Sunday, November 28, 2010


OMG, the Forward reported on September 10 that research conducted by the Brandeis University's Cohen Center for Modern Jewish Studies among 1200 interviewees concluded that "[A] majority of American Jews feel attached to Israel and the overall level of attachment has remained stable for nearly a quarter of a century." Further, as Forward reporter Gal Beckerman wrote: "The study...did show generally lower lower levels of 'connection to Israel' among those younger than thirty...these numbers are not surprising. Every generation goes through a normal 'life-cycle...' which grows as people get older; in similar studies over the past 20 years, these researchers say, the ratio of younger people who don't feel an attachment to Israel has remained constant. Instead, the research points to a steady number: the 63% of all respondents who say they feel 'very much' or 'somewhat' connected to Israel and the 75% who say that Israel is an important part of their identity." (emphasis added)

This is a Hillel-Shamai debate of sorts. You have Beinart and his ilk citing Luntz surveys that young people in America care less about Israel today and, now, a broader survey evidencing that they much as previous generations. Beinart, of course, expresses pessimism because the Brandeis survey would in many ways undermine his narrative; the leaders of the Brandeis research find many reasons for optimism.

The implications of the Brandeis study seem obvious -- all of the hand-wringing about the "NextGen" might have been for naught. Our federations and JFNA, rather than arguing that this generation "having no direct connection to the Holocaust, the birth of the State, the Six Day War" and more, and, therefore, need new connections, "events" like Tribefest (which JFNA, in its way, claims in a story in JTA that it already has 1,600 "registrants" even though no Registration was possible at the time of the story).

There appears to be no comprehension at JFNA that the emerging generation of men and women who will be and, in so many instances, are our leaders are serious, caring people. So, failing to understand, the leaders of JFNA pander and engage in frivolous activities without meaning or real purpose. "If we build it, they will come" seems to be the operating mantra, never defining what "it" is, what "its" purposes are beyond numbers. So, while JFNA plans casino nights and Las Vegas "events," never is there time to plan activities that connect a younger generation or two to our communities. At the GA's end, Jerry Silverman described a "focus group" process where unaffiliated young men and women were asked, apparently, what might be attractive to them -- from this emerged...Tribefest. Yet, I have seen a list of topics for the GA that a group of the best and brightest of the same generation suggested -- a list that was sent to Jerry long before the final GA program emerged. These were serious topics from serious people. Not one of them made it to the GA Program.

No, the extant leadership would rather believe that the rising generations have no connection to the things we care about. That belief, apparently, justifies toilet-training fund raising and activities and "events" irrelevant to their growing commitment and seriousness. JFNA if it continues with pandering, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, will drive these leaders away while believing that there is value in numbers alone.

They never learn.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010


As several of you have noted in Anonymous Comments and in personal e-mail to me, an undisputed horrific decline in the number of donors to the federation annual campaigns is the primary contributor to the crisis (I think that's the right word) confronting the federation system and, to some, hard evidence of federations waning communal leadership. Let's reflect on just how bad things are, what JFNA is (or more to the point, is not) doing about it, and then try to answer the question: "what can be done?"

Let's start with one stark comparison. We are celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Operation Exodus this year and next. In the peak years of that incredible campaign UJA and, in the main, the federations, delivered gifts from 1,250,000 donors; today the best estimates are that as a system the federations have in the aggregate 450,000 donors (some have concluded that the number is really as low as 350,000 donors to the Annual Campaign). In other words, twenty years post-Exodus our donor base has shrunk to at most 36% of what it was twenty years ago. This is nothing less than a tsunami, overwhelming the system we once had.

For many years, first UJA and then JFNA promised to deliver a donor acquisition plan that might help to reverse the flood of donors leaving us for elsewhere or nowhere. UJA at least tried. At JFNA, just a few years ago, it was claimed that the national organization "held in its hands" the plan; then the responsible FRD professional (who was totally commited to the effort) was terminated plan -- not then, not since. Today, under Jerry Silverman, it seems clear that JFNA is engaged in a series of failed alleged "donor acquisition experiments" -- Heroes, #ish -- which were "sold" as Next/Now Generation attractions to bring hundreds of thousands, if not more, of new prospects to the federations. These "experiments" have attracted almost none to the federations.

Some federations, already deep in a hole, are hoping against hope that new, more attractive, interesting and accessible websites will drive the donor numbers (or, at the least, engage those who are disengaged today) up. JFNA and the Los Angeles Federation have engaged those who claimed to be the cutting edge of Obama's e-donor efforts to lead this one -- all they have proved to date is that raising money for a political candidate and raising donors for our Jewish philanthropy just aren't the same thing. (And just how many $10 online contributions will it take to make up for the loss of one $100,000 donor? 10,000 by my count.)

One insightful Commentator to my November Post -- DO THEY NOT KNOW OR DO THEY NOT CARE? -- observed: "Federations haven't changed much in decades, besides raising less money from fewer donors now. This is not because federations are less relevant in the needs that they are addressing, in fact the economic crisis has shown that federations have the opportunity to address community issues at the macro level. The quality with which federations are communicating what they do, what the communal needs are, and creating the opportunities for meaningful engagement of younger community members is the problem."

Let me repeat -- The quality with which federations are communicating what they do, what the communal needs are, and creating the opportunities for meaningful engagement of younger community members is the problem. But JFNA's attention is elsewhere. Where on the GA Program was this crisis publicly discussed? Even those federations which presented on getting through the recession focused on "cost-saving measures" as JFNA couldn't seem to even identify the federation focus issues let alone suggest best practices or, heaven forbid, any answers.

So, what can be done? As LA's CEO, Jay Sanderson, no longer new to the position, commented to JTA's Jacob Berkman: The GA "..was a missed opportunity" to help the federations come to terms with defining "[W]hat do we stand for as a system" as federations in 2011? Let's start there -- there are many examples of federations which have come to grips with this question and could offer guidance -- but they weren't called upon because the subject wasn't up for discussion at the GA.

Yes, we have to redefine what federation is by building on those elements that brought us to federation and understanding the changes that have to take place to reestablish or establish federation's roles as the central address in and for the community. Once we have that "elevator story" of what we are, and how we articulate the needs as the Commentator above suggested, we can develop a compelling Case for Giving (some federations already have) and take the case and the cause to our donors -- face to face. If in my community we identify 5,000 "skips" at the major gift level, or in yours 1000 or in yours 100, that's where we start -- not where we finish. I know, this sounds like the dinosaur in me writing once again but visiting directly with our once best customers must be one point of entry.

Another must be to invest in young men and women with high yet unrealized potential. Their peers must reach out to them with a simple message -- "join me for a 5 day trip to Israel that will open your eyes and change your life as it changed mine." We have seen how this dynamic has worked miracles in Chicago; you will experience the same thing in your communities if you strive to make it happen. Build a new base of significant donors from those 45 and younger. Stop kvetching about how we can't reach them and make the effort. And let's stop the party planning (e.g., Tribefest -- "we're going to Las Vegas") and get serious.

E-philanthropy and telemarketing and direct mail have critical roles at the prospect and small gift levels but no one should expect that they will take the place, as our friend Steve Selig has put it so well and so directly, of one Jew reaching out to another Jew to help a third Jew. For while the federation world has grown more complex and challenging, it's about tikkun olam, about building community and Jewish identity. But it's also about hard work and the joy of doing mitzvot.

There are those who have articulated in Comments on these pages that the federations are dead, they just don't know it yet. Gary Rosenblatt, the brilliant editor of The Jewish Week, summed up his time at the GA with this: " appears (that JFNA)...regained some good will and relevancy (that) can resonate for a year." That optimistic I'm not but I am reminded of the story about two youngsters brought to a closed room. They open the door and find the room filled with manure. The boy screams "I'm not going in there, it's manure everywhere." The girl dives into the manure and starts shoveling it out smiling: "I know there's a pony in here somewhere."

Optimists believe with me that we'll find the pony when we rediscover ourselves; the pessimists believe that federations can no longer compete so they do Heroes and #ish and believe that a Day of Service in New Orleans is somehow an example of our "collective strength" and ignore what is right in front of them: Torah, our real strengths, our great history and present and potential for the future and our incredible capacity for good.


Sunday, November 21, 2010


At the GA, JFNA's Treasurer, Heschel Raskes, made a forceful plea for the transmission of cash with 50 days left in 2010 to support the core budgets and community projects of JAFI and JDC; Jerry Silverman a passing reference. One or two pleas a year aren't enough. So, while JFNA continues down its various paths unrelated to the needs of federations and unrelated as well to the purposes ascribed to JFNA in its Mission and Vision, cash, other than for Dues, remains an elusive concern, if that.

Every year at about this time the same plea -- would JFNA please organize and execute a formal lay-professional cash collection effort? And the answer always is, "yes" (not to me, of course, generally)...and, then, almost nothing happens. We had such an effort at UJA -- it was annually successful. We had one at the outset of what was UJC -- it was annually successful. Then, starting six years ago...nada. Here's why...

No interest? In part. A failure to involve lay leaders? In part. Consistently backing away from asking federations to affirmatively do something? In largest part. The end result was that but for a committed few JFNA professionals -- so few I can name them: Cheryl Lefland, Pam Zaltsman and Sam Astrof -- and, at one time, busy lay leader Michael Gelman -- that was the extent of the effort. And it failed -- miserably.

This wasn't and isn't brain surgery, friends. It was and is simply calling federation chairs and executives and asking how JFNA could help with cash collections. It was providing cash data to leaders who, in my experience, often didn't have any. It was pro to pro and lay to lay. It was tachlis. And JFNA couldn't and seemingly can't bring itself to do it.

So, my idea. Last year JAFI and the JDC both offered to join the cash effort. They were assuaged with promises from JFNA's leaders that "we get it," "we're going to be on top of this;" they didn't and they weren't. So, in the new "spirit of partnership," wouldn't it be appropriate to allow JAFI/JDC leaders to engage in the cash effort? This is not a new suggestion; just a necessary one.


Thursday, November 18, 2010


In a flash during the JFNA Board meeting on September 28, JFNA effectively announced it is going out of the Campaign business. But a few years ago, the Campaign Department was rebranded as "Development" -- now "Development" is no more. Henceforth (until the next rebranding), what we knew as the United Jewish Appeal and then as Campaign and then as Development shall be known as Philanthropic Resources. No, I haven't a clue what that means -- the expanded scope of the Department's services??? -- if so, a list, please --and I don't believe for a moment that when the National Campaign Chair announced the change, that he understood what the change meant either. (You may add to that knowledge void, the intent of Tribefest. [More on that sad subject in few days.])

What this change signals is nothing less than the death knell of national leadership in the area of the Annual Campaign. It is ironic that at the very moment Michael Lebovitz, now the "National Philanthropic Resources Chairman," I suppose, was making the rebrand announcement, I was corresponding with professionals in the "Philanthropic Resources" Department about an invitation, initiated by a federation, to provide lay support to a "Campaign Fly-In" effort. For, you see, the federations (such as Orlando) recognize that they need national campaign assistance. No, not Chicago and not New York, but so many, many others. In fact, in annual research conducted for the then UJC, a vast number of federations annually called upon UJC for more campaign support -- campaign assistance was at the top of their "wants" from JFNA. But what federations wanted and needed was inconsistent with the national narrative starting about 6 years ago (when national leadership began to publicly deprecate the annual campaign) and continues to this day and through this rebrand.

But with all surveys of federations evidencing the cry for more campaign help, what did JFNA do? Well, first, it stopped taking surveys; then it restructured Campaign into Development and pushed out its top professional leadership seconding Development to Consulting Services (which, itself has been shunted aside), then it claimed to be elevating the National Chairman's position (but did no more in my opinion than change the letterhead), and now a "rebrand" out of existence.

Jerry Silverman came in as CEO charged to make of JFNA an organization that would make a difference for the federations which own it. He clearly believed that new branding ("JFNA") would make a difference even though it had little to do with the federations beyond the name; and others apparently believe that rebranding the campaign effort will be a substitute for actually engaging in it. Oh, there will be a national mission now and then, a Prime Minister's Council Dinner at the GA, some other events, lip service at Board meetings to National Women's Philanthropy, and Regional "Ignitions" but the fund raising assistance federations other than the Large Cities (and even there who doesn't believe that San Francisco would embrace an all hands' [if JFNA had two or three] campaign investment) want and need? Not from this JFNA.

The pairing of Israeli philanthropists with their North American peers; has that disappeared off the JFNA map? Without a trace? The Special Campaign for Children? Where did that go? Without a trace with a "confidential plan" placed on the shelf with all the others?

What have we? We have 2010 federation campaigns that in the aggregate, as at November 1, that are up a bare 3% according to JFNA's numbers (always questionable in this area). Given the typical fall-off at calendar year-end, it appears that 2010 will finish no better than at or, worse, below the disastrous results for 2009. We have a JFNA that is, but for isolated instances, all about itself, all about irrelevance. If you wish to see what we have been reduced to, visit: As one of my friends wrote: "It cheapens everything that we once stood for." There is no understanding of the value proposition that supports the work of federation. Time for them to go.

A sad day. A sad time. A great waste.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010


The 2010 General Assembly was "Katrina-centric" and that was a good thing. The Federation-driven response to that Hurricane and its aftermath were beautiful examples of the reach of our philanthropy and humanity -- the contribution of $28 million and then UJC's work with and in the community were excellent. So we have that to "celebrate" and, what else? JFNA's Jerry Silverman's one man effort on our behalf to slow the apparently inexorable tide toward passage of the Conversion legislation? Rebranding? The yet to be built "Global Planning Table" or #ish or Heroes? The Israel Emergency Campaign in which JFNA's role was as a collection agent? Bringing 13 Yemeni families to America and not to Israel? Help me here.

There have been horrific natural disasters since Katrina that impacted on federated communities -- Houston and South Palm Beach for two. JFNA's response -- woeful. So we hearken back to Katrina, that singular success as an example of what our system can do and might do again; an example of collective response. Instead of Katrina being one of many examples of incredible work by so many (and recall that not one of the most senior professionals who led this effort -- Gail Hyman, Rob Hyman, Barry Swartz -- were honored in New Orleans, just as they and other engaged professionals were ignored in Nashville in 2007). Katrina stands alone.

The Katrina "success story" serves to underscore the almost total lack of other "successes" of an organization which, by year-end, we -- our federations -- will have plowed close to if not more than one-half a billion dollars...$500,000,000...into. I won't even ask what we might have achieved with $500,000,000 well spent...home many lives we could have changed for the better, how many we could have brought to Israel for Birthright and Masa, how many more kids could have attended camps here and in the FSU, how many Jews we could have fed and clothed.

JFNA has deservedly patteditself on the back for the five years since Katrina; in part, because we have so little else to show for the federations' investment. Now it's long past time to build new achievements; to state our purpose with clarity; and to look five years into the future and know with clarity what we shall be. If the current lay leadership can only look in the rear view mirror, then it is clearly time for major change.



There is a building cancer tracking its way through the federation system -- and 25 Broadway seems to be unaware -- I can't believe that if the JFNA leaders knew they would be doing nothing. There is the old story of a coach challenging a bad football player: "What is with you? Ignorance or apathy?" To which the player replied: "Coach, I don't know and I don't care." That's about where we are today.

We have written about the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando and the extremity of the crisis it faces to remain relevant and alive. As we have observed, more than once, sadly, Orlando is not alone -- not by a long shot. One of the most major federations on our Continent lost its Chief Professional Officer and, now, after months of futility in its search for a replacement, has shut down or put its Search Process on the backburner, brought a retired former CEO back as a "consultant" and has watched its FRD drop and drop again. Another of the largest federations in the East is hiding its FRD failures behind the facade of reallocation, replanning and "repurposing" under the rubric that it is "refocusing its mission." We have reported on the crisis in many of our communities. And on it goes.

One of the terrific thought leaders in our system, has concluded: "...the biggest hurdle at all of the national simple and straightforward: there is minimal perspective on life on the ground in local communities...Jewish life occurs in local communities, not in New York, DC, etc.. My friends...working at national organizations don't get that. They think it's all about them." I continue to meet with local communal leaders across the country. To a person they are so appreciative of, e.g., Jerry's visits but, almost to a person, they don't believe that their message is getting through because beyond Jerry, other than through a thin veneer of excellent professionals, lies a great and terrible vast void. And a lay leadership in touch only with the belief that "'s all about them" and "only about JFNA."

Evidence? Abundant. Just read the Federation Members Dues Resolution adopted at the GA this week with but a single set of questions. Even prior to the GA a supplemental "explanation" was offered of its purpose from the CEO (one that omitted many...many...of the modifications to the Dues Resolution), there was no disclosure...none...of why the changes to the consequences of non-payment or under-payment of Dues are necessary. The Financial Relations Committee, when operating under the original Dues Resolution, always believed that embodied in the concept of "hardship" was the ability to waive Dues for a federation in extremis; so Jerry's explanation failed the critical test of transparency. (This is what happens when institutional history is discarded like stale bread.) Why not disclose the number of federations which as of this date have not paid Dues or executed "payment plans" -- even country clubs do that, but not JFNA. No transparency, no trust. Near the end of the USSR even that dictatorship moved toward glasnost -- openness -- can't we expect some glasnost from the organization we own?

In addition, JFNA is standing idly by while multiple federations have reacted to the horrific impact of the deep recession on federation fund raising by terminating their chief professional officers and severely reducing federation staff -- as if, in the words of one of my great professional partners, you can save yourself into prosperity. It just doesn't happen that way. Often the lay leaders taking these Draconian steps have little if any knowledge of or appreciation for the lay professional partnership that has always...always...propelled our federation system forward. If we had a JFNA capable of impacting on federations, if there were a JFNA with the institutional history and a command of the subject matter, federation lay leaders might have options to consider with their professionals.
And, of course, there was no public discussion of any of this at the GA.

We have lost our way. There is the malaise of indifference lying like a thick fog over JFNA. Jerry Silverman can only do so much; our indifference will destroy the system we've built. Certainly the current JFNA lay leadership "cares:" its what it cares about that is bringing JFNA down.


Monday, November 15, 2010


When I Posted "VICTORY" -- A CORRECTION in the wake of Kathy Manning's ridiculous and uninformed announcement that "...the Jewish Federations of North America helped secure an important victory for the Jewish People..." in "winning" a six month moratorium in the Knesset consideration of the pending Conversion Bill, I did so having already read the articles in the Israeli press suggesting that the Bill's "sponsors" weren't going to abide the deal they made. The Board Chair could have done the same thing -- or, at the least, she could have consulted with JFNA-Israel or JAFI and learned what was already roiling in Jerusalem. She might have consulted with her President and CEO. But, no -- Manning was hell bent on claiming to JFNA the "victory" that was already proved to be ephemeral. The press release was not just ill-timed, it was wrong.

And the beat goes on. As JFNA's senior professionals visit federations, one of their short list of "collective achievements," proudly parroted, is that JFNA "stopped the Conversion Bill cold." Huh? And Jerry Silverman's energetic defense of Jewish unity and Peoplehood in the face of the destructive proposwed legislation elevated him to one of the Forward 50.

I guess this was a summer of euphoria. Since -- well, not so much. The Israeli Chief Rabbi accused Diaspora Jews of "coercing" the Government of Israel. The Sephardi Chief Rabbi attacked everyone opposed to the Bil but saved his special invective for the Reform and Conservative Rabbinate. Interior Ministry functionaries began harassing Israeli Jews demanding up to 4 generations of "proof" of matriarchal Jewish lineage to get a marriage license. The main sponsor of the legislation, MK David Rotem treated critics of the legislation to special public contempt. Gal Beckerman reported on August 13, in the Forward that "...Shas and UTJ refuse to cooperate in any way with any change to the Bill." Then, appalling in its content and portent, conversions conducted by the Orthodox Army Rabbinate have been retroactively annulled by the actions of the Attorney General. And, our advocacy is in hibernation while haredi leaders are telling us to "...just shut up, it's none of your business."

And it's worse -- the Haredi Rabbinate has announced (Ha'aretz, October 22, 2010) that it is essentially holding the conversion of 1,000's of soldiers in the IDF converted under Orthodox Raabbinate authority hostage to the passage of the Rotem Conversion Bill. It's ugly. And, we're silent.

Jewish Agency Executive Chair, Natan Sharansky, was delegated the responsibility to lead negotiations on the Bill's terms. At that time, JFNA, our organization you remember, backed away from the fray. Until an op-ed in JTA on September 8, penned by Jerry Silverman, JFNA was noticeably absent from the on-going pubic discussion leaving that to Sharansky and the heads of the Reform and Conservative Movements and those in favor of this very threatening legislation. In the meantime, JFNA would periodically distribute Briefings summarizing the work of others,

Unfortunately, Silverman didn't get it quite right. He wrote that "[F]or the first time in Israel's history, the bill would have given the haredi Orthodox-controlled Rabbinate authority over all conversions. It also would have required that all converts, including immigrants from North America accept halacha or Jewish law." What I am certain Jerry wished to add at the end was this "...halacha or Jewish law as interpreted by that very Rabbinate and only them."

And while the accusations fly from the ultra-Orthodox unabated, Jerry nicely expressed our "hope" that "...all parties will seek to avoid negative and hurtful rhetoric...building a table of dialogue around which we can all come together..." Uh, huh. Do we have a clue how to negotiate? And, anyway, JFNA is doing nothing for six months...that's Natan Sharansky's job. Got it?

Wrong, as well, of course, was JFNA's conclusion that with the declared six month moratorium, it could merely "sit back and await outcomes." I and others have been urging that JFNA get recognized lay and professional leaders to Israel for meetings with relevant Knesset members and Israeli thought leaders in a planful manner during this time -- men and women who would be fully versed in the consequences to the Diaspora-Israel relations if this legislation passes. I wrote my belief that a playbook can be found somewhere in the bowels of JFNA from "the last time." Nope, not with these leaders -- they have rewritten the book inserting a chapter on "sitting back and waiting" following a declaration of "victory."

What folly.


Friday, November 12, 2010


I have spent many thousands of words over these past two years criticizing, in what I hope has been most often a constructive way (even as I have been criticized, often chastised for criticizing at all) leaders of our system. But, as some of you have noted, while I may have done so as an aside, I haven't defined "leadership" from my perspective. As one who has been so fortunate to have had the chance to work with some of the greatest lay leaders in our communal life and history -- among them, Max Fisher, z'l, Shoshana Cardin, Marvin Lender, Corky Goodman, Richie Pearlstone, Morris Abram, Carole Solomon, Irwin Levy -- and rubbed shoulders with so very many, including so many of my "readers" -- I sense that leaders and leadership are self-defining, like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography, something elusive but you know it when you see it and experience it.

Let me try and define leadership for you from my perspective and experience. Any of you who wish to offer your own definitions, please offer your definition. First, to me, leadership is building an inclusive group of men and women who share the sense of vision and mission of the organization itself and are anxious to do important leadership work. If a hair tries to do all things herself, those who are totally capable of taking on and executing tasks will defer -- and the organization is the less for it.


With the GA now over, a couple of strange factoids, none of which should detract from the warm feelings you may have had from being there:

~ First, an APOLOGY. I had written that in its second year Heroes, now, apparently, another one of those wholly-owned JFNA subsidiaries, had failed to honor not only any women but any federation leaders. Several of you wrote me to correct the record. An exceptional Atlanta leader and significant donor, Dr. Steven
Kutner was honored as one of the Heroes. I was thrown off by the reality that Steven was not identified for his federation work at all in the Heroes promotions. My apologies.

~ On the cusp of the New Orleans event, JFNA, at its hyperbolic best/worst, announced that there would be 3,000 "attendees" would flood the GA and 1,100 women would attend the ILOJE -- a total of 4,100?!! No mention of the overlap of GA/LOJE registrants. I know there were a lot of folks there and I hope that 4,100 registered for the General Assembly (does that include the 700 Hillel students?) and that the event was SRO. For some reason...I doubt it. Would transparency and truth-telling be a bad thing?

~ Then, there was this -- Ari Teman (raise your hands if you know who Ari is -- OK hand down) -- the 2009 JFNA "Hero of the Year" and the "Founder of JCorps," using the proprietary "" website sent a "Hi, Jews" message inviting all Jews to a November 18 "immersive event" (you think they/he meant "impressive?" -- your choice.) in Times Square bringing together all kinds of innovators and philanthropists, authors and others for the "event" and a "bonus day" at Columbia. Among those presenting will be JFNA's Adam Smolyar identified with a "(!)." So as a "Hero of the Year," apparently you get cash and a mailing list. "Hi, Jews!!!"

~ Several of you wrote in response to my pre-GA Post citing The Fundermentalist's (JTA's Jacob Berkman) opening report on the GA that he was excluded from the pre-GA JFNA Golf Outing (somehow I can't picture Jacob as a golfer but, then again...) as it was for "Donors Only" while the JFNA leaders cancelled the Shabbaton. Get this straight and it tells you quite a bit -- Golf Outing on; Shabbaton off.

~ At the onset of the Board meeting at the GA, the Chair announced that 100 federations were representated -- that's of 157 federations. Is anyone concerned or is it good that 2/3rds of the federations were there?

~ Finally, a little more on #ish. You recall that at its onset, JFNA created some "webisodes" -- little You Tube type videos "starring" D-list albeit generous personalities. I thought about this while watching a Judd Apatow production of a tribute to AJWS starring, among others, Ben Stiller, Sara Silverman, Patrick Stewart (exceptional), Tracy Morgan, Kiefer Sutherland, Brian Williams, Susan Sarandon, and so on. See how it might have been done at not that #ish would be anything other than the piece of ish it is.


Thursday, November 11, 2010


Many of you, lay and professional leaders alike, have written me offline to report on your sense of the New Orleans GA -- filled with ruach (in part generated by the subsidized Hillel students), far better "atmospherics," excellent programs on the Iran threat and the threats posed by the BDS bunch, otherwise unfocused on the issues confronting federations -- you know issues such as FRD and lay and professional leadership development. Almost everyone had a great time -- it was New Orleans after all and several commented on the fact that the field day in New Orleans merely replicated what they do in their own communities.

So why the mixed bag and why the lack of any real focus? Well, just look at the lack of any real federation focus at JFNA. Trying to be all things to all people just hasn't worked; it's time to focus. But, I am told that the "planning" for this GA was even more "centralized" in the hands of the Board Chair and the CEO. And, really, with all due respect, does the Board Chair know what is happening in the federations -- from largest to smallest? And, if you don't know, how do you plan a program that responds to the federations needs and wants? Simple -- you can't.

And, friends, if this great annual event can't become and remain relevant, how can JFNA? It's wonderful to have an annual Jewish party (or, maybe, multiple Jewish parties over the course of a year) but that's just not enough. I remember twenty years ago when one of the best of professional partners, Norbert Fruehauf, then the Director of the CJF Planning Department scolded me in one of our many conversations: "Richard, all UJA has become is a party planner." I was cut to the quick but I took Norbert's admonition to heart. When I was fortunate enough to become UJA National Campaign Chair a short time later, I insisted that the UJA return to basics -- financial resource and community development. We did a pretty good job. Today, with leaders who, in Jerry's case, are learning our system and in case of the lay leaders seem to be focused on their own agendas, where is the focus? What does JFNA stand for? It's not enough to leave New Orleans with an "at least it was fun and we had some great meals."

But, there you are.


Monday, November 8, 2010


The GA from a distance...

~ Protesters added excitement to the GA on Monday. Five protesters identified as from some alleged Peace organization, but, in reality, they were of us and from us, rose up, one by one, to disrupt Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech, protesting the "Loyalty Oath" legislation in Israel. Each was quickly hustled off by security until the last, a woman, who was dragged to the floor by a purported member of the JFNA Young Leadership Cabinet from San Antonio. Gosh, in the halcyon days of yore, the YLC was dedicated to raising money.

The Prime Minister, of course, was non-plussed, he's heard worse, but in an organization dedicated to no dissent, even to its suppression, the last of these protesters was dragged to the floor. Somehow this is consistent with the culture that we have created. At one and the same time, protest, usually in a more mild form, has been part of many General Assemblies. We should all be reminded that as some patronize and pander to the younger generations, these are men and women of substance and knowledge who reject the "kisses" being blown at them in a constant stream from JFNA's leaders. Oh, well.

~ I heard the Philanthropic Resources Chair (nee National Campaign Chair) plug Tribefest totally devoid of any substance whatsoever. This has been JFNA's consistent practice. Link to the JFNA's promo for Tribefest -- a guy in a suit in a hot tub inviting you, if you're young enough, to "come to the desert." Luckily for them, the promoters of this embarrassment have no sense of shame. There are probably a bunch of dedicated folk walking the hallways in New Orleans with big Tribefest buttons on and if you ask them "what's Tribefest" they will answer "join us at the party." Ask them what's going to be on the agenda and they will roll their eyes and walk away...because they don't have a clue.

~ Then there is the revised Fair Share Dues Resolution. Presented with basically a two sentence desultory "summary" by the currently ubiquitous Steven Silverman (as Financial Relations Committee Chair) and, as usual, no questions from those gathered for the meeting, some substantive highlights were left out. For example: the amendment adds the potential for a "payment plan" from a federation under-paying its Dues (although this had been possible for years, JFNA has now codified a practice in which it has been engaged since the consideration of "hardship" has been side-tracked); curiously, as written, constituency membership (Women's Philanthropy, YLC) will no longer be terminated for those from federations whose membership terminates -- only the subsidies will be taken away for, e.g., missions or events (this was clearly the application of the Law of Unintended Consequences -- for it will be far easier to terminate membership of a federation in default if membership in the constituencies can continue for those participating); and then there is the futility of terminating membership eligibility on the JAFI Board and Committees for leaders from a terminated federation -- failing to understand that with the JAFI Governance changes enacted last year, JAFI will choose its own Board members going forward and may or may not accept UIA/JFNA recommendations.

~ On a "lighter" note, the use of the word "robust" needs to be exorcised from the JFNA leaders' lexicon. Never has there been a word as abused as has been "robust" -- all of us will accept that everything at JFNA is "robust." Let that be the end of it (though I doubt it).

I guess you just had to be there.


Sunday, November 7, 2010


Kathy, Kathy, Kathy...I have my hand raised. I have a question. She won't call on me...but I will ask it anyway: "Back in December, almost one year ago now, you, Michael and Jerry presented 'the JFNA 2009-2010 goals.' I am certain you remember them. Wouldn't this GA be the perfect place to discuss those goals in light of our achievements since then?"

OK, it's a good question, I think, but I'm not there. So to be helpful, I will condense a 25 slide Power Point (still available at if you wish to "read along.") So, follow the bouncing ball:

Position the Jewish Federations of North America as the premier and preeminent non-profit organization in the world. Now this wasn't about your federation or mine, chevre, this was all about JFNA. And JFNA was going to do this through the famous "five areas of focus" (you remember, the ones Jerry spoke about to your federation if he visited) -- "Power of the Collective," "Positioning for the Future," "Financial Resource Development," "Israel and Overseas" and "Talent."

So, as to the Power of the Collective -- "reenergize, excite and engage the Jewish community around collective address critical needs of the Jewish people. Develop a system and culture based more on collaboration than compliance." Well, there have been no collective actions, collaboration or compliance. In fact within three weeks of the meeting where this was presented, the JFNA "cash collection systems" more or less disintegrated from a lack of any lay-professional national cash collaboration.

Then there was to be a collective Sample initiative -- "the Passport to Jewish Life." This was to be a "...system-wide outreach and engagement effort to enable Jewish... families to pursue their Jewish journeys through financial incentives and concierge-stewardship services." Maybe I missed it...but I don't think it quite happened.

Or an initiative to "Survey survivor population to discover individual needs and Shoah Survivor Services campaign including pairing up individual survivors with Next Gen..." I missed that one too...but, where did the idea even come from?

To me all this proved was that this leadership wholly failed to understand "the Collective" whatsoever -- the values and principles of the Collective -- nowhere to be found. But...that's OK, they accomplished nothing within this Area of Focus that I could discern. So much for accountability on that score...let's move on...

Then, in the area of Engagement there would be "[S]trategic coordination of opportunities for the consumer and for federation to support Jewish literacy and create a sense of belonging..." Missed it.

OK -- so...nothing. Let's move on to Positioning for the Future.

The Power Point started with "Execute clear messaging platforms" with the goal of "Strong PR and articulation of our Mission, areas of focus and impact," Based on the the samples of Collective Initiatives above, I guess we aren't quite there.

Then there was this beaut -- "Refine branding and marketing of the Annual Campaign and the development product portfolio" with the goal of positioning the "...Annual Campaign to meet needs of broader community and target segments." I know that one must have just blown by me. I recall a few weeks ago we eliminated from our nomenclature FRD and campaign because we are now all about "Philanthropic Resources" but what about the 2009-2010 strategy and goals? Noble intent, sure.

Now, here's one we hit "out of the park" -- "Launch a series of social networking initiatives." Sure Heroes and #ish, right? Well, not so much. The goal for this one was to "[P]osition the Jewish Federations as inclusive, broad based 'tent' that helps nurture community engagement and connection." Best I can tell, no one at JFNA has been able to explain why the investment..the continuing these social networking initiatives has provided no evident "community engagement and connection." Why is that, Kathy? Could you explain?

I could go on but you get the message. There were noble ambitions for 2009-2010. (And, as an aside, the only "Challenge/Opportunity" for Israel and Overseas was to "[F]ocus on resolving Jewish Agency/JDC allocation split issue" with the "Goal" -- a"[N]ew allocation mechanism(s) for collective funds in place" by year-end. OMG!!) You got your $30.3 million worth? Or something close?

So here we are. Gathered in New Orleans. Guess we won't be talking about the failure to achieve a single "sample goal" in the Five Areas of Focus, will we? We'll pretend they never existed...and we'll just move on...and on...and on.

If you would like a further refresher course, same results, the old cast, see my Post -- Priorities -- March 31, 2010. There we reviewed the last attempt (that was only five, count 'em, five...months before those Priorities of JFNA were abandoned for these priorities of JFNA. ) Round and round we go, where we stop....

Kathy, Kathy, Kathy...I have another question!!


Friday, November 5, 2010


Of course, though it appears much is happening that turns out to be not so much...

~ HEROES? The "finalists" of Heroes 2 have been identified and they all appear to be "heroes" totally disconnected from our federations or our federation agencies...again!! As others have pointed out far better than I, no federation leaders, no women. You judge -- although you're not one of the judges, are you?

~ THE MASORTI LETTER. JFNA's fiction department went into overdrive just before Shabbat on October 29. Reacting to a letter from the Masorti Movement to its constituents questioning why the GA lacked programming on religious pluralism in Israel, with a focus on the Conversion legislation, the Board Chair wrote JFNA's constituency emphasizing a single scheduled GA panel (in other words, religious pluralism in Israel rises to the same level of JFNA attention as Heroes or #ish or a comedian) on the legislation and emphasizing JFNA's "successful effort" in keeping that legislation "...from being brought to the Knesset..." Another "victory" misstatement. Look, JFNA deserves credit for Jerry Silverman's work with JAFI in opposition to the legislation, as the Masorti Movement pointed out, JFNA "played an important and constructive role," but (1) does the Board Chair have a clue what has been going on in Israel -- the attempts to nullify even Orthodox conversions of those in the IDF and the continuing efforts to deligitimize the Conservative and Reform Rabbinate; and (2) that the Rotem Bill was in fact "brought to the Knesset?" Hello!!! Are "victories" for JFNA so few, that even positive episodes need to be over-stated? Rhetorical question.

~ TERRORISTS. Instead of the reflexive hyperbole in which JFNA seems to be trapped by its desire to claim as its own the temporary "triumph" of a six month "postponement" in the Conversion legislation, while JFNA was busy extolling its own "virtues," and patting itself on its own back, American Jewry and, specifically, my Federation were dealing with the terrorists' bombing threats to Chicago Jewish institutions delivered from Yemeni terrorists apparently directly tied to Al Queda. All Synagogues and Jewish institutions in Chicago were alerted through our national system's and our federation's rapid response security mechanism ("SCAN") -- one that Chicago's Facilities Corporation leadership helped then UJC under Steve Hoffman's leadership to structure -- a national security alert system for JFNA. In this instance that continental "early warning system" was in play. And, like the "successful" discovery of the terrorists' attempt to strike Jewish institutions in, at the least, Chicago, this was a true continental success. But, JFNA was preoccupied with the Masorti message. Veiyezmir.

~ TRIBEFEST. Apparently some will just print whatever JFNA tells them. For example, in The Fundermentalist's report on the GA, he took time to reflect on Tribefest. Someone at JFNA obviously informed him that there are already 1,600 registrants for the Fest -- unfortunately, the Tribefest link on JFNA's website reports that registration won't begin until sometime this month. But, a visit to that Tribefest link is worthwhile if for no other reason than to see visually how JFNA will attract young men and women to a federation-sponsored "event." Sad, sordid and insulting. It's not about substance or content. The hook seems to be hot tubs, bathing suits and booze. I'm so proud. My grandsons in high school have more content in their BBYO activities.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010


> A JTA story on the GA was sent to me today.

>"Bloggers’ Alley
> By Jacob Berkman · November 1, 2010
> Because you asked…
> In this past week’s newsletter, I mentioned that the JFNA would have
> what they are calling “Bloggers Alley” at next week’s General Assembly
> (Nov. 7-9, New Orleans.). A number of folks have emailed asking
> exactly what that is, and sadly I could not answer.
> Ask and you shall receive.
> It seems that the JFNA has enlisted a number of bloggers-in-residence
> and has set aside a separate press room at the GA for them to work and
> for other bloggers at the GA to visit and utilize.
> Or in the JFNA’s own words:
> Bloggers' Avenue is one of the new elements being introduced at The
> Jewish Federations of North America's 2010 General Assembly. Organized
> by Rabbi Yonah Bookstein and the folks at Jewlicious, one of the
> leading Jewish blogs, this will be a dedicated blogger zone within the
> GA's main exhibit hall, with plenty of laptop tables, power outlets
> and energy drinks. The space will allow the bloggers-in-residence to
> interact with each other and other bloggers who drop by, and write
> posts both about the GA and about the kinds of cross-pollination that
> takes place when leaders of Jewish groups large and small gather to exchange ideas. The
> bloggers-in-residence will give informal talks about blogging and
> blogging techniques to attendees. The list of bloggers-in-residence
> includes David Abitbol (; Tanya Gutsol
> ( and; David Kelsey
> (; Esther Kustanowitz (;
> Benji Lovitt ( and Margot Stern (
> We've invited JTA's own Fundermentalist to drop by and share his
> wisdom as well. Stop by Bloggers Avenue at any time during the GA,
> then come to the NOLAISM (New Orleans Innovation and Social Media) Schmooze-up Monday night."

Quite clearly this Blogger's invitation to the Alley (or the Avenue, as it is variously described) was lost in the mail. I won't be a GA "blogger-in-residence." I won't be attending the NOALISM Schmooze. My loss.



My federation has pled annually it seems with JFNA leaders to get a compelling GA Calendar on line as early in the year as possible. Doesn't seem possible. At least every other day I examine the GA Program in the hopes of finding some worthwhile programming that would draw 5,000 Registrants (a Co-chair's estimate made with great certainty [some months ago]) to New Orleans. So, here's what I have found:

~ In this "Jerry-era" someone from something called Big Duck is speaking on vu den? Brandraising Jewishly. Now, what might that be about? The wonders of #ish and Heroes or, maybe, changing logos and business cards? Should be just ducky.

~ Two old buds are going to observe upon "Disruptive Philanthropy" -- the insightful Jeffrey Solomon, a great thought leader, and Diana Aviv, the past Director of the CJF Washington Office. Jeffrey has written and spoken constantly about FRD in a 3.0 (or maybe it's a 2.0) world; Diana, to my knowledge, is brilliant in her role as CEO of Independent Sector (where Jeffrey may also be involved) but FRD as I know/knew it to be...not so much. This will be all about "crowd-sourcing innovations" and other such jargon (nothing yet, however, beats "bradraising").

~ There will be programs -- on the same day -- that evidence a certain confusion: Leading the Jewish Community Response to Poverty and the Recession one morning and, that very afternoon, The Post-Recessionary Federation. My suggestion: hold these sessions in the same room, at the exact same time.

~ On September 16, in one of its frequent hyperbolic announcements, JFNA broadcast that the redoubtable Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, will speak at the GA. And that's fine in and of itself, and now the Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition will also be on hand. And, more.

~ There are some excellent programs, including those led by Jack Wertheimer, Chicago's Midge Perlman Shafton (on the response to Iran), large segments of time dedicated to the social justice agenda and greening our system, and the Vice-President is currently scheduled to join the GA. But, OMG, you have to search and search again to distinguish the wheat from the chaff. And, more often than can't. The GA is an imperfect paradigm for JFNA itself -- all over the place, unfocused and without energy, passion or fun (though I hear there will be a comedian, most of the comedy will be on ready display). And the ILOJE will have Judy Gold. None of this is to suggest that there are not presentations and panels of importance even criticality to the federations and the federation movement. There are.

~ Then there is this classic. The JFNA Endowment Department is holding its annual Endowment Leadership Institute during the GA. This has been an important event from time-to-time. The cost is $75 per, the payment of full GA Registration of, I guess, still $695 per person, plus air, plus housing. For most endowment departments, for most endowment professionals, the costs are outrageous. They want to attend, but they cannot afford it. True for most lay leaders as well.


What would I suggest for programming, were I given a chance? Perhaps that someone read to the JFNA leadership Dan Brown's brilliant piece in his eJewish Philanthropy Blog: Rebuilding Our Global Jewish Family. In this brief challenging paper (on August 30), Brown wrote of the need for "new vision," the fact of our Peoplehood and the compelling need to remain "one." He pointed to JAFI's Director General, Alan Hoffmann's challenge: the "..issue of the future of the Jewish People as a people is the biggest issue we are facing." But while Dan found "...a renewed sense of desire, and strength to rebuild our Global Jewish family," I read nothing on the GA Program that reflects this vision, these desires and strengths. There is no examination of "...the future of community" about which the insightful marketing and communications consultant, Gail Hyman, wrote recently in a column again in eJewish philanthropy. No, we will gather in New Orleans and talk on the margins.

I would love (a) to learn from Jack Wertheimer on The High Cost of Jewish Living (instead of the amorphous "Vision" thing); (b) to listen to a panel of Jewish college students (from, e.g., Berkeley, Brooklyn College) moderated by Jehuda Reinharz on "defending Israel on Campus;" (c) partners from a number of American law firms on their learning experience in Israel advocacy sponsored last month by the Israeli Foreign Ministry; (d) from Ambassador Oren on "defending Israel in difficult times;" (e) a Panel on "Jewish Community Centers and the Federations: Changing the Paradigm Before It's Too Late;" (f) a reception honoring Ambassador Gabi Shalev on her service as Israel's UN Ambassador; (g) Doniel Hartman, as scholar-in-residence for the three days of the GA reminding and charging us with our responsibilities; (h) sessions on the federations' moral responsibility to fund needs in Israel and overseas during times of shortage, on the crisis in Jewish day schools and innovative funding of Jewish pre-schools; (i) awards to the Jim Joseph Foundation, the Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies and the Harold Grinspoon Foundation for their brilliant grant-making in Jewish education, new leadership and the PJ Library, respectively; (j) Bret Stephens on the growing attempts to deligitimize Israel; and (k) maybe, a panel discussion among North American and Israeli thought leaders (e.g., Irwin Cotler, Stephen Cohen, Danny Gordis) on "North American Jewry Speaking out on the flotilla and 'Who is a Jew' -- shanda or moral obligation?" Surely, you have even more thoughts after looking over the desultory Pre-Assembly Program on

Friends, I remember the excitement of General Assemblies past. The Chicago contingent would meet before the GA to assure that we spread out to cover as many Panels and Break-Outs as possible because the GA was so content-rich. Today, we do have a golf outing and a mitzvah day, that's true.

I remember the incredible excitement of the 1987 GA where much of the entire program was discarded to channel the excitement of the federation system around the March on Washington that was organized there to become the great Rally on the Mall that brought 750,000 of us many of you. I remember when "young Turks," including many young leaders from Chicago, used the General Assembly to demand their seat at the table, I remember the inspiration of Yitz Greenberg and Arnie Eisen, the appearances of Vice-Presidents George H. W. Bush in Chicago and later Al Gore, in Chicago. I remember the Boston GA Memorial Service in memory of Yitzchak Rabin, z'l, assassinated only weeks before, and, of course, I remember the Los Angeles GA, just a few years ago, where the federations had to coopt the agenda from JFNA to refocus it on federation issues and our system's relationship to Israel.

And, in a few will get to see some old friends, make some new ones and, in general, wonder why you spent all of this money and time.

It's all so sad.