Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Before our Congregation began the Kol Nidre prayer, our Rabbi said to us: "We don't know where we are going...but we are making excellent time."

The lay leader at UJC for whom I have the most respect sent me some materials about the approval process for Sheatufim. As I often do, I read them. In their entirety. Found some interesting stuff. Here is a section from the Minutes of the Budget and Finance Committee from April 4, 2006:

The CEO and President "...then indicated...areas for the future, namely reconnecting with philanthropists and mega donors, reaching the next generation, the Renaissance & Renewal agenda, addressing the shrinking donor base, coordinating our marketing/communications with our overseas partners, coordinating UJC-Israel with Israel office of federations and the social safety net in Israel."

Not too ambitious an agenda going forward, was it? However, not one of these agenda items was followed up and there was no accountability, no holding management accountable -- for any of it. And, as we all know, just months later UJC management rolled out the infamous Reorganization Strategy and the results, as they say, speak for themselves. (And, of course, the Reorganization Strategy itself has been long since forgotten.)

If you will forgive me a speculation...I believe that the new lay leadership has come to understand that the national organization's agenda and "methodology" these past three years have been misguided and have set The Jewish Federations of North America back and actually placed what is/was UJC in serious jeopardy. They are determined to right this ship.

UJC's new lay and professional leaders can and must learn from the mistakes of the past. I'm confident they will.


Tuesday, September 29, 2009


In an hysterical preview of what promises to be an hysterical Coen Brothers film, A Serious Man, in The New York Times (September 27, 2009), Frank Lidz begins by recounting Jewish Joke no. 73:

"The story goes that during a Sabbath service a Rabbi is seized by a sudden wave of guilt, prostrates himself and cries out, 'God, before you I am nothing.'

The Cantor is so moved by this demonstration of piety that he throws himself to the floor beside the Rabbi and cries, 'God, before you I am nothing.'

Watching this scene unfold from his seat in the first row, the chairman of the synagogue's trustees jumps up, flops down in the aisle and cries, 'God, before you I am nothing.'

The Rabbi nudges the Cantor and whispers, 'So look who thinks he's nothing.'"

The joke resonated with me, after I stopped chuckling, because of a number of Comments I have received (including some that could actually be posted because their language wasn't as bad as others) suggesting that I have been "going easy" on Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman because I want "back in" at UJC. One of the relatively mild Comments said I was "brown nosing." (Obviously, these harsh critics forget Posts dating back over one year wherein I urged Manning to assume a much larger role in UJC leadership: "As all of us know, she is articulate, she knows the right questions to ask and possesses the intelligence, grace, sense of humor and commitment so vital to leadership.")

Let's look at the facts:

1. This Blog has been and is all about my love for what UJC was meant to be, for the federations, for the beauty of our work, our history and our potential, working together in unity. UJThee and Me has also been about my anger and frustration at seeing UJC deconstructed from the inside while federation lay and professional leaders who should know better, did nothing. It will continue to be.

2. My "loyalties" have always been to the institutions -- federations and UJC -- as they were built and conceived. The concept so vital to all democratic institutions: that we are "..of laws not men (or women)" (which , in my reading, is derivative of caveats found in Pirke Avot) has driven my conclusions and my opinions. I wrote an early diary of the first years of UJC the subtitle of which was ...A Love Story. I still believe that we can recreate an institution if not worthy of our love, certainly our respect.

3. I have been urging new leadership for UJC since the current leadership turned the organization into a mockery of its intended purposes -- a place without focus, without priorities, without a sense of love for our People and the values that imbued UJC with meaning.

4. I think that there has been a growing realization among UJC's incoming leaders that on matters of substance and principle, even as they quibble over their perception of "the facts" (that only they possess), the Posts on this Blog dealing with a failure of transparency, a failure of process, a failure of engagement, a failure of accountability, a failure of voice and a management disaster have been failures that must be corrected...and will be.

So, in closing, ponder this all ye cynics: Rabbi Dan Sklar, who consulted on the Coen Brothers film, in the NYT article called the brothers modern-day Jewish prophets. He said: "The role of the prophet is to speak truth to power and to speak truth to the people." So that, I have decided, is what I am aiming for: not a role in UJC's new leadership cadre but prophet-hood. I am "brown-nosing" to be deemed a prophet, nothing less.


Friday, September 25, 2009


Our federation system is, at its very core, based upon trust -- trust of our donors in federations' lay and professional leaders, trust by the federations in our national and overseas partners...TRUST. What I am seeing, in so many places is a breakdown in that trust... a breakdown that we have brought upon ourselves...a breakdown that threatens the institutions we have built as never before.

First, it should be clear. Trust must be earned; it cannot be demanded. Whether our federations, UJC:The Jewish Federations of North America, JAFI, JDC, ORT, etc., trust requires full disclosure, an adherence to process and full transparency. It also requires lay and professional leaders who are themselves trusted. And the message that it is collective action embodied in the construct of collective responsibility that separates federations from all other Jewish charitable organizations must be understood and articulated by UJC's leaders who, to this point, failed to learn that its own Dues are an expression of collective response as much as anything else.

Second, the organization's message(s) must be clear, transparent and inspire the intended audience to engagement. If the message is constantly in flux -- Operation Promise morphs into the Israel Emergency Campaign (maybe), a Reorganization Strategy is swallowed whole into the Federation Leadership Institute, an emphasis on the NextGen is embodied in a "Suite" of programs for the rich and lost in a swing to "volunteerism" ala UJC -- there is no message at all. It is as if UJC has become the graveyard where federations' dreams for a viable, meaningful national system have been buried.

There must be a constant reference back to the values and principles that are the foundation stones for Jewish communal life. Who has gone back and reread (or read for the first time) Phil Bernstein's, z'l, magnificent volume on our Jewish institutions To Dwell in Unity, or Jon Woocher's superb and insightful volume, Sacred Survival, or J.J. Goldberg's excellent, and prescient work Jewish Power: Inside the American Jewish Establishment? (For those who are obsessed with this Blog, I might respectfully suggest that you turn your attention to all of these citations.) You can't tell the story if you don't know it. You can't incorporate values and principles in your decisions if you don't know them.

In some communities and, certainly at 25 Broadway, trust has never been built on the strong foundation required for communal unity and success. Trust has been presumed as if were a debt that the federation owners owed to a very small retinue of leaders. If federations view themselves only as conveners, only as "gatherers" of funds for others, and nothing more, amcha will eventually figure it out. If donors perceive that they should direct all of their donations to projects or programs, no matter their excellence, the roles of federations as the central planning address and communal umbrella will be lost.

UJC's leaders must have said "trust us" more often to Joint and Jewish Agency leadership than they did to federations. I have come to believe that the UJC Executive Committee as a group and individually almost to a person understand how the current lay leader in chief has literally dictated a strategy that has constantly deprecated the value of our historic partners. Then having set the table, he rationalizes the precipitous drop in allocations on his watch. Sadly, the members of his officers group, the past CEO and the Executive Committee paid deference "because we elected him Chair" like fiddlers while Rome burned. Yesterday's meeting among UJC, JAFI and JDC represented a new beginning but leaders who still speak of "us" and "them" as if they were delegated to lead an attack for "us" against "them" need to understand right now that their time has gone.

Today we are seeing the impact of decisions that federations are making that are fraught with the seeds of their own destruction: allocations to local, national and overseas partners only in response to communal "RFP's," taking designated giving to the federation level, where all allocations are self-determined by either federation itself or by federations driven by the loudest voices rather than by the greatest needs; where the lay-professional partnership has never been understood either by the laity or the professionals...or both; where there is neither transparency nor accountability. And the national organization merely sits by and wonders why the federation owners are voting "no" with their dues. UJC has lost all relevance to the federations which own it and to the national agencies and Israel and overseas partners which relied upon it. Jerry and Kathy have an enormous task in front of them.

This is not a call to "repent;" it is a call to change. It appears that call has already been heard in many places.

G'mar hatima tova.


Thursday, September 24, 2009


From all I have learned about this morning's meeting (and, no, I was not there [except in spirit]) among UJC's leaders, representatives of JAFI and JDC, today was not a "good start" was a great start!! There was a sense that UJC, JAFI and JDC have begun a process of rededicating themselves to the great unifying partnership among the Federations of North America, the Joint and the Agency.

Some were heard to reflect "...if only this had been the attitude starting five or even three years ago, just think where our system might be today." Yes, just imagine...



At this incredible time of year -- this time for introspection and teshuva -- one of Chicago's most brilliant Rabbis (and we have many), Rabbi Michael Siegel of Congregation Anshe Emet, delivered a powerful sermon on Rosh Ha'Shana. Titled The Blessing of Cain it is a a sermon on the power of redemption, the story of Cain and Hanoch. I want to share the beautful and meaningful closing of Rabbi Siegel's message for all of you who have asked me: "How is Lester Rosenberg doing?" and for all of us:

"Friends, I want to share the identity of the person that inspired me to write this sermon. His name is Lester Rosenberg. Lester is a proud member of Anshe Emet, his family goes back to the founding of this congregation. Lester is also a pillar in the Chicago Jewish Community, The reason he is not here this morning, is that he is presently at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. The other day, I went to sound the Shofar for Lester and read what I am about to say, and I want you to know that Lester gave me his blessings to share it with you.

Returning from a family vacation on a “red-eye,” Lester made the mistake of getting behind the wheel of his car upon getting home. Too exhausted to drive, Lester hit a light pole. It took the fire department more than 20 minutes to remove Lester from his vehicle with the Jaws of Life. When they got him to the hospital Lester heart had stopped beating. He was literally brought back to life and awoke to find that he was paralyzed from the neck down: a condition he largely remains in. Throughout this entire ordeal Lester has never spoken of himself as a victim of circumstances. During these months Lester and I have had the opportunity to pray together and talk. We have spoken about admitting our mistakes, the “what if”, “why didn’t I listen” moments. We have examined what it takes to let go of those things that we can no longer control without labeling ourselves as failures in the process, just human. At the heart of our discussions has been the notion of Teshuvah.

Since being admitted to the Rehabilitation Institute, Lester has been a living example of Hanoch. Married for over 50 years, Lester and Norma have initiated a deeper, different and more powerful relationship. A very independent man now finds himself quite dependent, and Norma has been truly remarkable: not only being his stalwart and supporter of her husband, but also being his advocate. Children and grandchildren have stood by his side and given him strength, courage and the will to go on. In the shattering of a cool spring day, relationships were initiated anew and a great love has deepened.

In his therapy, Lester has dedicated him to a grueling, painful daily regimen with nearly imperceptible results. His positive attitude has raised the spirits of the remarkable therapeutic staff. When I was there on Tuesday, a nurse came in to the room to celebrate Lester’s latest accomplishment: 6 and half hours without a breathing tube. The nurse asked, “How do you feel?” Lester did not hesitate: “Perfect”, he said, just as he was in the habit of saying before the accident. But now he is in a wheel chair with arms and legs that barely respond to him. “Perfect” he said. You could see how Lester’s positive attitude inspired her. Lester reminds all of us that dedication to something higher than you; may mean something as simple as offering a kind word to another, or bringing a smile to their lips.

Finally, there is the Hinuch, the education that such an ordeal offers. Not long after the accident, Lester looked into my eyes, and asked, “What kind of life is this?” We discussed the notion that the moment that his car hit that light post his life … of more than 80 years, the life that he knew … ended. When Lester’s heart started beating again in the hospital a new life had begun. I looked into Lester’s eyes and said: “What are you going to do with the life you have”. Even at over 80 years old, even with so much lost, a life of meaning and purpose has begun again. In his new life, Lester has gained a heart of wisdom.

Through Teshuvah and Hinuch L’Atid, Dedication to a better future, Lester is making something of the life he has.

Our prayers this day are with Lester and his family. Our prayers are with all those whose lives feel shattered and in need of recreation: whose lives need to feel like blessings and not curses. The message of our tradition is the same to us as it was to Cain: God will not turn away from those who turn to God openly, honestly, and with a spirit of dedication.

Friends, it is Rosh Hashanah. A difficult year has ended and a new one lies before us. We each have a life, a future, and a day, Rosh Hashanah, starts the New Year. If I asked you, any of you could tell me about the life you wanted. My question for you is as old as the Bible and as relevant as today, what are you going to do with the life that you have?"

Rabbi Michael Siegel is a past member of the Board of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago. Lester and Norma Rosenberg are his inspiration and mine and ours.



In a bold move at the UJC Executive yesterday the leaders approved a name change to...trumpets please...The Jewish Federations of North America and a new Logo!!! This new and brilliant name and logo -- many focus groups later -- will come to us with "a classic, but distinguishable font," will be "warm and approachable" and will "[W]ork as a symbol as well as with the wordmark." So, we got ourselves a new "wordmark" (huh?) and "logo."

All of you will recall that the multi-million dollar Branding and Research Study determined that after a decade the old name, United Jewish Communities (you remember that one, dontcha?), had hardly penetrated the market psyche. Surprised? In fact UJA...gone but not forgotten...still had four times the market penetration of UJC. The Power Point presented to the UJC Executive yesterday seemed to suggest that leadership proposed that the UJA brand be restored to the annual campaign but such are the subtleties of a Power Point that I can't be sure. (But no marketing guru worth his or her salt would argue with the conclusion that throwing out the greatest brand in philanthropy was a mistake of epic proportions.)

Now, friends in the "branding and marketing industries" related to me what is called "Disaster Induced Rebranding." You know -- General Motors Asset Management (GMAC) to Promark Global Advisors, Value Jet to Air Tran, Anderson Consulting to Accenture, Blackwater to Xe, and, now, after spending G-d knows what, UJC to The Jewish Federations of North America. Under which shell will we find the pea? Could the monies spent on this exercise have saved one position -- or ten? Unless asked, the current leaders sure won't tell.

Marketing is Jerry Silverman's stock in trade. If he concurs, as I assume he does, then The Jewish Federations of North America works for me. Of course, this is one book you surely can't judge by its cover. Ultimately, you could call the organization UJC, CJF, will be judged by results. The federations are presently voting by their disinterest.

I was reminded by all of this expense to get to where this all began of a moment during the UJA-CJF Partnership. I received a call from, I think it was Marty Kraar, then the CEO of CJF within the Partnership. CJF and UJA had just moved into the 111 Eighth Avenue space. Marty wanted to mount a wall i.d. with UJA and CJF and "The Jewish Federations of North America" in the foyer. I said he should go ahead. He did. Then came the shreis and down it came. So here we are, full circle and a few hundred thousand dollars later.

Let's get on with the work, the engagement, the triumphs...shall we?


Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Friends of the Blog, Faye and Paul Jesser sent this reading attributed to Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver to their mailing list. I wanted to share it with all of you.

A wonderful supplemental reading for the High Holy Days....


Abba Hillel Silver (adapted – The New Mahzor, Prayer Book Press)

I stood with Abraham in his lonely vigil
And read the destiny of my people in the stars.

I was with Isaac when he built the altar
Where his faith and devotion were put to test.

I stood with Jacob when he wrestled through the night
And won a blessing at the break of dawn.

I was with Moses, an alien prince among an alien people.
Unshod, I stood with him before the vision in the wilderness
And from the fire I heard the voice summoning him.

I was at Sinai and entered there the everlasting covenant
Between my people and its God

I suffered and I hungered with them
All the way across the wilderness to the Promised Land

I was with Joshua at Jericho
And with Deborah by the waters of Megiddo.

I stood with the blind Samson in his agony
And I heard the wild cry of his desperate courage
As he pulled the pillars over the Phillistines.

I heard Samuel admonish his people to remain free
And not to reject God by enslaving themselves to a king.

I listened to the harp of David
And I saw him bow before the wrath of Nathan
And before the truth of his accusation.

I heard Solomon in the Temple
On the day he dedicated it as a House of Prayer for all Peoples
And I learned from him of a God whom heaven and the hosts of heaven cannot contain
Whose compassion extends to all
Even to the stranger who comes from afar.

I was with the prophets who came to destroy old worlds
And to build new ones.

I heard them lash out against injustice.
I warmed at their compassion for the weak.

I was with my people by the rivers of Babylon
And I heard their oath
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem.

I entered their makeshift synagogues in Babylon
And learned there that prayer and study can be as beloved to God
As the sacrifices of the priests in the Temple
Or the songs of the Levites.

I sat with the sages and the scribe
Who patiently interpreted the word of God
And slowly formed the Oral Law.

I moved among the mountains of Judea
With the lionhearted sons of Mattathias.

I was with Hillel when he summarized the whole Torah
In the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself.

I was with Akiba when he inspired a revolution,
Defied an empire and died a martyr.

I wandered with my people into many lands
Where the cross and the crescent reigned.

I was with them when they drank out of the bitter chalices
Of pain, humiliation, cruelty and hatred.

I saw them stay sane in the midst of madness,
I saw them stay civilized in the midst of brutality,
I saw them lighting candles in the midst of the darkness.

Then I saw the night lift and the dawn break
And into the new world, blessed with liberty and freedom

I saw the radiance of their emancipated minds and hearts.
I saw them enrich every land that gave them opportunity.

I was with them when they landed at Ellis Island
And fell in love with the land that stood for liberty.

Then I saw the night descend again.
I saw them suffer as no people has ever suffered before.
I saw them burned and gassed and tortured.

Then, like the phoenix, I saw them rise again in the old land.
I saw them begin a new life there
Based on the ancient teachings of justice and mercy.

I saw them nurture saplings in the wilderness
And I watched them make the desert bloom.

I was with them in the Six Day War.
I stood by them when their hard-earned State was in danger on Yom Kippur.

I trembled when they trembled.
And I rejoiced when they rejoiced.

I was at the wall. I was in the Sinai
I was on the Golan Heights

Shall I leave them now?
Can I part company with this immortal band whom I love?
They have become too dear and precious to me.

They are bone of my bone,
Flesh of my flesh,
Soul of my people.

They are my people.
Their quest is mine.

They will live within me
and I will live with them.

G'mar tov


Some of you are probably anticipating that I am going to preface this Post with an ancient joke about lawyers that end with the three word title above...but, no. I am referring to the meetings that have been convened over these past weeks by Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning. For these meetings offer hope for a "reboot" of The Jewish Federations of North America.

The first of these meetings were those that Jerry Silverman convened or requested with federations of many City-sizes on his self-described "listening tour" even before he began his new position on 9/8. I am certain that Jerry has an incredible amount of information to digest, some of it conflicting but all of it consistent on one salient point -- the leadership with whom he met all want a strong national organization -- and I am equally assured that Jerry has already begun to sort it out.

Then came meetings two weeks ago convened by the outgoing leadership with the current UJC leaders -- first a morning meeting with an "insiders group" and then a later meeting with what UJC describes as its leadership. I assume these meetings were to acquaint Jerry with the lay people he will be working with most closely -- at least until November -- and the programmatic areas they "lead." Jerry, welcome to the small group that has positioned UJC to...well, put UJC in the position that it is in.

Then there are the meetings in New York called by Kathy Manning for today, September 23, and tomorrow. First, a meeting of UJC's Executive Committee focused, at least in part, one would hope upon the horrific condition of overseas allocations and cash. Then, tomorrow a.m. a meeting to which JDC and JAFI have been invited presumably to discuss the devastated and deteriorating allocation and cash circumstances and, I presume, a closer working relationship.There is something so different -- an approach that welcomes the Joint and Agency into the room on issues affecting them -- different and refreshing. While I offer my congratulations to Kathy, Jerry and Michael, it appears that Joe Kanfer has usurped the "leadership" role for the meeting Kathy called for tomorrow morning. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.

Add to this start point a By-Law change that would restructure the membership of the Budget & Finance Committee to be exclusively the province of the Federation lay leadership as voting members. (Not to pat myself on the back too hard, but I suggested this at a meeting of the Budget & Finance Committee at the Toronto GA, followed up with a letter to the Committee Chair and UJC CEO...and was ignored. Never too late for a food idea ... or maybe it is too late. You be the judge.)

As I said -- a good start. As a great President said so long ago: "fondly do we hope...fervently do we pray."


Monday, September 21, 2009


At the meetings convened by Kathy Manning that will take place in two days in New York the focus will be, at least in part, upon the collapsing federation allocations to the core budgets of the Joint and JAFI, there will be the unmentionable, the elephant in the room, if you will. The elephant is the factual context that UJC just doesn't like to talk about -- the incredible disregard of our collective system that UJC, at least in part, was constructed to strengthen. When the elephant entered the room during ONAD meetings, the facts, though daunting, better at that time, were met with shrugs and comments from some professional leaders that I greatly respect, went something like this: "Why are we wasting our time with this?" So, let's waste a little more of your time, shall we?

In the decade preceding UJC's formation, allocations dropped by 20% -- to 40% of gross campaigns -- from $353 million to $305 million while Annual Campaigns increased. Even as allocations were frozen for the first two years of UJC, they had fallen precipitously, from that $305 million level to about $220 million. And, while UJC fiddled and refused to advocate in any way for the core collective allocation, $220 million shrunk to a level never before even contemplated -- a maximum estimated allocation to JAFI/JDC of $145 million at calendar year-end 2009 with more conservative estimates placing the figure at $131 million -- this at a time when the gross annual campaigns in the aggregate stand at approximately $860 million. While it sickens me to type it, allocations that stood at almost 60% of gross Campaign in 1970 and almost 50% at 1990, now will be close to 15%, the lowest point in history.

But, you may argue, the current Board Chair claims that the federations are sending JAFI alone, $273 million in 2005 ramping up to $355 million in 2007. (UJC, at one point, urged on by some of the Large City Executives, began talking about $410 million [an imaginary figure that included $100's of millions in pass through dollars from the IEC]). That difference is between the disappearing core allocation and designated/supplemental funding of, e.g., Partnership 2000, and allocations from the Israel Emergency Campaign (for which UJC still cannot account for $10's of millions in federation direct grants). But, we respond, most of those funds (and all of the IEC dollars) were either direct pass through dollars without support to the core budgets or programs of either JAFI or JDC (or ORT), the US Government Refugee Resettlement Grant, some pass-throughs of donor direct grants and Amigour apartment sales income. The basic truth is that the collapse of collective, core funding for JDC and JAFI has been breath- and life-taking devastating the budgets of our partners. (This is not to denigrate the federations' incredible fund raising successes or UIA's remarkable achievement in sustaining the Refugee Resettlement Grant, but merely to distinguish between core/collective funding and all else.)

It is unimaginable but the current UJC leadership has watched in silence while collective responsibility died and they appear to be most willing, even eager to perform the last rites. UJC, created in substantial part, to increase the financial resources of our partners in Israel and overseas, has the shovel in hand to turn the earth as the casket that is the international rescue, social service and renewal efforts that have distinguished us, is lowered into the earth by them. It is not hyperbole, but fact, to point out that until now, while the core allocation reductions at JAFI and JDC have catastrophically weakened our partners, this iteration of UJC hasn't raised its voice, extended its hand or marshaled such forces as it has, to exercise its moral responsibilities to remind the federations of their obligations.

In so many ways, what we are observing is the mirror image of what has happened in our communities: as local campaigns stagnate or are in free fall, local agencies have seen federation resource support diminish. Left with no alternative, local agencies hire development staff or consultants and begin their own campaigns in competition with the federations. Now, extend this to national agencies which must seek public support as federation financial support literally disappears and a new bureaucracy called "the Alliance" imposes a maze of paperwork with falling financial support at the end of the day. So, national agencies are left to raise money to support their diminished budgets -- they turn to their Boards, their friends, and begin to organize parlor meetings in the federated communities while UJC watches in silence.

And, what will the Jewish Agency and the Joint be forced to do? Draconian budget cuts reflecting draconian allocation cuts will inevitably push our historic partners into direct fund raising -- not alone for allocations but for direct donor contributions. The JDC has both the cause and a body of high level donors of incredible influence totally committed to its cause; the Jewish Agency has the Israel "brand" and a growing number of men and women, lay and professional, world-wide engaged with it. Both have strong professional presence in North America. JDC has recruited some outstanding professionals in what appears to be an expanded FRD and marketing staff.

In sum, we have a prescription for fund raising chaos; the disease is a spreading cancer metastasizing in the federation body. The seeds of communal destruction have been planted, watered by UJC leadership's silence and evident disinterest. And what is UJC doing about it? Yes, what is UJC doing about it? Whatever it may be, because of the void created and perpetuated these past five years, UJC's new leadership will have to start from a standing stop.

May the meetings on the 23rd be the starting line for a revitalization of collective responsibility. May the elephant be escorted out of the room.


Friday, September 18, 2009


An e-mail crossed my desk on Tuesday. The tag line was a true revelation: Jews Worldwide Prepare for the New Year. My thanks to The Israel Project for alerting all of us to the upcoming Chagim. But, to assure whoever wrote that insightful piece, we knew.

If your home is like mine, for the past week and more the smells of briskets roasting and potato kugels baking, were mixed with the end of Summer smells of grilled chicken. And those wonderful mouth-watering smells were the vivid reminder of my youth, our youth, in our family apartment, of these Holidays we treasured then and now, that another Jewish Year was passing and a New Year was about to begin. Soon we will gather together as a People in our synagogues and temples around the world seeking inscription in the Book of Life for another year. Yes, like you, I will do Teshuvah and seek forgiveness.

After shul family and friends will join us in celebration of the New Year. We will wish each other a shana tova tikateivu and prepare for these Yamim Noraim. My hope for all of you who read this Blog is that you will have a sweet Year of good health, prosperity and may we celebrate a Year in which our People will find Peace.

And, now I smell a huge turkey roasting and the stuffing being prepared. Gotta go.

From my home to yours, Shana tova u'metuka to each and every one of you and your families.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009


There appear to be a small number of correspondents who believe that without their urging I will fail to do Teshuvah in the coming days. They also believe that I have more reasons to do Teshuvah over these Chagim than ever before. And, of course, they are right -- but for entirely the wrong reasons.

First, understand that I as all of us believe and understand that this is the time of year for introspection and for apologies to all those to whom we have done injury of any kind over the prior year. I engage in that introspection often, just more intensively now during the Yomim Nora'im. But I will repent not only for myself but for those in our system who have ignored the failures of transparency and accountability and thereby ignored their fiduciary responsibilities for, in so doing, they have brought the organization to which they and I are equally dedicated close to a death spiral. And, I apologize to all those I have hurt or offended in any way.

I repent the times this year when my language has been intemperate, when my errors have hurt leaders, al chait. My need for Teshuvah is strong; I have the sense that those who have urged that I repent have given scant thought to their own need for the same. I hope I am as wrong about them as they are about me.

Wishing each of you and your families l'Shana Tovah U'Metukah.


Monday, September 14, 2009


I was in Los Angeles a couple of weeks ago for the Jewish Agency North America. Flying home I had a chance to reflect on just how lucky a guy I have been.

While in Los Angeles I met with wonderful federation lay and professional leaders truly and fully dedicated. I had lunch with John Fishel whom I have known since he left Montreal to professionally lead Los Angeles 17 years ago. He came to a community that was beset with financial woes then unknown to any other major City; working in the most complex, sprawling environment, he stabilized the federation. I like to think that John, with whom I have visited at least twice each year since he came to LA, is a friend. He will leave his position on December 31. I am certain that he will continue to do important work for our People.

I also had the chance to spend some time with our friend, Jerry Bubis, whose works and lifelong commitment to our Community with a capital "C" have inspired so many of us. He is distinguished by his continuing dedication at age 85 to the organizations to which he has dedicated his work and life -- organizations that have been the beneficiaries of true genius and his love.

A "typical" visit, I would say. Just as two weeks later I broke bread in Napa with a former San Francisco CEO with whom I developed not only respect and regard but an abiding friendship. And, so it goes. These friends are men and women with whom I did not or do not always agree but our disagreements have always been l'shem shamayim. I know that so many of these men and women are engaged in building community, in trying to hold community together...and out of that understanding has grown mutual friendship and respect.

Wherever I am fortunate to visit, I have had and have the opportunity to speak and listen to women and men whose lives and commitments have been and are a beacon for me through Jewish communal life. How lucky I have been; how fortunate I am. And, then, I began to wax nostalgic about the great friends I have made across the Continent -- lay and professional leaders alike -- through the years of my communal work.

From the days of my work within the United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations and the NCSJ, at JDC and JAFI, within UJC during its early years and at UIA. All that I have learned about community I first learned within Chicago and then expanded my knowledge through the work that you do. I can't think of a visit to a community on behalf of one organization or another where I didn't learn from those of you whose responsibilities were and are to not only hold your communities together but to build them, to create them anew. Even on visits that have been disappointing for me in terms of outcomes, I have come away energized and reenergized by you and by your dedication to Community and Peoplehood. So many of you in lay and professional leadership across our Continent have become good and supportive friends

I have been and am a very lucky person. I owe all of you so much for your friendship and for all you have taught me and for the inspiration that has infused my life with greater purpose.


Saturday, September 12, 2009


On August 31, had the following headline: Olmert Indicted; Madonna Arrives in Israel. Perhaps it's just me, but the juxtaposition of these two news items tells us quite a bit about priorities, doesn't it?

We all received the following "Don't Miss" from UJC: Don't Miss American Idol Finalist Elliot Yamin at the 2009 GA." Is this the best we can do? Alright class, please compare and contrast American Idol and the 2009 GA. Make any sense? Exciting? Don't miss or miss? If Elliot Yamin is that good, make him a "Hero?"

Another juxtaposition: Rieger leaves; Silverman arrives. Hope springs eternal. Like being a Cubs fan -- maybe this year (because we sure can't wait 'till next year.)??

And, another: I wished Howard Rieger well ("BYE") and get an Anonymous (but you can probably guess who it was from) Comment that includes the following: "You are pathetic, Wexler...and I'm not the only one who thinks so." Beautiful juxtaposition. Accused me of in personam attacks citing none, then offers almost verbatim anonymous attacks on me from others this guy offered in the past. When Anonymous learned his attempt at a Comment had been rejected, came another "Anonymous" assault -- I am accused of being a "dangerous moron...a scumbag (and) a monster." That Comment was rejected as well (even as they proved that the writer[s] may not understand in personam attacks even as they commit them) so he wrote again to tell me how many of his "colleagues" consider me "... mentally unhinged." That Comment was rejected.

These maniacal Comment attempts needed to be juxtaposed with Maureen Dowd's piece in the August 26 New York Times: "The Internet was supposed to be the prolix paradise where there would be no more gatekeepers and everyone would finally have their say. We would express ourselves freely at any level, high or low, with no inhibitions." Dowd continued: "Yet, in this infinite realm of truth-telling, many want to hide. Who are these people prepared to tell you what they think, but not who they are. What is the mentality that lets them get in our face while wearing a mask?"

So, when I receive an "Anonymous" Comment that demands that I publish all Comments as the ones rejected are motivated by the same "anger" I have demonstrated in the Posts on this Blog, I just scratch my head. I fully understand that someone who has been part of UJC's failures these past five years would perceive that they have the right to respond to Posts that criticize what I perceive to be mismanagement, failure of focus, failure of vision and failure of understanding UJC's mission vis-a-vis the federations that own UJC as mere "anger" justifying venal, unreasoned personal attacks. But, these "Commentators/haters" as Ms. Dowd observed "get in our face while wearing a mask" and, somehow, they believe this gives them some "right" to have their unreasoned assaults on logic (and usually spelling) appear on these pages. Sorry, not going to happen.

Juxtapose intent with execution. One of my friends, a Federation CEO tells me the following story: He has served in his CEO role for ten months. He just received a package from UJC with a nice note -- "Welcome to our system. Because you are new to federation, we have enclosed a booklet we have prepared on how to be a federation chief executive officer." Intentions -- great; execution, not so much.


Friday, September 11, 2009


In response to my Post on UJC'S Court Jews, I received an Anonymous (of course) Comment that raised a fundamental question:

As you were there at the outset Richard, perhaps you can enlighten all as to how in the original founding discussions board members (appointed as individuals) were to reconcile there fiduciary responsibility to the organization while serving the interests of local Federations. Either UJC must be a total captive of its membership (who must send their best and brightest to represent them) or should have the independence to nominate its leadership and "lead" or attempt to do so as it sees fit. Is there a true middle ground?

Several of you who called me concluded that the Anonymous writer was the UJC Board Chair. I disagreed inasmuch as Joe Kanfer could just as easily have used his name (except for the fact that he probably wouldn't want to admit to reading these pages). But it matters not who wrote the Comment. The question is fundamental. In response, two correspondents sent we their own analysis. I reprint them below (redacted to protect their identities); I reveived a Comment from a respected national leader as well; and after all three, my own response:

~ "The answer to the anonymous post is really quite simple: it depends on the mission of the organization.

UJC is not a ruling body of federations (Kanfer, Rieger, not withstanding.) It doesn't set policy for federations. It represents the interests of federations by:
1. compiling best practices
2. providing oversight to overseas expenditures through UIA
3. convening the system for consensus building around common interests
4. making federations aware of applicable public policy
5. acting as a clearinghouse for professionals/employment

I probably could list a few more but they wouldn't include anything of a unilateral nature. By the way, why would a federation want to send its best/brightest to the national system unless it had an incentive (e.g. larger gift, greater good, continued engagement)"

~ "This is a perfect question (how to represent a federation) and one that was raised at a critical ONAD meeting . I believe it was at the 2003 hearings or maybe it was at the 2004 meetings. I believe this was one of the reasons but certainly not the major reason that ONAD failed and possibly why UJC is in its current fiscal situation.

Meetings had been ongoing for the entire day. There had been a two-three hour caucus among the federations with ORT, JAFI and JDC barred from the room. We were under the impression that the disagreement was between Chicago and federations supporting its position and NY and its supporters. After the caucus and the meeting re-convened there was a negotiated position that had been reached presented to the assembled body for discussion and then ratification.

In the room were NY and Chicago leadership, leadership from 8 other large cities representing themselves and the other 8 large cities not at the table, perhaps 4 large intermediate city delegations representing 18-20 large cities not at the table, and two or three intermediate city delegations representing all intermediate cities and one or two small communities representing 50 plus small cities.

The key word here is "representing."

Astoundingly after the negotiated agreement, all of the discussion, etc, there were at least four federations (perhaps as many as six) of the 17 federations (after NY and Chicago were deducted from the 19) that abstained from the vote stating in one form or another "I cannot vote in favor of this because I cannot be sure that MY federation can increase our allocation (a 3% or 4% increase had been urged to get closer to what at that time was the national average).

The fact that perhaps 25-30% of the federations at the table representing 155 federations could not make a commitment beyond their own parochial interest spoke volumes about where ONAD was and where UJC was and still may be. They were present specifically to represent others by design and by vote as they were selected by their own city size group, yet they saw themselves as only able to speak for themselves and not for those they represented.

The final negotiated position passed, but it would be most interesting to see what the results were from those abstained communities and whether or not there was EVER system wide buy-in for that 3-4% increase. I am sure you will agree with my assumption that the answer was a very loud NO."


Then came this Comment -- actually signed by the current UIA Chair,the immediate past Chair of his federation and a past Federation campaign chair:

" Dear Anonymous,

This question has vexed UJC since its inception. It is a true example of Circular Cause and Consequence logic. It is a logical fallacy where the consequence of the phenomenon is claimed to be its root cause. It is exemplified in the question, "Which came first, the chicken or the egg?"

Circular cause and consequence is often confused with Mutually Contradictory statements, such as the famous "Catch-22", in which two mutually exclusive statements seem to send the reader back and forth in a cycle. Circular reasoning however is a problem of finding the 'root cause' however (e.g. which came first) which is not the basis of the Catch-22.

Having said all of that - the question itself may be a colossal waste of time. We answered this question in all of our Jewish Communities many, many years ago. The historic question was in essence are we a Federation of Jewish Philanthropies or a Federation of Jewish Philanthropists.

We may have begun as a Federation of Philanthropies, i.e. the JCC and the JFS will run one unified campaign, act as a central address, and centrally plan for maximum benefit to the Community. (Please note: not dissimilar to UJA itself). But the Board is made up of Philanthropists, no the board is made up of representatives of each of the Philanthropies (the beneficiary agencies), no the board is made up of the philanthropists, no the philanthropies, and ad infinitum.No it isn't.

The board is made up of those who respect the history and purpose of the constituents and act on behalf of unity of the philanthropists and the constituent philanthropies. And therefore we work truly on behalf of the Jewish People through its organized Jewish Community.No one questions the President of the JCC's fiduciary duty when she sits on the board of a Federation. She wears both kipot with respectful tension. Yes, she has to look out for the needs of her agency and be a forceful advocate, and she has to look out for the unity of the entire community. She knows that the strength of our Federation is that we come together as a unified family and that her agency will benefit by that unified action. She understands that we are in that life boat together.

We are a Federation of Jewish Philanthropies and of Jewish Philanthropists and they can never be mutually exclusive. Sort of like Dodge of the old west: "we check our guns at the door." We recognize that our individual fiduciary duty is best served by our collective survival and flourishing.We were work for unity of purpose respecting our beneficiary constituency and respecting our donor's needs. If we alienate one - we will alienate the other.

If we will be "United " and I needlessly remind us that that is our First Name, we will work for unity every single day of our United Jewish Communities existence. We do this in every real Federation in North America and we do it well every single day.

All UJC must do is act the same way."

Bruce A. Arbit


The Anonymous Comment caused me to reflect on my very brief role in the orientation process for new Federation representatives to CJF during the brief UJA/CJF Partnership. I attended and spoke about what service on the national Board meant -- I remember stating that it was critical, even though they were appointed by their federation, that they take a new national perspective on the issues facing our system. That was my view. I was then followed (perhaps by Conrad Giles, the President of CJF) whose message was: "You are here as the representatives of your federation." It was no wonder that Board service was so confusing. The Comment failed to contemplate UJC's By-Laws that state clearly and unequivocally that, except in certain specific instances (At Large, Honorary), Board of Trustee members are appointed by their federations. The Board is, in my opinion, there to execute their fiduciary obligations on behalf of the owners (that is to say, the federations) as to policies and programs contemplated by UJC leaders.

The Comment makes clear its author's intent -- either a Board of Owners responsible to the Federation which appoint the Member (and, thus, from the Commentator's perspective, UJC becomes "a total captive") or an entity that nominates its own Board with the ability to "'lead'... as it sees fit." I, for one, reject the Commentator's "either/or" premise. The fault line within UJC arises out of the current leadership's abject failure to engage the Owners in substantive matters of policy and program -- these few have made an assumption, outside the scope of UJC's own governance, that they were elected "to they see fit." Like my federation and yours, like almost every non-profit, except those great foundations driven by men and women who have created and funded them, UJC is a consensus-driven body: it requires a consensus among its owners to act. Driving consensus is challenging, it is time consuming, but it is, at the end of the process, wholly rewarding. Our leaders should try it.


Thursday, September 10, 2009


In a recent column, Laurence White wrote of Obama's Court Jews: the Rise of J Street. Therein, White defined his terms: "Court Jews were so named because they were Jews who did favors for noblemen in exchange for prestige, social influence, and various privileges not available to other Jews. They were often more concerned with preserving their status and fortunes then in promoting the welfare of their less fortunate (Jews) order to achieve personal advantage." This column, damning in its own right of J Street, brought to mind the sorry state of our national federation-owned organization, and one of the causes of its disappearance as a relevant and critical organization.

First, let me be clear -- there have been a number of federation lay and professional leaders whose support for UJC over the past few years arose from a sincere belief that their actions could right the listing ship. They hoped they would be listened to. They eventually came to understand that their support was interpreted by some in UJC lay and professional leadership as a blank check to do as they pleased without regard for the owners' interests or needs (except as these UJC leaders misperceived these interests or needs). Some believe that total deference to leaders is the price we pay for electing them -- they haven't read Pirke Avot. However, they and others -- the "enablers" as I termed them, the "Court Jews" as White would define them -- chose to support policies they knew to be wrong, knew to be harmful to UJC and, thereby to federations, even their own, either because it was "easier" or because they sensed that if they marched in total obsequity, their own opportunities of institutional advancement would be enhanced. They should look carefully at themselves in the mirror.

Many friends advised me since this Blog began to sha, to be silent as to the abuses I observed. That it "would be better for (me) and (my) reputation" and, apparently, my "future" within UJC if I "just went along." I was reminded by a terrific leader of the message of Ki Teitzei as I interpreted it two weeks ago -- that in the face of indifference, we are not allowed to be indifferent, particularly as to matters of principle and conscience.

Our organizations -- be they UJC, our federations, JDC, JAFI, ORT, JCPA, Hadassah, you name them -- do not succeed when those who aspire to lead "go along to get along," as so many do. They succeed when women and men act on their principles rather than upon their ambitions. The best may be when ambition and principle coincide not as a rationalization but as a reality.

Kathy and Jerry will have to sort that out if UJC is to succeed as it must.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009


Today is the first day of the rest of Jerry Silverman's professional life. Today Jerry takes the reins as UJC's President and Chief Executive Officer. His will be a daunting task. He must learn the complexities that drive 157 federations while simultaneously pulling UJC itself from the depths to which it has fallen. And he must do so, at least over the next two months, while the sitting Board Chair and the leaders that person has put in place continue to push him in directions the federations have already rejected. Jerry will need all the strengths he demonstrated to the Search Committee...and more.

This week UJC's current "leadership" will convene in two meetings (the first, the "insider" lay Executive Council [or whatever it is called] -- the "insider group" that has been calling the scatter shots that has put UJC in the position it currently holds -- and then a more expansive small group) to help Silverman "understand" -- what, exactly? How they created the mess? Or how well they perceive UJC is doing?

Hands have reached out to Silverman since the Search ended offering advice and counsel. But, as with anyone taking on a position of this importance, with all of their help, Jerry will still have to find his own way if UJC is to succeed as it must...and it must succeed. As one of my friends said last week: "The Jewish community is too precious to be squandered as it has been." How right he is.

UJC has been rudderless for far too long; it has lacked a consistent and meaningful vision; it has wandered off in directions that have undermined its potential relevance; it has failed to both lead and has staggered aimlessly in an organizational fog. Jerry must simply say: "No more" and lead us out into the light. Those meetings this week would be a good place to start.

So, Jerry, we wish you great success. "Hope rises...and the cause endures."


Sunday, September 6, 2009


In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal -- Tishman Struggles with Office Portfolio (August 19, 2009) -- Tishman Speyer's determination to emerge from the real estate recession with strength was discussed at some length. The article concludes with a quote from the firm's co-founder, Jerry Speyer; "If you don't take any risks, you don't have any rewards."

I am among those who believe that UJC should take risks, should be a place for experimentation, for new ideas. In other non-profit organizations experiments have ripened into best practices -- from Chicago's "extreme FRD" to Los Angeles's "LA Direct" and on and on. In each place of which I am aware, these experiments, these new ideas flowed from and through construction, debate into implementation. But, not at UJC:The Federations of North America (or whatever is the name du jour). At UJC there is risk without process and the results speak for themselves.

Let's look at the Reorganization Strategy of blessed memory. Imposed as a set of "management changes," they imposed significant policy changes without any governance approvals. The following year's Budget was structured to "implement" the Reorganization. Two years later the Strategy was abandoned as if it never existed in the first place. Before implementation of this sad chapter, UJC lay leaders were literally "summoned" to New York, told that they could ask questions but there would be no changes.

This was the pattern that operated everywhere. The 2010 Budget was approved by the Budget Committee last Spring ostensibly to "implement" the FLI Recommendations. When Budget Committee members began to ask serious questions, they were admonished that that was not their role -- their role was to approve the Budget as submitted -- and there "wasn't time." (Those who did the "admonishing" may have failed to read the By-Laws as they pertain to the creation and role of the UJC Budget & Finance Committee.)

Round and round it goes, where it stops nobody knows? UJC has been run under the current regime as if it were Tishman Speyer. It's not.


Friday, September 4, 2009


Many of us received the poignant letter that follows. Don't delay. Please follow the plea of Noam and Aviva Shalit. There is no time to waste.

Gilad Is Still Alive!!!!

Dear Friend

We, Noam and Aviva Shalit, residents of Mizpeh Hila in Israel, parents of Gilad Shalit, are appealing to you, Jews of the United States, with an emotional request from the depths of our heart.

With the coming new Jewish year, with the month of Elul to begin, we want to ask each and every Jew who lives in the United States to feel, think, and devote a number of moments for our son Gilad.

About five years ago our son Gilad was inducted into the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), and like every soldier Gilad swore to be loyal to his homeland and to do his best for the State of Israel.

We, as parents, sent our son to defend the State and its citizens, since this is how it should be. However, after two years we were informed that our son Gilad was kidnapped into the Gaza strip by the Hamas organization, which is recognized as a terrorist organization. He is kept in complete isolation from the outside world, without any basic human rights.

Gilad is in captivity and Gilad is still alive! We have no idea whether you can feel and understand the concept of captivity, but certainly each one of you can understand the meaning of freedom, the right to freedom that was stolen from you, the right to live as a person.

We have made our life a struggle for Gilad Shalit, we are doing everything possible for this cause.

We are recruiting the citizens of the State of Israel, leaders around the world, politicians, rabbis and many others. However, we are still fighting to receive=2 0a real sign of life from the Red Cross, we are fighting for his rights according to international law.

Every Jew around the world, and in America in particular, has a real motive to lead a peace process in the Middle East and as a friend of Israel can influence the process of Gilad̢۪s release and put pressure on the Red Cross.

Like every family, we want to celebrate the New Year holiday with Gilad, at home, in Mizpeh Hila. Perhaps this is in your hands?

We are asking each and every Jew in America to contact the Red Cross, by email and by telephone, and ask what is going on with our Gilad, and to contact the President of the USA, Barack Obama.
ICRC headquarters in GenevaPostal addressInternational Committee of the Red Cross19 Avenue de la PaixCH 1202 Geneva President Barack H Obama

The White House1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NYWashington, D.C. 20500USA

In addition, please sign the petition that calls for the release of Gilad Shalit. The petition is found at our official website: Please also send your information to: (Dr. Hadar)

Each one of you can be a partner in the campaign to bring Gilad home.

This participation fulfills the incomparable religious commandment of redeeming the captives and will benefit you for the coming New Year.

I wish you a Shana Tova.

Noam and Aviva Shalit"

Write now....right now.



More and more one is seeing federations facing falling campaigns, reduced grant dollars and declining endowment values turning to draconian means to meet the crisis. Were there still a UJC worthy of the name (whatever that may be today) maybe...maybe...there would be some national leadership through this Great Recession; instead, we get conference calls and "Crisis Newsletters." So, it is each federation for itself and, as all politics is local, so are "solutions" in the face of the economic tsunami. How could one not be saddened by the reality that UJC has become Kamchatka, the place where nothing grows. And how urgently UJC must change itself.

This is just a personal opinion, as always: the idea of using "furloughs" to stem the tide of the economic crisis is neither a good nor creative idea. Federation doors must remain open, federations must be at work at least five days a week. Reduce the work day hours...fine; go to flexible schedules to achieve the same result...fine; work even harder to raise more dollars...the best. But close one day a week...a bad idea, even if a skeleton staff remains to keep the doors open. We have seen many, many examples in the federation world, in the non-profit world and in the business world of voluntary or imposed salary cuts to avoid even more draconian staff cuts (not, of course, at UJC) but the very concept of "furloughs" as some federations are imposing them makes little sense in the federation context -- it sends a message to the community that "we're going to be there for you 20% fewer days than we have before." That's entirely the wrong message. (And, yes, reduced hours or flex time schedules are a form of "furlough" but doors remain open, Federation is at work five days a week, etc. Big differences.)

In the meantime, UJC is operating as if it will receive 2010 dues in total satisfaction of its Budget. Some in federation leadership ought to sit down with Kathy Manning, Jerry Silverman and Sam Astrof, and explain that there should be no such expectations. Astrof has a federation CFO group -- they ought to be convened immediately in an effort to have a candid environmental scan if you will of the dire circumstances. And if Sam and his staff are getting periodic candid reports, they ought to be sharing them. (Although I believe that they are.)

I fear that there are those at 25 Broadway who are in total denial of the fiscal realities. The organization's monthly spend rate presumes that Dues will be paid in full even as the federations send their message that they won't be. It's a dangerous fiscal game. I would expect that the first days of Jerry Silverman's service will include a candid analysis of budget vs. income.


Thursday, September 3, 2009


I have made some errors in the Posts on this Blog. When I do, I want to apologize. I have reported more than once that the allocation of $750,000 (in a three year contractual commitment at $250,000 per year) for Sheatufim had never been approved in any UJC Budget. Sam Astrof has sent me the Budget pages and I was very wrong: In 2006-2007, under New Programs -- Israel Center for Civil Society...$250,000. Not only have I been wrong in these pages, I served on the UJC Budget and Finance Committee when this allocation was first made.

So, my apologies. While I continue to search for the disclosure that leadership had theretofore committed UJC to a three year (or was it five) "investment" my sense is that they did not. The issue remains but the budget approval clearly was given.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Over this Summer UJC's leaders might have dedicated themselves to an acknowledgment that all is not well in the two relationships upon which systemic unity is based: (1) the relationship with the federations which own UJC and (2) the relationship with the federations' historic partners, the Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Agency for Israel. Sadly, as UJC moves toward the installation of a new CEO and the elevation of the Chair of the Executive to Board Chair, its small group of leaders chose to ignore (1) and exacerbate (2). They live in their own world, one of denial and disregard.

As to the federations, perhaps UJC's leaders' attitudes have been framed by a sense that there is nothing UJC can do to ease the pain that a super-majority, if not all, federations are experiencing. As we have noted in earlier Posts, UJC's Financial staff had teed up another $2 million in Budget cuts in preparation of the 2010 Budget. The Treasurer was well aware of these proposed reductions. When the CEO violently objected, heads down the staff and Treasurer restored them notwithstanding the reality that those cuts would have been consistent with federations' needs. Over the past months, UJC's Officers have consistently downplayed the number of federations who will reduce their dues payments. Friends have been told that "Wexler is, as usual, way off base (only cruder)." I wish I were wrong; yet, I know of at least eight Large Cities which will be unable or unwilling to pay full dues; a significant number of Large Intermediate Federations will reduce their Dues payments pro rata to the reduction in agency allocations; and others across the spectrum of City sizes will seek "deferrals" of significant portions of their 2010 Dues, creating, essentially, a large Accounts Receivable portfolio at UJC. Other federations will withdraw funds from their allocations to JAFI and JDC to meet their Dues obligations. This is the mess that UJC denies exists. There appears to be no one pondering the question: what if Federation dues payments fall well below budgeted expenses?

Then, there is the constancy of UJC's disunity breeding ground. In February 2009 I questioned whether the FLI was "rigged" with predetermined outcomes, in particular the obsession certain members of Kanfer's "clique" had with rending the fabric that bound JAFI and JDC to the federations and vice versa. I have been assured that what I wrote then was wrong. Here is what I said in that February Post on the subject before the FLI took place: " speaking to the Recommendations that would rend the fabric of the federations historic partnership with JAFI and JDC while UJC positions itself for a more significant role in Israel, federation leaders will rise to decry the fundamental change in the historic partnership at a time we need unity here and in Israel. Kanfer and his acolyte, Toni Young, will rise up a capella to whine that they are just trying to 'focus people' and have ' honest discussion.' The obvious and over-arching strategy that Kanfer and his tight Circle of Trust have determined will work is to posit that JAFI and JDC have failed to respond to the 'market' and need to be replaced. They will submit that only by offering a 'third way' will allocations for Israel and Overseas increase. They will ignore the fact that UJC's failure to advocate for the great unmet needs in Israel and Overseas has failed not only JAFI and JDC but those of our People most in need. 'JAFI and JDC are so 1975. Things have changed over 40 years. So. let's move on.' Kanfer and his ilk, so spoiled, cannot bring themselves to countenance even the possibility they are wrong hellbent as they are to divide our system under the guise of 'big, new ideas.'"

The federations resisted, speaking loud and clear that UJC must maintain the exclusive relationship with our Israel and Overseas partners -- JAFI, JDC and ORT. But, this has not stopped the clique. Even now, in the bowels of something called the Center for Jewish Philanthropy Executive Council, the ubiquitous Toni Young (!) has resurrected the divisive concept rejected at the FLI. At a time of tremendous and growing deficits for our historic partners, Ms. Young (and, apparently, Global Operations: Israel and Overseas Chair, Shep Remus) advocates draining even more dollars away from them. She just doesn't, she just can't, get the message. UJC leaders attend JAFI and JDC Board meetings, they insist on the perquisites, as they see them, of their status -- seats on the dais, participation in JAFI meetings with the Government of Israel -- yet, they are willing to ignore the humanitarian crises that JDC and JAFI face as their programs are cut, cut and cut again. These are programs providing basic human needs -- and UJC would ignore them in pursuit of their small group of "leaders" goals.

In an article in the JTA on August 25, Officials at aid groups mull more cuts in the FSU, Jacob Berkman focused on the Joint being forced to cut food and vital drug supplies to the elderly in the FSU and the Jewish Agency being forced to consider cutting its critical programs there. The situation is dire. With no CEO in place, one can only speculate as to who it was at the organization who offered this quote: "For a long time we have been advocates (ed., UJC has not been an "advocate" for at least five years; what fantasy world do they live in?) with all of our overseas partners for overseas needs...We share their concern over these pressing needs and we think it is their obligation to bring these to the attention of the federations." Is there a federation leader around who believes that UJC has no obligation to advocate, no "obligation to bring these (needs) to the attention of the federations?" Shame on UJC and shame on us for allowing this to happen.

As always, unfortunately, the CJP, desperately searching for its raison d'etre, would trample on the unity that UJC's new leaders must try to immediately achieve. JAFI and JDC have reached agreement as between the two parties. UJC appears to be rejecting their agreement in pursuit of "goals" unrelated to desires of UJC's owners. THIS MUST STOP. NOW.

What's to be done? UJC's new leaders must immediately create a new culture to total transparency. We cannot endure weeks and months of decisions made by some form of "Management Council" rather than, e.g., the UJC Executive Committee. We cannot further endure weeks and months of financial decisions made by Committees with no governance approval. Open up UJC to the Federation owners. Shedding the light of day on the decision-making process will move UJC forward. Try it.


Tuesday, September 1, 2009


I know that a number of you logged into the Blog today expecting some farewell summary of Howard's five years as CEO (make that "President and CEO") of UJC. I wish him the best, as do we all.