Thursday, January 29, 2009


In a brilliant op-ed in The New York Times, on January 27, David Brooks reflected on the criticality of institutions in our lives. Given the issues we face, I wanted to reprint it in its entirety here, and then offer some observations of my own:

"What Life Asks of Us

A few years ago, a faculty committee at Harvard produced a report on the purpose of education. “The aim of a liberal education” the report declared, “is to unsettle presumptions, to defamiliarize the familiar, to reveal what is going on beneath and behind appearances, to disorient young people and to help them to find ways to reorient themselves.”

The report implied an entire way of living. Individuals should learn to think for themselves. They should be skeptical of pre-existing arrangements. They should break free from the way they were raised, examine life from the outside and discover their own values.

This approach is deeply consistent with the individualism of modern culture, with its emphasis on personal inquiry, personal self-discovery and personal happiness. But there is another, older way of living, and it was discussed in a neglected book that came out last summer called “On Thinking Institutionally” by the political scientist Hugh Heclo.

In this way of living, to borrow an old phrase, we are not defined by what we ask of life. We are defined by what life asks of us. As we go through life, we travel through institutions — first family and school, then the institutions of a profession or a craft.

Each of these institutions comes with certain rules and obligations that tell us how to do what we’re supposed to do. Journalism imposes habits that help reporters keep a mental distance from those they cover. Scientists have obligations to the community of researchers. In the process of absorbing the rules of the institutions we inhabit, we become who we are.

New generations don’t invent institutional practices. These practices are passed down and evolve. So the institutionalist has a deep reverence for those who came before and built up the rules that he has temporarily taken delivery of. “In taking delivery,” Heclo writes, “institutionalists see themselves as debtors who owe something, not creditors to whom something is owed.”

The rules of a profession or an institution are not like traffic regulations. They are deeply woven into the identity of the people who practice them. A teacher’s relationship to the craft of teaching, an athlete’s relationship to her sport, a farmer’s relation to her land is not an individual choice that can be easily reversed when psychic losses exceed psychic profits. Her social function defines who she is. The connection is more like a covenant. There will be many long periods when you put more into your institutions than you get out.

In 2005, Ryne Sandberg was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame. Heclo cites his speech as an example of how people talk when they are defined by their devotion to an institution:

“I was in awe every time I walked onto the field. That’s respect. I was taught you never, ever disrespect your opponents or your teammates or your organization or your manager and never, ever your uniform. You make a great play, act like you’ve done it before; get a big hit, look for the third base coach and get ready to run the bases.”

Sandberg motioned to those inducted before him, “These guys sitting up here did not pave the way for the rest of us so that players could swing for the fences every time up and forget how to move a runner over to third. It’s disrespectful to them, to you and to the game of baseball that we all played growing up.

“Respect. A lot of people say this honor validates my career, but I didn’t work hard for validation. I didn’t play the game right because I saw a reward at the end of the tunnel. I played it right because that’s what you’re supposed to do, play it right and with respect ... . If this validates anything, it’s that guys who taught me the game ... did what they were supposed to do, and I did what I was supposed to do.”

I thought it worth devoting a column to institutional thinking because I try to keep a list of the people in public life I admire most. Invariably, the people who make that list have subjugated themselves to their profession, social function or institution.

Second, institutional thinking is eroding. Faith in all institutions, including charities, has declined precipitously over the past generation, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior. Bankers, for example, used to have a code that made them a bit stodgy and which held them up for ridicule in movies like “Mary Poppins.” But the banker’s code has eroded, and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.

Institutions do all the things that are supposed to be bad. They impede personal exploration. They enforce conformity.

But they often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life. "

Let me reiterate Brooks conclusion: ...institutional thinking is eroding. Faith in all institutions, including charities, has declined precipitously over the past generation...Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior...(Institutions) often save us from our weaknesses and give meaning to life.

One of my consistent reflections on these pages has been my concern with the evident desire of the current leadership of UJC to deconstruct institutional memory and what Brooks described as "institutional awareness," in pursuit of their own, and theirs alone, "goals" for our national Jewish institution. Their attitude, reflected in recent correspondence, is simply stated as: "push back on what we perceive to be UJC's goals is to be stuck in an old, out-dated paradigm. Institutional history holds us back. Those who fail to support us will be left behind. We have all the answers."

And, thus, institutions die...if we let them.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This picture was sent to me anonymously. I believe it to be a kuntz....but, who knows!! What I do know is that never...never...has a Jewish organization or its leadership been so out of touch with its owners.

To paraphrase the President of the United States: "starting today, we must pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and begin again the work of remaking" our national institution and making it, once again, ours. For too long, far too long, the federations have abdicated their responsibilities to lead UJC by allowing those who fail to comprehend, even today, the federations' agenda, to essentially do what they please with $40.2 million, now $37 million, a year. That's over. The strains of Les Miserable are playing... to the barricades, chevra.

Surely, some, perhaps many, of you will be attending the Federation Leadership Institute. In advance of the Institute, many of our Federations, or appropriate Committees of our Federations, will meet to discuss (and some to even vote on) the UJC Strategic Planning Working Group Recommendations January 2009. My greatest hope is that UJC's "leaders" will withdraw these Recommendations for further study. Based on past practice, they won't -- they will assert that these Recommendations are the work of 29 outstanding lay and professional federation leaders and, as such, deserve/require your support. If they had their way, there would be no discussion, no debate, just a vote. I would urge you to vote, as well -- and to vote NO, an emphatic "nay." And, in advance of the FLI itself, demand that those who have planned this event (as always, the Chairs, the CEO, the Budget & Finance Chair) step aside from leadership of this Institute and the Large City Executives, in consultation with Executives from across the federation system, take the reins, recast the Agenda not only of the FLI but of UJC and, finally, move UJC forward.

Now we are learning that the so-called SPWG Recommendations were, in fact, in so many areas rewritten by UJC's professionals under the direction of the Board Chair and CEO to reflect their Agenda and theirs alone. The most outrageous, the infamous Recommendations Section 7, which threaten to tear apart the historic partnership of the Jewish People, failed in all ways to reflect the debate or the outcome within the Work Group that spent hours discussing them. What is self-evident is that UJC under this leadership, lay and professional, have shut out the reality of the federation condition in pursuit of their own agenda. Everyone is out of step but them. That's over.

Instead of an agenda serving the interests of but a small group of leaders, let the federations use this "Institute" to begin the process of revival of UJC as its national address. A laboratory of new ideas deedicated to federations' needs. To do so will require that the federations take control back from a small group who still, after three and four years respectively, still don't get it and, apparently, never will.

Whenever the current UJC "leaders" have demanded their Agenda, no matter how poorly thought through, no matter the failure, the refusal to consider the implications of the implementation of their agendas on the federations, they have, time and again, failed to get either the big things or the small things right. Not close. By acquiescing, in the interests of not wanting to hurt their feelings, or because it was easier, or because, quite candidly, we just didn't care, we have cost the federation system dearly, in dollars and in lost credibility. That's over.

Time to take back that which is ours? Let's debate how we do that before we waste more millions of our ever more precious dollars on an agenda that has no relevance and on leaders who have even less.


Monday, January 26, 2009


Maybe some of you have received a pleading phone call from the Chairman of the Board himself telling you how important the Federation Leadership Institute is going to be and how important you are and how critical your participation (that means listening to the Chair [and the CEO, and probably the Treasurer]speak and speak and speak) is. Most of you have received nothing but Memos. Some of the Federation Chairs who have received these calls have told the Chairman of the Board that their federations will no longer pay Fair Share Dues and they are not coming; no doubt the Chair's response is "come down to Florida and let's talk about it." And you tell them to forget it.

Or, maybe your federation is along the travel route of UJC's leaders and, therefore, convenient for them to drop in for a "stop and chat" about your decision to reduce or even stop paying your dues. Maybe your federation leaders had asked to serve on the Strategic Planning Work Group and were ignored; or maybe your federation leaders asked to serve on the UJC Budget and Finance or Executive Committee and were ignored. "Never mind that," you will be told, "We're sorry. Just pay your dues and this time we will work wonders for you. Trust us."

You tell them that UJC has given you no reason to trust them and they respond: "That was then. This is now. We have a Strategic Plan now. Now you can trust us." You tell them you've read nothing in the Strategic Planning Group Recommendations that would help your federation or your donors. They then tell you: "this Plan will help UJC, so, of course, it will help you." (You know like "if it's good for General Motors, it's good for America.") Trust us, now.

You complain about, take your pick, say the Section on Membership (remember, "membership has its privileges") and say "this stuff is really terrible." And they say: "it's the consultant's fault. We had to rewrite the whole thing." You ask: "even the Recommendations?" And they respond: "Just the ones we disagreed with." Trust

And then you laugh...and hang up the phone.


Friday, January 23, 2009


Let me begin this Post with an admission. My federation has supported, since UJC Budget issues first arose, whatever Budget (and, thereby, Dues) UJC has requested. Even as the Budget & Finance Committee voted to support a 2009 Budget of $3.2 million less, to $37 million, Chicago was urging a higher Budget -- perhaps, believing that UJC's "leaders" could spend their way out of the deep chasm they had created. My federation was wrong. I had similarly espoused "as much money as UJC needs" until the 2007 Budget & Finance Committee meetings when, after visiting a number of responsible, caring communities I had found a basic disconnect between these "leaders" and the federations. At a time that called for UJC's total focus on what it could do to help and elevate the federations, UJC's "leaders" were demanding a $1.5 million Budget increase to spend as they saw fit. I voted "no." And, these "leaders" moved forward spending the UJC Budget as they saw fit. I was ostracized, dumped from the Budget & Finance Committee, and, as any regular reader knows, ultimately "wexlerized."

Now, in these first weeks of 2009, many federations have determined that they can no longer support the whims of the "leaders" at 111 Eighth Avenue. UJC has been advised by numerous federations that they will cut UJC's dues, some by 50% and more, others less. UJC has received letters from these federations some individually and others in groups. In their City-size meetings, the federation leadership have advised UJC that they expect to see the Agenda for the Federation Leadership Institute focused on Budget and the economy not on UJC's primary (only?) focuses -- branding, marketing and its "Strategic Work Group" Report. Federations are collectively shouting "we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it any more." And, good for them. The Institute is, after all the "Federation Leadership Institute," not the Kanfer/Rieger leaders' Institute but federations have had no role in setting the Institute Agenda -- until now.

It needn't have come to this. Had UJC's leaders listened to the federations' voices these past three and four years, had they engaged with the federations, had they focused a succession of UJC's annual Budgets on those specific agenda items of and for the federations, had these been truly the leaders of and for UJC's owners, UJC would be in a different place today than it finds itself. But, in Rieger's fourth year and final months as CEO and Kanfer's third year as Board Chair, the failure to listen and the inability to understand let alone lead the federation (as opposed to their own) agenda has deconstructed UJC and weakened the institution to the point of collapse. It did not have to be this way.

Stay tuned


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


In 2002, UJC was in a desperate search for a successor Chair of the ONAD process. I was then Financial Relations Chair and had met at the 2001 General Assembly with Joe Kanfer and the Akron chief professional in a cordial attempt to resolve hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid allocations. Those allocations receivables were still unpaid when I received a call from Joe Kanfer. UJC, he told me, had reached out to him to Chair ONAD. He asked if I thought it appropriate, given his federation's failure to meet its commitments, for him to accept the Chairmanship of ONAD whose focus was on Israel and Overseas Allocations. Joe recognized that it would be impossible for him to carry out that Chairmanship even as UJC's leaders wanted him for the job. Those leaders who offered Joe the position should have known better.

Now, Kanfer, himself, has designated an Intermediate Federation leader as the successor to Toni Young as Chair of Israel Overseas:Global Operations (the infamous IO:GO). It's bad enough that in doing so the Board Chair ignored the entire roster of Federation leaders who have served under Toni's Chairmanship on the IO:GO Council. No, worse, much worse, is that this federation lay leader, no doubt a terrific guy, comes from a federation for which the allocation to Israel and Overseas -- to JAFI and JDC -- is not even an after-thought. This leader's federation's 990's disclose the following -- in fiscal year 2004-2005, an allocation net of Dues (Dues for this purpose estimated throughout at $50,000) of 8%; in 2005-2006, an allocation net of Dues, of 4%; and, according to that feedration's 990 for 2006-2007, a total allocation to UJC of $100...$100!! If you reread the Strategic Planning Work Group Recommendations, one positive was the suggestion of standards (not minima, standards) for allocations for Israel and JDC. And, out of the box UJC's leaders ignore their own Recommendation.

It's not as if the IO:GO Council met more than a couple of times -- Toni Young seemed to make all decisions in consultation with Becki Caspi, UJC-Israel's Senior professional, Kanfer and Rieger -- it's that many of those serving on the Council were from communities that actually made a serious allocation to Israel and Overseas needs. All of them....all of them...were disregarded in the selection of the new Chair. This choice evidences all the reasons that no current UJC lay or professional leadership should participate in the Search or Nominating processes -- they have disqualified themselves.

I submit that if you were the greatest lay leader in the history of Jewish life, the allocations record of your community would disqualify you from any national leadership role. To be anointed by this UJC "leadership" as the Chair of its Israel/Overseas effort neatly symbolizes the total disdain these "leaders" have for those they claim to be UJC's "partners." It also evidences not only how little the Board Chair has learned but, in fact, how much he has forgotten.

"Why," you ask? Ask them.


Thursday, January 15, 2009


As more facts come to light with the disregard UJC's leaders have for process and partners evidenced in the allocation of $10 million in commitments intended for the victims of the War in which Israel finds herself, federations are taking action appropriate to the needs and in disregard of UJC's allocations decisions. Why, you ask? It's not a pretty answer. Here are the facts as I understand them:

One week ago, UJC held an emergency Executive Committee Meeting. After what has been described to me by many of the participants as a "chaotic, almost out of control" teleconference, UJC agreed to raise $10 million in relief funds based on submittals from JDC and JAFI...and only from JAFI and JDC. To many, if not all, who were on that call, the funds were to be distributed to JAFI and JDC for emergency relief. Uh-uh. UJC's "leaders" reconstituted the IEC Work Group which decided, in a teleconference on Tuesday, to determine for themselves how to split this very small pie among JAFI, JDC and, without regard to the Executive Committee decision, other organizations. And, therein lies the rub.

So here's my speculation as to "process:" Jim Lodge, one of the Senior managers in UJC-Israel, received marching orders from Rieger to get money from the IEC Work Group for two of Rieger's pet "asks," the Israel Advocacy Initiative and the Ethiopian National Project. (You will recall that two of Rieger's "most urgent asks" in 2008 were for these needs to which the federations responded with silence.) During the Executive Committee teleconference only hours earlier, Rieger's request for funding these two initiatives was emphatically rejected by the Executive Committee. So working in his favored milieu, the shadows, the darkness, Rieger had found the way to corrupt the UJC process, and he grabbed it. Even though the Executive Committee had only the urgent requests of JAFI and JDC in front of them when they came to their decisions, the Work Group felt sufficiently empowered to allocate funds to other organizations without regard to the Executive Committee. (It is also critical for us to understand that the IEC Work Group had been disbanded after its "prioritization" of the allocation of IEC funds was completed. When, upon Kanfer's ad hoc delegation of the division of these critical funds to the IEC Work Group -- it no longer existed. So when the Work Group convened, people just "popped in" -- for example, the UJC Treasurer, who was not on the Work Group at any time, joined the call, expressed his opinion on a number of allocation matters. One member was now serving as the Treasurer of one of the fund recipients, spoke and voted, and so on. A corrupt process further corrupted.)

So, the ITC received $1,421,036, the ENP $514,628 and the IAI $250,000. And, what about, for example, ORT, whose emergency work in Israel's South is well known to Lodge and Rieger and whose emergency needs certainly exceeded the ENP's and the IAI's arising out of this conflict? Not enough clout with Rieger/Lodge? Were the ITC, the ENP, the IAI asked to submit requests for funding and ORT and others not? Were those requests available before the Executive Committee meeting and not included or did Rieger/Lodge ask the ITC and ENP and IAI to submit requests on Monday or Tuesday of last week after the Executive Committee met?

In all events, this is no way for our national body to make decisions, is it? Some federations, sickened by the lack of any acceptable process have decided they will not send emergency funds through UJC. Others find the "process" just another nail in the coffin of a moribund organization.

Just another week in the life or death of UJC.



Gary Rosenblatt, the brilliant and insightful Editor and Publisher of The Jewish Week has published an incredible editorial that I want ot bring to your attention with full attribution to Gary. Read it carefully, my friends and then think about what we, the owners of United Jewish Communities, can do today, tomorrow, immediately to reclaim UJC for ourselves and realize on our potential. Carpe diem.

"Can Federations Seize The Moment?
by Gary RosenblattEditor And Publisher

This is the moment, in the midst of philanthropic crisis, for Jewish federations to reclaim their status as the primary and central address of the American Jewish community.
But while one could make the case, logically, there is more to leadership than logic. And the fact is that the national federation system, embodied by United Jewish Communities (UJC), the umbrella group of North American federations, has been a major disappointment to many of its members, seen as lacking focus and behind the curve. Executives and lay leaders question whether it is up to the current challenge, with the philanthropic community at a crossroads, if not a precipice.
Over the last decade, centralized giving — the backbone of the federation concept and system — has
been eclipsed by family foundations, which generated and distributed major dollars for innovative projects, and by smaller, hands-on charities that appealed to donors who wished to play a more direct role in determining where and how their money was spent.
The foundations represented a new level of philanthropy in the community, with some of the so-called mega-donors contributing tens of millions of dollars a year for Jewish causes. And the hands-on, or “boutique” charities were particularly popular among a younger generation uninterested in contributing to the big and somewhat anonymous umbrella of communal charity.
As a result, some predicted the further decline, if not demise, of the federations in the 21st century.
Now, though, with the economic crisis beginning with the collapse of Wall Street and punctured further by the Madoff scandal, the entire landscape of communal life has been shaken and the philanthropic sphere is being severely tested.
Foundations have proven vulnerable, susceptible to the market meltdown and to poor investments.
Some of our finest charitable institutions closed virtually overnight, victims of the Madoff fiasco, and many others have been forced to scale down their ambitious plans.
Similarly, some of our most creative, hands-on charities are faced with the possibility of cutting back, merging or even shutting down because they rely on year-to-year grants and have no endowments.
Enter — or rather, re-enter — the federations, often criticized as yesterday’s version of Jewish charity: overly bureaucratic, slow to act and lacking in vision. But also credited with being in place, representing the community as a whole, and enjoying the respect and envy of other communities for their wide range of professional expertise.
Indeed, at this time of crisis, no other component of the Jewish community is as prepared to respond to the wide array of social service needs at home, from feeding the hungry to finding employment for the jobless to offering counseling for the depressed. And no other single source could mobilize support for Israel as the federations have, from providing care for the tens of thousands of residents under rocket attack to coordinating rallies and lobbying efforts at home.
‘Jewish Tax’
Now in their second century on the American scene, federations were created to meet the needs of immigrants and others struggling for equality. Communities formed a centralized agency to raise and distribute funds, and the annual campaign was launched to pool resources and then distribute them according to priorities and needs, from health care to Jewish education.
The annual campaign became a voluntary “Jewish tax” for those involved in Jewish life, the modern-day version of the half shekel all adults were commanded to contribute to the building of the mishkan (or, the tabernacle) in the Bible.
In time, though, as the system grew more complex and as succeeding generations of American Jews who had less understanding and appreciation of its efforts came of age, federations came to be seen by some as out of touch with the inner needs of younger Jews interested in new causes and in being more directly involved with those causes.
Today, though, with a renewed emphasis on transparency and unity, federations are ready to resurface as the leading instrument for Jewish giving in this country, for both practical and philosophical reasons — if they can overcome some major challenges, like the perception that they lack vision and leadership, and are elitist.
“Federations could indeed emerge out of the current situation with a rejuvenated role within our communities,” noted Ted Sokolsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toronto, one of the most successful federations in North America.
He recently predicted to his board that “the appeal of the boutique charities would fade” in the current economic environment, and he senses a “very rapid shift in terms of greater value being placed on mutual responsibility versus unbridled individualism.”
Sokolsky and others interviewed expressed great admiration and appreciation for those mega-donors who have brought innovation and generosity to Jewish philanthropy over the last two decades with a range of successful projects, most notably Birthright Israel, which has brought some 200,000 young Jews on free trips to the Jewish state.
But he noted “there was a price to pay for the kind of raw, self-centered individualism that we saw in the markets and unfortunately that spread to philanthropy.”
In response to this “my way or the highway ... rallying cry of a new generation raised in the excess of the boom years,” Sokolsky thinks there will be a shift toward “a new emphasis on shared values, greater collective responsibility and a return to working within a shared communal framework.”
Engage And Inspire
John Ruskay, CEO and executive vice president of UJA-Federation of New York, agrees, and sees hope for cooperation between the foundations and federations, with each recognizing the other’s strengths.
“My critique of boutique giving was of exclusive boutique giving,” he said. “It can be positive, but there is also a need to support not only the things you care about but also the things you care less about,” like the unglamorous but vital work of free loans societies, burial societies and other agencies that are part of the federation system.
The primary challenge, according to Ruskay, is not fundraising, which is how federations are perceived by many, but rather to “engage people in Jewish life.” If you can do that, he says, they will want to support the causes and projects they come to value.
“If people don’t develop a Jewish identity, issues of federations will be irrelevant to them.”
Barry Shrage, president of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston and known as a bit of a gadfly among his peers, said, “The biggest problem with most federations is they don’t have the dream or vision or story to tell.”
Simply asking people for funds each year to support the same agencies as the year before won’t cut it, he said. “The goal can’t be just to raise more money than last year. Before you ask people for money, you have to offer them something worth doing, something that inspires them.”
That happens through personal contact and listening to people’s hopes and goals, not mass marketing, Shrage said, noting that he meets not only with major donors but “with anyone who wants to meet with me.”
Making up for the loss of some of his biggest givers will take decades, he said, “but we have to rebuild every day and be there for every Jew.”
And for all the problems facing federations, “with everything else shaking, the stability of our federation system is important,” according to Shrage. “This is a moment for us.”
But he is concerned that many are operating as if it’s business as usual rather than in crisis mode.
“We should be on the phone every day meeting to deal with the Birthright situation,” he said, in light of the concern that the program will have to cut back drastically on the number of young people it can bring to Israel this year.
What’s striking is the dearth of national leadership at this juncture.
“The federation system has not been exerting itself the way one would expect at this moment,” observed Jonathan Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University. He noted that UJC has been largely silent on the crises within Birthright as well as the Coalition for Advancement of Jewish Education, a national organization struggling to survive, and other groups.
The innovation seems to be coming from individuals and smaller groups, like the Jewish Funders Network, which brought several dozen groups together last month to strategize and formulate an action plan, Sarna said.
UJC is planning a major meeting in Florida early next month that will focus on leadership, but it is in transition now, with its chief executive, Howard Rieger, stepping down this spring at the completion of his five-year tenure, and no successor named.
Several observers said the community needs a Jewish communal version of Barack Obama, a talented advocate for innovation who can inspire confidence. Sarna made the analogy to how the federation system, like big government in Washington, was once viewed as part of the problem but now is seen by many as part of the solution, if not the salvation.
What is clear is that the community is facing major decisions about how to move forward at a time of economic contraction, and questioning priorities, modes of operation, and goals.
Such reflection can be healthy, and the federation system should be poised to step in and say, in effect, “follow us.” But so far the silence is deafening." (reprinted from The Jewish News, January 15, 2009)

Thanks, Gary, for putting it so well.

Monday, January 12, 2009


In addition to Commentators to this Blog who choose to hide behind false names, I also receive hundreds of e-mails in reaction to each of these Posts from correspondents engaged with and, often, leading federations and agencies who don't hide but write knowing that I will not breach their confidence. Over the past few weeks our Posts have stimulated an array of messages that have, among other things, revealed that a greater number of federations than previously disclosed by UJC have decided they cannot or will not pay "Fair Share" Dues, some in whole, others in part; that distrust of the current leadership runs rampant across the federation horizon; that the Strategic Plan Draft is thought to be devoid of value to federations who are trying desperately to deal with the triple blows of the economic crisis, Madoff and the Gaza War; among other things. Many of those who write share a common frustration -- they have raised their concerns directly with UJC's current "leaders" and are totally ignored.

Let's look at what UJC has "accomplished" over just one week in the life of... It convened an Executive Committee meeting to discuss how to react to a War that was already ten days old. Only relief efforts proposed by JDC and JAFI totalling $19 million were in front of and discussed by an Executive Committee in a meeting described to me as "..the most embarrassing, chaotic leadership discussion" some had ever participated in resulting ultimately in the approval of only $10 million for emergency relief efforts. Remember, dear readers, that only JAFI and JDC proposals were on the table for consideration -- not those of ORT or the JCPA or the ITC or any other. Nonetheless, in 24 hours, the Israel Emergency Campaign "Work Group" was resuscitated and that Group of 4 or 5 approved huge grants no only to JAFI and JDC but to the ITC, the IAI and the ENP. I explained to one of my correspondents that the way to get a grant for emergency relief is not to apply for it, to submit no details, but to have the ear of the CEO or Board Chair. It's no way to run our national organization, but is exactly how Governor Rod Blagojevich thought he ran Illinois.

Then, UJC also distributed the Draft Plan Recommendations of its Strategic Planning Wor Group. While the federation participants may have wanted value-added from this $2,000,000 effort, what they received was, in part, a prescription for conflict between UJC, JDC and JAFI, and the reiteration of "plans" already in place or concepts inadequately thought out. UJC's ability to serve as a mediator of issues between its "partners" abandoned forever; its "big ideas" formula for success exposed as no more than a series of half-baked ideas if baked at all.

Yesterday, a National Mission to Israel was to have begun to express our federations' Solidarity with Israel at its time of incredible need. Even though I felt the UJC effort was too long delayed, I applauded it. Thirty lay and professional leaders are there. As with all UJC efforts, there was minimal communication before the Mission -- a Memo was sent out and, given the urgency, a second Memo. Eventually we will hear of the Mission experiences -- probably in a Leadership Briefing.

Let me finish with a letter I received from a federation and national leader who I greatly respect. (Note to Leslie and LTO, this leader signed the e-mail.) with regard to the Strategic Plan Draft focused on overseas and the "planning table." The "other parts" appropriately dismissed --"...apparently the main concern for UJC is to create a mechanism to ensure dues are paid." Here is what this leader wrote:

"UJC has failed miserably at advocating for Overseas needs in general. And these are core needs of JDC and JAFI that most people engaged in our work would not dispute. Many of us see the partnership between federations/UJC and JDC and JAFI as an almost covenantal relationship -- even with all the problems and issues that arise.

So comes UJC who wants to go out and assess the needs (as if it will be better at assessing the needs than the people on the ground actually doing the work), with or without our 'partners' and then wants to advocate for these needs in a new and yet to be determined way. So it wants to add an even greater task to the one that it has utterly failed at all this time.

The beginning of the document states that UJC wants to avoid wasted resources and duplication of efforts. Well it seems to me that UJC will be duplicating the efforts of JDC and JAFI -- and JDC and JAFI will have to go out and develop its own fund raising staff (if I were them I would start this tomorrow morning if they have not already) -- another duplication of efforts.

...And all this while a war is going on.

As far as I am concerned the two greatest responsibilities of UJC are to advocate for Overseas Needs in a clear comprehensive way and to get federations to give their fair share to overseas needs, and secondly to provide the focus, energy, tools for financial resource development..."

Those who use pseudonyms to write this Blog choose to ask "why do you object to UJC's leaders' efforts to effect organizational change?" My answer is writ large, I think, on the Posts over one year of writing -- I, too, want change...change that is responsive to and in leadership of federations' greatest needs. I have yet to see that kind of change recommended by (or, worse, implemented by) this minuscule set of "leaders" and from all that federations and our donors have experienced, the current leaders have no interest in the federation agenda, only their own. To engage with the federations would require a leadership that is inclusive and expansive, one that embraces ideas other than their own. That's not these guys. And, therefore, they must go.

It's almost too late. If it isn't already.


Saturday, January 10, 2009


Two "Commentators" to the Posts on this Blog -- "Leslie" and the unflappable "longtimeobservor" -- have been stirred to write, under their pseudonyms, of course, thoughtful objections to my opinions. While we would all respect their reactions far more if they had sufficient courage in their convictions to identify themselves as I do on each Post, I value their Comments only a little less so than I do those of you -- federation lay and professional leaders around the Continent -- who write and call me in great numbers typically as aghast as I am with what UJC has been turned into.

It is extremely troubling to me that one who knows our system and is concerned about it, as is "Leslie," could write that Israel's war against terror is but "one of Israel's discretionary wars." Descriptive phrases like that discredit and demean you and your comments, Leslie. (And, by the way, after the federations demanded action, UJC endorsed a $10 million emergency assistance effort, to which my federation and New York's each committed $1,000,000 (+/-). Milwaukee $100,000, Cleveland $300,000 (+/-), Houston and others -- yours, Leslie, if you had your way $0, I guess.) But, many of Leslie's observations have been spot on. and all are appreciated.

The ever-lurking "longtimeobserver" continues his well-articulated sycophancy when it comes to all things UJC. I don't pretend that all things are wrong at UJC as any reader would recognize and it is always a great beta test to put an opinion out there and see what the reaction is. I just don't believe that two people with any understanding of collective responsibility can look at UJC ten years after the merger and not conclude that we have wasted $400,000,000 (+/-) on an organization that is currently being run like a failed family business.

I have been overwhelmed by the e-mails I have received from so many of you expressing not only agreement with my Post on "...Corrupt Practices" but who have told me that their federations will no longer transmit dollars through UJC but directly to UIA and JDC. As one who loves our federation system, I wish that UJC were what we had envisioned it would be and would, thereby, be worthy of the trust so necessary as the recipient of our funds.

Bottom line, as anyone who Blogs knows, the Blogger has the ability to block Comments in their entirety. I have not. I have merely asked that those who Comment demonstrate the courage of their convictions by providing their name and e-mail address. Leslie? LTO? "Courage of your convictions?" Or is that being "shrill" and inconsiderate?

Shabbat shalom.


Friday, January 9, 2009


In my home state, the accusations against Governor Rod Blagojevich have exposed the "culture of corruption" that has characterized Illinois political life from State to local levels from time immemorial. After only the years of their service the UJC "leaders" have stamped our national organization with their own culture -- one of practices that corrupt process. It took only 24 hours from the UJC Executive Committee's decision to support a $10,000,000 emergency effort for decisions to go awry in the worst way. Let me explain....

With the notice of the emergency Executive Committee meeting were papers prepared by JAFI and JDC detailing the critical needs created and perpetuated in Israel's South by the War. There were no other papers before the Executive when they voted to approve a $10 million fund raising effort of the $19 million asked. Nonetheless, during the Executive Committee's debate, Howard Rieger hearkened back to two of his failed "asks" of 2008: "don't forget the IAI and the ENP." He was chastised by Executive Committee members and his "asks" once again ignored. The UJC "leadership" -- not the Executive Committee -- then asked the good old IEC Work Group to allocate the funds. It is critical to note that the only documentation before this Work Group were those provided by UJC's partners -- JAFI and JDC.

Didn't stop them. With no, or minimal, participation by federation lay leaders or Executives, the Work Group met on the day after the Executive Committee meeting. Here's a brief...too brief...summary: Allocations to JDC, allocations to JAFI, an allocation of almost equal amount to that to JAFI to the ITC (quick, raise your hands if you have ever heard of the ITC before let alone what it is), and, lo and behold, $515,000 (+/-) to the ENP and another unspecified $250,000 to the IAI.

So, if I understand what has happened, the UJC Executive Committee rejected unspecified "asks" for the ENP and the IAI foe emergency funding to be allocated between JDC and JAFI and a "Work Group" decided it could reject the Executive Committee decision and go off on a frolic of its own to fund two pet projects of the CEO and Board Chair. Are you, with me, sensing some invidious influence here? .

There is an old rubric: the law does not permit what can't be done directly to be done indirectly. But, UJC is not bound by "law" or governance or proper practice. It is governed only by what its "leaders" personal agendas dictate. No credibility; no accountability. And the federation owners......


Thursday, January 8, 2009


On Monday UJC flooded the Internet with Papers -- an Executive Committee outreach on "...Response to Israel's War with Hamas," a "System Update: The Gaza Situation" and, last but certainly not least, a plea to attend the Federation Leadership Institute accompanied by an incredible document (that is the subject of this Post) -- Strategic Plan Work Group Recommendations, Federation Leadership Institute, Draft January, 2009. (the "Plan Draft")

I feel a certain sense of responsibility for some of the incoherence in the UJC approach given my "urging," in my own way, that UJC better communicate with the Federations and its own Board, but, my G-d, there once again appears to have been a rush to completion triggered by a meeting date that overcame reason and coherence. I take no responsibility, however, for recommendations written like this: "Resources required for this role will not be additive to current UJC resources, but should be shifted from other UJC activities or raised from new sources. To minimize additional cost at UJC, the UJC planning capability required for the role must be limited in scale, with total cost limited initially to one proactive professional with support." Or this: "A draft set of revised principles broadly supported by the SPWG appears as Appendix B, pp.12-13. For specific changes from the prior set of principles, see Appendix A, pp. 10-11."

The SPWG is populated by lay and professional leaders for whom I have the greatest respect. I have spoken to some of them, and expect to speak to more of them, and to a person, they, unlike UJC;s leaders, welcome debate, want to engage on the substantive issues and understand that there is the possibility that the law of unintended consequences may play out if these Recommendations as drafted are adopted.

Let's look at the FLI transmittal and, then, the Plan Draft that accompanied it.

~ In the transmittal from Kanfer, Manning and Rieger, the "urgency" of attendance at the FLI is emphasized because that's where -- from February 8-10...a little more than one month from now -- Federation leaders will meet to discuss the implications of the economic and Madoff catastrophes and "the impact on our operations" (what a choice of words and phrases these folks use) of Israel at War. So, it's "urgent" that leadership attend but I sense no parallel "urgency" on UJC's part as our system's supposed "convener" (sic) to bring us together to focus on the two most "urgent" matters confronting us as a system and as individual federations.

And, those two "priorities" were then set aside to allow UJC to state its real focuses for the FLI -- the $2 million Branding and Marketing Initiative, the "findings...will be presented to federation leaders" which will in turn require policy decisions on "how we can reverse the decline of hundreds of thousands of donors...," "dislocation (caused by) population mobility" and "opportunities to reach disconnected potential donors..." I, for one, can't wait -- and, I suppose neither can you. Remember 1000's were interviewed (including federation leaders) -- were you? And, need I remind you...$2,000,000 was spent in this Study, 60% of it without authorization. It should be monumental.

~ Then there is the Plan Draft itself. There is some excellent material in the Draft -- but much of that is merely the restatement of UJC Policies previously adopted -- e.g., the effects of non-payment of dues, UJC as a membership organization, the obligations of each federation to the other. And some critical matters are deferred -- "launching a process to redesign governance," "launch a process to design and execute the new 'planning table'" (more about this scheme in a moment). And many recommendations are redundant: e.g., that Budget will follow Plan -- a principle asserted in each Budget narrative (See, e.g., the previously heralded Organizational Strategy circa March 2007, now obsolete) under these "leaders" only to see each each of the prior "Plans" aborted.

The "Recommendations" themselves include some excellent strategies including simplifying the UJC corporate structure which would have value if UJC leadership would use the "corporate structure" in decision-making. (Of course, this leadership has truly "simplified" decision-making by making decisions without regard to governance at all in so many instances.) The "Recommendations" include the potential for Federations acting together on major initiatives as "coalitions of the willing," enhancing the role of the Board, ending the confusion of Board and Assembly, formalizing optimal communications (this needs codification only because the current leadership communicates mainly among themselves) and a simplification of the By-Laws, among other things.

~But, then, at a moment in time where our partners -- JDC and JAFI -- will have unheard of 2008 and 2009 operating deficits exacerbated by UJC's failed cash collection efforts of tens of millions of dollars, the Plan Draft contemplates planning for more of the failed ONAD process by another name and the potential diversion of federation resources away from our "partners." At a time when support for the federations' partners in Israel and Overseas by UJC is almost non-existent, to plan for the redistribution of allocations to others is destructive and confusing. Yet, that's what has been "planned." (And, I have been told, JDC and JAFI leaders have been told by UJC that they are not to attend the FLI. "Partners" you know.)

If I read the language of the Plan Draft correctly, the UJC assumption is "we underfund JAFI and JDC by tens of millions and it's their fault." Read along as UJC would substitute a "Planning Table" (whatever that means) for ONAD (whatever that meant):

"The SPWG believes there is a strong need for a 'table for global planning' for the Federations which would have the following characteristics and functions:

1. It would be implemented as a consortium (undefined) of member Federations.
2. It would engage in needs assessment, connecting Federations to opportunities for collective action
3. It would assist Federations in clarifying the system's role in Israel, given the scale of today's Israeli economy has changed the context for the system's contribution there
4. While UJC strongly reaffirms that JAFI and JDC are its partners, their involvement at the 'table' will not preclude allowing the Federations to plan without partners for the global use of funds they raise
5. It would create the conditions for successful fund raising by educating...Federations and key influentials...with respect to global needs, rather than simply advocating for how members should allocate their funds
6. It would establish a peer standard range for all Federations for global participation through UJC and draw attention to Federations performing significantly below the standard.
7. It would enrich the range and flexibility of supplemental giving opportunities both with the overseas partners and with additional partners
8. It would work and build relationships with others, including Israeli NGOs and philanthropists" (Emphasis added)

Perhaps the authors of this egregious Section of the Plan Draft believe that the setting of a "peer standard" for global responsibility will pacify critics of the deconstruction of the historic partnership the enhancement of which was central to the merger creating UJC. They would be mistaken. For UJC to tacitly or explicitly rend the very fabric of the system is untenable but wholly consistent with these UJC "leaders" intent to use allocations for needs in Israel and "global" to establish a role for themselves that is currently filled by JDC and JAFI. During what UJC considered its "mediation," JAFI and JDC leaders were expressly promised "prior discussion" of any recommendations that would impact them in this process. Didn't happen. Not close. Friends, given the on-going actions of the current "leaders," these Recommendations are intended to mask, justify and rationalize the creation of an UJC presence in Israel that would duplicate and compete with the successful efforts of JAFI and JDC in place with Israeli philanthropists and Israeli NGOs. Now, my friends, if you were sitting at the JAFI or JDC "planning table" and you had seen core cash allocations drop by one-third...33%...since the merger creating UJC, and with no advocacy, none, for our partners' needs under this group of UJC "leaders" (in fact, just the opposite), and then you read this set of Recommendations, would you consider yourself a "partner" in anything other than rhetoric? In fact, without any governance approval, these UJC "leaders" here and in Israel have already embarked down the path they now "recommend" with reckless disregard for the consequences. (I was told by a professional who participated in Monday's emergency Executive Committee conference call that with JAFI and JDC responding to the needs created by the War, the professional leader of UJC Israel asked that "other (unnamed) providers" be considered recipients of Federation emergency allocations [and, unbelievably, that the President and CEO asked that at this time of economic crisis and War, the Executive not "..forget the IAI and ENP"]).

This Section is not planning, it is a codification of ulterior motives. If you believe otherwise, I've got a "planning table" to sell you.

Kanfer's "invitation letter," accompanying this document asserts in typical overstatement: "The FLI is the culminating moment when we will come together to forge a blueprint for a more productive future." Not the way I read it. Ignoring the pomposity of Kanfer's transmittal, this is a Plan for more of the same -- and "same" ain't been good at all for the federations or our donors.

Enough said.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009


We have just learned that UJC's December 2008 cash collection effort resulted in a $16 million...that's $16,000,000 ... horrific shortfall from UJC's own cash projections for JAFI and JDC. While UJC's leaders will say "we did the best we could but it's the federations' fault," that's really not true. Certainly Sam Astrof and his professional cash collection team did the best they could, perhaps even better than that, working tirelessly with their incredible dedication to maximize cash. They deserve our congratulations. They care; they view their work as holy. But without year-long advocacy and a meaningful lay-driven cash collection effort side-by-side with Astrof's team's calls, begun long before mid-December, the results speak for themselves....and you can be absolutely certain that UJC collected its own budget in full before all else. And, it's not as if the cash collections playbook wasn't right there for them as a cherished "best practice." They just ignored it; pretended it didn't exist. All at a time of the worst economic crisis to affect our donors and communities.

Yes, I remember the "old days" when CJF and UJA viewed the system's obligations to to its partners seriously, as part and parcel of the moral imperative on which our national system was built. Both UJA and CJF had conflicts over many things but both were dedicated to the construct of collective responsibility of and for the federations and to the partnership of the Jewish People embodied in the work of JAFI and JDC and ORT -- a moral imperative the current UJC "leadership" clearly has never and will never understand. To them, "collective responsibility" is but a vestige of times past, something to throw into a speech from time-to-time and then forget about, a throw away applause line. Hence, the national organization crumbles with no sense of accountability and no sense of responsibility...and our partners in Israel and Overseas pay the price.

This deconstruction was neither what the founders of UJC contemplated nor what the federations envisioned would be circumstance that they would face in UJC's tenth year. (One of my friends reminded me how UJA and CJF in times of crisis in Israel immediately organized national Missions to the scene in expressions of our solidarity. [I should have remembered; I led two of them.] This group of "leaders" didn't think of doing so until someone suggested it, couldn't remember them, obviously didn't participate in them until reminded. Now they are planning such a Mission. The last of such Missions was in the era of our dear friend, Bob Schrayer's, z'l, leadership. But, I congratulate the UJC Executive on making the right decisions responding to the needs created by this war.)

But, here we are in 2009. Will UJC be forced, as our federations and JAFI and JDC are being forced, to cut its $37 million budget? Will UJC do so voluntarily, up front, or will cuts once again be imposed upon UJC? Is a budget reduction even under discussion within UJC's Executive Committee or are their sole focuses on the Strategic Plan, the now $2 million marketing and branding "Initiative" and FLI? How long are you going to put up with this dereliction of obligation, accountability and responsibility? To their credit, there are federations of every City-size whose leaders have concluded -- "no more. We've had enough." But, as you would expect, UJC's top "leaders" are paying no attention. UJC must be reconstructed immediately; clearly that will not happen with the present leadership in place. Encouraged by talking only to themselves, these guys don't even know there's a problem.


Sunday, January 4, 2009


At the end of 2008 UJC's beleaguered "leaders," so far out of their league, must have felt totally besieged. Cash collections that fund UJC's Budget and overseas allocations (in UJC's "leaders" opinion in exactly that order) turned out to be millions under the projections given JDC and JAFI; the economic crisis was frustrating federations' plans and years of growth were at an end; some federations had postponed or delayed their 2009 annual campaigns; Madoff's villainy had cost federation donors hundreds of millions if not billions in assets; and the people and government of Israel were at war. Every one of these circumstances cried out for leadership, for strong, passionate direction from the federations' own national construction, from United Jewish Communities. Instead...literally nothing.

At a time of what are the most complex, the most difficult set of challenges the federation system has ever faced, our national organization is frozen in place, inarticulate, confounded, leaderless -- leaving the federations to fend for themselves, to make individual decisions where the challenges call for collective ones. It's like having the leaders of the defunct Lehman Brothers at the helm of our most important national institution. Tomorrow UJC's Executive Committee will convene for the first time to discuss the Gaza War -- we've come to expect nothing from these Conference Calls just as we now expect nothing at all in the way of leadership from UJC itself...but we can hope against hope can't we -- if we have any left. It is as if these "leaders" are even looking for excuses to do nothing. (And, over this weekend, have the CEO, Board Chair and Treasurer been calling their fellow travelers on the Executive Committee urging them to join UJC's leaders in support of doing nothing?) You could stuff these "leaders'" credibility into an olive.

"What could they do?" you ask. Some thoughts. At any point during the build-up to the economic meltdown, UJC should have convened the federations leadership at a national UJC Summit on the Economy -- at any time from January 2008, when the warning signs began to appear to so many...but not to the "leaders." When it was immediately evident that Madoff's fraud would impact our Donors and beneficiaries (and, you recall, it was immediate -- literally within minutes of Madoff's admission, two major foundations whose grants had supported Jewish causes, Chais and Lappin, closed their doors), UJC should have done as the Jewish Funders Network did -- convene, in UJC's case, federation leadership to discuss face-to-face the now double-barreled impacts of the economy and Madoff and begin to develop continental solutions. When Operation Case Lead erupted, continue critical cash collections (an effort that failed badly) but, instead of urging, demanding that our system's partners exercise caution and silence, UJC should have immediately been our system's spokesperson, rallying and inspiring us, reopening the Mailbox to aid Victims of Terror (as my federation and others did) and actually campaigning on behalf of those of our People most in need -- not 10 days after the fact, but immediately.

In response to the War, "What did they do?" you ask. But, of course, you know the answer. Nothing. Urging caution, restraint, even silence, they did nothing. When JAFI and JDC looked for answers from UJC, they received nothing but an admonition against sending out any updates on the War's impacts even to their own constituencies until UJC's massive Marketing arm could figure out its message. (Luckily, JAFI and JDC ignored UJC's thoughtless dictate.) On the economy and Madoff, opportunities time and again were lost -- deferred to retreats and an "FLI" in February (where UJC's agenda will again be so out of touch and at variance from that of the federations as to be irrelevant). When we need leadership the most, we see Kanfer and Rieger frozen in place, fearful of not just recommending actions that might express the federations' collective will but not willing to issue the charge, not willing to make the rallying cries, immobilized as if locked in amber.

When we most need a nimble national organization, we find UJC stuck in the concrete it has poured over the past three years. What was hinted at by the failure of these leaders to modify the agenda of GA08 to confront the economic crisis hitting federations full in the face (or even to place it on the Board Agenda in Jerusalem) has become fully evident in the weeks since. These "leaders" must be replaced now. Tragically, they have not learned how to listen, how to engage, how to react in the three years of their service. Our national organization is but an annual $37 million shadow and as such no longer exists to benefit the federations.

I share the despair that all of us are feeling in these first days of 2009 with the lack of leaders and leadership. In our communities heroic acts are taking place every day. At UJC, conference calls and timidity even as we know that this is not the time to err on the side of caution. While we may have the sense of being overwhelmed with problems and issues, this is the time for us to rise up, demonstrate our strength and our leadership. It is not the time for our "leaders" to go into hiding, to cringe, to stick their fingers in the wind to see which way it blows, to "strategic plan," and to call an "emergency" Executive Committee meeting apparently requiring 4 days' notice, while our People need food, shelter, loans and respite from terrorists' rockets.

We have put up with this long enough...too long. It would be easy to forget that the Federations still own UJC even as some federations have willingly forgotten. The owners have to confront these "leaders" immediately and say "we have had enough," put interim lay and professional leaders in place to clean up the mess, to inspire us, to drive us forward. Allow this interim set of lay and professional leaders to restore UJC as a place where the best and brightest for whom the Search Committee futilely looks today will step forward with enthusiasm rather than stepping away to avoid the disaster that UJC has become. You, the federations, must take action now.

Ein breira.