Kanfer. The insularity of the current leaders has never been more in evidence. The Work Group of 38 "representing all city-size communities" excludes lay leaders (and, in some instances, lead professionals) from critical (and by that I mean "vital") federations, many of whose leaders' requests to participate in this process were summarily ignored. (Then, in that font of great humor, the weekly Howard's View [December 12], Rieger, among other things, reports that the Strategic Planning Work Group is populated by 36, not 38. But we already know from the various estimates of GA attendance, Howard can't count.)

The Work Group met in NYC last week as they "near final recommendations." Then, we will have the chance to discuss them. Try as they will UJC's tiny group of leaders can't convince me of the relevance of a Strategic Plan at this critical time of the federations' greatest needs that they are paying anything but lip service to the federations themselves. These leaders have their own agenda, their own prescription of what's "best for the federations," and they are going to pursue that agenda even while the system is at risk. No joke there.

The capper? Kanfer is quoted: "The discussion marked a crucial point for the strategic planning process, in that the work group achieved consensus around some complex and critical issues that will help our continental collective system." BUT WE'RE NOT TELLING YOU WHAT THEY ARE! WE COULD, BUT WE WON'T. No Joe doesn't think we have the intelligence to comprehend these "complex and critical issues" on which consensus was built unless better minds -- a "steering committee comprised of the sub-group chairs" -- visited us and explained them to us. Oh, "if we only had a brain..." And if UJC's leaders "had a brain," would they not immediately refocus the FLI on the crisis facing federations today -- on the impacts of the economy coupled with the impacts of Madoff's perfidy. are on one path and we're sticking to it no matter how irrelevant. (During the UJC Executive Committee meeting this week, Rieger, into the fourth and final year of his failed Presidency suggested that UJC "collect" federation information on the individual instances of Madoff investments in the communities. When ask "what for," Rieger, as could be expected, had no answer.)

For humor, one needs only to read Howard's View each week, a veritable treasure trove of unintended comedy. In addition to the idiocy cited above, last Friday Howard again cited, among the UJC "Economic Initiatives" at GA08, "...the plenary on economic implications for Israel and its supporters with bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and ...Benjamin Netanyahu" as if that Plenary had anything to do with our federations. Howard, Howard, Howard...THIS HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CRISIS THE FEDERATIONS FACE TODAY. I repeat, THAT PLENARY HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH THE CRISIS THE FEDERATIONS FACE TODAY. In fact, nothing...nothing... at the GA had anything to do with the economic impacts our federations are confronting.

I have observed before that this sorry leadership emulates Nero fiddling while Rome burns. And the music just gets louder while the flames grow closer and Kanfer and Rieger are heard to shout: "Let them eat cake." Add the massive fraud perpetrated by Bernard Madoff to the economic tsunami and one can only ask where, oh where has UJC been, when will it focus on federations' needs as opposed to what these leaders perceive federations need -- there is, as you know, a great gulf between the two.

Got to love them. But, the joke's on us.

Shabbat shalom, chevra.


Monday, December 15, 2008


Albert Einstein was allegedly heard to say that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. If that is insanity, I admit to it (if one who is in fact insane can be believed). Yet, almost every day one learns of some act of UJC or some failure to act that can reduce you to either tears or hysterical laughter. So let's look at how UJC is going about cash collections at this most difficult time; then you decide whether to laugh or cry.

Some background. In the past, under a succession of CFO's of UJA and, then, UJC, we organized a lay-professional partnership in the year-end cash collection effort. The process was simple: the UJC Financial pros would call communities to inquire as to the federation's cash projections (to assure that December projections were consistent with allocations, previous projections, etc.). If a federation was non-responsive to the UJC professionals, the Financial Relations Chair (up to a point in time that was me [or, before and after me, Norm Tilles of Rhode Island, or Alan Shulman of Palm Beach] Today it is Jacksonville's Steve Silverman, a great lay leader poorly used by the Board Chair and CEO). We would get the name of the federation Chair and we would call lay leader talking to lay leader. Frequently, we would call on members of the Financial Relations Committee to call a community in their region -- e.g., Jerry Yanowitz in the West, Conrad Giles, Midwest, etc. Sometimes a City-size Chair like Kathy Manning back in the day. Often, not surprisingly, the federation lay leader we would call would not be aware of a cash issue...but they always followed through. Our results were uniformly good -- even excellent. And our calls went to every federation regardless of size. We didn't wait for the community to call the national organization; we were proactive. For a brief period, Sam Astrof, UJC's COO/CFO followed the same established protocol. Not any more.

Sam with his professionals in the cash effort, Pam Zaltsman and Cheryl Lefland were totally commited to the success of the federations' cash effort -- this was their sacred calling. They know and knew how critical the cash they collected was to those of our prople most in need. Someone directed them to change a lay-professional process that was working.

For the process was changed by some undisclosed fiat; cash collections were henceforth to be strictly "professionalized." The results, as they say, speak for themselves. In 2007, when a community was non-responsive to the Finance Department's professionals calls, if to a Large City, the CEO was charged with responsibility. At the end of 2007, JAFI's and JDC'S cash receipts from UJC's collections fell millions...millions... under UJC's own projections. Case in point: one Large Federation in the East was not responsive to UJC's staff's calls; Rieger called the Executive whose apparent response was: "we're doing the best we can. Tell your staff to leave us alone." Rieger reported back to the staff to stop calling that community. The result, that federation's cash payments were $2.7 million below UJC's projections. There were explanations -- reasons that were not disclosed to UJC (in fairness to that federation, its chief professional may have explained the circumstances to Rieger in December 2007 who never discloed the circumstances) until lay leader inquiries in mid-2008. Could a lay leader's engagement have made a difference in December 2007? Doubtful in this instance but, most certainly, projections to JAFI and JDC and those "partners" expectations would have been changed.

Sure, Michael Gelman, UJC's Treasurer, made some calls in 2007. Generally they were uninformed and without the structure that had been built over time. The wheel was remade...and then, as with all things UJC it seems, fell off the truck. Cash concerns were expressed in passing at the GA08 Board meeting. And it is clear that UJC is making a concerted effort here in December to emphasize cash collections: an important system-wide conference call and an, attempt, described below, to engage UJC lay leaders with communities in the cash effort. Is it too little, too late? The results will, as they say, speak for themselves.

In mid-2007, I had urged the Board Chair and CEO and CFO, in writing, to reinstitute the lay cash collections process that had been so successful at the same time that I urged a lay driven cash collections process for IEC collections after learning that UJC hadn't any data on the full extent of the IEC Campaign. I was ignored as always. (Strange, but this leadership's attitude seems to be "if it's broken, don't fix it.") Post GA08, UJC set forth its Cash Collections process in the midst of the economic crisis -- once again a professional process the prior year's results notwithstanding. One of our system's best Executives wrote UJC's leaders urging a lay driven collections process, envisioning a system as potentially impactful as I outlined above. The UJC Chair couldn't have responded more quickly, positively or, for him, enthusiastically -- "Howard will implement" or words like that. And, then...not so much.

On December 4, Sam Astrof sent his Memo as UJC COO/CFO to Federation CEO's and CFO's (but, curiously given its content, not to the UJC Board): Financial Matters to Consider During These Turbulent Times (ahhh, that's what we're in -- "turbulent times"). Some excellent suggestions until the ultimate Point 7: Cash Mobilization:

"UJC is ready to assist federations with collecting year end cash pledges by offering UJC lay
leadership. i.e., UJC Board Members as well as appropriate leadership from our partner
agencies to contact donors and meet with federation lay leadership or federation boards. If
you would like to avail your federation of this service, please contact

Quite a "service." Sure, in the past I would be asked to call a UJC lay leader to request their help in their community. We did engage where a federation responded and believed it would be helpful. UJC's new "Rube Goldberg-like" process -- "call us, we won't call you" -- was as far from that Large City Executive's proposal for a cash collection methodology as it was from any hope for success. UJC was given a template by a major federation leader that offered the possibility of a successful cash season at a most difficult time -- instead of just implementing the recommendation that it had been given, UJC felt it necessary to tweak it, to change it, to substitute its own cockamamie formula for failure for one that might have achieved success. (Picture this conversation: UJC lay leader: "I want to call _____. your largest contributor, and collect his pledge for you." Federation CEO: "Are you nuts?" "Bang" -- the sound of the telephone hitting the cradle. UJC leader: "Hello? Hello?") That's UJC in a nutshell.

Now, I have learned, UJC will role out a new Cash Collection process today. I can't conceive how it will be so helpful to federations and UJC's partners to read about it with two weeks...two weeks... left in the calendar year -- the year-end on which JAFI and JDC are so dependent. (Apparently, this "new...process" consists of a Memo from Rieger to Federation Executives "advising" them that unnamed "UJC leaders" will be calling their federation Chairs to thank them for their cash efforts and offer assistance. See paragraph immediately above.)

My head hurts...but at least I know where it is. I have a suspicion I know where UJC's head is as well.


Sunday, December 14, 2008


As the economic disaster is upon us like a tsunami, then Bernard Madoff's perfidy follows it like a tidal wave. We are already learning of the impacts of Madoff's admitted fraud on foundations and donors from Boston to Los Angeles, from Palm Beach to New York, and all that we have learned so far is, I am afraid, but the tip of an iceberg that may threaten the growth and the stability of the communal enterprise in so many parts of our country. And all of this is happening while our federations' national institution has hung the "business as usual" sign on its door. The sad irony is, of course, that had the economy not cratered to the extent that it has, Madoff would have continued his Ponzi scheme unabated. While the profits rolled in, no one was watching, now the whole world is.

All that our enterprise is about is trust. Investors blindly trusted Madoff and they entrusted the apparent returns on their investment to their philanthropy. Our communities and our foundations trusted in the continuity of support as those who invested with this now admitted criminal trusted in the annual profits they received year after year. Our federation system has been built on trust -- trust is the bedrock on which our communities have been built. When the great federation endowments were built, speculative investments were unheard of -- returns on investment may have been small but they appeared to be secure. As fortunes grew an imperative seemed to emerge that demanded more speculation to build returns more quickly.

Now we once again will find our strength in Torah, in the Maimonedisian principles that have guided our philanthropy and in the values and inspiration that have built our communal institutions. And we will find the new leaders in whom we can trust and who will guide us on our way to new strength and renewed trust.

The results today, as they say, speak for themselves. It is all so terribly sad.


Thursday, December 11, 2008


One of the best friends of this Blog and of our federation system has sent me some guidance on how to achieve the best non-profit Boards and the most responsible Chair -- Assuring Accountability and Engagement. He sent the materials on to me from a University Board Seminar he attended. The points made should be studied by our federations but, most critically, by each of us who are members of the UJC Board and its Chairs and CEO -- whose reading skills have proven to be in serious doubt.


1. A Board only exists when it is meeting.
2. A board is an entity not a collection of individuals.
3. The authority of the Board derives from the whole, not from any individual Board member."


1. The Duty of OBEDIENCE
2. The Duty of CARE
3. The Duty of LOYALTY"

(Each "Duty" above is to the institution, not fealty to a transient set of leaders.)

After pointing out that "[V]olumes of research suggest that a diverse group of independent Directors with access to good information will consistently make better decisions about big picture issues...," the experts frame the question: Then why in many cases don't they?


"1. The Board has ultimate authority.
2. The Chair is accountable to the Board.
3. The CEO reports to the Board.
4. All committees and their Chairs report to and are accountable to the Board.
5. The Executive Committee reports to and is accountable to the Board."

"Consequently," these experts in non-profit governance write, "Boards must expect and emphasize competence and accountability in all Board Members and leaders."

(An aside, at UJC there has been a fundamental and egregious breakdown in all areas of authority. The UJC Board has essentially abandoned its responsibilities to a Chair and CEO who demonstrate no sense of responsibility to their Board.)

"BOARDS AS TEAMS: Real teams don't emerge unless individuals on them take risks involving conflict, trust, inter-dependence and hard work."


1. Have good fights -- Team harmony is in most cases apathy
2. Focus on facts or tasks
3. Multiply alternatives
4. Create common goals
5. Have great processes for problem solving and religiously follow them
6. Balance power structure
7. Seek consensus with qualifications
8. Use humor
9. Transparency."

Now, UJC's "leaders" will read 1-9 and conclude "we're doing all of this; what's Wexler's problem?" Folks, you're doing none of them.

The authors continue:


1. Serve as Advisor to CEO
2. Serve (as) Advisor to Committee Chair
3. Serve as Board's Representative both internally and externally
4. Chairs Board's Executive Committee
5. Perform other tasks necessary for ensuring high levels of Board performance"

Then, the final admonition: "YOU, our Board as an Entity, are responsible for the leadership and success of (UJC)"

No one reading this and serving on UJC's Board can any longer avoid the fiduciary responsibility that comes with the position. You never could. Understand and challenge. Engage and demand.


Monday, December 8, 2008


At some point you just have to admire the tenacity of UJC's Chair and CEO. Their need for adulation is unceasing and their engagement in self-congratulatory expressions never stops either. Such is the case with GA08. The CEO finally got around to congratulating himself (and others) on the GA in the December 2 Howard's View. Great stuff, really. The number of attendees for all of you still interested, ends at 5,100 (down from 5,479 but way up from 2,500). Were that true, that would be fantastic.

Each of you who was there has your own sense of the success of GA08 (or the lack thereof) but I want to focus on the congratulatory note in the View. Apparently lacking any other trustworthy source, the CEO quotes, who else, his Board Chair. Joe Kanfer, Chair of the UJC Board of Trustees, said this was "a truly great GA" that not only inspired people, but was staged despite major budget restraints...These guys will never learn that you can't propel yourself forward by patting yourself on the back.

At the GA08 we convened a Board meeting of United Israel Appeal. It was a dinner meeting to transact some business, install Bruce Arbit as the new Chair of UIA/UJC, honor the leaders responsible for the historic effort to achieve and sustain the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Grant and bid me adieu after my two terms as Chair. We were honored by the United States Ambassador to Israel and by the presence of over 300 of our UIA family, friends, federation lay and professional leaders, and staff. (OK, so there were 140 guests but, in the spirit of UJC's "count" of GA "attendees," isn't a guy entitled to a bit of gross overstatement?)

There was a beautiful tone to the evening -- one of celebration of common cause. I was not only gratified by the turn-out, and the presence of those with whom I have shared so much, but as well with the fact that Kathy Manning attended after, I have been told, she and other UJC Officers were "directed" by the Board Chair to stay away. (The fact that Kanfer did so -- thereby refusing to honor Bruce, to whom he and Rieger have promised their unequivocal support -- is merely a further demonstration of the institutional pettiness with which UJC has been led these past two years.)

At the onset of my UIA Chairmanship, I. too, was expressly promised UJC's lay and professional leaders' support. More critically, I asked for assurance that UIA would be consulted on all matters related to the Jewish Agency for Israel, UIA's "exclusive agent" for purposes of our system's allocations to JAFI. No sooner was the 2006 Los Angeles GA over, no sooner was "the ink dry" on this "agreement," than Rieger and Kanfer were off attempting to preempt UIA's JAFI role time and again. In March 2007, on the cusp of the issuance of the infamous Organizational Strategy Howard called me to offer a "head's up," as he called it, and advised me of the intended marginalization of the annual campaign within the new structure. I objected -- strongly -- not knowing until I read the Strategy that UIA's roles were intended to be delimited as well. No consultation, no discussion -- just dictation. And when I objected, the process of "wexlerization" began -- a process that continued through the UIA Dinner meeting at GA08.

All of us recognize today, as I did for two years, that UJC's Chair and CEO have chosen a secrecy strategy worthy of the Kremlin under Stalin and his henchmen. The attempted actions directed at UIA were merely the harbinger of actions to come that affect us all. As bad, the actions taken in the shadows, have painted a picture of an UJC out of touch and out of control.

It's time for major change imposed from ownership upon leadership. Long past time.


Friday, December 5, 2008


The Detroit Lions are a disgraced franchise in the National Football League. They have started this 2008 Season at 0-12 and may break the all-time record for the most defeats in a single season. This is not a record any sports team would want. Each year, on Thanksgiving Day, the Detroit Lions play a home game -- for the sports fan, the Lions are almost as much a part of Thanksgiving as is turkey. Today the Lions are the turkey.

What does this have to do with UJC you ask? Well, this past Holiday, CBS Investigative Reporter, Arman Ketayan, born in Detroit, analyzed the plight of the Lions and Detroit, in words that resonated "UJC" to me. Let me paraphrase: "To the downright despair of so many...(UJC is) the spitting image of Detroit: poor design, faulty engineering, bad parts and the wrong (men) behind the assembly line of problems." What Ketayan suggested for the Detroit Lions basically follows what I and others have suggested as potential cures for UJC -- change the bad parts to good and put the right women or men "behind the wheel" immediately.

In the Detroit Lions' case, there is a paucity of talent; in UJC's case, the problems that exist are not for lack of talent. At UJC there exist a wonderful group of dedicated professionals. They are encumbered by the lack of leadership -- lay and professional. In football, the plays are called in from the coaching staff and are executed by the pros on the field; at UJC, the plays are constantly being changed -- even as one play is being executed, the "leaders" are reversing themselves and heading in a different direction. Few can appreciate how these constantly changing directions can destroy the professionals' morale.

Bottom line, Arman Ketayan demanded that the Detroit Lions' owners -- not surprisingly, the Ford Family -- sell a team that has been pathetic for almost a decade. In the instance of UJC, it's time for the owners to take charge, to demand evidence of UJC's value for the money/dues paid it year-in and year-out. Slowly, led not by those paying the most dues, but by those for whom the "Fair Share dues" have become so painful, so unsupportable, those demands are being made. "What are we getting for our dues, for $37 million in dues" is a demand for proof -- and UJC "leaders" can't/won't respond. They no longer have a response if they ever did. UJC's mantra now of "Wait 'till February 2009" is like another pathetic sports team -- Chicago's Cubs -- whose pathetic "wait 'till next year" doesn't resonate after a century of futility.

Detroit Lions/UJC -- today, one and the same.


Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Two weeks ago I wrote of the irony I found in the UJC Chair's unilateral "negotiation" of a Dues deal with South Palm Beach County after falsely accusing me of "sweetheart deals" when I was actually charged with the responsibility as Financial Relations Chair. In this instance, Kanfer was alleged to have "guaranteed" the deal -- essentially a loan back to the federation of a substantial portion of its Dues obligation to be repaid with interest over time. I suppose that "deal" was intended to be ratified after the fact by the Financial Relations Committee.

As a not insignificant number of other federations have demanded dues relief, the UJC Officers appear to have decided among themselves to preempt the Financial Relations Committee and, as in all things, go it alone... a mistake, bad mistake.

A major Midwest Large City federation advised UJC leaders three years ago that it would no longer pay full dues -- it was demanding a reduction of over $1 million, as I recall. UJC made its "usual" forays into the community -- even to the irrational unprofessional direct approach of the President and CEO to Federation lay leaders without consultation with the Federation CEO. A meeting was held in NYC among Federation and UJC lay leaders in December 2006 (a meeting resisted for weeks by the UJC President who wished no further lay leader involvement) -- to no avail. UJC, as a sop to the community, gave it seats on the Budget & Finance Committee and, at least temporarily, on the UJC Executive Committee -- to no avail. Sooooo, Treasurer Michael Gelman, with some assistance from another of the Large City Executives, entered the fray.

And, allegedly, another "deal" -- one even more bizarre that that "reached" with South Palm Beach. Under this one, the Federation in question would be permitted to reduce its previously reported Annual Campaign totals so as to bring that Federation's obligation for annual Fair Share Dues down to an agreed upon maximum. (Fair share dues are determined by a federation's annual campaign divided by the aggregate of all American federations' annual campaigns.) Great negotiation -- UJC permits a"fiction" that effectively reduces this federation's annual campaign totals to reduce its dues thereby increasing the dues obligations of all other federations.

To satisfy one important federation, without consultation, in disregard of UJC's obligations to all federations, my federation and yours will pay an even greater dues amount...and this makes sense? This helps to build a system? This is "Fair Share?" Let's all make deals -- UJC will have to hire a new professional just to keep track of the deals!!