Wednesday, December 29, 2010


One of the more observant Friends of the Blog did some analysis and asked "how much has JFNA allocated from its Budget for the deficit? $400 for early bird registrants will yield $600,000." He notes if it's that cheap in Las Vegas, then he votes for all future GA's to be held there.

Here's the thing: there is something called "JFNA math." It's the calculation that includes: All federations will pay Dues so we'll spend $30.3 million even though there isn't a chance those Dues will be paid...ever; we need $3 million from the federations to resettle a few Yemenite families in Monsey, New York -- we collect $603,000 from our "appeal" (and say nothing more about it); we ask for millions from the federations for the Israel Action Network -- how much have we received -- in cash, in pledges, only we know...and on and on it goes.

Yep we had the "new math" and now we have "JFNA math."



On November 17, the New York Times reported that Playboy TV "a fading proposition...spent a year conducting focus groups and other research...If this (Playboy) channel could be anything, what should it be?" Hmmm, I thought, just a week earlier, CEO Jerry Silverman had reported to a departing GA audience that JFNA had conducted focus groups (1, 2 -- 10?) among the "unaffiliated" asking them, I guess, what would be an attractive venue for a JFNA event you would attend? The answer, CEO Jerry reported? "Las Vegas." And, so, Jerry concluded with enthusiasm to applause -- "we're going to Las Vegas!!!" Properly programmed at this point confetti would have been falling from the rafters and scenes of Vegas-style debauchery flashed on the screens. But what we observe is a faux deference to the evident smarts of the younger leaders who thirst for substance -- for JFNA has, once again, opted for glitz and numbers (sure Las Vegas should drive numbers to a party) over meaning and substance, appealing to the least of and in us. But it will sure be fun!!

So, "we're going to Vegas." For what? Tribefest. For what? To be in Las Vegas for Tribefest. It's such an exciting venue and event that, according to a JTA report 1,600 young men and women had signed on even before the registration opened. And, just what exactly is Tribefest -- we don't know. We do know that it will be March 6-8; we know it will be in Vegas; we know that it will be a place to "connect, explore & celebrate the richness of Jewish music, food, arts & culture," and it will be "...THE event for young Jewish adults. Over 1,800 Jewish young Jews will come together to explore why it matters to be Jewish, how they connect their Judaism and the larger community, and to have an amazing time....Tribefest will be THE place for networking, mingling and finding friends and peers..." The registration fee is $475 ($400 for you lucky early birds). And JFNA is looking for corporate sponsors -- Dockers per chance?

I heard from a senior professional at JFNA for whom I have great respect and admiration -- one who has some responsibility for Tribefest. She sent me some more detailed descriptions of the plans for the event that do suggest that there will be some serious programming there. The prospects for the Fest: "These young men and women need to discover their Judaism at their own pace and in their own manner, in ways that specifically resonate for them." OK, but is it fair to ask if this is JFNA's role -- and to do so " the chic and fun Mandalay Bay Resort...acknowledging that participating in Jewish communal life (this is "Jewish c
ommunal life?") can and should be about having fun as well." OMG!!

This week I went to the JFNA website to see what more we might learn about the Fest. The answer: not much. About "The Event" here is the description: "Tribefest 2011: Las Vegas is THE event for young Jewish adults. Over 1,800 young Jews will come together to explore why it matters to be Jewish, how they connect to their Judaism and the larger community, and to have an amazing time. Tribefest will offer inspiring programming, music, food, arts and entertainment, all celebrating the richness of our Jewish culture and heritage. Tribefest will be THE place for networking, mingling... yada, yada, yada" It appears to me that Tribefest will be, like the old Seinfeld show, about nothing. Sad.

But...speakers? There is a list -- We got a hip hop violinist, someone from, an actress. poet and playwright, an author, the Communications Director of the Hebrew Academy, the President of the Kraft Group (guess the writers didn't want to describe two of the speakers as owners of professional football teams), the Mayor of Las Vegas, and Mark Wilf, who is nowhere identified as a major federation leader or past National Campaign Chair, but in his role as "President Minnesota Vikings." It's all surreal.

Tribefest, in the words of a friend, "trivializes trivialization." How does one respect JFNA as an institution when it raises the trivial to the level of Tribefest; when it abandons the Washington or Tel Aviv Conferences for...this? Sorry, chevre, but with Tribefest JFNA leaders are making a clear statement -- to say they respect the next generation of leaders is like BP announcing that it respects the environment.

Have fun.


Sunday, December 26, 2010


In the last few months, JFNA and the federations determined to create the Israel Action Network (the "IAN") to confront issues of anti-Israel activity -- boycotts, divestment and sanctions. JFNA beat the marketing drums heavily in announcing its new partnership with JCPA, one the investment for which would exceed that for the continuing IAI -- the Israel Advocacy Initiative -- JFNA's other "partnership" with JCPA. In the past few weeks, something called the Seattle Mideast Awareness Initiative, for the paltry sum of a little over $1,500 determined to plaster twelve buses in Seattle with vicious anti-Israel screed, "Israeli War Crimes -- Your Tax Dollars at Work" -- among other ugly accusations. The County Commission banned the effort on December 23.

And where, in response, was the IAN (not yet really "up and running"), and where was the IAI (no where), where was JCPA (apparently holding conference calls), and where was our national "voice," JFNA (a rhetorical question -- issuing a belated Leadership Briefing)? So, into this void, the Seattle "chapter" of JStreet spoke up. How can our institutional voices be silent? These "voices" for which we pay so much, silent. The Seattle Metro Transit claims it must rent the sides of its buses because that's what free speech in this country demands; our national system couldn't bring itself to respond even while the Seattle Federation did. A poll on this subject indicated that those favoring the ads far outnumbered those opposed, and our communal institutions remain silent. From JFNA not even the now "traditional" response -- yes, not even a letter.

And, in the aftermath, upon the announcement that the ads would not appear, the Federation thanked the Seattle Jewish community, the ADL, the AJC and StandWithUs(!). Noticeably absent -- well, you can easily figure it out.

So I went to the JFNA website. And I did find, at the very top of the home page -- Tribefest, of course. And on aiding the Seattle Jewish community, on aiding ourselves -- not...a...word.



Thursday, December 23, 2010


It was inevitable that even those most in denial among JFNA's lay leaders would come to the conclusion we reached months ago -- that JFNA is facing a mounting budgetary crisis brought on by a continuing lack of relevance and a failure by a growing number of federations to pay Dues. I have reported on these pages the "avoidance technique" developed by this leadership that enabled them, in their minds, to deny that there was "any problem" with Dues payments. Let's look at the "technique" again.

The economic circumstances facing so many federations caused them (and others) to make informal hardship requests of the JFNA Financial Relations Committee. These federations were told that given the volume of these requests, JFNA would not offer "hardship" (even though that is what the Financial Relations Committee was charged to do under the JFNA-adopted Dues Resolution) but instead what came to be known under JFNA jargon as "a deferral." If you couldn't pay your Dues or objected to the amount, the difference between what you could/would pay would be "deferred" -- evidenced by a promissory note and/or a payment plan. In some instances, JFNA would help a federation reconstruct its fund raising results so as to result in a reduced Dues amount. In other instances, JFNA leaders let federation leaders know that JFNA Dues had a priority over overseas allocations -- and that "membership" was more important than funding those of our people most in need. In all events, "deferrals" multiplied.

You will recall that JFNA lay and professional leaders operated under one assumption -- that by each calendar year-end, all Dues would be paid. JFNA's annual spend rate was based on that assumption. Even had reserves been created, it is doubtful that the reserves would have approached the amounts of the deferrals at calendar year-end 2010. Even though I and others warned that the day would soon come when there would be no year-end "catch up," we were ignored, the mounting evidence notwithstanding.

This "deferral technique" not only allowed JFNA leaders to misstate the true circumstances -- "we have no Dues federation hardship requests have been made" -- it allowed them to ignore the reality of the organization's failing cash flow...until now. All the years of denials to the contrary notwithstanding, the Board Chair has admitted that JFNA has applied federation transmittals for JAFI/JDC to JFNA's budget, "truing up" at year end. Those days have to be over.

At no time were there mid-year corrections, operating budget reductions -- JFNA blithely ignored the facts and spent itself into the financial crisis in which it now finds itself. It would be fair to ask where the money was coming from? A line of credit or "as a loan" out of overseas allocations? Either way, where was the accountability and where was the monitoring?

With no advance warning, the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee was confronted with this financial crisis of the moment at its recent meeting. While that Committee has some excellent federation members, it has also been populated with the usual JFNA cheerleaders -- those never afraid to speak up in support of failed plans. Six years ago, while the now Board Chair served as Chair of Budget and Finance, I recommended that the membership of the Committee be reorganized to consist solely of sitting Federation Chairs and CEOs arguing that only in that way would a strongly supported Budget emerge from the JFNA "process." The rejoinder -- I was "rotated off" the Committee (not only for that suggestion), replaced by a past Chair of a far smaller community. The Committee was not repopulated with sitting Federation Chairs and CEOs (that might have eliminated the then Budget Chair and successors now that I think about it) but with fine people some of whom are not even members of their own federation Boards.

Now you may have some members of the JFNA Budget and Finance Committee who believe that those on the Committee take an oath that their Federations will pay their Dues -- there are probably others who believe in fairies. JFNA leaders state that they will assure that JAFI and JDC are made whole at year's end by eating into the JFNA line of credit themselves if necessary -- did it ever occur to this small group to apply the line of credit to meet the organization's monthly requirements so as to to avoid this reckoning? What is needed remains as true now as it has always been -- transparency and real lay engagement in the Budget process (you know, an open meeting with questions permitted) -- and a Budget that demonstrates the synchronicity of JFNA's Budget with federations needs. How great would that be? How about trying it?

There was a cartoon The New Yorker at year-end that is appropriate to this discussion. Two middle-aged men sitting at what is clearly a corporate Board or Committee meeting. One says simply: "Sage nodding got me where I am today." That's not leadership; but it's what we've got. Nod sagely if you agree.


Monday, December 20, 2010


I have been informed that there was a non-presentation on Operation Exodus at the General Assembly in New Orleans that eventually was delivered by Joel Tauber. Joel became the UJA National Chair in the middle of the Exodus Campaign, and spoke before a few hundred people who lingered on at the Opening Plenary after a 50 minute delay occasioned by the Vice-President's belated arrival. Quite a tribute.

It didn't surprise me to learn that Joel (not UJA, not the Federations) raised what he called "over a billion dollars" (it was actually an equally incredible $960 million). Of course, those of us who were there remember that it was Marvin Lender who led this effort -- kick-started the fund-raising with what became known as the $58 million Breakfast of Champions, initiated a series of Missions which all of us remember for their and his inspiration and with Max Fisher, z'l, the Bronfmans, Les Wexner, the Crown Family and other mega-donors, created the momentum that carried all of us forward. Marvin inspired every one with his self-effacing leadership and his 24/7 dedication to the cause.

I was honored when Joel, having succeeded Marvin as National Campaign Chair in the midst of the Exodus, asked me to Chair what became known as Exodus II, the closing two years of the Exodus Campaign. It was Joel's business acumen that was the catalyst for hiring Ron Friedman away from American Express as the Marketing Director for the Special Campaign and the lay and professional team worked with me to turn that great Campaign on its head, converting it from a major gifts imperative into the federation-driven effort for the final three years.

It was a joy-filled time culminating in a Mission to Uzbekistan and Israel that I led with Richie Pearlstone, who was on the cusp of his service as UJA National Chair, and Carole Solomon, who would succeed me as National Chair, at my side, accompanied by an incredible group of lay and professional leaders -- Shoshana Cardin and Rani Garfinkel, Marty Stein, z'l, Lois Zoller Mills, Dede Feinberg, Steve Rakitt, Julie and Henry Koschitzky, Alan Shulman, Rabbi Irwin Kula, Brian Lurie, Nechemia Dagan and Gerry Nagel, z'l, and so many other spectacular federation leaders -- culminating in a freedom flight with 400 new olim from Tashkent to Jerusalem. No one who traveled with us will ever forget that trip that embodied so much of the Exodus and our philanthropy. Joel wasn't with us.

At the end of the Exodus Campaign, I had the chance to thank Joel Tauber for his leadership and for giving me the opportunity to be part of the historic philanthropic chapter that we -- all 1,250,000 donors to Operation Exodus, the leadership of United Jewish Appeal, the Council of Jewish Federations, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the JDC, and the National Conference for Soviet Jewry --wrote together. But thee chapters weren't written by any one of us -- they were written by the Prisoners of Zion, the Refuseniks, the 400,000 Soviet Jews who applied for visa to Israel in the late 80's and early 90's, the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, the Union Of council and the National Conference for Soviet Jewry, the UJA and CJF, JAFI and, most critically, the Government of Israel. Joel was no doubt taking credit on behalf of all of them and all of us. Of course.

I have questioned whether JFNA could mount such an effort today; heck, they couldn't even put together an appropriate event to honor that history.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


And things were going so well. Commentators to the Blog were engaged in substance and then...this intelligent and of course Anonymous Comment appeared from the netherworld:

"Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "AFTER SIX MONTHS OF SILENCE...CONT'D":

Perhaps the entire world shouldn't know the JFNA Conversion Bill strategy. Perhaps there was a time when JFNA could share such information with key leaders -- but how to do so now, when 30 seconds later it will end up on your blog? Does MK Rotem read your "I've been sent out to pasteur but am too darn fickle to acknowledge it" blog? It wouldn't surprise me if all those who seek to destroy American Jewry's connection to eretz Israel have you in the browser bookmarks.

Like WikiLeaks, you make it difficult for real leaders to communicate. I am sure you are proud."

Many of you who regularly read the Blog will readily recognize the sad prose above and most can assume the name of the author. The Comment asserts, believe it or not, that the reason that JFNA doesn't communicate with even its own leadership is that such communication would somehow reach me and then I would let "the entire world know" JFNA's strategy, if it had one....and when apparently "confidential information" is released to JFNA leaders "...30 seconds later it will end up on (the) blog." Is this the warped mind of JFNA speaking...or just a warped mind?

Then come the clinchers: I am accused of being one with "...all those who seek to destroy American Jewry's connection to eretz Israel...(and) [L]ike WikiLeaks, (I) make it difficult for real leaders to communicate." And all of this after I "..was sent out to pasteur." (emphasis added)

So, there you have it -- the real reason that JFNA only communicates with the privileged few and not with its own Board is that the information it is communicating is too confidential for its own Board to have. All this from one so courageous that he/she is hiding behind his/her anonymity. As I wrote, tsk...tsk...tsk.


Friday, December 17, 2010


Excellent sources who have studied the matter closely have told me a story that, if true, is worthy of the Forward or JTA, not this little Blog. It is a strange tale, indeed, and, again, if true, reflects on the very sad state of due diligence in our system today. Our story begins in New York City, travels to Israel and ends witrh the federations and JFNA. It travels from the floods of Katrina to the forest fires of Northern Israel. And, at the end of the day, if true, it is the story of marketing and form over substance.

Let's begin at the New York UJA-Federation in 2001. Federation decided that notwithstanding the existence of the hospital driven Trauma Coalition in Israel, or the University-driven Trauma Coalition is Israel, it was necessary to assist our Israeli mishpacha, traumatized by intifadas and Wars, by the formation of the ITC, bringing together the work of 60 organizations steeped in trauma assistance in Israel and, no doubt, brought together by New York-UJA's Israel Office "...helping individuals and communities cope with unrelenting violence." In reality, this was the coupling of New York-UJA with the work of a dedicated doctor at Herzog Hospital outside Jerusalem. And that doctor, under the auspices of the ITC flew to New Orleans and offered the Coalition's service to JFNA in the aftermath of Katrina.


Let's start with an acknowledgment: World ORT's Robert Singer, Jeff Kaye and Harry Nadler are men that I have worked with over many years and for whom I have the greatest respect. Their work and leadership have elevated World ORT in important ways -- in North America and elsewhere. (That work is not to be confused with the critical efforts of ORT Israel, but one can readily understand the confusion, can't one?) They tell a compelling story. But, to hear World ORT raised to a level of co-equal partnership status with JAFI and JDC? That could only be accomplished through the hocus pocus of JFNA. Today we will ask two questions: how...and...why...and what does it mean? And how much cynicism can our system really stand?

The legerdemain of which I speak? In his closing at the recently completed General Assembly it was CEO Jerry Silverman who expressly referenced "our three great partners: JAFI, JDC and ORT." I went to The Jewish Federations of North America website and right there, on the homepage, there are links to, sequentially, JDC/JAFI/ORT, our "partners." I recalled that in their own negotiations over 18 months ago JAFI and the Joint reached an agreement without the intervention of JFNA, only to find that agreement rejected by JFNA because one federation, and one only, thought the five year term too long and didn't like the way ORT "was treated." Then, in the drafting and negotiation of the JFNA/JDC/JAFI Agreement, JFNA appeared obsessed with including ORT (as some form of third pa rty beneficiary). But you still have to ask: why the elevation of ORT? Can you begin to sense the cynicism?

There neither is nor has there ever been, until this JFNA administration, any sense of parity or equality among the Jewish Agency and the Joint Distribution Committee on the one hand and ORT on the other. Nor should there be. For years ORT received its allocation through a contractual relationship with the JDC -- an allocation "off the top" of the Joint's core allocation. As its core allocations dropped without reason or national advocacy, the JDC ultimately ended that funding and JFNA began to deduct the ORT allocation from the federations allocations to JAFI/JDC as if this had been agreed to by the "partners." Without consultation with either the Agency or Joint, JFNA unilaterally determined to allocate to ORT a flat amount in disregard of the fact that core allocations to JAFI and JDC were falling precipitously. The allocation of $3.6 million became frozen as if in amber. (Proving, one again, that it is good to have friends in "high" places.)

Then Chicago's Betsy Gidwitz, a great philanthropist and our system's leading Sovietologist, was asked to undertake a study of ORT's work and recommend with regard to the future funding. Betsey's Report recommended, among other things, that the ORT allocation "float" with the decrease (or increase if ever) of the JAFI/Joint annual allocations. Thus, ORT learned the"benefit" of "partnership JFNA-style" as its allocation will reduce by $500,000 over time. "Welcome, partner."

So, here we have ORT, a truly minor recipient of federation allocations, a minor beneficiary as it were, raised to the same level of "partnership" as JAFI and JDC share. This yields at least one conclusion -- to JFNA's lay and professional leaders the concept of "partnership" has no meaning. None. Squadoosh. "Partner," being merely an empty term, when used is just a caution sign, even a "stop" sign. (And it is used frequently in the JAFI/JDC/JFNA Agreement.) Why -- much like new titles for professionals rather than increased compensation, it just sounds so important. but, on further isn't.

What does this "elevation" of ORT's status mean? Well, certainly not money -- unless of course ORT's brilliant fund raisers can play on ORT's newfound status in their fund raising activities across the continent. To JAFI and the Joint it means that ORT, unencumbered with the demand for guidelines on FRD and co-branding, and the like, incorporated in the Agreement by and among JFNA, JAFI and the Joint but applying only to the Agency and JDC, will not be subject to the same terms. It means that a small organization with major ambition may act as the "other partners" may not. Why? Your guess is as good as anyone's.

The term "partner" can mean many things. To the current JFNA leadership I am afraid that it means absolutely nothing. And, even "better," it costs JFNA nothing to keep using the term "partner" so why not keep throwing it out there; it feels sooooo good even if it means so little. Now JFNA will be challenged to give meaning to the term, if it can. Of one thing I am certain, World ORT's leaders understand how meaningless the term "partner" is in the JFNA context.


Thursday, December 16, 2010


Yesterday afternoon, following my morning Post expressing dismay over the JFNA silence on the Conversion legislation -- lo and behold, a LEADERSHP BRIEFING yesterday afternoon The Conversion Debate: An Update. I am not suggesting in any way that the Post was the catalyst for the Briefing. And that is just as well, for were it so intended, the lawyer's response would be "move to strike, non-responsive."

The Briefing offered an excellent summary of status, emphasizing support for the IDF Conversion Bill (for it) and the "general Conversion Bill (against it). The Briefing emphasized JFNA's support of compromise, and cited JFNA's letter to the Prime Minister last week.

I kept turn the two pages of the Briefing over, hoping I had missed something -- you know, maybe a game plan; perhaps an announcement that Manning and Silverman were flying to Israel with a large contingent of North American Jewish leaders to express strong opposition and to again explain the implications for Israel-Diaspora relations should the "general conversion bill" pass in its current form. But, none of that -- too busy with year-end cash, perhaps; or Resolutions?


Wednesday, December 15, 2010


The self-imposed "moratorium" on JFNA engagement with the venal portions of the Conversion legislation in Israel, our leaders are back in the game, JFNA style. They wrote a letter. It appears below. You might not know about it because it wasn't copied to you -- as with so many things, it was sent to your federation chief professional...but not to you.

Here is the letter:

"December 10, 2010

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Office of the Prime Minister
Kiryat Hamemshala
Jerusalem, Israel
Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

On behalf of the Jewish Federations of North America, we are writing to you once again regarding proposed conversion legislation before the Knesset.

As you will recall, our movement, indeed Jews across North America, were very grateful when you publically (sic.) expressed your opposition to MK David Rotem’s bill last August. We welcomed your call for a “freeze” on the legislation and supported your appointment of Jewish Agency Chair Natan Sharansky to lead efforts in finding a solution to this problem that is acceptable to all sides.

Your thoughts were also echoed in your strong words when you honored us with your presence at the General Assembly in New Orleans last month. We know that the thousands of Jewish leaders who were in attendance at the GA were appreciative of your words and impressed by your stand on this issue.

With the freeze on Rotem’s bill drawing to an end, we understand that there is some pressure to reintroduce this bill in the coming months. We urge you to extend the freeze on the legislation, allowing JAFI Chair Sharansky to complete the process of finding a just solution.
We have been most thankful that thus far you were able to stand firm in your beliefs in Jewish unity and freedom and firmly oppose this bill. Your public statements have sent a strong message to the Israeli public, to members of the Government and the Knesset, and importantly, to Jews across the world.

We trust that you will be able to oppose the bill in its current form, institute an extension of the freeze on any legislation on this issue and continue this path that cements Jewish unity.


Kathy Manning Jerry Silverman
Chair of the Board President & CEO

Nice letter, right? The fact that it follows by a month an article in the November 12 Forward -- All Conversions Now Under Review in Israel as Crisis Escalates -- and a Summer and Fall in which JFNA maintained disciplined silence while the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Movements in Israel were under assault, doesn't merely suggest that JFNA has left the crisis in the hands of JAFI's Natan Sharansky and the Prime Minister, but that JFNA has abandoned (albeit maybe just temporarily) a most critical responsibility. Yes, yes, I know as you do that we had a big GA and then the horrific fires, but we also have a playbook sitting on a shelf about how this crisis should be met (and being totally ignored) and we have a $7 million Israel Office doing...what, exactly?

JFNA leaders ought to know that federation leaders have placed this issue squarely on JFNA's desk for the last 8 months since the Rotem legislation was first introduced. What exactly has JFNA done since Silverman did his best one man show in the Knesset, the PM's office and the media? As promised, they did nothing...but now, they are back, engaged...they sent a letter.

Every reader knows from your communal experience that if, for example, there is a serious issue with a Jewish Community Center, it is the federation and its beneficiaries which will suffer any consequences and be held responsible. What this nice letter evidences to me is that our leaders believe that in the event this legislation passes intact, they can point their fingers and shout "it wasn't us, it was them." Sorry, that won't work.


Monday, December 13, 2010


If you are like me, the mere thought of a discussion of changes to your federation's By-Laws cause your eyes to glaze over with an order that day-dreaming begin. I remember one Chicago Federation Board member who used to take up hours (seemed like days) in dotting every "i" of each and "every" proposed change. These were mind-numbing discussions but a failure to discuss the seemingly innocuous can devastate a non-profit. Take, for example, the proposed By-Law changes to be voted on December 16 by the JFNA Board.

They are seemingly innocuous -- some ostensibly designed to put an end to the ONAD "era" once and for all. But that's not all. As written, these changes would assure without more that at some point in the future no matter how your federation or mine, your donors or ours, wish the funds they send to JFNA to be distributed, it will be JFNA, through some undefined "Global Planning Table," which will determine where and how the core funds heretofore to flow to JAFI and JDC will be allocated. In other words, ONAD goes away on December 16 (it actually was put to sleep forever several years ago) only to be revived "rebranded" with all of its faults, its failure guaranteed. More about that in a moment.

Further, it appears that the draftspersons (or has it been just dictation?) overreached further. Another By-Law change could be interpreted to result in the JFNA run Overseas Endowment, if JFNA collapsed and dissolved, the funds therein applied to pay off the debts of JFNA -- available to JFNA's creditors as if the donors to that endowment intended it that way. Terrible.

One sign of insanity, best evidenced (as I often remind myself) on the pages of this Blog, is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Add to that this other sign of insanity: taking something that failed, rebranding it and expecting a different result. So, erase ONAD and then construct something called the "Global Planning Table" on its ashes -- with the same goals, the same participants, probably the same lead professional and tell everyone "this time things will be different." Given that the JFNA leaders of this effort had no involvement in ONAD and, apparently, haven't studied the 5 years of ONAD's failure, the millions of dollars in costs imposed upon JAFI and JDC in the ONAD "process." What these leaders want and see is a "new evolution" to allocations dictated by JFNA no matter the cost and the replication of a failed effort that almost destroyed our system.

So, bottom line, By-Laws are important. I figure these will be approved on December 16 without discussion.


Friday, December 10, 2010


An article in the New York Times on Sunday, November 28 -- New Jersey's Tiniest Towns Fight Push to Merge -- reminded me that for the federation system, the proliferation of federations in New Jersey, has been a matter of concern to federation leaders across that State -- and JFNA can (or could) usually be found somewhere in the corner of the room when federations have met to discuss the merger issue. By my count, there are 11 federations in New Jersey of varying sizes. There has been at least one merger in the past decade -- Northern New Jersey and Bergen County -- and "discussions" between Metro West and Clifton-Passaic -- and that's it. Does JFNA lack the professional capacity and expertise to offer guidance? (What do we spend $30.3 million on again?)

The NYT article pointed out: "To avoid duplication and waste, consolidation with neighbors is encouraged." For federations this seems self-evident, particularly in a time of significant reduced resources. I recall the effort that was made in JFNA's early years by excellent professionals working side-by-side with lay leaders (I among them) in the effort to achieve a successful merger of the Broward and Hollywood Federations as both those communities saw their annual campaigns sliding away. With a great local leader, Herb Katz, z'l, JFNA helped the communities accomplish the merger -- one where the emerging Broward Federation, still struggling under massive debt and a horrific real estate economy along with some bad choices since the merger, continues to struggle for success. In Northern New Jersey, the merger is also struggling for a common culture and a strong campaign, and its founding CEO has resigned.

In the midst of a multi-federation environment in New Jersey, one finds two outstanding, strong community builders in CEOs Max Kleinman in MetroWest, and Stanley Stone in Central New Jersey. (There may be more, I just don't know them).

Then there is Connecticut with nine federations. As I understood it some if not all of the Connecticut federations engaged a consultant to review the potential of merger, the benefits and costs. I seem to recall that this was a federation initiative -- one to which JFNA was an invitee but neither a convener nor an active participant. More's the pity.

One just has to ask whether JFNA should have a role as convener, as catalyst, in situations where merger or functional consolidation could effect positive change. And if the answer was "yes," could JFNA execute the assignment? The answer so far is, as in so many things, "no."


Tuesday, December 7, 2010


Each time that JFNA publishes its annual IRS required 990 I have expressed my astonishment, amazement and chagrin. The 2009 IRS 990 for JFNA ought to create the identical reaction and more from each of you. THIS IS MORE SERIOUS THAN EVEN I HAD THOUGHT. Sam Astrof had to explain to me how to find it on the JFNA website where it is buried: go to, then find "About Us" and link, then track down to the 990, and link again. (That is if you are not one of the favored few who received a copy directly.) I urge you to read it for yourselves.

Among the things you will find:

~ Of course there is the incredible and outrageous compensation paid the then President and CEO -- unless you believe that $802,000 was merited by performance. (N.B., Former New York Attorney General and Governor, Eliot Spitzer, has opined that New York state not-for-profit law requires that the compensation of a CEO of a non-profit must be commensurate with the value of the services provided to withstand scrutiny.) In a year in which countless federation CEOs took cuts in compensation, this CEO took none.

~ Responsible management? Look at the compensation paid to the two...that's due...that's's of what was UJC-Israel...$593,000. And, "Global Operations: Israel and Overseas" sucked $7.8 million out of the JFNA Budget. Has anyone asked "for what?"

~ Then there is the even more alarming $8 million "deficit" in JFNA's pension fund. Those that I trust to understand this far more than I suggest that this alarming amount may reflect nothing more than an "actuarial" deficit occasioned by the impact of the stock market drop on the JFNA pension fund. No liability to the pension fund was reflected on the JFNA financial statement -- just -$8,000,000. And how far did that fund fall in the following year -- 2009-2010? But, my concern is the lack of transparency; make that the continuing lack of transparency in how JFNA conducts its affairs, financial and otherwise. The 990 identifies the <$8 million> as "additional minimum pension liability." And no one asks any questions?

~ The GA/ILOJE cost of $4.1 million. Worth it? You be the judge.

~ Then there was the move to 25 Broadway. JFNA negotiated well and received a $4 million lease buy-out at 111. Did it save any of that money? Did it spread the buy-out over say a decade to reduce its 25 Broadway rent? No. It used it all and more " fund new construction at 25 Broadway" where leasehold improvements totalled $6.6 million and "equipment" another $4.6 million. Recession -- never mind.

It's a mess. knew that. I think it's past time for those at 25 Broadway to collect non-perishables and barricade themselves in...if they haven't done so already.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


The horrific Carmel forest fire which cost so many Israeli lives is a tragedy deeply felt. The idiot, Jeffrey Goldberg, used the occasion to state that our philanthropy has no place in these circumstances -- clearly Goldberg failed to understand at all the costs imposed on our partners in their work moving thousands to places of respite while the flames threatened them. And, quite clearly, Goldberg gave not a whit.

At one and the same time, there emerged a "parade of funds" and at least ten mailboxes opened -- often in duplication and redundancy -- each seeking our contributions. Sure, the Jewish National Fund did so, as did ZAKA, Mizrachi (?), American Friends of Magen David Adom, the JDC, the Haifa Foundation, JAFI, and the World Zionist Organization (the WZO???), something called AMEINU and OMG, J Street... while multiple federations sought funds, independently, not to be outdone, the JFNA created a Fund.

There used to be a Coordinating Committee. Then again, there used to be discipline and a national organization. Today?
Each "Fund" is out there seeking donors. Do I give through my federation, through JFNA, through JNF, JAFI, J Street, the JDC? Or the ones that will surely follow? Proof that multiple appeals end up producing fewer dollars? Proof that when organizations are weak, they grasp for purpose...while the cause, the tragedy get lost in the "process?"


Saturday, December 4, 2010


~ It has amazed me that some would choose recently to elevate Glenn Beck by "comparing" him with George Soros. Soros, who seems to wear his antipathy to Israel on his sleeve, but still a Holocaust survivor; Beck, because he voices unequivocal support for Israel (and for whom some of his best friends are Jewish), it is argued, deserves the Jewish polity's support even while he otherwise preaches a screed that "validates" the most extreme among the Tea Party. Men and women for whom I otherwise have the greatest respect now choose those they support based on one criterion -- unequivocal support for Israel. Nothing more and nothing less. Now, if you want those you support to stand for Jewish values, you are condemned as some sort of "liberal." When I hear or read this stuff, I cringe for my parents of blessed memory, for my family, liberals all, and fervent supporters of our Jewish State.

Soros deserves our scorn -- he deserves it for the positions he has espoused, for his constant demonization of Israel, but he deservesneither because some will compare him to Glenn Beck nor, certainly, because Beck has attacked him in Beck's "someof my best friends" way. For the definitive response to the Beck-Soros matter, read Hendrik Hertzberg's superb piece in the November 29 New Yorker. Amazing that in their zeal to find support for Israel, some correspondents and writers have almost...almost...made Soros a figure of sympathy.

And, please don't write to challenge my pro-Israel credentials. I will match them with anyone's -- even Glenn Beck's.

~ In the Blog Post pre-Thanksgiving, students who attended the General Assembly commented on their attendance at the New Orleans General Assembly. Their Comments are illustrative of what happens when our organizations stress numbers over content -- "[W]e heard a lot about how we're the future...but then we're left to our own devices;" there was a failure " let us feel more involved;" "[I]t didn't seem that the follow-through was well thought-out;" and similar. Can't say I am surprised.

Now there we heard the CEO pander to applause that "we had 600 students here and at the next GA we'll have1,000..." And, maybe...just next November someone on the JFNA staff will be tasked with creating a sense of engagement and involvement for these students who appear to have been viewed in New Orleans as nothing more than a cheering section -- something our leaders clearly love.

~ The Forward's Gal Beckerman has written the definitive history of the Soviet Jewry Movement: When They Come For Us, We'll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry. In an incredibly well-researched book Beckerman describes in vivid detail these heroes of modern Jewish history in the then Soviet Union and across the continents. There is frustration in these pages...and, of course, inspiration as well. For the definitive review, read Yossi Klein Halevi's Glory in the Thanksgiving edition of The New Republic ( As a participant in the Student Struggle and as an "activist" at age 17 with the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, Halevi's commentary is further enlightening. I recommend Beckerman's book as a wonderful Chanukah present.

~ On a "what not to read" note...There are those bloggers and e-mailers out there, joined by Commentators to this Blog, who stridently criticize those North Americans who "criticize" policies of the Government of Israel. As all of us know, there are literally 100's of Israeli writers who do so daily or weekly. Let's take the Michele Bachmann of Israeli columnists, the Jerusalem Post's unhappy Caroline Glick, as an example. She has published numerous columns condemning the Israeli government and IDF leaders for any policy that "smells like a peace move" but she saves her special venom for the Obama Administration. Her oopinion pieces only infrequently cite any sources, but are sent around by her followers as if she utters a special brand of "truth." Now the question: if you, who demand total support for the policies of Israel republish a Glickscreed aren't you violating your very strict unyielding limitations?

Just asking.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010


It's probably just me (although a number of you have written me privately to raise the question). I ought to be happy that JFNA has chosen to eulogize and offer epitaphs for many great leaders on their passing. But I find it outrageous that these tributes usually include a statement from a JFNA lay or professional leader who knew them not extolling the virtues of the deceased as if they were the closest of friends. OK, so it's nice that the deceased are recognized in this way but, when there are those who were either the professional partners of these leaders or the closest of friends still living and leading wouldn't it be more appropriate for those to be quoted?

Examples abound -- when Marty Kraar, z'l, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer last month, there was a very generous quote from Jerry Silverman about Marty's lifelong dedication (and how he was a mentor to Jerry) to community and people when, among so many others, Connie Giles, the JCPA Chair, who chaired CJF during Marty's service, would have been delighted, I'm certain, to have offered his praise. And the month before, when the beloved Lester Rosenberg, z'l, passed away, it was Kathy Manning who extolled his many virtues (and Kathy knew Lester to a small degree compared with so many others) in the JFNA message when, for example, Steve Nasatir or Beth Cherner, Lester's closest professional partners and great friends in Chicago, could have done so in a far more personal way. Even more recent is the tribute to the great San Francisco philanthropist and communal leader, Richard Goldman, And, these are but three examples of many.

Maybe this is the way these things have to be done. I am certain that JFNA would retort that they just don't have time to discover who knew whom and that it's more important to get the message of love and caring out. They would be wrong.


Sunday, November 28, 2010


OMG, the Forward reported on September 10 that research conducted by the Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies among 1200 interviewees concluded that "[A] majority of American Jews feel attached to Israel and the overall level of attachment has remained stable for nearly a quarter of a century." Further, as Forward reporter Gal Beckerman wrote: "The study...did show generally lower lower levels of 'connection to Israel' among those younger than thirty...these numbers are not surprising. Every generation goes through a normal 'life-cycle...' which grows as people get older; in similar studies over the past 20 years, these researchers say, the ratio of younger people who don't feel an attachment to Israel has remained constant. Instead, the research points to a steady number: the 63% of all respondents who say they feel 'very much' or 'somewhat' connected to Israel and the 75% who say that Israel is an important part of their identity." (emphasis added)

This is a Hillel-Shamai debate of sorts. You have Beinart and his ilk citing Luntz surveys that young people in America care less about Israel today and, now, a broader survey evidencing that they much as previous generations. Beinart, of course, expresses pessimism because the Brandeis survey would in many ways undermine his narrative; the leaders of the Brandeis research find many reasons for optimism.

The implications of the Brandeis study seem obvious -- all of the hand-wringing about the "NextGen" might have been for naught. Our federations and JFNA, rather than arguing that this generation "having no direct connection to the Holocaust, the birth of the State, the Six Day War" and more, and, therefore, need new connections, "events" like Tribefest (which JFNA, in its way, claims in a story in JTA that it already has 1,600 "registrants" even though no Registration was possible at the time of the story).

There appears to be no comprehension at JFNA that the emerging generation of men and women who will be and, in so many instances, are our leaders are serious, caring people. So, failing to understand, the leaders of JFNA pander and engage in frivolous activities without meaning or real purpose. "If we build it, they will come" seems to be the operating mantra, never defining what "it" is, what "its" purposes are beyond numbers. So, while JFNA plans casino nights and Las Vegas "events," never is there time to plan activities that connect a younger generation or two to our communities. At the GA's end, Jerry Silverman described a "focus group" process where unaffiliated young men and women were asked, apparently, what might be attractive to them -- from this emerged...Tribefest. Yet, I have seen a list of topics for the GA that a group of the best and brightest of the same generation suggested -- a list that was sent to Jerry long before the final GA program emerged. These were serious topics from serious people. Not one of them made it to the GA Program.

No, the extant leadership would rather believe that the rising generations have no connection to the things we care about. That belief, apparently, justifies toilet-training fund raising and activities and "events" irrelevant to their growing commitment and seriousness. JFNA if it continues with pandering, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, will drive these leaders away while believing that there is value in numbers alone.

They never learn.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As several of you have noted in Anonymous Comments and in personal e-mail to me, an undisputed horrific decline in the number of donors to the federation annual campaigns is the primary contributor to the crisis (I think that's the right word) confronting the federation system and, to some, hard evidence of federations waning communal leadership. Let's reflect on just how bad things are, what JFNA is (or more to the point, is not) doing about it, and then try to answer the question: "what can be done?"

Let's start with one stark comparison. We are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Operation Exodus this year and next. In the peak years of that incredible campaign UJA and, in the main, the federations, delivered gifts from 1,250,000 donors; today the best estimates are that as a system the federations have in the aggregate 450,000 donors (some have concluded that the number is really as low as 350,000 donors to the Annual Campaign). In other words, twenty years post-Exodus our donor base has shrunk to at most 36% of what it was twenty years ago. This is nothing less than a tsunami, overwhelming the system we once had.

For many years, first UJA and then JFNA promised to deliver a donor acquisition plan that might help to reverse the flood of donors leaving us for elsewhere or nowhere. UJA at least tried. At JFNA, just a few years ago, it was claimed that the national organization "held in its hands" the plan; then the responsible FRD professional (who was totally commited to the effort) was terminated plan -- not then, not since. Today, under Jerry Silverman, it seems clear that JFNA is engaged in a series of failed alleged "donor acquisition experiments" -- Heroes, #ish -- which were "sold" as Next/Now Generation attractions to bring hundreds of thousands, if not more, of new prospects to the federations. These "experiments" have attracted almost none to the federations.

Some federations, already deep in a hole, are hoping against hope that new, more attractive, interesting and accessible websites will drive the donor numbers (or, at the least, engage those who are disengaged today) up. JFNA and the Los Angeles Federation have engaged those who claimed to be the cutting edge of Obama's e-donor efforts to lead this one -- all they have proved to date is that raising money for a political candidate and raising donors for our Jewish philanthropy just aren't the same thing. (And just how many $10 online contributions will it take to make up for the loss of one $100,000 donor? 10,000 by my count.)

One insightful Commentator to my November Post -- DO THEY NOT KNOW OR DO THEY NOT CARE? -- observed: "Federations haven't changed much in decades, besides raising less money from fewer donors now. This is not because federations are less relevant in the needs that they are addressing, in fact the economic crisis has shown that federations have the opportunity to address community issues at the macro level. The quality with which federations are communicating what they do, what the communal needs are, and creating the opportunities for meaningful engagement of younger community members is the problem."

Let me repeat -- The quality with which federations are communicating what they do, what the communal needs are, and creating the opportunities for meaningful engagement of younger community members is the problem. But JFNA's attention is elsewhere. Where on the GA Program was this crisis publicly discussed? Even those federations which presented on getting through the recession focused on "cost-saving measures" as JFNA couldn't seem to even identify the federation focus issues let alone suggest best practices or, heaven forbid, any answers.

So, what can be done? As LA's CEO, Jay Sanderson, no longer new to the position, commented to JTA's Jacob Berkman: The GA "..was a missed opportunity" to help the federations come to terms with defining "[W]hat do we stand for as a system" as federations in 2011? Let's start there -- there are many examples of federations which have come to grips with this question and could offer guidance -- but they weren't called upon because the subject wasn't up for discussion at the GA.

Yes, we have to redefine what federation is by building on those elements that brought us to federation and understanding the changes that have to take place to reestablish or establish federation's roles as the central address in and for the community. Once we have that "elevator story" of what we are, and how we articulate the needs as the Commentator above suggested, we can develop a compelling Case for Giving (some federations already have) and take the case and the cause to our donors -- face to face. If in my community we identify 5,000 "skips" at the major gift level, or in yours 1000 or in yours 100, that's where we start -- not where we finish. I know, this sounds like the dinosaur in me writing once again but visiting directly with our once best customers must be one point of entry.

Another must be to invest in young men and women with high yet unrealized potential. Their peers must reach out to them with a simple message -- "join me for a 5 day trip to Israel that will open your eyes and change your life as it changed mine." We have seen how this dynamic has worked miracles in Chicago; you will experience the same thing in your communities if you strive to make it happen. Build a new base of significant donors from those 45 and younger. Stop kvetching about how we can't reach them and make the effort. And let's stop the party planning (e.g., Tribefest -- "we're going to Las Vegas") and get serious.

E-philanthropy and telemarketing and direct mail have critical roles at the prospect and small gift levels but no one should expect that they will take the place, as our friend Steve Selig has put it so well and so directly, of one Jew reaching out to another Jew to help a third Jew. For while the federation world has grown more complex and challenging, it's about tikkun olam, about building community and Jewish identity. But it's also about hard work and the joy of doing mitzvot.

There are those who have articulated in Comments on these pages that the federations are dead, they just don't know it yet. Gary Rosenblatt, the brilliant editor of The Jewish Week, summed up his time at the GA with this: " appears (that JFNA)...regained some good will and relevancy (that) can resonate for a year." That optimistic I'm not but I am reminded of the story about two youngsters brought to a closed room. They open the door and find the room filled with manure. The boy screams "I'm not going in there, it's manure everywhere." The girl dives into the manure and starts shoveling it out smiling: "I know there's a pony in here somewhere."

Optimists believe with me that we'll find the pony when we rediscover ourselves; the pessimists believe that federations can no longer compete so they do Heroes and #ish and believe that a Day of Service in New Orleans is somehow an example of our "collective strength" and ignore what is right in front of them: Torah, our real strengths, our great history and present and potential for the future and our incredible capacity for good.


Sunday, November 21, 2010


At the GA, JFNA's Treasurer, Heschel Raskes, made a forceful plea for the transmission of cash with 50 days left in 2010 to support the core budgets and community projects of JAFI and JDC; Jerry Silverman a passing reference. One or two pleas a year aren't enough. So, while JFNA continues down its various paths unrelated to the needs of federations and unrelated as well to the purposes ascribed to JFNA in its Mission and Vision, cash, other than for Dues, remains an elusive concern, if that.

Every year at about this time the same plea -- would JFNA please organize and execute a formal lay-professional cash collection effort? And the answer always is, "yes" (not to me, of course, generally)...and, then, almost nothing happens. We had such an effort at UJA -- it was annually successful. We had one at the outset of what was UJC -- it was annually successful. Then, starting six years ago...nada. Here's why...

No interest? In part. A failure to involve lay leaders? In part. Consistently backing away from asking federations to affirmatively do something? In largest part. The end result was that but for a committed few JFNA professionals -- so few I can name them: Cheryl Lefland, Pam Zaltsman and Sam Astrof -- and, at one time, busy lay leader Michael Gelman -- that was the extent of the effort. And it failed -- miserably.

This wasn't and isn't brain surgery, friends. It was and is simply calling federation chairs and executives and asking how JFNA could help with cash collections. It was providing cash data to leaders who, in my experience, often didn't have any. It was pro to pro and lay to lay. It was tachlis. And JFNA couldn't and seemingly can't bring itself to do it.

So, my idea. Last year JAFI and the JDC both offered to join the cash effort. They were assuaged with promises from JFNA's leaders that "we get it," "we're going to be on top of this;" they didn't and they weren't. So, in the new "spirit of partnership," wouldn't it be appropriate to allow JAFI/JDC leaders to engage in the cash effort? This is not a new suggestion; just a necessary one.


Thursday, November 18, 2010


In a flash during the JFNA Board meeting on September 28, JFNA effectively announced it is going out of the Campaign business. But a few years ago, the Campaign Department was rebranded as "Development" -- now "Development" is no more. Henceforth (until the next rebranding), what we knew as the United Jewish Appeal and then as Campaign and then as Development shall be known as Philanthropic Resources. No, I haven't a clue what that means -- the expanded scope of the Department's services??? -- if so, a list, please --and I don't believe for a moment that when the National Campaign Chair announced the change, that he understood what the change meant either. (You may add to that knowledge void, the intent of Tribefest. [More on that sad subject in few days.])

What this change signals is nothing less than the death knell of national leadership in the area of the Annual Campaign. It is ironic that at the very moment Michael Lebovitz, now the "National Philanthropic Resources Chairman," I suppose, was making the rebrand announcement, I was corresponding with professionals in the "Philanthropic Resources" Department about an invitation, initiated by a federation, to provide lay support to a "Campaign Fly-In" effort. For, you see, the federations (such as Orlando) recognize that they need national campaign assistance. No, not Chicago and not New York, but so many, many others. In fact, in annual research conducted for the then UJC, a vast number of federations annually called upon UJC for more campaign support -- campaign assistance was at the top of their "wants" from JFNA. But what federations wanted and needed was inconsistent with the national narrative starting about 6 years ago (when national leadership began to publicly deprecate the annual campaign) and continues to this day and through this rebrand.

But with all surveys of federations evidencing the cry for more campaign help, what did JFNA do? Well, first, it stopped taking surveys; then it restructured Campaign into Development and pushed out its top professional leadership seconding Development to Consulting Services (which, itself has been shunted aside), then it claimed to be elevating the National Chairman's position (but did no more in my opinion than change the letterhead), and now a "rebrand" out of existence.

Jerry Silverman came in as CEO charged to make of JFNA an organization that would make a difference for the federations which own it. He clearly believed that new branding ("JFNA") would make a difference even though it had little to do with the federations beyond the name; and others apparently believe that rebranding the campaign effort will be a substitute for actually engaging in it. Oh, there will be a national mission now and then, a Prime Minister's Council Dinner at the GA, some other events, lip service at Board meetings to National Women's Philanthropy, and Regional "Ignitions" but the fund raising assistance federations other than the Large Cities (and even there who doesn't believe that San Francisco would embrace an all hands' [if JFNA had two or three] campaign investment) want and need? Not from this JFNA.

The pairing of Israeli philanthropists with their North American peers; has that disappeared off the JFNA map? Without a trace? The Special Campaign for Children? Where did that go? Without a trace with a "confidential plan" placed on the shelf with all the others?

What have we? We have 2010 federation campaigns that in the aggregate, as at November 1, that are up a bare 3% according to JFNA's numbers (always questionable in this area). Given the typical fall-off at calendar year-end, it appears that 2010 will finish no better than at or, worse, below the disastrous results for 2009. We have a JFNA that is, but for isolated instances, all about itself, all about irrelevance. If you wish to see what we have been reduced to, visit: As one of my friends wrote: "It cheapens everything that we once stood for." There is no understanding of the value proposition that supports the work of federation. Time for them to go.

A sad day. A sad time. A great waste.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The 2010 General Assembly was "Katrina-centric" and that was a good thing. The Federation-driven response to that Hurricane and its aftermath were beautiful examples of the reach of our philanthropy and humanity -- the contribution of $28 million and then UJC's work with and in the community were excellent. So we have that to "celebrate" and, what else? JFNA's Jerry Silverman's one man effort on our behalf to slow the apparently inexorable tide toward passage of the Conversion legislation? Rebranding? The yet to be built "Global Planning Table" or #ish or Heroes? The Israel Emergency Campaign in which JFNA's role was as a collection agent? Bringing 13 Yemeni families to America and not to Israel? Help me here.

There have been horrific natural disasters since Katrina that impacted on federated communities -- Houston and South Palm Beach for two. JFNA's response -- woeful. So we hearken back to Katrina, that singular success as an example of what our system can do and might do again; an example of collective response. Instead of Katrina being one of many examples of incredible work by so many (and recall that not one of the most senior professionals who led this effort -- Gail Hyman, Rob Hyman, Barry Swartz -- were honored in New Orleans, just as they and other engaged professionals were ignored in Nashville in 2007). Katrina stands alone.

The Katrina "success story" serves to underscore the almost total lack of other "successes" of an organization which, by year-end, we -- our federations -- will have plowed close to if not more than one-half a billion dollars...$500,000,000...into. I won't even ask what we might have achieved with $500,000,000 well spent...home many lives we could have changed for the better, how many we could have brought to Israel for Birthright and Masa, how many more kids could have attended camps here and in the FSU, how many Jews we could have fed and clothed.

JFNA has deservedly patteditself on the back for the five years since Katrina; in part, because we have so little else to show for the federations' investment. Now it's long past time to build new achievements; to state our purpose with clarity; and to look five years into the future and know with clarity what we shall be. If the current lay leadership can only look in the rear view mirror, then it is clearly time for major change.



There is a building cancer tracking its way through the federation system -- and 25 Broadway seems to be unaware -- I can't believe that if the JFNA leaders knew they would be doing nothing. There is the old story of a coach challenging a bad football player: "What is with you? Ignorance or apathy?" To which the player replied: "Coach, I don't know and I don't care." That's about where we are today.

We have written about the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando and the extremity of the crisis it faces to remain relevant and alive. As we have observed, more than once, sadly, Orlando is not alone -- not by a long shot. One of the most major federations on our Continent lost its Chief Professional Officer and, now, after months of futility in its search for a replacement, has shut down or put its Search Process on the backburner, brought a retired former CEO back as a "consultant" and has watched its FRD drop and drop again. Another of the largest federations in the East is hiding its FRD failures behind the facade of reallocation, replanning and "repurposing" under the rubric that it is "refocusing its mission." We have reported on the crisis in many of our communities. And on it goes.

One of the terrific thought leaders in our system, has concluded: "...the biggest hurdle at all of the national simple and straightforward: there is minimal perspective on life on the ground in local communities...Jewish life occurs in local communities, not in New York, DC, etc.. My friends...working at national organizations don't get that. They think it's all about them." I continue to meet with local communal leaders across the country. To a person they are so appreciative of, e.g., Jerry's visits but, almost to a person, they don't believe that their message is getting through because beyond Jerry, other than through a thin veneer of excellent professionals, lies a great and terrible vast void. And a lay leadership in touch only with the belief that "'s all about them" and "only about JFNA."

Evidence? Abundant. Just read the Federation Members Dues Resolution adopted at the GA this week with but a single set of questions. Even prior to the GA a supplemental "explanation" was offered of its purpose from the CEO (one that omitted many...many...of the modifications to the Dues Resolution), there was no disclosure...none...of why the changes to the consequences of non-payment or under-payment of Dues are necessary. The Financial Relations Committee, when operating under the original Dues Resolution, always believed that embodied in the concept of "hardship" was the ability to waive Dues for a federation in extremis; so Jerry's explanation failed the critical test of transparency. (This is what happens when institutional history is discarded like stale bread.) Why not disclose the number of federations which as of this date have not paid Dues or executed "payment plans" -- even country clubs do that, but not JFNA. No transparency, no trust. Near the end of the USSR even that dictatorship moved toward glasnost -- openness -- can't we expect some glasnost from the organization we own?

In addition, JFNA is standing idly by while multiple federations have reacted to the horrific impact of the deep recession on federation fund raising by terminating their chief professional officers and severely reducing federation staff -- as if, in the words of one of my great professional partners, you can save yourself into prosperity. It just doesn't happen that way. Often the lay leaders taking these Draconian steps have little if any knowledge of or appreciation for the lay professional partnership that has always...always...propelled our federation system forward. If we had a JFNA capable of impacting on federations, if there were a JFNA with the institutional history and a command of the subject matter, federation lay leaders might have options to consider with their professionals.
And, of course, there was no public discussion of any of this at the GA.

We have lost our way. There is the malaise of indifference lying like a thick fog over JFNA. Jerry Silverman can only do so much; our indifference will destroy the system we've built. Certainly the current JFNA lay leadership "cares:" its what it cares about that is bringing JFNA down.


Monday, November 15, 2010


When I Posted "VICTORY" -- A CORRECTION in the wake of Kathy Manning's ridiculous and uninformed announcement that "...the Jewish Federations of North America helped secure an important victory for the Jewish People..." in "winning" a six month moratorium in the Knesset consideration of the pending Conversion Bill, I did so having already read the articles in the Israeli press suggesting that the Bill's "sponsors" weren't going to abide the deal they made. The Board Chair could have done the same thing -- or, at the least, she could have consulted with JFNA-Israel or JAFI and learned what was already roiling in Jerusalem. She might have consulted with her President and CEO. But, no -- Manning was hell bent on claiming to JFNA the "victory" that was already proved to be ephemeral. The press release was not just ill-timed, it was wrong.

And the beat goes on. As JFNA's senior professionals visit federations, one of their short list of "collective achievements," proudly parroted, is that JFNA "stopped the Conversion Bill cold." Huh? And Jerry Silverman's energetic defense of Jewish unity and Peoplehood in the face of the destructive proposwed legislation elevated him to one of the Forward 50.

I guess this was a summer of euphoria. Since -- well, not so much. The Israeli Chief Rabbi accused Diaspora Jews of "coercing" the Government of Israel. The Sephardi Chief Rabbi attacked everyone opposed to the Bil but saved his special invective for the Reform and Conservative Rabbinate. Interior Ministry functionaries began harassing Israeli Jews demanding up to 4 generations of "proof" of matriarchal Jewish lineage to get a marriage license. The main sponsor of the legislation, MK David Rotem treated critics of the legislation to special public contempt. Gal Beckerman reported on August 13, in the Forward that "...Shas and UTJ refuse to cooperate in any way with any change to the Bill." Then, appalling in its content and portent, conversions conducted by the Orthodox Army Rabbinate have been retroactively annulled by the actions of the Attorney General. And, our advocacy is in hibernation while haredi leaders are telling us to "...just shut up, it's none of your business."

And it's worse -- the Haredi Rabbinate has announced (Ha'aretz, October 22, 2010) that it is essentially holding the conversion of 1,000's of soldiers in the IDF converted under Orthodox Raabbinate authority hostage to the passage of the Rotem Conversion Bill. It's ugly. And, we're silent.

Jewish Agency Executive Chair, Natan Sharansky, was delegated the responsibility to lead negotiations on the Bill's terms. At that time, JFNA, our organization you remember, backed away from the fray. Until an op-ed in JTA on September 8, penned by Jerry Silverman, JFNA was noticeably absent from the on-going pubic discussion leaving that to Sharansky and the heads of the Reform and Conservative Movements and those in favor of this very threatening legislation. In the meantime, JFNA would periodically distribute Briefings summarizing the work of others,

Unfortunately, Silverman didn't get it quite right. He wrote that "[F]or the first time in Israel's history, the bill would have given the haredi Orthodox-controlled Rabbinate authority over all conversions. It also would have required that all converts, including immigrants from North America accept halacha or Jewish law." What I am certain Jerry wished to add at the end was this "...halacha or Jewish law as interpreted by that very Rabbinate and only them."

And while the accusations fly from the ultra-Orthodox unabated, Jerry nicely expressed our "hope" that "...all parties will seek to avoid negative and hurtful rhetoric...building a table of dialogue around which we can all come together..." Uh, huh. Do we have a clue how to negotiate? And, anyway, JFNA is doing nothing for six months...that's Natan Sharansky's job. Got it?

Wrong, as well, of course, was JFNA's conclusion that with the declared six month moratorium, it could merely "sit back and await outcomes." I and others have been urging that JFNA get recognized lay and professional leaders to Israel for meetings with relevant Knesset members and Israeli thought leaders in a planful manner during this time -- men and women who would be fully versed in the consequences to the Diaspora-Israel relations if this legislation passes. I wrote my belief that a playbook can be found somewhere in the bowels of JFNA from "the last time." Nope, not with these leaders -- they have rewritten the book inserting a chapter on "sitting back and waiting" following a declaration of "victory."

What folly.


Friday, November 12, 2010


I have spent many thousands of words over these past two years criticizing, in what I hope has been most often a constructive way (even as I have been criticized, often chastised for criticizing at all) leaders of our system. But, as some of you have noted, while I may have done so as an aside, I haven't defined "leadership" from my perspective. As one who has been so fortunate to have had the chance to work with some of the greatest lay leaders in our communal life and history -- among them, Max Fisher, z'l, Shoshana Cardin, Marvin Lender, Corky Goodman, Richie Pearlstone, Morris Abram, Carole Solomon, Irwin Levy -- and rubbed shoulders with so very many, including so many of my "readers" -- I sense that leaders and leadership are self-defining, like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography, something elusive but you know it when you see it and experience it.

Let me try and define leadership for you from my perspective and experience. Any of you who wish to offer your own definitions, please offer your definition. First, to me, leadership is building an inclusive group of men and women who share the sense of vision and mission of the organization itself and are anxious to do important leadership work. If a hair tries to do all things herself, those who are totally capable of taking on and executing tasks will defer -- and the organization is the less for it.


With the GA now over, a couple of strange factoids, none of which should detract from the warm feelings you may have had from being there:

~ First, an APOLOGY. I had written that in its second year Heroes, now, apparently, another one of those wholly-owned JFNA subsidiaries, had failed to honor not only any women but any federation leaders. Several of you wrote me to correct the record. An exceptional Atlanta leader and significant donor, Dr. Steven
Kutner was honored as one of the Heroes. I was thrown off by the reality that Steven was not identified for his federation work at all in the Heroes promotions. My apologies.

~ On the cusp of the New Orleans event, JFNA, at its hyperbolic best/worst, announced that there would be 3,000 "attendees" would flood the GA and 1,100 women would attend the ILOJE -- a total of 4,100?!! No mention of the overlap of GA/LOJE registrants. I know there were a lot of folks there and I hope that 4,100 registered for the General Assembly (does that include the 700 Hillel students?) and that the event was SRO. For some reason...I doubt it. Would transparency and truth-telling be a bad thing?

~ Then, there was this -- Ari Teman (raise your hands if you know who Ari is -- OK hand down) -- the 2009 JFNA "Hero of the Year" and the "Founder of JCorps," using the proprietary "" website sent a "Hi, Jews" message inviting all Jews to a November 18 "immersive event" (you think they/he meant "impressive?" -- your choice.) in Times Square bringing together all kinds of innovators and philanthropists, authors and others for the "event" and a "bonus day" at Columbia. Among those presenting will be JFNA's Adam Smolyar identified with a "(!)." So as a "Hero of the Year," apparently you get cash and a mailing list. "Hi, Jews!!!"

~ Several of you wrote in response to my pre-GA Post citing The Fundermentalist's (JTA's Jacob Berkman) opening report on the GA that he was excluded from the pre-GA JFNA Golf Outing (somehow I can't picture Jacob as a golfer but, then again...) as it was for "Donors Only" while the JFNA leaders cancelled the Shabbaton. Get this straight and it tells you quite a bit -- Golf Outing on; Shabbaton off.

~ At the onset of the Board meeting at the GA, the Chair announced that 100 federations were representated -- that's of 157 federations. Is anyone concerned or is it good that 2/3rds of the federations were there?

~ Finally, a little more on #ish. You recall that at its onset, JFNA created some "webisodes" -- little You Tube type videos "starring" D-list albeit generous personalities. I thought about this while watching a Judd Apatow production of a tribute to AJWS starring, among others, Ben Stiller, Sara Silverman, Patrick Stewart (exceptional), Tracy Morgan, Kiefer Sutherland, Brian Williams, Susan Sarandon, and so on. See how it might have been done at not that #ish would be anything other than the piece of ish it is.


Thursday, November 11, 2010


Many of you, lay and professional leaders alike, have written me offline to report on your sense of the New Orleans GA -- filled with ruach (in part generated by the subsidized Hillel students), far better "atmospherics," excellent programs on the Iran threat and the threats posed by the BDS bunch, otherwise unfocused on the issues confronting federations -- you know issues such as FRD and lay and professional leadership development. Almost everyone had a great time -- it was New Orleans after all and several commented on the fact that the field day in New Orleans merely replicated what they do in their own communities.

So why the mixed bag and why the lack of any real focus? Well, just look at the lack of any real federation focus at JFNA. Trying to be all things to all people just hasn't worked; it's time to focus. But, I am told that the "planning" for this GA was even more "centralized" in the hands of the Board Chair and the CEO. And, really, with all due respect, does the Board Chair know what is happening in the federations -- from largest to smallest? And, if you don't know, how do you plan a program that responds to the federations needs and wants? Simple -- you can't.

And, friends, if this great annual event can't become and remain relevant, how can JFNA? It's wonderful to have an annual Jewish party (or, maybe, multiple Jewish parties over the course of a year) but that's just not enough. I remember twenty years ago when one of the best of professional partners, Norbert Fruehauf, then the Director of the CJF Planning Department scolded me in one of our many conversations: "Richard, all UJA has become is a party planner." I was cut to the quick but I took Norbert's admonition to heart. When I was fortunate enough to become UJA National Campaign Chair a short time later, I insisted that the UJA return to basics -- financial resource and community development. We did a pretty good job. Today, with leaders who, in Jerry's case, are learning our system and in case of the lay leaders seem to be focused on their own agendas, where is the focus? What does JFNA stand for? It's not enough to leave New Orleans with an "at least it was fun and we had some great meals."

But, there you are.


Monday, November 8, 2010


The GA from a distance...

~ Protesters added excitement to the GA on Monday. Five protesters identified as from some alleged Peace organization, but, in reality, they were of us and from us, rose up, one by one, to disrupt Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech, protesting the "Loyalty Oath" legislation in Israel. Each was quickly hustled off by security until the last, a woman, who was dragged to the floor by a purported member of the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet from San Antonio. Gosh, in the halcyon days of yore, the YLC was dedicated to raising money.

The Prime Minister, of course, was non-plussed, he's heard worse, but in an organization dedicated to no dissent, even to its suppression, the last of these protesters was dragged to the floor. Somehow this is consistent with the culture that we have created. At one and the same time, protest, usually in a more mild form, has been part of many General Assemblies. We should all be reminded that as some patronize and pander to the younger generations, these are men and women of substance and knowledge who reject the "kisses" being blown at them in a constant stream from JFNA's leaders. Oh, well.

~ I heard the Philanthropic Resources Chair (nee National Campaign Chair) plug Tribefest totally devoid of any substance whatsoever. This has been JFNA's consistent practice. Link to the JFNA's promo for Tribefest -- a guy in a suit in a hot tub inviting you, if you're young enough, to "come to the desert." Luckily for them, the promoters of this embarrassment have no sense of shame. There are probably a bunch of dedicated folk walking the hallways in New Orleans with big Tribefest buttons on and if you ask them "what's Tribefest" they will answer "join us at the party." Ask them what's going to be on the agenda and they will roll their eyes and walk away...because they don't have a clue.

~ Then there is the revised Fair Share Dues Resolution. Presented with basically a two sentence desultory "summary" by the currently ubiquitous Steven Silverman (as Financial Relations Committee Chair) and, as usual, no questions from those gathered for the meeting, some substantive highlights were left out. For example: the amendment adds the potential for a "payment plan" from a federation under-paying its Dues (although this had been possible for years, JFNA has now codified a practice in which it has been engaged since the consideration of "hardship" has been side-tracked); curiously, as written, constituency membership (Women's Philanthropy, YLC) will no longer be terminated for those from federations whose membership terminates -- only the subsidies will be taken away for, e.g., missions or events (this was clearly the application of the Law of Unintended Consequences -- for it will be far easier to terminate membership of a federation in default if membership in the constituencies can continue for those participating); and then there is the futility of terminating membership eligibility on the JAFI Board and Committees for leaders from a terminated federation -- failing to understand that with the JAFI Governance changes enacted last year, JAFI will choose its own Board members going forward and may or may not accept UIA/JFNA recommendations.

~ On a "lighter" note, the use of the word "robust" needs to be exorcised from the JFNA leaders' lexicon. Never has there been a word as abused as has been "robust" -- all of us will accept that everything at JFNA is "robust." Let that be the end of it (though I doubt it).

I guess you just had to be there.