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!!!



Anonymous said...

Richard, your comments about Federations' grasp for silver bullet like salvation from outside-the-box candidates (who, to date, invariably fail) are well taken. Your assertion, however, about Mandel EDP participants and their participation in the San Francisco search is not true. Some were not only included, they advanced well beyond phone interviews.

RWEX said...

Dear Anon,

Thanks for the clarification. Were any of the Mandel EDP San Francisco "candidates" "finalists,"if you know?

The Post (and one earlier) was meant to reflect on how federation lay leadership often ignores the best and brightest of those who have learned the system from the inside, turning instead to those who know little of the challenges they will have to face.

A remarkable fact, one among many: at the time of the creation of the first Mandel EDP "class," three of the participants were serving as Federation CEOs; today, from that class, none is serving as a federation CEO.

Anonymous said...

Ask many execs and they will tell you that the second class was populated with many 'political' appointments. Many, although qualified and excellent professionals, expressed publicly that they had no intention of ever being a Federation CEO! Shouldn't that have been a minimal criteria?

But, your overall point of going "outside" is spot-on.

Anonymous said...

Searching outside the system, or worst still denigrating those nurtured within the system, is an issue. However the greater sins have been the cultish focus on the Federation executive (with all other pro's being just "staff") and of course, as you often observe, the marginalization of laity.