Saturday, February 27, 2010


Spring is in the air...somewhere; time to catch up on a few things:

  • As communities, we seem to be unable to predict that an appearance by an Israeli leader on a college campus, unless well-managed, will result in the irrational, unthinking, ugly protests recently experienced by Israel's Ambassador to the United the University of California Irvine. Have we lost our capacity for managing events? Do we not know what is happening on our campuses -- and, if we know, what is the nature of our investments there?
  • We should be exceptionally proud that as at 12 February the federation system had raised in excess of $4.8 million in the United States and $1.2 million in Canada (which will be matched by the Government of Canada). This collective support is what ennobles us as a continental community. Does it take disasters such as the Haiti earthquakes or Hurricane Katrina to rouse us from our slumber these days?
  • Something that won't make us proud. In this age of austerity and worse for so many, the NYT reported that a New York lawyer -- in fact the lead bond counsel for the new Yankee Stadium financing -- had "reserved the stadium for his son's bar mitzvah this June. Must have lots of friends, huh? The date is now complicated by the scheduling of a pro boxing match there for the same Shabbat... yeah, at leasdt the Yankee Stadium bar mitzvah is on Shabbat. As the Times suggested: "The 30,000 or so fans expected at the bout would possibly not enjoy seeing a montage photos on the scoreboard."
  • We may be cynical in North America, but nothing matches the cynicism of our mishpacha in Israel if a recent poll announced by the ZOA is to be believed. As the ZOA put it so "artfully": "A new poll has shown that an overwhelming proportion of Israelis -- 79% -- believe that the possibility of the Jewish state reaching a peace agreement with the American-backed Palestinian Authority is next to zero" -- culled from something called the Israel National News. Tough to tell from the ZOA press release who conducted the poll, how many Israelis were polled, "risk of error," etc. But, take it for what it is worth.
  • The Jewish Agency moved its February Board of Governors meeting from St. Petersburg, Russia, back to Jerusalem when, literally two weeks prior to the meetings, the Russian Government decided, with no reason set forth, that JAFI would not be permitted to hold the meetings within Russian territory. Somehow, to at least one critic, this was a crucial "blow" to new Chair of the Executive Natan Sharansky; I saw it more as a direct financial blow to those of us who had booked passage to St. Petersburg directly from our home communities and had to rebook and, of course, as a blow to the Russian economy.
  • I was saddened and bemused at the "defense" mounted by the New Israel Fund to the "attacks" by a new organization, Im Tirtzu, "suggesting" or "alleging" that NIF-funded organizations had volunteered information used in the discredited Goldstone Report. Its new CEO, Dan Sokatch, offered that this has been a "boon for NIF." (The Fundermentalist, 2/12/10) Sure, "a boon."
  • I had the opportunity to work with the three senior professionals whose departure from JFNA was announced to the Board on the 16th and to the public one day later. They were long-serving and caring professionals. Probably just a coincidence, but, and you won't believe this, I am told that on the day these three of his "trusted lieutenants" were told that they "...will not be part of (the JFNA) go-forward team," he whose name shall no longer appear on these pages was visiting 25 Broadway. Wouldn't you know it?! If true, pretty scary.


Thursday, February 25, 2010


One correspondent, a federation professional with vast experience, offered an anonymous comment to our recent Post --one deserving of being reprinted here without attribution for your consideration:

"It's no secret to me. It's just illogical. Let's say we get 500,000 new donors (an outrageous expectation) and let's be generous on the size of the average gift $20 -- the system will have raised maybe $10 million or slightly more than a .1% (ed., that's 1/10th of 1%!) increase in new money. It seemed to me that with face-to-face typical solicitations raised 5% or even 10% increases (or at least a renewed gift) to compensate for the donors that were lost to attrition and still have the campaigns grow by 3-5%.

"What motivated so many people to respond to Obama had nothing to do with technology but with the fact they were so impressed with the new message and hope. The same techniques would not have worked as successfully if McCain had implemented because his message was not new. Could George Bush have raised Obama-like numbers via the Internet if he had been seeking another term? He had the same technology available to him. The only way technology is going to help federations significantly is if the donors recognize dramatic change in the message and the performance. Of course this will run the risk of alienating many of the 500,000+ donors who currently give their federations about $850 million.

"Then what do they do in the second year? How does JFNA expect to renew/grow the gifts? It seems to me they start in a $10 million hole in the second year.

"One only need to look at the Jewish response to tragedies like Haiti and the use of technology for donations. As moved as people were with the crisis how much exactly did JDC raise from individual donors via the Internet? It couldn't have been enough to save the federation system, could it?"


Good questions -- all of them.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Gosh, I am pretty much overwhelmed by the construct that states: "Obama's internet fund raising results were so incredible that they are immediately transferable to our federations." This premise is then supported by hiring consultants who have represented themselves as being at the cutting edge of that Obama effort -- it appears without much in the way of due diligence. Gone are the days of, to paraphrase that terrific leader, former National Campaign Chair Atlanta's Steve Selig, who said it best: "What we are about is one Jew asking a second Jew to help a third Jew." Instead, there is the all-consuming belief that Jewish philanthropy can maximize its appeal to a new generation through an all-out e-philanthropy effort. That political fund raising and social networking can, according to a section of the the JFNA Development Focus paper, yield 500,000...that's half a donors in a remarkably short period of time. No empirical evidence...many unsupported assumptions.

We used to love the "ask;" now we e-mail, direct mail, telephone. We use the internet for e-philanthropy. We talk about PDA phone fund raising, Facebook. Face-to-face, not efficient. Calling cards, announcing's's's so 1985. Ignore Chicago's continued's an aberration. Let's hire consultants and await something called "__#ish." And the donors will follow. Even the suggestion that we combine the tested and true with the untested and new is met with "you're so old and out of touch" not even the pejorative "old school dinasaur" I wish JFNA only success in its pursuit of 10's of 1000's, 100's of 1000's of new donors for our system and for new engagement with a generation of unaffiliated. But, get real guys -- what's the plan? Hire a consultant who promises the moon?

I am all for trying the new; for JFNA to be the laboratory where new ideas are tested. But, what about in the mean time? What is the JFNA Development Department doing while our federation campaigns at best wane and, at worst, crater? Hello? Hello? Anyone home?

M'G-d, what fools we mortals be.


Sunday, February 21, 2010


A number of folks have written or called me expressing a continuing concern about overlap between the Jewish Agency and JDC, urging merger, at least programmatic, in certain areas. I have seen the organizations work hard and in good faith to reduce the tensions on the ground in an effort to eliminate overlap. Then, I read this:



* Assist transmigrants during the transit period in Vienna and provide technical assistance and social and cultural programming





Approved 2009 Total Budget $399742

I thought to myself -- what organization of ours is responsible for "transmigration?" Which one do you think? Do you believe that there has been a formal division of labor as between JAFI and JDC on this issue? Well, you would probably be wrong.

Should JFNA take it upon itself, on behalf of the federations, to review the programs of the two organizations and identify areas of overlap and duplication, if any, and where such areas are found direct the organizations to explain or resolve...period. Seems so easy...probably isn't.


Thursday, February 18, 2010


Little did I know that when I quoted Faulkner -- "the past is not dead, it's not even past" -- how quickly I would learn how true Faulkner's words were and are. The word is circulating within the four walls of 25 Broadway that JFNA now aspires to nothing more than to be "a CJF of excellence." When one of my friends asked me what I think; my response was simple -- "The JFNA of today, while on the rise, was reduced over the past five years to a CJF of mediocrity; why not aspire to excellence?" Of course, my glib response paled in comparison with my real feelings. When JFNA leaders announce in the wake of the Dallas meetings that the organization is about to "retool," all one can do is reflect on this, the, what, 6th "retooling" in ten years...and, then, wish them well.

We had a "CJF of excellence" once. I remember it well. In fact, while we were cleaning out some storage boxes at our home a few weeks ago, Bobbi found a box that we hadn't opened for years. When we tore the tape away, we discovered a box of my Mom's, z'l, that contained my speeches and papers from another era. Among the memorabilia was a green covered binder -- a CJF Report on its Winter meetings 20 years ago -- at a time of its ascendancy, certainly of its "excellence." On the cover were pictures of the three keynoters -- Maynard Wishner, the then CJF Chair, Shoshana Cardin, one of its greatest Chairs, and Dan Shapiro, one of the most brilliant of federation leaders. The subject -- CJF at the Crossroads: Are We Ready for 2000? -- was explored in Plenaries and break-outs; no consultants needed as Carl Sheingold led a magnificent staff effort (with no outside consultants, no irrelevant speakers), a tremendous outpouring of leadership in numbers for which JFNA can only wish. The outcomes were those you would expect of serious people. But, at the end of the day, by 2000, CJF was, as no one at those meetings could have predicted, out of business.

So, can a "CJF of Excellence" emerge out of the ashes of what but a few lay and professional leaders were able to destroy? Sure. We can reduce federations' costs significantly; we can have a pared down organization that neither speaks for us nor inspires us. It will be, as CJF ultimately proved to be, without passion or real support from its members -- an expensive trade association. An organization absent our voice. A trade association with a Washington Office of excellence, an annual General Assembly, some regional meetings, a decentralized approach based upon "coalitions of the willing." Is this the best we can do? Is this the best we can be? Or is it aspirational to be the least we can be? How sad that would be.

But I could see where this end result might be appealing to some. Less work for a dwindled (defined as "smaller or less substance" -- in this case both) lay leadership. A budget of about $10 million, maybe less, could do it. It could be like Vietnam: "declare victory and just walk away." Trust me, the best federations would recognize, in far less than ten years this time, how much they need a new national organization -- one with voice, purpose, focus and passion. Let's hope that won't be too late.

Yet, in conversations with Jerry and Kathy it is clear that they aspire to a Jewish Federations of North America that will be a convener, a collaborator, a laboratory staffed by high performance teams of professional and lay leaders. I might be cynical about the capacity of JFNA today to achieve all of their hopes for the organization some of which are still but embryonic but I applaud them for dreaming big dreams. Neither of these leaders will "just walk away;" it is not in them to do so. And, that is a good thing...a very good thing.


Tuesday, February 16, 2010


A careful reader of the Blog, after reading the Looking for Places to Cut? Post yesterday, asked a simple question -- how much are we spending on Global Operations? Sorry I left that out. For 2009-2010 your federation and mine spent/is spending $4,142,000 for our Global Ops/Israel and Overseas. There are 16.3 FTEs in that important office...obviously quite busy. I am hoping against hope that the new lay and professional leadership will offer immediate lay and professional oversight and leadership to the current aimless wandering.

As an aside, if my numbers are wrong, correct me.


Monday, February 15, 2010


Let us assume that JFNA (this now appears to be an acceptable acronym by the way -- use it in good health!) -- is looking for areas in which to make appropriate and necessary cuts in the 2010 (or 2011) Budget. Wishing to be helpful, as always, let us take a close look at the Israel-Overseas Department report available to the 100 attendees at the Dallas Board meeting, but to no others.

Before we do so, let's note that Israel and Overseas has much to contribute -- but it is apparently without direction or real focus. With that as background, here are some, but not all, of the Department's "Projects":

  • Completed a tour of five new boutique hotels in Tel Aviv
  • Managing migration of all staff e-mail addresses from domain to domain
  • Developing new signage, letterhead, business cards...
  • Communicating new branding to government officials, suppliers, partners, and other organizations
  • Working with JFNA Washington to plan and facilitate February conference call focusing on our collaboration with JAFI and JDC during emergencies in Israel
  • Working closely with senior staff at the Ministry of Education in collaboration with JAFI's Partnership 2000 team to resolve remaining open issues related to recent youth delegation crisis (how many of us know about that one?)...
  • Participation in Sheatufim Board meeting
  • Testing new electronic process for annual updating required of all funded organizations in Israel
  • Preparation for and staffing JFNA/JAFI/JDC discussions (apparently "staffed" from Jerusalem while meetings have been [2] in New York)
  • On-going meetings and targeted consultations with senior leadership at JAFI and JDC

There is more to be certain and not that these things didn't need to be done but....really...what's this all about? I reflected that it was a good thing for Israel and Overseas that the organization's name changed or there might have been no "Projects" for some of the good folk in Jerusalem.

Maybe...maybe...there is merely the need for a good editor or, even better, it's clearly time for some serious rethinking.


Friday, February 12, 2010


My favorite author, the very complex William Faulkner, wrote "the past isn't dead; it isn't even past." For JFNA's Budget and Finance Committee, repopulated only two weeks ago in Dallas, that couldn't be more true...unfortunately.

For several years, I and others have raised questions as to how the Jewish Federations of North America has satisfied its annual Budget out of the payments made by the member federations when some -- be it a few or many -- fail or refuse or are unable to make their Dues payments. In response to specific questions from Federation lay and professional leaders, JFNA lay and professional leaders, as if from a script, recited that "we do not use allocations for overseas needs to fund our Budget." Unfortunately, federation and JFNA leaders have had to drill down (and drill down and drill down) to learn the following: at the end of calendar year 2009, JFNA borrowed $2.7 million...that's $2,700,, for lack of a better term, reimburse JAFI and JDC for funds withdrawn by JFNA from federation overseas allocations over the course of the year to support JFNA's Budget eo be repaid at year-end.

Huh, you ask, how could that be? We have been told time and again by JFNA that this just doesn't happen, can't happen. Here's how it has happened: if your federation or mine sends cash to JFNA and designates the application of the payment: " $____ to Dues and $____ to allocations," JFNA honors the allocation. If your federation or mine does not designate (even if you anticipate that Dues/allocations will be divided pro rata), JFNA will withdraw dollars from that payment for its Budget as you see fit. Period. This has enabled JFNA to appropriate dollars clearly intended (although JFNA will argue "how would we know that to be the fact?") for JAFI/JDC and apply them to its own Budget with the hope (giving the "benefit of the doubt," the expectation) that by calendar year-end, it could reimburse the overseas agencies (but not for the carrying costs). If this reminds you of some of the schemes you may have read about over the past two years -- that's your conclusion, not mine.

Now, some at JFNA will respond with "that's just how UJA did it" as if that is an acceptable response. While, certainly, UJA paid its Budget out of the Overseas allocation, when JFNA was created, that was no longer to be the case -- Dues and allocations were separated under the false premise of "transparency." So, in our new system, the two were no longer to be treated as essentially "fungible." Yet, at JFNA, that is exactly how the funds have been treated -- as if JFNA can use overseas allocations to satisfy its Budget. And, that's wrong.

Let's assume that Jerry Silverman, Kathy Manning and Heschel Raskes, the new Budget & Finance Chair, decided to clean this mess up. But the questions remain: (1) how was this permitted to occur under the prior leadership; (2) how was this borrowing authorized; (3) how will the $2.7 million be repaid; and (4) what structures have been put in place to assure this doesn't happen again?

Are there some answers out there?


Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Here is the way it has gone in far too many places:

"Motion: _____ Federation shall allocate from the 2009 Annual Community Campaign: (a) $228,728 to support Israel and International Jewry, of which $176,978 is for collective allocation to JAFI/JDC and $51,750 is for Partnership Overseas (as approved by the Board on July 14, 2009); and (b) $68,272 to continue as a member in good standing eligible for all benefits and programs of United Jewish Communities (Fair Share membership dues).

* * *
Supporting Information: The total amount of $297,000 represents a 31% decrease from the 2008-2009 allocation of $433,080 for these purposes and only about 25% of the 2009 Annual Community Campaign funds pledged"

We have seen too many federations take the "easy way out" of the current circumstances. We take funding away from those of our People most in need and reallocate the dollars. This unnamed federation didn't suffer a 31% decrease in its Annual Campaign; only JDC and JAFI suffered such draconian cuts.

And where was The Jewish Federations of North America? Fcused on its Dues and "areas of focus." To date, there has been no sense of national responsibility on this issue, no sense of moral responsibility...nowhere. How could this be, you ask? Yes, how could this be? But, hope is on the horizon. One of the Focus papers brilliantly laid out the arguments for national advocacy; let's see how JFNA follows up.

Friends, without an understanding of its collective responsibility, JFNA stands for nothing. The basic notion of the real meaning of "collective responsibility?" That wasn't debated or discussed in Dallas; only disparate reminders of what "collective response" could be. At the end of the day, it should have been discussed and debated in the macro sense; it wasn't.


Saturday, February 6, 2010


Had the President or Secretary of State inquired of almost anyone in the mainstream Jewish community before appointing Hannah Rosenthal the "Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism," he or she might have learned that Rosenthal, in her brief involvement in Jewish communal life, was "full of sound and fury signifying nothing." But, they didn't ask didn't ask and, in the few weeks on her new government job, she has already showed her left-wing colors ("Czar Wars," WorldNet Daily, New anti-semitism czar's first target: Israel) ... and nothing else. In the opinion of this writer, this has been Hannah's pattern. But, now, it is our country that is the "beneficiary."

Who is this Hannah Rosenthal? The daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she characterizes herself in her State Department bio as having "...led a life marked by activism and a passion for social justice." After serving as Community Relations VP of the "Wisconsin Physician Service Insurance Corporation," she jumped to the position as Executive Director of our system's JCPA, which she left in apparent disarray for the position as Executive Director of the "Chicago Foundation for Women" from 2005 to 2008. She is either (a) a member of the J Street Board or (b) the J Street Advisory Board. She listed her jobs in her biography but failed to list any accomplishments in any of these positions; she also failed to describe her service on the Board of Americans for Peace Now as well as her service with J Street.

So how is she doing in her newest position -- as "Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism?" Not well. In her first public statements while attending the Israeli Foreign Ministry Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism, she attacked Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Michael Oren for refusing to attend a J Street Conference and for his strong negative comments on J Street's positions. She was chastised by the State Department, in its way, which complimented Ambassador Oren, and she managed in one fell swoop to incur the anger of organizations ranging from the ADL to the Conference of Presidents.

Last week we learned that J Street had found/duped 54 of our elected representatives in Congress to publicly protest the "Israel bockade of Gaza." Happy Hannah? As The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg noted: "...the Obama official charged with monitoring worldwide anti-semitism makes her first target...the Israeli Ambassador to the United States? I'll be taking bets now on how long Hannah Rosenthal lasts in the job."

May it be a very brief time for the "Special Envoy from J Street."


Wednesday, February 3, 2010


A few weeks back, our local Crain's Chicago Business reported that a start-up airline, Air Choice One, was initiating flights between O'Hare and Decatur, Illinois. This brought back some great memories...

Back in the late 70's when I and so many others served on the United Jewish Appeal Young Leadership Cabinet, those of us in Chicago would meet monthly with wonderful young UJA professionals and a young one from Chicago, as well -- one Steve Nasatir. We would discuss possible programming and how we might make an impact. The meetings among us were great fun in and of themselves but the outcomes were always serious business. We determined that one way we could make a difference would be for each of us (at the time it was only men) to be assigned a community where we could not only bring the message of federation but provide speakers and programming. I was assigned Decatur, Illinois, at the time serviced a couple of times a day by the late unlamented Ozark Airlines.

I remember so well my first flight to Decatur. One of my dear friends was to join me. He missed the flight. So there I was, travelling into unknown territory. with some materials, terrified -- not just by the prospect of flying Ozark. I was met by a wonderful local Decatur leader and we were joined at his home by about 30 others. Together we outlined a one year program of monthly meetings. And, once a month I would hop on that Ozark flight, sometimes with a scholar, sometimes with an UJA staffer, but most of the time alone. I remember the group so well; how eager they were for adult Jewish content; how appreciative they were of our presence; and how much I learned from the experiences. I would use those experiences gained over 24 months often in the years since.

The memories of Decatur stirred by this new air service brought to mind a question I would hope the leadership of the Men's and Women's Cabinets of The Jewish Federations of North America are asking themselves today: what are our purposes? Beyond a beautiful Mitzvah Day in New Orleans and our Retreats and a Mission and a Washington Conference -- all terrific -- just what are we about? For me it was always more than the Retreats and the caucuses; the Young Leadership Cabinet experience was truly a bridge for all of us connecting national Jewish life with our federations; it was for all of us a life lesson in leadership.

But, that was then; what about now? What about tomorrow? What about Decatur?


Monday, February 1, 2010


On January 6, Al Levitt, the President of the Jim Joseph Foundation, wrote an Op-Ed piece for the JTA in his new role as Chairman of Birthright Israel NEXT -- Birthright Israel NEXT continuing Jewish journey for young adults. The Op-Ed went on at some length on the plans for post-Birthright experiences for the "[M]ore than 200,000 young Jewish adults worldwide (who) have participated..." in the wonderful Birthright Israel program.

With a preface that questioned "...the extent to which our community is engaging Birthright participants upon their return," Levitt managed to not use the term "federation" in his eleven paragraph summary of plans and programs for Birthright alums -- not once. Now, given the tens of millions of dollars the federations system has invested in Birthright's success, one would have thought that the role of federations in post-trip activities would be at the forefront -- And, one would have thought, inasmuch as federation leaders have urged a strong post-trip plan since day one, that federations would find a stated role in Levitt's Birthright NEXT plans; but, if that appears not to be the case, that "fact" never made it into the new Chair's Op-Ed.

Since the beginning of Birthright, federations have struggled to find their place within the Birthright governance, in its planning and its execution. Each step of the way has been a struggle. Now, as NEXT moves operational, where is the federation role? From The Jewish Federations of North America all we hear are the sounds of silence. Apparently the federations are expected to provide the funds and just step away, and because Birthright is deemed worthy, as it is, no questions are to be asked -- certainly not the kinds of questions raised with regard to our system's "other partners."

What's that about the "silence is deafening?" Have we no longer a national voice?