Sunday, October 31, 2010


When I wrote the Post, quoting my philosopher, Charles Barkley, STUPIDER...AND MORE STUPID, on October 20, little did I think that I thought I would have to add another "STUPID" to the litany. For I should have known that the powers that be -- the so-called leadership of JFNA -- would surface their own response to the Post (actually it's to "circumstances") -- a proposed Amendment to the JFNA Standing Dues Resolution dating back to 2002, to be voted on by the Federation Members Corporation at the General Assembly. The draft Resolution (claimed to have been vetted by JFNA's Governance, Financial Relations and Executive Committees) came out of the blue -- unmarked to show the changes from the prior Dues resolutions. So, let me help.

I worked with the venerated Albert Ratner and JFNA's pro, Rob Hyman (who is no longer on staff), in a Dues Committee/Financial Relations joint effort to derive a fair and standardized Fair Share Dues structure in 2002. It was quite simple: (1) a Dues formula based on the ratio of your federation's annual campaign to the aggregate of all annual campaigns in the formula year; (2) a payment schedule; (3) a failure to pay Dues would result in a termination of the defaulting federation's rights to membership (including the service of any of its leadership in any JFNA or JFNA-related roles); and (4) a Financial Relations Committee process to determine if a federation had suffered a hardship that might relieve it of the Dues obligation in the year of or year following the claimed hardship.

This process worked well at first. A great set of professionals under Sam Astrof were dedicated to the federations, JFNA and, as well, the overseas partners. A terrific group of Financial Relations Committee members joined me and Cheryl Lefland for JFNA, in visiting federations which asserted a hardship. Jerry Yanowitz, Jay Sarver, Connie Giles, Joel Alperson, and others all visited federations. At the time most of us were discharged (in JFNA-speak "rotated off"), there were no federations in Dues default.

Now, there are many in "default." Some believe they get no (or relatively little) value from the Dues they pay; many were devastated by Madoff; more were devastated by the economy (and many of those had unique circumstances0. And here is what happened -- with no authority to do so JFNA declared a "hardship moratorium." So, to be crass, for the past 6 years going on seven, JFNA's message was: "Yes, you might have a hardship but so what, so do a lot of others, and if we grant you hardship what about them. And we have to fund our budget."

Ahhh, the JFNA Budget, all $30.3 million of it, there's the rub. That Budget, each and every year, presumes full Dues payments by the federations. (I don't know, but if my business's income reduces, we reduce our budget. Same thing at home. But not JFNA.) The expressed attitude of the immediate past Board Chair do what my federation does -- take it off the overseas allocation. The attitude of the current Chair of the Executive has been for a few years that Dues come first and off the top. The best JFNA professionals have acknowledged that if my federation sends in a 1/12th payment of dues and allocation but fails to designate what percentage is to flow to JAFI/JDC, JFNA applies the entirety of the payment to its Budget -- I guess the attitude is that "we'll catch up later and JAFI/JDC can go borrow."

Granting no "hardship" relief, no matter the fact that hardships existed all over the continent, JFNA began cashing underpayments of Dues and sending back to the "offending" (or is that "defaulting") federations (a growing number) a promissory note and a payment plan for the difference between Dues paid and Dues "owed." No prior discussion -- just "sign and pay." Not really a "best practice" for a membership organization; and one being ignored by any number of federations unable or unwilling to pay.

Then as I wrote last week, word began spreading about Dues "deals" that had been cut -- with Palm Beach, Las Vegas, Orlando, etc., etc. -- across the country. Deals that were never processed at the JFNA Executive Committee. Deals of which the relevant JFNA professionals may have been unaware until after the fact. "Deals" that are characterized still sounds like "deals" to me. The communities I have heard about were all suffering hardships but, in reality, hardship status denied many other communities similarly situated.

This leadership now scrambles to codify its worst practices -- promissory notes and payment plans -- without ever discussing those plans with the federation members just as the deals cut have never been discussed with or presented to, e.g., the JFNA Executive Committee. (Want to wager that the JFNA Executive hasn't even seen a list of federations not paying full Dues...can't be trusted.) Oh, they'll have the votes -- it's weighted voting at the Federation Members corporation after all -- but will they have an organization when this is all over?

Do we have one now?


Friday, October 29, 2010


Continuing the analysis begun in the last Post...For two years, in a truly transparent process, the Jewish Agency for Israel, our federations' exclusive agent in Israel, significantly revamped its governance -- a massive albeit incomplete set of changes designed in part to assure that representation on JAFI's governing board would be enthusiastic supporters of the Agency. The culmination of this governance process took place at a time that JFNA's leaders began their own exploration of placing on the Jewish Agency's Board only those loyal to...JFNA. (Readers will remember the rant -- "you're not JFNA and I am.") So, how does this play out?

When I was elected a JAFI Board member, as in all Jewish organizations in which I have been engaged, I came and continue with what JFNA's leaders seem to perceive to be heavy baggage. For I believed and believe that I represent the core values and beliefs of my federation and serve Chicago's and JAFI's best interests -- the great news is that those values and beliefs intersect. At no time have I sensed that I served JAFI in the interests of JFNA -- which, to the best of my knowledge, has neither core values nor a set of core purposes that support either my federation's or JAFI's work. To JFNA, service anywhere must be, first and foremost, to serve the interests of...JFNA...interests that are as undefined today as ever before.

So, under the current JFNA leadership's definition of whether I (or anyone else) should serve on JAFI's Board, the Blog aside, I would be disqualified. Forget that I have been nominated by my federation -- one whose JFNA Dues approach or exceed $3 million annually -- I am "not JFNA" (at least not this one). While I sense that there are very few federation leaders who serve on the JAFI Board who are not enthusiastic supporters of JAFI, the current JFNA leaders want only those who meet the "loyalty oath" of enthusiastic, even unquestioning support of JFNA.

Today, JAFI's Nominating Committee will still look to UIA/JFNA for JAFI Board nominees but not necessarily be bound by those recommendations. I have little doubt that the JFNA Board Chair would wish to control that JAFI Nominating process just as she would want to control the JAFI Leadership (Officers)Nominating process populating both Committees with those who "are JFNA" while JAFI searches for those who "are JAFI." There's no subtlety to this approach, just a wrongheadedness as in most things.

What seems clear is this -- the fiduciary duty and moral responsibility of those serving on the Jewish Agency Board is to the Jewish Agency. Those who feel and articulate some other duty need to resign or reevaluate their service. In our service we bring with us the basic historic principles and core values that inform our Jewish public service. But, we do so without regard to whether we are or are not "JFNA." For those whose service is not informed by those communal values and principles -- but only by their need for the accretion of ever greater control -- I only feel pity seasoned with a soupcon of contempt.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010


There is in Torah the statement of our commitment to G-d -- Na'aseh v'nishma. Variously interpreted, the common meaning has come to be -- "we will do and we will obey." While this is a statement of responsibility of the Jewish People to our G-d, perhaps not surprisingly, it has become a commandment in Jewish organizational life translated from a commitment to G-d to an understanding that it is today a commitment of amcha to a transient leadership -- "we will do and you will obey."

To place this in perspective: JFNA through the United Israel Appeal is a "part owner" of the Jewish Agency for Israel; it has no ownership rights in the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (which clearly frustrates JFNA's acquisitive leadership no end) although the Joint has granted JFNA four seats on its Board (and I can only speculate as to who those four are). JFNA's leaders want to assure that the members of the JAFI Board of Governors from the United States are loyal not to JAFI but to JFNA -- it's the now old "they aren't JFNA" mantra in practice. They either see no conflict with their fiduciary duties to JAFI as a part owner or don't understand. Thus, JFNA's leaders who demand their brand of "loyalty" -- na'aseh v'nishma -- offer none to JAFI in return -- neither in the historic partnership sense nor in the current "ownership" model. (They would make the same demands of JDC but haven't any ownership that would allow them to do so. Tsk, tsk.)

This is your JFNA. Your leaders quite properly have expressed on our behalf their opposition to significant sections of the pending Knesset Rotem Bill but I can see them lining up in support of the "Declaration of Loyalty" legislation as proposed -- after all, they have developed an implicit loyalty oath to JFNA if you want "citizenship" there. (But, and this is a rather big "but") inasmuch as JFNA's current purposes are far from clear, if "purpose" is in their lexicon at all, that JFNA "Declaration of Loyalty" is really fealty to a transient set of chairs. If you don't make the "Declaration of Loyalty," you "aren't JFNA" of course and, therefore, in the mindset of this leadership, you may not serve in any role at JFNA or on the JAFI Board, or, if they could control it, anywhere else.

In their demands to control the UIA nominating process for JAFI Board and Committee membership, even beyond their "need" to control all. they ignore their own counsel. For, in an exhaustive legal analysis undertaken at JFNA's direction in 2009, preeminent outside counsel determined, among other things, that the service of UIA Board members on JAFI's Board was part of the implementation of UIA's responsibility (pursuant to IRS Letter Rulings on the subject) to monitor, as principal, JAFI's work as our Agent. Never mind, these leaders seem to assert, "they're not JFNA."

So, let's drill down -- just who are "not JFNA?" At the United Israel Appeal they are sitting Chairs of Large City Federations, past Chairs of Federations large and small who continue to serve on their Federations' Boards and Executive Committees, chief professional officers of federations representing every City-size, major donors and present and past Campaign Chairs from across the United States. (Canadian members of the BOG serve at the nomination of Keren Ha'Yesod. They have no pledge of fealty.) These are the leaders who JFNA claim are "not JFNA?" They are, of course, you and me.

Then, just who are those who "are JFNA?" Well, I can only surmise that they are (1) those who are part of the ever tighter, ever tinier, infinitesimal clique of JFNA's version of "leadership;" (2) those whom JFNA's leaders believe they can absolutely control; and (3) anyone that the Chairs and CEO point to with their magic wands and anoint as "JFNA." . And, as to JAFI, that's it -- the rest of us (and, I guess, our federations inasmuch as we have not been placed on the Jewish Agency Board and Committees without the recommendation of our federation) are traif. Now, JFNA's Chair wants JFNA seats on the JDC Board. As Ms. Manning would sarcastically say: "Like that's going to happen."

Na'aseh v'nishma, chevre.


Sunday, October 24, 2010


I am in Jerusalem for the Jewish Agency Board of Governors meetings. I arrived last Thursday and spent Shabbat in this glorious home of our People. All of you know the feeling of looking out from your Hotel at the Walls of the Old City on Shabbat and the sense one has of being home.

I also arrived in time to read Ethan Bronner's story in last Thursday's New York Times -- Palestinians seek leverage in the push for statehood. Here is how Bronner's story, by-lined Ramallah, West Bank, began: "The Palestinian leadership, near despair about attaining a negotiated agreement with Israel on a two-state solution..." What nonsense -- in their "despair," this "leadership" refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish State, and in their hand-wringing (or is it Bronner's hand-wringing for them), these same Palestinian "leaders" would not sit with Israel and negotiate until the 9th month of the Israelis' 10 month settlement freeze (Bronner might wish to read Tom Friedman's op-ed of the same date; then again, perhaps not) and, even then, halfheartedly, apparently relying on a misguided Obama Administration to pressure Israel to concessions while neither making nor offering any themselves. Welcome to Yerushalayim.

And, last Thursday the Jerusalem Post and Ha'aretz reported on the Orthodox Rabbinate's determination to hold the Orthodox conversion of 1000's of members of the IDF hostage to the passage of the Conversion Bill. I think I have come to a full understanding of what perfidy and fundamentalist ignorance really have come to mean. And our North American organization -- silent. Welcome to Yerushalayim.

And coming here always means renewal -- of the spirit and of friendships. Meeting with past and present professional partners. with old and dear friends whom one hasn't seen for months. We compare our various maladies (something very Jewish). Helping to negotiate some serious issues on behalf of the Jewish Agency in a spirit of good will and mutual respect, in many ways renew one's and faith in the future, shadowed as always, by serious flaws in Israel-Diaspora relations that can only be remedied by new lay leadership in North America. For JAFI it is time for new plans, a renewed dedication to Jewish Peoplehood; a difficult and challenging road ahead to be travelled it appears with diminished resources. Our voices will not be silent as we carry the message of need home in a few days. Welcome to Yerushalayim.

I walk to the kotel, the Western Wall, and pray for the health of our older son, who will be in surgery tomorrow, and for the health of dear friends who could not join us this time as they fight to recover their health. Touching the Wall and all that the kotel embodies and symbolizes calms me and fills me with the sense that all will be well. God hear my prayers. Welcome to Yerushalayim.


Saturday, October 23, 2010


The JTA, last month, led off its Daily Briefing with "As recession drags on, middle class families forced to Jewish food banks." But...never mind:

Shortly before he left the New York UJA-Federation for the greener pastures of JFNA senior professional leadership, Paul Kane added a Blog Post for JTA titled "The Gift of a Crisis." I think that Paul's thesis was this: "...the economic downturn...the economic truly a gift to federations..." because " (will) change the way we ask members of our communities to partner with us."

So, let me get this straight -- the recession that has so damaged every one of our communities, that continues to impact on the daily lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews across the Continent, across the Jewish world, is really, if you look at it with this kind of cock-eyed optimism, "a gift." We will now be driven to nurture those who have so much less. Wow -- guess that Palm Beach and Boston and Minneapolis were twice-blessed: they had Madoff and the recession!! What nurturing must be going on in those communities!!

Of course, it helps to be in NYC. Where else could a federation hire "...eighteen PROs (those are "Principal Relationship Officers," got it?) working with 250 major donors" in the midst of the recession.

Now, we are in the third year, at least, of an economic catastrophe -- I guess we could call it "the gift that keeps on giving." Just think what "gifts" a Depression might bring.

As I wrote above -- Yikes!!!!


Thursday, October 21, 2010


Three weeks before the General Assembly, JFNA trumpeted a "unique" set of moments at this year's GA (no, not the Golf Outing) -- "HISTORIC JEWISH SERVICE DAYS SET FOR 2010 GENERAL ASSEMBLY." Something called Repair the World, "a new national platform organization," will lead the way. I thought to myself on reading the Leadership Briefing: how little our leaders know about our work, the history of our commitments, the help we give. I let it go. Then I received a letter from a federation leader, a passionate thought leader, a concerned Jewish citizen. I decided to completely reprint it here:

"I find this patronizing and obnoxious on so many levels

1) If Historic is defined as "having importance in or influence on history"
- this is far from historic. Its exaggeration as a part of Jewish History on any level either makes a mockery of our rich Jewish history or it displays the utter ignorance of Jewish History by the writer. A great observer of modern communications once said "The greatest export on the internet - greater, even, than information - is hyperbole"

There is a limit to hyperbole - JFNA has yet to find theirs.

2) I think that Service days are wonderful and I am fully supportive of them, BUT, the people who attend GAs - at least the lay people, are the Leading VOLUNTEERS in Jewish Life.; They all donate hundreds and hundreds of work hours every year, the last thing they need is JFNA trying to encourage them to give community service. This is Chutzpa to the nth degree. "

Friends, in my community and I would wager, yours, hundreds and thousands of Jews young and old, join together in Mitzvah programs -- in Chicago we call our terrific work the Tov Project, in your community it is named something else -- we didn't need "a new national platform organization" -- and we don't. What we need is national federation organization of purpose and passion. As they say in New Orleans -- Who Dat?


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


A few months ago I wrote a Post about the rumored "Dues deals" that I had heard JFNA leaders had cut with a number of federations. I was admonished by Steven Silverman, the JFNA Financial Relations Committee Chair -- "no deals" he said. He asked me to call a great JFNA pro, Cheryl Lefland, to confirm. I did and published my apology days later. Just months later I learned that JFNA was not "making deals" with communities which could no longer afford full Dues but would, instead, issue promissory notes and a payment schedule to any federation underpaying its Dues for whatever the reason. Hardship? Fuggedaboutit. My assumption was and is that JFNA borrowed heavily against these "accounts receivable" ignoring whether the federations to which the notes were sent had any intention to pay now or in the future.

As one of my principal philosophers, Charles Barkley, recently responded to Lebron James' claim that race played a part in the criticism he received for the way in which he left Cleveland: "It's like watching a movie. Just when you think it can't get any stupider, it gets more stupid."

You know that apology I wrote about above, never mind. In a Fundermentalist interview on the Orlando "situation," the Orlando CEO acknowledged significant (and needed) Dues relief. Las Vegas, we have learned, has received significant (and needed) Dues relief. And, what about Palm Beach, South Palm Beach County, Minneapolis and MetroWest -- all devastated in one extreme or another, by Madoff. What about Phoenix, whose annual campaign has been devastated by deaths, the economy and three instances of alleged massive fraud? What of the communities being sucked dry by Community Center debt and operating deficits? What about San Francisco, which must literally begin anew after barely running a 2009-2010 annual campaign? And what about Philadelphia, attempting to camouflage its lack of FRD behind a "new planning and allocations process?" And, on and on?

And, what of the federations which month after month and year after year, pay their Dues like the good soldiers they are. Shouldn't they have express concerns over how JFNA plans to meet rather than pare its budget? You remember that this is a JFNA busy holding seminars and panel discussions that operate on the "premise" that the recession is over; embarking on programs of significant expense with no prospect of success -- all while so very many...federations are operating on life support.

Will this systemic collapse be discussed anywhere on the General Assembly calendar? Of course not. It's too "controversial," or, more likely, hardly understood, by a leadership so disconnected from what is going on in the field. Sadly, Jerry Silverman has visited so many of these federations; I know he hears their pain; the sound is impossible to avoid.

Yep, "[J]ust when you think it couldn't get any stupider..." Friends, it just doesn't have to be this way.


Sunday, October 17, 2010


Lot's going on....

~ Hi. It's Me, Kathy. As if to demonstrate how involved in everything is the JFNA Chair, if you happen to have called our national hot spot over the past month and were put on hold, you would hear the Chair's dulcet tones inveighing you to come to New Orleans for the GA. Not some professional pitchman, not Jerry or Michael or the GA Co-Chairs, but the Chair's herself. And a fine voice it is.

~ #ish. We wrote our Post about the wild statistical claims of the JFNA "ish crowd" a while ago. Not surprising, at least to me, we have heard from CEOs from around the country -- of all City-sizes -- expressing their amazement at the cost and the lack of return on investment. Friends, we all agree, JFNA should experiment. But when an experiment fails, don't try to paint it as a success; admit it didn't work; and move on. Instead, someone(s) at JFNA is hiding failure behind jargon here, pure and simple. What jargon? Well, in a few paragraphs there was: "equivalency of..." "impressions of our banner" "tweet reach" and "Federation Finder traffic..." There was probably more. But, at the end of the day...federation benefits are wholly unknown from a claim of 53,000,000 "unique visits" and "200,000,000 impressions" (maybe that was the "equivalency of..."). Sounds and reads like smoke and mirrors to a cost of $250, far.

~ More on the PM Mission. You may remember back a few weeks when Kathy Manning received a letter from Prime Minister Netanyahu asking that JFNA and the federations hold the line on allocations to JAFI? Manning wrote back a letter insulting in its lack of any response to the Prime Minister on the specifics of his. So, on the PM Mission, guess what? The Prime Minister was unable to find the time to meet with the JFNA contingent. Yes, there are consequences.

~ A Friend of the Blog, a great federation leader, took up the challenge of listing five JFNA "accomplishments" as I asked. His list:

"1. Steady increases in the overseas allocations despite the deterioration in the US economy
2. Careful stewarding of emerging federation markets resulting in solid lay participation in their campaigns
3. Successfully identified and cultivated the next generation of leadership

4. Carefully reengaged key lay leadership that had become alienated.
5. Kept its budget in line with its scale of effort and success"

Of course I have admonished him for his sarcasm. But, seriously, what's your list of five unique JFNA achievements over the past five years -- other than the Washington Office? I would welcome learning from JFNA's leaders (who claim "never to read this Blog" and then complain to all within and beyond earshot that I am "insulting them personally") what they believe their (I would say, instead, "JFNA's" but they believe that JFNA is about personal achievement)accomplishments have been. Write me, I'll keep your names hidden.

~ Howard Rieger published a most remarkable Op-Ed in The Fundermentalist ( --In a do-your-own-thing world of giving, how do we do our own thing? To me this was "vintage pre-UJC Rieger" -- reflecting with incredible insight into the world he and we all care about. It was a well-written, well thought through work that reflected the Howard Rieger we thought had been hired as UJC CEO. Read the article -- truly superb.


Thursday, October 14, 2010


In response to the evidence of this leadership's power grabs, a large number of you have written me to ask "how can this happen time and again?" Allow me to speculate:

1. The "too few care" theory. Perhaps, these leaders sense that they can operate without constraint because no one really cares what they do...or how they do it, believing that whatever they do just makes no difference. The potential brakemen on this train -- the Fedration Executives -- who could stop them, understandably care more about their own (often communal) agendas: lower Dues, don't do any advocacy in our communities, don't do anything in our communities and, did I mention...lower Dues.

2. The "we got away with it before" theory. Perhaps the JFNA Chair, when serving as Chair of the Executive, routinely ignored the reality that only 1/3rd of the federations, if that, were present at a 2009 JFNA Retreat from which JFNA deduced a "consensus" that has now led to a "global planning table" and overrode the reality that this ONAD II violates reason as well as governance, further ignoring process and governance, so why not elevate this disregard. "I got away with it then, why not again?" And, no one stops it.

3. The "Jerry Silverman is still learning" theory. Until Jerry is fully familiar with the nuances and processes and governance he has inherited, he may not know when his Chairs are about to ignore them. His learning curve is a steep one.

4. The "we have nothing else to do so why not do this" theory. What else are these Chairs actually doing? Jerry is flying to federation after federation, listening and learning -- the Chairs are, apparently, talking to themselves, meeting with reporters for nice, charming stories about themselves and their spouses, attending JDC and JAFI Board meetings and breast-beating about "it's our money" and, once in a while, they propel themselves out to a federation unable to pay its Dues to cajole and plead. (Were I Silverman I would be so pleased that they are staying out of the way while I restructure the professional staff and begin to implement in "the five areas of focus.") So they meddle, unrestrained by the processes or governance by which they are bound, in the sole interest of trying to control all things: Kathy serving as monarch, Gelman looking in the mirror and visualizing himself as the "actual Chair."

5. The "we got our hands caught in the cookie jar but apologizing is a sign of weakness" theory. There are some who believe that the best means to push JFNA forward is to act first and apologize after the fact. This leadership. learning the worst from their predecessors, believe in acting (and acting out) but believe that to reverse course or even apologize is just something the monarchy doesn't do. They believe that apologizing weakens them in some way (I would offer that it would humanize them) and might forestall the next acts they plan (or fail to plan) to undertake.

6. The "our predecessors did so much worse" theory. Speaks for itself. This theory would justify almost anything. That's a helluva record to emulate. But these guys are on their way in this year of the Olympics to a new JFNA record. As one leader said to me -- "we can't allow great lay people and great donors to be run over rough-shod by those who are but power mongers." Mazel tov.

Pick your theory...or offer your own.


Monday, October 11, 2010


When Kathy Manning assumed the Board Chair role at The Jewish Federations of NA, I had hopes, expressed so often on these pages that some of you wrote to express your conclusion that this Blog had become no more than a job application for a lay position at JFNA...hopes that a breath of fresh air would breeze through the lay leadership of the organization, matching that apparently brought to the organization's professional leadership by Jerry Silverman. The previous three years had been filled with so many in personam attacks on those out of favor for whatever the rationale, real or imagined (and most often the latter), I, and others, chose to believe that Manning was merely an observer of the reprehensible behavior that characterized too many of the actions of her then Board Chair. I had hopes, which I expressed here and personally to Manning, that hers would be a fresh start. You judge the results to date....I am so disappointed.

When I chaired the United Israel Appeal, the then UJC Board Chair (with the connivance of the current Chair of the Executive) threatened the organization's very existence -- forget UIA's critical role in the United States Refugee Resettlement Grant, forget UIA's exclusive role, pursuant to IRS Rulings, in monitoring our allocated funds to the Jewish Agency. These guys wanted all power vested in them and certainly did not want a voice of dissent as UIA's Chair even when that voice was expressed in private (long before this Blog came into being). no point did those "leaders" usurp the institutional functions of the United Israel Appeal -- even though they thought about doing so and drafted Resolutions which had they passed might have done so.

As Silverman is clearly driving the organization's focus and programming, apparently these Chairs have little else to do. Surely, Manning and Gelman knew full well that they had and have no appoint members of the JAFI Executive -- the JFNA leaders serve and have served for years on the UIA Nominating Committee that goes through an elaborate federation leadership-driven process to nominate members to the JAFI Board elected by UJC and to the Jewish Agency Executive. The By-Laws of the Jewish Agency and UIA, but not those of JFNA, provide the legal methodology for the nomination of members of the JAFI Executive -- there is no JFNA process for the selection of members of the JAFI Executive.

So, why would they seek to usurp the functions of UIA? The UIA is doing its job of monitoring in an exemplary manner. Well, they don't like those aspects of the merger that created JFNA that "get in their way," so they just choose to ignore those they can't and won't abide. Instead of focusing strictly on FRD and increasing allocations to JAFI or JDC, they have apparently concluded they can strengthen JFNA at JAFI's and JDC's expense. They fail to comprehend (or, if they comprehend, fail to understand) that as JAFI, JDC and ORT are strengthened, JFNA is strengthened as a by-product, not the reverse.

This has do with leaders who seem not to understand what leadership demands of them...who, even after "auditioning" for years, don't understand their roles. Like their predecessors, who come to think of it, included them, decisions are made in the dark shadows without regard for process or deliberation. It's pitiful. As one correspondent wrote: "JFNA practices 'raccoon management' -- small animals chasing shining objects." These are not the actions of serious leaders. In an article in Sports Illustrated last month on the vicious and public divorce of the owners that threatens the very existence of the Los Angeles Dodgers, there was a telling remark made by one of them on the date they bought the team: "The Dodgers are the business. We are the brand." Or to put it in JFNA terms: "The Jewish Federations of North America is the brand. We are the business." And, they are so wrong.

Examples abound: They speak of their "partners" -- the Joint and Jewish Agency -- yet, at the "Allocations Summit" last month (at which JAFI and JDC were not invited), without pushback, the Chair of the Executive, pushing for a "return to ONAD" with 10% of the disastrously low federation allocation, kept arguing and asserting that that 10% should just be transferred over to Birthright -- it being "JFNA's money" presumably to do with as the Chairs see fit (is their any conflict with the Chair of the Executive's spouse's position as Chair Emeritus of Birthright? -- nah, never mind); they push out those with institutional memory parachuting in those who nod their heads in agreement with anything they wish to do; they seek positions on the JAFI Executive creating a fiduciary duty to that organization and then undermine that organization at their whim; and on and on.

And just ask yourselves one question -- what five accomplishments can JFNA point to with pride over the past five years -- just one institutional accomplishment a year? Not much to ask. Just, to use the latest jargon, give us a "bucket of accomplishments."

Maybe the question shouldn't be "can lay leaders change" but, rather, will they? Or will we? Will it never change? What do these "leaders" need to wake them to their responsibilities?


Friday, October 8, 2010


Jerry Levin is a great business success story and has been a dedicated Leader of the New York UJA-Federation, and JFNA for many years. I have the greatest respect for his dedicated, passionate leadership. He serves today as c Chair of the JFNA Marketing Committee. Just a few days ago, Jerry sent a What's Your Ish Update to his Committee; I will reprint the conclusions he reported with a few Comments. With regard to What's Your Ish?:

" Increased Brand Awareness

  • Achieved PR/media coverage totaling 53,000,0000 unique visits, with an equivalency of $1.3 million (on investment of $250K) (if someone knows what this entire sentence [or any part of it] means, please explain)

  • Generated over 200,000,000 impressions of our banner ads, generating over 230,000 clicks on our online ads

  • Generated over 263,000 total YouTube video views

  • Total of 2,212 followers and fans on Facebook and Twitter

  • Tweet reach of 57,265 from our followers retweeting @ jfederation"

I could print more but why bother.

According to some JFNA professional who wrote this Memo that Levin then signed "unique visits" (which means all visitors to a site -- repeat and new) totals almost 10 times the Jewish population of the United States; the number of impressions of "banner ads" equaled 40 times the Jewish population of the United States. There's more, of course, but could anyone possibly believe this stuff? I figure if every employee in the JFNA Marketing and Communications area had been ordered to hit on the ish site 5 times an hour, day and night (and, perhaps, they were), it would take them until the Mashiach arrives to hit these numbers. (I know, Jerry is here; but, really.) I checked with some friends in the industry who write software that it is fairly easy to generate "hits" electronically to drive up numbers -- not that I am suggesting that was done here, of course.

In their world of unreality the authors want you to believe that ish "[G]enerated 38% increase in Federation Finder traffic to websites of local Federations" How about your federation? How about at the federations represented on the Marketing Committee?

The only reality in this JFNA Memo appears to be the cost -- something we asked about since day one of the ish era. For the first time we learn it was $250,000 - a...quarter...of...a...million...dollars. Unbelievable but clearly an investment that requires a return. So, with all of the ish numbers, Jerry Levin had to ask "...the most critical question -- what happened at the local Federation level as a result of the increased web traffic?" (A question based upon a debatable premise.) Wouldn't you think that with "53,000,000 unique visits" federation would have lined up for months before this question was asked, singing the praises of ish? No...because intuition says that with a claimed 53,000,000 unique visits and 200,000,000 "impressions of banner ads," we received...a bill for $250,000 and little if anything more.

As a companion piece, #ish has been buried in the Heroes effort, in a JFNA "subsidiary." The connection between federations and #ish is thereby further obscured, if one can find it at all. You visit not but to make a "unique visit." It takes a very bright and intuitive person to connect these invisible dots. And it makes the numbers claimed all the more unlikely, don't you think?

For those of you interested, visit the UrbanDictionary for the urban slang definition of ish; then put a "bull" in front of it.


Tuesday, October 5, 2010


~ The Prime Minister's Mission. After three years with no PM Mission, JFNA placed one on the calendar for October 4-11. It named past UJA Chair and UJC founding Chair of the Executive, Joel Tauber, as Mission Chair in commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of Operation Exodus for which Tauber deserves great credit. As has been the case for too many years, the Mission would be built on a Chicago contingent, led by Renee and Lester Crown, of 35, the hope was, as in the Mission we led in 2007, that a national recruiting effort led by Tauber would produce, as did that Paris-Jerusalem Mission, at least an equal number of participants from around the country. It didn't.

Even with some great federation leaders aboard, fewer than 15 were recruited to join the Crowns and Chicago (most of them recruited by a single committed JFNA Development [ooops, make that "philanthropic resources"] pro including, to her credit, Kathy Manning) -- Tauber, himself, could only make the St. Petersburg portion -- an apparent scheduling conflict for the Mission Chair(!?). The Mission will be a huge fund raising success for Chicago, kicking off our 2011 Campaign with gathering momentum. What it could have been for won't be.

~ Rebranding...again. JFNA has "rebranded" its Development effort -- in fact Development no longer exists (did you miss it?). It's now Philanthropic Resources. This will no doubt make a huge...make that huuuuuuge...difference. Somehow, our marketing guru, the CEO himself, who at a meeting with Chicago federation leaders early on in his JFNA service, maybe even before it began, stood tall and behind the renaming of the Development effort to the "United Jewish Appeal," forgot. Let's drop any pretense that JFNA has anything to do with, can I say the word, Campaign. More on this in a full Post dedicated to the subject.Is there someone in a dark room somewhere coming up with these rebrands?

~ What I Am Reading Now...Continued. I have been remiss in not bring to your attention the excellent Blog, While I know our friends at JFNA have back-burnered the Conversion legislation controversy for six months, I hope they are still reading, if nothing more.

~ Tribefest (cont'd). So this Tribefest "thing" has now been set. I call it a "thing" because other than a "party" or "fest," there's no substance to it least not yet. Read all about it on something called "Facebook;" March 6-8, 2011 at the Mandalay Bay even as community stalwarts Sheldon Adelson and Danny Greenspun each own magnificent hotels with more than competitive pricing and a consuming interest in helping their Jewish community and People. The fact that JFNA has proceeded with this event with almost no consultation with the Las Vegas federation astounds. Could you conceive of a circumstance where JFNA would come to, let's say, Miami and meet with the Mayor and a member of Congress without notice in advance to or consultation with Jacob Solomon and the federation? It wouldn't happen -- so why Las Vegas?

Then there is this. A "chaver of the Blog" (a "COB") wrote in response to our Post on the subject: "So many Native Americans are of Jewish descent. They intermarried with Jews who were exiled from Spain in 1492 are probably the truly "Lost Tribe.' And if we can start new federations on tribal lands think of the revenues we could generate for annual campaigns..." Uh-huh. Must mean generate for annual "Philanthropic Resources."

But...there has been a serious miscalculation here. The emerging generation wants to be treated be taken seriously. At the Young Leadership Cabinet Retreat a few months ago, you will recall, our next and future leaders who raised but a small amount compared to other times, were treated to...a comedian and a casino night ("which can be replicated in your communities.") Now, casino night trumped with a Tribefest. This is the ultimate in patronizing. It's all so sad.


Saturday, October 2, 2010


JFNA needs a brain.

~ The Tribefest? Many of you participated in the series of biennial Young Leadership Cabinet Washington Conferences. Each Conference was an incredibly exciting a place for emerging leaders to come together, learn in a passionate environment and engage with our nation's leaders. I know how energized I was at each one I attended. These were important, content-rich Conferences. Then, based on the false premise that these Conferences were so 90's (I guess), JFNA embarked on the Cabinet's Tel Aviv I, transferring that energy to Israel. Attendance was much smaller but the excitement was there. And, then...there was neither Washington nor Tel Aviv. These exciting and content-rich moments for the Cabinet ended with a Habitat for Humanity Day in post-Katrina New Orleans (which will be replicated in some way at the GA next month).

And then I read Jerry Silverman's Looking Ahead New Year's greeting. No Washington Tel Aviv. No, not those, for this coming March there will be (trumpets please) a "mega-conference." Tribefest, slated for Las Vegas in March. Yes, that's right...Las Vegas...Tribefest. One big party. Why? You might ask? But, ask Jerry. Las Vegas...Tribefest.

Curious guy that I am, I Googled Tribefest. Thought I might find something more. I didn't but I will caution the party planners at JFNA -- some of your prospects for the Fest might confuse Tribefest with Tribal Fest 11 & Black Sheep Belly Dance (I don't even want to think what that might be) Kajira Djoumahi. If I get more info on this one now in its 11th year, I will pass it on.

JFNA has become a numbers game (not donors, not dollars, just how many names) and a party planner. Young and emerging leaders are pandered to and patronized but given little credit for smarts. This is the ultimate -- a feckless Fest.

~ The Israel Action Network or If You Don't Learn From the Mistakes of the Past, You're Bound to Repeat Them. Back in July I wrote Hot Air Redux belittling the JCPA Chair for telling a reporter that JFNA leaders could expect millions in the coming years from JFNA. My apologies. For between Rosh Ha'Shana and Yom Kippur, in a series of conference calls with City-size federation professional leadership, JFNA sought funding at specific levels of support for something called The Israel Action Network (which, they assert is something very different from The Israel Advocacy Initiative -- the IAI -- the underfunded JCPA-JFNA "Partnership" for which JFNA sought funding two years ago [and failed]).

Here's the ridiculous and the sublime: The IAI (not to be confused with the new IAN, of course) and the IAN (not to be confused with the IAI -- got it?) won't merge, both will continue. The IAI will have one strong Co-Chair, Chicago's Midge Perlman Shafton; the IAN will have a single strong Chair, Chicago's David Sherman. Both are eloquent, passionate leaders. Midge however has a Co-Chair, appointed by JFNA. Yes, of course, who else but the ubiquitous Toni Young. Why Ms Young -- she has already chaired (and, in some instances, still does) Israel and Overseas, the Israel and Overseas Coordinating Council (anyone know what that does other than Sheatufim?), the moribund Center for Jewish Philanthropy and some other stuff -- is there no one else whom Manning could appoint to lead this stuff?

The threat/actuality of boycotts, divestment and sanctions are extremely serious matters. No doubt. They deserve to be addressed in a serious manner. I have listened carefully to the presentations and read the materials. The budget and timing are being driven, as often are so many things at JFNA, by dates. In this instance the need to roll out the staff, et al., of the IAN at the November GA is the tail wagging this dog. What do they say: act in haste repent at leisure. We should all be pleased that JFNA will have real skin in this game -- funding, we are told, 1/2 the annual budget (although I would say trust but verify). The framework for the IAN as I read it was basically borrowed from that of the older UJC national plan for Jewish institutional security -- an early warning system, a national notification process, a hotline, etc. But in this case to confront the issues of BDS.

So, in response, JFNA creates a new subsidiary -- a Network of importance which will also provide JCPA budget relief -- I guess JCPA would help fund but it has no resources with which to do so. Other than the ever-present Martin Raffel (a portion of whose salary will be paid by you through this Network), it appears that there will be major staffing and a three year cost of $5.2 million -- $1.7 million in this year alone. Somehow, William Daroff will lead the JFNA professional side of this effort along with his other extremely productive professional roles. A "project manager" will be hired. What we know for certain is this: JFNA has a core budget that far exceeds its core competency but is far less than its ever-expanding "need" for control.

So, at a time that JFNA is really doing nothing to advocate for increased resources -- whether that advocacy be for the federations, or for JDC, JAFI and ORT (each of which in their own way are articulate advocates for Israel and against its delegitimization), with its own Israel Office staffed at levels that defy logic, at a time that all federations are stretched as never before, when JFNA is attempting to convince JAFI and the Joint that an "aspirational federation allocations minimum" is achievable, your federation is being asked for,a at least, a multi-thousand (for some well over 1/2 million) dollar commitment over and above Dues.

A few questions: My federation will offer its total support; it is one of those driving this effort. If federations respond, where, for most communities, do you think that most if not all of those dollars are going to come? And, was any thought given to merging the IAI effort with this new Network -- one that will be another JFNA "subsidiary?" Does JFNA truly believe that it can effectively lead this effort when it has heretofore led nothing to success? And just where does the IAN fit within the list of JFNA priorities? And does such a list exist?

A friend of the Blog just sent me a fascinating albeit scatter shot Post that appeared in -- From Riches to Rags -- A Story of Jewish Joblessness by Shmarya Rosenberg. Rosenberg's message: "It is not business as usual in America, Individual Jews seem to know this, but the Jewish community does not." While I don't agree with all of the author's conclusions, what I see from our national leadership is but another example of Nero fiddling away, with JFNA being driven by the largest "haves" with little regard for the smaller have nots.

And how much will that Tribefest cost?