Friday, November 27, 2009


Let us review the status of this Blog:

~ During the Rieger-Kanfer "period" an edict was issued from on high at 111 Eighth Avenue continuing on to the current address that no one at The Jewish Federations of North America f/k/a UJC was permitted to read UJThee and Me. (This was to apparently exclude the then President and CEO, who had been an "avid reader.") I thank the "leaders" who attempted to censor the professional staff for making this Blog the daily most widely read within the four walls of the organization -- and in the D.C. and Sherman Oaks offices. My thanks to each of you who risked some form of retribution by even reading what I've written and, even more so, those of you who have written and called me in confidence with your insights, encouragement, corrections and observations. We will continue.

~ We have chronicled the failures of the past ("what we have here is a failure to communicate" among other failures) and our hopes for the future "under new management." Last year, when one federation leader, among others, told the then Chair of the Executive, now the "new" Board Chair, that he learned most of what he knew of UJC's activities in the Posts of this Blog, Kathy replied, with good sarcasm and real humor: "...then you must be completely misinformed." We'll try to do better, Kathy. We promise.

~ Over the past weeks many of those who have sent Comments to the Posts, in anonymity or by name, have offered some important insights and critical thinking (not the Anonymous mailer [who really isn't very anonymous at all] who offers nothing but personal insults, most of which I have rejected). I have brought some of these Comments directly to the attention of UJC's new professional and lay leaders because I want them to succeed to the same extent, and more, than their predecessors failed us...and themselves.

~ In a TIME Magazine cover story -- Why Main Street Hates Wall Street -- the writers offered a characterization that would fit squarely with the prior leadership: "Too many people (were) acting in an arrogant, clueless and tone-deaf way." That leadership, now in our collective rear-view mirror, paid no price for their actions which now encumber The Jewish Federations of North America; the price was paid and is being paid by the federations, our donors and the new leadership "team" and by those who were the consequential victims -- long-time employees terminated, dedicated professionals terminated, lay and professional leaders from the federations pushed out for nothing more than raising questions.

Those who constructively criticize this Blog -- please continue. Those who criticize this Blog by misconstruing it to their own ends -- remember my motto comes from Bill Parcells and is, therefore, a football adage equally applicable to this Blog: "You are what the record says you are."

We look to the new present and to the future with confidence that the new lay and professional leaders of The Jewish Federations of North America will seize the day. May the day soon arrive when I have no more about which to write.


Tuesday, November 24, 2009


A great leader passed away last week -- not just a great leader, a great philanthropist, a great Zionist. a mensch. As the Jewish Agency's Chairs described him: "Mendel was a giant among men, an innovative industrialist who used his wealth for the betterment of his fellow Jews, countrymen and the State of Israel. At the young age of 73, Mendel was taken from his family and all of us who loved and respected him.

Mendel not only talked the talk -- and he could, with devastating wit and insight, truly do the talking -- he walked the walk as so few have. He made aliyah and maintained homes in South Africa, Jerusalem and Caesaria. He made his mark everywhere he went. With Max Fisher, z'l, he leaves behind not only a great record of achievement but a beautiful family dedicated as well to the creative survival of our People.

Mendel did not suffer fools gladly...or at all. I remember our public and private debates over what Mendel perceived as the Jewish communities of the United States failures to support JAFI. But, as my friend Bruce Arbit also remembered, Mendel was always willing to engage, to listen and always was appreciative of those who dedicated themselves to the Zionist dream and to the building of a strong Israel.

If there was a way to spice up debate at a JAFI Executive or Board Meeting, Mendel, with a remark or a brief speech could always find that path. He provoked us, he urged us on and he led by the example of his own life and his love of family and Israel and the Jewish People. All of us who knew Mendel were strengthened by his strengths, infused with his enthusiasm and love. He will be missed by all of us who crossed his path.

May Jill and his family be blessed by their memories of Mendel, as are we all.


Sunday, November 22, 2009


The UJA-Federation of New York announced that its October 2009 Greenberg Event was the most successful fund-raising event in its history raising $43 million in pledges. And, don't take this the wrong way, that is a major achievement worthy of accolades under any circumstance -- but, especially this year. However, the $43 million in pledges was identical to the mount announced last year -- no more, no less.

Whether it is fund raising achievement or attendance at GA's, or at federation events, we are a People who seem taken with hyperbole. This caused me to think back to a different time. Before his tragic and sudden death, our incredible Chicago Campaign Director, Joel Shinsky, z'l, and I would drive into downtown Chicago together every day. I used to get the monthly UJA city-by-city campaign data. One Large City federation used to amaze me with their monthly announcements of card-by-card increases -- 18%-20% weren't unusual. I used to harass Joel -- "How could _________ be doing so well and we are showing a paltry 8% increase?" Between puffs on his ever-present cigarette, Joel would dismiss me with a "Wait until the end of the year." "But," I would brilliantly rejoin. "Just wait," Joel would say, biting into his morning doughnut. And, the year-end would come, Chicago would be up 8% and __________ would announce a flat campaign (and later we would learn that "flat" meant "down"). "Any questions?" Joel would ask me. "No," I would whisper back.

What does all of this suggest? To me, transparency, truth-telling. Is there a manual some where that dictates that our system must hide or embellish the facts? I doubt it, but some continue to behave that way. Remember "the truth will set you free."


Friday, November 20, 2009


Sometimes a reporter, sometimes a critical columnist, Caroline Glick is always an Obama hater. If the facts don't fit her anger, she ignores them as she did in a vicious attack on Obama in something called Jewish World Review (November 13, 2009). After accusing Obama of forcing Prime Minister Netanyahu to enter the White House under cover of darkness from an anonymous van and barring the "regular" photo op for the PM with the President, she went off as follows

"Obama's hostility was evident as well during his meeting with fifty Jewish leaders at the White House this week.

In an obvious bid to split American Jewry away from Israel, Obama refused to discuss Israel or Iran with the concerned American Jewish leaders. As far as Obama was concerned, all they deserved from him was a primer on the brilliance of his economic policies and the worthiness of his plan to socialize the American healthcare industry. His foreign policy is none of their business.

Obama's meeting with American Jewish leaders was supposed to be a consolation prize for American Jews after Obama cancelled his first public address to American Jews since taking office. The White House claimed that he cancelled the speech because his visit to the Fort Hood memorial service made it impossible for him to attend. But then the conference was a three-day affair. The organizers would probably have been happy to reschedule.

Instead, as Iran races to the nuclear finish line, America's Jewish leaders were forced to sit through White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel's kitschy Borscht Belt schmooze about his bar mitzvah."

Having spoken with several federation leaders who were present, none of Glick's allegations...none...appear to be true. I have every confidence that had American Jewish leaders been told that they could not discuss Israel with the President, they would have politely declined the meeting. The problem, of course, is that none of these leaders has discussed with their leadership what were the subjects discussed with the President (and prior to that meeting with his key aides); leaving Glick an open field to offer speculation as fact. Do we ever learn?

Now, Caroline Glick may be brilliant. She grew up, some years later than I, in my old neighborhood of Hyde Park, which she describes in her bio as ultra-liberal(true), anti-Israel (false) and, of all things, "anti-American" (unbelievable). She described her alma mater, Columbia University, as "Beir Zeit on the Hudson." She pals around with Michelle Malkin. She is an Israeli. She is apparently an expert on all things. Just has some apparent trouble with the facts. and is rabid in her criticism of our President. Her screed, including the Obama-haters references to Reverend Wright, et al., is Sarah Palin on steroids.

While no more is needed, on 19 November, Glick outdid herself, supporting the mendacity of Beck, Hannity, Limbaugh and others in their unreasoned rabble-rousing against anything and all Obama by attacking the ADL's report on the growing anti-semitism that these hooligans have helped to rouse and attacking the small number of Hillels which have influenced their campuses against Israeli policies. Maybe Ms. Glick ought to return to Chicago (and other venues as well) where the Jewish campus movement has been strong, even brave, in confronting the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic attacks of Arabists and some Jews alike. But, that would get in the face of her narrative, wouldn't it?

Relying on Caroline Glick as an authority on how American Jewry is being treated by this Administration would be wrong.


Thursday, November 19, 2009


Well, it sure didn't take long for the spirit of the collective and the good will generated by the GA to be doused by a single letter from the JDC to The Jewish Federations of North America. About a nano-second, actually. For on Thursday, November 12, less than two days after the GA closed, Irv Smokler, the Joint's Chair, advised Kathy Manning that JDC would not be bound by the agreement it had reached with JAFI on the allocations "split" only weeks earlier.

This writer is on the Board of the Jewish Agency but, as my friends at the Joint know, the work of JDC has been an inspiration for me and has enabled me, coupled with the work of the Jewish Agency, hopefully to inspire others. But the substance of the JDC letter and its timing, and an almost simultaneous Op-Ed written by its CEO, Steve Schwager in The Jerusalem Post, and a clearly planted article in The Forward and another in the JTA, are matters that bring no honor and, worse, suggest a JDC-inspired communications strategy the effect of which, if not stopped now, threatens the system that JDC once helped to create and once helped to sustain.

For over a decade, the JDC's efforts to feed hungry Jews, to provide them with basic needs -- shelter, drugs -- have been heroic. And the federations have stepped forward to fund these needs -- inadequately and on a declining basis to be sure. And during this time, until the financial catastrophe that affected everyone, the Joint grew its endowment which stands today at...what, exactly? And if that endowment is for a "rainy day," how can the Joint argue that we are inundated, but fail to use all of the resources at its command and in its total control to meet the needs it has identified in the midst of the storm. But the Joint has a different strategy in mind.

Sure, JDC should receive more in allocations; so, of course, must JAFI. Now, JDC's leaders appear to ask, in writing, for a reinstitution of the infamous failed ONAD process (in a different guise, of course) in place of the terms to which they had just agreed. (I think that's what a request that JFNA "develop a needs-based allocations system" means.) Just how did the prior process help the Joint or the federations? The answer is simple: it didn't, it hurt everyone, and a new process mirroring the prior one will have the same negative impact. It is past time for JAFI and JDC to join together in a common effort, coordinated by The Jewish Federations of North America, to help federations raise more money and to advocate for the vital, underfunded needs they represent.

Steve Schwager, in his Op-Ed, Guess who did not come to the party?, makes a strong and compelling argument. He wrote: "WHAT ELSE worries us? The UJA -- the grandfather of today's newly created JFNA -- was formed in the wake of Kristallnacht...precisely 71 years ago. Numerous speakers at the GA last week made references to this historic event that catapulted American Jewish philanthropy into a superpower world army (sic), bringing rescue and relief to every Jew. UJA was always a relentless and indefatigable advocate of Jewish needs in Israel and overseas. Seventy-one years later, will we abdicate this moral commitment under the pressure of domestic issues and needs? Can we -- the more secure 80% of the Jewish people -- cut off the neediest 20% of our brethren? Since when has a hungry Jew anywhere become an 'overseas issue' marked as less urgent compared to local needs?" That is the Steve Schwager I was proud to partner with in visits to our communities on behalf of our national system, the Joint and Jewish Agency. That is the call to The Jewish Federations of North America to assert its proper...its moral...role to lead our system and to join hands with JAFI and JDC...not tomorrow, but now.

At the GA just concluded, we heard our new Board Chair and CEO commit themselves and us to a reinvigorated, resuscitated partnership with JAFI and JDC -- a recognition that the collective is what ennobles our federation system. And, with clear forethought, two days later, leaders of one of those partners, not liking the deal they had made just weeks (or was it just days) earlier, pulled the rug out from under not just JAFI, but the federations and The Jewish Federations of North America. After five years of a leadership who either neglected the partners -- JDC and JAFI -- or deprecated their work and value, the new JFNA leaders -- Manning, Gelman, Silverman -- appeared prepared to work in a robust partnership with them. Now what?

Why, at a time that JDC and JAFI appeared to be working closer than ever before, when a direct approach by either or both organizations to the federations separately plants the seeds of systemic disintegration, when new national leadership has already demonstrated a renewed commitment to the historic partnership on which our system was built, would the Joint's leaders, so many of whom I know and deeply respect, and who understand all of this, threaten this emerging unity? Is it that at the GA just passed. Joint leaders saw the federations poised to embrace not only Natan Sharansky but his agenda for JAFI and they simply overreacted, or is it something else?

Why now, you might ask? In fact, you should.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009


~ After watching all of the GA Plenary speeches on the Web a second time -- and they were, in the main, uniformly excellent -- putting politics aside, if that's possible in this era of partisanship and, let's face it, outright hate in some quarters, the absolute best speech by far was Rahm Emanuel's. It was "Jewish;" and it captured the essence of our work with humor of all things -- this from a guy who had no real relationship with our community in all the years he lived here in Chicago. He spoke of the "(values) central to our faith and experience" and thanked us for our "...advocacy for those most in need" wherever they may live. He was gracious and self-deprecating. Good stuff. From a surprising source.

~ So, a regular reader wrote: "After reading the fawning adoration of Jerry Silverman in your Blog and in the article in the JTA, Silverman looking golden, and in, I don't have to eat anything with sugar in it for weeks. Don't you realize that anyone would look better in light of what went on, or didn't, over the prior half decade?" My answer: "Yes."

~ I continue to wonder what the public and private role is of the National Campaign Chair. I saw Michael Lebovitz co-introduce the Sapir (is it time to [a] retire that award now that Chicago has won it five straight years; and [b] change the name?) Award but so many others of lesser positions be given greater exposure and honor at the podium. If the National Chair's role is to be elevated, as it should be, my suggestion (made on these pages before): get rid of the still- born and truly superfluous Center for Jewish Philanthropy and consolidate all FRD under the National Campaign Chair -- for starters.

~ I know the visit to the White House for a GA meeting with the President and key staff was last minute but...could there be some thought given at the highest levels of The Jewish Federations of North America to inviting high level donors to such gatherings? I mean having senior JFNA staff there is a nice "gift" and having some federation CEOs there may be good hasbara for the JFNA, but what about using such events as a catalyst to fund raising? Were there some institutional memory, it might help. Hello??!!


Monday, November 16, 2009


Should we just remain passive observers when that which we created, that which we contribute to, fails to serve the interests of its owners? This is, of course, a rhetorical question. The results of passive observation these past five years are crystal clear. The antidote is insistence by the owners -- be they the owners of federation or The Jewish Federations of North America -- on active engagement...NOW. There are, as always in Jewish life, precedents.

First and foremost, there was, before my time, the emergence, within the Council of Jewish Federations, of those who became known as the "Young Turks." These then young leaders, most of whom were graduates of the UJA Young Leadership Cabinet, demanded a seat at the leadership table. The establishment blanched in horror -- and gave them seats. Those young leaders became the leaders of their federations and the national organization. Today, we have no perceptible group of "Young Turks." We have men and women who have stood up for principle, but too few...too few. We have more of a "get along to go along" generations of passive observers. These are men and women, not only fully capable of demanding a seat at the table but those who have already earned those seats. But, unlike their predecessors, the potential "Young Turks" of 2010 believe in (a) a leadership gentility -- if we don't rock your boat today, you won't rock our boat tomorrow and (b) letting the few others do the heavy lifting.

I fear for any organization where those who aspire to leadership actually articulate that "this (and it makes no difference what "this" is) isn't worth fighting for" and when challenged as to "what would be worth fighting for" respond with a shrug. Trust me, a good fight over matters of principle is energizing and can actually bring an organization together; because when the argument is resolved, after healthy, respectful debate, the organization will coalesce behind the decision and move forward...yachad.

Try it; you may like it.



So...they're sitting at a Conference of Presidents meeting when a murmur echoes through the room. "What's up?" folks ask. It turns out that 52 goats had disappeared...disappeared...from the Youth Aliyah Village of Ben Yakir. "Oy vey." With all the issues confronting the Jewish People...this is about goats...goats!!

Unanimity -- "we must help the kids at Ben Yakir." Almost spontaneously, almost, the Jewish Agency began an important FRD effort on the spot. $120 per goat. The response was immediate -- an outpouring of funds to rescue and protect goats for the Youth Village of Ben Yakir. So far, 120 "new" goats will be acquired, a fence built and a security system installed -- probably satellite reconnaissance included. Think about it -- 52 goats disapper, 120 goats purchased-- this is a real successful FRD effort. If you build the product, they will come...or something like that.

No more questions about priorities...please!! Just don't be surprised when you call a leader in the community for her or his 2010 gift to the annual campaign and hear: "Oh, I made my gift; bought a goat for Ben Yakir."

Ha Gadya-aaah, had gadya.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Many of your Comments, both to this Blog and in e-mails to me, on my mention of Lester Rosenberg's return home after six months of rehab where he continues his therapy, have reflected on his generosity of spirit, his friendship, his leadership, his menschekeit. These Comments, in turn, have caused me to examine, once again, the singular quality of leadership that Lester has embodied throughout his life and that must be found within every person aspiring to a leadership role. I have examined this quality before -- you must love people and that love must be evident in everything you do. Lester has it.

I was reflecting on this singular criterion at a Board meeting of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago last week. In the years since I Chaired that Board a succession of great men and women have led our community: Maynard Wishner, Art Brown, z'l, Eddie Fox, Joel Stone, Barbara Hochberg, z'l, Bob Schrayer, z'l, Manny Steinfeld, Fred Bondy, Lester Rosenberg, Midge Perlman Shafton, Harvey Barnett and David Sherman. Each of them a terrific leader, experienced in all aspects of federation life, each unique but each sharing that quality of love for People and Community that has propelled our federation forward in partnership through 30 years and counting with the pre-eminent Steve Nasatir and the great, great professional staff he has created and who are our friends and partners. You want "heroes," you want "best practices," you want role models, you want vital, robust, vibrant communities? You start with lay and professional leaders like these.

I have observed, to my sorrow, so many who aspire to leadership because they "deserve it" but because their aspirations are sadly lacking the love for people that must be part and parcel of leadership, they soon find that while they can relate to some because of their drive, their ambition, their preparation, the "magic" that will motivate others just isn't there. What have these leaders done? They formed a claque that applauded their actions, they closed the door to others. They not only bowled alone; they ate alone. Lester's love of people, his love for life, his ability to extend his arms to embrace all those with whom he came into contact, exemplified that love. I can assure you that that love continues.

Ambition for its own sake, in the end is self-defeating. Without love for people, that ambition may produce titles but will ultimately be without satisfaction. Our new leaders understand this.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Joe Kanfer's three years as Chair of what was UJC have ended, not with a bang but a whimper -- actually with what I understand was a beautiful serenade from his successor. Over $100 million of our donors' dollars, of federation allocations spent on his watch...on just what, exactly? Someone other than I will have to recite the accomplishments of the past three years; they are not self-evident. Joe, to his credit, persisted to the end -- a final speech at the GA Opening Plenary. His dreams for the future of The Jewish Federations of North America, a mishmash of programs either already in place in so many ways in so many federations ("volunteerism") of which Joe remains singularly unaware, or plans rejected by the federations. Joe's message resonated with the mantra "I believe it is possible" and we agree. But Kanfer's vision of where The Jewish Federations of North America should go is far different than the sorry place he has taken it.

And, Kanfer cited a crucial challenge -- "...the challenges of affordability and access to Jewish life." Here he struck a chord and had he led us for the past three years in grappling with this critical, seminal issue, what a contribution UJC:The Jewish Federations of North America might have made under his leadership. To raise this now is like Ike reminding us as he left office after eight years of the dangers of the "military-industrial complex" having done nothing about the issue during his Presidency.

Joe's legacy cannot be that which he wished for but something far, far less. There is a "new culture" -- unfortunately, it is one of secrecy, lack of transparency and lack of accountability -- a new culture which Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning will certainly correct. It has been three years without measurable accomplishments other than a "new brand" -- one which had been an alternative rejected ten years ago, revived when the "old brand," United Jewish Communities, proved to have no traction -- and a new mark, a new logo; a new Chief Executive who offers the promise of a new era but who will have to spend critical time righting a ship that has careened far off course.

As the lay and professional leadership ranks were culled, Joe assured that there would be no institutional memory. He wanted to hear nothing that would disrupt the narrative that he and Howard Rieger were building. (And, truth be told, as we have learned, Kanfer arrogated more and more of Rieger's management responsibilities with no evident pushback from anyone, making it harder and harder to determine Rieger's real role in the emerging mess.) Myths rather than facts passed for reality; their counterfactual history was offered as a substitute for reality. Our system was not served well by this retelling.

Rather than expanding the leadership ranks, Joe drew the a "circle of trust" ever more tightly, pushing away those who pushed back at policies imposed upon them with no discussion...and sometimes doing so in a manner suggesting a lack of sensitivity...UJC became a shop closed but to a chosen few. The doors and windows will now have to be pried open...let the sun shine in.

It has been all so sad.

In The New Yorker last year, the brilliant Hendrik Hertzberg wrote of a person who "...will be remembered as a tragedy in the Aristotelian sense, in which a hero is ruined through some terrible choice(s) of his own..." To paraphrase Hertzberg's conclusion: "One can only hope that the tragedy will be his alone and not..." that of the organization he was elected to lead. Unfortunately, as Joe confused his own goals for those of what was then UJC, the tragic circumstances in which The Jewish Federations of North America finds itself are those that were created by and literally demanded by Joe, supported by a small claque. And, now it is over.

Let the sun shine, let the sun shine in, let the sun shine in once again.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

GA 2009

I dropped in on the General Assembly on Monday -- and I was impressed.

Lay and professional leaders are in attendance in significant numbers again. As I understand it, the numkbers of full pay registrants far exceeds those at the prior United States venues by a huge percentage. I think that this reflects not the program and not the "brand" but the new sense of purpose and dedication of the agenda that Kathy Manning and Jerry Silverman have articulated. Fresh air appeared to be flowing through the hallways at the Marriott Wardman Park, at the Plenaries and Panels.

Given workload and a wonderful upcoming family simcha (a grandson's Bar Mitzvah back in D.C.), I have been enjoying the GA, in addition to my "stop and chat" Monday morning, virtually. It's a different experience and I miss, but for my brief attendance, the hallway give and take, the friendships renewed and made, the common agenda of Jewish Peoplehood expressed by attendance.

I listened to Jerry Silverman's first address. I heard and felt more energy and less ego; I was most impressed by the personal warmth and grace and, in his few weeks "on the job," Jerry has developed a five-pronged focus that, if we as a North American polity can help him stay the course, will see a stronger federation system emerge from the crises of today; of the need for the national organization to convene, to be the messenger for the collective and to be the federations' strategic partner. Jerry and Kathy "get it."

And, if Manning's "three goals when she took over" were articulated at the Closing Plenary as JTA's Jacob Bergman reported -- having a CEO of Silverman's quality and potential in place, Obama's attendance at the GA and the new "brand" --all of us must assume that she has a few more goals in her pocket that will emerge going forward.

And, of course, the Jewish Communal Hero -- read about him and his work elsewhere.

Then I read Haaretz reporter Sara Miller's "take" on the GA -- here is what she wrote:

The fundamental essence of the conference can be summed up quite simply: What on earth are we going to do now that the crash has taken a huge chunk of our money and Madoff has stolen most of the rest?

This is the "fundamental essence" of this General Assembly? Sorry, Sara, you've got it all wrong. I think Miller's conclusion is beyond myopic and demonstrates how little some Israelis know about us. Yet, this nonsensical conclusion helps me to understand why these Posts from time-to-time irritate large numbers of readers.


Monday, November 9, 2009


As one of the more bizarre mistakes of the The Jewish Federations of North America's 2007 Reorganization Strategy, the creation of what resulted in an UJC- Israel Office completely unrelated to, then, UJC's, or, more certainly, the federations' agenda. It is the best example yet of my pet philosopher's, Yogi Berra's, assertion that "if you get to a fork in the road, take it."

UJC-Israel's work at the time of the merger and until 2007 was led by two brilliant professionals -- Menachem Revivi, who brought his insight and intellect to the position under the banner of CJF and, then, the UJA-CJF Partnership, and Nachman Shai, who combined both of Revivi's superb talents with the critical add-on of important contacts within the Government of Israel, the media and the IDF. 2007 arrived with the desperate desire of "leaders" for "change for change's sake" -- and change everywhere. Instead of a leader with the contacts of a Revivi or a Shai, Rieger and Kanfer decided to reposition UJC-Israel as a major "player" in the Israeli NGO and social service structure, choosing a long-time professional within JDC-Israel, Rebecca Caspi, with no relationships with the Government of Israel or JAFI to reposition the Office in the image conceived by then UJC "leadership." This was characterized as a "professional management decision" thereby exempt from lay oversight through governance processes; it was, however, a substantive policy change. But, I sense that Becky Caspi soon understood that she was to do as she was told not as she knew things should be.

And, with conflicting direction from New York, and with the ubiquitous Toni Young as her lay partner, Kanfer/Young/Rieger began to build an empire -- ok, nothing as exalted as an empire -- maybe more of a duchy. Best I can tell, after three years of "effort," the duchy of UJC-Israel is nothing more than the "mouse that roared," consuming vast amounts of federation money with so very little to show for the investment. And, the results, such as they aren't, are not Becky Caspi's fault; whatever "fault" might be ascribed, it belongs to those unseen hands who pushed UJC-Israel to be something that it could not be and need not have ever been -- the cutting edge of a new social service delivery organization for the federation system in Israel.

It is one thing to experiment and fail, admit failure and move on. What we have seen at The Federations of North America is that we experiment, we fail and then we invest more in the failed experiment. This has to stop. UJC-Israel went forward with a three year investment in Sheatufim of $750,000. Caspi became its Treasurer; UJC's lay and professional leaders spoke at its annual Conference -- maybe at two of them. And? Where are an accounting and accountability? Staff at UJC-Israel grew (excluding UIA professionals) to a dozen and more...researchers, accountants, marketing, finance, programmmers. And? Where are an accounting and accountability?

Mission responsibilities were thoroughly down-sized as The Jewish Federations of North America abandoned missions to the federations which sought out their own vendors and guides. Relationships with the Joint and JAFI were rent asunder as UJC-Israel at the directions of a lay and professional leadership which sought to (a) distance itself from its partners ("so 1980's") in Israel and (b) establish a UJC Israel social service presence in Israel where none was needed. These relationships can be restarted and I sense that Michael Lebovitz, Kathy Manning and and Jerry Silverman can do it with what is now an eager professional component.

Hoping to create a project fund raising presence in Israel, Young, now ensconced as Chair of the still-born Center for Jewish Philanthropy, attempted to apparently perpetuate still-born programs demanded by Young and Kanfer. So, the Israel Office started something called "10 x 10" -- a fund raising project to connect ten Israeli philanthropists contributing $50,000 with ten North American philanthropists making equal contributions. Forget that neither lay nor professional Development leadership were attached to the "project;" ignore that both the Joint and JAFI were actively engaged with the Israeli philanthropic community, "ignore everything , this is something we must do." What can't be ignored is the reality that 10x10 failed -- failed so badly that UJC's leaders tried to tap the UJC (now The Jewish Federations of North America) endowment for about $250,000 as "seed money." "Seed money" for a "program" never approved anywhere within UJC governance. And, when their efforts were turned away by the Committee, they tried again, rebuffed again and one more time.

The worst has been the lack of transparency -- something for which only the "responsible" lay leadership can be blamed. Most of these failed projects, most of the staffing decisions were never even vetted with the Global Operations:Israel-Overseas Working Group, Task Force or whatever. Decisions were never discussed or debated, direction was determined by "management" -- with no accountability. We are talking of millions of dollars.

So, isn't it time for the Independent Duchy of UJC-Israel to "rejoin" The Jewish Federations of North America..."independent' no more? Past time? Get back to basics; give Rebecca Caspi and her staff a chance to succeed, something that they have not yet had.


Saturday, November 7, 2009


In the Coen brothers brilliant and brooding retelling of the Story of Job, A Serious Man, the inept, harried hero, a physics professor struggling for tenure, advises his class that he expects them to understand fully something called "Heisenberg's uncertainty principle." He tells them that even if they cannot figure it out, they are still responsible for it "on the midterm." Good advice for the leaders of The Jewish Federations of North America and for our federations themselves.

We need to reinvent ourselves; we must be, and in many places become, relevant. In so many places, re-engineering is so vital right now. We can't do that until the lay and professional leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America understand the questions that need to be asked. And, with that understanding, the courage to confront the debate that needs to follow. The Jewish Federations of North America's leaders should consider immediately creating a lay-professional Task Force at the highest levels to review and recommend on the organizational mission, reach, direction and roles. In the interim....

In a Comment to the Post Denouement, an "Anonymous" (vu den?) correspondent posed a challenge:

"Can you give specific behavioral substance to your four principles:

"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."

Intentions aside, because Kathy and Jerry are good and smart people, what two or three specific actions should they take on each of the four? At this point in our movement's history and in the conversation you have so earnestly undertaken a list of action items would be helpful."
In my conversations with Jerry Silverman and Kathy Manning before they assumed their positions as President and CEO and Board Chair of The Jewish Federations of North America, I respectfully suggested that they rebuild UJC starting with the successes the organization has had in its first decade. I don't know if they will choose to follow that path ... but, let me lay it out for you as I envision it.

Finding a greater success than UJC-Washington for UJC:The Jewish Federations of North America would be the equivalent of discovering a new avian species. Such a success just doesn't exist. Pushing the successes of UJC-Washington to the front of the queue would be a great first step. Not just part of a litany of supposed "successes" as the predecessor leadership had constantly conjured, but bragging on William Daroff's and his staff and lay leaders' successes as examples of what The Jewish Federations of North America can do for its owners.

Simultaneously, "confess error" -- the reversion of UJC-Israel from New York to Jerusalem is a failed experiment. It has yielded no positive results and has demonstrated what one arm of the system operating out of control and out of sync at great expense can cost The Jewish Federations of North America. Discontinue the millions in expense and with that termination end the "10x10" and Sheatufim experiments, reassuring JAFI and JDC of the system's trust in them and, thereby, restating the historic federation-JAFI/JDC partnerships.

Then, invest the money saved in downsizing and relocating UJC-Israel with a reinvigorated Overseas Missions Program -- subsidizing Young Leadership Cabinet, Prime Minister's and King David Society Missions within the Development Department under The Jewish Federations of North America umbrella. The multi-million dollar Marketing and Branding Initiative will no longer require the huge national financial investment; use those savings to revive the national role in the Annual Campaign and in designated and endowment giving initiatives, hiring up men and women with the background and reputation that will enhance the national organization's prestige and esteem within the local federations. In so doing, end the separation of Development, Planned Giving and Endowment and the "Center for Jewish Philanthropy" merging them under the leadership of the Office of "National Chairman for Campaign and Development."

Begin to take and articulate the federation position on matters of public policy here and in Israel. The Jewish Federations of North America can't remain silent on these issues as if they are the sole purview of the JCPA and the Conference of Presidents. As the Board Chair, Kathy Manning's must become the voice we hear on matters impacting up the federations and our donors.

And, thereby, The Jewish Federations of North America must become the moral voice of federation collective responsibility. JFNA should publicly acknowledge this role and appoint a Blue Ribbon Committee on Collective Responsibility to recommend the means and methods of implementation...and, more critically, to implement. It is not enough to convene JAFI and JDC periodically (although those meetings are superb hasbara and are a basic "good" in and of themselves) and merely report how cash and allocations are being drastically cut -- it is quite another thing to actually attempt to do something about it. Moral responsibility has to trump passivity in this area once and for all. If the federations' national organization, the organization that now bears their name and brand, fails to stand for collective responsibility, my friends, it stands for nothing.
Four years ago as an outgrowth of a major FRD Study, the national organization embarked on an Emerging Communities effort partnering with two high potential growth federations in the West. This was to be a starting point. After two years of engagement, UJC's "leaders" terminated the effort with no discussion within UJC governance bodies (and none even with the communities directly impacted). The Emerging Communities partnership should be reborn and expanded in a demonstration of the national organization's commitment to partnership with high growth high potential federations around the continent where The Jewish Federation's of North America's impact can be significant.

And, UJC must continue its critical and successful work through I-LEAD, the National Bond Program, Federation Peer Yardstick, CPE, Emerging Leaders, Presidents and Executive training and the circulation of best practices.

All of these need to be and can be done in an atmosphere of transparency and accountability. An atmosphere where the issues confronting our system are freely and openly debated and where those who serve -- be it on Work Groups, Task Forces, Executive Committee and Board -- feel and believe that they are part of the process, not excluded from it and no longer ignored. Transparency also mandates that leadership be open and honest not only with ownership and constituencies but with the media. It was troubling and confounding to read in a pre-GA story in the JTA that the organization's new leaders refused to be interviewed by the Jewish press.Maybe it was clear to them why they did so; it sure can't be clear to the rest of us who wish to learn of their hopes and plans.

The seminal question: is The Jewish Federations of North America merely going to perform functions or is it going to serve a purpose? To continue down the current path, to merely tweak rather than re-engineer, will be like changing the in-flight food on the Hindenburg -- it would be doomed to failure. To those who suggest that The Jewish Federations of North America continue its slide toward being nothing more than "a really great trade association," think of all the great work that must be done and wouldn't be.

Each of you may have your own construct for a rebuilt Jewish Federations of North America that will be far better than these. Offer them...soon.


Thursday, November 5, 2009


Just so you know:

~ The outgoing Board Chair wanted a "tribute event" dedicated to praising Caesar at the GA. You were spared as the leadership explained that the GA is about the future, not the past. Appropriately, a "by invitation only" dinner was held on the eve of the GA.

~ Organizations attempting to schedule meetings with The Chair of Global Operations: Israel and Overseas will learn that the Chair, who was a no show at the JAFI BOG meetings last week, won't be attending the GA either.

~ Now that The JFNA and its affiliated organizations in the "rescue the Yemenite Jews" operation have gone from outright fiasco to the front page of The Wall Street Journal, I expect to see a few Yemenite Jews on the stage of some Plenary. (Call the journalist who by-lined the WSJ story to ask if she received hate mail telling her she had "blood on her hands" for telling the story.) We have seen this "relocation" go from "top secret" to a national news story written with minimal diligence, the numbers go from an expected 120 or so to 62 with " undetermined number...expected to follow." Strangely, we have witnessed JAFI and JDC ignored in the process morph into "UJC/Federations have worked with our historic partner in aliyah and klitah, the Jewish Agency, to encourage the remaining Yemenite Jews to make aliyah to Israel." So, all's well that ends well or all's well that ends...

~ Preview the five Finalists for your/their 2009 Jewish Community Hero Award on You Tube. Then change your flight plans home to attend the Closing Plenary for the announcement of the Hero. I think you know my view: even after 500,000 votes (or thereabouts) the 2009 Jewish Community Heroes are those federation professionals who have worked so hard to hold their communities together through 2009 so that there will be a Jewish communal future. But, hey, that's just me.



Tuesday, November 3, 2009


In a New York Times Business Section "Op-Ed" (October 3, 2009), a story of Ken Lewis' resignation from his post as Chair and CEO of Bank of America described him as "not incompetent...just not a leader." We have been experiencing the lack of leadership at 25 Broadway and 111 Eighth Avenue and, some would argue, a lack of competence, for just too long. The results, as they say, speak for themselves. Change, thank G-d, really is in the air...we hope and pray.

As we approach another GA, even with the High Holy Days in our rear view mirror, it might be time for further introspection. I think.., however, by this time, there can be no one involved in American and Canadian Jewish life who is unaware of the reality that since the Los Angeles General Assembly we have seen our system literally waste over $100 million in Dues with a negative return on investment. Now let's look at the rubble and see what can be reconstructed.

It's already started. Jerry Silverman has blown through The Jewish Federations of North America like a breath of fresh autumn air. Speaking at federation major gift events (something that hadn't been done by UJC CEOs in its decade of existence), traveling to sit with federation leaders, reaching out, doors open, when possible he even answers his own phone...he even answers his own phone!!!! Jerry clearly loves people, loves a good debate and is open to new ideas. This will stand him in good stead wherever he goes around this continent.

For the last few years, the message "I'm from UJC and I am here to help you," has been as oxymoronic as "Senate Intelligence Committee" or "airplane food" or similar. Now, the times they are a'changing. And for the better. My friends at 25 Broadway tell me how happy they are with the new professionalism they feel wafting through the halls. Note to Michael Gelman: interrogate all UJC professional staff to determine who is speaking with Wexler.

Then there is Kathy Manning. I believe that she has promised herself, if not all others, that she will be the most hands-on Chair any of our organizations have ever experienced. Those hands are being felt everywhere. The test will come if Kathy's desire for control exceeds her otherwise strong leadership skills. The lay-professional partnership will be tested again in an environment that has never experienced the glory that a strong and balanced lay-professional partnership can create. Now, at the very beginning, would be the best time for Kathy to understand where the lay leaders' responsibilities end and those of the professionals begin. This is a skill set that comes from experience, from watching. Or, maybe it can be taught, if there are teachers and students out there. Just as Jerry will learn from mentoring, so might Kathy. Knowing what one doesn't know is just as critical as knowing what one does.

The Jewish Federations of North America need the best leaders. Now they will be tested as never before.


Monday, November 2, 2009


Just to update you:

~ Our dear friend and great leader, Chicago's Lester Rosenberg (see Post, "Lester"), six months after a devastating auto accident, has returned home where he will continue his therapy as an out-patient. His wonderful friend and professional partner, Chicago's Campaign Director, Beth Cherner, wrote, Lester "...has come back 100% mentally (and was) and inspiration to the staff at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago and his visitors." Lester's incredible will, the unbelievable support group that is his family -- especially Norma -- and a great group of doctors, surgeons and therapists, and your prayers, have brought this wonderful news. This week Lester will participate in the Jewish Federation's Board Meeting by phone.

~ In case you missed it, the Wall Street Journal this past Saturday plastered the front page with a monumental story on the relocation of 60 Yemeni Jews to Monsey, New York and environs. $750,000 of federation money allegedly was raised (and spent?) on this stupefying effort. Why "stupefying?" Read the article and think about it; or read the UJC:The Federations of North America Leadership Briefing" on the subject. And, remember, this effort began with no consultation with JAFI (or JDC) and without any governance process. Glad the 60 are here; hope the story didn't jeopardize the remnant Jewish community in Yemen. As one of the leaders I most respect wrote: "This is what we work for??!!"

~ The great thought leader, the brilliant and irascible Michael Steinhardt spoke at a Birthright Conference last week. He excoriated his audience in some impromptu remarks for their laissez-faire approach to Jewish organizational life and closed with the following admonition: "(Be) nice and polite and get nowhere." Yet, as Michael knows, that's exactly where Jewish organizational leaders want their flock to be -- "nice and polite."