Saturday, July 31, 2010


For the past 15 years, since the United Jewish Appeal initiated the program through this month, high potential donors with little or no knowledge of the federation system have gathered, generally in Aspen, to frolic, party and listen to presentations on philanthropy that have little or nothing to do with the federation system. Since I was there at UJA at Breishit of the Jewish Leadership Forum, I have been urging the JLF leadership (which somehow is allowed to consider itself outside of the JFNA even if the annual party/event is "sponsored by" JFNA) to sit down and ask themselves what outcomes they believe would be appropriate -- their responses have been ignorance (of what I'm even suggesting) or anger or both. So why stop now?

This year's party will be held August 1-3 at The Stein Erickson Lodge, Park City -- away from Aspen. JFNA identifies the attendees as "emerging Jewish leaders." I have learned that "emerging" has been defined as "arising from obscurity" -- thus, JFNA's announcement seems perfectly patronizing or, maybe, perfectly pandering. A JLF Co-Chair is quoted as saying that "JLF brings like-minded Jewish philanthropists together;" another case of hyperbole gone wild. Maybe...maybe...had the quote been "like-minded future philanthropists," it would resonate in some reality. Then, again, maybe the quoted Co-Chair had yet to be apprised of the intended JLF audience when words were put in his mouth.

Jerry will speak, of course, but not about our system -- he will address "partnering with your philanthropy" (which should, actually, now that I think about the theme be about our system except he is being joined by two prominent San Francisco-based philanthropists, the Leytes.) Otherwise, the program features Jeffrey Solomon just about everywhere. Jeffrey is terrific, brilliant, funny, cynical, insightful -- but I believe that Jeffrey understands that he is often the bete noir of the federations. He will be speaking on "strategic philanthropy," moderating a Panel asking "well known philanthropists" "what is your Philanthropic inspiration?" (at least it's not "what's your #ish"), and publicly discuss with Chicago's terrific Senior V-P, Jay Tcath, "Collective Giving in an Age of Individual Philanthropists" (I won't even get into a debate on these pages of the presumptions underlying the topic title.)

There will be Israeli philanthropists present and JAFI's past SVP Development, now with World ORT, who attended all (or most) of the prior annual events in silence will this time speak as well. From the pages of Jerry's Contacts, you will hear from the "incredible innovators, Elisa Bildner (psst,whose philanthropy focuses on Jewish camping) and Nancy Lublin, founder of Dress for Success who will share with us their motivations for their work." Note that while World ORT's new FRD lead professional will speak, my recollection is that in his at least a decade of attendance at the JLF while leading JAFI's Development effort, he was never given the opportunity to present. And so it continues -- neither JAFI nor JDC has any presence on the JLF Agenda. So does JFNA deal with its "partners," let alone its owners.

Oh, there will also be opportunities to "[W]atch or participate in Olympic-style events at Olympic Park, horseback ride, mountain bike, river raft, hike and, of course, eat. Yes, great fun will be had by all...but this is an event BY INVITATION ONLY.

There have been successes arising from the 15 years of JLF -- some federations have formed groups of high potential young men and women; some major communal projects have been funded by participants; a few of the participants have become federation volunteers and achieved senior positions. But neither UJA nor JFNA has chosen to monitor the participants ("too intrusive") or to suggest outcomes ("too institutional") so the JLF mainly goes from year-to-year as an annual event without a plan or follow-up other than to schedule and plan the next year's event -- and graduate the participants to "emerging leader" status. After all, it's always a nice few days in the mountains in Summer.

So, how about this? Reconvene the JLF Founders with this year's Co-Chairs and JFNA Staff and develop an actual written plan for the JLF going forward with suggested outcomes. Is that too much to ask? Merely calling the registrants "up and coming figures in the Jewish philanthropic world" hardly makes it so.


Wednesday, July 28, 2010


In the hallways and meeting rooms at the Inbal Hotel in Jerusalem one month ago, during the Jewish Agency Assembly and Board of Governors meetings, a small number of federation CEOs and the JFNA President were on the warpath. They were inflamed by the temerity, the chutzpah of JAFI embarking on a Global FRD path -- forced to do so, as is the Joint, as is World ORT, by the failure of the federation system and JFNA to meet their moral and merger obligations to advocate for and impact upon an increase in the financial resources of the Partners. Their flailing anger in Jerusalem was directed as well toward their now former colleague, Misha Galperin, for agreeing (with their express support by the way) to lead the JAFI Global FRD effort with a budget adequate to support the effort.

Let's look at the facts. While I won't judge the support of these CEOs for JAFI, they have expressed it by their constant presence at Agency meetings, one of them led his community to cut their JAFI/JDC allocation in the late 90's by $3,000,000. His public and private reason (he told me at the time that he had led this effort himself) -- the UJA/CJF merger was "moving too slowly." Back then I asked what would happen when the merger took place and I he stated, "I'll restore the dollars." He, his community, didn't (and his community was followed shortly by another, professionally led by a future UJC CEO which cut its core allocation by $1.2 million one year later. That federation was also represented at the BOG meetings). Another of these concerned CEOs who expressed chagrin at the JAFI meetings leads a federation whose core allocation to JAFI/JDC is near the bottom rung of communities of similar city-size. It was this group of professionals for whom I otherwise have the greatest admiration who led the response to the devastating cuts to Joint and Agency core by arguing that the partners failed to include the $100's of millions raised and transmitted through the Israel Emergency Campaign in stating federation annual allocations. They did so knowing full well that those incredible amounts were completely passed through by JAFI/JDC and others -- that enormous outpouring of donor generosity did not fund the JAFI or JDC Budgets at all. And, finally and inevitably, there is, as there always is, JFNA...

Let's examine the reality that none of these federations and certainly not JFNA have offered JAFI or JDC or ORT any alternative. Oh, there has been rhetoric for sure -- any number of ONAD (!!) Resolutions contained (at my Federation's request) hortatory language, non-binding of course, "urging" the Federations to maintain/increase allocations to core. Neither the federation members of ONAD nor the lay or professional leaders of JFNA in its earlier iteration did anything further...beyond "urging" there was nothing. When the opportunity to find additional dollars for core -- for example, when federation Dues obligations were reduced by $10 million dollars -- not any action from JFNA beyond a one-time "urging" of federations to transfer those dollar savings so as to increase core allocations. And, in fact, in the aggregate the federations cut those allocations and most have since cut and cut and cut some more.

So here you have the irony of JFNA demanding...that's right, demanding...institutional discipline from the Jewish Agency and the Joint while demanding nothing of its own members...or itself. (Who can forget the serial unauthorized "asks" of federations to fund "pet projects" in competition with the partners themselves just one year ago?) Complaining about a lack of JFNA representation on the JAFI FRD Task Force, JFNA's CEO sat at a meeting in Jerusalem rejecting the past Chair of a Large City Federation on the JAFI FRD Task Force as "not JFNA;" and the current Chair of another Large City sitting on the JFNA Task Force rejected as "not JFNA." There has been the conceit expressed by JFNA lay leaders that the allocations -- sent through UIA by the federations..."are our money." Yet, when the first federation -- Boston, as I recall -- sent its allocation checks directly to JDC, the system stood silent. (I should note that at the time I plead with the Joint on behalf of UJA not to accept the CJP's check [JAFI at the time refused it] arguing that in cashing that allocations check, the Joint would be starting our system down a path from which it would never return.)

Today, JFNA, holding no sway over the Federations which own it, can only attempt to intimidate our partners after a decade of neglect. Now there was to be a JFNA-convened meeting, after months of silence and neglect, with JAFI/JDC leaders scheduled for late August -- a meeting that now appears to be off the calendar. While this may have been intended as the "follow-up" to the last meeting, so long ago, it's been forgotten just as JFNA'S Chair and CEO have seemingly forgotten that they were to build consensus over the ensuing months for an aggressive advocacy plan. The CEO distracted by the conversion crisis, the JFNA Board and Executive Chairs distracted by...summer?

I know that these CEOs, including Jerry Silverman, represent among the best and brightest professionals we have. It is a real shame that they have nothing more to offer the Agency or Joint than criticism for doing that which they, our partners, have been forced to do. And I am heartbroken that we have reached this nadir for our federation system is now at risk as never before -- where, in short order, JDC, JAFI and ORT will be independently and directly raising dollars as never before.

This reality should come as no surprise to anyone at The Jewish Federations of North America even as they may disingenuously claim that they were "shocked" by the JAFI Global FRD Plan. These were no surprises -- they were foretold by JFNA's own distancing from its partners, by its lack of advocacy for collective responsibility, by its "service" to the federations as the national apologist for federations' withdrawal from the collective enterprise, and by its silence (except for an occasional "tsk, tsk") while core allocations dropped by over $100 million, and on and on.

JFNA: it is responsible for nothing; it stands for nothing. It has proved itself to be feckless.


Sunday, July 25, 2010


I was taken with The Fundermentalist's lengthy interview with the old/new Chair of JCPA about, among many matters, the JFNA "commitment of millions of dollars" to a JCPA advocacy program promoting Israel. Huh?? Is this some secret allocation out of JFNA's $30.3 million budget? Or is it all in this new/old Chair's head -- a dream of involvement and self-promotion? Or, is it real -- real involvement and self-promotion?

Perhaps, those in JCPA leadership who thought JFNA was their "partner" in the Israel Advocacy Initiative in the prior administration only to see the current CEO's predecessor first reach out to federations for a special (and unauthorized) multi-million dollar grant for the IAI and, having wholly failed, told JCPA to go out and fund raise in the federations directly -- another flop. Perhaps those at JFNA -- who have no history (as the new/old Chair has) and no sense of history never learned the difference between the federations' responsibilities and those of its agencies -- certainly, my friend, The Fundermentalist doesn't know.

But, one of my friends knows. Reading this inanity, he wrote: "I remember not so many years ago that one of the strongest advocacy arguments federations could make was that together we received 800,000 plus donations (voters) and provided hundreds of millions of dollars 'for Israel' (1 billion in the early 90's including the loan guarantees for aliya from the FSU). We used this argument in our Washington visits, with donors, and elsewhere. Now they (JFNA) seem to be relying on JCPA and local CRCs to be the source of advocacy when JFNA should be the one speaking for the thousands of donors in local communities. Am I missing something? While advocacy is very important, how does advocacy by JCPA or a JCRC translate back to the prospective donors in federations to raise more funds? This is especially a relevant question when we look at the statement below (that appeared in The Fundermentalist): 'We spend so much time here talking about the federation's overseas partners, sometimes we forget that it also has significant domestic partners, too, including the JCRCs and the JCPA.'"
(That last quote appears to be attributed to Berkman, the Fundermentalist himself.)

But, the most preposterous of the preposterous is the following: "During my talk with (this new/old Chair)...he mentioned that the Jewish Federations of North America could be committing several million dollars over the next few years to working with the JCPA on an intense Israel advocacy program and to fight the growing international movement to deligitimize Israel." (emphasis added) Folks, that's SEVERAL MILLIONS OF DOLLARS!!!

As ridiculous as it sounds, let's assume that this new/old Chair was at some secret meeting with JFNA, learned the secret handshake and the password and heard the words "millions for JCPA and the CRCs" from someone other than himself. But, probably not. By now, perhaps, someone from JFNA (or JCPA) has whispered to this new/old Chair that he really needs to shut up about this if he wants it to happen inasmuch as everything and almost every one at JFNA is being cut. Yeah, sure.

OK, now the cat is surely out of the bag. I would strongly recommend that JCPA not go out borrowing against the "commitment" this new/old Chair thought he heard. The only thing for which our system can be grateful is that Hannah Rosenthal is no longer JCPA CEO.

(Just as an aside, this same new/old JCPA Chair, moderating a recent conference call featuring the Kadima Party's leader, Tzipi Livni, kept calling her "Snippy." [I guess that was better than "Tipsy."])

At least one thing is perfectly clear -- we have a system out of all control.


Saturday, July 24, 2010


At the Jewish Federations of North America there is an obsession with "tables."

You may recall that at the "Federation Leadership Institute" in Winter 2009, attended by those representing a little more than 1/3 of the federations, the then Chair of the Executive, now the Board Chair, attempted to find a consensus on allocations to JAFI and the Joint where there was none. The "consensus" she conjured was in support of something called "planning tables" to assess needs. Nobody knew what these "planning tables" would be, who would be sitting around them -- in fact they were undefined. In the JFNA 2011 Budget, this conjured consensus morphed into facts on the ground when $250,000 was budgeted for them. This is what passes for "decision making" at JFNA.

We move on. In its announcement of the great news that the Conversion Bill has been put "on hold" for 6 months thanks to the efforts of the Prime Minister within the governmental coalition, the efforts of Natan Sharansky and JAFI and the agreement of the Reform and Conservative Movements not to pursue issues before the Israeli courts for a like period, the JFNA CEO and President also announced his hope that there would now be a "dialogue table" at which the federations would be represented you or me? And represented by just who exactly?

So, we have a "planning table," hope for a "dialogue table" and, in the meantime, how about a kitchen table, yada, yada, yada. One thing for certain...these guys love tables.


Thursday, July 22, 2010


The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee leadership started a fight with the federation system and the Jewish Federations of North America last month. As a "cease fire" now appears to hold (and JFNA and some Large City Federation CEOs deserve credit for imposing it), both the Joint and JAFI have "staffed up" their FRD efforts and JDC, while having "agreed" to take its two most threatening demands of the federations off the table, implementation of their Development effort is on-going. But, when one looks at the most recently available data on income derived by both "partners" (from their 2009 IRS Form 990) for 2008, the question arises -- why has the Joint chosen this fight at this time?

Here are the U.S. Income results for 2008: JAFI -- $238.5 million; JDC -- $244 million. (All funds accounted for as reported.) The Joint down <$10 million> from 2006; JAFI is a negative <$150 million>. Shouldn't the question, therefore, be about federation allocated cash not about a fictitious "split?" For the Joint to raise the 75/25 "split" is but a red herring, a MacGuffin, a fiction, designed to distract the federations and JFNA from the real issue: because of drastically diminished campaigns, the economic collapse, the partners' messages not being heard and a failure by JFNA to advocate for federation collective responsibility, the actual cash allocated by the federation for both partners' core budgets and for project giving have reduced, in the Joint's case, by a relatively small but important amount; in JAFI's case by a staggering sum.

So, why the JDC's "preemptive" threats at this time and place? One can only speculate: the demands of some of its more extreme lay leaders who deprecate the federation system to which they owe so much; the looming threat of a revitalized JAFI under Natan Sharansky's creative leadership; an invigorated JAFI global Development effort being constructed by Misha Galperin reflecting the evolving Agency emphasis on Jewish identity as well as JAFI's more compelling core functions, etc. I am not even certain that JDC's top leaders fully comprehend (a) why they have attacked the federation system when that system, as the data evidence, has responded to them and remains devastated in many places by failed campaigns and the economy or (b) what the consequences of their attacks could be to the Joint itself? (Reading the Report of the Joint Committee whose Recommendations threaten the federations one could ask and answer: "Why are we doing this? Because we can.")

It's time for an accounting by the JDC. It's past time for JAFI to challenge those within the federation family, to do what is right. And for JFNA, it's time for a reckoning.


Wednesday, July 21, 2010


So, the cat's out of the bag, the secret is out, JFNA is being run on the lay side by a 15 person "Coordinating Council." Membership is not controlled by JFNA Governance but, apparently, by whim -- the Officers, the Chairs of various things (all appointed by the Board Chair) including a curious "Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council." This will come as no surprise to federation leaders in the West, but there are no members from west of St. Louis other than Alice Viroslav the YLC Co-Chair from San Antonio. Such is the geographic distribution of today's leadership that Los Angeles, Kansas City, Dallas, Houston, San Francisco, San Diego, Las Vegas, Portland, East Bay, Seattle and more are excluded, so either eat your hearts out or count your blessings.

What does this extremely effective group do? Well, apparently, agree with whatever Kathy and Jerry wish them to. How do we know what they do? We don't, we won't. I wasn't supposed to even know about this letter to the Prime Minister, and neither were you -- it was in an attachment Jerry sent to "Dear Colleagues" (either his senior staff or Federation CEOs, although in the latter group are many who don't yet consider Jerry a colleague). The JFNA Executive Committee, the structure of which was the result of significant negotiation to assure participation by gender and geography and City-size -- apparently you are just a body designed by the current and immediate past leaders to ratify, to nod yes in choreography of which the Joffrey would be proud. Your role, if any, usurped while the Chair of the Executive appears to have "gone rogue."

Now, they've gone and done it. They surfaced. They joined in a letter to the Prime Minister. With all due respect to the co-signers, it's not like it came from leaders no longer leading -- not from Max Fisher, z'l, Alex Grass, z'l, Corky Goodman, Shoshana Cardin, Lester Pollack, Morris Offit, Jim Tisch, Sissy Swig, Marvin Lender, the Bronfmans, the Ratners, Bill Berman and others who might actually cause the Prime Minister and his Ministers and Knesset members step back for a moment and think. Someone once wrote that we "..get the leaders we deserve" -- I would vote for us getting the leaders we need. Lay leadership at JFNA today is so disconnected from those North American Jews with clout in Israel that on a JFNA Conference Call on the Unity of the Jewish People last Friday morning, our "leaders" had to plead to those on the call: "If any of you know any mega-donors, could you get them to call or write the Prime Minister?!"

The last time this crisis arose, at a time that the CJF and UJA were operating with strength and respect, the Jewish leadership of North America mobilized and, coordinated by CJF, assured that the halls of the Knesset were filled with lay leaders whose names and importance were recognized in Israel and here in North America. Visits were timed so that our lay presence was a constant over the weeks before it was assured that the Law of Return would be respected. The tool kit for how to respond to this crisis is right there. But this cast of characters has gone the letter-writing route. Just a few years ago we sent lay and professional leaders into the breach in a planful, direct way; now, we send letters hoping that the logo, the brand, is recognized.

So, last Friday, the JFNA Board Chair communicated with the JFNA Board and shared Jerry's incredible efforts in Jerusalem. Instead of announcing that she and Gelman and the JFNA Coordinating Council will be leaving for Jerusalem on Sunday past, she asked us to write letters and get others to do so. Were it not for the totally fortuitous coincidence that the Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission was in Israel for part of this critical time, not a single federation lay leader would have confronted this issue with the Knesset face-to-face.

But, perhaps the "Coordinating Council's" absence from the arena is ok. Had they gone to Israel en masse, maybe the Prime Minister would have observed how many of them represent federations which demonstrate an embarrassing minimum of supporting allocations to JAFI and JDC. Instead the PM can marvel once again at our institutional ability to write letters. For letters are cheap.

While I give Jerry Silverman an A+ for his efforts, clearly we have lost our way.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010


My wife is fantastic. Dedicated to Chicago Federation discipline, she rarely reads this Blog. She is an avid reader of more reliable sources like the JTA, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Week and Forward, among others. While we were driving today, she asked: "What is going on with the Conversion Bill." I explained that tomorrow is a day of reckoning -- if the Bill is not voted on, there will be a two-month period in which Diaspora Jewry can organize itself and mount an international campaign with JAFI and our religious streams to offset the destructive efforts of Yisrael Beiteinu and Shas to pass this odious legislation and. perhaps, bring down the Netanyahu Government.

I added, "this will give Jerry Silverman the chance to continue to run around the halls of the Knesset for the next two months." My wife then asked: "Is Jerry a terrible at delegating?" To which I replied -- "Sorry you don't read my Blog, for then you would know that Jerry has no one at JFNA to delegate to. No one."

Meanwhile, Silverman continues to seek meetings with the nefarious MK David Rotem, the Bill's Knesset sponsor as if he can change Rotem's mind. In today's JTA, Rotem is quoted: The Bill "...has nothing to do with the Jews in the Diaspora. It is only an Israeli matter." One might ask, "then why did you travel to the United States to "listen" to North American Jewry's 'concerns' six weeks ago?" A rhetorical question -- Rotem didn't come to "listen," he came to "sell." He just doesn't care a whit about the unity of the Jewish People.

My wife told me she would start reading the Blog.


Monday, July 19, 2010


As I listen at JFNA Board Meetings, as I have written often, we watch a group of federation leaders behave like marionettes, nodding up and down, with debate controlled by either what passes for leadership or a small group of federation CEOs. I have spoken to federation boards about fiduciary responsibilities -- it strikes me that no one seems to have spoken to JFNA Board members about theirs. Once again eJewish Philanthropy has provided valuable insights in its reprint (July 1, 2010) of David Simms Harvard Business Review article -- A Nonprofit Board or a Group of Dead Fish?

A couple of Simms insights should suffice:

"During a conference I attended last of the CEO participants described (his) non-profit 'an aquarium of dead fish'"

"What some board members tell me, when pushed, is that they tolerate things on a nonprofit board that they wouldn't stand for in their day jobs. The boards don't ensure that the organization has a sound strategy, they tolerate mediocrity in management, they don't hold the organization accountable for results, and they don't ensure that resources are adequate to accomplish goals..."

Then, Simms prescribes some cures -- "leadership...a great diversity of experiences...board members do their homework before the board meetings" -- none of which are found at JFNA.

One far more perceptive than I recently observed that "democracy demands wisdom." Finding that the JFNA Board is made up of very wise people in the main, I would amend the dictum -- democracy demands wisdom and the willingness to use it.

When I hear "leaders" who have failed to question a single entry on a vague $30.3 million budget but do commend the "process" as "the best I have ever experienced," I know a dead fish when I see or hear or smell one. When I see those who do question excluded from leadership roles or when one person writes me confidentially to tell me that she "fears" speaking out because she "will be excluded from leadership," I understand that this leadership likes/loves more than anything but self-promotion the aquarium of dead fish that, if they didn't create it, they have perpetuated it.


More on the "curse of the sycophants" in future Posts

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The Conversion Bill crisis -- I think it is safe to use that term -- has proved a number of realities:

1. All politics is local. When Diaspora Jewry finds itself with a negligible impact in Israel for reasons that are abundantly clear (and have been reported on these pages too often), with a North American leadership so diminished they have had to rely on those not at the top of the JFNA lay or professional leadership and on the Jewish Agency just to gain appointments with Knesset members and to reach out to the Prime Minister, we find ourselves in deep, deep trouble. For Israeli Knesset members, their interest, much like a Chicago alderman's, is in pandering to their "constituencies" and their patrons. Some have suggested that what we are seeing politically is pure "coalition politics," with Yisrael Beiteinu, the party of the Foreign Minister, using its leverage to embarrass the Prime Minister (or threaten him) and Shas now joining the fray. Whatever, placing the power to deligitimize conversions or dictate the criteria for them, threatens the bond between Diaspora Jewry and Israel as could little else.

2. In the hands of the too few. As it has appeared for too long, at JFNA "power," such as it is, is vested in the hands of the CEO/President and Board Chair, and no one else. I fear that federation CEOs have had little to say on the conversion subject while they look for "cover" behind JFNA and JAFI. Jerry Silverman, no matter the outcome, has distinguished himself in the trenches doing "battle" for us almost single-handedly. Too little too late. The JFNA-encouraged letter writing campaign has had exactly the impact one would expect even though some of the letters (and, in particular, one written in Ivrit by UIA Board Chair Bruce Arbit addressed to each Knesset member) have been well done. The lack of JFNA-driven access to the Prime Minister, to the Knesset, to mega-donors in North America is a tragic example of chickens coming home to roost.

3. Aftermath. With its self-created disability or just lack of influence and a Prime Minister reliant on a disabling coalition, Diaspora Jewry faces a perfect storm. A strategy that should have dictated demanding that this legislation be withdrawn now apparently has focused on getting passage postponed until after the Knesset Summer recess (and pathetic "constructive discussions" with a sponsor apparently so beholding to his ultra-Orthodox patrons as to be no friend, if he ever was). Can we really rely on Parkinson's "delay is the deadliet form of denial?"

While it now appears that there will be no further votes taken on this legislation until the Summer recess ends, our federations must confront the reality that in allowing JFNA to self-destruct through a series of failed lay leaders over the past six years that it is at home, in our communities, where we will reap the whirlwind if this legislation passes in its current form as donors, already facing a damaged economy, act out in repulsion at the Israel Government's actions -- no matter the "innocence" of the federations, this is how our communities "work." If campaigns reduce, JAFI, notwithstanding its commitment to the Reform and Conservative Movements on the conversion issue, and JDC (whose absence from thus issue has been conspicuous) will be the victims -- after all, if during times of rising campaigns our "system's" partners have seen their federation allocations reduce year after year, the spiraling down trend line of recent years will accelerate.

4. Time for Major Changes. We have reached the nadir. The end of the line. Eleven years after its creation, the limited abilities of JFNA to respond to a real Israel-Diaspora crisis -- and, worst of all, to be unprepared for it -- demands, at long last, a thorough federation-driven reconstruction of its national organization. Period. End of story,


Friday, July 16, 2010


In his daily report of anti-Rotem conversion legislation on July 14, Jerry Silverman reported on a burst of important actions to his "Colleagues." It was an important day -- one during which Jerry reported on meetings with 20 Knesset members and leaders of the Reform and Conservative Movements. These were face-to-face meetings and, while many were "preaching to the choir" meetings, they reflected what appeared to me to be a change in strategy from the "correspondence model" to the "direct face-to-face" model. And, while Jerry also reported on a "constructive meeting" with MK Rotem, these were but baby steps albeit critical ones for which Silverman and JFNA staff in Israel deserve a kal ha'kavod.

JFNA I assume understands that there is across the board Diaspora opposition to this Bill. A paid professional mouthpiece no matter how articulate cannot have the impact that a large group (or small but constant groupings) of lay leaders (you remember them, volunteers?) visiting the members of the Knesset would have. Where is that mobilization?

Yesterday, in his daily secret report to his "colleagues" on the Conversion Bill, Jerry evidenced signs pointing to the need for him to return home and plan Missions so that lay leaders can begin to confront the Knesset and Israeli administration on this matter. In that July 15 "Important Follow-up on Conversion Issue," all that the JFNA CEO had to offer was a Statement by a "prominent Orthodox figure," a long time JAFI Board member going "on record opposig the...legislation." This was framed as "breaking news that impacts this important debate." Well, not so much, unfortunately.

The statement itself supports "...promoting the genuine effort to bring immigrants desirous of conversion into the ranks of halacha recognized Judaism." (Emphasis added) I will leave it to my friends in the Conservative and Reform Rabbinate to explain just what that italicized phrase means even as the writer looks "to replace the proposed legislation (with) language which will unify rather than divide our World Jewish community." This correspondent reflected on the position that he and "...other Orthodox members of the (JAFI) Unity of the Jewish People Committee" support the work of the Conversion Institute of Rabbi Ish Shalom and the Beth Din of Rabbi Druckman..."

I have known the author well since he and I traveled to a Canadian federation on behalf of CJF to analyze issues that community was facing and offer remedies from our respective experiences. He is a person of great integrity; a man of dignity and very articulate.Just when I had hoped that JFNA had turned from letters to face to face, I guess for JFNA success is still to be judged by the number and quality of letters.



There is always something:

~ I will soon have a new book on the market -- tentatively titled Dumb Jews!...Smart Jews!...And How to Tell the Difference. I believe some of you will enjoy it; others...not so much.

~ You remember the Helen Thomas firestorm sort of extinguished by her resignation? In one of its more bizarre (and that's hard) Leadership Briefings, this one on the subject of this anti-semite's departure from the scene, Jerry Silverman and Steve Gutow (for JCPA) were quoted in pertinent part as follows: "We applaud...Helen Thomas for coming to the decision today that it was time for her to step away." I'm sorry, why would "we applaud...Helen Thomas" for anything? Spare us.

~ Some good from the Conversion Bill mess -- JFNA has now sent another letter (their letters are to the PM as this Blog is to JFNA) -- this time from the entire JFNA "Coordinating Council" with this preamble: "Indeed it is highly unusual for the entire Coordinating Council of The Jewish Federations of North America to jointly sign a letter, but we feel that this action reflects the depth of feeling and the gravity of the situation..." Then there is the list of the members of the "Coordinating Council" -- very impressive. A letter?! Again? Why not immediately mobilize this impressive group to join Jerry in Jerusalem and "...reflect the depth of feeling and the gravity of the situation..." face to face? If you can get an appointment or two.

~ Should anything or everything be read into the arrogation or reallocation of many of the programs vis-a-vis Israel and Overseas at JFNA from the Director of Israel-Overseas to the professional leader of JFNA Washington? I would think the answer would be "yes," but with JFNA one never knows does one?

~ A JFNA "classic." Just when I think that JFNA can't outdo itself, it does. Last month, our national organization announced that "...[F]or the first time ever, The Mandel Center of The Jewish Federations of North America's I-LEAD professional development institute will feature courses from The Disney Institute, focused on leadership and service skills..." PERFECT. JFNA and Disney -- inasmuch both have a Fantasyland in their "tool kit" and JFNA a kind of Mickey Mouse lay leadership (although not as benign), this is a marriage made in heaven. By all means "Register for I-LEAD now."

~ One of the FOB responded to the "THEY'RE NOT JFNA" Post by noting that who and what is JFNA is defined by the By-Laws (which it constantly appears eludes JFNA's own leaders) and that inasmuch as JFNA is the federations (not individuals, they are not JFNA either. He concluded: " How disappointing that the (JFNA) CEO doesn't understand this when he comes out of such a strong business background." Amen.

~ As bad as things may appear at JFNA, things must really be horrible over at the New Israel Fund. In a "Dear Friend" fund raising letter last month, the NIF claimed in a remarkable demonstration of hyperbole gone wild that among its many, many achievements was its ability to "...mobilize, fund and support the Israeli activists and organizations who have secured Israel's most important victories for equality and justice," including -- "When stranded immigrants and Arab citizens of Israel's North received critical relief during the Second Lebanon War, and support to rebuild in its aftermath..." and "When challenges to the legitimacy of Reform and Conservative conversions abroad were defeated..." and "When 2,000 Ethiopian Jews left behind during Operation Solomon were reunited with their families in Israel..."

Well, you get the picture. JAFI, JDC, ORT can now comfortable go out of business -- the NIF is doing their work...or, at the least, taking credit for it.

~ It was so very sad to read that only 38 communities were represented on the annual Campaign Chairs and Directors Mission this month. I remember when we at UJA started this incredible kick-off to the Annual Campaign; the enthusiastic participation of countless federation leaders each year; the joy we had of experiencing common cause and passion; the annual participation by so many members of the Campaign Executive Committee (now the Campaign Cabinet [if there is one today]) and the Campaign professionals. Now, participation has been reduced to 50% of the number of federation Campaign leaders who once participated JFNA's Development staff's recruiting efforts notwithstanding. Just another example of how removed the federations are from JFNA, the poor job of recruiting and the recognition that, when it comes to Campaign, JFNA has so little to offer.

At one and the same time the non-participating federations have missed a chance to jump start their 2011 Campaigns. With a terrific lay Mission Chair, and terrific repported fund raising results, I know what the non-participants have missed. This is always a great and meaningful Mission -- this time coupled with the unanticipated conversion law crisis. Only 38 Federations -- a real tragedy.

~ Then there's Hannah Rosenthal. If one is looking for the most inane appointment to a public position by the Obama Administration, you can stop right here. You remember, Rosenthal. the President's Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, started her diplomatic career with utterances on Israeli policy from which the State Department had to publicly distance itself. Now, as Edward Rothstein pointed out in The New York Times (July 6,2010), she was either confused or uninformed or pandering (or, in this Blogger's opinion, all of the above) when, while speaking in Kazakhstan (Kazakhstan!!) she was "...asserting the similarity of anti-Semitism and Islamaphobia." Embarrassing? No, worse.


Thursday, July 15, 2010


The Rotem Conversion Law now having had its First Reading in the Knesset is bad -- bad for Israel, bad for Diaspora Jewry. This legislation has provoked JFNA to correspond with the Prime Minister on at least 4 occasions and to meet productively with President Shimon Peres. As I read the correspondence (including the JFNA "Coordinating Council's" letter of July 13) , the JFNA Leadership Briefing on the subject yesterday and Silverman's daily "Updates" to G-d knows who (but not to JFNA Board members), I begin to fear that JFNA may not even understand the Bill's impact.

Sure, Jerry Silverman cites the Bill's ceding to "...the Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate full control over conversions in Israel and urging that any convert 'accepts the yoke of mitzvot according to halacha." But this legislation is then ignored by JFNA which then focuses on the meetings it has held, the frustration that the Prime Minister hasn't replied to its urgings, etc., etc. READ THE LEGISLATION, JFNA LEADERS, IT IS FAR WORSE THAN THE WHAT YOU HAVE CITED. You've met with Rabbi Uri Regev, CEO of HIDDUSH -- for Freedom of Religion and Equality. Why not reprint Regev's analysis if you can't provide your own?

I have grown impatient with JFNA's failure to focus on the core ills of the legislation while they seem to seek some undefined "dialogue." "Dialogue" about what exactly? This isn't about JFNA after all, as important as JFNA is (or could be). This is about something far more important -- the portent of the impact of the legislation in its present form upon Diaspora Jewry and the previously converted, immigrants and on our families and the families of our fellow Jews. Articulate why, if you are able.

Focus anyone?


Wednesday, July 14, 2010


As one of my friends reminded me a few weeks ago -- before the recent outbreak of the conversion bill in Israel -- we used to tell our donors that our Government and Israel measured our commitment as American Jews to Israel in part based upon the achievement of our annual fund raising and our communal allocations to the Jewish State. If that is still the case, just think of how we are thought of in those precincts today.

In Fantasyland, our leaders send urgent letters to the Prime Minister but the reality of our impact is quite different -- in the reality of today, were it not for the relationship between the PM and JAFI's Chair of the Executive, Natan Sharansky, JFNA would have no impact at all. (I would add that there is one professional at JFNA with access to the Prime Minister, Yitzchak Shavit, the Executive Vice Chair of UIA and when Itzik retires, there will be none.) And JFNA should continue to piggyback on JAFI in this "process." (There are, of course, Federation CEOs with real access -- you probably know who they are -- from federations which demonstrate their continuing commitment to Israel through their Israel and Overseas allocations.

As one terrific North American leader asserted to me earlier today, if we as the Jews of North America had any real influence in Israel today, we wouldn't be pleading for "dialogue" on the conversion issue, we would be asserting in no uncertain terms (without apologizing for our "strong language" as JFNA has) that the pending Conversion Bill must be withdrawn from Knesset consideration before any dialogue can begin. But we don't have that clout -- we have allowed it to dissipate away by our national organization's ineptitude.

One doesn't begin "negotiations" with pleas for inclusion...inclusion must be presumed. But that presumption must be based on reality. To speak for the 6,000,000 Jews of the United States and Canada, you must stand for sacred and historic values and principles. And here we are today -- with a JFNA whose leaders neither know nor comprehend them.

Strong letter to follow, of course.


Tuesday, July 13, 2010


This is all pretty sad.

Albert Ratner, one of our system's great leaders, one of the few mega-donors once willing to offer his wisdom and commitment to JFNA, led the federations to conclude that the payment of Fair Share Dues would be the sole criterion for JFNA membership. Dues would be determined by a given Federation's Annual Campaign relationship to the aggregate of all Annual Campaigns. A failure to pay Dues, absent real "hardship" as determined by JFNA's Financial Relations Committee, would mean an automatic -- no further governance action required -- termination of membership. The Financial Relations Committee would weigh a given federation's "hardship." The Board approved it all.

How simple.

Working with a great staff, I and other members on the Financial Relations Committee -- among them Joel Alperson, Jay Sarver, Jerry Yanowitz, Herb Gimelstob and others -- with a great professional staff, would consult, sometimes negotiate, with federations approaching Dues default and, almost always, achieve Dues compliance or work out an agreement to assure compliance over a period of years in a spirit of good will and good faith. If UJA or UJC determined a write off of amounts due would be appropriate, such an action was normally accomplioshed only if the community agreed to an equitable overseas allocation going forward. Dues compliance meant something...then.

How simple.

That was then and this is now. The instruments are still in place: a terrific professional supporting the Financial Relations Committee; a Committee with a well-meaning Chair and members anxious to work with the federations. But JFNA's leaders have assured that membership no longer has meaning; that Dues compliance is meaningless; that "hardship" is no longer necessary. Pay what you can, for some it's pay what you want. JFNA will issue an invoice for full Dues -- your percentage responsibility for the JFNA Budget. The message -- pay the Dues if you want or if you can. If not, we'll issue you a debit statement for the difference between the Dues you paid and the amount you didn't with, maybe, a payment plan (that you may adhere to or not) -- you will owe JFNA the difference. JFNA will just go borrow the aggregate unpaid Dues and JFNA's balance sheet will show an ever-growing receivable balance with no reserve for unpaid Dues. They have their blinders on.

How simple.

No federations have hardships any more. Uh uh. No federations are out of compliance the way JFNA now figures it. Membership, in fact no longer carries with it any obligations or responsibilities...and few if any benefits. The reality: membership no longer has any meaning whatsoever. Federations which pay their Dues have no greater rights as federation Members within JFNA as those which do not pay their Dues for whatever the reason. Haven't paid your Dues? It's OK; your lay leaders can become Chairs of our constituencies, get Mission subsidies, serve on our Work Groups and Boards. We don't care. Haven't paid your Dues? It's OK; your professionals can serve on JFNA Panels, attend CPE sessions. After all, we've sent you a bill for the balance due.

Oh, and of course, because what they have done is indefensible, they don't/won't discuss it. Where is Albert when we so desperately need him? (Oh, wait a minute, this leadership doesn't need Albert or anyone else, do they?)

Bye now.


Monday, July 12, 2010



Paul Jeser –

Many lay leaders and professionals who are or were part of the Federation world are looking at what is happening today with very great sadness.

In the ‘good ole days’ (were they really that good?) the Federation was the key player in all, if not most, communities. In the ‘good ole days’ the Federations attracted the top leaders, the most significant donors, and the most creative and visionary professionals. In the ‘good ole days’ the Federations were looked to for guidance and support by the entire Jewish Community.

From what I read, see and hear, with very few exceptions, this is certainly not the case today.

Most major leaders and donors have decided that institutional life is not for them. They have set up their own Foundations, decided upon their own priorities, formed their own umbrella support system and have hired top staff.

So – as many of my friends have said: ‘Yes, we all know the problem – so what is the answer?”

I may not have THE answer, but I do have a vision.

But first, as the song says, let’s start at the very beginning.

I may be wrong, but I think that the most significant event that began the slide down the slippery slope was…. Project Renewal!

Yup – that great and most effective program began the downfall of the Federation world.

In the 50's, 60's and 70's, the major communal organizations were the Federations and their support organizations, the UJA and CJF. They attracted the major donors, leaders and professionals. That world was where all the action happened. It was the place to be.

Outside of the Synagogue world, and as a somewhat educated guess, probably 80%++ of all Jewish giving came through the Federation world. The Israel Education Fund was a quiet way that major gifts could be given through the Federation, not be allocated through the general campaign process, and be designated for special projects in Israel. With that exception most all other charitable giving and allocation was controlled by the Federation.

In the late 1970’s Project Renewal was proposed by the Jewish Agency and accepted by the Federation world. Many voiced reservations; not because the goal was not a wonderful one, but because they felt that once donors had the ability to so specifically designate their gifts (even with the parameters being agreed upon) doors would be opened that could never be closed.

There is a story about an incident that took place in the mid-70's during the discussion most Federations had about supporting Soviet Jewish Refuseniks who came to America (versus only funding those who went to Israel). A major Federation donor and board member, who felt strongly that all Soviet Jews should go to Israel and if they came to America should not be supported, seeing that he was in the very small minority, made the following statement: “I know that in a traditional democracy my position will be defeated, but let me redefine democracy for you: traditional democracy believes that one person has one vote; in my democracy, one dollar equals one vote.” Since his gift was more than all the rest of the Board members collectively, he felt that his position should prevail. Of course it didn't as it should not have. But the lesson was there – he did not want others to decide how to allocate his contribution!

Whether right or wrong, whether good for the community or bad, the fact is that most people, and certainly most – if not all - major donors do not want others to allocate their contributions and certainly do not want to spend time in organizational life.

We are now thirty years later. The desire and ability to have more control over ones own gift and what Project Renewal began has resulted in the unbelievable growth and strength of dozens (if not hundreds) of niche organizations, hundreds (!) of significant family foundations and the significant weakening of the Federation world.

So – since we all know the problem, what is the solution?

My vision – or at least the beginning of a concept: We need a totally new communal structure.

• The Federation should no longer raise funds to directly allocate to other institutions, agencies or programs.

Thus it will not be seen as a competitor.

This is the key.

Once the Federation is no longer an advocate for any specific organization, agency or program, it can become the ‘honest-broker’ for the donors and agencies and the effective organization the community needs.

• The Federation should be the communal organization whose responsibility it is to:
o Serve as a resource for all organizations in the areas of fundraising, leadership, staff development and management.

o Serve as a resource for all donors and provide ‘fair and balanced’ (sorry FNC) information about all programs and projects needing funding.

o Serve as the place where all organizational leaders meet to discuss the issues – not necessarily to force a consensus but to allow for open discussion in a neutral environment.

o Serve as a true ‘community relations committee/council’ in developing relationships between the Jewish and non-Jewish community and even within the Jewish community.

o Serve as the community-wide outreach organization to motivate those not involved to become involved and assist them in developing their own paths.

o Convene the community in times of crises or special need. Play the major role in the development and coordination of community action, programs, and responses.

• Federation leadership should include the top local leadership (lay and pro) of all communal organizations and, as importantly, the top donors (who may be much more willing to serve in this new institution than in what we now currently have).

• Funding for this ‘new’ Federation will have to come from the cadre of communal donors who, if they buy in to the new concept, will see this new structure as a benefit to all, not as a waste of time and money.

• This vision does not see the need for the UJC since the JAFI and the JDC will, as all other organizations, raise funds directly in the community. This vision does see the necessity for an organization much the same as the CJF was – a national umbrella resource for all communities.

This is drastic surgery for the community. However, without it, or something close to it, we will continue to see the diminution of the one community organization/structure that is so needed.


Last March, when JFNA first dipped its toe into the critical issue of potential changes to Israel's Law of Return, it aggressively attacked proposed changes being led by ultra-Orthodox elements in Israel by sending a "strong letter" to the Prime Minister demanding continuing consultation on the subject. At the time I suggested, based on past experience, that good sense called out to JFNA to immediately organize federation lay and professional leadership for direct talks in Israel organized with the Jewish Agency to focus Knesset members on the global controversy they would create by weakening the bond between Israel and Diaspora Jewry. Nothing happened.

The legislation's sponsor, MK David Rotem, visited with JFNA in the States and, quite clearly, was never listening to what our leaders had to say. Yesterday, in a message to his staff and Federation CEOs but not to you, Jerry Silverman expressed his shock and dismay that no further discussions took place and that Rotem would be introducing his Bill today with proposed devastating changes to the Israeli laws pertaining to conversions that would vest all determinations of conversions' validity in the Chief Rabbinate who would be allowed to define, in his discretion, a qualifying conversion. JFNA sent another "strong letter." (And, it was a good letter, indeed.) On Sunday, the matter was already discussed in the Israeli media. Sharansky publicly deried the Bill as "...stupidity." JFNA sent its "strong letter." Today, JAFI issued a strong public statement; JFNA still has not gone beyond its Memo to Federation hasn't even alerted its own Board members...but Silverman did express "deep shock and disappointment" that the Bill would be introduced "without input" in Haaretz. Consider this Post the "trickle down."

To his credit, Jerry was working with Becky Caspi, his Israel and Overseas chief pro, and Natan Sharansky to influence Rotem not to introduce this bill. That didn't work. The Bill was introduced and had its first reading and, as reported this morning in The Jerusalem Post, the Prime Minister has assured that the Bill "won't pass." Rotem has promised undefined "changes" at second or third reading on the legislation but he is clearly in the pocket of the Chief Rabbinate. Jerry promised that he, Becky and Natan would attend the Knesset Law Committee meeting today. They did. Not comforting.

A question: Is it wrong to ask that for the multi-million dollar annual "investment" we make through JFNA's Israel & Overseas activities ($4.5 million) that there be advance intelligence on an issue as critical to our Streams and to us than one day in advance? A suggestion: It is JFNA Washington that has demonstrated its ability to mobilize our federations on domestic legislative issues. Let's use that ability to now mobilize our federations to create a continuing presence in Jerusalem in the halls of the Knesset and in the Prime Minister's Office to make it clear that the conversion issue is an Israeli-Diaspora issue of overriding importance. And JAFI must mobilize the Streams.

Or, we can just send another "strong letter" and wring our hands.


Sunday, July 11, 2010


There are those who have determined that, as they state with absolute certainty, that the "federation moment" has come and gone -- as one put it recently "the old model doesn't work anymore." Then there is the Los Angeles Federation's new CEO who has concluded, after six months on the job, that "the model of the Federation as an umbrella is gone." This followed the crisis that the Jewish Federation of Greater San Francisco faced in laying off 33 employees last week. Each of these independent actions will be cited by some as "further evidence" supporting their pre-formed conclusions.

Those doomsayers ignore the fact that 159 Jewish federations (and I assume the Network of non-federated communities) which, in the aggregate, in a terrible economy, last year raised in excess of $800,000,000 from 350,000 donors allocated to helping local agencies, to its partners in Israel and overseas -- to assisting Jews in need wherever they may live. (And, certainly, federations must do better in campaign and donor development if they are to thrive.) To agencies, hospitals and universities competing for Jewish philanthropic dollars and donors, the federations system, even in times of declining dollars and donors, is a source of envy...and, often, deprecation. Even in these challenging times, federation is the one organization about which I think everyone would truly say: "if it didn't exist, we would have to create (or recreate) it" -- because the alternative is communal chaos. Those who assert the "end of days" offer no alternative ("Federation as hub" not umbrella?)-- one must assume that some sense that a "federation free" world of multiple appeals to Jewish donors in every community would be nirvana; they would take us back to an age when it was every organization for itself.

In many of the cited communities Federation has engaged new lay leaders or a CEO new to federation work, places where the federation model has tried to find its place in a highly competitive, undisciplined Jewish philanthropic environment. If one reads the words of LA's new CEO carefully, his and his Chair's redesign is is intended to change that Federation's approach to gain greater traction in a community where it has had so little, not to bury the Federation model but to change it. I am in Chicago, where the success and place of the federation is, perhaps, unparalleled; where our federation is the central address of the Jewish community. friends may draw their conclusions from their environments while I draw mine not only from my Chicago experience but from my visits with federations around the country as well. It is true that there are many Jewish communities which are facing many challenges today...but I sense among their leaders, lay and professional alike, a commitment to building and rebuilding and, where necessary, to new experiments in recreating federation.

The impetus for new models of communal organization has several sources: the impacts of the economic collapse, the rise (with the encouragement of federations themselves) even the dominance of designated giving, our increasing mobility and the demise of our rootedness in any given community, the diminishing reach of federations to current generations of donors let alone the next, and other factors. Where experiments in change have been suggested -- e.g., a paper now several years old drafted for discussion at what I recall was a JFNA/UJC event by the Jacksonville and San Antonio federation CEOs, or the ideas flowing from Houston's introspection leading that community forward and shared with JFNA -- JFNA's leaders, lacking any real understanding of the federation movement, just ignored them. And, therein lies the rub.

The rub, the tragedy I perceive is that the federations today lack a national organization that is capable of leading and partnering with local federations as was intended when UJC (now JFNA) was first created by merger. An organization that fails to comprehend its own purposes, let alone the values and principles of the federation movement, can't lead the federations through change. That is the tragic and seminal failure of the federations themselves. For $30.3 million dollars this year and last (and close to $400 million since JFNA was created by merger), our investment, we have demanded literally nothing from the national entity we created and fund and we have received almost nothing in return. Worse, I know of a number of federation leaders, mainly professional but lay as well, who have sought JFNA's assistance (or at least a response), and have been ignored if not shunned.

It did not have to be this way; it doesn't have to be this way. Emerging communities evidencing both high growth and high potential needing both organizational and campaign assistance were to be part of a JFNA Emerging Communities effort -- a JFNA/Federation partnership authorized by the JFNA Board's vote in support of the FRD Study which proposed it. Started with two federations and moving forward, JFNA's leaders literally and precipitously "pulled the plug" on the embryonic effort without any governance authority to do so after two years. Were the program to be revived (which would require some funding [easily diverted from any number of JFNA programs that have no value to the federations] and a deployment of staff members with federation experience), it would send a message to the federations of a new sense of partnership.

It was only three years ago when then UJC professionals turned their collective backs (with no lay involvement) on a mega-donor's offer to fully fund a national e-philanthropy effort. The lay leader, both a Next Gen model of federation involvement and philanthropy, was embarrassed with a "don't call us, we'll call you" attitude at JFNA HQ. Could that leader's interest in serving our system be revived? Not if all JFNA is about is marketing, Washington and waiting for the next disaster to show its "worth."

So, what is needed? First and foremost those federations which provide the bulk of JFNA Dues need to meet to assure that the current self-perpetuating lay leadership oligarchy ends now. Those federation leaders must assure that the next Board Chair (and if the office is to continue [which it shouldn't] Chair of the Executive) be truly representative of those who pay the Dues and that the next group of officers will be immediately recognized as thought leaders and campaign leaders both deserving of respect and respectful of the lay-professional partnership.

Second, a "coalition of willing federations" must join together with the JFNA CEO and President (and if the CEO and President is unwilling to go forward without him) to do for JFNA what it is no longer is capable of doing for itself -- setting priorities for the organization that are in synch with the priorities of the federations themselves...and then (a) commit to funding those priorities and (b) soliciting other federations to join them in a renewed national effort.

No, the federation construct is not "dead" no matter how often some repeat the unsupported conclusion that they are; but our national organization is comatose or tone deaf or both. The federations are hurting badly and require new experiments in governance and financial resource development, in donor acquisition and retention (and I am not suggesting #ish or Heroes or any other toilet training, run it up the flagpole silliness or the extravagance of a wasted "investment" in Sheatufim of close to $1 million of your money with no outcomes, no purpose), in attracting the next generations to lay leadership and in retaining, training and attracting professionals into the federations' work, and in creating a living bridge between North American Jews and the federation system and Israel while continuing to care for those of our People most in need.

It's time for a change -- actually, many changes. And, no one is home.


Friday, July 9, 2010


How many times on these pages have we suggested to JFNA Board Chair Kathy Manning and CEO Jerry Silverman that JFNA recreate the federations' Oak Brook, Illinois "Retreat" convening federation leaders, academics, the Streams and thought leaders from outside the system? I count five times. And how many times have we been ignored...I would guess...five times. A leading thought leader, Steve Windmueller had an even more detailed construct for JFNA -- he was ignored as well.

So who/what is holding a Future of Jewish Nonprofit Summit? Well, it ain't JFNA. With confirmed speakers ranging from "Eliyahu HaGiloni, Prophet, ProphetWanderer," to Kosha Dillz, Rapper, Shamspeed Records. (I am not making this up), to Steve Clark, SVP, British Airways (?), Rabbi Motti Seligman, Media Relations, Chabad, to Wiliam Daroff (you know him -- apparently invited as the major Tweeter in the Jewish nfp world), it should be interesting and very "cutting edge."

I know -- many of you still think that I am making this up -- oh you skeptics -- go to and read the speakers list, the Schedule and register -- then attend and hear Daroff serve on a Panel on "Social Media Successes;" and see the Topics Currently Planned including "Government Data Opening While Jewish Data Is Closing" (huh?), "How to Hire, Fire & Motivate. Plus the Gen Y Phenomenon" (this is a must just to observe how these topics are tied together); and other even more relevant Topics. If you don't wish to go to the website, just tweet William Daroff.

I know -- I am a dinosaur but, Jeez, Kosher Dillz, Rapper, and William Daroff?? Forget I ever suggested a leadership conclave -- this is the real GA.


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


There is a movement afoot, led by some federation CEOs who should know better and JFNA leaders to, as they now call it, "finish the merger" of 11 years ago. I would join this movement and carry its flag were it dedicated to increasing federation resources, increasing the share of those resources with our partners in Israel and overseas, engage in vigorous advocacy for meaningful collective responsibility, focus JFNA on increasing dollars and donors, reaching the new generations of leaders and donors, cementing the bridge between Israel and North America and strengthening federations and federation leadership, among other important, even critical, matters. But none of these...none of these...are the focus of this "movement." Of course not; as you will read below, this is just another JFNA sideshow.

As a curious by-product of the JAFI BOG meetings last month, where a number of federation CEOs were in attendance, this distraction, led by one of them in concert with JFNA leaders (hiding in the shadows as always), has begun to "complete the merger" by "doing away with the United Israel Appeal." Let's be clear at the outset that that aspect of the merger was completed 11 years ago when the UIA Board, reluctantly and with great prescience about the potential outcome of the merger, gave up its independence and became a wholly-owned subsidiary of what is now JFNA. That part of the merger was done, so why the sudden clamor for "completing the already complete?" Let me explain from the perspective of one who led the negotiations with UIA's leaders into the merger and later chaired UIA (all of which has been explained to JFNA leaders over the past decade more than once, more that 10 times)...

At the time of the merger the UIA Board was a hodgepodge of fine men and women dedicated to Israel and the success of the Jewish Agency but who were not all representative necessarily of their federations; it independently nominated American members to the Board and Executive of JAFI; it was responsible for the US Refugee Resettlement Grant (which has meant over $1 billion to the Agency for its purposes); it vetted and directed our American communities' allocations to JAFI and authorized them; it owned significant properties in Israel including Amigour housing for the elderly which became the security for loans to JAFI arising out of underfunding by our system of the Exodus; and it was an advocate for the Agency's work.

That was then; now, 11 years post-merger, UIA is performing the same functions (sans advocacy) with two critical exceptions: (1) its Board is comprised today of current Federation leaders who are committed to Israel. to JAFI and to the goals of JFNA; and (2) its nominees to the JAFI Board and Executive are determined by Committees on which JFNA plays a critical role. And, therein lies the rub. JFNA leaders -- those who utter "they're not JFNA" as often as they do the acronym JFNA -- though these JFNA "leaders" serve and have served on the UIA Board and JAFI Nominating Committees and, to my knowledge have offered one...that's one...nominee for the JAFI Board over a decade other than those recommended by the federations themselves -- these are the "leaders" who want absolute control of that process and (I am speculating here) they also want absolute control of the properties owned by UIA in Israel.

Let's get this absolutely straight -- UIA isn't "broken" in any sense, so JFNA's leaders who have "broken" everything they have touched over the past decade (other than the Washington Office and in the area of disaster relief) want to "control" UIA completely -- apparently so that they can "break" it as well. UIA performs its work pursuant to the express terms and conditions of critical IRS Revenue Rulings -- that federation CEO and JFNA's leaders who would "sponsor" what they mischaracterize as "finishing the merger" would be willing to put the deductibility of our contributions, the vetting of which by UIA is done pursuant to IRS Revenue Rulings specific to the United Israel Appeal, at risk solely in the interests of their selfish and unreasoned demands to control everything.

Please remember that these very leaders have evidenced the reverse Midas touch -- everything (ok, almost everything) they have touched turns to dross. But, they are an irresistible force -- when they "want" something, reason does not get in the way. JDC and JAFI have leveraged with Israeli philanthropists, JFNA "wants in," wreaking havoc as they do so; Chicago decides to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of Operation Exodus, JFNA "wants in" through a few missions and a lot of rhetoric; the Agency and Joint perform their respective vital roles in Yemen, JFNA "wants in" in the worst way and raises funds independent of any process to bring Yemeni Jews to Monsey, New York; JFNA "partners" in the Israel Advocacy Initiative but fails in its one responsibility -- to act as the funding partner; and on and on.

I have a suggestion for this federation CEO and JFNA's "leaders" who are embarked on a "cause" without purpose or thought, paraphrasing an AmericaN politician of equal competence: "come on, don't you have anything better to do than this?" Then again, perhaps not. More to follow...


Sunday, July 4, 2010


After a Jewish Federation Overall Planning and Allocations (Budget) Committee meeting last month, I took the Federation Budget materials back to my office to compare the budget data we in Chicago examine with JFNA's Budget. I have long failed to comprehend why the JFNA Budget process has deteriorated into nothing more than a rubber stamp from the days of vigorous debate and full lay participation -- even as sycophantic JFNA lay leaders blindly praise the national "process" -- essentially a four hour meeting taken up almost entirely by professionals' presentations and a vote. In fact, the JFNA Budget, to my sorrow, reads, as A.O. Scott described a recent film in The New York Times, as if: "...slapped together with the meticulous care of a high school yearbook staff...on deadline."

I started with an examination of what was: at the United Jewish Appeal, the Budget process began with professionals operating within lay-driven guidelines (as does JFNA's) then proceeded through review by the lay constituencies and Committees (as JFNA's does not), culminating in a two day meeting where the administrative and program budgets were presented by the lay Committee and constituency Chairs and lead professionals vigorously debated by a federation populated Lay Committee. And when I write "debated" I mean real uninhibited discussion, tough choices and priority-setting -- final results were never dictated by the professionals. We left those meetings exhausted but satisfied that our final product was one we could present and defend to the UJA Board and to our owners.

In Chicago and probably at your federation, there is a rigorous budget process. Here in my Federation, the programmatic and office Budgets in every area arise out of a Commission process -- one where lay leaders meet with beneficiaries and prioritize programs based upon needs and income projections. The Commissions are populated with federation and community leaders staffed with the best and brightest professionals. Our Budget Committee has the opportunity (which JFNA denies) to review allocations on a program-by-program and line-by-line basis. We examine Federation's estimated income from all sources. We make our recommendations to the Federation Board fully informed.

Yet, at JFNA Budget, Executive and Board, members are willing to ignore proper process and authorize the expenditure of $30.3 million of our money without demanding any...any...revenue analysis and without much in the way of attribution of dollars to programs. Amazingly, the JFNA 2011 Budget Book contains 57 pages...that's 57 pages, my friends...of Program narrative without an assignment of dollar one to any of them. And, at the Budget meeting...nary a question?!? Forget what we do in Chicago, or how you budget in your community, this is nothing more than ignorance of fiduciary duty.

The fact that JFNA plans to operate 57...that's 57...pages of Program is astounding enough -- and speaks more vividly to a horrible lack of focus than anything else -- but couple that with a lack of questions at the Budget and Finance Committee, a lack of questions at the JFNA Executive Committee or Board, suggests that no one cares how our money is spent. And, the lack of any...any...attributable Program costs in the Budget except in a very narrow set of circumstances suggests to this writer that JFNA's leaders treat your, our, Dues as fungible and treat you as imbeciles.

I have no doubt that ultimately it will be irresponsible budgeting (it didn't start at JFNA this year), a lack of focus and a lack of caring will ultimately be the nails in JFNA's coffin. And who will get blamed? You, me?


Thursday, July 1, 2010


~ JFNA has been promoting the revival of Regional Campaign "Ignition" meetings to be held across the country this Summer. These "2011 Annual Campaign Kick-Offs" as they are termed are, if I get it, a means of reintroducing the national organization into the Annual Campaign "game" after a long absence. The question is...just how?

Is it going to be the newly-arrived Paul Kane articulating the "Case for Giving" as they did in New York City or will these meetings proceed with an intro from National Campaign Chair, Michael Lebovitz of Chattanooga, then a bunch of consultants? Where and who are the lay leaders for these "events?" Are they too being recruited now?

~ Like you, I received the JFNA announcement of the opening of Registration for the November New Orleans GA in a Leadership Briefing. It is not until one gets into the body of the Registration link that you will find the price -- $625.00!!!! and that's for early registration!!!! (In case you've forgotten as I did, last year's "early" registration was $575.) If you register by August 6, you get this "discounted" fee -- register after August 6? $695. So, don't wait.

I remember at JFNA'a onset the internal agony over a $495 Registration. Now, no agony over $700 -- pardon me -- $695 -- and that's $5.00 less than on-site Registration for the 2009 DC GA. So, this is a real bargain. There is much one could write -- but OMG will do. Apparently it is "never mind" when it comes to the cost of Jewish organizational participation for you and me. And, in the Budget, JFNA deleted a $500,000 GA subsidy and its leaders "expect" 4,000 to 5,000 registrants for New Orleans -- they must have very wealthy friends...a lot of them. (When I had the temerity to question the Registration Fee, with great sarcasm a JFNA leader asked if I needed a loan.)

It happens that at the same time as the JFNA notice that registration is now open, I received the announcement of this year's ABA Convention -- registration $470.00 (with a scaled down cost for those who don't wish to participate in the entire Convention). Then there is JNF -- inviting registration to their National Conference -- early Registration? $395 per person, $700 per couple!! (Regular Registration after the early-bird, $425 per person.)

Do the JFNA party planners actually talk with participants before pricing? The cost of the GA has gotten completely out of so much else. Let them eat cake, I guess. The GA Registration website asks for "Feedback" -- here's mine: "Are you crazy?"

~ With some kudos to JFNA, a recent Leadership Briefing discussed Federation Partners Care for Kyrgyzstan Crisis Deepens. The prior professional leadership couldn't bring itself to give credit to JDC and JAFI for their incredible work on the ground; this leadership does. Kal ha'kavod.

~ After Chicago's top lay and professional leaders visited Haiti on our federation's behalf, JFNA included their brilliant report in a Connection Briefing, and we suggested that this kind of visit is exactly what our national organization should be doing. That took place two months ago. Just received an invite along with you to participate in a national Mission to Haiti -- three little Missions in fact (and one of them was already sold out). Better late than never. We call this "progress."