Sunday, May 30, 2010


Maybe the seminal flaw at The Jewish Federations of North America today is a lack of understanding at the top of the lay/professional period of roles/responsibilities. I am going to attempt to explain, in the most simple of terms, just what those roles/responsibilities are...or should be.

In our system, the professional is the constant; the lay leaders are transient. What does this mean? First, it places a tremendous premium on the talents, the vision,the experiences and the leadership of the professionals who lead us. Where any one of those talents is missing, the trust in the lead professional begins to deteriorate. The lay leadership must be the professionals' partners bringing to their roles the ability to shape policies and build consensus -- things that presumably they have learned through their leadership experiences at their federations and in other organizations.

What I have seen through the experiences of first UJC and now JFNA have been wide leadership swings. The first Chairs were activists and their CEO just tried to please them and the federations at one and the same time; the next two Board Chairs were excellent and generous lay partners (if total delegation is "excellence") to an extremely strong CEO and President and the organization moved forward; the next Chair and the next CEO were disastrous -- to the point that the lay leaders began to micro-manage the organization, the saving grace being the federation push back, minimal though it was, on issues beyond the pale. Thus, over its first decade there were polar imbalances in the lay-professional partnership ending with the Kanfer Chairmanship during which then UJC had no accomplishments (I know -- D.C. and the "marketing/branding "study," a brand change and a new vital CEO) and an ever-widening chasm between the organization and its owners/shareholders.

Now what? Will the lessons of the emergence of the Dockers brand or the positioning of the Limited Stores have any relevance to the federation system? Do the current Chairs even understand their roles? Is anyone working to develop a lingua franca that will tie federations to JFNA in meaningful and relevant ways? Right now I fear that all of the parties are speaking in tongues with each other -- but not "with" each other. Can some group of leaders help forge a common language?

One of my readers explained to me the difference between Moshe Rabeinu and the Lubavicher Rebbe: We know that Moses is dead but we don't know where he is buried; on the other hand we know where the Lubavicher Rebbe is buried, we just don't know if he is dead. JFNA is currently buried at 25 Broadway, New York, NY.


Saturday, May 29, 2010


Some really great news. Of all the questions I receive from you, the most ask "how is Lester doing?" For all of you, last night Lester Rosenberg, almost mortally injured in a car crash one year ago, attended our Chicago Federation Board meeting. Although physically absolutely limited, Lester looked wonderful -- actually, but for his disabilities, a picture of health. He is sharp, as he told Beth Cherner, our great Development Director, and me -- "I remember every solicitation I've made and every gift." His mind is keen; and he spoke beautifully to the Board from his wheelchair. All of you know how beloved Lester is; so it won't surprise you to learn that our Board members, without regard to age, lined up to welcome Lester, to kiss him and to express our love for him.


Thursday, May 27, 2010


"Collective responsibility" has been and is the foundation upon which the federation system has been built. It is that which has distinguished our federations and their work from all...all...other charities and philanthropy. It is embodied in our systemic support for Israel and overseas needs through the Jewish Agency and the JDC; in the dues which we pay to support the JFNA; in our response to disasters; in our support of special campaigns to care for our People in danger or in need wherever they may be; in systemic support for our national agencies; in public statements on matters of urgency for our communities and People; among other things. Collective responsibility has enabled us to demonstrate with pride time and time again that "we are one" and that "no gift touches more lives."

And it is over...over because in large measure the leaders we have elected and engaged have neither an understanding of what collective responsibility means or, if they do understand what it means, they apparently lack the will to advocate for it. This "rebranding" of the collective, led by JFNA, will lead our system over the edge; we are already teetering on the precipice. So I am confused and encouraged by JFNA having devoted not insubstantial time to the very subject on its Board Agenda while meeting somewhere in New Jersey this week. We heard brilliant observations and insights at that Board meeting from Misha Galperin for JAFI, Steve Schwager from JDC, and CEOs Steve Nasatir and Jacob Solomon (Barry Schrage also spoke -- the designated "anti-collective" spokesman). Kathy Manning spoke in strong support of an expansive definition of collective responsibility and JFNA's responsibility for "education" on the issue.

Yet, at one and the same time, just look at the "areas of focus" outlined by Kathy Manning earlier related to "Legislative and Collective Responsibility" -- "Emergency response, Convening (the GA and regional meetings), Public Policy (D.C.), Consulting on merger and leveraging (donor management system) and Advocacy on major Jewish initiatives, e.g., Iran." The end result is the "miniaturization" of collective responsibility. This has been tried before in another context. The so-called "visionary" chief professional of a Large City about fifteen years ago began to argue that work of the Jewish Agency should be restricted to the "aliya of rescue." Given this professional's long-term antipathy toward JAFI, his "advocacy" on the subject was but a transparent attempt to delimit JAFI out of business. That "advocacy" was rejected by the almost unanimous negative reaction from the federation system. (So, this year that professional has led his lay leadership to reject all core funding for JAFI.)

For that professional, this was a conscious effort to delimit and thereby delegitimize. For JFNA's leaders, the delimitation of the collective appears to this writer be an almost unconscious effort to walk away from historic principles and the values inherent in the concept of collective responsibility. Not understanding the concept, they walk away from our values, in part, through a limiting redefinition, and, in large measure, by their silence. And, now, somehow, JFNA suggests that it will rotate 180 degrees and become the advocate it always should have been? And, yes, I know I should be happy about this sea change...and I am. If only I could believe it. Who at JFNA will lead the effort -- those leaders who have sought to delimit advocacy and collective responsibility? Forgive my cynicism.

As William Rhoden, the brilliant New York Times columnist, wrote during the NCAA basketball payoffs of the differences and parallels of Cornell/Kentucky on the eve of their not so epic battle, wrote: "There is nothing tragic about attempting a great leap and falling short. The tragedy is not even trying." And there you have date no one has even been trying.

The failure to comprehend the meaning of collective responsibility impacts JFNA's work and its leaders fail to comprehend the fact. For JFNA Dues are an expression of collective responsibility. No federation...none -- from the largest to the smallest -- receives a quantifiable financial benefit that equals the Dues it pays. Thus, Dues are paid, when they are paid, in recognition of the supposed benefits the system receives from JFNA and out of JFNA's Budget. As collective responsibility as a motivating principle collapses, so will the raison d'etre for the payment of Dues (if that hasn't happened already) and, worse, so will the commitment to the greatest of values of our system. And these guys don't get it. But now they are going to lead the effort to support it?

Now, after some significant discussion at the Jewish Federations of North America Board meeting last Monday attended by, maybe, by best count, 40 federations out of 157 in person, of system-wide broad support for the expression of collective responsibility through federation allocations to meet needs in Israel and overseas, it is up to JFNA's leadership to develop federation support, to build consensus for the binding implementation of the concept through formal action by the federation members. Can the JFNA lay leadership, which has cowered and backed away from any...any...advocacy for these same needs while core allocations have shrunk by in excess of 28% over recent years, now rally the federations? Let's hope so -- for the federations' sake as well as JFNA's.

Thus, my friends, the "rebranding" of collective responsibility has been a most dangerous game. It has taken place without regard for the destruction the miniaturization of collective responsibility will work upon the federations and our system and upon JFNA itself -- the "rebrander." As one of my correspondents wrote in response to the Post "Serious Persons: "The system must come to understand that it is today, as it always has been, about global deliverables, the collective of leadership and purpose -- not spin and individual saviors (however talented). JFNA only mirrors our own wanderings in the wilderness."



Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Well JFNA is nothing if not defensive about its own ideas -- good or bad. I guess that's a good thing...maybe not...particularly if that defensiveness is cloaked in "attitude." The JFNA Board really liked...really liked...the presentation at its meeting yesterday on #ish -- the latest new, new thing. 10,000 hits claimed on the ish website, otherwise intelligent people incorporating ish into their presentations to the point of a curious and unfunny redundancy.

Now, here is my suggestion: can #ish, shut it down. Merely circulate I Am A Jew, the upbeat work of a variety of young Israeli musicians. You can find it on YouTube or at // 50,000 hits to date I'm told.


Monday, May 24, 2010


A while ago Jerry Silverman spoke to the Boston CJP Federation Board. I don't know his subject matter but, perhaps he was there in response to the following scenario:

Before Jerry's visit to his home federation, Barry Schrage, the Boston CEO who has led his community quite effectively in directions that would suggest that he has no use for our system's overseas allocations methodology and little need for the federation construct that has rewarded him handsomely over the decades, sent an e-mail to his Large City Federation colleagues. Therein Schrage informed his fellow CEOs that the Boston CJP leadership, under the circumstances of falling campaign and great needs, could not support JFNA Dues at the level called for by a $30.3 million 2010-2011 Budget.

As I understand it Steve Nasatir and others of Barry's colleagues responded, urging his fellow CEOs to support JFNA Dues at this critical time...perhaps Schrage responded to Nasatir and friends, or others did, I do not know. What I do know is that Barry shared his federation's decision with his fellow CEOs as a subtle urging that their communities follow Boston's lead. Let us hope they don't.

At the birth of what is today JFNA, the totality of the federation system -- each and every community -- committed to (a) pay Dues and (b) hold their Israel and overseas allocations at the 1999 levels for two years. In UJC's first year only one federation breached this obligation -- that federation was Boston. And, in Year 2, UJC was further undermined as a number of federations joined Boston -- none of them Large Cities. Now Schrage is at it again.

So, my hope is that Jerry Silverman, privy to the Schrage correspondence before his appearance urged Boston's leadership in no uncertain terms to (a) support Dues in full while (b) reinstating its allocation to Israel and overseas needs to JAFI and JDC. I fear that Jerry is just too nice to have done so -- at least in public.


Sunday, May 23, 2010


The JFNA Board, at its meetings today and tomorrow in Jersey City (or somewhere in New Jersey), will approve the JFNA 2010-2011 Budget with accolades for the "process" (there was none that measured up to any federation budget process) and the result. The accolades go so far as one JFNA leader calling it "the best process ever" at the JFNA Executive -- either that person is running for higher office or his federation's budget process is really verklempt.

In fact, the Budget is brilliant!! It offers not a clue as to what much of the $30.3 million will actually be spent on a line item by line item basis. It appears that JFNA views $30.3 million as fungible -- we already know that there are some federation leaders who believe the Budget to be beyond question. It is as opaque as a brick wall when the federations have been called upon themselves for greater transparency and when JFNA leaders have demanded greater transparency from JAFI and JDC.

Let's look at some of the brilliance:

~ The "staffing complement (sic)" has been reduced to achieve a savings of $300,000; yet, "[A] pool for promotions and increases was budgeted for $391,000." So, while your federation has to continue furloughs and lay-offs, JFNA is allocating a portion of your Dues to salary increases. Must have had a good year.

~ The "federation consulting fund" which yielded much-trumpeted small grants to federations was cut by $100,000 to $300,000. Why -- " allow for a full evaluation of the Fund's effectiveness..." Huh?

~ To "prove" that the 2009 FLI (you remember that flop???) had some value, apparently at the demand of the Board Chair, $250,000 was added to the Budget for a "global planning table." (If you can figure out why a global planning table [teak, cherry wood, plywood?) is valued at $250,000, you may be eligible for one of those grants from the federation consulting fund. Then, again, perhaps, JFNA had planned to send JAFI and the Joint off to a "Planning Table" much as they were cast off to ONAD ;

~ Because some minuscule group of JFNA "insiders" demanded it, $75,000 will be allocated to secure JFNA's "seat" at the Sheatufim table (and don't forget that you have already spent $750,000 on Sheatufim for what appears to have had no ROI). Oh, hold on -- at Sheatufim, our leaders rub arms with a few Israeli philanthropists, and speak at their programs...and, and, someone at JFNA committed the organization to a five-year $250,000 per annum grant (with no authority to do so, so $75,000 (down from $250,000) is a real deal;

~ There is a $400,000 "contingency fund" with no requirement of Executive Committee action to approve its expenditure;

~ There is no Budget support for the New Orleans GA -- a $500,000 Budget savings -- with no real explanation of where those funds will be found -- other than we have a new meetings manager "which will seek to increase sponsorship revenues." Yikes.

~ There are 19 pages of "Priority Programs" and another 38 pages of "Other Programs" (OY!!) with pretty specific narratives by category -- "Program Name, Description, Basis for Activity, Outcomes (this year and Next)" but no detail whatsoever...that's no detail whatsoever...on the attributable cost by Program.

~ And no one seems to care that the Budget makes no revenue assumptions or projections. Even as JFNA knows of multiple federations (at least 10 and probably many, many more) will not pay full Dues in 2010, JFNA just sends out "payment plans" and believes they will be met this year. So, if your federation owes, say $650,000 in unpaid 2009-10 Dues, JFNA expects you to pay this year. As I have indicated elsewhere, this is fantasy-land stuff.

Please read your copy of the Budget -- if you get one. Questions are in order -- they even ask them at Budget and allocations meetings in New York.


Friday, May 21, 2010


I remember fondly, many of us do, MAD Magazine, of blessed memory. It's iconic cover boy was the doofus Alfred E. Neumann, who uttered the constant refrain: "What, me worry?" And, friends, there we have it -- the tag line that should be on each piece of JFNA letterhead, on every Leadership Briefing, right under The Jewish Federations of North America -- What, Me Worry?

Dues? What, Me Worry? Those Yemenite Jews we used federation funds to place with the Satmar in Monsey, New York? What, Me Worry? The federations who will or cannot pay their Dues? What, Me Worry? Federation needs and wants? What, me worry? What is our cause, what is our purpose, what are the values and principles we cherish? What, me worry? What, me worry? What, me worry?

These are functions not of a lack of interest in the federation system; these are the results of a national organization that has placed itself in the hands of lay leaders who don't know how federations work. While Jerry Silverman has now visited over 50 federations since his engagement as President and CEO, where have JFNA's leaders gone to learn? Worse, the professional mentoring that seems to be going on consists of: "don't do this, don't do that..."

Assume that JFNA and many federations want change...transformational change...of those federations which need it. Has any thought been given to the reality that one can't change that which one doesn't understand. Where is the understanding of organizational guru James Collins' mandate that change cannot succeed if one ignores the organization's "timeless values and historic principles" when those in leadership seem to know not what they are or where to go to learn them?

But...what, me worry? No. No. No. And no.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Some idle thoughts:

~ An addition to "what I'm reading now:" Please consider adding Tablet Magazine to your reading list and, in particular, the exciting work of correspondent Alison Hoffman.

~ For more flabbergasting reading try the 2008 JFNA Form 990 now appearing on the almost impenetrable JFNA website. I think you will find the reported compensation of the immediate past CEO to be as incomprehensible as I did. Learn more about how your Dues have been spent.

Want more? See how the buy-out of JFNA's space at 111 was applied in full to build-out the space at 25 Broadway (and appears to have fallen $1.7 million short) over and above the landlord's contribution; how JFNA's meeting consultants were paid $604 thousand; see how much Dues your federation paid in relationship to it and weep.

~ At its Governance meetings last week, JDC leaders were urged to double their personal commitments to the Joint -- commitments that already total $4,000,000 annually. Didn't sound like there was much in the way of first encouraging the Board members to maintain their federation Annual Campaign commitments -- in fact, there were none. Didn't sound to me as if any one present from JFNA urged that these leaders first commit their contributions to their Federations and then to the JDC. In other words, the beat goes on.

~ After its woeful (non-existent?) Cash collections effort at 2009 year-end, JFNA reported to a closed circle of its leadership that cash to the Joint was down $5.4 million or 9%; cash to JAFI down $18.3 million or 12% (without mentioning that those cuts were from historic lows in 2008 collections). These results were even more dismal as they included designated project funding by the federations. So, what has JFNA done since announcing these dismal results which were compounded by JFNA's own timidity and failed promises of a vigorous 2009 collection effort? Nothing. Wouldn't you think that, much like the best federations, JFNA might have organized a year around lay-driven cash effort so that at year-end 2010 the results might be better? You might think so...but you would be wrong. Too much on their plate (#ish, I-Philanthropy), apparently.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Yesterday, as we reported, JFNA, Federation, the Joint and JAFI leaders convened in NYC to resolve issues that brought the Joint to the precipice (and beyond) of leaving the system. Best I can tell -- a lot of talk and crisis averted...for the moment.

How can I tell that nothing more occurred: I read the JFNA Leadership Briefing -- JFNA, JDC, JAFI Agree to Pursue Funding Framework -- one of the least informative releases in a history of press releases. Eventually those of you who haven't seen it will be able to find it on the JFNA website -- as of this moment, it hasn't made it there (probably because the chachams in the Communications area are trying to find a few more cliches to insert in the quotes attributed to the organizations' leaders. Summing them all up, and reading between the lines, "we have a long, long, long way to go before there is sh'lom bayit." Keep looking at While the Briefing is hysterical in its creative way of saying nothing, it is also quite sad.

The parties reviewed a Federation-generated proposal that would have created a long overdue national advocacy/education role, a methodology for determining a minimum local partnership share for overseas needs, and a pool from the organization's' core budgets that would be evaluated at a JFNA "planning table," the last being a sop (accompanied by a $250,000 2011 Budget allocation) to JFNA'S Chair justifying the wasted hours in preparation for and execution of the ill-fated 2009 FLI. I don't know what were the areas of agreement if any; I don't know the areas of disagreement, if any. I only know that JFNA should win the 2010 Heroes Award for creative p.r. (so good that part of its release on "#ish" made the New York Times yesterday). They are great -- and totally uninformative.

So, it's on to...the next meeting, I guess.


Monday, May 17, 2010


Today leaders of the Joint, the Jewish Agency and JFNA will meet at 25 Broadway in a meeting scheduled weeks ago but now with an urgency and an agenda the catalyst for which was the Joint's roll-out of its threat to leave the system in its wake as it embarked on a federation-by-federation onslaught to change the "split" between JAFI/JDC in its favor. In so doing, the Joint would ignore the fact that it agreed with JAFI over the past months (for reasons clear only to debaters and lawyers and Joint leaders, JDC would like you to believe they have been "burdened" by the current split since a 1952 agreement, even as the Joint has entered into agreement after agreement with the same split since that time) to essentially retain the split of core at current percentages while JFNA (which was to be solely a mediator), chose to rewrite the deal in part to protect ORT!! Bizarre? Yes. Especially when one looks at the realities of current distributions to JAFI and JDC from America.

So, now, JFNA will have to rely once again on Large City Federation Executives to pull its chestnuts from the fire. Some form of real advocacy may emerge and JFNA leaders will no doubt try to save face by imposing a "global planning table" (for which they have budgeted $250,000 for 2011 for no apparent purpose) on JAFI/JDC. All this while, as John Ruskay has pointed out, the Joint is in reality already the recipient of 1/3 of federation allocations when designated allocations are included. Perhaps at the meeting someone will point out that even as the Joint agreed as a condition precedent to the meeting taking place to remove the most threatening "conditions" in its letters to select federations from the "table," it is, in reality, and has been, implementing them with on-going FRD efforts in multiple federations, many of which are just too weak today to push back.

There is another reality that won't be discussed. In 2005 as I realized that the then UJC was not going to engage in resource development action or advocacy for Israel and overseas needs, I met with JDC leaders at the Joint offices in New York. There I plead with them to join JAFI in a continental advocacy effort -- one in which the two organizations would ask UJC to join and, if not, the two organizations together would go forward. We had a good discussion; the leaders were extremely gracious. Weeks later the Joint advised me that they did not wish to join JAFI in such an effort but wished to continue to await UJC meeting its responsibilities. I was disappointed but not surprised; and I was frustrated as I already knew that UJC's leaders were not going to meet those responsibilities (or, for the next five years, any others as to the Joint, JAFI or, for that matter, the federations).

Is it too late now, after a decade of neglect, for JFNA to meet its obligations> Even if propped up by Chicago, New York, Cleveland and others, I fear that that is the circumstance. I hope I am wrong.


Sunday, May 16, 2010


Two beggars are sitting side-by-side on a street corner in Boston. One has a cross in front of him and the other one has the Magen David, the Star of David. Many people go by, look at both beggars, but only put money in the hat of the beggar sitting behind the cross.

A priest comes by, stops and watches as throngs of people give money to the beggar behind the cross...but none to the beggar behind the Star of David. Finally, exasperated, the priest goes over to the beggar sitting behind the Magen David and says: "My poor fellow, don't you understand? This is a Catholic city. People aren't going to give you money of you sit there with a Star of David in front of you...especially when you're sitting beside someone who has a cross in front of him. In fact, they will probably give more to him just out of spite."

The beggar with the Magen David then turns to the other beggar with the cross and says: "Jerry, look who's trying to teach the Silverman brothers about marketing."


Friday, May 14, 2010


So we were sitting around with Jerry one day -- me and the other Marketing and Communications folk -- spitballing ideas of how to stimulate young Jews continent-wide to consider federations as their home. We weren't really coming up with anything when suddenly one of the guys sneezed -- "ISH" was the sound we heard. Gesundheit, I yelled. "That's it," a couple of the pros with whom I work yelled out. "That's what?" the rest of us cried. "ISH, don't you get it? It's all about being Jewish and relating to the feds." "Huh?" some of us asked. But, believe it or not, from a sneeze came one of the great marketing ideas of all time.

I know, some of you cynics out there, and all of you over 35 don't get it but, really, like our famous Heroes campaign, we have sent this "ish-thing" up the flagpole and everyone under 35 saluted. In our press release on May 6 (The Jewish Federations of North America Launches "what's Your #Ish?") we said, in relevant part, "...Readers are invited to [post their ideas of what being Jewish means to them...and to tag their #ish with the hash-tag symbol." Don't know what that sentence means?? That's ok because neither do we -- that's our gift.

Yeah, it could mean British or Finnish, Scottish or Spanish, but it doesn't; it would be foolish to think so. This is about being #ish; what's so hard to kapish? It's not necessary to embellish even if you think the whole idea hellish. It's just the ishist -- try that as the anagram it's meant to be. And, if worst comes to worst, remember -- the ISH website is where you will find innovative bathroom design.

But, if you would go to our #ish website, you can watch the great ads we've done with some major stars -- the Sklar brothers and Joey something (both very funny) -- that speak to the ishiness of being Jewish and federation-connected. Some people will think us foolish, others will wish we would take our ish and bury the "idea" such as it, is.

But, that's not all -- "[F]or every #ish response, JFNA will credit 25 cents (yes, that's $.25) to a $50,000 #ish fund for charity. The fund will cover the core thematic needs supported by the ...Annual Campaign." This will give the lie to those out there who say that JFNA fails to meaningfully support the Annual Campaign. Continuing our work begun with the famous UJC "pizza and a Pepsi" campaign, we are there for the federations, our owners in meaningful ways. Those quarters will add up quickly, so give us your #ish before we run out.


This all brings to mind a brilliant cartoon in the May 10 New Yorker. Two guys are standing in front of a movie theater:"I can't decide if that was bad in a good way, good in a good way, good in a bad way, or bad in a bad way." Except, I can...

So, friends, start asking yourselves and your friends the obvious question aloud: "what's your #ish" and watch strangers staring at you quizzically. Your only #ish once you know.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010


With many of you, I read the article in on May 11 -- US Jews: Conversion bill 'disastrous'" -- with interest and a sense of pride in JFNA. That sense was not trumped in the least that somehow the statement reached the Post before it reached JFNA's owners and constituents.

A little background: as we wrote on these pages, last month, not having been consulted in the legislative process on this critical matter impacting on World Jewry, JFNA delivered a letter to the Prime Minister demanding among other things to be part of the process related to the Knesset legislation. The Bill's sponsor, MK David Rotem expressed solidarity and he and Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon then visited the US for a "dialogue." Unfortunately, the Rotem/Ayalon trip appeared not to have been to listen but, instead, to "sell" legislation that, as JFNA pointed out, "has the potential to divide the Jewish community or to alienate Diaspora Jewry" by placing the determination of the "validity" of conversions in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate whose antipathy toward the Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist Rabbinate has been a constant.

As Jonah Mandel's article pointed out, the Israeli leaders seemed to be "unfazed," Rotem going so far as to strangely opine: "when everyone objects to a law, it means that it's a good one." The dismissive attitudes of Rotem and Ayalon, which seem to suggest that the proposed bill is "good for Israel" are clear evidence that the unanimous opinion expressed by JFNA has not been considered as it should be.

I suggested in an earlier Blog Post that JFNA should be in Jerusalem on this issue, in the PM's Offices and in the Knesset. Letters are inadequate -- although this appears to have been a good one. It's time to mobilize.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Hello, JFNA, it's time to wake up!!! Don't hit that Snooze Alarm again. One of the Friends of the Blog wrote me a while back: "JFNA has to save the collective but individual Federations have to save themselves and I'm afraid that too many are still doing work based on our historic legacy but not on the future of the Jewish People." Strong stuff -- but in the months that have intervened between my friend's note and today, JFNA's leaders have abandoned their responsibility to the collective out of fear of a rebellion from some critical dues-paying federations and more.

The "more" is my sense that JFNA must be there side-by-side with federations working together on not only the "historic legacy" but, as well, on the "future" -- the points at which the future of the Jewish People and the future of federations intertwine. But JFNA can't. Why? Because there is no one in the leadership of JFNA who has a real clue, from experience, engagement or involvement, of what the concept, the construct really means. When and where there is no such understanding, it is truly "bowling alone," every donor for himself/herself, every federation for itself, and, worse, the Joint feeding the frenzy of "going it alone."

In the weeks ahead, I will be writing about the effect of the Jewish Federations of North America's reduction of the concept of collective responsibility to such a minimum...beyond such a to make a mockery of this concept that has been that which distinguishes our annual campaigns and allocations from all other charities and philanthropies. This is exactly the outcome that occurs when there is a knowledge void at the top. What we need are our voices to be heard for JFNA's moral position; a position that may no longer exist.

And just who is going to lead this effort, if the effort ever takes place?

Saturday, May 8, 2010


While JFNA struggles for relevance, a number of federations seeking hardship or other relief from "fair share" Dues have been told that there will be no "hardship" determination -- instead JFNA will "loan back" the amount of unpaid Dues taking back some promise of future payment or promissory note in consideration. Now none of these federations asked for this treatment; this, they were told, is what you're going to get. This what JFNA calls a "deferred payment plan."

For JFNA there is an account receivable and for the federations in question, an account payable. How many federations; how much has been "lent back," how much has JFNA borrowed using these accounts receivable as collateral? Will JFNA soon be making sub-prime mortgage loans? Where is JFNA getting the money to fund its Budget? And, the ultimate question: is this any way to finance an organization?

Some federations, I have been assured, have received a "payment schedule" with no prior discussion with them. It strikes me that this form of deficit financing was used by New York City during its worst financial crisis -- it almost bankrupted that great city; and is being used by many State governments during the financial crisis. It is bad economics and it is bad policy and just where has this policy been debated let alone approved by a JFNA governing body? (OK, maybe the Financial Relations Committee discussed this approach but who empowered it to create debt?) So, where is Felix Rohatyn when you need him; where will the JFNA "bail-out" come from? When you have a Budget without any revenue assumptions, you have a terrible process -- if it's a "process" at all.

I fear that those federations paying Dues currently are picking up the interest tab for those who are not -- or is it JAFI and the Joint? But my greatest fear is that at the end of the day there will be a large bill for unpaid accounts receivable and the burden will fall on a small number of federations to pay it. Meanwhile, this methodology appears to allow JFNA leaders to assert, in total disingenuity, that "every federation is current on their Dues" and "we have made no deals on Dues." They may have convinced themselves...but that appears pretty easy to do.

Correct me if I am wrong...please.


Friday, May 7, 2010


Our friends in leadership of JFNA are just well-meaning pretty nice folk. The Executive Committee met earlier this week and discussed the Joint's throwing of the gauntlet with apparent indignation. After the ExCom Meeting some unnamed group of JFNA leaders met further and came up with a very simple and, like them, well-meaning challenge to JDC (which must have had the Joint leaders cowering and laughing simultaneously). Here's what JFNA leaders came up with:

If the Joint will not take their first two "threats" off the table at the JDC Executive Committee and Board Meetings next week and off the table for the scheduled May 17 meeting among JFNA, JDC and JAFI on May 17, well, gosh dang it, JFNA will cancel the May 17 meeting. I can picture Irv Smokler and Steve Schwager going "Oooooooooooooooooooh noooooooooo, not that." So JDC agreed to "take recommendations 1 and 2 off the table." And, just to be sure, Michael Gelman reported to the federations (but not to the JFNA Board), that he, Kathy and Jerry will be at the JDC meetings.

So, there you have it....well, no. As the impacted federations know, the Joint has already been implementing "recommendations 1 and 2" selectively. In some communities the Joint agreed not to directly fund raise if the federation drastically modified its designated allocation "split;" in others it has hired current or former professionals to begin a JDC FRD process. At no federation which received the Joint threat have "recommendations 1 and 2 been taken off the table." In other words, Michael Gelman, the Joint Task Force Recommendations are already in play...but you knew that...didn't you? Oh, spare us the feckless.

Have a great Shabbat.


Thursday, May 6, 2010


It is hard to conceive of a greater void than that the federations have created by not demanding of the Jewish Federations of North America that it meet the mandate it was given ten years ago and create some systemic discipline the lack of which is leading the federations into an abyss...perversely, therefore, an abyss of their own making. JFNA has become but a shadow of its predecessor organizations, which themselves were in serious decline at the time of merger over a decade ago. If someone told me in 1999 that they anticipated the sorry state of our system in 2010, I would have viewed them as daft -- but they would have been correct.

Even our leading federations, who rely on strong professional leadership. who need unity in order to empower JFNA and/or come together in collective action to impose discipline, are in disarray to the point that men and women I respect predict that the era of "sacred survival" is at an end. Three Large City federations unilaterally determine to cease allocating to core -- and there is no one in authority locally or nationally to point out how and why this is so wrong, so destructive not alone to the concept of a "system" but to those federations themselves. When a Large City Executive I have always respected shrugs off the destructive JDC threats of the past days as essentially meaningless "because when we stand together yada, yada, yada.." I sense a case of denial in the face of reality. When I hear that "all we need to do is raise more money and everything will work out" or words to that effect, I wonder if there has been any reflection on the reality that while our federations raised an additional $200,000,000 in the aggregate since the formation of JFNA, our national organization just stuck its collective head in the sand (where that head remains) while allocations to JAFI/JDC core reduced by over that amount over the same period. "Not our business; our business is Dues."

I see federations today the leaders of too many of which believe that they can unilaterally determine our overseas priorities because (a) they have a staff professional or amuta in Israel; or (b) they know more than either JDC or JAFI; or (c) because JFNA's message is "you decide, it's really none of our business;" or (d) because we have in our community a leader or leaders who have a "relationship" with the Joint or Agency that overrides rational collective decision-making; or (e) all of the above.

I see a totally inappropriate unilateral attack on the federations and JFNA by the Joint starting with a claim that they have been controlled by a "split" agreed to by contract "dating back to 1952" as if the Joint has been bound by a 58 year old agreement. And, no one at JFNA has enough sense of history (or just plain sense) to be able to respond by pointing out that that 1952 agreement has been renegotiated by JDC and JAFI at least every five and two years since and the Joint agreed (no one forced them into agreement) to the split because its then leadership was both reasonable and responsible. I see the Joint framing the issue as "feeding the hungry vs. Jewish identity" when its leaders know full well that they themselves have framed a budget for this year and next wherein they themselves reduced their funding for the poor and elderly in the FSU. And I read where that agency has dramatically expanded its marketing and FRD professionals (including this week hiring away a Large City Executive) while complaining bitterly about the "unfairness" of federation allocations. And, from JFNA, in response: "we are having productive discussions." Like Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

If you have been reading these pages, you probably know my sense that this mess has been wholly predictable. And, it's all so sad.

What we have is a feckless "leadership" of our system. (When I asked my son-in-law for a definition of "feckless," he offered quickly "without feck." Well said.) Afraid to offend, afraid to lead. At a time when leadership is needed, it is nowhere, preferring to look over its shoulder for fear of criticism, lacking any sense of moral obligation or what leadership means. I'll leave it to each of you to come to your own conclusions as to how we got here, but here we are, a continental collective community..."without feck" indeed.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010


1. One of those Leadership Briefings that JFNA publishes so often -- this one on a national Young Leadership one day "event" in Boston a while ago, got me to thinking. Whatever happened to the YLC bi-annual Washington Conference or to the successor to Tel Aviv I (and could there have been a "Tel Aviv I" if there never was a Tel Aviv II)?

I assume that somewhere within the Development area at JFNA, perhaps even in some of those meetings Jerry Silverman convenes for input from and give and take with the Development professionals, there has been serious discussion of the heretofore aimless wanderings in Development over the past 5 years, trying to get some focus on what federations need and what JFNA can do best to help them. Maybe the staff discussed with Jerry their experiences, if any, with these now forgotten Washington Conferences -- the energy, the networking, the development and exposure of new leaders, even "emerging adults" can relate to that discussion directly -- never, except at annual Cabinet Retreats, did I ever experience the energy, the emotion, the support for Israel, the enthusiasm of these conclaves. What did we do with these leaders other than, over the past six years, abandon them?

Maybe, just maybe, it would be appropriate for a group of lay and professional leaders to study just how and why our federations' national organization abandoned Washington (and, for that matter, Tel Aviv) to others. We went from exciting conferences to...nothing. The concept of "nothingness" applies to too much today.

2. Without any expectation that it would even generate discussion, I have suggested face-to-face and in Posts that JFNA convene a 2-day Retreat for its Board, academics, stream leaders -- a well-planned Retreat at which the future of the JFNA-Federation relationship could be discussed with input from Federation CEO's and leading academics and thought leaders. I even suggested a venue. I heard nothing in response from JFNA -- as per usual. Then Steven Windmueller, the Dean of the Los Angeles Campus of the HUC, offered his published thoughts on the creation of a "national conversation" on the same subjects more or less -- no JFNA response (although several Federation executives endorsed the idea). Query: Do JFNA's leaders fear such a conclave? Or do they only want events the outcomes from which they and they alone believe that they can control?

3. There have been two meetings convened by JFNA with the leaders of JAFI and JDC. The first, last September, as I recall, brought together Kathy Manning, Michael Gelman and Jerry Silverman with Joint and Jewish Agency leaders. the meeting focused on a potential JFNA-led advocacy effort. Then, a second meeting -- in November -- where Manning and Gelman were no-shows, at which the process was apparently "delegated" to Michael Lebovitz and Jerry, who would lead a coordinated cash collection process -- advocacy was no longer a matter of discussion. The end result: no one at JAFI or JDC was asked to participate in the failed year-end cash collections.

Now, the next meeting among JFNA, Agency and Joint is scheduled for May 17. Given JDC's recent threats to the federations and, thereby, to JFNA, what possibly could the agenda be? A JFNA advocacy effort -- not given JFNA's reductio ad absurdum definition of collective responsibility and the Joint's intransigence; cash -- apparently not.

Maybe there will be a before the fact discussion of JFNA's Budget and the dictated creation of a 50 federation "team" of local advocates for overseas needs in their communities. Maybe JFNA leaders will explain why there is a $75,000 grant to Sheatufim -- a "buy us a place at the table token payment to satisfy some unnamed JFNA 'insiders'?" Maybe there will be speeches as to why some salaries are being unfrozen, increased, while federations still are furloughing, reducing staffs and compensation. Maybe...nothing.

Just musing.


Sunday, May 2, 2010


In the heat of the health care debate, our country was disgraced....disgraced by those who attacked African American Congressmen and the President with the "n_____" word; disgraced by those who spat at others; disgraced by those who attacked Barney Frank as a "f.....": disgraced by the self-proclaimed savior of our Country, Rush Limbaugh, who referred to those who supported this bill as "bastards;" and disgraced, even by those among my friends, who referred to the President as a "fraud." This was not debate, chevre, this was poison perpetrated by the haters among us. These were not just "incidents of incivility" -- they are the outgrowth of incitement and hate -- too tolerated for too long by too many.

The health care legislation may at the end of the day be an error but, as through today, we have seen nothing -- not from Eric Cantor or John Boehner or John McCain or their ilk -- in the way of rational alternatives. Nothing. Worse, these "leaders" by their silence have encouraged those whose hate speech could, as President Clinton observed, lead to another McVeigh or worse. And never a condemnation from these leaders. The "loyal opposition" decided long ago that its position as with all things Obama would be unreasoned opposition -- lock-step, unanimous opposition. In our democracy, don't we have a right to expect more -- or is this all there is?

Is this all there is? The incitement, the ugliness, the hate? As one observer has written: "...democracy doesn't matter; ideas are not to be discussed; and opposing views are not be respected...they alone have the truth." He obsessed, as I do, that we are in a moment of dangerous incitement. The "birthers," those who choose to call the President by his middle name, the posters of Obama as a Nazi, the suggestion, made so often, that the President is a Marxist, Hitler reincarnate, an anti-semite, a socialist, etc. -- just incitement, pure and simple and venal.

And there are too many of our People, way too many, who subscribe to this incitement to their shame...and ours.