Friday, October 30, 2009


Often times the General Assembly has been the focal point for dramatic systemic change, for rallying federation lay and professional leadership and for galvanizing the North American Jewish polity. That was then...this is now. Today, the GA has become so irrelevant that the Jewish media relegates it to a smaller story than the "death pangs of the Jewish deli." Perhaps, the President's and the Prime Minister's attendance, which one month ago could only be prayed for, will restore the General Assembly to its former prominence.

Some of you who have written me have reflected on the incredible experiences of times gone by -- a Yitz Greenberg-Label Fein debate followed by a rallying cry from Golda Meir; the "uprising" of the "Young Turks," the movement to create, in just three weeks, the Washington Rally for Soviet Jewry; the outpouring of emotion honoring the memory of Yitzchak Rabin, z'l, immediately after his assassination -- the list is a long one. What heady times those were. Today, not so much... not so very much. Perhaps, the President's and the Prime Minister's attendance, which one month ago could only be prayed for, will restore the General Assembly to its former prominence.

~ I honestly never believed that the day would come for our system where we would publicize the General Assembly by proudly announcing that an American Idol "contestant" (not even the winner) would headline our annual event or, with words like these, from a Leadership Briefing: "Cantor, who holds the second highest Republican leadership post in the House of Representatives will speak..." Yes, friends, the GOP Whip will be a featured GA speaker. Hip hip and all that. Would it not have been better to promote Eric Cantor as the sole remaining Jewish Republican Congressman...or, maybe, The Jewish Federations of North America could have sent a Briefing announcing "Obama Pay Czar Co-Chairs GA."

~ For all conspiracy buffs out there, the saga of the "Community Hero Award" continues. A correspondent who wished to remain anonymous (!) noted that the only "Judge" appointed by The Jewish Federations of North America with "federation leadership credentials" is a Large City Chair whose election in his community was hailed as something like "the first Chabad (or maybe it was Haredi) Large City Chair ever elected..." This thing is like Murphy's Law (only Murphy had no Haredi credentials).

~ Without notice to The Federations of North America GA staff or lay leadership, the "Jewish Community Hero Award" was inserted into the GA Program -- just one of a number of unilateral acts, the source(s) for which remain unknown. (The GA event at which the Award will be made has been called "the culminating event of this year's GA." OMG!!

~ Once again, a session dedicated to Israeli philanthropy fails to include leaders of JDC or the Jewish Agency even as those partners are the only organizations of "ours" doing the job; leveraging our dollars; partnering with Israeli philanthropists.

~ A sidebar -- Losing Track of Cost Savings. There was a day way back when when the national organization was focused on corporate sponsorships. From the late 90's forward through the Nashville GA, a single fundraising consultant, Sandra Divack Moss, drove us to achieve corporate sponsorships, soliciting many of those potential sponsors herself -- always in consultation with the host federation. When the GA was here in Chicago the corporate achievement reduced Registration fees as was the case going as far back as the $1 million in sponsorships for the Indianapolis GA. The results approximated a $250 per Registrant reduction in cost and GA's that were close to if not at break even. Without any evident rationale, Sandra's contract was canceled before last year's Israel GA. I am told today, that instead of Sandra's often grating prodding (as a past GA Chair, I knew it well), GA sponsorships became a staff responsibility -- ask someone how that's going.

~ A sidebar -- Continued. I have heard that at the upcoming D.C. GA, The Jewish Feds of NA (I can't seem to get this right) will distribute -- at your cost -- thousands of flash drives with the new name emblazoned on each one. Here's how I think that came about. One of our best organizations and partners developed a plan with The JFNA/UJC that would provide every Registrant with a flash drive that would contain the GA Program (with regular updates), etc. A terrific use of technology. The flash drive would be in each Registrant's "bag" upon Registration. A long negotiation to reach a written, signed contract took place to assure The Feds of NA (better?) that it would receive payment for the promotion and the sponsor organization's logo would appear on every flash drive.

Then, with no prior discussion, The Jewish Federations of North America (best?)determined -- somewhere -- "why promote a beneficiary organization, we'll put our new name on the flash drive...and that's it." Forget the negotiated signed contract; marketing now drives The Jewish Federations of yada yada yada. So, you will be paying about $20 for a flash drive to promote The Jewish Federations of North America's new name when those flash drives could have been free. Nice.

~ My cynicism aside, there are some excellent GA Forums/panels. Too few but a start. Yet, at a time that those who could inspire us should be on the Program, committed, there are yawning holes waiting to be filled -- the President's and the Prime Minister's attendance fills so many of those holes -- their attendance says, in shorthand, to The Federation of North America's leaders -- "we still matter." Build on it.

Friends, I still sense that the General Assembly has become an exercise in going through the motions. It should be the place -- this year of all years -- where we discuss how we reinvent ourselves as communities, as federations. At a time that we need true revolution; we can't even get evolution. More's the pity...


Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Both before and after Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman convened a meeting with JAFI and JDC Leadership last month, I posted my hopes for A Good Start and thereafter A Good Start...A Follow-Up where I was even more expansive -- calling the meeting "a Great Start." You may recall that my compliments were considered by some to be so fulsome as to be considered by some "brown-nosing." So, surprise, surprise, some UJC leader has called around to inquire, in an ominous (for the future) manner, as to who "leaked" to me that this was a "good meeting" and/or who "leaked" that there was meeting at all. Pitiful but true.

Ya' see, the meeting was supposed to be "confidential." Telling me that it was a "good meeting" with no details to this inquiring chacham was a "breach of confidentiality." WOW. This was a meeting no one was to know even took place? This is an example of the new transparency? Or just more of the same? Now, in my naivete I don't think the accusations came from Kathy or Jerry both of whom thanked me when I called or wrote to congratulate them. Even as UJC cast the meeting as one restricted to a "discussion" of the "Urgency of Cash Collections" in a Leadership Briefing on October 6, it was far, far more than it should have been. If the new lay leadership wants to mirror the old, where "inconvenient truth tellers" are ushered out because the new leadership wants to control "truth," then we are headed down the same path to nowhere.

So....I'm thinking: why is it that some "leader" of The Federations of North America just can't get beyond the vendettas and the recriminations? One of my friends reminded me of the exchange in Mike Nichols' Charlie Wilson's War: "Why does Congress say one thing and do another?" Congressman Wilson's response: "Tradition, mainly." At JFNA, this "tradition" of vendetta and ostracism, this "tradition" of intolerance of dissent and debate needs to stop now.

It's a real pity for all that this kind of stuff portends for the future.


Monday, October 26, 2009


There remains an Anonymous "Commentator" who is continuously frustrated as I reject his personal attacks on me...and, now, Jerry Silverman. Example, after I rejected his last attempt to attack Silverman, telling him that his screed would not be published on this Blog; that he ought to start a Blog and call it "I Hate Jerry," this guy wrote again. This time he said that his earlier hate message was meant to be "ironic" and "a joke." No, that won't be published either.

But for this one "master of irony" these Posts have been filled with intelligent and important Comments. I know this guy just can't help himself. It's truly too bad. We'll continue without him.


Sunday, October 25, 2009


A "friend of the Blog" sent me an "article" written by a "young Jewish professional" and a former professional at United Jewish Communities for whom my friend has the highest regard. It is an insightful reflection on the federations' "brand." I hope you find it as interesting as did I:

Playboy Enterprises & Jewish Federations of North America

"Playboy Enterprises and the Jewish Federation of North America are more alike than you care to believe…

This morning I read an article on MSN Money making the case for Playboy Enterprises to sell themselves and to put Hugh Hefner out to pasture. What I found intriguing was that analysts covering the company actually price the assets of the company higher than the price point of the stock. Why is this? The Playboy brand.

Playboy represents the unique combination of sex and “class”. No one else has that, and perhaps with new owners and a new face to the company, Playboy can become the industry leader again.
This got me to thinking about some similarities that Playboy shares with Federation. Both institutions have deep roots that go back to when our parents and grandparents were children. In fact, whether you care to admit it or not, some fathers had their personal collection buried in the back of their closets. It was “our fathers’ magazine”. With the easy access to pornography today, with images and video readily accessible, Playboy has had a hard time turning a profit, when everything is available free of charge and on the viewer’s terms.

Federation also has an incredible brand, and is perceived to be the paradigm of Jewish giving to my parent’s and grandparent’s generation. The question begs why I should be involved with a seemingly static institution when I can find philanthropic opportunities that are truly customized to my interests and available resources?

I know that the Federation is the backbone of so many social, educational and humanitarian services in Jewish communities across the U.S. but I hope Silverman, who is rebranding the national entity as the Jewish Federations of North America (formerly United Jewish Communities) is prepared to recommend drastic changes that will change the face of Jewish philanthropy in the United States.

Playboy and Jewish Federations have lost their subscribers. Both have an incredible brand and can make changes that will put them at the forefront of their industries. Should I buy stock in Playboy? Federation?"


I know that we will cast our vote for "Federation." What will we do to make our vote matter? The mantle of lay leadership passes very soon; the system has already put in place a new professional leader who is proving to be the quick study necessary to turn this ship away from the shoals. We don't need old wine in old bottles or even new wine in old bottles (with a new brand, of course) but we do need an understanding and appreciation that there is value in the old vintages and we can grow some great new wine on the old vines. Go for it!! Carpe diem and all that.


Friday, October 23, 2009


The announcement this a.m. that the President of the United States will attend the General Assembly is a real coup. (Not in the coup d'etat sense.) I have been attendong GAs since 1973 and neither I nor my friends can remember an occasion when the President has attended in person. (We do remember that President Clinton attended the Indianapolis GA by teleconference with Joel Tauber doing the honors.) We remember Vice Presidents such as George H. W. Bush in Chicago in the 80's and Al Gore in Denver in the 90's...but not a President. Hopefully, the Israeli Prime Minister will also be present.

To the extent that The Jewish Federatrions of NA leadership believes that this means that "we still matter," or whether the federaqtions themselves will at least seize the day remains to be seen.

But, no matter, this assures that this GA will be remembered.

More to follow.



Only in America.

Here is how The New York Daily News reported a major basketball fiasco that took place last Sunday at Madison Square Garden:

"NBA or Europe, regular referees or replacements, the rules are the same: Two technical fouls is an automatic ejection, and anyone ejected must leave the floor.

Maccabi Tel Aviv wanted a pass on that rule Sunday at the Garden.

The Knicks' 106-91 victory over the Euroleague squad featured a bizarre delay in the third quarter when the visiting coach refused to leave after he was ejected.

The exhibition game was halted about eight minutes when Pini Gershon continued to linger near Maccabi's bench - a delay that included a rabbi trying to intervene by asking the NBA's replacement referees calling the game to allow Gershon to stay."I explained that this is not a regular game and the kids are watching and (it's) important that there will be peace and forgive him," Rabbi Yitchak Dovid Grossman said of his discussions with the officials. "If you forgive him, I can speak to the children and say, 'You also forgive. If you have a fight, you forgive.' But he says this is the law, that you must obey."

Gershon eventually left after a lengthy discussion with the referees, his assistant coaches and NBA security personnel. A security official said Gershon told them he didn't care if the game was stopped but eventually he agreed to leave.

"He likes the crowd, the crowd likes him very much," Maccabi's Yaniv Green said. "They're coming to the game to see him even more than they're coming to see us. He's quite a character, like you saw today."

Former Michigan State player Alan Anderson scored 20 points for Maccabi Tel Aviv. D'or Fischer added 19 points and 16 rebounds.Apparently frustrated by the officiating, Maccabi picked up four technical fouls, including two on Gershon in a 53-second span of the third quarter. Strangely, the second came after he screamed at official Ben Taylor in front of his bench following an offensive foul called on the Knicks' Al Harrington."


Maccabi Tel Aviv's Coach, Pini Gershon, is a legendary figure in Israeli professional sports. But...only in America could one see a Coach tossed for unsportsmanlike conduct and a Rabbi intervenes. ESPN, the American, now worldwide sports network, described the scene as follows: " took a Rabbi, several security guards and a whole lot of time to get the situation resolved." Comments to the Post included anti-Semitic rants -- of course.

So, the next time someone says to you: "Have you heard the one about the referee, the Rabbi and the basketball coach?" Just say: "Heard it."



Thursday, October 22, 2009


The Jewish Federations of North America recently began to publish The Fact of the Week. Here is the first "Fact" that I read:

UJC/The Jewish Federations of North America supports ORT India, which recently opened a new Computer Center in Imphal, Manipur. The center offers advanced vocational training to members of the Bnei Menashe Jewish community to help prepare them for the modern job market.

OK. We would probably agree that this is not the most critical of "facts," but it is nice. One of my correspondents asked: "Is the 'fact' factual? What does 'support' mean?" So, we asked around. Best we can tell is that a new word has been added to the lexicon of what is now named (or will be by action of the UJC Board in November) The Jewish Federations of North America -- that word is "supports" (singular "support"). "Supports" doesn't mean, as you might otherwise conclude, "funds" (as a verb) in the context of this Fact. No, "supports" means "endorses" -- as in, no money for you.

That's my sad "fact of the week."


Tuesday, October 20, 2009


In a JTA article on September 10, the "restructuring" of United Synagogue was painted in broad brushstrokes. Read the article below and then we'll discuss it:

"United Synagogue reorganizing to build efficiency
September 10, 2009

NEW YORK (JTA) -- The umbrella organization for Conservative synagogues is restructuring, its new chief executive said.

Rabbi Steven Wernick, who has been on the job as the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism's executive vice president and CEO for barely two months, told JTA on Thursday that the organization is reducing the number of regions from 15 to six and eliminating five positions in the main office, with more layoffs likely to come.

The restructuring is pending final approval from the organization's board, which is slated to meet Sunday.

The aim is to make United Synagogue smaller and better, Wernick said.

Member synagogues have long complained they don't get enough value for their dues.
Wernick says he wants to reform an unwieldy organization that is "over-institutionalized," with a bloated board and insufficient accountability.

The proposed governance and structural changes are aimed at granting Wernick more authority while also making the organization, which has long been a poster child for the Conservative movement's ills, more directly accountable to the congregations who pay the dues.

"The fundamental goal of United Synagogue has to be strengthening synagogues," Wernick said.

With many young Conservative Jews falling off the map between college and having children, the reorganization intends to place programming for youth and young adults under one heading and provide "seamless programming" as individuals progress from one age group to the next."


Hello?! "The fundamental goal of United Synagogue has to be strengthening synagogues." An epiphany (if Conservative Jews can have one)? So let's move a few words around and change the context: "The fundamental goal of the organization now known as The Jewish Federations of North America has to be strengthening federations." What an idea!! Let's focus on how best that can be accomplished -- let's reach that focus through the federation prism not through the prism of individual leaders who neither understand federations' goals nor care much about them. For the last five years, interrupted by two wars, UJC's leaders have been about their goals, their plans, even their dreams. They would conjure them from their own fertile minds and then work assiduously to implement, sometimes with governance approvals, sometimes not. Alignment with the goals of the federations of North America? Unimportant. And, thus, they failed us and themselves.

Let's see if the new UJC leadership will dedicate themselves to "strengthening federations." The best place to start is by listening to them.


Sunday, October 18, 2009


"DENOUEMENT" -- what a perfect word, what a perfect descriptive term for the accumulation of issues over these past five years that have brought UJC to this day.

For the past years, as I see it, UJC has been missing four elements critical to any institutional success: a moral center, a grounding in the reality of the federation experience and a dedication to the timeless principles upon which our federation system has been constructed and a commitment to real transparency. The result of this void has been the separation of UJC from the federations, the Network, JAFI, JDC, ORT and our system's funded National Agencies in so many ways.

Some recent incidents strongly suggest that hope must be measured against the "UJC culture" that has been created over the past five years. Some examples: a GA Task Force on which serious federation leaders put in significant time issued its report a few weeks ago. The Report failed to cite the Task Force's key Recommendation as I understand it to be -- that the GA morph into an every two year event. I know the arguments for the GA to continue as our annual conclave; I support those. But, the way to achieve that goal is not to exorcise the Recommendations of a Task Force through a sheer power play.

Then there is the Executive Committee's action to approve an extremely expensive Donor Management System. Good Task Force Report, so expensive and out of the reach of federations struggling with severe economic issues, The Jewish Federations of North America are about to commit millions of dollars to develop a system that will be potentially used by a fraction of the federations -- many of which have already told the national organization they can't afford it. So why now? Did a number of federations which argued they "get nothing" from the "old UJC" strong arm the system for this? Did The Executive Committee, as was the case with the approval of what turned into the two-plus million Marketing and Branding Initiative, get overwhelmed by the technical presentation by the consultants who will benefit the most from this contract? Did anyone ask "how can we afford this at this moment of fragility and crisis?" Is it in either the national organization's or the federations' interest that The Jewish Federations of North America "own" a system rather than federations directly contracting with the service provider? Have there been system analyses in multiple federations before the "decision?" Just asking?

Yes, like you I pray that the new lay-professional leadership will be like sunlight through the fog of the past. Yet, I see glimmers of the dark past blocking that sunlight. Those who read this Blog regularly will recall that Rieger/Kanfer/Gelman in Spring 2008 devoted almost three months to threatening UIA's very existence solely...solely...because I served as its Chair. Those leaders developed a rationalizing mantra: "We need to 'complete the merger'" by substituting UJC's leaders for UIA's Board as to all things related to the Jewish Agency for Israel. Ignore the reality that the Jewish Federations of yadyadayada Board must approve and has approved the nominees to the JAFI Board from the United States, ignore the fact that The Jewish Federations of North America's leadership served on the UIA Nominating Committees for its Officers and Board, and, most important, ignore the fact that since the merger, under a succession of Chairs, UIA's Board has been comprised of federation leaders nominated only after consultation with their federations.

To Kanfer, Rieger and Gelman this was not enough -- why? Because they did not control the processes. Not that the processes weren't working, not that the UIA Board was not a productive one representing the federation system in monitoring the expenditure of federation allocations to JAFI and delivering the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Grant of literally hundreds of millions of dollars to JAFI-- only because the troika did not totally control me. It made no difference to them that the UIA Board and staff were doing the job assigned to it in the merger.

Ignoring the fact that the merger of UIA was completed in toto when The Jewish Federations of North America f/k/a UJC was formed thanks to the vote of the federations, thanks to the vote of JDC, thanks to the votes of UIA and UJA; and ignoring the fact that the terms of UIA's joinder in the merger were fully incorporated in the approved Merger Agreement, three people -- Kanfer, Rieger and Gelman -- wanted my scalp and would have worked to destroy UIA if they didn't get it. While that chapter closed in 2008, the internal Jewish Federations of North America grapevine has told me that now the incoming lay leadership has directed the staff (lay leaders directing staff going around the CEO to do so? Unacceptable.) to again analyze the reasons they don't sense that they completely control UIA.

I find it hard to believe that this new Lay leadership may allow itself to be distracted as were their predecessors; that they will concern themselves with control for control's sake at a time that their focus needs to be on how UJC can best engage with its federation owners in a new federationcentric mode; that transparency may be sacrificed to satisfy the most powerful, even as the organization might be torn apart rather than mended. Will someone ask "do we need these distractions at this time in this way...again?" Is the message of The Jewish Federations of North America, which embodies the very concept of Jewish unity, going to once again embroil itself in acts of disunity? Actually, consider the questions asked. (For those who seek a seat at The Federations of North America table, be reminded of the Washington maxim: "If you aren't at the table, you're probably on the menu." More on that in a few days.)

I hope that I have been misinformed for if what I have learned from inside UJC itself is correct, a "good start," even a great one, will quickly turn into opportunity lost and The Jewish Federations of North America will just as quickly face its denouement.


Friday, October 16, 2009


Have you heard from The Jewish Federations of North America with regard to the status of the small Yemenite Jewish population UJC (yes, chevra, there once was an orgnaization called UJC) was pushing toward relocation in Monsey, Rockland County, New York? If your federation has allocated funds for this $800,000 effort, have you been given an accounting, even in "secret," by UJC/The Jewish ... ? Probably not

You remember: first, the former CEO sent e-mails to those he thought would be supportive asking for $5,000,000 immediately with the "threat" that if this amount weren't forthcoming it would be the end of days for federations' claims to social welfare leadership, among other things. The Yemenite Jewish population would be here by Pesach, that CEO wrote. (That's last Pesach, not Pesach 2010.) Then UJC's lay and professional leaders sent an urgent message to the federations pleading for the reduced amount (a "special," I guess) of $800,000 to relocate the Yemenite group -- that was to happen two months ago. Seen any? As I understood it, two Yemeni families have relocated to the U.S. and a few more are coming while responsible leadership in the America Orthodox community have been urging this same population to make aliya -- and many are.

Then a friend sent me an article from the September 9 Yemen Times ("Yemen's Most Widely Read English-language Newspaper") -- Ancestral homeland loses more Yemeni Jews. Reporting that "...the umbrella body of the North American Jewish Federation(s) escalated efforts to evacuate almost half of Yemen's Jewish community to the U.S.," resulting in three families totalling 12 Yemenite Jews leaving on September 9 joining the 14 who left in August -- a total of 26...26. "Emigration will (now) slow down because many want to spend the holiday season in Yemen with other family members." UJC/The Jewish Feder... might have provided this information but, psssst, it's a secret.

While UJC (yes, chevra, there once was...) leadership should have been focusing on what it should have been doing, they allowed themselves to be distracted with something with which they should not have been involved at all -- other than to expressly encourage aliya to Israel. We are blessed with two partners dedicated to rescue -- neither of which is The Jewish Federations of North America -- and questions about whether the Yemenite Jewish population required "rescue" abound. Someday maybe all of us will understand why and how UJC became obsessed with this population -- obsessed to the extent that at one time at least 7 senior professionals (that's about 1 UJC professional for every 4 Yemenite Jews who have been projected to have arrived in America thus far) were engaged on the subject. Mismanagement? A lack of priorities? Chaos? All of the above?

Will the recent arrivals in America be paraded out at the GA as an example of a Jewish Federations of North America "triumph" of some kind? Or is the effort such an actualization of failed expectations that The Jewish Federations of North America will just let it fade away?

Where are the Yemenite Jews? And, where has the money gone?


Wednesday, October 14, 2009


One correspondent got me to thinking:

Anonymous said...


Why don't you ask around and find out what ever happened to the Hay Group consultation a few years ago for UJC. Lots of $$, was supposed to streamline the title mishegas you describe.

Actually, I think your post aptly describes the current top-heavy structure of UJC/JFNA. The vast majority of those who got laid off the past few years were below the Director level.

Directors (and those above them) with relatively few people remaining to actually direct...."

So here's the sad've got a lot of Directors (and those above them) with relatively few people remaining to actually direct...."

Lacking the means to discover the shelf at 25 Broadway on which the Hay Group consultation sits, I would recommend that the press take a look, if they have any interest. (Or if any of you have it, send it on to me.)

While on the subject, how about the Rochester Research Group Reports (multi-year)? And whatever were the results of the inspired "Great Place to Work" Consultancy? For that matter, other than the latest Branding and Marketing Initiative, the $2 million (+) effort that produced...tata...The Jewish Federations of North America name and mark, where have all of the consultant studies gone..or were they left behind at 111 Eighth Avenue.


Congrats to the marketing geniuses who came up with the idea of The Jewish Community Hero Awards. 20 finalists -- and by my amateur count -- 2/3rds appear to have been put forward by the incredible effort of the Chabad. So, forgetting the fact that many of the "votes" were cast by the same people time-and-time-and-time again (the Chabad, I'm betting, learned their voting practices in my fair city -- "vote early and often"), it is fantastic that The Jewish Federations of North America (by another consultant, of course) culled 570,000 votes, hundreds of thousands of new names and e-mail addresses -- most of which will be found at Chabad Houses worldwide.

The Award Ceremony (the "Hero of the Year" will be selected from the 20 finalists) will be another highlight of the D.C. GA. If I haven't given you enough reasons to attend the GA already, now you have another. In my opinion, however, the men and women, young and old, lay and professional, whom you see in the halls in D.C. are the real heroes. But, that's just me.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009


~ Titles. I (and probably you) received an announcement from UJC:The Jewish Federations a few weeks ago. It was sent by an Executive Assistant on behalf of a Director and was over the signature of a Managing Director. This drove me to look at a staff directory. In addition to the above I learned that The Jewish Federations of North America have developed a whole lot of titles. Here is a partial list: you've got your Administrative Assistants, your Executive Assistants, your Associate Directors, your Directors, your Senior Directors, your Managers, your Project Managers, your Senior Managers, your Managing Directors, your Coordinators, your Associate Vice-Presidents, your Vice-Presidents, your Senior Vice-Presidents, your President and CEO. I am certain that I have left some out and some creative person is busy creating more. (If you search deeply, you will find the Project Manager, New Titles -- a full-time job no doubt.)

Ten years ago did we envision the creation of a bureaucracy this thick? How about five years ago? We should have.

~ Names. I guess this falls in the same genre as Titles. We're now The Jewish Federations of North America (no acronyms allowed) after extensive research, focus groups and expense. (Pssst, acknowledging the mistake of 10 years ago, we may see the campaign effort titled: UJA: The Annual Campaign of The Jewish Federations of North America. It's just a "maybe;" it's gonna take more research, focus groups, etc. My bet: it ain't gonna happen.) Did anyone on the Board ask "what will the cost be to change letterhead, signage, Memo pads, etc.? When the subject was last explored, about seven years ago, a name change back to UJA was rejected, in part, because the cost of changing all this was stated to be $500,000!! This time??

Also, I loved the explanation that in conjunction with the GA in its midst, the host federation, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington has agreed to...what exactly? It was announced that the JFGW (does D.C. allow acronyms?) "title already qualifies as it mets 90% of the requirements, criteria, something..."
Soon, if not already, you will be asked to modify all UJC (forgive me for I have sinned) e-mail addresses to You will be severely punished if you fail to follow orders.

Is this name change, this rebranding to be the seminal achievement of this era of "leadership?" At what cost?

By the way...good name.


Monday, October 12, 2009


ejewishphilanthropy published Steven Windmueller's Call for a National Jewish Conversation earlier today. Steve,the Dean of the L.A.-based HUC-JIR, makes another important contribution to the on-going Dialogue (although that may not have been his intent) on the organized Jewish community. The Call follows and, then, some comments:

A Call for a National Jewish Conversation

Posted by eJP October 12, 2009 Category: The American Jewish Scene by Steven Windmueller

"A crisis of profound proportions is confronting the American Jewish community. Facing serious economic challenges, dealing with a rising concern over the viability and vitality of significant numbers of Jewish institutions, in part brought on by rapidly changing demographic and social patterns and a national crisis in leadership, and confronting worldwide concerns over anti-Semitism and anti-Israel policies and actions, there needs to be a national conversation on the American Jewish future.

Such convocations have been previously held by Jewish leaders and allowed for creative and necessary issues to be addressed by a broad, representative segment of national leaders, rabbinic authorities, and communal experts. Such a conversation held at this time would permit a serious analysis of the “state” of American Jewry and permit the opportunity for some serious exploration of how our religious and communal system must address the array of social, economic and political concerns confronting the community.

In the context of an emerging 21st model, Jewish life will be governed and framed around several core principles. First, old notions of institutional turf no longer apply, as no one owns “the” Jewish response to our communal future. As a result of the rapidly changing picture of who American Jews are and what they represent, there will need to emerge a different type of Jewish marketplace; such an environment must be seen as transparent and committed to experimentation and innovation. What will we “brand” as Jewish and how as a community do we compete in the marketplace of ideas and causes represent the types of challenges that will need to be addressed?

When Jewish communities in the past faced such overriding issues, national and even international conferences were convened. In 1943 American Jewish leadership met to form plans to rescue European Jewry and to seek formal recognition for a Jewish State in Palestine. On other occasions, such convocations addressed specific global and local priorities. In Medieval times, for example, “synods” were regularly convened by rabbinic leaders to consider Jewish legal practices as well as to respond to external degrees imposed by European rulers and Church authorities.

Such a national dialogue is long overdue, as it would come at a time when the Jewish enterprise seems unclear with regard to its mandate, especially in light of a community divided along political and ideological lines. Adding to these challenges, there is both a national crisis of Jewish leadership and a major generational and demographic transition underway that is fundamentally reconfiguring the very composition of our community. Joining these serious and significant domestic issues is an array of global concerns that include the growth of anti-Semitism, the spread of anti-Israel activism, and the emergence of a nuclear threat to Israel and the West from Iran.

In some measure one finds at this time communal and religious leadership bereft of ideas and strategies on how best to reach significant pockets of Jews who are unaffiliated or disconnected from the organized structures of Jewish life and in mobilizing initiatives to embrace younger Jews. A conversation among leaders is needed to re-imagine and help re-direct the institutional priorities for American Judaism. The financial and organizational infra-structure of Jewish life requires a thoughtful and candid reconsideration of institutional priorities and structures. At a time of diminishing fiscal resources and competing institutional threats and opportunities, communal and religious bodies must re-think the issues of governance, leadership, and financial sustainability.

While no institutional body has the authority to legislate social or structural change, a thoughtful and essential summit of Jewish leadership would seem to be both appropriate and necessary. Participation and engagement must be seen as a responsibility that transcends institutional boundaries, ideological and religious positions, and political passions. This represents an opportunity for also engaging the academic, rabbinic and educational leadership who are core to the Jewish future in order to help create a new national Jewish agenda.

Similar convocations should also be convened within our local communities, allowing leaders to re-imagine ways in which institutions might work in collaboration, while identifying unmet needs, shared concerns, and common action.

It is not uncommon to find religious communities and ethnic constituencies, stepping back from time to time, with the intent to critically and responsibly examine their core institutions, to assess their status and impact within the larger society, and to evaluate their shared priorities and common goals. This would seem to be the moment for American Jewry to undertake such a reassessment."


Those who read these pages know of my deep, core belief that a "National Conversation" is vital -- and that the Jewish Federations of North America remain the vital center of that Jewish communal universe capable of convening such a, as I have termed it, "National Retreat." In three separate Posts over the past four months, I have pled with the incoming leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America (type that a few hundred times and you determine whether an acronym might be nice) or federation leadership itself to act as the convener. The response -- none.

At one time the Conversation about "who we are, what our strength, what our purpose, what our might" was one that inspired our national Jewish polity at General Assembly after General Assembly. Since 2005, certainly, the GA has been, like The Seinfeld Show was, essentially "about nothing." More's the pity. As the fabric of our communal enterprise has been shredded by its leaders and the economic crisis that is upon us full force, federation leaders who used to rise up as one, have turned more and more inward.

Rachel Cowan "commenting" on the Windmueller piece in ejewishphilanthropy, echoed Windmueller's "Call" and built upon it, stating in part: "This meta-conversation should cover a wide range of topics -- those that engage the future, those that build hope and commitment and don't simply cultivate fear and anxiety. They should be based on appreciative inquiry, and new formats for engaging large numbers of people in generating creative ideas..." If The Jewish Federations of North America aren't capable of sounding the call, I fear that we will soon be saying Kaddish for all we have built together.

Thanks to ejewishphilanthropy and Steve Windmueller.


Sunday, October 11, 2009


Dear Kathy and Jerry:

Last week a Dialogue erupted on the pages of this Blog. That dialogue (which consisted of Comments to three Posts on "RELEVANCE" and the potential impacts of turning our federations over to the "designated givers" culminated in a responsa to numerous observations of Paul Jeser, a leader experienced in so many aspects of our system. That responsa, from an Anonymous correspondent so beautifully and perfectly summarized my own sense of where some would take us that I wanted to reprint it here for you and The Jewish Federations of North America to consider. I wish that I could write so beautifully. And, at one and the same time, may those who believe that because their communities face obstacles that appear insurmountable at this time, who believe the federation construct is irreparably damaged, working together, as we have time and again, we will find solutions that preserve the best of in what we have built.

Here is what Anonymous wrote last Thursday night:

"(It has been suggested ) that Federations have to get on the band wagon of designated giving or go out of business.

I suggest that if designated giving is the panacea for Jewish Giving than there is no need for Federations at all. Let’s all designate and save the overhead. We do not need a central address – just an occasional symposium on “Giving Wisely.”

How will we defend ourselves with no central address? How will we work collectively in a time of crisis? How will we organize major movements of our people? How will we prevent 100 schools for 100 children? How will we succeed when we disorganize form the collective?

I have the ultimate tool of designated giving in the form of my checkbook. I can designate to my heart's content.

If I do that with all my Tzedaka - I will lose my community. The strength of the community is that we come together to act together. We act as central address and we plan for the best use of our collective funds. We can intelligently plan for the best uses of our Tzedaka and act with the power of the collective - like a family.

Embrace a Jewish form of Rugged Individualism and we will lose our very Jewish Community. Give up central planning and we relegate our giving to being nothing more than a Beauty Contest or sales contest. The sexiest and loudest organization gets the money. Put a Rabbi with a big smile in front of my desk and I can no longer hear the small voice of the needy Jew far away from my home? A totality of Free Market Tzedaka is worse than spoiled gribenes – all the grease and none of the crunch. Designated Giving is survival of the fittest.

There is no Tikkun Olam in the Jungle. This diminishes us to be nothing more than a recreation of the shtetl's shnorer with a pushka. The Pushka of the shtetl took care of all of our community’s needs because we did not have the freedom of geography nor the knowledge of effective global communication. If you do not know about the plague in Minsk you are fine with throwing big parties in Pinsk. We know better today.

If we wish to remain a covenantal people – than we have a responsibility to the Brit. Our Brit creates a responsibility for collective action of the Edah - our community. Individual action, no matter how enlightened or fulfilling, can never take the place of collective responsibility."
October 8, 2009 6:32 PM


Amen. Selah.

Kathy and Jerry....the next steps are truly in your hands.


Friday, October 9, 2009


In less than a month's time, The Jewish Federations of North America will join together in a celebration of our unity and Peoplehood at the GA/DC 09. I have kidded about it, but I have always felt that the General Assembly should be the most important national event on our system's annual calendar. With the input that Dede and Ken Feinberg asked of us in re programming, with the National Women's Philanthropy, PG & E and New Presidents and Executives Seminars alone, this would be an event worth attending. There is always the possibility that the President/Vice-President may show, the annual "will the Prime Minister be there in person" question (or will it be, once again, the amazing President Shimon Peres). Fresh faces of emerging leaders will emerge out of federation leadership. The GA can (and often does) offer so much.

Sure, things could be a lot better -- promoting an American Idol personality's attendance doesn't do much for me; a "mini-Jewish Film Festival" is nice; $80 per person lunches and $47 per person breakfasts (of coffee, bagels, cream cheese and Danish) are incredibly offensive; a GA Hotel offering $267 per night room rates (the "special GA rate" for a standard room is particularly over-priced when practically across the street a major hotel offers a rate of $150/room and $170 for a Junior Suite) raises all kind of questions; the announcement of our Jewish Hero; four weeks before the event (October 9 to be exact) there should be meat on the bones of a Program that lacked almost all specifics; and a GA Registration fee of $650 (if you registered by early last month), off-putting. This year, close your eyes and imagine a GA that is all about and totally focused upon, the Federations...and that should be a good thing.

But, with all of the above, even without sizzle, the GA will be compelling, even if only for the hallway conversations, the energy, the possibilities of new, energized leadership, the friendships renewed. It is, as always, the place to be if you can be there.

Enjoy, network, learn, experience...

Chag sameach.


Thursday, October 8, 2009


Many of you have written me privately about the "rebrand" approved by the Board of what is now The Jewish Federations of North America. And, while I like the new name, those responsible for its promulgation ought to be embarrassed by the amount of money spent on the "Initiative" from which it emerged. As someone said or wrote: "In a fast-paced world, today's brand could be tomorrow's trivia question." A dear friend wrote me the following family story:

"My Grandmother's name was Lottie Rudnovskiya and, of course, my great uncles on my grandfather's side were also Rudnovskiyas. My Grandmother and her family were living in St. Louis. My Mother was only a young child at the time. One day a great Uncle from Kansas City came to visit the St. Louis Rudnovskiyas. The great Uncle informed my Grandmother that he had changed his name to Rudd. My Grandmother was astounded and inquired as to why. He responded that he did it for business reasons the year before. My Grandmother's response was quixck and incisive: "So tell me, Moishe, now that you're a Rudd, is business any better?"

Wonderful story. As the head of a once great brand once said: "We view the experience of a Krispy Kreme store (where customers watch their doughnuts being baked) as the defining element of the brand." Uh, huh.

The Jewish Federations of North America -- the sum of its parts. As Warren Buffet has written: "Your...brand had better be delivering something special, or it's not going to get the business." Uh huh.



After the Post yesterday on Relevance, correspondents continued with a dialogue that I find important to the present and the future. I hope you agree:

"Paul Jeser said...

Richard - you end with "if the federations' voices remain silent, the system will ultimately self-destruct."I won't argue the question of 'is it good or bad?', but the fact is that, in most communities, the Federation's strength has been diluted because it has not understood the world of designated giving. In most communities, the Federations are just one more charitable organization.And the concept of an 'annual campaign' that raises funds that will be allocated by others is a concept that no longer is effective.Times have changed - significantly - and the Federation world is way behind. If there are not significant conceptual and practical changes made very soon, there will be no more Federation community."
October 7, 2009 9:21 AM

Anonymous said...

and others might argue that Federation's were too timid in reminding the community of who they are and what they are about -- the primary link to global Jewry , no let's say it - ISRAEL, and the protection of safety net services for all Jews in need at home and throughout the world. That chevre is a "brand" that has proven itself over and over again for 70 years and more. Do we, god forbid, need another crisis to drive home the point?

Dovidele the Dinosaur "
October 7, 2009 12:05 PM

paul jeser said...

"Dear Dovidele,

There are many organizations that are also part of the link to global Jewry/Israel. That's the changed world (for good or for bad). The Universities, Hospitals, Social Service agencies, etc., that raise funds outside of the Federation umbrella have become as important, if not more so, to most major donors than the Federation.Federations were not too timid in stating their case; they were/are too timid in redeveloping their much needed role in/for the Jewish community. "
October 7, 2009 2:32 PM

Anonymous said...
Dear Paul,

You, I and many readers all know that if JAFI, JDC and their Federation supporters disappeared tomorrow we would have to recreate them. They do the heavy day to day lifting that boutique charities cannot do and are the shver arbiters of Jewish life. In local communities they are there for agencies when government dollars shrink and when foundations move on to the next "big thing". And before you say it, we also know that many of these sexy philanthropic products so touted today were nurtured with Federation help before the foundations caught on to them.It would be gratuitous of me to say Federations must change --change is natural and essential for all institutions. However the reasons for the creation of the UJA - Federation system have not disappeared.

Dovidele "
October 7, 2009 3:40 PM

paul jeser said...


The 'proof' that your scenario is non-functional is that many of the institutions/organizations that do/did receive JDC/JAFI funds are now raising funds directly.The boutique organizations were founded mainly because they did not receive funds from the federation world.What I am saying is that the Federation needs to become not 'just one more fundraising organization' for it to be the force that is needed."
October 7, 2009 6:19 PM


My friends, there is no "right or wrong" in this dialogue or its predecessor on these pages. What is "wrong," however, is that this argument should be taking place not on these pages but within the governance groupings of The Jewish Federations of North America, just the place for such a discussion, disputation between Shammai and Hillel, and just the place where it is not taking place....yet.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009


Following my Post on Relevance, I received some insightful albeit Anonymous Comments that merit our consideration. Those Comments follow, then some response from me:

Anonymous said...


I'm going to take a stab at a partial defense of designated giving. I'll begin by saying that nothing can or should replace undesignated giving to the Annual Campaign. Local and global agencies need these funds for their basic operations, particularly the things that we don't usually see as being "sexy" as well as having the flexibility to move around resources in times of emergency or crisis.That being said though, our system has a history of designated or elective giving. Let's use the overseas case as an example. Fifteen years ago communities started to feel that they needed to better connect to what their money was doing overseas. That gave birth to Partnership 2000 and eventually the ONAD process. Would JDC and JAFI rather receive the money that is used for elective programs in the form of core allocations? Absolutely, but for the donors it is important to be able to see the clear impact of their funds in specific programs. We can use these funding processes and the programs themselves as vehicles for doing good and telling the stories of what we are doing with precious community resources.Just as we couldn't ignore the need to have an elective funding process that takes into account North American community/donor interests, we can't ignore the opportunities that donor designated giving affords. When coupled with annual giving, it can be an effective tool to engage the community in specific initiatives while increasing the financial resources available.As the old adage goes, a rising tide lifts all boats.


Anonymous - part 2

My only objection to what Anonymous said today is that I always believed that the creation of designated giving at the national level (UJC) was as a response to some federations that were already funding outside the traditional boundaries. In order to make it appear that they were in compliance, these communities pushed for their “outside the family” grants to be included in the total overseas funding thus raising their percentage to overseas. Once that Pandora’s Box was open it forced JDC and JAFI (then ultimately ORT) to have to compete among themselves as well as against the organizations that were receiving the designated funds. I further believed (and still do) that JAFI created P2K in order to secure at least the 50% of the allocable designation from federations. Remember that the original formula was 90% core and 10% elective. In fact, if you look at where the money really goes, I believe that most of the P2K money actually ends up in the hands of other organizations with JAFI as a pass through. These “service providers” were taken out of the equation thus preventing them from competing directly to the federations.

Anonymous 1 here again-

In response to Anonymous 2, I think that you are right that there has always been lag time between what is happening from community to community and the policies the UJC adopts and tries to "enforce."

That being said, even the pass through role the JAFI or JDC may play, and we should acknowledge that it happens with both organizations, the ability for communities to "own" an initiative is an important hallmark. The weakness in the elective process is when a community is scatter shot and does not have a focused approach to what it is doing overseas. It is no different than working with local partners. Even in communities that still provide core allocations to their local agencies, and sadly that is increasingly rare, the small programmatic grants/funds for specific initiatives are an effective tool to ensuring the innovative or new initiatives are undertaken.

What I personally object to is the movement among some federations to go to entire elective funding (whether local or global). In 2006, we can see how critical it was that JDC and JAFI had the flexibility to redeploy resources when Israel failed the people of northern Israel. That a federation and its leaders make agencies jump through hoops for every dollar is a travesty, but designating small amounts that perhaps have more measurable impacts beyond turning on the lights is still valuable.


Friends. I couldn't agree more with both of you. Designated giving needs no "defense." It has proved to be critical to our system's donors, to our agencies, local, domestic and international, and, in those federations which use it, as does mine, as an add-on to the Annual Campaign, it builds federation, as it should. But, as you point out, the tail has begun to wag the dog...hard. At the beginning, designated giving was to offer new opportunities to donors who had "capped" their Annual Campaign gifts. Today, in some communities, designated giving now overwhelms the Annual Campaigns and reduces them to the federations' detriment.

And, as donors now designate to federations, many federations are imposing "designations" on their allocations. Even at The Jewish Federations of North America, there are those in leadership who wish to designate federation allocations to the beneficiaries, not as matter of equity or partnership, but as a matter of control. More and more, we see "Bowling Alone" overtaking and overwhelming our system; the desire for "control" tossing aside Maimonidesian principles of Jewish philanthropic giving. And, that's not only sad, it will, if it continues to grow, and if the federations' voices remain silent, the system will ultimately self-destruct.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009


After the UJC Board Meeting on Tuesday, I discovered the following Memo in the archives of the Founders...of America:

"In the heat of our Philadelphia Summer, the States of our new Union have here gathered to develop a name for our collective enterprise. We engaged a Branding consultant, who insisted on being compensated in British pounds, who has presented us with two options: "The Federal States" and "The United States of America." After extended debate, the delegates agreed that the States gathered together will hereafter be called "The United States of America." There was much cheering, huzzahs and such, the delegates shouting 'USA, USA, USA' until G. Washington brought them to order declaring, "None of that. Just like the Boy's Clubs (founded 1771), we shall tolerate no acronyms...none." And, there was silence.

The delegates then turned to the question of a logo, a mark, if you will. Some strongly suggested a map showing the thirteen States, but others prevailed with the argument that the USA...strike that...the United States of America, will surely grow and, each time that it did so, the map would have to be published anew. Delegates from South Carolina and Georgia argued for a mark they had proposed that would show the eternal unity of the states gathered together; delegates from Massachusetts argued for a mark that showed two rifles crossed over a newspaper symbolizing freedom of speech and press and the absolute right to bear arms; and so on.

The arguments were fierce and often sharp. Outside the windows of Independence Hall a little woman, bent over from the weight of her load. was seen handing out tiny banners. "What have you there?" one of the delegates yelled? "I'm selling these banners," she replied. "What are they?" "They are called 'flags,'" she yelled back. "Of what?" came the question. "The stars and stripes symbolize our new nation." "Wow. What do they cost?" a delegate asked. "Well, each flag is 10 new American dollars; if you want to buy the rights to the flag forever, the cost will be 1000 British pounds." "Sold," the delegates shouted in unison. "USA, USA, USA" they screamed until G. Washington cracked a wooden tooth shouting for silence.

One of the delegates noted that "we'll have to change the flag each time we add a State" but Washington said: "don't be silly" and threw the delegate from the room.

And, so, our national mark was born. USA, USA, USA forever." Minutes prepared by James Madison.

A rose is a rose is a....


Monday, October 5, 2009


Interesting "stuff" happening:

~ On the federation front, after about 14 months on the job, Daniel Sokatch, ballyhooed as " a breath of fresh air" when he was hired by the Jewish Federation of San Francisco...after, what was it, a two-plus year Search to find someone "outside the box"...resigned to become CEO of the almost moribund New Israel Fund, the J Street of Jewish fund raising organizations. While assured by The Fundermentalist that "Sokatch was not pushed out," at the end of the day, SF is back in the Search process and Sokatch accepted a position he had turned down four months earlier. Was Daniel "ready for prime time," was he remotely aware of the complexity of running a federation -- any federation but especially one that has seen its Annual Campaign stagnate -- did Daniel ever take advantage of the offers made by a number of Large City CEOs to mentor him?

Success at the Progressive Jewish Alliance of Los Angeles, or the Jewish Television Network, or elsewhere is not, at the end of the day, a predictor of success in a challenging federation environment no matter one's age or charisma. (One could add that success at a federation is not a predictor of success in running a federation either.) Directing a staff of 8 or 10 with a small Board at a nice little non-profit makes it hard to hit the ground running in a Large or Large-Intermediate or Intermediate federation environment with 100's on the professional staff and a Board that approaches that number. As I reported last week, UJC does send out a nice volume on "How to Be A Federation CEO." How helpful.

If our federation system is failing to produce women and men qualified to lead the federations, this is our greatest failing of all. But that is not, in fact, the case. (The Search Consultant in the San Francisco process in fact sought out grads of the Mandel EDP, assured them a "real chance," got them an interview -- and, then, no call backs...nothing. How dispiriting and unfair.) If our national organization is failing to provide direction and training for federation lay leaders as to their responsibilities, fiduciary obligations, the lay-professional partnership, and on and on, in the same manner as it provides CPE for those on federation professional staffs, the reasons for our system breaking down become crystal clear...crystal. Now is the time.

~ On the Jewish organizational front, how many of you were aware that during the week of September 7, Jewish federation leadership (well, it turns out it wasn't just "leadership;" it included students, etc.) joined other organizational leadership in Washington D.C. for a National Advocacy Day to "lobby" for more intensive U.S. actions in light of Iran's commitment to the development of a nuclear weapon? I was told a decision was made (where, by whom?) that "just Federation Chairs and CEOs would be invited so we could keep it low key." "Low key??" when Israel's existence is at stake? So many secrets, so little time. Someone help us to understand this decision. Please.

~ My Federation held its Annual Meeting on September 16. Harvey Barnett, a terrific leader, locally, nationally and internationally, whose roots are grounded deeply in Chicago's South Shore where we both grew up, was awarded our Federation's highest honor in front of a packed Hilton Hotel International Ballroom. Kathy Manning honored Harvey (for his support of UJC) and the Chicago Federation by attending this wonderful event, representing UJC. Our Annual Meetings have always become great communal events; they seem to be getting better and better. The strength of a great community was represented in that room.

~ UJC's Planned Giving & Endowment Department just released its 2008 Survey of Endowment Development. As one would expect, even though only 60 communities participated, the 2008 data are "...based upon extrapolations of the asset base of the sample to the total assets in the system," the results are daunting. Endowment Contributions down 45% from 2007 and Endowment Assets decreased by $2 billion from record year 2007, among other findings. But, as always, significant questions arise as to the philosophy that underpins community endowments and Foundations: 55% of all grants from Donor Advised Funds, 37% of Grants from Supporting Foundations and 14% of grants flow to the Annual Campaign. UJC has historically refused to discuss the implications for the federation system, and federation Endowment and Foundation staffs, in my experience, have focused on building the endowment pie without examining their responsibilities, if any, as the representatives of the Jewish community to educate their (and I use that word specifically) donors about the great needs that federations and federations' partners and agencies serve. I may be 100% wrong but isn't this a valid topic for discussion; shouldn't UJC be the leaders of that discussion? Enough of hearing "this isn't our role." It really is.

~ One of my law partners just came into my office here in Chicago. Told me that cousins living in South Bend celebrated a brit milah -- on-line. From his office here in downtown Chicago, from his home in Highland Park, my partner and his wife and the extended family in Israel, were able to "participate." And, why not? By extension, could not a Shabbat Goy be hired to transmit services from my synagogue, or Federation or JAFI Board meetings. After all, I could have sat home and observed Rosh Hashana Services from the Stephen Wise Temple on JLTV. (Yom Kippur Services also available.) Talk about Bowling Alone!!?? And wouldn't the Mute button come in even more handy?

~ UJC announced that three hundred thousand votes have been cast for the Jewish Community Hero Awards (are these the same guys who counted the attendees at last year's GA??). Being from Chicago, where our historic mantra is "vote early and often," forgive my skepticism. But even were the total half of that announced, it is still quite an accomplishment. It'''s Jewlicious!!

~ How quickly can Jerry Silverman solve this...? On September 21, UJC announced a Teleconference sponsored by "Global Operations" ("Israel & Overseas" has apparently been dropped from the title.) on Philanthropy in Israel. As usual for "Global Operations," the two partners -- JAFI and JDC -- engaged and immersed in Israeli philanthropy for years, leveraging the dollars we provide, are neither presenting nor invited. Just ignored.

~ One regular reader asked: "Will you change the Blog tag line when UJC formally changes its moniker to "The Jewish Federations of North America?" Sent me UJC's Facebook page -- which confused me completely. My response: "How will I/we tell?" The Jewish Federations of North America -- JFNA, JewFNA, the Fed?? HELP!!!


Saturday, October 3, 2009


The pages of this Blog are replete with commentary that in the aggregate -- after the process abuses, the budgetary abuses, the mismanagement -- speak in the main to indifference -- to a national organization indifferent to the values upon which it was constructed and indifferent to the wants and needs of the federations which own it; and federations, individually and in the aggregate, which have grown indifferent to UJC and, out of their indifference, have articulated questions about the need for a national organization at this critical time. One would have hoped that those in power who must have observed this growing indifference that undermines both UJC and the federations would have said: "We must meet and deliberate and find a way to overcome this indifference before it destroys all of us."

A certain frustration sets in with the indifference that threatens what so many have worked so hard for so long to build. Watching UJC disintegrate over the past half decade has been like watching an auto accident unfold before our eyes -- slow motion leading up to the crash. We have suggested privately and publicly that UJC's new leaders convene a national meeting in the style of the McDonald's Retreat in Oak Brook, Illinois, eleven years ago; UJC's leaders (to date, still under Kanfer's thumb) have convened but one meeting, in Washington, of the current leadership, no "outsiders" invited. Unless this leadership steps aside, what progress can be made -- for the current leadership actually believes all is well. These "leaders" are truly indifferent to the mess they have made and will leave behind.

Looking to the future, the Board Chair-elect summoned the Executive Committee to 25 Broadway on the 23rd to look at certain matters that will dictate UJC's future. While this Executive (which Joe Kanfer so mistrusted [because it was chaired by another] that he created some form of a de facto Executive which he would control and which would exclude those who were "suspected" of actually possessing their own ideas) has some fine leaders, lay and professional, serving on it, in the main it has been an empathetic, sentient body where those who push back, who dissent if you will, have been run over roughshod to the point where even principled opposition has been deemed futile. This has not been a coalescence in support of a majority view (although it has been interpreted as such); it has been the imposition by dictate of the will of leadership. The result, indifference, when the free flow of ideas might produce a better result and, certainly, real engagement.

In the debate over the horrific incivility of a South Carolina Representative's "You Lie" outburst in the midst of the President's speech on Health Care last month, Congressman James Clybourn observed: "You have to come at these things from a position of strength. My father used to say, 'Son, always remember that silence gives consent.'" "Leaders" of UJC other than the Board Chair, have been intimidated into their shells, into total silence, and in so doing have "given consent" time and again to policies and programs that have disabled UJC:The Jewish Federations of North America. They have been and remain indifferent even to the extent of permitting by silence the Board Chair to arrogate to himself the powers of the Office of President and CEO in Jerry's predecessor's absence.

Kathy Manning has ample time before the D.C. GA to identify the lay leaders with whom she wishes to work. Those who she identifies and how Kathy organizes her leadership will tell us a great deal about not only her leadership style -- exclusive or inclusive -- but also about the direction UJC will take under her leadership. We shall know soon enough whether this "new UJC" will be able to conquer indifference and build a new engagement. Or whether we are in for more of the same. I'm betting we are going to see a new, relevant UJC emerge from the ashes of the present, that will conquer indifference. We'll be watching.


Thursday, October 1, 2009


To me too many Federations are searching for relevance in all the wrong places. I was reminded of this last month when Daniel Sokatch precipitously left his short-time position as CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater San Francisco for the "greener pastures" of The New Israel Fund. Daniel, you may recall had come to SF 14 months earlier after the impressive growth of the "Progressive Jewish Alliance" in Los Angeles under his leadership. Young, "out of the box," yada yada yada -- lasted 14 months. Got me to thinking.

Some of those thoughts appeared in my Post When Trust Is Lost last month. (A Post that caused one of its readers, a true expert on our system, to congratulate me [more on that later] and for me to admit, that on this subject, I have been a slow learner.) There is some history to reflect upon.

First and foremost, the "designated giving model" in the late 90's and into this decade, began to seriously erode the Annual Campaigns of multiple federations and the very construct of collective responsibility that distinguished the federation movement from the beginning. When UJC leaders gave but lip service to the concept over the past three years and sought, through UJC-Israel, to provide "alternatives" to core collective giving through, among other less than thought through designated giving "plans" like "1-x10" and Sheatufim, and failed to articulate that UJC Dues were a manifestation of collective response, they knew not the destruction they wrought. (Of course, UJC's failure to remain relevant to the federations in the midst of economic collapse was a contributing factor as well.)

Back in its formative years, UJC:The Jewish Federations of North America, through its then Consulting Services Department, began to work with federations and consultants on several communal "strategic plans," most notably for San Diego and Philadelphia, but others as well. These plans, in 2002-2003, may have reflected what the communities wanted but strayed so far from the federation "model" as to be antithetical to it. (So much so that an acknowledgement to Steve Hoffman, then the UJC CEO and President, was disavowed by him.) It struck me then that UJC's professionals had a responsibility to assert a federationcentric model; Consulting Services' leaders either didn't understand what I was talking about or disagreed.

When UJC began, the federations, in unanimously approving the Merger Agreement, by that act alone committed to maintain the allocation to JAFI and JDC for two years. There was almost...almost...100% compliance. Of the Large Cities, every federation but one, met its obligation. Not surprisingly, at least to this writer, that one federation that refused and failed to comply was led by a professional who continuously preached -- before and since -- an anti-federation message. I believe the enunciated philosophy was both genuine and disingenuous -- genuine in the sense that this professional leader was and is totally out of step with his colleagues (and could care less) and disingenuous in the reality that his federation, as a direct consequence of this professional's dedication to designated giving was seeing the community's annual campaign diminish significantly. (In fact, when the Fair Share Dues Committee eliminated population as a factor in determining Dues, that Community demanded the right to restate its annual campaign to eliminate designated gifts and, thereby, reduce its UJC Dues obligations.) Slowly, communities similarly afflicted by reduced annual campaigns have adopted the same mantra -- one that rejects the collective in almost every way.

The apparent failure of the current generation of federation CEOs to secure their legacy by building a coterie of young professionals who might succeed them has been a seminal failing. With the Masters Programs in Jewish Communal Service, the Fisher-Bernstein Institute, The Mandel Executive Development Program and Wexner Programs, one would have expected that, by now, this new generation of professional leaders would have emerged from within the federations themselves. Notwithstanding the excellence of so many young professionals in our federations -- men and women alike -- and at UJC itself, many federations have looked outside the federation experience for what they have uniformly called the "outside the box" professional who might literally rescue the federation from itself.

Much of this recent federation history reflects what I call "the Hail Mary Pass." For non-football fans, the "Hail Mary" refers to a last second desperation heave to try to pull victory from the jaws of defeat. (There are, I'm just guessing here, religious connotations as well.) 99% of "Hail Mary passes" are doomed to failure although sports fans grasp at the few successes -- Dallas Cowboys/Minnesota Vikings, Colorado/University of Michigan, the historic "Doug Flutie play." It is wholly probable that one who has no comprehension of the complexity of federation leadership, one who has never asked for a federation gift (or, perhaps, has never given a capacity gift), who hasn't a clue what the "lay-professional partnership" is or should be, who has never watched or experienced how federation leaders build consensus, means, among other things, that he or she will not have a transferable experience that will predict success in leading a federation -- for them, the "Hail Mary" throw will drop to the ground, incomplete, failed. And with the incompletion, the federation's credibility, the trust that is the cornerstone of federation success, will be further eroded. There is a far better chance of success for those "insider/outsiders" or the "insiders" themselves-- those who, as lay leaders for example, emerge from their federation lay experience to federation professional leadership, or who have apprenticed with great success in our system. And there is even a greater opportunity for success for the Hail Mary at our national institutions for those who know (a) what they don't know and (b) where to seek assistance and mentoring.

What is one to think when some federations begin to talk of "giving circles" as a "new paradigm;" of donors joining together in small groups to determine what merits support and how much that support will be? How antithetical to the "federation model" these are; they might as well be, but for the gifts involved, knitting circles. This is not even the model of federations in their formative moments when men (and they were then all men) sat around in a smoke-filled room and determined the community's needs and then funded them before they left the room. In this "new model," the concept of community has no place. And UJC has nothing to offer?

Back to my/our guru on federations and on UJC. Referencing the Trust Post the guru concluded: "[T]oday's Post seriously approaches some of the issues that I believe are at the heart of the decline in Federation performance. Lay-professional roles and responsibilities, 'my way or the highway' corporate culture, lack of transparency and accountability are key within a very long list of change requirements in a world where everything has changed..." If we had a continental organization that had recognized to date its responsibilities to the federations that would welcome guidance and UJC's leadership, where might we be?

Where might we be? Not, certainly, where we are.