Wednesday, March 31, 2010


When the Federation Leadership Institute concluded in Florida in 2009, the then UJC lay leadership (which, of course, included the JFNA leadership of today) concluded there was a "mandate" for a whole slew of things in which, it turned out, the Federation leadership had little if any interest. Turning Santaya's maxim on its head, the JFNA leaders have decided that rather than learn from the mistakes of the past, they will repeat them. So, after the Dallas Board meeting JFNA's leaders have announced "...we have evaluated the wealth of feedback you gave us along with feedback we have received from the Federations" and, apparently, "we" have concluded that the following will "set the right course for our organization and deliver direct services with maximum value to Federations."

And just what is the "right course" that justifies a $30,300,000 (+/-) federation investment? This is it:

"Legislative and Collective Responsibility

~ Emergency response

~ Convening -- General Assembly, regional meetings

~ Public policy -- D.C.

~ Consulting on merger and leveraging (donor management system)

~ Advocacy on major Jewish initiatives, e.g., Iran

Positioning for the Future

Building the Base:

~ Branding -- advertising, messaging, marketing

~ Web capacity and social networking

~ Aggressive public relations and messaging (only Federations)

~ Engagement of emerging adults


~ Succession planning -- identifying strengths and holes

~ Talent acquisition and retention

~ Career path/culture shift for women professionals

~ Professional/volunteer relationship training

Israel & Overseas

~ Global planning -- priority setting and needs assessment

~ Aggressive education on the I & O agenda and opportunities

Financial Resource Development

~ Annual Campaign -- reenergize -- vitalize - research

~ Leadership philanthropy engagement -- current, lapsed and new

~ Affinity group assessment and strategy issues

~ e-philanthropy

~ Engagement of emerging adults"

Does this read (even giving credit for the items that are inexplicable in Kathy's and Jerry's recitation of these in their Passover Greetings and Report on March 29 -- [more on that below]) like the "areas of focus" of a $30 million organization? Of a serious organization? Of an organization that has a clear focus on federation priorities? Read these and compare them with JFNA's Draft "Budget" (more on that in the coming days) and ask yourselves these questions.

From my reading, JFNA remains an organization adrift. One which is getting no leadership from its Chairs who seem to be trying to say, without much success if any, that you have chosen these paths down which JFNA will now take you. "Paths" chosen during a single day in January at a set of tables at which sat representatives of maybe...maybe...half of the federations. Now Silverman has to fit these square pegs into the round holes of his "five areas of focus." Please, Jerry, a little more push back at this nonsense.

A few days ago I received an Anonymous Comment that was extremely critical of Jerry and the JFNA Board -- so filled with vitriol toward Jerry that I rejected the idea of printing it. The writer did conclude that it is doubtful that JFNA can "survive" the lay leadership that it has. If that was all that that Anonymous writer had written, I would have published the Comment. Jerry has to understand by now -- you're not in Campland any more.


Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The following arrived courtesy of my friend Jerusalem's Todd Warnick's Blog Jerusalem Central:

"Passover Haggadah conclusion 'Next Year in Jerusalem' deemed 'unhelpful' by Obama administration

March 23, 2010 By The Associated Press, Shana Habbah (AP White House corespondent)

-- An unidentified Israeli official has confirmed that private discussions between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu included a strong request from the President that the upcoming Passover holiday not include the familiar refrain of 'next year in Jerusalem,' citing the passage as being provocative and unhelpful for future peace talks.

-- The Administration suggested replacing it with 'next year in peace' or 'net year in Israel," but leaving the final wording up to both the Israelis and Palestinians. Netanyahu is said to have balked at the request, indicating that the refrain dates back well before the UN Partition of 1947. The Prime Minister reportedly attempted to diffuse the situation by noting that the declaration lacks any political significance, adding that most people living outside of Israel just 'say the words without having a real desire to live anywhere in Jerusalem.'

-- He further explained that 'at most, they would like to come for Passover holiday, but only staying at one of the hotels located in the western part of the City.'"


So, at last night's well-publicized White House Seder, was it "next year in peace?"

Chag sameach.


Sunday, March 28, 2010


Pesach is such a wonderful Holiday, filled with our People's history, the emergence of a nation from slavery, Seders in death camps and in captivity in what was the Soviet Union, the emergence of "Next Year in Jerusalem" to "this year in Jerusalem," and so much more. But there is more to Pesach than all of the above.

Neil Steinberg is a political columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. His daily columns often reflect his Jewish roots. For our Chag this year, Neil penned the following: "Passovertime is nearly here!"

"Hungarian is out of pupiks.
'Out of pupiks?' I said to my wife who informed me over the phone.
'Out of pupiks,' she confirmed gravely. 'You can't have chicken soup without pupiks.'

With 52 people rolling up for the Seder next Monday, my wife is busy assembling the traditional spread. Six chickens. Boxes of matzo.

Good journalist that I am, I phoned Hungarian -- the Kosher supermarket on Oakton in Skokie, no to be confused with the Rumanian, the Kosher meat store on Touhy (in Chicago).

Are you out of pupiks?

'It's entirely possible,' said the woman who answered the phone. 'I'll check the freezer case."

Yes, cleaned out.

Pupik is Yiddish for 'belly button.' What, I wondered, is the belly button of a chicken -- they lay eggs, they have no belly buttons.

'I believe it's the gizzards, she said, passing the phone to Hungarian owner Ira Kirsche.

'Giblets,' he said.

'Giblets?' I asked.

'I don't even want to know what part it is,' he said. 'I've been eating it since I'm a kid. My mother used to make it with raisins and cinnamon and sauce. It's very good. I also like it plain, cooked in the soup.'

So this shortage of pupiks, how did it occur?

'Everything is popular now,' Kirsch said. 'Everyone got recipes from their bubbe, their zayde -- the grandparents -- and they're looking to try to duplicate the feeling.'

Tell me about it. The good news, regarding the the pupik shortage, is that Hungarian fully expects to have a new shipment on the shelves today.

'We do our best to have it, and if we don't have it, we do our best to get it in time,' he said. 'We don't want to disappoint anybody.'

Meanwhile, the Lubavitch were out in force Tuesday, driving their decorated vans, handing out their special schmura -- handmade, extra holy -- matzo.

As a guy normally turned off by zealotry in all forms, I find myself admiring the way the Lubavitch pitch their faith. They don't try to rewrite the Constitution so their special religious laws are observed. They aren't interested in converting people who aren't Jews.Nor do they want Jews to grow beards and join them. Their message is: Just do one act, today, one good thing.

Doing this stuff enriches our lives, they say, and if you do it, too, it'll enrich yours.

That strikes me as a very confident approach to faith -- you aren't desperate for everyone to be like you, not demeaning, not demanding. Not screening off the world lest it tempt you, but tramping around the Loop, talking up the Passover holiday. I'm sure their presence embarrasses some Jews, who like to keep their heads down and not be noticed. But this is a season to raise your head up, whoever you are, to cast your chains off, whatever they are, and be free." (copyright, Chicago Sun-Times, March 24, 2010).


May we all find our pupiks, may the afikoman be found by a child, may we all celebrate our freedoms and may we all raise our heads high.

Chag Pesach sameach.


Saturday, March 27, 2010


There is the old non-PC joke about Helen Keller. She is invited to her first Seder. Her hosts see her, mid-Hagadah, rubbing her matzo with a confused expression on her face. The host asked:"Helen, what's wrong?" Ms. Keller replied: "Who writes this s__t?" I was reminded of the joke and the question by the following pre-Chag "gift" from JFNA:

On March 24, JFNA circulated something called a Mandel Minute. In a remarkable few sentences, they gave me chills with the most brilliant segue I have ever read:

"The four questions at the beginning of the seder set in motion the retelling of the Passover story and emphasize the value of asking the right questions to elicit the most important information.

How can we insure that we ask the right questions when interviewing a candidate?"

This is the winner of the Wexler First Annual Helen Keller "who writes this s__" Award. There is no second place.


Friday, March 26, 2010


When the UJC began its Emerging Communities effort five years ago, it did so with two high potential, high growth federations in the Southwest. I was honored to Chair the effort. We actually enjoyed some success in both communities, particularly in one where mushrooming growth and wealth produced an annual campaign that quadrupled in three years thanks a dynamic partnership between the then CEO and his lay Chairs. The other continued to languish in an environment of low campaign achievement and an independent foundation with little apparent interest in the federation's success even as most of its leaders were past officers of federation. Working closely with a new CEO, the then UJC professionals were driving toward a new Board makeup that offered the prospect of greater success in the future.

Then, with no notice to me, the program's lay Chair, UJC just dropped the Emerging Communities partnership from its agenda in 2008. Just walked away.The then Director of Development didn't bother to call and explain even after some "passionate" letters. (He and the then CEO did visit one of the communities, after which he called me to tell me that the visit had resulted in the "restoration of the federation's faith in UJC" and that the then federation Chair "would be an important future player at UJC." What that Development Director did not know was the very night of the day of his visit with the CEO, the Chair recommended to the Board that it no longer pay Dues.)

Fast forward to 2010. The federation which had experienced incredible growth has seen its Campaign fall by over 50% in 18 months. The other has seen its rather dismal annual campaign fall by $2 million over the last two years; the 13th largest Jewish community in the United States, it has 3,500 donors...yes, that's no misprint... and the number was down by 12.5% in the last year.

Could JFNA have helped in either situation had the Emerging Communities effort continued? While I don't know the answer, JFNA's participation couldn't have made things worse. So, why bring this up now? Well, the JFNA Economic Crisis Newsletter on February 22 linked to a story "Federation campaign slips more than $1 million" referencing one of these partner's woeful campaign. I read the article in great pain. The last paragraph was stunning: "Asked if the shortfall in campaign funds will likely cut funds to the overseas partners, (the federation Board Chair) replied: 'Unfortunately it's got to come from some place and the answer to that is 'yes.'"

In the entire article there is not one discussion of how this federation will go about raising additional funds, creating greater resources, bringing in more donors. And it is the sad story of leadership who view the overseas allocation as a bank from which to draw funds for purposes other than those intended by the donors. Could a continuing partnership with JFNA prevented that from happening -- no, but there would at least have been a dialogue -- something totally lacking today.

To JFNA the message should be: revive the Emerging Communities efforts immediately -- they are about financial resource development, sure, but they are also about community-building. From 25 Broadway -- silence. We are watching the collapse of our system...watching...watching. Just make sure those Dues are paid.


Thursday, March 25, 2010


1. From an organization whose leaders appointed a Chair of Israel-Overseas (make that "Global Operations") who represented a community whose allocation to the Israel-Overseas partners of JFNA would fit in the tip of a thimble, comes a new appointment equally bizarre. JFNA is convening a Committee or Work Group or whatever to make recommendations on the core allocation to one of JFNA's overseas partners. One of the intended appointees is from one of the three communities cited in the recent Post The Cutting Edge of Nothing as allocating nothing to the partners' core budgets. Is this a joke? Is there any credibility to a twisted "process" such as this one? What's up?

2. As readers know, based on the first meeting between and among JFNA, Federation, JAFI and JDC leaders last year, there was real hope that the Silverman-Manning leadership was moving the organization into a major advocacy role in recognition of the organization's moral responsibilities, the obligations set forth in the merger agreement and the reality that absent advocacy JFNA had failed in those obligations to its partners and to the mantra its leaders so often recite -- kal Yisrael areivim zeh l'zeh. It has become clear since that historic meeting that JFNA has backed away. Why? Well, it seems that some federation professional leaders (curiously, most from communities whose allocations are significantly higher than the dismal norm) want no part of, nor will they support, an active national advocacy role (and those who don't oppose such advocacy apparently don't care enough to argue). So, as JFNA leaders may internally debate whether the organization should be a leader in any area, its actions vis-a-vis advocacy strongly suggest that its leaders haven't the courage of their own convictions...or just make that "the courage."

3. I am beginning to wonder if the current leadership of JFNA has decided to continue the sad practice of the politics of personal vilification and in personam attacks on those who disagree with their practices and policies as did their fine predecessors. Are vendettas being replicated hidden this time by smiles? Are leadership roles being meted out by virtue of leaders' personal rather than federation or institutional loyalties? If the current leaders need examples, call or write at your convenience. Jerry Silverman "gets it" -- he understands how wasteful these actions are -- but on this one, he appears to be overruled.

4. In her speech at the Aipac Policy Conference, the Secretary of State stated in part: "As Israel's friend it is our responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed." I am certain that many disagree expecting our government to be in lock step with Israel on all things. Take this statement down many levels and you get to my message to the lay leaders of JFNA: "As the federations' friend and as JFNA's as well, it is my responsibility to give credit when it is due and to tell the truth when it is needed." I don't expect that JFNA's lay leaders have any respect whatsoever for that obligation. Sorry, but I believe that a strong dose of "truth" is coming.

5. After the inappropriate attempts by the Obama Administration to humiliate Prime Minister Netanyahu arising out of, at worst, an insult to the Vice-President, one might have expected more than a a wimp-like "statement" from the Conference of Presidents. A suggestion to my friends at the Conference: as you can't or won't speak for us, given what has transpired since the Biden visit, just send on the Krauthammer column of March 19 -- The Biden Incident.

6. Let's close with some wonderful and positive news. Last Wednesday Jerry quietly announced that he had brought Mindy Hepner back to a senior position at JFNA. A wonderful professional and role model, Mindy had left the then UJC in what I believe to have been understandable frustration during the prior regime -- this time she returns to a set of critical and challenging roles apprpriate to her training, education, background and abilities. A great hire!! Need more.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010


I have been appropriately chastised by writers from PresenTense (for spelling, among other things) and on behalf of a variety of "new, new things" for my apparent short-sightedness. No one doubts these many organizations ", creativity, organizational ability, and Jewish passion" among other things. Now, if the same writers or others will point to how their "leadership" transports and supports the federation leadership table at which they claim to sit in various communities, we'll move forward yachad.

The reality is something quite different. We have in our leadership cadre men and women who graduate from Young Leadership Cabinets who can't find room at the Federation leadership tables. Instead of focusing our federated communities on those men and women, we find our organizations out seeking this "new, new thing." It is part of the institutional attention deficit disorder afflicting some (well, at least one) of our entities. Certainly the present and future must be filled with portals of entry -- let's assure that -- but the excellence of our communal instrumentalities will only be assured when our leadership is trained and ready to lead -- at every age.


Monday, March 22, 2010


There are "rumors" afloat that JFNA's leaders see in JDub (you all know what that is, of course) and PresenTense and Jumpstart (likewise) and similar startups, the magic key to attracting hordes of the young and unaffiliated to federation life. I am reminded of the story told of Alice B. Toklas at Gertrude Stein's death bed asking "Gertrude, what's the answer?" over and over again. After the tenth repetition, Gertrude rose from her pillow: "What's the damn question?" What's the question, indeed.

A decade ago, Jeffrey Solomon, the President of the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies, co-authored an article on leadership development -- Setting Standards for Volunteer Leadership and the Profession: A Dialogue. I am very proud of the article, published in the Journal of Jewish Communal Service and recipient of the Bernard Reisman Article of the Year Award. There I argued that the criteria for Jewish leadership had to include service and education and that today's young generation wants "a seat at the table" without regard for having earned it -- that the need for immediate gratification trumped our organizations' need for commitment in the many manifestations of commitment. Now, it is as if one of JFNA's focuses is the creation of fairy dust -- spread it to the winds and hope to land thousands of young men and women at the federations' governance tables.

My experience has been that seating a leader, young or old it matters not, at the "governance table," with no depth of experience, no comprehension of the almost incomprehensible alphabet of Jewish organizational acronyms (and no work within the organizations described by those acronyms) and no understanding of the complicated issues of Jewish organizational life, among other things assures an unsatisfactory experience for the leadership aspirant in question and the organization that he or she wants to lead. Our organizations do need to find meaningful roles for all those who aspire to leadership but just as in a law firm one starts as an associate and rises to partner after demonstrating their skills and learning their craft, so it must be in Jewish organizational life. Where anyone, no matter their skills, judgment or wealth is merely parachuted into a "leadership role," they and the organization that wants them so badly suffer the consequences of disillusionment and worse. (I am reminded of a Large City which, lacking any depth in its lay leadership, parachuted into first the Campaign Chairmanship and then as its Board Chair, a well-intentioned donor with no experience at either. Board meetings were frequently canceled at the last minute because this Chair "was busy" and I remember a call I received at my office one morning. It was this leader: "Richard, it's ___ _______, and I am here in Israel with a Mission. We can't get a meeting with the Prime Minister. If you don't get us a meeting, our federation will never make another allocation 'to Israel.'" We got them a meeting and, upon that leader's return, I had a nice discussion with him where we exchanged views.)

We do a splendid job in my community; the same is true in many others. We have built a community instrument in which men and women of every relevant generation are in leadership positions and, in the main, have understood the communal culture that has enabled us to build on the past into the present for the future as we must.

I fear that there are those in leadership looking for the silver bullet -- the one or two new "models" that will save us from ourselves. Friends, the only "silver bullets" are the Lone Ranger's. But you knew that.


Friday, March 19, 2010


When issues surrounding "Who Is A Jew" have arisen over the past decades, our federation system has spoken as one. Modifications to the Israeli Law of Return have brought us together in a unified and organized manner -- in fact, some of the old CJF-era organizational activities bringing North American Jewish leaders and major donors to the halls of the Knesset were among its finest hours. The firestorm the issue can create has been rekindled with the introduction of new legislation in the Knesset and JFNA is there on our behalf...sort of.

Our leaders sent a letter to the Prime Minister on 10 March -- unless you are a Federation President or CEO, you may not have seen it. It is a strong letter never describing the facts on which arguments such as "[S]ome of the changes currently being debated cross the line of acceptability and present a significant affront to our entire community." Tough stuff...but what exactly do you oppose? (For a cogent explanation of the serious issues raised by the draft legislation, visit; for tachlis on how the legislation is being handled, see Natan Sharansky's comprehensive analysis in his Memo to the JAFI Board of Governors earlier this week.)

Here is how I envision the original letter was received in the Office of the Prime Minister:

Prime Minister Netanyahu: 'Hey, guys, could you come in here?' (They rush to his side.) 'What the hell is The Jewish Federations of North America?'"

An Aide: "You know, boss. It used to be the United Jewish Communities, and before that it was UJA and the Council of...."

"OK, OK," said the PM. "Wait until you read this letter -- it's almost incomprehensible. Can you tell me what this sentence means." He shows his staff the JFNA letter: "The Law of Return impacts not only the citizens of Israel, but the entire Jewish people. As such, it should be obvious and natural that we form part of the discussions His Excellency Binyamin on any potential changes. The fact that we have not been part of the process is highly disturbing." (the sentences are exactly as in the letter sent to the Prime Minister)

The Prime Minister: "I must be 'His Excellency Binyamin' but what are they talking about? I only went to schools in America for a few years long ago, but I could still write a better letter in English in my sleep."

The PM continued: "OK, I'll send them a letter back. Insert 'Her Majesty Kathy' in the middle of a sentence somewhere. Let's get back to business. Ask Natan to come in; we're working with the Jewish Agency on this Law of Return matter. Let them know."

OK. Seriously now. JFNA a day after it "hand delivered" the original corrected the letter deleting the insert that made it more incomprehensible than otherwise. Certainly JFNA is aware that the Jewish Agency has been at the forefront in defense of the Law of Return -- in the past and today. Did you read anywhere a reference to JAFI in the JFNA letter? Oh, wait a minute, there it is -- Natan Sharansky was a copy recipient.

If you are a Board Member of JFNA, sorry, you didn't get a copy of this magnificent letter. A minor oversight somewhat corrected by the Leadership Briefing you did receive late in the day on March 10. But, my friends, the issues surrounding The Law of Return are so critical to us, to our children and grandchildren they deserved a face-to-face meeting among federation leaders, Jewish Agency leaders and the Prime Minister -- a letter (and, in particular, a letter like the one our leaders sent) is a poor alternative unworthy of our concerns.

By Thursday, the tempest had subsided, in part because the Knesset was not in session; in part because the bill's chief sponsor may have been influenced by Chairman Sharansky's efforts. Let us work assiduously to assure that this legislation remains bottled up. Wouldn't it be an excellent idea for our organization's Chairs to organize a Mission of federation lay and professional leaders, led by Manning and Gelman to join together in Jerusalem to confront this issue head on...or don't we do that any more? (A later Briefing disclosed that federation leaders made their concerns known to the Bill's sponsor -- those federation leaders identified at the top of the Briefing were "Natan Sharansky and Rebecca Caspi." One would never know that meetings were arranged through the good offices of the Chairman of the Executive. Only in the final paragraphs were real federation leaders -- from LA, Dallas and St. Louis -- mentioned in passing. Strange.The entire JFNA assault -- weird.)


Tuesday, March 16, 2010


I am proud to call Dr. Hal Lewis a friend. Hal was installed as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago's Spertus Institute on February 7 after serving as a Professor there. Hal has taught and lectured widely on Jewish leadership. Among his own roles in Jewish communal leadership, Hal served as the CEO of the Columbus Jewish Federation at a time of change there. At Spertus, Hal, after creating critical programs for communal leaders on leadership, has been called upon to lead a massive, almost revolutionary effort to effect the changes required to revive a vital communal, national and continental institution. He is doing so with the energy of a person half his age and with a vision steeped in Torah and history and...experience. He has accepted a daunting challenge at an age when he could just as easily be sitting with his grandchildren telling them stories of our People. But, that isn't Hal Lewis.

In his Inaugural Address on Super Bowl Sunday 2010 there were so many allusions to our history and inspiring passages. I want to quote Hal, who was speaking about Spertus, but whose references should be bullet points for those charged with leading our communities and the Jewish Federations of North America. Read on:

"...the examples of Yochanan ben Zakkai and those Yavneh sages have much to teach us...It is no secret that we gather here this afternoon, at a time of great uncertainty for this institution. The economy has not been kind to us and the future is fraught with challenge. But we take our from the scholars of Yavneh who understood that times of great upheaval demand a willingness to change, lest we condemn ourselves to obsolescence. Like them, we begin the recognition that, as leadership expert Peter Drucker used to say, 'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.' Today I affirm our intention to invent a new future for Spertus, a future in which the hopes and dreams of yesterday morph into the promise of tomorrow."

Quoting the poet Leonard Cohen, Lewis concluded: "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack, in everything. That's how the light gets in. That's how the light gets in."

My own conclusion is that leaders who try to block the light condemn our communal institutions and JFNA to darkness. As the African proverb says, "When the music changes, so must the dance." Hal Lewis understands I believe does Jerry Silverman -- but if the laity does not...there will only darkness and the music becomes a dirge.


Saturday, March 13, 2010


Looking for a controversy, many in the press -- in Israel and here at home -- have joined the hand-wringing chorus suggesting that as a result of reduced allocations from, in the main, the federation system in North America, the Jewish Agency will now, as one headline screamed, "Promote Identity Over Aliyah." A careful examination of the challenge to JAFI and our system from Natan Sharansky, JAFI's new Chair of the Executive, suggests that we all just calm down.

First, in 2009 Aliyah sponsored by JAFI (or, in some instances, co-sponsored with Nefesh B' Nefesh) exceeded JAFI's own projections by 1000's and reflected a trend that will continue in 2010 and, hopefully, beyond. With growing anti-semitic and anti-Zionist activities across the globe, JAFI will not cede its role in directing and implementing the in-migration that now exceeds 3,000,000 since the birth of the State. Further, the substance of the Jewish Peoplehood concept has, as Misha Galperin, JAFI's brand new CEO of the Jewish Agency American Section and the Managing Director of Global External Affairs and FRD, put it "...has yet to be (fully) defined."

While some leaders of the Agency for whom I have the greatest respect see only the potential for disaster, New York's UJA-Federation Chief Executive Officer and President, John Ruskay, has stated the circumstances best. In responding to the Forward, Ruskay said: "I see this as a reframing to respond to a new context. Sharansky has said repeatedly, whenever there is a Jew that needs to be rescued, the Jewish Agency will be there. But he recognizes that identity is the critical driver. If you're not identified positively as a Jew, who is going to consider making aliyah? Who will be committed to helping hungry Jews whether in the former Soviet Union or New York? Who will be concerned with securing the Jewish state? In my view, the Jewish Agency, born in 1919, finds itself in a new context."

Responding to Berkman in The Fundermentalist, Ruskay continued: "Natan Sharansky fully recognizes the abiding responsibility of the Jewish Agency in terms of both promoting and encouraging and facilitating aliyah. However, his conceptual breakthrough is a recognition that identity is now the driving factor for everything we care about...Let me emphasize I have no doubt that the Jewish Agency will continue its commitment to promote and facilitate aliyah. Jewish education may be the most effective way to promote aliyah. Even so, we are in a time when pitting aliyah against identity against education against welfare may be anachronistic."

So, let's take a deep breath, recognize that the Jewish Agency is already deeply engaged in Jewish Peoplehood and "identity-building" projects that already, as Galperin put it so well, "...allow (the participants) to see their connection to other Jews and identify with the Jewish story." Going forward, Galperin said, "[T]here are certain successful programs that already exist. Others will have to be invented." But no lay leader from JFNA has been heard from.

To me, as a Federation member and donor, and as a JAFI Board member, this is not a time for hand-wringing. It is a chance for new generations of Jews worldwide to write new chapters of Jewish history as participants rather than as observers. We owe them that opportunity and we owe it to ourselves, as well.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010


As I packed for my trip to Israel for the Jewish Agency meetings a couple of weeks ago, I was flipping through the channels and found the epic Exodus just starting on the Retroplex cable channel (don't know what it means, sorry). I was mesmerized, almost missed my flight. (I recall that during a Hollywood pre-release screening, the comedian and social commentator Mort Sahl was purported to have leaped to his feet during the film's third hour and screamed "Otto Preminger, let my People go!!") So many memories -- the night in 1961 when I first saw the movie, the tears when the Israeli flag unfurled, the reality that Jerusalem was still a divided city when the film was made, the beauty of the land, the heroism embodied in the Ben Canaan family, the great score, the heroic refugees on the Exodus, the Irgun bombing of the King David, the singing, dancing (and dancing and singing and singing and dancing) children at Kibbutz Gan Dafna, the Akko Prison jailbreak, the vote to approve the partition of Palestine, the Hatikvah in celebration of independence, the appearance of unrepentant Nazi bastard working with the Fatah, the terrorist assault on Gan Dafna. We weren't to visit Israel for another 13 years, but the memories from that film (and the book that inspired it) stayed with us.

So, here I was, watching Exodus once again, and then off to the JAFI Board of Governors reality of today. Not the best segue, I know. On the cusp of my travels to Tel Aviv through Frankfurt, Lufthansa's pilots announced a strike for the week of the meetings. Frenzied hours are spent rebooking (this followed the frenzied hours spent rebooking that followed the peremptory refusal of the Russian government to allow JAFI to hold its meetings there). Not fun.

But those meetings (and the activities surrounding them) began to focus the Jewish Agency once again on its past and its future. The new Chair of the Executive, Natan Sharansky, has articulated a new path of relevancy to Jewish Unity, Jewish Education and Jewish Peoplehood while holding the Agency to its historic principles. (John Ruskay articulated the Agency's directions and focuses perfectly in his comments in The Fundermentalist's excellent report on the JAFI meetings. See: New directions, new relevance, new and exciting leadership melded with the seasoned leadership whose sense of history and organization have not been lost but encouraged. Exciting times.

In all of our work -- in federation, with our partners, "continentally" and in Israel and overseas -- those who remember that we build on the future not only on new ideas but on a glorious history from which so much can be learned are those who, in the end, will succeed beyond their dreams...and ours.


Sunday, March 7, 2010


I think my sense of humor has gotten me through some dark passages; I try to find the humor in all but the worst of times. And I have been fortunate -- the "worst of times" for me have been few. Then, on February 18 I read a JFNA Leadership Briefing that brought together in one two page document so many of my concerns with JFNA's focus, purpose and direction. The subject: Cross-Border Philanthropy Circle Announces First Project and Seeks New Members. You may not have known that we have been engaged as a system in a Cross-Border Philanthropy Circle -- the marketing professionals dream name for what was once something called 10 x 10. You remember that one -- 10 Israeli philanthropists would be brought together with 10 North American counterparts, each contributing $50,000 annually and, voila, project funding. Except no American donors were interested.

So JFNA announces that with Sheatufim...of course, created this Circle and the Circle will fund Seeds of Hope, a nice program with the goal "...of helping under-privileged young adults achieve social mobility empowerment by participating in volunteer programs and leadership training." The North American side of the effort is led by the once ubiquitous Toni Young who has stood at the center of the so-called JFNA-Sheatufim partnership -- you know, the partnership about nothing, like the old Seinfeld show. (Only at least that was funny.). Now, in the Briefing, no mention is made of how much money has been raised in North America, from whom, and through what process with the federations. (You will remember that last year Ms. Young and the then staff attempted to coerce the JFNA Endowment to fund the North American side, suggesting that their own fund raising effort had come to naught.) By the way, if you contribute, you are not a "donor," you are an "investor" -- and Toni is looking for more.

Now if you go to you will find that organization's noble purposes spelled out clearly. Those purposes do not include the fund raising purposes of the Circle. But, that's ok because clearly among JFNA's prime purposes in Israel should be to enhance the work of JAFI and JDC with Israeli philanthropists not compete with them. Thought that was now clear under the new JFNA leadership.

So here's what I'm betting: Toni Young, a generous philanthropist put up some money as did a few JFNA insiders (maybe including those who spoke at Sheatufim Conferences). Then, lacking additional funds, couldn't get 'em from the Endowment, couldn't raise them, JFNA prevailed on Sheatufim to deploy dollars from the "annual" JFNA Partnership allocation to the Sewing Circle -- er, Circle of Friends, oops, Cross-Border Philanthropy Circle of a Few Good People. Correct me if I am wrong...please. No matter, wrong idea, wrong time, wrong effort.

The then UJC now JFNA relationship with Sheatufim has always been fraught with both opportunity and problems. It has been a stealth relationship, operating under the radar and outside of scrutiny. That it continues to do so should trouble everyone -- except those lucky enough to be in the "Circle."

No, this doesn't come close to the "worst of times" for me...not close. But it is bringing the "worst of times" for the "new JFNA" closer and closer and closer because it is down such a similar path traveled by the "old UJC."


Thursday, March 4, 2010


Three Large City Federations determined in 2009 that they would no longer allocate funds to support the core budgets of the Jewish Agency or the Joint Distribution Committee. I will not name them but assure you that the "culture" within each of these federations is substantially different from the other; just as "all politics is local," so each federated community is different. Yet, each of these federations shares at least one characteristic in common with the other two -- their annual campaigns have cratered and they know not what to do. They continue to suggest to their donors that their funds support the life affirming and life saving work performed by JAFI and JDC (but rarely mentioning either by name) even as they fail to fund our "partners" core work. Oh, they talk of chesed and doing Torah, they enwrap their decisions in the language of technocrats and "cutting edge" but the only edge each of the three is on is the edge of the precipice.

Within each of these federations are lay leaders worthy of the greatest respect, women and men who have over time committed themselves to the centrality of federation as you and I have. The only problem is that these same men and women have participated over time in each of their communities in the decisions that weakened their own federation to the point where not enough core funds are flowing from the annual campaign to the federation to sustain the community instrumentality as the convener, as the central address. In one of these Large Cities, a strategic plan adopted by the federation disemboweled it as the central planning instrumentality; in another, its Jewish Community Foundation became the focal point for its donors and its leaders while close to 70% of the grants made were outside the arc of the federation or its agencies or Jewish causes at all; and the third was characterized by great communal wealth, a strong and continuous anti-federation message from inside the federation, all rhetoric all the time, weak campaign.

No doubt the chief professional offices of these three federations attended the meetings of the Large City Executives in New Orleans -- and, no doubt nothing was said at any meeting about this very subject -- don't want to hurt anyone's feelings now, do we? And, so it goes.

There is some tragic irony here. In these three federations which have ended funding "core," their own donors have walked away from funding these federations' own core budgets. Hoisted on their own petards, they don't get the message or they choose to ignore it. Yet, there are those at JFNA who continue to listen to them. Sad.


Monday, March 1, 2010


I have kvetched from time-to-time about the lack of transparency at an organization we created with transparency in mind. In the February 1, 2010 The New Yorker, there is a great cartoon -- a group of well-dressed folks sitting around a Board table being told by their leader: Let's never forget that the public's desire for transparency has to be balanced by our need for concealment. How appropriate to our discussion of recent actions at JFNA that follows.

First, Dues. The Budget and Finance Committee received a chart of "Fair Share Payment Pattern" transmitted by Treasurer Heschel Raskes at the end of January -- in fact the transmittal date suggests that it was sent to the Committee immediately in advance of their meeting in Dallas. (N.B., the "material is CONFIDENTIAL" -- emphasis in the original. I received it from a responsible professional.) I won't reproduce the material, merely note that only 36 communities pay Dues monthly -- 36/157 = 23% of our federations pay their Dues responsibly. Of the 19 Large Cities, 37%, do so. More federations, many more, pay once a year (presumably at the end) than pay their Dues monthly. It is a shanda -- BUT IT'S CONFIDENTIAL. Nobody's business. I could disclose more -- for the data evidence wholesale abuse of the Dues process which is based on trust and communal integrity -- but I will leave that to JFNA to disclose. Of course, you might ask....

The Budget and Finance Committee has a well-prepared analysis. It is to Heschel's and the professionals' credit that they have the data. The question now is: what will they do with it?

Then there are the responses to my Post about Dues -- The Past Isn't Dead.... One careful reader of the Blog, with a deep and keen insight into our system observed that "Fair share dues should be based on a percentage of the allocation, not a percentage of the campaign. In this way JFNA would also face a 31% decline in its income." Pretty draconian, don't you think? But such a formula would certainly encourage JFNA to engage in some real allocations advocacy wouldn't it? So then a reader wrote: "...another way to look at it is that JFNA is spending some $35 million (+/-) of about $185 million. ($150 million to the partnersand $30-$35 million to JFNA.) This looks like a percentage approaching 16%-18% of all funds that leave a community."

Then my friend has a more specific suggestion:

"It seems to me there could be a very practical recommendation. JFNA should at the beginning of the year send out a form to every Federation chief volunteer and chief professional officer. The form would be as follows:

Please fill out and submit with every payment to JFNA during the year.

For the current year your Dues to JFNA are $________ (by formula to be filled in by JFNA)

The national average of overseas funding for your community's City-size group of federations is 30% of gross annual campaign. Your requested overseas allocation based on your community's campaign achievement is $________.

Remittance to JFNA:

Please distribute our payment to one or more of the following categories:

JFNA Dues = $________ (to be filled in with payment)

Overseas Funding: (JFNA recommends that your community allocate 30% of your gross average campaign for the last three (3) years) -- $______________

1. Amount of core funding (by decision of the federation it should be 85% of all funding for Overseas after JFNA Dues): $____________ . (At one time during the ONAD process a formula was adopted at 90% core - 10% elective/designated. This adopted formula was ignored.)

2. Amount of Designated funding (at the duiscretion of the community to one of the following organizations) and project if known:

JAFI $____________

JDC $____________

World ORT $____________

ENP $____________

Total Remittance:$ ________________ "

I, and my federation, remain staunch supporters of a well-funded JFNA -- one that has the funds necessary to do its work leading, convening, experimenting, collaborating. Is it too much to ask in return for accountability, for transparency, for the trust of those in power at Jewish Federations of North America in us while they seek our trust in them? Just asking.