Tuesday, April 27, 2010


On April 20 Jacob Berkman, The Fundermentalist, published an "exclusive" an interview with Joe Kanfer, the immediate Past Chair of JFNA. Jacob, among other things, seemed to have endorsed Kanfer's deprecation of JAFI and JDC, and merely printed without probing or correction, Joe's fictional version of the "accomplishments" of his three year reign of terror at what is now JFNA. I have the sense that had Kanfer announced "the world is flat," it would have found its way into the Fundermentalist's "exclusive."

So, let's take a look at the results of this interview:

~ I guess Joe confused what he wanted to accomplish with what he actually achieved. Inasmuch as in the last year of his "service," Joe had appropriated not only the role of Chair of the Executive but CEO and President, and the federation condition could best be described vis-a-vis JFNA as one of deep lassitude, Joe could have accomplished anything he wanted. Yet, rather than frame a coherent set of priorities that would have represented transformational change, Kanfer threw one idea after another against the wall (most were, in this writer's view, inane) and not even waiting for them to slide down to the ground moved on to the next.

~ In the Kanfer land of make believe, he told Berkman who reported it as fact, that he was "...pressing the federations to eschew the notion that it should have only two partners because of an historical arrangement." JAFI and JDC had grown "complacent" and competition was the only answer (this may have been Berkman rather than Kanfer). "Instead of trying to get better, (JAFI and JDC) engage in backbiting and undercutting each other..." Preposterous -- these are two incredible organizations doing our work...the federations' work...while their budgets have been slashed because Kanfer and his acolytes undermined and bad-mouthed their holy work at every opportunity.

~ To read that Kanfer in this "interview" derided the work and commitment of Steve Nasatir and Chicago, John Ruskay and New York, Steve Hoffman and Cleveland, Mark Terrill and Baltimore and on and on as "irrationally protecting the old way of doing business" is shameful in itself (and suggests that Mr. Kanfer neither had nor has a clue of the values that drive the federation system...but couple that derision with the reality that Kanfer neither offered nor offers any viable, substantive alternatives beyond "planning tables" and musical chairs. To accuse these leaders (whose communities continue to be the main funders of JFNA) as being the ones who "inhibited change" and "irrationally protecting the old way of doing business" demonstrates, if further demonstration were necessary after three years of zero achievement, just how out of touch Grandpa Joe was and is.

~ Kanfer apparently cited, and Jacob the Fundermentalist faithfully transcribed, the Center for Jewish Philanthropy as some kind of success. Actually it was a non-starter. Kanfer quickly usurped the powers of the Chair causing a wonderful philanthropist to resign as the titular Chair; it was never properly staffed; and it produced...nothing. Coupling the Center with the $750,000 wasted on the so-called Sheatufim Partnership is nothing more than double-speak.

~ Joe properly points to the engagement of Jerry Silverman as JFNA CEO as a seminal achievement. Then, of course, Berkman or Kanfer fall into the idiocy of hyperbole, describing Jerry's work prior to JFNA as "...turning the Foundation for Jewish Camp into a major force in the Jewish non-profit world." OMG -- "hyperbole" doesn't come close to describing the overstatement.

~ Joe ended the "interview" with the following: "If there was any message I got across, it was that we needed change." Sorry, Joe, but because you rejected any and all dissent, and because of dissent you involved fewer and fewer of the same "players" in your "plans" -- a claque, if you will -- you failed to deliver the goods.

What Joe Kanfer could never understand, and clearly still doesn't, is that those who may have opposed his policies, his unilateral determination of what was "best" for 157 federations he never took the time to understand, were, in almost every instance, those who had achieved incredible change in their own federations, in our national system and with our international partners. Because they wanted debate where Kanfer wanted only acceptance, they would be characterized by Joe and still are as opposed to change. How sad.



Jon said...

I have re-read the interview as posted on the JTA, and can find no reference at all to Steve Nasatir, John Ruskay, Steve Hoffman, or Mark Terrill, much less that their work was "derided." Do you have access to a version that the rest of us do not?

I get that you don't agree with Joe's analysis or priorities, but accusing him of criticizing other leaders, whom I happen to know he admires, when they aren't even mentioned in the interview seems a bit much.

RWEX said...

Well, Jon, like you I read the "interview." Here is part of what was reported -- "The problem, says Kanfer. is that...many of the powerful players in the old federation guard are irrationally protecting the old way of doing business...those voices for too long a period inhibited change." Who else do YOU think Joe was referencing