Saturday, January 30, 2010


I have learned to my dismay that more and more of our system's donors have chosen to "invest" in Madoff-like Ponzi schemes. Whether in south-east Florida or in the Boston area, schemers have made off with additional tens of millions leaving the "investors" not only unable to make pledges, but in many instances, to be unable to pay them. I was speaking to one of my closest friends about what appears to be our predisposition to seek get rich quick schemes and ignore the maxim "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." I came up with following idea.

I will place an add in, let's say, the Sun-Sentinel, that will read as follows:


This is a once in a lifetime (ok, maybe for some the third chance in your lifetime) opportunity.

Ponzi schemer seeking 200 investors willing to invest $1,000,000 each. You will receive statements showing a 12% monthly return on your investment with me. Your monthly statement will provide details on stocks not purchased for your account, real estate investments that I haven't made for you and viatical settlements on insurance policies that I have not purchased on your behalf.


Are you going to let this opportunity to make a 12% monthly return slip through your fingers? Don't you want to tell your friends and neighbors that you have made an investment with a 12% monthly return and they haven't? Send your check in the amount of $1,000,000 made payable to me today at: Richard L Wexler Retirement Fund, P.O. Box 2010, Palm Beach, Florida. I promise you you will never see this money again. And, remember:


Be the first in and assure yourself of this guaranteed return. Our technicians are already preparing your phony monthly statements, your phantom income, all of which you can show your friends and families. For every million dollar check you produce from others, you will receive a bonus of $200,000 that will be deposited in your non-existent account. This is your chance for incredible paper wealth...don't blow it.


After this ad runs, I know that tens of checks will flow in. How could they not?
Our people know a "deal" when they read one, and I will be a rich man.


Thursday, January 28, 2010


Many Federation leaders received the following letter from JDC's "Executive Director -- Strategic Development" (clue -- that's an elaborate cover for...."fund raiser") a few days ago:

As you may know, the Jewish Agency Board of Governors (BOG) meetings will be
held in St. Petersburg, Russia a month from now. For those persons who may
be attending from your community and are interested in participating, JDC,
in cooperation with Jewish Federations of North America, is organizing home
visits to elderly and children clients, as well as an in-depth tour of the
YESOD Jewish Center (including Hesed Avraham) - all following the BOG
meetings, starting on Tuesday, February 23 at 2:00 pm and continuing on
Wednesday, February 24.

Please reply at your earliest convenience to let me know if you and/or
others from _________ are going to attend the BOG, and wish to take
advantage of this additional opportunity in St. Petersburg.

Best wishes and Shabbat Shalom!

Michael L. Novick
Executive Director - Strategic Development
American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee

It is no coincidence, I am certain, that Michael's note arrived the day after JDC leaders met with JAFI and leaders of JFNA in New York to again discuss, among other things, working more closely together. Let's discuss, shall we, what could be the possible purpose of such an "additional opportunity" being afforded those who attend the Jewish Agency Board meetings in St. Petersburg:

1. I (and every other who has ever done so) will never forget delivering a Chesed food package to an elderly Jew in the FSU. I will never forget the hovel I visited in 1996, the dignity of the elderly couple living there, the care with which the wife cared for her disabled husband. It was a seminal moment that we shared and it led to a deeper commitment to community and People. And, we raised a great deal of money out of those visits for our campaigns.

2. But, what would be the purpose of such a visit absent as fund raising component today. What would our friends at the Joint wish to exploit from such a visit in 2010? That the food needs today are the same or greater than fifteen years ago? That the Joint relationships to the Chesed societies are the same or greater than fifteen years ago?

3. And what will JFNA's leaders, who have apparently already committed to these visits, draw from them? From this one visit, a broad conclusion as to needs across Russia and the FSU? I doubt it. Other than the empathy we have all experienced and will experience again, will these visits prove that the "needs" articulated by the Joint for $30 million for purposes for which they have provided no details, somehow be proved? If that's what the Joint believes, I think they believe Federations and JFNA leaders to be naive beyond belief.

Back in the day, on national Missions that were structured to showcase the brilliant work on the ground of both JDC and JAFI, it was not unusual to see Mission participants picked up by Joint staff with no prior notice to the Mission, sweep up several Mission participants from the midst of carefully thought through Mission programming, to "expose them" to a Joint program with an air of exclusivity. I guess the current Executive Director--Strategic Development believes that what worked then will work now. Maybe he's right. The chutzpah of the past becomes the chutzpah of the present. And, sadly, JFNA is right there with 'em.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010


1. Some of my correspondents have been particularly observant of late:

One noted that in my litany of anticipated "miracles" from Jerry Silverman, I omitted "walking on water." Well, he is already doing that -- just don't fall off that log m'boy.

Another wrote me suggesting that "the Jewish Federations of North America no longer exist, so why keep writing about it." Yes, but...hope springs eternal that some event, some audacity, some boldness, will lead JFNA to real relevancy. Will it be soon enough?

2. Will the day ever come, even in this era where lip service is given to "greater transparency" where our Federation Boards are provided ample opportunity to debate issues to come before the Jewish Federations of North America Board prior to Board meetings, retreats, etc.? Is this too much to ask? Federations debating proposed national policies in advance would empower their representatives at JFNA to speak to their federation position on the issues, with a real "idea exchange" at the national level. Perhaps, please G-d, this would even drive consensus towards the collective enterprise to which we are all, on the surface, committed. Do you want The Jewish Federations of North America to be bottom-up, participatory driven or to remain top (that tiny slice of leadership balanced at the very point of the triangle) down? Will our leaders ever focus on the disappointing lay attendance at meetings such as that just concluded in Dallas, or the "all important" FLI one year ago, etc., etc., etc. and what that lack of lay participation portends for the organization and its leaders' hopes and dreams? Doesn't look like it.

3. I, along with you, felt incredible, unbelievable pride when, in the aftermath of the horrific tragedy that was the Haiti earthquake, Israel sent 200 emergency care workers to Haiti and Israel's Shaare Tzedek Hospital immediately dispatched a team to set up an emergency field hospital. Do you think the day will come when after a parallel tragedy in Israel (G-d forbid) Arab nations (or for that matter European countries) will dispatch aid or even words of comfort? Rhetorical question? Our everlasting debt to the State of Israel increases.

4. GA'10 has been moved to New Orleans. The JTA milked this story as if it were the "scoop" of the millennium. It wasn't. But there is a story there -- "beyond the headlines." Many of us will remember that the major reason given for not canceling the annual GA to make it an every other year event was "we have non-cancellable contracts with major penalties that kick in if we cancel." But, now we can cancel 10 months in advance, no problem, from a Disney venue to New Orleans. Was Disney given notice? Is there a penalty? In its Briefing on the subject the reason given for the switch -- an inability to accommodate the Lion of Judah Conference back-to-back with the GA in Orlando -- something that could be done in N.O. Eh, not so fast. In reality no City other than Las Vegas has more available hotel rooms than Orlando. Could the real reason be that the JFNA NWP just didn't want to meet in Orlando? Just asking. New Orleans is a perfect venue given JFNA's work there during Kristina and since but just tell us the real reasons for the switch and the cost. OK?


Monday, January 25, 2010


Another meeting -- this one in Dallas -- with a new set of lay and professional leaders. But little seems to have changed...and, yet, so much has.

Let's get caught up: In advance of the meetings (barely) which began last night, JFNA (and this leadership is now using the previously proscribed initials) distributed brief papers on the "five areas of focus" for discussion today. Some are terribly brief, but in them are the kernels of ideas of a meaningful organization Those dealing with the "power of the collective" reduce the critical concept to minimal programs (a "Survivors Campaign," "convening by region"?); but, focusing on real programs to attempt to attract the next generation is a national organization trying to be just that. The most telling paper, with some meat on the bones, is that dedicated to "Israel and Overseas Advocacy and Engagement" -- it is about time. I am excited by the possibilities.

Multiple informants from the scene have advised that the meetings began with an incredible academic speech on philanthropy by one with no connection to or apparent understanding of the federation system. I am told that many walked out in disgust, others sat in amazement. Then a Panel on which sat a Large City Federation Exec who joined the system but weeks ago but still has sufficient experience in those few weeks to criticize and debase the "product" offering succor to those in the audience who have given up on the federation concept. How sad.

Then, there are those Committee, Work Group, Task Force meetings. We'll report on the Budget and Finance Committee "revelations" in the days ahead.


Friday, January 22, 2010


We are all familiar with the ancient bromide: "If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?" Now, move some words around, substitute a few and here's what I come up with: "If The Jewish Federations of North America is never heard from, does it exist?"

While JFNA leaders remain silent, the multiple crises facing the federation owners are exploding all around them. Trust me, organizationally, this is a truly dangerous time for the national organization to be on the sidelines. We have written before of the need for JFNA to score some "victories" beyond its Washington Office -- communicated this directly to the Federations' lay and professional leaders and on these pages. They know this to be true but must be focused elsewhere. I understand that some of these leaders believe that "secrecy" (some often use the word "confidentiality" but they seem to misunderstand the two concepts) is more important than transparency. Why? Don't ask.

Thus, before the GA, before both the CEO and Board Chair being "sworn in." these leaders refused requests for interviews from the Jewish press. Since those November days, what have you really heard from JFNA? Are all of The Jewish Federations of North America's eggs being placed in the basket of Silverman's "five areas of focus;" in the internal professional "Work Groups" tasked with producing recommendations in these areas apparently to be sprung on such of the federations as may be in Dallas on the 24th to 26th? Has this "confidentiality" been ordered by lay leaders who felt "burned" by the prior release (although only by a few days) of information (or, as some of them would characterize it, "misinformation") one year ago, in advance of the so-called "Federation Leadership Institute?" Do they never learn that free and open debate requires the free flow of information? (I know, I know, that she or he who controls information controls the debate; but is that appropriate in an organization owned by and funded by the federations?)

Suffice it to say that as federations begin to once again debate the value and cost of JFNA membership, the "sounds of silence" fail to serve the interests of the organization or its leaders. My suggestion: act boldly and share a little.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010


In an otherwise fascinating article in The New York Times Sunday Magazine on January 3, What's A Bailed Out Banker Worth?, the author reflected on various methods for controlling what appears to a vast majority of North Americans as excess compensation for corporate executives. I found the analysis that Yale Law School's Jonathan Macey offered: it is the corporate board that is the only sure path to real change: "It's not that people in charge don't know how. It's that they don't want to."

Macey hit the nail squarely on its head. More and more, in our system, the one we built and the one we must now rebuild, we find Federation and national agency and JFNA Board members who have abdicated their fiduciary responsibilities to the few. Their attitude seems to be that community and national Board service is nothing more than an honorarium -- they will "leave it to others" in whom they have, if not absolute, relative confidence. Leave it to the few to read the background papers, to understand the Budgets, to resolve the controversies. Put a Motion or Resolution in front of them and ... "no questions? Let's vote." When asked for "trust," they give it without even a moment's thought on the implications.

I wrote about an unnamed community several weeks ago (actually a composite of several) only to learn that debate in one of those federations on at least one critical communal issue, if not more, has been more thorough and involving than in so many others -- even with all of the other issues there, on matters of substance, debate has been thorough and the issues transparent. Yet, whether it be the JFNA or the Alliance or so many federations, there is an attitude that "what happens behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors."

One of my friends recently bemoaned what she perceived to be the continuing "army of one (or, now maybe two)" at The Jewish Federations of North America. "How do we constantly allow this to happen," she asked. It's the seminal question of the day.

Friends, our system is at best in disarray in so many venues. To too many this has meant that the era of the "federation as central address" is over; that we can't debate the meaning of "the collective" in 2010, until we debate the value of our institutions. While I believe the nattering nabobs of negativism are wrong, I hear no national response...other than to close the doors and their ears to any criticism or to any suggestions for change. And, so goes the newest chapter in this continuing saga. Few of you have probably heard (or remember) the great song Wake Up Everybody by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes of yesteryear. It has some great lyrics the most relevant being the chorus: The world won't get no better...if we just let it be... The world won't get no better...if we just let it be. Just simple truths, my friends.


Monday, January 18, 2010


In November 2005, Sonny Plant, z'l, concluded his leadership of a study of ONAD. The Report issued over Sonny's name has been discussed in many venues and its topic will be before the so-called JFNA "Split" Work Group at its meeting with JAFI and JDC this week. Hopefully the members of this Work Group have been given this Report -- if not I provide it as a "public service" because, in truth, its conclusions "findings, principles and recommendations" have been ratified in their totality by the sorry history since the Report issued.



Morton B. Plant, Chair

November 10, 2005


The ONAD process was established in 1999 as part of the establishment of United Jewish Communities. Its charge, function, and structure were set in some detail in the Documents for NEWCO. Among the stipulations was a review of the ONAD process after three rounds of its existence.

In 2004, Morton B. Plant was asked to chair this review. Critical steps in the review have included (a) extended sessions with five focus groups, (b) a number of discussions (formal and informal) among leaders of UJC, JAFI and JDC, (c) periodic reports to UJC governance structures, and (d) reports to groups of federation leaders. Out of these exchanges, a set of principles and recommendations has emerged. The purpose of this paper is to present these. The UJC Executive Committee reviewed this paper at its meeting of September 11, and will continue to play this function until final action by the UJC Board of Trustees. As duly constituted governance entities representing UJC/Federation leadership, the Executive Committee and Board are the appropriate structures for such an important process.

The term of the principles and recommendations contained in this paper is for the two years from July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2008.

Findings and Principles

Based on six years of experience with the ONAD process, the following findings and principles are particularly salient:

Role of UJC

 UJC is owned by and accountable solely to the federations. Accordingly, its perspective must be global in scope, with full recognition of the local, domestic, national, continental and worldwide nature of the needs of the Jewish people. In its work with the overseas agenda and overseas entities, UJC represents the federation movement. UJC is obligated to advocate for the interest and views of the federations vis-à-vis JAFI and JDC.

 A primary goal of the federations’ and UJC’s overseas work is to maximize our collective effectiveness in caring for the vulnerable, deepening Jewish identity, and building our relationship with the people of Israel. To advance these goals, UJC and the federations have longstanding partnerships with JAFI, JDC, and, to a more limited extent, ORT. These partnerships are of cornerstone importance. UJC and the federations deeply value this partnership and should promote our mutual interests.

 UJC's parent organizations – CJF, UJA and UIA – had different roles and responsibilities. CJF was responsible to the federations, and UJA was responsible to JAFI (through UIA) and JDC. As part of the establishment of UJC, JAFI and JDC ceded control of UJA to the federations and UJC assumed the role of representing global Jewish needs and responsibilities. A critical role of UJC is to advocate for all Jewish needs. As a national organization, UJC is inherently and uniquely well positioned to engage in advocacy for overseas needs and otherwise assist federations to deepen their commitment to them.

 The ONAD process was successful in a number of important ways. It increased the understanding of key federation leaders regarding overseas needs and issues; it deepened their commitment to responding constructively to these needs; and it provided a meaningful accountability structure. Any future process should continue and augment these assets.

 The collective core allocations to JAFI and JDC have been steadily decreasing for more than a decade. The ONAD Committee was accordingly unwilling to change the allocation of the collective core between JAFI and JDC. Until the collective core allocation increases, it is unrealistic for the federation movement to determine the uses of the current level of the collective core. On the other hand, it is critical that representative federations have a meaningful dialogue, including a full exchange of views, with JAFI and JDC regarding the uses of the collective core. Moreover, it is appropriate for the federation movement and individual federations to determine the uses of other funds (including community electives and fundraising initiatives).

 UJC's roles should be to (a) advocate and educate federations regarding overseas needs and services, (b) raise or help federations, in collaboration with JAFI, and JDC, to raise more funds for high-priority uses, one of the most compelling and urgent of which is overseas needs, (c) provide to federations information, consultation and a forum for coalescing their input and deepening their understanding and commitment, (d) in collaboration with the overseas providers, develop an understanding of the needs and strategic directions, (e) advocate for sustained annual campaign allocations and help shape and promote initiatives to attract additional funding for high impact efforts in the overseas arena, (f) identify high-priority uses for directed funds, develop strategies and specific products for federations and (g) through the above, create a new reality within the overseas agenda. JAFI and JDC should take appropriate roles in the relevant UJC structures and activities.

Minimum Overseas Allocation and Compliance

 Federation funding for overseas needs has decreased both in actual dollar terms and as a percentage of the annual campaign. It should be noted that the rate of decrease was significantly less in the five years following the establishment of the UJC (the ONAD period) than in the five years preceding – even without taking into account the Israel Emergency Campaign.

 Nevertheless, since 2001, the core provided by federations went down by a bit more than 4.5% -- even though the annual campaign is up 4% since 2000. This is despite the fact that overseas needs are as compelling as ever. With increasing poverty in Israel and continuing needs (both social welfare and Jewish identity) in the Former Soviet Union and elsewhere in the Jewish world, this is the time to increase resources, and particularly the collective core.

 During the ONAD period, most of the decrease in the core was due to the allocations decisions of a small number of federations. In general, there is a very large variance in the percentage of gross campaign allocated overseas by federations. Including fair share, this variance – just for the large and large intermediate federations – ranges from 17% to 43%. This wide variance of support means that some federations are shouldering disproportionate shares of the system’s collective responsibility to overseas needs. Each federation has the right to expect other federations to be faithful to the reciprocal obligations that bind us together.

 The federation system is a voluntary system. UJC and, prior to the merger, UJA have been unable to enforce a system wide voluntary standard regarding the overseas allocation. Leadership bears the responsibility for facing such realities squarely.

 In this context, this proposal should be submitted to the appropriate UJC body for determination as to whether the request of federations should be binding.

Collective Core Funding, Community Elective Funding, and Fundraising Initiatives

 The annual campaign for unrestricted dollars is at the essence of the federation system - both as an expression of community and as its lifeblood. The campaign is and remains the most critical resource for the Federation-UJC partnership with JAFI and JDC, enabling them to meet these needs.

 Collective and undesignated organizational support (provided primarily through the campaign) is vital for the system's ability to achieve its aspirations. Just as every federation and UJC depend on undesignated core funds to assure basic operational support, so do JAFI and JDC. The core should remain the fundamental allocation to JAFI and JDC. It is of critical importance to JAFI and JDC's ability to provide effective services to those in need. If electives become the sole means of support, day-to-day operations would not be sustainable.

 Experience has proven that it is extraordinarily difficult to change the uses of the current collective core through public decision-making processes, because they tend to polarize positions and engender conflict. For a consensus-driven system, polarization and conflict do not lead to resolution.

 In contrast, it is much more feasible for federations (acting individually and collectively through UJC) to develop strategic directions with regard to new funds. In many federations, community electives have engendered strong commitment, expressed both in funding and community building.

 Many donors - both individuals and federations - have the capacity to provide resources beyond what they are willing to provide in unrestricted annual campaign gifts and community "ONAD" allocations.

Special Fundraising Initiatives

 Directed giving is an important and largely untapped potential strategy for increasing resources. “Topped-out" or even uncommitted potential donors may be likely to fund clearly defined projects than undesignated support.

 Special fundraising initiatives, approved by the UJC Board, are accordingly a critical facet of UJC's funding strategy. In close coordination with federations, UJC has developed the structure and strategy for such an effort, including direct fundraising, and is committed to moving forward in close collaboration with JAFI, JDC, ORT and the ENP to increase funding.

 It is critically important that UJC, in close collaboration with JAFI and JDC, develop a select set of clear and compelling projects for special fundraising as a means of increasing overseas support, without compromising the critical nature of the collective core. The high priorities for fundraising initiatives approved by the UJC Board include absorbing Ethiopian Jews, caring for Jewish elderly in the FSU and fostering Jewish identity in the FSU and elsewhere in the Jewish world, and other possible overseas concerns (for example, the anti-poverty agenda in Israel and the development of the Negev and Galil). Operation Promise is an example of this approach. UJC, JAFI and JDC may want to consider the development of a special, interagency approach to advancing this goal.

 There have been too many conflicts within the system, impeding its ability to achieve shared goals. A new partnership of collaborative fundraising among and between UJC, JAFI and JDC should lead to more receptivity on the part of federations and donors.

JAFI, JDC, ORT and ENP as System’s Sole Providers

 Because of the system's historic and continuing commitment and partnership with these organizations, no other organization or entity should be eligible for funds at the initiative of UJC unless it is to or through one of the above organizations and entities.


The following are key points reflecting the proposed system for raising and allocating overseas funds for two years, beginning on July 1, 2006 (when the current ONAD resolution expires) through June 30, 2008.

Basic Request

 At this time of compelling overseas needs, all federations should increase their level of their ONAD allocation.

 In particular, those federations currently providing a below median percentage of their allocation should develop and implement a clear plan for reaching the median. That plan should include increases in the core allocation, the overall ONAD allocation, and special fundraising initiatives. This plan could be the basis of a dialogue between each such federation and the system (taking the form of an appropriate entity within UJC). Such a dialogue should take into account the totality of relevant factors, including the history of the federation, the community’s nature as an emerging, stable or declining community, and any special problems.


 In appointing individuals to leadership positions within UJC’s overseas structures, preference shall be given to individuals from federations meeting the request set forth in this resolution.

 UJC should consider reassessing its overall policy regarding collective responsibility, including consequences for those federations not meeting such requests.

 This proposal should be submitted early in 2006 to the appropriate UJC body for a vote on its binding nature. If approved, the request will be deemed binding, with the possibility of sanctions (including expulsion) for federations that do not comply.

Collective Core and Community Elective Funding

 The amount of collective core funding should continue at the minimum of the current level. All federations should be encouraged to provide as much to the collective core out of their increasing overseas allocations as they can. Federations providing overseas allocations (as a percentage of their gross campaign) at a level above the median will, however, have the option of using any overseas funding over and above their current year’s allocation as electives. For those federations providing overseas allocations at a level below the median, any overseas funding over and above their current year’s allocation should be divided between the collective core and community electives at a ratio of at least 2:1. In other words, at least two thirds of their increased overseas allocations should be for the core, and one third available as electives.

 UJC, working with JAFI, JDC and ORT, should seek to improve its effectiveness in explaining to federations the uses of core funds. In that connection, JAFI, JDC and ORT should provide UJC a detailed schedule presenting the uses of core funds.

 JDC and JAFI will negotiate de novo, without preconditions, a new agreement concerning the distribution of core funds between the two organizations for the two years covered by this resolution, July 1, 2006 to June 30, 2008.

 If no agreement is reached by February 1, 2006, UJC will nominate an individual to serve as a mediator, JAFI will nominate an individual to serve as a mediator, and JDC will nominate an individual to serve as a mediator. The parties will continue to negotiate with the help of the mediators until an acceptable agreement is reached. The UJC mediator will be accountable to the UJC Board.

 It is also important for there to be an appropriate context for senior UJC and Federation leadership to reflect on the JAFI/JDC proposal prior to consideration by the UJC Board. The group should consist of the chief lay and professional officers of the federations with the two largest campaigns and of those federations chairing each of the four city sizes. The precise location of this group participation within the UJC structure is yet to be determined.

The group should meet, consult with the leadership of JAFI and JDC as needed, to permit federations to: (a) understand the issues facing JAFI and JDC, (b) understand the thinking behind the JAFI/JDC agreement, (c) raise issues and provide any other input regarding the proposed agreement, and, at the election of the participating federations, (d) develop a recommendation to the UJC Board with regard to the draft agreement.

Nothing in this section should be construed as limiting in any way the access of JAFI and JDC working together to present their agreement as they deem fit directly to the UJC Board.

 The final agreement will be submitted to the UJC Board of Trustees for action, without amendment unless approved by JDC and JAFI. If a majority of the UJC Board votes against the agreement, JDC and JAFI will modify the terms of the agreement and resubmit it to the UJC Board.

NYANA and ORT Core Allocations

 The core allocations to NYANA and ORT are sums certain.

 The core allocation to NYANA has been in decline since the initiative of the ONAD process. Unless there is an increase in the number of refugees, the general expectation is that the NYANA allocation will continue to diminish every year. Specifically, in each of the fiscal years covered by this resolution, the allocation will be cut by $75,000 – to $1,425,000 in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2006 and to $1,350,000 in the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2007.

 The core allocation to ORT will continue to be $3,606,000 for each of the two years covered by this resolution.

JAFI, JDC, ORT and ENP as Sole Beneficiaries of ONAD Elective Funds and UJC Board-Approved Initiatives

 JAFI, JDC and the ENP should remain the only entities eligible to receive elective funds. JAFI, JDC, the ENP and ORT should continue to be eligible for elective funds representing new money over the 2004 base year.

 JAFI and JDC are urged to continue and to augment their efforts to collaborate with each other and with other organizations and service providers.

 Funds raised by UJC through initiatives adopted by the UJC Board will be allocated, as in the core and elective, only to or through JAFI, JDC, ORT, and the ENP.

Institutional Notes

 During the two years that these proposed recommendations are in effect, UJC will play the roles outlined in the principles section of this document.

 At the end of the first year of the two-year period, a review process should be reestablished to review experience and consider next steps, if any (both as to process and substance).

During the two-year period, there is no need for the kind of needs assessment or decision making with which the ONAD Committee was charged. There is therefore no need for the ONAD Committee to resume function for the duration of this resolution. However, the Israel and Overseas Pillar will be asked to assess specific needs and, in collaboration with other parts of UJC, develop strategies for meeting them. Moreover, it should take responsibility for helping to deepen the knowledge and understanding of federation leaders (especially the chief lay and professional officers) regarding overseas issues, needs and programs." (emphasis added)

So, what did the then UJC leadership do with the Plant Report? It ignored its entirety. In fact, the lay and professional leaders of The Jewish Federations of North America acted in total disregard of the adopted conclusions of the Plant Report. Because Sonny's Report (adopted by the UJC Board) was at odds with the "narrative" of the UJC "story" as that fiction was being rewritten by the prior leadership, and because Sonny was no longer with us to assert his findings, the Report was shelved and those who reminded UJC's leaders of its existence were shelved as well.

Let's not make the same mistake twice or even three or four times. Read the Plant Report and reflect on what could have been over the past 4-1/2 years and weep for where we are. And, then, learn from our mistakes.


Friday, January 15, 2010


On the cusp of 2010 The Jewish Federations of North America announced a teleconference on Philanthropy in Israel. Two wonderful speakers "...will discuss the new Israeli nonprofit landscape...." Notice of the Teleconference was well-timed -- on December 30, as JFNA was about to let its partners in Israel and Overseas -- JDC and JAFI -- know that core cash allocation shortfalls to them both will be in excess in the aggregate of $30 million, JFNA's Israel Office will act as if nothing is amiss. One must question whether whether there is a total lack of a grasp on reality in the far reaches of The Jewish Federation of North America.
Yes, the organization's work must continue. But, what exactly is that work? "The new Israeli nonprofit landscape" or the reality that our national organization has wholly failed to support our partners in Israel and overseas in any tangible way? Should that support be a constant -- of not only 25 Broadway but in the offices of JFNA-Israel...or does JFNA-Israel operate totally independent of the agenda of The Jewish Federations of North America? We are speaking of an institution out of control...for no reason.

Then, just this past Wednesday, JFNA issued one of its periodic Economic Crisis E-Newsletters. Maybe I just haven't been paying sufficient attention but, as I recall, all of the earlier Crisis E-Newsletters highlighted one or more federations "best practices" in meeting the continuing crisis. Now, for the first time, like an epiphany, JFNA decided to roll out the JDC efforts, in the midst of the crisis to meet the needs of the elderly in the FSU. Was this the national organization's subliminal attempt at allocations advocacy? Was it a gesture to show support for the Joint? Was this to be followed by something more -- like an advocacy plan? Or is this just, shall we say, more of the usual?

All one can say is "you have got to be kidding me." But, they are not.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010


We all remember in the aftermath of the Nigerian terrorist's failed attempt to destroy Northwest Flight 153, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano's now historic rewrite of history -- "the system worked" when, so clearly, "the system" had failed. When The Jewish Federations of North America delivered $103.4 million to JAFI at year-end rather than the projected $100 million, perhaps there were those who echoed Napolitano -- after all, rather than a a 25% reduction in cash from the 2008, it was only a 22% reduction. Congrats all around. And JFNA waited almost two weeks to "trumpet" the results -- why?

Yes, some take solace in the fact that both JAFI and the Joint enjoyed increased designated project funding in 2009 -- in the Agency's case, a 15% increase; for the Joint, 13.3% -- while core was devastated for the second straight year. But those increases were the direct result of JAFI/JDC efforts with the federations -- JFNA only tallied the results. Others will assert that as the aggregate of annual campaigns in 2009 fell by almost $100 million the fact that JAFI/JDC saw allocations reduced by only 22% should be a cause for celebration. Sorry, folks but the percentage reductions suffered by JAFI/JDC were nearly double those suffered in the campaigns just ended (which were down in the aggregate by 12%).

And, please understand that much of the 2009 campaign shortfalls will play out in calendar year 2010 allocations. The Jewish Federations of North America stood on the sidelines in the allocations processes and only urged greater cash in last minute appeals last year. Will the new leadership join the issue in 2010? As I have written, leaving allocations (and, presumably, cash collections) to the Development leadership may give those lay and professional leaders something to do in 2010 -- but only if they truly partner with the Agency and Joint leadership from January 1 forward...and that's just not happened -- yet. Wouldn't it have been far better to have accompanied these sorry results with a statement of JFNA's commitment from this day forward to engage with our partners in a focused cash and allocations advocacy effort? Of course.

So, to all those who believe that "the system worked" -- just how, exactly?


Monday, January 11, 2010


Jerry Silverman has been "on the job" as CEO and President of The Jewish Federations of North America for a little more than 100 days. Probably not enough time for a fair assessment, but when has that held us back? Just as Kathy Manning had hoped, in her role as Nominating Committee Chair, Jerry is clearly more than the right choice -- he is the right person for the this job at this critical time.

Much like President Obama being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Jerry was placed at the top of the list of The Forward 50 back in November more on potential, hope and the promise of change from the disaster that preceded him than on accomplishment. But, in Silverman's case he has already accomplished two things: first, he has swept through the hallways of 25 Broadway like the breath of fresh air that he is -- where before him was secrecy and vendetta, today there is a greater openness and a sincere examination of ideas. Because Silverman came to JFNA without a lifelong understanding of the federations, he has embraced all -- the backslappers and critical commentators alike. He has mastered the difficult art of observing the obvious with an acute sense of discovery on his tours to federations and in his meetings with leaders around the country. Jerry has been to so many places in such a short time that some nights he must awaken with the fear that he doesn't know in which airport hotel he is spending the night. Certainly he is getting a lot of advice both from inside JFNA and without but I have come to learn that Jerry Silverman is his own man -- he will sort through the advice he has been given and will lead us down the paths he has chosen.

When Kathy Manning announced her "goals" in a speech at the GA, at the top of her list was retaining Silverman. Exemplary goal, great choice. Kathy holds her cards closely; she spends a great time in study of the issues, and in preparation. She asks great questions, as is her style, but questions arise as to whether she truly listens to or has any interest in the answers. As lawyers who practice in the legislative or regulatory domain know, reading legislation without a knowledge of the legislative history sometimes results in unrealistic interpretations. Where this will lead us, who knows. For Manning, it has only been just about two months as Board Chair -- too soon to make judgments. Substance must trump form for The Jewish Federations of North America to succeed let alone thrive.

The January JFNA meeting in Dallas will stress Silverman's "five areas of focus." The "power of the collective, positioning for the future, FRD, Israel & Overseas and Talent." If Manning and Silverman can lead the federations in these five areas, JFNA will have established a certain raison d'etre. As we know, however, identifying areas of "focus" absent strong steps toward implementation are just "words." Thus when a "sample initiative" to implement the power of the collective sets forth a goal to "re-energize, excite and engage the Jewish community around collective action (overseas and domestic) to address critical needs of the Jewish people. Develop a system and culture based more on collaboration than compliance," all one can say is "tell me more" or "tell me something I don't already know." Are these areas of focus more about JFNA than the federations and, if so, what is their relevance to the Dues-payers (or non-payers)?

And, so it goes. It is refreshing indeed that core principles will be discussed and, perhaps, even debated.We will surely learn more as the weeks pass until the January meetings. Perhaps, Silverman's power point will be distributed well enough ahead of the meetings that they can be digested by the Board and, even, the federations themselves. Now is the time for our national organization's leaders to take bold steps. The engagement of Jerry Silverman was just such a step...but if that engagement is not followed by others, JFNA will fade from memory as a massive financial drain on our individual federations.

As I have suggested, the Jewish Feds of NA need to build confidence in the institution with small victories. A long journey does "begin with small steps." We are all waiting to see what those steps, small and large, will be under our new leaders. Jerry is still in his first miracle phase. I, for one, can't wait much longer to witness the loaves, the fishes and the multitudes.


Saturday, January 9, 2010


At its December 2009 Executive Committee meeting, The Jewish Federations of North America resolved that annual allocations to ORT America (I guess as distinguished from World ORT or ORT Israel. Don't ask, there isn't time.) continue to be the same level at which it has been frozen while the allocations to JAFI and JDC have been reduced, reduced again and reduced again and reduced again and again. Why? What is the logic? Is this like some local agency that is favored by one or two federation leaders so decisions benefit that agency?

I can almost hear the arguments -- we are observing the "split" decisions embodied in the prior agreements and those agreements provide a fixed dollar allocation to ORT so, what's the problem? OK, let's look at those agreements between JAFI and JDC dating back to 1947. (Yes, I have read them as have a few in leadership of The Jewish Federations of North America. I think the latter are sharing their conclusions not the documents themselves.) They do provide for a fixed sum to ORT (to be paid by JDC out of its allocations) BUT they also provide that in consideration of the fixed grant ORT will not conduct fund raising in the United States except for the solicitation of its own membership. My friends at ORT are actively fund raising in America and the fixed allocation pays for it...we pay for it -- in all ways.

As I have come to understand it, ORT America raises funds which it transmits to World ORT for all of that body's important work (and, apparently, to pay for the litigation that has been on-going with ORT Israel for too many years -- but, who really knows, World ORT's financials appear not to be available. JFNA has no audit of World ORT, never has.). The fixed distributions to ORT were decisions made by that infamous ONAD Committee and ratified by the federations in approving ONAD recommendations. At the end of ONAD's fifth year, ORT, through some inexplicable process, was permitted to raise funds for designated projects from the federations without restrictions or conditions -- and ORT has done so with some success. While JAFI and JDC negotiate the so-called "split," ORT is at the periphery of those negotiations, awaiting the outcome which, presumably, will see ORT's allocation rise (wishful thinking) and fall to the same extent as do JAFI's and JDC's.

So, here we are -- The Jewish Federations of North America leaders support the continuation of the "split" as reflected in the prior agreements between JAFI and JDC until such time as a new agreement is reached (and JFNA has appointed a Work Group to "help") and endorses a fixed multi-million dollar allocation to ORT out of those allocated dollars while ORT fund raises in our midst with the implicit (or is it explicit) endorsement of JFNA. We pay for those who fund raise in competition with us. Does this make any sense at all? And, none of this is ORT's fault -- it is the fault, if that's the word, of a system without discipline

I am almost certain I will be told that I have misstated the facts -- as would any one who has been denied the facts by leaders who hold them so tightly as not to release them. A shame.


Thursday, January 7, 2010


In an apparent "response" to the onslaught of the JDC upon The Jewish Federations of North America or in an attempt to assuage that "partner," JFNA leaders have called together a dormant JAFI/JDC Work Group to meet once again -- and at its initial meeting, to do so sans JDC or JAFI.

This JDC/JAFI 'Split' Work Group is the "external" type of Work Group. In this instance CEOs of various City-size federations and, I assume, some JFNA professionals and federation lay leaders, as well, all well-intentioned, have begun a process with no control over where it may head. Its purpose, one would assume, is to review the agreements reached by the Joint and JAFI. Instead, recent correspondence to JDC suggests that this Work Group has succeeded to the mantle of the discredited ONAD process " chart a path which will lead us (JAFI, JDC and the federations) to an equitable solution..." It appears to this writer that there are still JFNA lay leaders who hearken back to the 2009 Federation Leadership Institutes's prescription for "planning tables" with an invite to JAFI/JDC to participate at the next meeting later this month. Whose Work Group is this? What is this Work Group's charge?

Maybe at the next Work Group meeting John Ruskay will restate that portion of his Tenth Anniversary address dealing with collective responsibility. Maybe the entire Work Group should reread the Plant Report, Sonny Plant's, z'l, study and recommendations at the funeral pyre for ONAD. This Work Group should know that Plant's Committee's conclusion -- "(that) [U]ntil the collective core allocation increases, it is unrealistic for the federation movement to determine the current uses of the current level of the collective core" -- echoed the ONAD Committee's prior recommendation under Alan Jaffe's Chair (prior to Alan resigning to assume the Treasurer's office at JDC). Leaders should never rely on others to report what a document or an agreement (or both) stated or concluded. All should know the context in addition to the written word. This Work Group has a heavy burden and a great opportunity -- it cannot allow itself to become a "mini-ONAD" and it must resolve a potential systemic calamity.

This Work Group will meet on January 20. JAFI and JDC have been "invited." May the meeting be a step toward reconciliation, within the context of the understandings heretofore reached by the Jewish Agency and the Joint.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010


The Holiday season for us is a time, among other things, to hit the local multi-plexes and see the current crop of films. 2009 had a bumper-crop of end-of-the-year releases. I want to recommend to our federation, national and local agency leaders a two hour break from all they are doing to see Invictus. Not the best film -- the cynical, dark yet brilliant Up In the Air takes that prize -- not even Clint Eastwood's best effort (think Gran Torino) as he paints the remarkable Nelson Mandela in Saint-like hues.

Riffing off Mandela's commitment to nation-building and overcoming prejudice through uniting South Africa around its previously divisive national rugby team, the Springboks, the story resonated to me in the main because of how it portrayed Mandela's remarkable examples of leadership -- incisive and intuitive, sensitive and daring, with a remarkable willingness to take risks to fulfill his dreams for his country. One critical scene, where Mandela challenged his constituency face-to-face to change a unanimous decision it had just made -- summed his courage up succinctly and brilliantly. Mandela understood his country, understood his people and acted...acted. With the brilliant Morgan Freeman in the lead and Matt Damon as the team captain, and Eastwood at the helm, this was terrific movie-making.

Invictus has much to teach us; and, G-d knows, we have much to learn.


Monday, January 4, 2010


The New Year's Eve Post on Cash has stimulated not only Comments on the issue itself but an Anonymous riff on the speculated demise of the federation system. Here are the best of these Comments and some observations in response:

Anonymous said...

National cash collection is a reflection of local cash collection. Local cash collection is a reflection of a message of urgency and strong campaign outreach. Strong campaigns are a reflection of clear purposes and priorities and good mechanics. So why are we suprised at the dwindling numbers when feel good volunteer opportunities for millenials are promoted over sustaining core agency services, when an amorphous agenda of "peoplehood" trumps the growing gaps between rich and poor in Israel, when we are more concerned about a 19 year old's free quickie Israel experience than his mom who has lost her job, and when our young professional is schooled in sales, web 2.0 and social network marketing techniques but is clueless on lay-professional partnerships?

Usedtobeimportant said...

Anonymous nails it. And, it's even worse. The demand for the individuality of Federations simply stole the larger than life underpinnings of a true national leadership and, I defy anyone to say that that national leadership was anything but strong and enormously valuable. People like Max Fisher, Bill Berman, Marvin Lender, Shoshana Cardin, Corky Goodman, Richard Wexler, Richie Pearlstone, Carole Solomon, Rani Garfinkle, Jane Sherman, Jon Kolker and so, so many more at UJA, CJF and UIA were pillars of strength in their home Federations and equally committed at the national and international level. It made ALL the difference. And yes, those of us who were their professional partners when the "lay/professional partnership" truly was just that, also owned a passion that did not have to be defined in a Strategic Plan. It was in us when we sought our jobs. National and even international Missions to the Soviet Union and then the FSU and, always, to Israel, were occasions which strengthened our understanding that we were part of something much bigger than ourselves. There wasn't any selfishness; there was an astounding amount of work, real work, done by the lay leaders and they sought very little kovod. My recollection of discussions with leadership through the 90s was that they all saw the continuum of leadership as critical. Something bad has happened to that since the creation of UJC. Maybe it's something today's national (JFNA) leaders ought to think about. They might even consider inviting some of the terrific folks mentioned above back around the table. But most of all, the Federations who insisted that a national organization without a mandate to lead be created, need to take a hard look at what they have wrought. If it isn't fixed it will all continue to deteriorate.

Anonymous said...

A veteran leader from the Midwest was fond of saying that the secret to his power was that he seldom took his gun out of its holster. Whereas an earlier generation of major donors used their influence to promote and at times enforce collective responsibility, a next generation (aging quickly I should add) use their leverage to promote their (and their foundation stafflings) more particular agendas.

Anonymous said...

enough of the chest thumping and self-congrats from these commenters about how great things were in the old days and how uber-effective yesterday's leadership was. quite simply, the gig was FAR easier. anybody who thinks that a few new personalities at the table will make a tangible difference in today's rough and tumble world of enormous charitable competition and ubiquitous, technological connectivity is deluding themselves.

the rules of the game have changed, everyone. still pining for the old-school campaigns and caucuses where checks flew in unsolicited as israel fought for her very existence? well, i hate to break it to you, but they're gone. think that "web 2.0 and social network marketing techniques" are mumbo jumbo and a waste of time? tell that to the nonprofits that are actually GROWING today.

of course there are a few bright spots as well as miniscule pockets of innovation in the system, but for the most part, the jewish federations of north america make last years GM look like google.and i assure you that i take no pleasure in offering this harsh judgement. i know how great the needs are. i support much of the agenda. once upon a time, i proudly raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the system. but sadly, i came to the conclusion that too many of the pros and volunteers were incompetent - well meaning, but incompetent - and many federation execs were worse; they regularly put their own interests ahead of the system's and were absolutely incapable of doing what it took to expand the reach of their organizations.

of course, things will only get worse. the system has basically driven off a demographic cliff. over the last 20 years, the national donor base has steadily become smaller and older - an ominous sign - and all (former) leaders who read (and write) this blog have watched it happen and, as a result, bear some of the responsibility. so, rather than prop up an antiquated, unexceptional, yet endlessly belligerent philanthropic system, i've chosen to allocate my jewish, charitable dollars elsewhere. some unsolicited words of warning to all who are the JFNA: you're not the only horse in town... and much of your competition makes you look positively ready for the glue factory.


Interesting stuff, most of the above at any rate. Some of these writers in their anonymity suggest ways of making a difference -- or at least trying to. The last writer merely writes off the system (after once upon a time "raising hundreds of thousands of dollars" -- how special) that he/she describes as an "...endlessly belligerent philanthropic system." (Whatever that means.) Let's try this: first JFNA must change and become relevant, not to itself and its small group of intrenal supporters but to the federations themselves and their donors. Then, with JFNA's assitance, the federations themselves must take a long, hard look at themselves and commit to implement change to make them more relevant or, if you believe Anonymous above, relevant at all.

One of the best and brightest in our federation world wrote me last week. This is, in pertinent part, what he had to say on this subject:

"...until key power brokers nationally and internationally understand this, we’ll continue to plod along until we close our doors. I know that you and I have had this discussion. Some months ago, Steve Windmueller suggested having a “national conversation” in a great article posted on the internet. That’s exactly what has to happen – we’re having those conversations with our top donors locally. Unless, individuals, Federations and JFNA accept that there is a problem with this system/organization/idea/concept that all of us have loved for dozens of years, there will be no solution. Defining the problem is three quarters of the challenge. We have not yet owned up that there is a problem and continue to accept the status quo. Our business model is broken."

Every reader of this Blog knows how much I agree. This is no time for Work Groups or Strategic Plans. It is past time to reboot and emerge with strength, unity and relevance. Is our leadership capable of this?


Sunday, January 3, 2010


I am not certain that being Executive Editor of Commentary Magazine makes one any more an expert on all things Israel than does being a Blogger. What I am certain of, however, is that Jonathan Tobin, Executive Editor of Commentary, is so dedicated to his right wing vision of the world and, in particular, Israel, that that bias is expressed at least weekly in his columns. One of my friends sends around Tobin's columns as if they are the parsha of the week: they're not.

This was brought to mind by Tobin's most recent attack on the Anti-Defamation League's Report -- Rage Grows in Anti-Government Conspiracies. Any fair reading of the ADL Report yielded the conclusion that it was a warning to us all that inflammatory rhetoric and actions painted by right wingers in our society have created an atmosphere of fanaticism, rage and hatred that threaten to drown out rational debate and could be an incitement of violence against this President and to democratic values and principles. Tobin and his fellow travelers angrily disagree.

Tobin elaborately twists the ADL's conclusions to satisfy his ends. Thus, an ADL opinion that "partisan some conservative politicians and media delegitimize the Obama administration..." is met with a Tobin charge that "...conservatives have attacked Obama on the issues not because they want to overthrow the government but because they disagree with him." Uh huh, the "birthers," those who bring guns to so-called "Town Hall meetings," those who claim "Obama is a racist" and those who carry placards showing Obama in Nazi garb -- they just want to express "disagreement." And Tobin goes on to equate "...mainstream liberal politicians who bashed the Bush Administration" with the kind of invective and incitement of the right. Tobin, like too many others, refuses to condemn that very incitement preferring instead to engage in specious arguments that, at the end of the day, fail in any regard to respond to the findings of the ADL or to condemn those who stand on the right wing with him for their incitement.

Adding to the diatribe, the angry Caroline Glick's similar condemnation of ADL concluding it " strange given that the ADL never put out a report against parallel anti-Bush movements" without any citation to "parallel "facts." And then Chicago attorney Joel Spreyregen, who once, maybe four decades ago, served as an ADL staff counsel, joined the fracas citing unrelated instances of lefties' sarcasm toward Reagan and the Bushes none of which reached the level of hatred or bile we see today. The ADL deserves plaudits.

Only those in denial could believe that incitement to violence is not in the air in America today. Shame on them.